In The Blue Pike
by Georg Ebers
Translated from the German by Mary T. Safford
"May a thunderbolt strike you!" The imprecation suited the rough
fellow who uttered it. He had pointed out of doors as he spoke, and
scarcely lowered the strange tones of his voice, yet of all the rabble
who surrounded him only two persons understood his meaning—a fading,
sickly girl, and the red-haired woman, only a few years her senior,
who led the swearing man by a chain, like a tame bear.
The Nuremberg magistrates had had Cyriax's tongue cropped for gross
blasphemy, and listeners could scarcely comprehend the words he
mangled in his gasping speech.
The red-haired woman dropped the knife with which she was slicing
bread and onions into a pot, and looked at her companion with an
anxious, questioning glance.
"Nuremberg Honourables," he stammered as fast as he could, snatched
his wife's shawl from her shoulders, and drew it over his unkempt
The woman beckoned to their travelling companions—a lame fellow of
middle age who, propped on crutches, leaned against the wall, an older
pock-marked man with a bloated face, and the sickly girl—calling to
them in the harsh, metallic voice peculiar to hawkers and elderly
singers at fairs.
"Help Cyriax hide. You first, Jungel! They needn't recognise
him as soon as they get in. Nuremberg magistrates are coming.
Aristocratic blood-suckers of the Council. Who knows what may still
be on the tally for us?"
Kuni, the pale-faced girl, wrapped her bright-coloured garment
tighter around her mutilated left leg, and obeyed. Lame Jungel, too,
prepared to fulfil red-haired Gitta's wish.
But Raban had glanced out, and hastily drew the cloth jerkin,
patched with green and blue linen, closer through his belt,
"Young Groland of the Council. I know him."
This exclamation induced the other vagabonds to glide along the
wall to the nearest door, intending to slip out.
"A Groland?" asked Gitta, Cyriax's wife, cowering as if threatened
with a blow from an invisible hand. "It was he—"
"He?" laughed the chain-bearer, while he crouched beside her,
drawing himself into the smallest space possible. "No, Redhead! The
devil dragged the man who did that down to the lower regions long ago,
on account of my tongue. It's his son. The younger, the sharper.
This stripling made Casper Rubling,—[Dice, in gambler's slang]—poor
wretch, pay for his loaded dice with his eyesight."
He thrust his hand hurriedly into his jerkin as he spoke, and gave
Gitta something which he had concealed there. It was a set of dice,
but, with ready presence of mind, she pressed them so hard into the
crumb of the loaf of bread which she had just cut that it entirely
All this had passed wholly unnoticed in the corner of the long,
wide room, for all the numerous travellers whom it sheltered were
entirely occupied with their own affairs. Nothing was understood
except what was said between neighbour and neighbour, for a loud
uproar pervaded the tavern of The Blue Pike.
It was one of the most crowded inns, being situated on the main
ferry at Miltenberg, where those journeying from Nuremberg, Augsburg,
and other South German cities, on their way to Frankfort and the Lower
Rhine, rested and exchanged the saddle for the ship. Just at the
present time many persons of high and low degree were on their way to
Cologne, whither the Emperor Maximilian, having been unable to come in
April to Trier on the Moselle, had summoned the Reichstag.
The opening would take place in a few days, and attracted not only
princes, counts, and knights, exalted leaders and more modest servants
of the Church, ambassadors from the cities, and other aristocrats, but
also honest tradesfolk, thriving money-lenders with the citizen's
cloak and the yellow cap of the Jew, vagrants and strollers of every
description, who hoped to practise their various feats to the best
advantage, or to fill their pockets by cheating and robbery.
This evening many had gathered in the spacious taproom of The Blue
Pike. Now those already present were to be joined by the late arrivals
whom Cyriax had seen ride up.
It was a stately band. Four aristocratic gentlemen at the head of
the troop were followed by an escort of twenty-five Nuremberg
mercenaries, a gay company whose crimson coats, with white slashes on
the puffed sleeves, presented a showy spectacle. Their helmets and
armour glittered in the bright light of the setting sun of the last
day of July, as they turned their horses in front of the wide gateway
of The Blue Pike to ride into Miltenberg and ask lodgings of the
The trampling of hoofs, the shouts of command, and the voices of
the gentlemen and their attendants outside attracted many guests to
the doors and windows of the long, whitewashed building.
The strollers, however, kept the place at theirs without
difficulty; no one desired to come near them.
The girl with the bandaged foot had now also turned her face toward
the street. As her gaze rested on the youngest of the Nuremberg
dignitaries, her pale cheeks flushed, and, as if unconsciously, the
exclamation: "It is he!" fell from her lips.
"Who?" asked red-haired Gitta, and was quickly answered in a low
"I mean Lienhard, Herr Groland."
"The young one," stuttered Cyriax.
Then, raising the shawl, he continued inquisitively:
"Do you know him? For good or for evil?"
The girl, whose face, spite of its sunken cheeks and the dark rings
under the deep-set blue eyes, still bore distinct traces of former
beauty, started and answered sharply, though not very loudly, for
speech was difficult:
"Good is what you call evil, and evil is what you call good. My
acquaintance with Lienhard, Herr Groland, is my own affair, and, you
may be sure, will remain mine." She glanced contemptuously away from
the others out of doors, but Cyriax, spite of his mutilated tongue,
retorted quickly and harshly:
"I always said so. She'll die a saint yet." Then grasping Kuni's
arm roughly, he dragged her down to him, and whispered jeeringly:
"Ratz has a full purse and sticks to his offer for the cart. If
you put on airs long, he'll get it and the donkey, too, and you'll be
left here. What was it about Groland? You can try how you'll manage
on your stump without us, if we're too bad for you."
"We are not under eternal obligations to you on the child's
account," added red-haired Gitta in a gentler tone. "Don't vex my
husband, or he'll keep his word about the cart, and who else will be
bothered with a useless creature like you?"
The girl lowered her eyes and looked at her crippled limb.
How would she get on without the cart, which received her when the
pain grew too sharp and the road was too hard and long?
So she turned to the others again, saying soothingly:
"It all happened in the time before I fell." Then she looked out
of doors once more, but she did not find what she sought. The
Nuremberg travellers had ridden through the broad gateway into the
large square courtyard, surrounded by stables on three sides. When
Cyriax and his wife again called to her, desiring to know what had
passed between her and Groland, she clasped her hands around her
knees, fixed her eyes on the gaystuffs wound around the stump where
her foot had been amputated, and in a low, reluctant tone, continued:
"You want to learn what I have to do with Herr Groland? It was
about six years ago, in front of St. Sebald's church, in Nuremberg. A
wedding was to take place. The bridegroom was one of the
Council—Lienhard Groland. The marriage was to be a very quiet
one—the bridegroom's father lay seriously ill. Yet there could have
been no greater throng at the Emperor's nuptials. I stood in the
midst of the crowd. A rosary dropped from the belt of the fat wife of
a master workman—she was decked out like a peacock—and fell just in
front of me. It was a costly ornament, pure gold and Bohemian
garnets. I did not let it lie there."
"A miracle!" chuckled Cyriax, but the girl was obliged to conquer a
severe attack of coughing before she could go on with her story.
"The chaplet fairly burned my hand. I would gladly have given it
back, but the woman was no longer before me. Perhaps I might have
returned it, but I won't say so positively. However, there was no
time to do it; the wedding party was coming, and on that account But
what is the use of talking? While I was still gazing, the owner
discovered her loss. An officer seized me, and so I was taken to
prison and the next day was brought before the magistrates. Herr
Groland was one of them, and, since it wasn't certain that I would not
have restored the property I found, he interceded in my behalf. When
the others still wished to punish me, he besought my release because
it was my first offence. So we met, and when I admit that I am
grateful to him for it, you know all."
"H'm," replied Cyriax, giggling, as he nudged his wife in the side
and made remarks concerning what he had just heard which induced even
red- haired Gitta to declare that the loss of his tongue was scarcely
Kuni indignantly turned her back upon the slanderer and gazed out
of the window again. The Nuremberg Honourables had disappeared, but
several grooms were unbuckling the knapsacks from the horses and
carrying them into the house. The aristocratic travellers were
probably cleansing themselves from the dust of the road before they
entered the taproom.
Kuni thought so, and gazed sometimes into vacancy, sometimes into
her own lap. Her eyes had a dreamy light, for the incident which she
had just related rose before her mind with perfect clearness.
It seemed as though she were gazing a second time at the wedding
procession which was approaching St. Sebald's, and the couple who led
Never had she beheld anything fairer than the bride with the myrtle
wreath on her beautifully formed head, whence a delicate lace veil
floated over her long, thick, golden hair. She could not help gazing
at her as if spellbound. When she moved forward, holding her
bridegroom's hand, she appeared to float over the rice and flowers
strewn in her path to the church—it was in February. As Kuni saw the
bride raise her large blue eyes to her lover's so tenderly and yet so
modestly, and the bridegroom thank her with a long joyous look of
love, she wondered what must be the feelings of a maiden who, so pure,
so full of ardent love, and so fervently beloved in return, was
permitted to approach the house of God, accompanied by a thousand
pious wishes, with the first and only man whom she loved, and to whom
she wished to devote herself for her whole life. Again, as at that
time, a burning thrill ran through her limbs. Then a bitter smile
hovered around her lips.
She had asked herself whether the heart of one who experienced such
joys, to whom such a fate was allotted, would not burst from sheer
joy. Now the wish, the hope, and every new resolve for good or ill
were alike over. At that hour, before the door of St. Sebald's, she
had been capable of all, all, perhaps even the best things, if any one
had cherished her in his heart as Lienhard Groland loved the beautiful
woman at his side.
She could not help remembering the spell with which the sight of
those two had forced her to watch their every movement, to gaze at
them, and them only, as if the world contained nothing else. How
often she had repeated to herself that in that hour she was bewitched,
whether by him or by her she could not decide. As the throng surged
forward, she had been crowded against the woman who lost the rosary.
She had not had the faintest thought of it when the bailiff suddenly
snatched her from her rapturous gazing to stern reality, seizing with
a rude grip the hand that held the jewel. Then, pursued by the
reviling and hissing of the populace, she had been taken to prison.
Now she again saw herself amid the vile rabble assembled there,
again felt how eagerly she inhaled the air as she was led across the
courtyard of the townhall into the presence of the magistrates. Oh,
if she could but take such a long, deep breath of God's pure air as
she did then! But that time was past. Her poor, sunken chest would no
longer permit it. Then she fancied that she was again standing before
the judges, who were called The Five.
Four magistrates sat with the Pfander—[Chief of police]—at the
table covered with a green cloth, but one, who surpassed all the
others both in stature and in manly beauty, was the selfsame Lienhard
Groland, who yesterday had led to the altar the wonderfully lovely
girl who had bewitched her. She felt how the blood had mounted into
her cheeks when she again saw him who could know nothing of her except
that she was a jade, who had stolen another person's property. Yet
her glance soon met his, and he must have been blind had he not read
in the radiant lustre of her blue eyes, which had early learned to woo
applause and promise love, what he was to her, and how gratefully her
heart throbbed for him.
After the other gentlemen had treated her harshly, and threatened
to put her in the stocks, he interceded for her, and entreated his
brother magistrates to let mercy, in this instance, take the place of
justice, because she was so young, and perhaps had intended to return
the rosary later. Finally he bent smiling toward his companions and
said something to them in a subdued tone. The voice was so low that
his intention to keep her in ignorance of it was evident. But Kuni's
hearing had been as keen as a bird's, and not a word escaped her. He
could not help regarding it as an evil omen for him and his young wife
if a girl, hitherto unpunished, should be plunged into disgrace and
perhaps made miserable throughout the rest of a long life on account
of his wedding procession.
How high her heart had throbbed at this request, and when it was
granted, the discussion closed, and she herself informed that she
would be set free, she hurried after her preserver, who had left the
Council chamber with the other magistrates, to thank him. He
permitted her to detain him, and when she found herself alone in his
presence, at first, with streaming eyes, she was unable to utter a
word. He laid his hand kindly on her shoulder to soothe her, and then
listened to her assurance that, though she was a strolling
rope-dancer, she had never taken other people's property.
Now she closed her eyes to have a clearer vision of the picture
evoked by memory, which rose so vividly before her. Again she saw
herself seize his hand to kiss it humbly, yet with fervent devotion;
again she met the patronizing but friendly smile with which he
withdrew it, and a thrill of happiness ran through every nerve, for
she imagined she once more felt his slender white hand soothingly
stroke her black hair and burning cheeks, as if she were a sick child
who needed help. Later years had never granted her aught more
blissful than that moment.
As had often happened before, the memory of it overmastered her
with such power that she could not escape it, but recalled his every
look and movement. Meanwhile, she imagined that she heard his voice,
whose deep, pure tones had pleased her ear, alive to harmony, more
than any to which she had ever listened, counselling her to give up
her vagrant life, and again received his assurance that he pitied her,
and it would grieve him if she, who seemed worthy of a better fate,
should be ruined, body and soul, so young. Thus absorbed, she neither
saw nor listened to anything that was occurring near her or in the
large room of the tavern, but stood gazing into vacancy as if rapt
away from earth.
True, Cyriax and the others had lowered their voices, for they were
talking about her and the aristocratic couple on whose wedding day
Kuni had stolen the rosary.
Raban, a tall, lank vagabond with red-rimmed eyes, whose ugly face
bristled with a half-grown black beard, had a few more particulars to
give concerning the bride and bridegroom. He wandered about the world
and, whenever he stretched out his hand to beg, gave the pretext that
he was collecting the price of blood required for a man whom he had
killed in self-defence, that his own head might not fall under the axe
of the executioner. His dead father had heated the furnaces in the
smelting works at Eschenbach, near Nuremberg, and the bride was
Katharina, the eldest of the three daughters of the owner, old
Harsdorffer of the Council. He had been a man of steel and iron, and
opposed Lienhard Groland's father at every point, not excepting even
their official business. When he discovered that the young man was
carrying on a love affair with his daughter, he had summoned him
before a court of justice for a breach of the law which forbade minors
to betroth themselves without parental consent. The magistrates
sentenced Lienhard to five years' exile from the city but, through the
Emperor's mediation, he was spared the punishment. Old Harsdorffer
afterward succeeded in keeping the suitor away from his daughter a
long time, but finally relinquished his opposition.
"The devil came soon enough and broke his stiff neck," added
Cyriax, on whom the vagabond's story had had the same effect as a red
rag upon a bull. Spite of the old slanderer's mutilated tongue,
invectives flowed fast enough from his lips when he thought of young
Frau Groland's father. If the Groland outside resembled his
father-in-law, he would like to drink him a pledge that should burn
like the plague and ruin.
He snatched a flask from his pocket as he spoke, and after a long
pull and a still longer "A-ah!" he stammered:
"I've been obliged to bid farewell to my tongue, yet it feels as if
it were sticking in my throat like the dry sole of a shoe. That's
what comes from talking in this dog-day heat."
He looked into the empty bottle and was about to send Kuni out to
fill it again. In turning to do so he saw her pale face, wan with
suffering, but which now glowed with a happy light that lent it a
strange beauty. How large her blue eyes were! When he had picked her
up in Spain she was already a cripple and in sore distress. But
Groland probably knew what he was about when he released her. She
must have been a pretty creature enough at that time, and he knew that
before her fall she was considered one of the most skilful
An elderly woman with a boy, whose blindness helped her to arouse
compassion, was crouching by Raban's side, and had just been greeted
by Kuni as an old acquaintance. They had journeyed from land to land
in Loni's famous troupe, and as Raban handed Cyriax his own bottle, he
turned from the dreaming girl, whose services he no longer needed, and
whispered to the blind boy's mother—who among the people of her own
calling still went by the name of Dancing Gundel—the question whether
yonder ailing cripple had once had any good looks, and what position
she had held among rope-dancers.
The little gray-haired woman looked up with sparkling eyes. Under
the name of "Phyllis" she had earned, ere her limbs were stiffened by
age, great applause by her dainty egg-dance and all sorts of feats
with the balancing pole. The manager of the band had finally given
her the position of crier to support herself and her blind boy. This
had made her voice so hollow and hoarse that it was difficult to
understand her as, with fervid eloquence, vainly striving to be heard
by absent-minded Kuni, she began: "She surpassed even Maravella the
Spaniard. And her feats at Augsburg during the Reichstag—I tell you,
Cyriax, when she ascended the rope to the belfry, with the pole and
"I've just heard of that from another quarter," he interrupted.
"What I want to know is whether she pleased the eyes of men."
"What's that to you?" interposed red-haired Gitta jealously,
trying to draw him away from Gundel by the chain.
Raban laughed heartily, and lame Jungel, chuckling, rapped on the
floor with his right crutch, exclaiming:
"Good for you!"
Kuni was accustomed to such outbursts of merriment. They were
almost always awakened by some trifle, and this time she did not even
hear the laughing. But Cyriax struck his wife so rudely on the hand
that she jerked furiously at the chain and, with a muttered oath, blew
on the bruised spot. Meanwhile Gundel was telling the group how many
distinguished gentlemen had formerly paid court to Kuni. She was as
agile as a squirrel. Her pretty little face, with its sparkling blue
eyes, attracted the men as bacon draws mice. Then, pleased to have
listeners, she related how the girl had lured florins and zecchins
from the purse of many a wealthy ecclesiastic. She might have been as
rich as the Fuggers if she hadn't met with the accident and had
understood how to keep what she earned. But she could not hold on to
her gold. She had flung it away like useless rubbish. So long as she
possessed anything there had been no want in Loni's company. She,
Gundel, had caught her arm more than once when she was going to fling
Hungarian ducats, instead of coppers, to good-for-nothing beggars.
She had often urged her, too, to think of old age, but Kuni—never
cared for any one longer than a few weeks, though there were some whom
she might easily have induced to offer her the wedding ring.
She glanced at Kuni again, but, perceiving that the girl did not
yet vouchsafe her even a single look, she was vexed, and, moving
nearer to Cyriax, she added in a still lower tone:
"A more inconstant, faithless, colder heart than hers I never met,
even among the most disorderly of Loni's band; for, blindly as the
infatuated lovers obeyed every one of her crazy whims, she laughed at
the best and truest. 'I hate them all,' she would say. 'I wouldn't
let one of them even touch me with the tip of his finger if I could
not use their zecchins. 'With these,' she said, 'she would help the
rich to restore to the poor what they had stolen from them.' She
really treated many a worthy gentleman like a dog, nay, a great deal
worse; for she was tender enough to all the animals that travelled
with the company; the poodles and the ponies, nay, even the parrots
and the doves. She would play with the children, too, even the
smallest ones—isn't that so, Peperle?—like their own silly mothers."
She smoothed the blind boy's golden hair as she spoke, then added,
"But the little fellow was too young to remember it. The rattle
which she gave him at Augsburg—it was just before the
accident—because she was so fond of him—Saint Kunigunde, how could
we keep such worthless jewels in our sore need?—was made of pure
silver. True, the simpletons who were so madly in love with her, and
with whom she played so cruelly, would have believed her capable of
anything sooner than such kindness. There was a Swabian knight, a
Here she stopped, for Cyriax and the other vagabonds, even the girl
of whom she was speaking, had started up and were gazing at the door.
Kuni opened her eyes as wide as if a miracle had happened, and the
crimson spots on her sunken cheeks betrayed how deeply she was
agitated. But she had never experienced anything of this kind; for
while thinking of the time when, through Lienhard Groland's
intercession, she had entered the house of the wealthy old Frau
Schurstab, in order to become estranged from a vagabond life, and
recalling how once, when he saw her sorrowful there, he had spoken
kindly to her, it seemed as if she had actually heard his own voice.
As it still appeared to echo in her ears, she suddenly became aware
that the words really did proceed from his lips. What she had heard
in her dream and what now came from his own mouth, as he stood at the
door, blended into one. She would never have believed that the power
of imagination could reproduce anything so faithfully.
Listening intently, she said to herself that, during the many
thousand times when she had talked with him in fancy, it had also
seemed as if she heard him speak. And the same experience had
befallen her eyes; for whenever memory reverted to those distant days,
she had beheld him just as he now looked standing on the threshold,
where he was detained by the landlady of The Pike. Only his face had
become still more manly, his bearing more dignified. The pleasant,
winning expression of the bearded lips remained unchanged, and more
than once she had seen his eyes sparkle with a far warmer light than
now, while he was thanking the portly woman for her cordial welcome.
While Kuni's gaze still rested upon him as if spellbound, Cyriax
nudged her, stammering hurriedly:
"They will have to pass us. Move forward, women, in front of me.
Spread out your skirt, you Redhead! It might be my death if yonder
Nuremberg fine gentleman should see me here and recollect one thing
As he spoke he dragged Kuni roughly from the window, flung the sack
which he had brought in from the cart down before him, and made them
sit on it, while he stretched himself on the floor face downward, and
pretended to be asleep behind the women.
This suited Kuni. If Lienhard Groland passed her now he could not
help seeing her, and she had no greater desire than to meet his glance
once more before her life ended. Yet she dreaded this meeting with an
intensity plainly revealed by the passionate throbbing of her heart
and the panting of her weakened lungs. There was a rushing noise in
her ears, and her eyes grew dim. Yet she was obliged to keep them
wide open- -what might not the next moment bring?
For the first time since her entrance she gazed around the large,
long apartment, which would have deserved the name of hall had it not
been too low.
The heated room, filled with buzzing flies, was crowded with
travellers. The wife and daughter of a feather-curler, who were on
their way with the husband and father to the Reichstag, where many an
aristocratic gentleman would need plumes for his own head and his
wife's, had just dropped the comb with which they were arranging each
other's hair. The shoemaker and his dame from Nuremberg paused in the
sensible lecture they were alternately addressing to their
apprentices. The Frankfort messenger put down the needle with which
he was mending the badgerskin in his knapsack. The travelling
musicians who, to save a few pennies, had begun to eat bread, cheese,
and radishes, instead of the warm meals provided for the others, let
their knives drop and set down the wine-jugs. The traders, who were
hotly arguing over Italian politics and the future war with Turkey,
were silent. The four monks, who had leaned their heads against the
cornice of the wide, closed fireplace and, in spite of the flies which
buzzed around them, had fallen asleep, awoke. The vender of
indulgences in the black cowl interrupted the impressive speech which
he was delivering to the people who surrounded his coffer. This group
also —soldiers, travelling artisans, peasants, and tradesfolk with
their wives, who, like most of those present, were waiting for the
vessel which was to sail down the Main early the next morning—gazed
toward the door. Only the students and Bacchantes,—[Travelling
scholars]—who were fairly hanging on the lips of a short, slender
scholar, with keen, intellectual features, noticed neither the draught
of air caused by the entrance of the distinguished arrivals and their
followers, nor the general stir aroused by their appearance, until Dr.
Eberbach, the insignificant, vivacious speaker, recognised in one of
the group the famous Nuremberg humanist, Wilibald Pirckheimer.
At first Dietel, the old waiter, whose bullet-shaped head was
covered with thick gray hair, also failed to notice them. Without
heeding their entrance, he continued,—aided by two assistants who
were scarcely beyond boyhood,—to set the large and small pine tables
which he had placed wherever he could find room.
The patched tablecloths which he spread over the tops were coarse
and much worn; the dishes carried after him by the two assistants,
whose knees bent under the burden, were made of tin, and marred by
many a dent. He swung his stout body to and fro with jerks like a
grasshopper, and in doing so his shirt rose above his belt, but the
white napkin under his arm did not move a finger's width. In small
things, as well as great ones, Dietel was very methodical. So he
continued his occupation undisturbed till an inexperienced merchant's
clerk from Ulm, who wanted to ride farther speedily, accosted him and
asked for some special dish. Dietel drew his belt farther down and
promptly snubbed the young man with the angry retort; "Everybody must
wait for his meal. We make no exceptions here."
Interrupted in his work, he also saw the newcomers, and then cast a
peevish glance at one corner of the room, where stood a table covered
with fine linen and set with silver dishes, among them a platter on
which early pears and juicy plums were spread invitingly. The
landlady of The Pike had arranged them daintily upon fresh vine leaves
an hour before with her own plump but nimble hands. Of course they
were intended for the gentlemen from Nuremberg and their guests.
Dietel, too, now knew them, and saw that the party numbered a person
no less distinguished than the far-famed and highly learned Doctor and
Imperial Councillor, Conrad Peutinger. They were riding to Cologne
together under the same escort. The citizens of Nuremberg were
distinguished men, as well as their guest, but Dietel had served
distinguished personages by the dozen at The Blue Pike for many
years—among them even crowned heads—and they had wanted for nothing.
His skill, however, was not sufficient for these city demigods; for
the landlord of The Pike intended to look after their table himself.
Tomfoolery! There was more than enough for him to do that day over
yonder in the room occupied by the lansquenets and the city soldiers,
where he usually directed affairs in person. It roused Dietel's ire.
The cooking of The Blue Pike, which the landlady superintended, could
vie with any in the Frank country, on the Rhine, or in Swabia, yet,
forsooth, it wasn't good enough for the Nuremberg guests. The Council
cook, a fat, pompous fellow, accompanied them, and had already begun
to bustle about the hearth beside the hostess. They really would have
required no service at all, for they brought their own attendants. It
certainly was not Dietel's usual custom to wish any one evil, but if
Gotz Berlichinger, who had recently attacked a party of Leipsic
merchants at Forchheim, or Hans von Geisslingen had fallen upon them
and subdued their arrogance, it would not have spoiled Dietel's
At last they moved forward. The others might treat them as they
chose; he, at least, would neither say anything to them nor bow before
them as the ears did before Joseph in Holy Writ. Nevertheless, he
looked out of the corner of his eye at them as he took from the basket
of the round- checked kitchen maid, who had now found her way to him,
one fresh brown roll after another, and placed them beside plate after
plate. How well risen and how crusty they were! They fairly cracked
under the pressure of the thumb, yet wheat rolls had been baked
specially for the Nuremberg party. Was God's good gift too poor for
the Honourables with the gold chains?
Now, even fragile little Dr. Eberbach, and the students and
Bacchantes who had stood around him like disciples, intently listening
to his words, bowed respectfully. The ungodly, insolent fellows who
surrounded the Dominican Jacobus, the vender of indulgences, had
turned from him, while he exhorted them, as if he were an importunate
beggar. What did the merchants, artisans, and musicians know about
the godless Greek and Latin writings which brought the names of
Pirckheimer and Peutinger before the people, yet how reverently many
of these folk now bowed before them. Only the soldiers with swords at
their sides held their heads erect. They proved that they were right
in calling themselves "pious lansquenets." The broad-shouldered
knight, with the plumed hat and suit of mail, who walked beside them,
was Sir Hans von Obernitz, the Schultheiss of Nuremberg. He was said
to be a descendant of the ancient Brandenstein race, and yet—was the
world topsy-turvy?—he, too, was listening to every word uttered by
Wilibald Pirckheimer and Dr. Peutinger as if it were a revelation.
The gray-haired leech and antiquary, Hartmann Schedel, whom Herr
Wilibald,—spite of the gout which sometimes forced a slight grimace
to distort his smooth-shaven, clever, almost over-plump face,—led by
the arm like a careful son, resembled, with his long, silver locks, a
patriarch or an apostle.
The young envoy of the Council, Herr Lienhard Groland, lingered
behind the others and seemed to be taking a survey of the room.
What bright, keen eyes he had; how delicately cut was the oval face
with the strong, very slightly hooked nose; how thick were the waving
brown locks that fell upon the slender neck; how well the pointed
beard suited his chin; with what austere majesty his head rose above
the broad, plaited, snow-white ruff, which he must have just donned!
Now his eyes rested upon the vagrants, and Dietel perceived
something which threw him completely off his balance; for the first
time he changed the position of his napkin, jerking it from its place
under his left arm to tuck it beneath the right one. He had known
Kuni a long time. In her prosperous days, when she was the ornament
of Loni's band and had attracted men as a ripe pear draws wasps, she
had often been at the tavern, and both he and the landlord of The Pike
had greeted her cordially, for whoever sought her favour was obliged
to order the best and dearest of everything, not only for her and
himself, but for a whole tableful of hungry guests. When she had met
him just now he would never have recognised her had she not been in
Gundel's company. True, the sight of her in this plight was not
unexpected, yet it pierced him to the heart, for Kuni had been a
remarkable girl, and yet was now in far greater penury than many of
much less worth whom he had watched stumbling along the downward path
before her. When he saw Lienhard Groland's glance rest upon her, he
noticed also how strangely her emaciated face changed colour. Though
it had just been as white as the napkin under his arm, it now flushed
as red as the balsam blossoms in the window, and then paled again.
She had formerly gazed around her boldly enough, but now she lowered
her eyes to the floor as modestly as any demure maiden on her way to
And what did this mean?
The honourable member of the Nuremberg Council must be well
acquainted with the girl, for his eyes had scarcely met hers ere a
strange smile flitted over his grave, manly face.
Now—was it in jest or earnest?—he even shook his finger at her.
He stopped in front of her a moment, too, and Dietel heard him
"So here you are! On the highway again, in spite of everything?"
The distance which separated them and the loud talking of the
guests prevented the waiter's hearing her reply, "The captive bird can
not endure the cage long, Herr Lienhard," far less the words, added in
a lower tone:
"Yet flight has been over since my fall at Augsburg. My foot lies
buried there with many other things which will never return. I can
only move on wheels behind the person who takes me." Then she paused
and ventured to look him full in the face. Her eyes met his beaming
with a radiant light, but directly after they were dimmed by a mist of
tears. Yet she forced them back, though the deep suffering from which
they sprung was touchingly apparent in the tone of her voice, as she
"I have often wished, Herr Lienhard, that the cart was my coffin
and the tavern the graveyard."
Dietel noticed the fit of coughing which followed this speech, and
the hasty movement with which the Nuremberg patrician thrust his hand
into his purse and tossed Kuni three coins. They did not shine with
the dull white lustre of silver, but with the yellow glitter of gold.
The waiter's eyes were sharp and he had his own ideas about this
The travelling companions of the aristocratic burgomaster and
ambassadors of the proud city of Nuremberg had also noticed this
After they had taken their seats at the handsomely ornamented
table, Wilibald Pirckheimer bent toward the ear of his young friend
and companion in office, whispering:
"The lovely wife at home whom you toiled so hard to win, might,
I know, rest quietly, secure in the possession of all the charms of
foam- born Aphrodite, yet I warn you. Whoever is as sure of himself
as you cares little for the opinion of others. And yet we stand high,
friend Lienhard, and therefore are seen by all; but the old Argus who
watches for his neighbour's faults has a hundred sharp eyes, while
among the gods three are blind—Justice, Happiness, and Love.
Besides, you flung gold to yonder worthless rabble. I would rather
have given it to the travelling musicians. They, like us humanists,
are allied to the Muses and, moreover, are harmless, happy folk."
Lienhard Groland listened till his older friend had finished.
Then, after thanking him for his well-meant counsel, he answered,
turning to the others also:
"In better days rope-dancing was the profession of yonder poor,
coughing creature. Now, after a severe accident, she is dragging
herself through life on one foot. I once knew her, for I succeeded in
saving her from terrible disgrace."
"And," replied Wilibald Pirckheimer, "we would rather show kindness
a second and a third time to any one on whom we have be stowed a
favour than to render it once to a person from whom we have received
one. This is my own experience. But the wise man must guard against
nothing more carefully than to exceed moderation in his charity. How
easily, when Caius sees Cnejus lavish gold where silver or copper
would serve, he thinks of Martial's apt words: 'Who gives great gifts,
expects great gifts again.'—[Martial, Epigram 5, 59, 3.]—Do not
misunderstand me. What could yonder poor thing bestow that would
please even a groom? But the eyes of suspicion scan even the past. I
have often seen you open your purse, friend Lienhard, and this is
right. Whoever hath ought to give, and my dead mother used to say
that: 'No one ever became a beggar by giving at the proper time.'"
"And life is gladdened by what one gives to another," remarked
Conrad Peutinger, the learned Augsburg city clerk, who valued his
Padua title of doctor more than that of an imperial councillor. "It
applies to all departments. Don't allow yourself to regret your
generosity, friend Lienhard. 'Nothing becomes man better than the
pleasure of giving,' says Terentius.—[Terenz. Ad. 360]—Who is more
liberal than the destiny which adorns the apple tree that is to bear a
hundred fruits, with ten thousand blossoms to please our eyes ere it
satisfies our appetite?"
"To you, if to any one, it gives daily proof of liberality in both
learning and the affairs of life," Herr Wilibald assented.
"If you will substitute 'God, our Lord,' for 'destiny,' I agree
with you," observed the Abbot of St. AEgidius in Nuremberg.
The portly old prelate nodded cordially to Dr. Peutinger as he
spoke. The warm, human love with which he devoted himself to the care
of souls in his great parish consumed the lion's share of his time and
strength. He spent only his leisure hours in the study of the ancient
writers, in whom he found pleasure, and rejoiced in the work of the
humanists without sharing their opinions.
"Yes, my dear Doctor," he continued in his deep voice, in a tone of
the most earnest conviction, "if envy were ever pardonable, he who
presumed to feel it toward you might most speedily hope to find
forgiveness. There is no physical or mental gift with which the Lord
has not blessed you, and to fill the measure to overflowing, he
permitted you to win a beautiful and virtuous wife of noble lineage."
"And allowed glorious daughters to grow up in your famous home,"
cried little Dr. Eberbach, waving his wineglass enthusiastically.
"Who has not heard of Juliane Peutinger, the youngest of humanists,
but no longer one of the least eminent, who, when a child only four
years old, addressed the Emperor Maximilian in excellent Latin. But
when, as in the child Juliane, the wings of the intellect move so
powerfully and so prematurely, who would not think of the words of the
superb Ovid: 'The human mind gains victories more surely than lances
But, ere he had finished the verse which, like many another Latin
one, he mingled with his German words, he noticed Lienhard Groland
eagerly motioning to him to stop. The latter knew only too well what
had not yet reached the ears of Eberbach in Vienna. The marvellous
child, whose precocious learning he had just extolled as a noble gift
of Providence to the father, was no longer among the living. Her
bright eyes had closed ere she reached maidenhood.
Dr. Eberbach, in painful embarrassment, tried to apologize for his
heedlessness, but the Augsburg city clerk, with a friendly gesture,
endeavoured to soothe his young fellow-scholar.
"It brought the true nature of happiness very vividly before all
our eyes," he remarked with a faint sigh. "In itself it is not
lasting. A second piece of good fortune is needed to maintain the
first. Mine was indeed great and beautiful enough. But we will let
the dead rest. What more have you heard concerning the first books of
the Annales of Tacitus, said to have been discovered in the Corvey
monastery? If the report should be verified——"
Here Eberbach, delighted to find an opportunity to afford the
honoured man whom he had unwittingly grieved a little pleasure,
eagerly interrupted. Hurriedly thrusting his hand into the breast of
his black doublet, he drew forth several small sheets on which he had
succeeded in copying the beginning of the precious new manuscript, and
handed them to Peutinger, who, with ardent zeal, instantly became
absorbed in the almost illegible characters of his young comrade in
learning. Wilibald Pirckheimer and Lienhard Groland also frequently
forgot the fresh salmon and young partridges, which were served in
succession, to share this brilliant novelty. The Abbot of St.
AEgidius, too, showed his pleasure in the fortunate discovery, and did
not grow quieter until the conversation turned upon the polemical
writing which Reuchlin had just finished. It had recently appeared in
Frankfort under the title: The Eye Mirror, and assailed with crushing
severity those who blamed him for opposing the proposal to destroy the
books of the Jews.
"What in the world do we care about the writings of the Hebrews?"
the deep bass voice of Hans von Obernitz here interrupted the
conversation. "A new Latin manuscript—that I value! But has this
noble fragment of Tacitus created half as much stir as this miserable
"There is more at stake," said Lienhard Groland positively. "The
Jewish writings merely serve as a pretext for the Cologne inquisitors
to attack the great Reuchlin. He, the most profound and keenest
student of the noble Greek tongue, who also forced the venerable
language in which the Old Testament speaks to discourse to us
"The Hebrew!" cried Hans von Obernitz impatiently, passing his
napkin over his thick moustache; "what do we want of it? How can a
sagacious man plunge into such annoyances on its account?"
"Because the excess of liberty which you gentlemen grant to the
human intellect blinds him," observed the abbot. "His learning would
throw the doors wide open to heresy. The Scriptures are true. On
them Tungern and Kollin, whom you mention, rely. In the original
Hebrew text they will be given up to every one who wishes to seek an
"Then a new bridge will be built for truth," declared the little
Thuringian with flashing eyes.
"The Cologne theologians hold a different opinion," replied the
"Because the Grand Inquisitor and his followers—Tungern, Kollin,
and whatever the rest may be called—are concerned about some thing
very different from the noblest daughter of Heaven," said Lienhard
Groland, and the other gentlemen assented. "You yourself, my lord
abbot, admitted to me on the ride here that it angered you, too, to
see the Cologne Dominicans pursue the noble scholar 'with such fierce
hatred and bitter stings.'"—[Virgil, Aeneid, xi. 837.]
"Because conflict between Christians always gives me pain," replied
But here Dr. Eberbach impetuously broke in upon the conversation:
"For the sake of a fair woman Ilion suffered unspeakable tortures.
But to us a single song of Homer is worth more than all these Hebrew
writings. And yet a Trojan war of the intellect has been kindled
concerning them. Here freedom of investigation, yonder with
Hoogstraten and Tungern, fettering of the mind. Among us, the ardent
yearning to hold aloft the new light which the revival of learning is
kindling, yonder superior force is struggling to extinguish it. Here
the rule of the thinking mind, in whose scales reason and
counter-argument decide the matter; among the Cologne people it is the
Grand Inquisitor's jailers, chains, dungeons, and the stake."
"They will not go so far," replied the abbot soothingly. "True,
both the front and the back stairs are open to the Dominicans in
"Yet where should humanism find more zealous friends than in that
very place, among the heads of the Church?" asked Dr. Peutinger.
"From the Tiber, I hope——"
Here he paused, for the new guest who had just entered the room
attracted his attention also. The landlord of The Blue Pike
respectfully preceded him and ushered him directly to the Nuremberg
party, while he requested the Dominican monks who accompanied him to
The late arrival was Prof. Arnold von Tungern, dean of the
theological faculty at the University of Cologne. This gentleman had
just been mentioned with the greatest aversion at the table he was now
approaching, and his arrogant manner did little to lessen it.
Nevertheless, his position compelled the Nuremberg dignitaries to
invite him to share their meal, which was now drawing to a close. The
Cologne theologian accepted the courtesy with a patronizing gesture,
as if it were a matter of course. Nay, after he had taken his seat,
he ordered the landlord, as if he were the master, to see that this
and that thing in the kitchen was not forgotten.
Unwelcome as his presence doubtless was to his table companions, as
sympathizers with Reuchlin and other innovators, well as he doubtless
remembered their scornful attacks upon his Latin—he was a man to
maintain his place. So, with boastful self-conceit, allowing no one
else an opportunity to speak, he at once began to complain of the
fatigues of the journey and to mention, with tiresome detail, the
eminent persons whom he had met and who had treated him like a valued
friend. The vein on the little doctor's high forehead swelled with
wrath as he listened to this boastful chatter, which did not cease
until the first dish was served. To brave him, Eberbach turned the
conversation to humanism, its redeeming power over minds, and its
despicable foes. His scornful jests buzzed around his enemy like a
swarm of gnats; but Arnold von Tungern pretended not to hear them.
Only now and then a tremor of the mouth, as he slowly chewed his
food, or a slight raising of the eye-brows, betrayed that one shaft or
another had not wholly missed its mark.
The older gentlemen had sometimes interrupted the Thuringian, to
try to change the conversation, but always in vain, and the guest from
Cologne vouchsafed them only curt, dry answers.
Not until a pause occurred between two courses did von Tungern
alter his manner. Then, like an inquisitor who has succeeded in
convicting the person accused, he leaned back in his chair with a
satisfied, long-drawn "So-o," wiped his moist chin, and began:
"You have showed me your state of mind plainly enough, my young
Herr Doctor. Your name is Eberbach, if I am not mistaken. We will
remember it at a fitting opportunity. But, pugnaciously as your loud
voice summons to the strife, it will never destroy the sacred and
venerable things which are worthy to endure. Thanks to the foundation
of rock which supports them, and the watchfulness of their defenders,
they will stand firmer than the walls of Jericho, whose fate you
doubtless wish to bestow upon them. But you, my valued friends"—here
he turned to the envoys—"who stand at the head of communities whose
greatness is founded upon their ancient order and system, beware of
opening your ears and your gates to the siren song and fierce outcries
of the innovators and agitators."
"Thanks for the counsel," replied Wilibald Pirckheimer, with
repellent coldness; but Arnold von Tungern pretended to consider the
humanist's reply an assent, and, nodding approvingly, continued:
"How could you help exclaiming, with us and the pagan Ovid, 'We
praise the ancients!' And this is merely saying that what time has
tested and made venerable is the best."—[Ovid. Fast., 1, 225.]
Here Doctor Peutinger tried to interrupt him, but the other cut him
short with an arrogant wave of the hand, and in an instructive tone
"The honourable Council of Nuremberg—so I am informed—set a
praiseworthy example several years ago. There was a youthful member
of one of your patrician families—an Ebner, I believe, or a Stromer
or Tucher. He had imbibed in Padua mistaken ideas which, unhappily,
are held in high esteem by many from whom we should expect more
discernment. So it chanced that when he returned home he ventured to
contract a formal betrothal with an honourable maiden of noble
lineage, against the explicit desire of her distinguished parents.
The rebellious youth was therefore summoned before a court of
justice, and, on account of his reckless offence and wanton violation
of custom and law, banished from the city and sentenced to pay a
"A punishment which I endured calmly, Herr Professor," interrupted
Lienhard Groland, "for I myself was that 'rebellious youth.' Besides,
it was by no means the teachings of humanism which led me to an act
that you, learned sir, doubtless regard with sterner eyes than the
Christian charity which your clerical garb made me expect would
These words fell, with the winning earnestness peculiar to him,
from the lips of the young man who, at a time when he cared for no
other woman than his new-made bride, had seen in the poor, endangered
rope-dancer a human being worthy of aid. Only his fiery dark eyes met
the professor's sternly enough.
The latter was still seeking a fitting reply, when the folding
doors of the room were thrown wide open, and a belated party of
travellers entered. They came opportunely, for they afforded a timely
excuse to withhold an answer without attracting notice; yet at the
head of the new guests of The Blue Pike was his Cologne colleague
Conrad Kollin, who was followed, as he himself had been, by a number
of Dominican friars.
Tungern, of course, went to greet him, and this made it easy to
part from his table companions in a manner that aroused no comment;
for while Kollin was surrounded and respectfully welcomed by the
Dominican friars and many other travellers, the humanists left the
Dietel did not lose sight of the envoys. After whispering together
a short time they had risen and gone out. At the door the Abbot of
St. AEgidius left them to greet Professor Kollin, and, with the easy
kindness characteristic of him, to say that the room had become too
warm for the other gentlemen. They presented their compliments to the
distinguished citizen of Cologne, and placed their table at the
service of the newcomer.
Dietel's sharp ears had enabled him to catch these words; but then
he was obliged to move again, a table had to be set outside the house
for the Nuremberg travellers and their companions, and jugs of wine
must be filled for them.
Then he was called back to the taproom. While the landlord of The
Pike was serving a fresh meal to Professor Kollin at the table vacated
by the Nuremberg dignitaries, and Arnold von Tungern was emptying the
full vials of his wrath upon the little doctor and the whole body of
humanists, the Nuremberg travellers and their guests were now
conversing freely, as if relieved from a nightmare, upon the topics
which most deeply interested them.
Dietel would far rather have served the Cologne theologians, whom
he regarded as the appointed defenders of the true faith, than the
insignificant folk at the other tables who had just finished their
How unmannerly their behaviour was! Better wine had been served
before dessert, and they now shouted and sang so loudly and so out of
tune that the air played by the strolling musicians could scarcely be
distinguished. Many a table, too, groaned under blows from the
clinched fist of some excited reveller. Every one seemed animated by
a single desire-to drink again and again.
Now the last pieces of bread and the cloths were removed from the
tables. The carousers no longer needed Dietel. He could leave the
task of filling the jugs to his young assistants.
What were the envoys outside doing? They were well off. In here
the atmosphere was stifling from the fumes emanating from the throng
of people, the wine, and the food. It seemed to draw all the flies
from far and near. Whence did they come? They seemed to have
increased by thousands since the early morning, when the room was
empty. The outside air appeared delightful to breathe. He longed to
fill his lungs again with the pure wind of heaven, and at the same
time catch a few words of the conversation between the envoys to the
So Dietel hobbled to the open window, where the strollers were
Cyriax was lying on the floor asleep, with the brandy bottle in his
arms. Two of his companions, with their mouths wide open, were snoring
at his side. Raban, who begged for blood-money, was counting the
copper coins which he had received. Red-haired Gitta was sewing
another patch of cloth upon her rough husband's already well-mended
jerkin by the dim light of a small lamp, into which she had put some
fat and a bit of rag for a wick. It was difficult to thread the
needle. Had it not been for the yellow blaze of the pitchpans
fastened to the wall with iron clamps, which had already been burning
an hour, she could scarcely have succeeded.
"Make room there," the waiter called to the vagrants, giving the
sleeping Jungel a push with his club foot. The latter grasped his
crutch, as he had formerly seized the sword he carried as a foot
soldier ere he lost his leg before Padua. Then, with a Spanish oath
learned in the Netherlands, he turned over, still half asleep, on his
side. So Dietel found room, and, after vainly looking for Kuni among
the others, gazed out at the starlit sky.
Yonder, in front of the house, beside the tall oleanders which grew
in wine casks cut in halves instead of in tubs, the learned and
aristocratic gentlemen sat around the table with outstretched heads,
examining by the light of the torches the pages which Dr. Eberbach
drew forth, one after another, from the inexhaustible folds of the
front of his black robe.
Dietel, the schoolmaster's son, who had once sat on the bench with
the pupils of the Latin class, pricked up his cars; he heard foreign
words which interested him like echoes of memories of his childhood.
He did not understand them, yet he liked to listen, for they made him
think of his dead father. He had always meant kindly, but he had been
a morose, deeply embittered man. How pitilessly he had flogged him
and the other boys with hazel rods. And he would have been still
harsher and sterner but for his mother's intercession.
A pleasant smile hovered around his lips as he remembered her.
Instead of continuing to listen to the Greek sentences which Herr
Wilibald Pirckheimer was reading aloud to the others, he could not
help thinking of the pious, gentle little woman who, with her cheerful
kindness, so well understood how to comfort and to sustain courage.
She never railed or scolded; at the utmost she only wiped her eyes
with her apron when the farmers of his little native town in Hesse
sent to the schoolmaster, for the school tax, grain too bad for bread,
hay too sour for the three goats, and half-starved fowls.
He thoughtfully patted the plump abdomen which, thanks to the
fleshpots of The Blue Pike, had grown so rotund in his fifteen years
"It pays better to provide for people's bodies than for their
brains," he said to himself. "The Nuremberg and Augsburg gentlemen
outside are rich folk's children. For them learning is only the
raisins, almonds, and citron in the cake; knowledge agrees with them
better than it did with my father. He was the ninth child of
respectable stocking weavers, but, as the pastor perceived that he was
gifted with special ability, his parents took a portion of their
savings to make him a scholar. The tuition fee and the boy were both
confided to a Beanus—that is, an older pupil, who asserted that he
understood Latin—in order that he might look after the inexperienced
little fellow and help him out of school as well as in. But, instead
of using for his protigee the florins intrusted to him, the Beanus
shamefully squandered the money saved for a beloved child by so many
sacrifices. While he feasted on roast meat and wine, the little boy
placed in his charge went hungry." Whenever, in after years, the old
man described this time of suffering, his son listened with clinched
fists, and when Dietel saw a Beanus at The Blue Pike snatch the best
pieces from the child in his care, he interfered in his behalf sternly
enough. Nay, he probably brought to him from the kitchen, on his own
account, a piece of roast meat or a sausage. Many of the names which
fell from the moist lips of the gentlemen outside—Lucian and Virgil,
Ovid and Seneca, Homer and Plato—were perfectly familiar to him. The
words the little doctor was reading must belong to their writings.
How attentively the others listened! Had not Dietel run away from
the monks' school at Fulda he, too, might have enjoyed the witticisms
of these sages, or even been permitted to sit at the same table with
the great lights of the Church from Cologne.
Now it was all over with studying.
And yet—it could not be so very serious a matter, for Doctor
Eberbach had just read something aloud at which the young Nuremberg
ambassador, Lienhard Groland, could not help laughing heartily. It
seemed to amuse the others wonderfully, too, and even caused the
astute Dr. Peutinger to strike his clinched fist upon the table with
the exclamation, "A devil of a fellow!" and Wilibald Pirckheimer to
assent eagerly, praising Hutten's ardent love for his native land and
courage in battling for its elevation; but this Hutten whom he so
lauded was the ill-advised scion of the knightly race that occupied
Castle Steckelberg in his Hessian home, whom he knew well. The state
of his purse was evident from the fact that the landlord of The Pike
had once been obliged to detain him because he could not pay the
bill—though it was by no means large—in any other coin than merry
But even the best joke of the witty knight would have failed to
produce its effect on the listening waiter just now; for the gentlemen
outside were again discussing the Reuchlin controversy, and in doing
so uttered such odious words about the Cologne theologians, whom
Dietel knew as godly gentlemen who consumed an ample supply of food,
that he grew hot and cold by turns. He was a good man who would not
hurt a fly. Yet, when he heard things and opinions which his mother
had taught him to hold sacred assailed, he could become as angry as a
savage brute. The little impious blasphemer Eberbach, especially, he
would have been more than ready to lash with the best hazel rod which
he had ever cut for his dead father. But honest anger affords a
certain degree of enjoyment, so it was anything rather than agreeable
to him to be called away.
The feather curler and his table companions wanted Kitzing wine,
but it was in the cellar, and a trip there would have detained him too
long from his post of listener. So he turned angrily back into the
room, and told the business men that princes, bishops, and counts were
satisfied with the table wine of The Blue Pike, which had been already
served to them, and the sceptre and crozier were of more importance
than their twisted feathers. "Those are not the wisest people," he
added sagely, "who despise what is good to try to get better. So
stick to the excellent Blue Pike wine and say no more about it!"
Without waiting for an answer from the astonished guests, he limped
back to his window to resume his listening. The conversation,
however, had already taken a new turn, for Dr. Peutinger was
describing the Roman monument which he had had put up in the courtyard
of his Augsburg house, but, as this interested Dietel very little, he
soon turned his attention to the high road, whence a belated guest
might still come to The Blue Pike.
The landlady's little kitchen garden lay between it and the river
Main, and there—no, it was no deception—there, behind the low
hawthorn hedge, a human figure was moving.
One of the vagabonds had certainly slipped into the garden to steal
fruit or vegetables, or even honey from the bee hives. An
unprecedented offence! Dietel's blood boiled, for the property of The
Blue Pike was as dear to him as his own.
With prompt decision he went through the entry into the yard, where
he meant to unchain the butcher's dog to help him chase the abominable
robber. But some time was to elapse ere he could execute this
praiseworthy intention; for before he could cross the threshold the
landlord of The Pike appeared, berated him, and ordered him to be more
civil in the performance of his duties. The words were intended less
for the waiter than for the feather dealer and his friends.
The latter had complained of Dietel to the landlord of The Pike,
and, after he had received a reproof, they punished him for his
rudeness by ordering him to fetch one jug of wine from the cellar
after another. At last, when, with many a malediction, he had brought
up the fifth, his tormentors released him, but then the best time was
lost. Nevertheless he continued the pursuit and entered the little
garden with the dog, but the thief had fled.
After assuring himself of this fact he stood still, rubbing his
narrow forehead with the tips of his fingers.
The rogue was most probably one of the vagrants, and like a flash
it entered his mind that the ropedancer, Kuni, who in her prosperous
days, instead of eating meat and vegetables, preferred to satisfy her
appetite with fruits and sweet dainties, might be the culprit.
Besides, when he had looked around among the guests just before, she
was no longer with the other vagabonds.
Certain of having found the right trail, he instantly went to the
window below which the strollers lay, thrust his head into the room
from the outside, and waked the wife of the tongueless swearer. She
had fallen asleep on the floor with the sewing in her hand. The
terror with which she started up at his call bore no favourable
testimony to her good conscience, but she had already recovered her
bold unconcern when he imperiously demanded to know what had become of
"Ask the other travellers—the soldiers, the musicians, the monks,
for aught I care," was the scornful, irritating answer. But when
Dietel angrily forbade such insolent mockery, she cried jeeringly:
"Do you think men don't care for her because she has lost her foot
and has that little cough? You ought to know better.
"Master Dieter has a sweetheart for every finger, though the lower
part of his own body isn't quite as handsome as it might be."
"On account of my foot?" the waiter answered spitefully. "You'll
soon find that it knows how to chase. Besides, the Nuremberg city
soldiers will help me in the search. If you don't tell me at once
where the girl went—by St. Eoban, my patron——"
Here red-haired Gitta interrupted him in a totally different tone;
she and her companions had nothing good to expect from the city
In a very humble manner she protested that Kuni was an
extraordinarily charitable creature. In a cart standing in the meadow
by the highroad lay the widow of a beggar, Nickel; whom the peasants
had hung on account of many a swindling trick. A goose and some
chickens had strayed off to his premises. The woman had just given
birth to twins when Nickel was hung, and she was now in a violent
fever, with frequent attacks of convulsions, and yet had to nurse the
infants. The landlady of The Pike had sent her some broth and a
little milk for the children. As for Kuni, she had gone to carry some
linen from her own scanty store to the two babies, who were as naked
as little frogs. He would find her with the sick mother.
All this flowed from Gitta's lips with so much confidence that
Dietel, whose heart was easily touched by such a deed of charity,
though he by no means put full confidence in her, allowed himself to
be induced to let the city soldiers alone for the present and test the
truth of her strange statement himself.
So he prepared to go in search of the cart, but the landlord of The
Pike met him at the door, and, angrily asking what ailed him that day,
ordered him to fetch the Erbach, more of which was wanted inside.
Dietel went down into the cellar again, but this time he was not to
leave it so speedily, for the apprentice of a Nuremberg master
shoemaker, whose employer was going to the Frankfort fair with his
goods, and who made common cause with the feather dealer, stole after
Dietel, and of his own volition, for his own pleasure, locked him in.
The good Kitzing wine had strengthened his courage. Besides,
experience taught him that an offence would be more easily pardoned
the more his master himself disliked the person against whom it was
The ropedancer, Kuni, really had been with the sick mother and her
babes, and had toiled for them with the utmost diligence.
The unfortunate woman was in great distress.
The man who had promised to take her in his cart to her native
village of Schweinfurt barely supported himself and his family by the
tricks of his trained poodles. He made them perform their very best
feats in the taverns, under the village lindens, and at the fairs.
But the children who gazed at the four-footed artists, though they
never failed to give hearty applause, frequently paid in no other
coin. He would gladly have helped the unfortunate woman, but to
maintain the wretched mother and her twins imposed too heavy a burden
upon the kind-hearted vagabond, and he had withdrawn his aid.
Then the ropedancer met her. True, she herself was in danger of
being left lying by the wayside; but she was alone, and the mother had
her children. These were two budding hopes, while she had nothing
more to expect save the end—the sooner the better. There could be no
new happiness for her.
And yet, to have found some one who was even more needy than she,
lifted her out of herself, and to have power to be and do something in
her behalf pleased her, nay, even roused an emotion akin to that
which, in better days, she had felt over a piece of good fortune which
others envied. Perhaps she herself might be destined to die on the
highway, without consolation, the very next day; but she could save
this unhappy woman from it, and render her end easier. Oh, how rich
Lienhard's gold coins made her! Yet if, instead of three, there had
been as many dozens, she would have placed the larger portion in the
twins' pillows. How it must soothe their mother's heart! Each one
was a defence against hunger and want. Besides, the gold had been
fairly burning her hand. It came from Lienhard. Had it not been for
Cyriax and the crowd of people in the room, she would have made him
take it back—she alone knew why.
How did this happen?
Why did every fibre of her being rebel against receiving even the
smallest trifle from the man to whom she would gladly have given the
whole world? Why, after she had summoned up courage and approached
Lienhard to restore his gift, had she felt such keen resentment and
bitter suffering when the landlord of The Blue Pike stopped her?
As she now seized his gold, it seemed as though she saw Lienhard
before her. She had already told Cyriax how she met the aristocratic
Nuremberg patrician, a member of the ancient and noble Groland family,
whom his native city had now made an ambassador so young. But what
secretly bound her to him had never passed her lips.
Once in her life she had felt something which placed her upon an
equal footing with the best and purest of her sex—a great love for
one from whom she asked nothing, nothing at all, save to be permitted
to think of him and to sacrifice everything, everything for him—even
life. So strange had been the course of this love, that people would
have doubted her sanity or her truthfulness had she described it to
While standing before St. Sebald's church in Nuremberg, the vision
of the young Councillor's bride at first made a far stronger
impression upon her mind than his own. Then her gaze rested on
Lienhard. As he had chosen the fairest of women, the bride had also
selected the tallest, most stately, and certainly the best and wisest
of men. During her imprisonment the image of this rare couple had
been constantly before her. Not until, through the young husband's
intercession, she had regained her liberty, after he prevented her
kissing his hand and, to soothe her, had stroked her hair and cheeks
in the magistrate's room, did the most ardent gratitude take
possession of her soul. From this emotion, which filled heart and
mind, a glowing wealth of other feelings had blossomed like buds upon
a rosebush. Everything in her nature had attracted her toward him,
and the desire to devote herself to him, body and soul, shed the last
drop of blood in her heart for him, completely ruled her. His image
rose before her day and night, sometimes alone, sometimes with his
beautiful bride. Not only to him, but to her also she would joyfully
have rendered the most menial service, merely to be near them and to
be permitted to show that the desire to prove her gratitude had become
the object of her life.
When, with good counsel for the future, he dismissed her from the
chief magistrate's room, he had asked her where she was to be found in
case he should have anything to say to her. It seemed as though, from
mingled alarm and joy, her heart would stop beating. If her lodgings,
instead of an insignificant tavern, had been her own palace, she would
gladly have opened all its gates to him, yet a feverish thrill ran
through her limbs at the thought that he might seek her among her
vagabond companions, and ask in return for his kindness what he would
never have presumed to seek had she been the child of reputable
parents, yet which, with mingled anger and happiness, she resolved not
During the day and the night when she expected his visit, she had
become aware that she, who had never cared for any man save for the
gifts he bestowed, was fired with love for Lienhard. Such ardent
yearning could torture only a loving heart, yet what she felt was very
unlike the love with which she was familiar in songs, and had seen in
other girls; for she by no means thought with jealous rancour of the
woman to whom he belonged, body and soul—his beautiful wife. It
rather seemed to her that she was his, and he would no longer be the
same if he were separated from her, nay, as if her very love was hers
also. When she heard a noise outside of her little room she started,
and eagerly as she yearned to see him, blissful as she thought it must
be to sink upon his breast and offer him her lips to kiss, the bold
ropedancer, who never cared for the opinions of others, could not
shake off, even for a moment, the fear of wronging the fair wife who
had a better right to him. Instead of hating her, or even wishing to
share the heart of the man she loved with his bride, she shrank from
the approaching necessity of clouding her young happiness as though it
were the direst misfortune. Yet she felt that its prevention lay, not
in her own hands, but in those of Fate. Should it please Destiny to
lead Lienhard to her and inspire him with a desire for her love, all
resistance, she knew, would be futile. So she began to repeat several
paternosters that he might remain away from her. But her yearning was
so great that she soon desisted, and again and again went to the
window with a fervent wish that he might come.
In the terrible tumult of her heart she had forgotten to eat or to
drink since early morning, and at last, in the afternoon, some one
knocked at the door, and the landlady called her.
While she was hurriedly smoothing her thick black hair and
straightening her best gown, which she had put on for him in the
morning, she heard the hostess say that Herr Groland of the Council
was waiting for her downstairs. Every drop of blood left her glowing
cheeks, and the knees which never trembled on the rope shook as she
descended the narrow steps.
He came forward to meet her in the entry, holding out his hand with
open- hearted frankness. How handsome and how good he was! No one
wore that look who desired aught which must be hidden under the veil
of darkness. Ere her excited blood had time to cool, he had beckoned
to her to follow him into the street, where a sedan chair was
An elderly lady of dignified bearing looked out and met her eyes
with a pleasant glance. It was Frau Sophia, the widow of Herr Conrad
Schurstab of the Council, one of the richest and most aristocratic
noblewomen in the city. Lienhard had told her about the charming
prisoner who had been released and begged her to help him bring her
back to a respectable and orderly life. The lady needed an assistant
who, now that it was hard for her to stoop, would inspect the linen
closets, manage the poultry yard- her pride—and keep an eye on the
children when they came to visit their grandmother. So she instantly
accompanied Lienhard to the tavern, and Kuni pleased her. But it
would have been difficult not to feel some degree of sympathy for the
charming young creature who, in great embarrassment, yet joyously as
though released from a heavy burden, raised her large blue eyes to the
It was cold in the street, and as Kuni had come out without any
wrap, Frau Schurstab, in her friendly consideration, shortened the,
conference. Lienhard Uroland had helped her with a few words, and when
the sedan chair and the young Councillor moved down the street all the
necessary details were settled. The vagrant had bound herself and
assumed duties, though they were very light ones. She was to move
that evening into the distinguished widow's house, not as a servant,
but as the old lady's assistant.
Loni, the manager of the company of rope-dancers, had watched the
negotiations from the taproom. During their progress each of the
three windows was filled with heads, but no one had been able to hear
what was whispered in the street. Just as the curious spectators were
hoping that now they might perhaps guess what the aristocratic lady
wanted with Kuni, the sedan chair began to move, and the young girl
entered the hot room to tell Loni that she would leave the company
that day forever.
"In-de-e-ed?" Loni asked in astonishment, lifting the gold circlet
which rested on his head. Then he passed his hand through the
coal-black hair which, parted in the middle, fell in smooth strands
upon his neck, and exerted all his powers of persuasion to convince
her of the folly of her plan. After his arguments were exhausted he
raised his voice louder. As usual, when excited by anger, he swung his
lower right arm to and fro, feeling the prominent muscles with his
left hand. But Kuni remained resolute, and when be at last perceived
that his opposition only increased her obstinacy, he exclaimed:
"Then rush on to your destruction! The day will come when you will
see where you belong. If only it doesn't arrive too late. A man
grows twelve and a woman thirty-six months older every year."
With these words he turned his back upon her, and the clown brought
the amount of wages which was due.
Many an eye grew dim with tears when Kuni bade farewell to her
companions. Shortly after sunset she was welcomed to Frau Schurstab's
The first greeting was friendly, and she received nothing but
kindness and indulgent treatment afterward. She had a sunny chamber
of her own, and how large and soft her bed was! But while, when on
the road with Loni's band, if they could reach no town, she had often
slept soundly and sweetly on a heap of straw, here she spent one
restless night after another.
During the first a series of questions disturbed her slumber. Was
it really only the desire to take her from her vagabond life which had
induced Lienhard to open this house to her? Did he not perhaps also
cherish the wish to keep her near him? He had certainly come to her
with Frau Schurstab to protect her reputation. Had it not been so he
might have left the matron at home; for Loni and everybody in the
company knew that she never troubled herself about gossip. Last year
she had obtained a leave of absence from Loni, who was making a tour
of the little Frank towns, and spent the carnival season in revelry
with a sergeant of the Nurembreg soldiers. When the booty he had
gained in Italy was squandered, she gave him his dismissal. Her
reputation among her companions was neither better nor worse than that
of the other strolling players who, like her, were born on the
highway, yet she was glad that Lienhard had tried to spare her. Or
had he only come with the old noblewoman on account of his own fair
Perhaps—her pulses again throbbed faster at the thought—he had
not ventured to come alone because some feeling for her stirred in his
own heart, and, spite of his beautiful young wife, he did not feel
safe from her. Then Fran Schurstab was to serve as a shield. This
conjecture flattered her vanity and reconciled her to the step which
she had taken and already began to regret.
But suppose he really felt no more for her than the forester who
finds a child lost in the woods, and guides it into the right path?
How would she endure that? Yet, were it otherwise, if he was like
the rest of men, if he profited by what her whole manner must betray
to him, how should she face his wife, who undoubtedly would soon come
to call on her aunt?
All these questions roused a tumult of unprecedented violence in
her young, ardent, inexperienced soul, which was renewed each
successive night. It became more and more difficult for her to
understand why she had left Loni's band and entered into relations for
which she was not suited, and in which she could never, never be at
ease or feel happy.
Nothing was lacking in this wealthy household, not even kindness
and love. Frau Sophia was indulgent and friendly, even when Kuni,
whose heart and brain were occupied with so many other thoughts,
neglected or forgot anything. The matron's grandchildren, of whom she
often had charge, soon became warmly attached to her. While among the
rope-dancers she had been fond of children, and many a little one who
journeyed with the band held out its arms to her more joyously than to
its own mother. There was something in her nature that attracted them.
Besides, her skilful hands could show them many a rare trick, and she
could sing numerous songs new to the Schurstab boys and girls, which
she had picked up here and there. Then, too, she permitted many a
prank which no one else would have allowed. Her duties connected with
the household linen and the poultry yard, its owner's pride, were so
easily performed, that in her leisure hours she often voluntarily
helped the housekeeper. At first the latter eyed her askance, but she
soon won her affection. Both she and her mistress showed her as much
attention as the gardener bestows upon a wild plant which he has
transferred to good soil, where it thrives under his care.
She kept aloof from the servants, and neither man nor maid molested
her. Perhaps this was due to foolish arrogance, for after they had
learned from rumour that Kuni had danced on the tight rope, they
considered themselves far superior. The younger maids timidly kept
out of her way, and Kuni surpassed them in pride and looked down upon
them, because her free artist blood rebelled against placing herself
on the plane of a servitor. She did not vouchsafe them a word, yet
neither did she allow any of them to render her even the most trivial
service. But she could not escape Seifried, the equerry of her
mistress's eldest son. At first, according to her custom, she had
roused the handsome fellow's hopes by fiery glances which she could
not restrain. Now he felt that she cared for him, and in his honest
fashion offered to make her his beloved wife; but she refused his
suit, at first kindly, then angrily. As he still persisted she begged
the housekeeper, though she saw that matchmaking was her delight, to
keep him away.
Even in March Frau Sophia thanked Lienhard for the new inmate of
her household, who far exceeded her expectations. In April her praise
became still warmer, only she regretted that Kuni's pretty face was
losing its fresh colour and her well-formed figure its roundness. She
was sorry, too, that she so often seemed lost in thought, and appeared
less merry while playing with the children.
Lienhard and his young wife excused the girl's manner. Comfortable
as she was now, she was still a prisoned bird. It would be unnatural,
nay, suspicious, if she did not sometimes long for the old freedom and
her former companions. She would also remember at times the applause
of the multitude. The well-known Loni, her former employer, had
besought him to win her back to his company, complaining loudly of her
loss, because it was difficult to replace her with an equally skilful
young artist. It was now evident how mistaken the juggler had been
when he asserted that Kuni, who was born among vagrants, would never
live in a respectable family. He, Lienhard, had great pleasure in
knowing that the girl, on the road to ruin, had been saved by Frau
Lienhard's father had died shortly after Kuni entered her new home.
Every impulse to love dalliance, she felt, must shrink before this
great sorrow. The idea sustained her hopes. She could not expect him
to seek her again until the first bitterness of grief for the loss of
this beloved relative had passed away. She could wait, and she
succeeded in doing so patiently.
But week after week went by and there was no change in his conduct.
Then a great anxiety overpowered her, and this did not escape his
notice; for one day, while his young wife hung on his arm and added a
few brief words of sympathy, he asked Kuni if she was ill or if she
needed anything; but she answered curtly in the negative and hurried
into the garden, where the children, with merry shouts, were helping
the gardener to free the beds of crocuses and budding tulips from the
pine boughs which had protected them from the frosts of winter.
Another sleepless night followed this incident. It was useless to
deceive herself. She might as well mistake black for white as to
believe that Lienhard cared for her. To no one save his fair young
wife would he grant even the smallest ray of the love of which he was
doubtless capable, and in which she beheld the sun that dispensed life
and light. She had learned this, for he had often met her in Frau
Sophia's house since his father's funeral. The child of the highway
had never been taught to conceal her feelings and maintain timid
reserve. Her eyes had told him eloquently enough, first her deep
sympathy, and afterward the emotions which so passionately stirred her
heart. Had the feelings which her glances were intended to reveal
passed merely for the ardent gratitude of an impassioned soul?
Gratitude! For what?
His lukewarm interest had tempted her from a free, gay life, full
of constant excitement, into the oppressive, wearisome monotony of
this quiet house, where she was dying of ennui. How narrow, how
petty, how tiresome everything seemed, and what she had bartered for
it was the world, the whole wide, wide world. As the chicken lured
the fox, the hope of satisfying the fervent longing of her heart,
though even once and for a few brief moments, had brought her into the
snare. But the fire which burned within had not been extinguished.
An icy wind had fanned the flames till they blazed higher and higher,
threatening her destruction.
Frau Schurstab had made her attend church and go to the
confessional. But the mass, whose meaning she did not understand,
offered no solace to the soul which yearned for love alone. Besides,
it wearied her to remain so long in the same place, and the confession
forced the girl, who had never shrunk from honestly expressing what
she felt, into deception. The priest to whom she was taken was a
frequent visitor at the Schurstab house, and she would have died ere
she would have confided to him the secret of her heart. Besides, to
her the feeling which animated her was no sin. She had not summoned
it. It had taken possession of her against her will and harmed no one
except herself, not even the wife who was so sure of her husband. How
could she have presumed to dispute with her the possession of Herr
Lienhard's love? Yet it seemed an insult that Frau Katharina had no
fear that she could menace her happiness. Could the former know that
Kuni would have been content with so little—a tender impulse of his
heart, a kiss, a hasty embrace? That would do the other no injury.
In the circles whence she had been brought no one grudged another
such things. How little, she thought, would have been taken from the
wealthy Katharina by the trifling gift which would have restored to
her happiness and peace. The fact that Lienhard, though he never
failed to notice her, would not understand, and always maintained the
same pleasant, aristocratic reserve of manner, she sometimes
attributed to fear, sometimes to cruelty, sometimes to arrogance; she
would not believe that he saw in her only a person otherwise
indifferent to him, whom he wished to accustom to the mode of life
which he and his friends believed to be the right path, pleasing in
the sight of God. Love, feminine vanity, the need of approval, her
own pride—all opposed this view.
When the last snow of winter had melted, and the spring sunshine of
April was unfolding the green leafage and opening bright flowers in
the meadows, the hedges, the woods, and the gardens, she found the new
home which she had entered during the frosts of February, and whose
solid walls excluded every breath of air, more and more unendurable.
A gnawing feeling of homesickness for the free out-of-door life, the
wandering from place to place, the careless, untrammelled people to
whom she belonged, took possession of her. She felt as though
everything which surrounded her was too small, the house, the
apartments, her own chamber, nay, her very clothing. Only the hope of
the first token that Lienhard was not so cold and unconquerable as he
seemed, that she would at last constrain him to pass the barrier which
separated them, still detained her.
Then came the day when, to avoid answering his question whether she
needed anything, she had gone into the garden. Before reaching the
children, who were playing among the crocuses and tulips, she had said
to herself that she must leave this house—it was foolish, nay mad, to
continue to cherish the hope which had brought her hither. She would
suffer keenly in tearing it from her heart, but a wild delight seized
her at the thought that this imprisonment would soon be over, that she
would be free once more, entirely her own mistress, released from
every restraint and consideration. How rapturous was the idea that
she would soon be roving through the fields and woods again with gay,
reckless companions! Was there anything more pleasurable than to
forget herself, and devote her whole soul to the execution of some
difficult and dangerous feat, to attract a thousand eyes by her
bewitching grace, and, sustained by her enthusiasm, force a thousand
hearts to throb anxiously and give loud applause as she flew over the
Never had the children seen her more extravagantly gay than after
her resolve to leave them. Yet when, at a late hour, Kuni went to
bed, the old housekeeper heard her weeping so piteously in her chamber
that she rose to ask what had happened. But the girl did not even
open her door, and declared that she had probably had the nightmare.
During the next few days she sometimes appeared more cheerful and
docile, sometimes more dull and troubled than her household companions
had ever seen her. Frau Schurstab shook her head over her protegee's
varying moods. But when the month of May began, and Lienhard told his
aunt that Loni, who had only remained in Nuremberg during Lent to
spend the time when all public performances were prohibited, had
applied to the Council for permission to give exhibitions with his
company Easter week in the Haller Meadows, the matron was troubled
about her protegee's peace of mind. Her nephew had had the same
thought, and advised her to move to her country estate, that Kuni
might see and hear nothing of the jugglers; but she had noticed the
clown with other members of the company, as they passed through the
streets on foot and mounted on horses and donkeys, inviting the
people, with blare of trumpets and beating of drums, to witness the
wonderful feats which Loni's famous band of artists would perform.
Then Kuni packed her bundle. But when she heard the next morning
that, before going to the country, Frau Schurstab would attend the
christening of her youngest grandson, and spend the whole day with the
daughter who was the little boy's mother, she untied it.
One sunny May morning she was left alone, as she had expected. She
could not be invited to the ceremony with the other guests, and she
would not join the servants. The housekeeper and most of the men and
maids had accompanied their mistress to help in the kitchen and to
wait upon the visitors. Deep silence reigned throughout the great
empty house, but Kuni's heart had never throbbed so loudly. If
Lienhard came now, her fate would be decided, and she knew that he
must come. Just before noon, he really did rap with the knocker on
the outer door. He wanted the christening gift, which Frau Schurstab
had forgotten to take for the infant. The money was in the chest in
the matron's room. Kuni led the way. The house seemed to reel around
her as she went up the stairs behind him. The next moment, she felt,
must decide her destiny.
Now he laid his hand upon the doorknob, now he opened the door.
The widow's chamber was before her. Thick silk curtains shut out the
bright May sunshine from the quiet room. How warm and pleasant it
She already saw herself in imagination kneeling by his side before
the chest to help him search. While doing so, his fingers might touch
hers, perhaps her hair might brush against his. But, instead of
entering, he turned to her with careless unconcern, saying:
"It is fortunate that I have found you alone. Will you do me a
He had intended to ask her to help him prepare a surprise for his
aunt. The day after to-morrow was Frau Sophia Schurstab's birthday.
Early in the morning she must find among her feathered favourites a
pair of rare India fowls, which he had received from Venice.
As Kuni did not instantly assent, because the wild tumult of her
blood paralyzed her tongue, he noticed her confusion, and in an
encouraging tone, gaily continued:
"What I have to ask is not too difficult." As he spoke he passed
his hand kindly over her dark hair, just as he had done a few months
before in the Town Hall.
Then the blood mounted to her brain. Clasping his right hand,
beneath whose touch she had just trembled, in both her own, she
"Ask whatever you desire. If you wanted to trample my heart under
your feet, I would not stir."
A look of ardent love from her sparkling blue eyes accompanied the
words; but he had withdrawn his hand in astonishment, and raised a
lofty barrier between them by answering coldly and sternly, "Keep the
heart and your dainty self for the equerry Seifried who is an honest
The advice, and the lofty austerity with which it was given,
pierced Kuni like the thrust of a dagger. Yet she succeeded
controlling herself, and, without a word reply, preceded the harsh man
into the sleeping room and silently, tearlessly, pointed the chest.
When he had taken out the money, she bowed hastily and ran down the
Probably she heard him call her name more than three times;
doubtless, afterward she fancied that she remembered how his voice had
sounded in beseeching, tender, at last even imperious tones through
the empty corridors; but she did not turn, and hurried into her room.
When, on the evening of the christening day, Lienhard accompanied
his aunt home, Kuni was nowhere to be found. Frau Sophia discovered
in her chamber every article of clothing which she had obtained for
her, even the beaver cap, the prayer-book, and the rosary which she
had given. The young burgomaster, at her request, went to the manager
of the rope- dancers, Loni, the next morning, but the latter asserted
that he knew nothing about the girl. The truth was that he had sent
her to Wurzburg with part of his company.
From that time she had remained with the ropedancers. At first the
master had watched her carefully, that she might not run away again.
But he soon perceived this to be unnecessary; for he had never found
any member of the company more zealous, or seen one make more progress
in the art. Now the only point was to keep her out of the way of
other rope- dancers, English proprietors of circus companies, as well
as the numerous knights and gentlemen who tried to take her from him.
Her name had become famous. When the crier proclaimed that the
"flying maiden" would ascend the rope to the steeple, Loni was sure of
a great crowd of spectators. Among her own profession she had
obtained the nickname of crazy Kuni.
Yet even at that time, and in the midst of the freest intercourse
with German, Spanish, and other officers in Flanders and Brabant,
young knights and light-hearted priests on the Rhine, the Main, the
Danube, the Weser, and the Elbe, whose purses the pretty, vivacious
girl, with the shining raven hair and bright blue eyes, the mistress
of her art, seemed to their owners worthy to empty, she had by no
means forgotten Lienhard. This wrought mischief to many a gay
gentleman of aristocratic lineage in the great imperial and commercial
cities; for it afforded Kuni special pleasure to try her power upon
Lienhard's equals in rank. When she went on with the company, more
than one patrician had good reason to remember her with regret; for
she, who shared the lion's portion of her earnings with her companions
or flung it to the poor, was insatiably avaricious toward these
The weaker she found many of them, the higher, in her opinion, rose
the image of him who had made her feel his manly strength of
resistance so cruelly. His stern, inexorable nature seemed to her
worthy of hate, yet for three whole years the longing for him scarcely
left her heart at peace an hour.
During this whole period she had not met him. Not until after she
had come to Augsburg, where Loni's company was to give several
performances before the assembled Reichstag, did she see him again.
Once she even succeeded in attracting his gaze, and this was done in
a way which afforded her great satisfaction. His beautiful wife, clad
in costly velvet robes, was walking by his side with eyes decorously
downcast; but he had surely recognised her—there was no doubt of
that. Yet he omitted to inform his wife, even by a look, whom he had
met here. Kuni watched the proud couple a long time, and, with the
keen insight of a loving heart, told herself that he would have
pointed her out to Frau Katharina, if he did not remember her in some
way—either in kindness or in anger.
This little discovery had sufficed to transfigure, as it were, the
rest of the day, and awaken a throng of new hopes and questions.
Even now she did not desire to win Frau Katharina's husband from
her. She freely acknowledged that the other's beauty was tenfold
greater than her own; but whether the gifts of love which the woman
with the cloudless, aristocratic composure could offer to her husband
were not like the beggar's pence, compared with the overflowing
treasure of ardent passion which she cherished for Lienhard, was a
question to which she believed there could be but a single answer.
Was this lady, restricted by a thousand petty scruples, as well as by
her stiff, heavy gala robes, a genuine woman at all? Ah! if he would
only for once cast aside the foolish considerations which prevented
him also from being a genuine man, clasp her, whom he knew was his
own, in his arms, and hold her as long as he desired, he should learn
what a strong, free, fearless woman, whose pliant limbs were as
unfettered as her heart, could bestow upon him to whom she gave all
the love that she possessed! And he must want something of her which
was to be concealed from the wife. She could not be mistaken. She
had never been deceived in a presentiment that was so positive. Ever
since she reached Augsburg, an inner voice had told her— and old
Brigitta's cards confirmed it—that the destiny of her life would be
decided here, and he alone held her weal and woe in his hand.
Yet she had misinterpreted his conduct to his wife. In spite of
the finery which Kuni owed to the generosity of the Knight of
Neckerfels, who was then a suitor for her favour, Lienhard had
recognised her. The sight recalled their last meeting and its painful
termination, and therefore he had omitted to attract Frau Katharina's
attention to her immediately. But, ere Kuni disappeared, he had
repaired the oversight, and both desired to ascertain the fate of
their former charge. True, the wish could not be instantly fulfilled,
for Lienhard's time and strength were wholly claimed by the mission
intrusted to him by the Emperor and the Council.
The next afternoon Kuni ascended the rope to the steeple in the
presence of many princes and dignitaries. Firmly as ever she moved
along the rope stretched through the wooden stay behind her, holding
the balancing pole as she went. The clapping of hands and shouts of
applause with which the crowd greeted "the flying maiden" led her to
kiss her hand to the right and the left, and bow to the stand which
had been erected for the crowned heads, counts, nobles, and their
wives. In doing so, she looked down at the aristocratic spectators to
ascertain whether the Emperor and one other were among them. In spite
of the height of the topmost window of the steeple where she stood,
her keen eyes showed her that Maximilian's seat was still vacant. As
it was hung with purple draperies and richly garlanded, the monarch
was evidently expected. This pleased her, and her heart throbbed
faster as she saw on the stand all the nobles who were entitled to
admittance to the lists of a tournament, and, in the front row, the
man whose presence she most desired. At Lienhard's right sat his
dazzlingly beautiful wife, adorned with plumes and the most superb
gold ornaments; at his left was a maiden of extremely peculiar charm.
According to years she was still a child, but her delicate, mobile
features had a mature expression, which sometimes gave her a
precocious air of superiority. The cut of her white robe and the
little laurel wreath on her brown curls reminded Kuni of the pagan
Genius on an ancient work of marble which she had seen in Verona.
Neither the girl's age nor her light, airy costume harmonized with
her surroundings; for the maids and matrons near her were all far
beyond childhood, and wore the richest holiday costumes of heavy
brocades and velvets. The huge puffs on the upper part of the sleeves
touched the cheeks of many of the wearers, and the lace ruffs on the
stiff collars rendered it easy, it is true, to maintain their
aristocratic, haughty dignity, but prevented any free, swift movement.
The young girl who, as Kuni afterward learned, was the daughter of
Conrad Peutinger, of Augsburg, whom she had again seen that day in The
Blue Pike, was then eleven years old. She was sometimes thought to be
fifteen or even sixteen; her mobile face did not retain the same
expression a single instant. When the smile which gave her a
childlike appearance vanished, and any earnest feeling stirred her
soul, she really resembled a mature maiden. What a brilliant,
versatile intellect must animate this remarkable creature! Lienhard,
shrewd and highly educated as he was, seemed to be completely absorbed
in his neighbour; nay, in his animated conversation with her he
entirely forgot the beautiful wife at his side; at least, while Kuni
looked down at him, he did not bestow a single glance upon her. Now
he shook his finger mischievously at the child, but he seemed to be
seeking, in mingled amusement and perplexity, to find a fitting
answer. And how brightly Lienhard's eyes sparkled as he fairly hung
upon the sweet red lips of the little marvel at his left—the heart
side! A few minutes had sufficed to show the ropedancer all this, and
suggest the question whether it was possible that the most faithful of
husbands would thus basely neglect, for the sake of a child, the young
wife whom he had won in spite of the hardest obstacles, on whose
account he had so coldly and cruelly rejected her, the object of so
much wooing, and who, this very day, was the fairest of all the
beautiful ladies who surrounded her.
In an instant her active mind transported her to the soul of the
hitherto favoured wife of the man whom she loved, and her strangely
constituted woman's heart filled with resentment against the young
creature below, who had not even attained womanhood, and yet seemed to
gain, without effort, the prize for which she had vainly striven with
She, whose heart had remained free from jealousy of the woman who
stood between her and the man she loved, like a solid bulwark erected
by Fate itself, was now suddenly overmastered by this passion.
Yet she did not turn against the person to whom Lienhard belonged,
as he did to the city, or to his own family, and who was united to him
by the will of Heaven, but against the mysterious young creature at
his side, who changed with every passing moment.
This child—no, this maiden—must be a being of some special
nature. Like the sirens of whom she had heard, she possessed the
mysterious, enviable power of conquering the iron resistance of even
the strongest man.
Like a flash of lightning, Kuni, whose kind heart cherished
resentment against few and wished no one any evil, suddenly felt an
ardent desire to drive the little witch from Lienhard's side, even by
force, if necessary. Had she held a thunderbolt instead of a balance
pole, she would gladly have struck down the treacherous child from her
height—not only because this enchantress had so quickly won that for
which she had vainly yearned, alas! how long, but because it pierced
her very heart to see Frau Katharina's happiness clouded, nay, perhaps
destroyed. A bitterness usually alien to her light, gay nature had
taken possession of her, as, with the last glance she cast at
Lienhard, she saw him bend low over the child and, with fiery ardour,
whisper something which transformed the delicate pink flush in her
cheeks to the hue of the poppy.
Yes, the ropedancer was jealous of the laurel-crowned child. She,
who cared so little for law and duty, virtue and morality, now felt
offended, wounded, tortured by Lienhard's conduct. But there was no
time to ponder over the reason now. She had already delayed too long
ere moving forward.
Yet even calm reflection would not have revealed the right answer
to the problem. How could she have suspected that what stirred her
passionate soul so fiercely was grief at the sight of the man whom she
had regarded as the stronghold of integrity, the possessor of the
firmest will, the soul of inviolable fidelity, succumbing here, before
the eyes of all, like a dissolute weakling, to the seductive arts of
an immature kobold? These two, who gave to her, the orphaned vagrant,
surrounded by unbridled recklessness, physical and mental misery, a
proof that there was still in marriage real love and a happiness
secure from every assault, were now, before her eyes, placing
themselves on the same plane with the miserable couples whom she met
everywhere. She could not have expressed her emotions in words, but
she vaguely felt that the world had become poorer, and that henceforth
she must think of something more trivial when she tried to imagine the
pure happiness which mortals are permitted to enjoy. She had seen the
blossoms stripped from the scanty remnant of her faith in truth and
goodness, which had begun to bloom afresh in her heart through the
characters of this pair whose marriage procession she had watched.
Loni had been beckoning a long time; now he waved his gay
handkerchief still more impatiently, and she moved on.
Her lips forced themselves into the customary smile with
difficulty. Tripping forward was an easy matter for one so free from
dizziness. She only carried the pole because it was customary to
begin with the least difficult feats. Yet, while gracefully placing
one foot before the other, she said to herself—safe as she
felt—that, while so much agitated, she would be wiser not to look
down again into the depths below. She did avoid it, and with a swift
run gained the end of the rope without effort, and went up and down it
a second time.
While, on reaching the end of her walk, she was chalking her soles
again, the applause which had accompanied her during her dangerous
pilgrimage still rose to her ears, and came-most loudly of all from
the stand where Lienhard sat among the distinguished spectators. He,
too, had clapped his hands lustily, and shouted, "Bravo!" Never had
he beheld any ropedancer display so much grace, strength, and daring.
His modest protegee had become a magnificently developed woman. How
could he have imagined that the unfortunate young creature whom he had
saved from disgrace would show such courage, such rare skill?
He confided his feelings, and the fact that he knew the artist, to
his young neighbour, but she had turned deadly pale and lowered her
eyes. While looking on she had felt as though she herself was in
danger of falling into the depths. Giddiness had seized her, and her
heart, whose tendency to disease had long awakened the apprehension of
the physicians, contracted convulsively. The sight of a fellow-being
hovering in mortal peril above her head seemed unendurable. Not until
she followed Lienhard's advice and avoided looking up, did she regain
her calmness. Her changeful temperament soon recovered its former
cheerfulness, and the friend at her side to whom the lovely child,
with her precocious mental development, appeared like the fairest
marvel, took care, often as he himself looked upward, that she should
be guarded from a second attack of weakness.
The storm of applause from below, in which Lienhard also joined,
fanned the flames of desire for admiration in Kuni's breast to a fiery
glow. She would show him, too, what she could do—compel him to
applaud her. She would force him away from the little temptress, and
oblige him to gaze up at her whose art—she learned this
daily—possessed the power to fix the attention of spectators like the
thrall of the basilisk's eye. When on the rope she was no
insignificant personage. He should tremble for her as did the
gray-haired, scarred captain of the foot soldiers, Mannsbach, the day
before yesterday. He had told her that his heart had throbbed more
anxiously during her daring feats than on the bloodiest field of
She moved forward more swiftly to the time of the lively dancing
tune which the city pipers were playing. Midway along the rope she
turned, ran back to the cross-shaped trestle at the steeple window,
handed the balancing pole to Loni, and received a cage filled with
doves. Each one bore around its neck a note containing an expression
of homage to the Emperor Maximilian, and they were all trained to
alight near the richly decorated throne which was now occupied by the
chivalrous monarch. The clown who, with a comical show of respect,
offered her what she needed for her next feat, told her this.
Loni, sure of being heard by no unbidden ear, called to her from
"Art is honoured to-day, my girl."
The clown added jocosely:
"Who else was ever permitted to walk over the anointed head of our
lord the Emperor?"
But Kuni would not have needed such encouragement. Doubtless she
felt flattered by the consciousness of attracting even the sovereign's
glance, but what she intended to do immediately was for the purpose of
compelling another person to watch her steps with fear and admiration.
Crossing her feet, she threw back her garlanded head and drew a long
breath. Then she hastily straightened herself, and with the bird cage
in one hand and the winged staff of Mercury, which the clown had
handed to her, in the other, she advanced to the centre of the rope.
There she opened the cage as steadily as if she had been standing on
the floor of her own room. The birds fluttered through the little
door and went, with a swift flight, directly to their goal. Then,
below and beside her, from every place occupied by spectators, and
from hundreds of windows, rose thunders of applause; but it seemed to
her as if the roaring of the surging sea was in her ears. Her heart
throbbed under her pink silk bodice like an iron hammer, and in the
proud consciousness of having probably attained already what she
desired, and, besides thousands of other eyes, fixed Lienhard's upon
her as if with chains and bonds, she was seized with the ambitious
desire to accomplish something still more amazing. The man to whom
her heart clung, the Emperor, the countless multitude below, were all
at this time subject to her in heart and mind. They could think and
feel nothing except what concerned her, her art, and her fate. She
could and would show to Lienhard, to the Emperor, to all, what they
had never witnessed. They should turn faint with sympathizing
anxiety. She would make then realize what genuine art, skill, and
daring could accomplish. Everything else, even the desire for
applause, was forgotten. Though her performance might be called only
a perilous feat, she felt it to be true, genuine art. Her whole soul
was merged in the desire to execute, boldly and yet gracefully, the
greatest and most perfect performance attainable by a ropedancer.
With beads of perspiration on her brow, and eyes uplifted, she threw
the cage aside, swung her Mercury staff aloft, and danced along the
rope in waltz time, as though borne by the gods of the wind. Whirling
swiftly around, her slender figure darted in graceful curves from one
end of the narrow path to the other. Then the applause reached the
degree of enthusiastic madness which she desired; even Loni clapped
his hands from the steeple window. She had never seen him do this to
any of the company. Yes, she must have accomplished her purpose well;
but she would show him and the others something still more wonderful.
What she had just done was capable of many additional feats; she had
With fluttering hands and pulses she instantly loosed from her
panting bosom and her hips the garland of roses and leaves twined
about the upper portion of her body, and swung it around her in
graceful curves as she knelt and rose on the rope.
She had often jumped rope on the low rope, turning completely
around so that she faced the other way. To repeat this performance on
the one stretched to the steeple would certainly not be expected from
her or from any other. Suppose she should use the garland as a rope
and venture to leap over it on this giddy height? Suppose she should
even succeed in turning around? The rope was firm. If her plan was
successful, she would have accomplished something unprecedented; if
she failed—if, while turning, she lost her balance—her scanty stock
of pleasure here below would be over, and also her great grief and
insatiable yearning. One thing was certain: Lienhard would watch her
breathlessly, nay, tremble for her. Perhaps it was too much to hope
that he would mourn her sincerely, should the leap cost her life; but
he would surely pity her, and he could never forget the moment of the
fall, and therefore herself. Loni would tear the gold circlet from his
dyed black locks and, in his exaggerated manner, call himself a son of
misfortune, and her the greatest artist who had ever trodden the rope.
All Augsburg, all the dignitaries of the realm, even the Emperor,
would pity her, and the end of her life would be as proud and as
renowned as that of the chivalrous hero who dies victor on the
stricken field. If the early part of her life had been insignificant
and wretched, its close should be grand and beautiful.
Long consideration was foreign to Kuni's nature. While these
thoughts were darting with the speed of lightning through her excited
brain, she stripped from the garland, with the presence of mind which
her calling teaches even in serious peril, the roses which might have
caught her feet, and swung it in a wide circle above her. Then
nimbly, yet careful to maintain in every movement the grace without
which the most difficult feat would have seemed to her valueless, she
summoned all the strength and caution she possessed, went forward at a
run, and—she did not know herself just how it was done—dared the
leap over the rope once, twice, and the third and fourth time even
accomplished the turn successfully. It had not once cost her an effort
to maintain her balance.
Again she saw Loni clapping his hands at the window, and the
acclamations of the crowd, which echoed like peals of thunder from the
lofty, gable- roofed houses, informed her that the boldness of the
venture and the skill with which she had performed it were appreciated
by these spectators. True, she could not distinguish the voice of any
individual, but she thought she knew that Lienhard was one of those
who shouted "Bravo!" and clapped most loudly. He must have perceived
now that she was something more than a poor thief of a rosary, a
useless bread-eater in the Schurstab household.
She straightened the garland again and, while preparing to take
another run, repeat the feat, and, if her buoyancy held out, try to
whirl around twice, which she had never failed to accomplish on the
low rope, she could not resist the temptation of casting a hasty
glance at Lienhard; she had never ascended to the steeple without
looking at him.
Secure of herself, in the glad conciousness of success, she gazed
There sat the illustrious Maximilian, still clapping his hands.
Gratefully, yet with a passionate desire for fresh applause, the
resolve to show him the very best which she could accomplish was
strengthened. But the next moment the blood faded from her slightly
rouged cheeks, for Lienhard—was it possible, was it
imaginable?—Lienhard Groland was not looking up at her! Without
moving his hands or vouchsafing her a single glance, he was gazing
into the face of the little wearer of the laurel wreath, with whom he
was eagerly talking. He was under her thrall, body and soul. Yet it
could not be, she could not have seen distinctly. She must look down
once more, to correct the error. She did so, and a torturing anguish
seized her heart. He was chatting with the child as before; nay, with
still more warmth. As he now saw nothing which was happening upon the
rope, he had probably also failed to heed what she had performed,
dared, accomplished, mainly for his sake, at the peril of her life, on
the dizzy height. His wife was still clapping her hands at his side,
but Lienhard, as though deaf and blind to everything else, was gazing
at the page which the miserable little elf was just giving him. There
was certainly writing on it—perhaps a charm which rendered him
subject to her. How else could he have brought himself to overlook so
unkindly herself and her art—the best she had to bestow—for the sake
of this child?
Then, besides the keenest sorrow, a fierce, burning hate took
possession of her soul.
She had not appealed to her saint for years; but now, in a brief,
ejaculatory prayer, she besought her to drive this child from
Lienhard, punish her with misery, suffering, and destruction. A sharp
pang which she had never before experienced pierced her to the heart.
The pure, sunny air which she inhaled on her lofty height seemed like
acrid smoke, and forced tears into the eyes which had not wept for
many a long day.
As, not knowing exactly what she was doing, with her ears deafened
by the shouts of the crowd, among whom Lienhard now, with anxious
suspense, watched her every movement, she again raised the rope and
prepared to spring, she fancied that her narrow path rose higher and
higher. One more step, and suddenly, with Loui's shriek of horror and
the clown's terrified "Jesus and Mary, she is falling!" ringing on the
air, she felt as if the rope had parted directly in front of her.
Then a hurricane appeared to howl around her, bearing her away she
knew not whither. It seemed as though the tempest had seized the ends
of the rope, and was dealing terrible blows with them upon her
shoulders, her back, and her feet. Meanwhile the little wearer of the
wreath was lying on a black cloud opposite to her at Lienhard's feet.
She still held the sheet in her hand, and was shouting to the angry
elements the magic formulas which it contained. Their power Kuni knew
it—had unchained them. Lienhard's deep voice mingled with her
furious cries until the roar of the sea, on whose rocky shore the
hurricane must have dashed her, drowned every other sound, and rolled
over her, sometimes in scorching crimson, sometimes in icy crystal
waves. Then, for a long time, she saw and heard nothing more.
When her deadened imagination again began to stir, she fancied that
she was struggling with a huge crab, which was cutting her foot with
shears. The little elf was urging it on, as the huntsmen cheer the
hounds. The pain and hate she felt would have been intolerable if
Lienhard had made common cause with the terrible child. But he
reproved her conduct, and even struggled with the kobold who tried to
prevent his releasing her from the crab. The elf proved stronger than
he. The terrible shears continued to torture her. The more she
suffered, the more eagerly Lienhard seemed trying to help her, and
this soothed her and blended a sweet sense of comfort with the burning
Kuni remained under the spell of these delusions for many days and
nights. When she at last regained her senses, she was lying on a
plain couch in a long, whitewashed hall. The well-scoured floor was
strewn with sand and pine needles. Other beds stood beside hers. On
one wall hung a large wooden crucifix, painted with glaring colours;
on the other a touching picture of the Mater Dolorosa, with the swords
in her heart, looked down upon her.
Beside Kuni's pallet stood a Gray Sister and an elderly man,
evidently a physician. His long black robe, tall dark cap, and gold
headed cane bore witness to it. Bending forward, with eyeglasses on
his prominent nose, he gazed intently into her face.
Her return to consciousness seemed to please him, and he showed
himself to be a kind, experienced leech. With tireless solicitude he
strove to cure the numerous injuries which she had received, and she
soon learned through him and the nun, that she had fallen from the
rope and escaped death as if by a miracle. The triumphal arch under
her, and the garlands which decorated the wooden structure, had caught
her before she touched the pavement. True, her right leg was broken,
and it had been necessary to amputate her left foot in order to save
her life. Many a wound and slash on her breast and head also needed
healing, and her greatest ornament, her long, thick, dark hair, had
been cut off.
Why had they called her, the ropedancer, back to a life which
henceforward could offer her nothing save want and cruel suffering?
She uttered this reproach to her preservers very indignantly; but as
the physician saw her eating a bunch of grapes with much enjoyment,
he asked if this pleasure did not suffice to make her rejoice over the
preservation of her existence. There were a thousand similar gifts of
God, which scarcely seemed worthy of notice, yet in the aggregate
outweighed a great sorrow which, moreover, habit daily diminished.
The Sister tried, by other arguments, to reconcile her to the life
which had been preserved, but the words her devout heart inspired and
which were intended for a pious soul, produced little influence upon
the neglected child of the highroad. Kuni felt most deeply the
reference to the sorely afflicted Mother of God. If such sorrow had
been sent to the noblest and purest of mortals, through whom God had
deigned to give his divine Son to the world, what grief could be too
great for her, the wandering vagabond? She often silently repeated
this to herself; yet only too frequently her impetuous heart rebelled
against the misery which she felt that she would encounter. But many
weeks were to pass before she recovered; a severe relapse again
endangered her life.
During the first days of illness she had talked to Lienhard in her
fevered visions, called him by name, and warned him against the
spiteful elf who would ruin him. Frequently, too, oaths and horrible,
coarse imprecations, such as are heard only from the mouths of the
vagrants among whom she had grown to womanhood, fell from her burning
lips. When she improved, the leech asked in the jesting tone which
elderly men are fond of using to young women whose heart secrets they
think they have detected, what wrong her lover had done her. The
Sister, nay, even the abbess, wished to learn what she meant by the
wicked witch whom she had mentioned with such terrible curses during
the ravings of the fever, but she made no reply. In fact, she said
very little, and her nurses thought her a reserved creature with an
obdurate nature; for she obstinately rejected the consolations of
Only to her confessor, a kind old priest, who knew how to discover
the best qualities in every one, did she open her heart so far as to
reveal that she loved the husband of another and had once wished evil,
ay, the very worst evil, to a neighbour. But since the sin had been
committed only in thought, the kindly guardian of her conscience was
quickly disposed to grant her absolution if, as a penance, she would
repeat a goodly number of paternosters and undertake a pilgrimage. If
she had had sound feet, she ought to have journeyed to Santiago di
Compostella; but, since her condition precluded this, a visit to
Altotting in Bavaria would suffice. But Kuni by no means desired any
mitigation of the penance. She silently resolved to undertake the
pilgrimage to Compostella, at the World's End,—[Cape Finisterre]—in
distant Spain, though she did not know how it would be possible to
accomplish this with her mutilated foot. Not even to her kind
confessor did she reveal this design. The girl who had relied upon
herself from childhood, needed no explanation, no confidante.
Therefore, during the long days and nights which she was obliged to
spend in bed, she pondered still more constantly upon her own past.
That she had been drawn and was still attracted to Lienhard with
resistless power, was true; yet whom, save herself, had this wounded
or injured? On the other hand, it had assuredly been a heavy sin that
she had called down such terrible curses upon the child. Still, even
now she might have had good reason to execrate the wearer of the
wreath; for she alone, not Lienhard, was the sole cause of her
misfortune. Her prayer on the rope that the saints would destroy the
hated child, and the idea which then occupied her mind, that she was
really a grown maiden, whose elfin delicacy of figure was due to her
being one of the fays or elves mentioned in the fairy tales, had made
a deep impression upon her memory.
Whenever she thought of that supplication she again felt the
bitterness she had tasted on the rope. Though she believed herself
justified in hating the little mischief-maker, the prayer uttered
before her fall did not burden her soul much less heavily than a
crime. Suppose the Sister was right, and that the saints heard every
She shuddered at the thought. The child was so young, so delicate.
Though she had caused her misfortune, the evil was not done
intentionally. Such thoughts often induced Kuni to clasp her hands
and pray to the saint not to fulfil the prayer she uttered at that
time; but she did not continue the petition long, a secret voice
whispered that every living creature—man and beast—felt the impulse
to inflict a similar pang on those who caused suffering, and that she,
who believed the whole world wicked, need not be better than the rest.
Meanwhile she longed more and more eagerly to know the name of the
little creature that had brought so much trouble upon her, and whether
she was still forcing herself between Lienhard and his beautiful wife.
As soon as she was able to talk again, she began her inquiries.
The Sister, who was entirely absorbed in her calling and never left
the scene of her wearisome toil, had little to tell; but the leech and
the priest, in reply to her questions concerning what had happened
during the period of her unconsciousness, informed her that the
Emperor had ordered that she should receive the most careful nursing,
and had bestowed a donation upon the convent for the purpose. He had
thought of her future, too. When she recovered, she would have the
five heller pounds which the generous sovereign had left for her as a
partial compensation for the injuries sustained while employing her
rare skill for the delight of the multitude and, above all, himself.
A wealthy Nuremberg Honourable, Lienhard Groland, a member of the
Council, had also interested himself in her and deposited the same
amount with the abbess, in case she should recover the use of her
limbs and did not prefer to spend the remainder of her life here,
though only as a lay sister. In that case he would be ready to defray
the cost of admission.
"That the lofty convent walls might rise between him and the sight
of me!" Kuni said to herself at this information, with a bitter smile.
On the—other hand, her eyes filled with tears of genuine emotion and
sincere shame, when she learned from the leech that Herr Lienhard
Groland's lovely wife had come daily to the convent to inquire about
her, and had even honoured her couch with a visit several times. She
did not remain absent until one day, in the noble lady's presence,
Kuni, when her fever was fiercest, loaded the wearer of the wreath,
whom her delirium often brought before her as a nightmare, with the
most savage and blasphemous curses. The gracious young wife was
overwhelmed with horror, which had doubtless prevented her return,
unless her absence was due to departure from the city. Besides, she
had committed the care of inquiring about her convalescence to an
aristocratic friend in Augsburg, the wife of the learned city clerk,
Doctor Peutinger, a member of the famous Welser family of Augsburg.
The latter had often inquired for her in person, until the illness of
her own dear child had kept her at home. Yet, in spite of this, her
housekeeper had appeared the day before to inform the abbess that, if
the injured girl should recover and wished to lead a respectable life
in future, she might be sure of a welcome and easy duties in her own
household. This surely ought to be a great comfort to Kuni, the
physician added; for she could no longer pursue rope-dancing, and the
Peutingers were lavishly endowed with worldly goods and intellectual
gifts, and, besides, were people of genuine Christian spirit. The
convent, too, would be ready to receive her—the abbess had told him
so—if Herr Groland, of Nuremberg, kept his promise of paying her
All these things awakened a new world of thoughts and feelings in
the convalescent. That they ought, above all, to have aroused sincere
gratitude, she felt keenly, yet she could not succeed in being
especially thankful. It would be doing Lienhard a favour, she
repeated to herself, if she should enter a convent, and she would
rather have sought shelter in a lion's den than under the Peutinger
roof. She had been informed the day before that the city clerk's wife
was the mother of the child upon whom she had called down misfortune
The keeper of an Augsburg bath-house, who had burned herself with
boiling water, occupied the next bed. She was recovering, and was a
talkative woman, whose intrusive loquacity at first annoyed Kuni, nay,
when she could not silence it, caused her pain. But her conversation
soon revealed that she knew every stick and stone in her native city.
Kuni availed herself of this, and did not need to ask many questions
to learn everything that she desired to know about the little
She was Juliane, the young daughter of Herr Conrad Peutinger, the
city clerk—a girl of unusual cleverness, and a degree of learning
never before found in a child eleven years old. The bath-house keeper
had many wonderful stories to relate of her remarkable wisdom, with
which even highly educated men could not vie. In doing so, she blamed
the father and mother, who had been unnatural parents to the charming
child; for to make the marvel complete, and to gratify their own
vanity, they had taxed the little girl's mind with such foolish
strenuousness that the frail body suffered. She had heard this in her
own bath-house from the lips of the child's aunt and from other
distinguished friends of the Welsers and Peutingers. Unfortunately,
these sensible women proved to have been right; for soon after the
close of the Reichstag, Juliane was attacked by a lingering illness,
from which rumour now asserted that she would never recover. Some
people even regarded the little girl's sickness as a just punishment
of God, to whom the constant devotion of the father and his young
daughter to the old pagans and their ungodly writings must have given
This news increased to the utmost the anxiety from which Kuni had
long suffered. Often as she thought of Lienhard, she remembered still
more frequently that it was she, who had prayed for sickness to visit
the child of a mother, who had so kindly offered her, the strolling
player, whom good women usually shunned, the shelter of her
The consciousness of owing a debt of gratitude to those, against
whom she had sinned so heavily, oppressed her. The kind proposal of
the sick child's mother seemed like a mockery. It was painful even to
hear the name of Peutinger.
Besides, the further she advanced toward recovery, the more
unendurable appeared the absence of liberty. The kind efforts of the
abbess to keep her in the cloister, and teach her to make herself
useful there by sewing, were unsuccessful; for she could not turn the
spinning wheel on account of her amputated foot, and she had neither
inclination nor patience for the finer branches of needlework.
Those who charged her with a lamentable lack of perseverance were
right; the linen which she began to hem fell into her lap only too
soon. When her eyes—which could see nothing here except a small
walled yard—closed while she was working, the others thought that she
was asleep; but her mind remained awake, though she had lowered her
lids, and it wandered restlessly over valleys rivers, and mountains
through the wide, wide world. She saw herself in imagination
travelling along the highway with nimble jugglers merry musicians, and
other care-free vagrant folk, instead of plying the needle. Even the
whirling dust, the rushing wind, and the refreshing rain outside
seemed desirable compared with the heavy convent air impregnated by a
perpetual odour of lavender.
When at last, in the month of March, little Afra, the fair-haired
niece of the portress, brought her the first snowdrop, and Kuni saw a
pair of starlings enter the box on the budding linden before her
window, she could no longer bear her imprisonment in the convent.
Within these walls she must fade, perhaps die and return to dust.
In spite of all the warnings, representations, entreaties, and
promises of those who—she gratefully perceived it—meant well toward
her, she persisted in her desire to be dismissed, to live out of doors
as she had always done. At last they paid her what was due, but she
accepted only the Emperor's bounty, proudly refusing Lienhard
Groland's money, earnestly as she was urged to add it to the other and
to the viaticum bestowed by the nuns.
The April sun was shining brightly when the convent gates closed
behind Kuni. The lindens in the square were already putting forth
young leaves, the birds were singing, and her heart swelled more
joyously than it had done for many years.
True, the cough which had tormented her all winter attacked her in
the shady cloister, but she had learned to use her wooden foot, and
with a cane in one hand and her little bundle in the other she moved
sturdily on. After making her pilgrimage to Compostella, she intended
to seek her old employer, Loni. Perhaps he could give her a place as
crier, or if the cough prevented that, in collecting the money or
training the children. He was a kind-hearted man. If he were even
tolerably prosperous he would certainly let her travel with the band,
and give the girl who was injured in his service the bit of food she
required. Besides, in former days, when she scattered gold with lavish
hands, he had predicted what had now befallen her, and when he left
Augsburg he had asked the nuns to tell her that if she should ever be
in want she must remember Loni.
With the Emperor's five heller pounds, and the two florins which
she had received as a viaticum from the convent, she could journey a
long distance through the world; for there were plenty of carriers and
travellers with carts and wagons who would take her for a trifle, and
the vagabonds on the highway rarely left people like her in the lurch.
Probably, in former days, she had looked forward to the future with
greater strength and different expectations, yet, even as it was, in
spite of the cough and the painful pricking in her scars, she found it
pleasant so long as she was free and could follow whatever way she
chose. She knew the city, and limped through the streets and alleys
toward the tavern where the strolling players usually lodged.
On the way she met a gentleman in a suit of light armour, whom she
recognised in the distance as the Knight of Neckerfels, who had been
paying court to her before her fall. He was walking alone and looked
her directly in the face, but he did not have the slightest idea that
he had met madcap Kuni. It was only too evident that he supposed her
to be a total stranger. Yet it would have been impossible for any one
to recognise her.
Mirrors were not allowed in the convent, but a bright new tin plate
had showed her her emaciated face with the broad scar on the forehead,
the sunken eyes, and the whole narrow head, where the hair, which grew
out again very slowly, was just an ugly length. Now the sight of the
bony hand which grasped the cane brought a half-sorrowful,
half-scornful, smile to her lips. Her arm had been plump and round,
but was now little larger than a stick. Pretty Kuni, the ropedancer,
no longer existed; she must become accustomed to have the world regard
her as a different and far less important personage, whom Lienhard,
too—and this was fortunate —would not have deemed worthy of a
And yet, if the inner self is the true one, there was little change
in her. Her soul was moved by the same feelings, only there was now a
touch of bitterness. One great advantage of her temperament, it is
true, had vanished with her physical beauty and strength—the capacity
to hope for happiness and joy. Perhaps it would never return; an
oppressive feeling of guilt, usually foreign to her careless nature,
had oppressed her ever since she had heard recently in the convent
that the child on whom she had called down death and destruction was
lying hopelessly ill, and would scarcely live till the joyous
This now came back to her mind. The jubilant sense of freedom
deserted her; she walked thoughtfully on until she reached the
neighbourhood of Jacob Fugger's house.
A long funeral procession was moving slowly toward her. Some very
exalted and aristocratic person must be taking the journey to the
grave, for it was headed by all the clergy in the city. Choristers,
in the most elaborate dress, swinging incense holders by delicate
metal chains and bearing lanterns on long poles, surrounded the lofty
Every one of distinction in Augsburg, all the children who attended
school, and all the members of the various ecclesiastical orders and
guilds in the city marched before the bier. Kuni had never seen such
a funeral procession. Perhaps the one she witnessed in Milan, when a
great nobleman was buried, was longer, but in this every individual
seemed to feel genuine grief. Even the schoolboys who, on such solemn
occasions, usually play all sorts of secret pranks, walked as
mournfully as if each had lost some relative who was specially dear to
him. Among the girls there were few whose rosy cheeks were not
constantly wet with tears.
From the first Kuni had believed that she knew who was being borne
to the grave. Now she heard several women whispering near her mention
the name of Juliane Peutinger. A pale-faced gold embroiderer, who had
recently bordered a gala dress with leaves and tendrils for the dead
girl's sister, described, sobbing, the severe suffering amid which
this fairest blossom of Augsburg girlhood had withered ere death
finally broke the slender stem.
Suddenly she stopped; a cry of mingled astonishment, lamentation,
and delight, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, ran through the
crowd which had gathered along the sides of the street.
The bier was in sight.
Twelve youths bore the framework, covered with a richly embroidered
blue cloth, on which the coffin rested. It was open, and the dead
girl's couch was so high that it seemed as though the sleeper was only
resting lightly on the white silk pillow. A wreath again encircled
her head, but this time blossoming myrtles blended with the laurel in
the brown curls that lay in thick, soft locks on the snowy pillows and
the lace- trimmed shroud.
Juliane's eyes were closed. Ah! how gladly Kuni would have kissed
those long-lashed lids to win even one look of forgiveness from her
whom her curse had perhaps snatched from the green spring world!
She remembered the sunny radiance with which this sleeper's eyes
had sparkled as they met Lienhard's. They were the pure mirror of the
keen, mobile intellect and the innocent, loving soul of this rare
child. Now death had closed them, and Juliane's end had been one of
suffering. The pale embroiderer had said so, and the sorrowful droop
of the sweet little mouth, which gave the wondrously beautiful,
delicate, touching little face so pathetic an expression, betrayed it.
If the living girl had measured her own young intellect with that of
grown people, and her face had worn the impress of precocious
maturity, now it was that of a charming child who had died in
Kuni also felt this, and asked herself how it had been possible for
her heart to cherish such fierce hatred against this little one, who
had numbered only eleven years.
But had this Juliane resembled other children?
No, no! No Emperor's daughter of her age would have been
accompanied to the churchyard with such pageantry, such deep,
She had been the jewel of a great city. This was proclaimed by
many a Greek and Latin maxim on tablets borne by the friends of the
great humanist who, with joyful pride, called her his daughter.
Kuni could not read, but she heard at least one sentence translated
by a Benedictine monk to the nun at his side: "He whose death compels
those who knew him to weep, has the fairest end."—[Seneca, Hippol.,
If this were true, Juliane's end was indeed fair; for she herself,
whom the child had met only to inflict pain, had her eyes dimmed by
tears, and wherever she turned she saw people weeping.
Most of those who lined the street could have had no close
relations with the dead girl. But yonder black-robed mourners who
followed the bier were her parents, her brothers and sisters, her
nearest relatives, the members of the Council, and the family
servants. And she, the wretched, reckless, sinful, crippled strolling
player, for whom not a soul on earth cared, whose death would not have
drawn even a single tear from any eye, to whom a speedy end could be
only a benefit, was perhaps the cause of the premature drying up of
this pure fountain of joy, which had refreshed so many hearts and
animated them with the fairest hopes.
The tall lady, whose noble face and majestic figure were shrouded
in a thick veil, was Juliane's mother—and she had offered the sick
ropedancer a home in her wealthy household.
"If she had only known," thought Kuni, "the injury I was inflicting
upon her heart's treasure, she would rather have hunted me with dogs
from her threshold."
In spite of the veil which floated around the stately figure of the
grieving mother, she could see her bosom rise and fall with her sobs
of anguish. Kuni's compassionate heart made it impossible for her to
watch this sorrow longer, and, covering her face with her hands, she
turned her back upon the procession and, weeping aloud, limped away as
fast as her injured foot would let her. Meanwhile she sometimes said
to herself that she was the worst of all sinners because she had
cursed the dead girl and called down death and destruction upon her
head, sometimes she listened to the voice within, which told her that
she had no reason to grieve over Juliane's death, and completely
embitter her already wretched life by remorse and self-accusations;
the dead girl was the sole cause of her terrible fall. But the
defiant rebellion against the consciousness of guilt, which moved her
so deeply, always ceased abruptly as soon as it raised its head; for
one fact was positive, if the curse she had called down upon the
innocent child, who had done her no intentional wrong, had really
caused Juliane's end, a whole life was not long enough to atone for
the sin which she had committed. Yet what atonement was still in her
power, after the death which she had summoned had performed its
terrible work of executioner?
"Nothing, nothing at all!" she said to herself angrily, resolving,
as she had so often done with better success, to forget what had
happened, cast the past into oblivion, and live in the present as
before. But ere she could attempt to fulfil this determination, the
image of the tall, grief- bowed figure of the woman who had called
Juliane her dear child rose before her mind, and it seemed as if a
cold, heavy hand paralyzed the wings of the light-hearted temperament
which had formerly borne her pleasantly over so many things. Then she
told herself that, in order not to go to perdition herself, she must
vow, sacrifice, undertake everything for the salvation of the dead
girl and of her own heavily burdened soul. For the first time she felt
a longing to confide her feelings to some one. If Lienhard had been
within reach and disposed to listen to her, he would have understood,
and known what course to advise.
True, the thought that he was not looking at her when she took the
fatal leap still haunted her. He could not have showed more
offensively how little he cared for her—but perhaps he was under the
influence of a spell; for she must be something to him. This was no
vain self- deception; had it not been so, would he have come in person
to her couch of pain, or cared for her so kindly after the accident?
In the convent she had reached the conviction that it would be
degrading to think longer of the man who, in return for the most
ardent love, offered nothing but alms in jingling coin; yet her poor
heart would not cease its yearning.
Meanwhile she never wearied of seeking motives that would place his
conduct in a more favourable light. Whatever he might have withheld
from her, he was nevertheless the best and noblest of men, and as she
limped aimlessly on, the conviction strengthened that the mere sight
of him would dispel the mists which, on this sunny spring day, seemed
to veil everything around and within her.
But he remained absent, and suddenly it seemed more disgraceful to
seek him than to stand in the stocks.
Yet the pilgrimage to Compostella, of which the confessor had
spoken? For the very reason that it had been described to her as
unattainable, it would perhaps be rated at a high value in heaven, and
restore to her while on earth the peace she had lost.
She pondered over this thought on her way to the tavern, where she
found a corner to sleep, and a carrier who, on the day after the
morrow, would take her to the sea for a heller pound. Other pilgrims
had also engaged passage at Antwerp for Corunna, the harbour of
Compostella, and her means were sufficient for the voyage. This
assurance somewhat soothed her while she remained among people of her
But she spent a sleepless night; for again and again the dead
child's image appeared vividly before her. Rising from the soft
pillows in the coffin, she shook her finger threateningly at her, or,
weeping and wailing, pointed down to the flames—doubtless those of
purgatory—which were blazing upward around her, and had already
caught the hem of her shroud.
Kuni arose soon after sunrise with a bewildered brain. Before
setting out on her pilgrimage she wished to attend mass, and—that the
Holy Virgin might be aware of her good intentions—repeat in church
some of the paternosters which her confessor had imposed.
She went out with the simple rosary that the abbess had given her
upon her wrist, but when she had left the tavern behind she saw a
great crowd in front of the new St. Ulrich's Church, and recognised
among the throngs of people who had flocked thither her companion in
suffering at the convent, the keeper of the bath-house, who had been
cured of her burns long before.
She had left her business to buy an indulgence for her own sins,
and to purchase for the soul of her husband—whose death-bed
confession, it is true, had been a long one—for the last time, but
for many centuries at once, redemption from the fires of purgatory.
The Dominican friar Tetzel, from Nuremberg, was here with his coffer,
and carried written promises which secured certain remission of
punishment for all sins, even those committed long ago, or to be
committed in the future. The woman had experienced the power of his
papers herself. Tetzel had come to Augsburg about a year after her
husband's death, and, as she knew how many sins he had committed, she
put her hand into her purse to free him from the flames. They must
have burned very fiercely; for, while awake at night and in her
dreams, she had often heard him wailing and complaining piteously.
But after she bought the paper he became quiet and, on the third
night, she saw him with her own eyes enter the room, and heard him
promise her a great happiness in return for her faithful remembrance.
The very next Sunday, Veit Haselnuss, the bath-house proprietor, a
well- to-do man who owned another house besides the one where he
lived, invited her to take a walk with him. She knew instantly that
her late husband was beginning to pay his debt of gratitude with this
visitor and, in fact, a short time after, the worthy man asked her to
be his wife, though she had three little children, and his oldest
daughter by his first wife was already able to look after the
housekeeping. The wedding took place on Whitsunday, and she owed this
great happiness entirely to the dispensation which had released the
dead man's soul from the fires of purgatory and induced him to show
Kuni listened to her companion's rapid flood of talk, until she
herself enjoined silence to hear the black-robed priest who stood
beside the coffer.
He was just urging his hearers, in a loud voice, to abandon the
base avarice which gathers pence. There was still time to gain, in
exchange for dead florins, living salvation.
Let those who repented sin listen, and they would hear the voices
of wailing parents, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and children,
who had preceded them to the other world. Whose heart was so utterly
turned to stone, whose parsimony, spite of all his love of money, was
so strong that he would allow these tortured souls to burn and suffer
in the flames, when it was in his power, by putting his hand into his
purse, to buy a dispensation which would as surely redeem them from
the fires of purgatory as his Imperial Majesty's pardon would release
an imprisoned thief from jail?
Scales seemed to fall from Kuni's eyes. She hastily forced her way
to the Dominican, who was just wiping the perspiration from his brow
with the hem of the white robe under his black cowl.
Coughing and panting, he was preparing his voice for a fresh
appeal, meanwhile opening the iron-bound box, and pointing out to the
throng the placard beside his head, which announced that the money
obtained by the indulgences was intended for the Turkish war. Then,
in fluent language, he explained to the bystanders that this meant
that the Holy Father in Rome intended to drive the hereditary foe of
Christianity back to the steppes and deserts of the land of Asia,
where he belonged. In order to accomplish this work, so pleasing to
the Lord, the Church was ready to make lavish use of the treasures of
mercy intrusted to her. Deliverance from the flames of purgatory
would never be more cheaply purchased than at this opportunity. Then
he thrust his little fat hand, on which several valuable rings
glittered, into the box, and held out to the bystanders a small bundle
of papers like an open pack of cards.
Kuni summoned up her courage and asked whether they would also
possess the power to remove a curse. Tetzel eagerly assented, adding
that he had papers which would wash the soul as white from every sin
as soap would cleanse a sooty hand, even though, instead of "curse,"
its name was "parricide."
The most costly had the power to transfer scoundrels roasting in
the hottest flames of purgatory to the joys of paradise, as yonder
sparrow had just soared from the dust of the street to the elm bough.
Kuni timidly asked the price of an indulgence, but the Dominican
unctuously explained that they were not sold like penny rolls at the
baker's; the heavier the sin, the higher the fine to be paid. First
of all, she must confess sincere contrition for what had been done and
inform him how, in spite of her youth, she had been led into such
heinous guilt. Kuni replied that she had long mourned her error most
deeply, and then began to whisper to Tetzel how she had been induced
to curse a fellow-mortal. She desired nothing for herself. Her sole
wish was to release the dead girl from the flames of purgatory, and
the curse which, by her guilt, burdened her soul. But the Dominican
had only half listened, and as many who wanted indulgences were
crowding around his box, he interrupted Kuni by offering her a paper
which he would make out in the name of the accursed Juliane
Peutinger—if he had heard correctly.
Such cases seemed to be very familiar to him, but the price he
asked was so large that the girl grew pale with terror.
Yet she must have the redeeming paper, and Tetzel lowered his price
after her declaration that she possessed only five heller pounds and
the convent viaticum. Besides, she stated that she had already
bargained with the carrier for the journey to the sea.
This, however, had no influence upon the Dominican, as the
indulgence made the pilgrimage to Compostella unnecessary. Since it
would redeem the accursed person from the fires of purgatory, she,
too, was absolved from the vow which drew her thither.
With stern decision he therefore insisted upon demanding the entire
sum in her possession. He could only do it so cheaply because her
face and her lost foot showed that she was destined to suffer part of
the eternal torture here on earth.
Then Kuni yielded. The paper was made out in the name of Juliane,
she gave up her little store, and returned to the inn a penniless
beggar, but with a lighter heart, carrying the precious paper under
the handkerchief crossed over her bosom. But there the carrier
refused her a seat without the money which she had promised him, and
the landlord demanded payment for her night's lodging and the bit of
food she had eaten.
Should she go back to the convent and ask for the little sum which
Lienhard had left there for her?
The struggle was a hard one, but pride finally conquered. She
renounced the kindly meant gift of her only friend. When the abbess
returned the money to him, he could not help perceiving that she was
no beggar and scorned to be his debtor. If he then asked himself why,
he would find the right answer. She did not confess it to herself in
plain words, but she wished to remain conscious that, whether he
desired it or not, she had given her heart's best love to this one man
without reward, merely because it was her pleasure to do it. At last
she remembered that she still possessed something valuable. She had
not thought of it before, because it had been as much a part of
herself as her eyes or her lips, and it would have seemed utterly
impossible to part with it. This article was a tolerably heavy gold
ring, with a sparkling ruby in the centre. She had drawn it from her
father's finger after he had taken his last leap and she was called to
his corpse. She did not even know whether he had received the circlet
as a wedding ring from the mother of whom she had no remembrance, or
where he obtained it. But she had heard that it was of considerable
value, and when she set off to sell the jewel, she did not find it
very hard to gave it up. It seemed as if her father, from the grave,
was providing his poor child with the means she needed to continue to
support her life.
She had heard in the convent of Graslin, the goldsmith, who had
bestowed on the chapel a silver shrine for the relics, and went to
When she stood before the handsome gableroofed house which he
occupied she shrank back a little. At first he received her sternly
and repellantly enough, but, as soon as she introduced herself as the
ropedancer who had met with the accident, he showed himself to be a
kindly old gentleman.
After one of the city soldiers had said that she told the truth and
had just been dismissed from the convent, he paid her the full value
of the ring and added a florin out of sympathy and the admiration he
felt for the charm which still dwelt in her sparkling blue eyes.
But Compostella was indeed far away. Her new supply of money was
sufficient for the journey there, but how could she return? Besides,
her cough troubled her very seriously, and it seemed as though she
could not travel that long distance alone. The dealer in indulgences
had said that the paper made the pilgrimage unnecessary, and the
confessor in the convent had only commanded her to go to Altotting.
With this neighbouring goal before her, she turned her back upon
Augsburg the following morning.
Her hope of meeting on the way compassionate people, who would give
her a seat in their vehicles, was fulfilled. She reached Altotting
sooner than she had expected. During the journey, sometimes in a
peasant's cart, sometimes in a freight wagon, she had thought often of
little Juliane, and always with a quiet, nay, a contented heart. In
the famous old church, at the end of her pilgrimage, she saw a picture
in which the raked souls of children were soaring upward to heaven
from the flames blazing around them in purgatory.
The confessor had sent her to the right place.
Here a fervent prayer had the power to rescue a child's soul from
the fires of purgatory. Many other votive pictures, the pilgrims at
the inn, and a priest whom she questioned, confirmed it. She also
heard from various quarters that she had not paid too high a price for
the indulgence. This strengthened her courage and henceforward, nay,
even during the time of sore privation which she afterward endured,
she blessed a thousand times her resolve to buy the ransoming paper
from Tetzel, the Dominican; for she thought that she daily experienced
Whenever Juliane appeared, her face wore a friendly
expression—nay, once, in a dream, she floated before her as if she
wished to thank her, in the form of a beautiful angel with large pink
and white wings. She no longer needed to fear the horrible curse
which she had called down upon the little one, and once more thought
of Lienhard with pleasure. When he learned in the other world how she
had atoned for the wrong which she had done his little favourite, she
would be sure of his praise.
To be held in light esteem, nay, even despised, was part of her
calling, like her constant wandering. She had longed for applause in
her art, but for herself she had desired nothing save swift draughts
of pleasure, since she had learned how little she was regarded by the
only person whose opinion she valued. She could never have expected
that he would hold her in high esteem, since he was so indifferent to
her art that he did not even think it worth while to lift his eyes to
the rope. Yet the idea that he placed her in the same rank with
others in her profession seemed unendurable. But she need grieve over
this no longer, and when she remembered that even the sorest want had
not been able to induce her to touch his alms, she could have fairly
shouted for joy amid all her misery. The conviction that one man, who
was the best and noblest of his sex, might deem her a poor,
unfortunate girl, but never a creature who deserved contempt, was the
beam to which she clung, when the surges of her pitiable, wandering
life threatened to close over her and stifle her.
As Kuni's troubled soul had derived so much benefit from the short
pilgrimage to Altotting, she hoped to obtain far more from a visit to
Santiago di Compostella, famed throughout Christendom.
True, her old master, Loni, whom she had met at Regensburg,
permitted her to join his band, but when she perceived that he was far
less prosperous than before, and that she could not be useful to him
in any way, she left him at Cologne because a kindhearted captain
offered to take her to Vlissingen without pay. Thence she really did
set out upon the pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostella; but St.
James, the patron saint of the Spaniards, whose untiring mercy so many
praised, did not prove specially favourable to her. The voyage to
Compostella, the principal place where he was reverenced, which
annually attracted thousands of pilgrims, cost her her last penny, and
the cold nights which she was obliged to spend on deck increased her
cough until it became almost unendurably violent.
In Santiago di Compostella both her means and her strength were
exhausted. After vainly expecting for a long time some token of the
saint's helpful kindness, only two courses were left: either she must
remain in Compostella and join the beggars in the crowded road to the
place of pilgrimage, or she must accept the proposal made by
tongueless Cyriax and go back with him to Germany. At first she had
been afraid of the brutal fellow, who feigned insanity and was led
about by his wife with a chain; but once, when red-haired Gitta was
seized by the Inquisition, and spent two days and two nights in jail,
and Kuni nursed her child in her place, she had found him more
friendly. Besides, in Compostella, the swearer had been in his most
cheerful mood. Every day had filled his purse, because there was no
lack of people and he understood how to extort money by the terror
which horrible outbreaks of his feigned malady inspired among the
densely crowded pilgrims. His wife possessed a remedy which would
instantly calm his ravings, but it was expensive, and she had not the
money to buy it. Not only in Compostella, but also on the long
journey from Bavaria through the Swiss mountains, France, Navarre, and
the whole of northern Spain, there were always kind- hearted or timid
people from whom the money for the "dear prescription" could be
A cart drawn by a donkey conveyed the child of this worthy couple.
When Kuni met her at Compostella she was a sickly little girl about
two years old, with an unnaturally large head and thin, withered legs,
who seemed to be mute because she used her mouth only to eat and to
make a movement of the lips which sounded like "Baba." This sound,
Cyriax explained, was a call that meant "papa." That was the name
aristocratic children gave their fathers, and it meant him alone,
because the little girl resembled him and loved him better than she
did any one else. He really believed this, and the stammering of the
fragile child's livid lips won the rough fellow's tender love.
The man who, when drunk, beat his wife till the blood came, and
committed plenty of cruel deeds, trembled, wept, and could even pray
with fervent piety, when—which often happened—the frail little
creature, shaken by convulsions, seemed at the point of death. He had
undertaken the long journey to the "world's end," not only because the
pilgrimage to Compostella promised large profits, but also to urge St.
James to cure his child. For his "sweet little Juli's" sake, and to
obtain for her a cheap nurse who would be entirely dependent upon him,
he burdened himself with the lame ropedancer. But he had no reason to
repent this; Gitta had enough to do to lead him by the chain and
answer the questions of the people, while Kuni nursed her charge with
rare fidelity, mended the clothing of the father, mother, and child,
as well or as badly as she could, and also helped Gitta with the
cooking. The sickly, obstinate little girl certainly did not deserve
the name of a "sweet" child, yet Kuni devoted herself to it with warm,
almost passionate affection.
The vagabond couple did not fail to notice this, and, on the whole,
it pleased them. If Cyriax was vexed when little Juli began to show
plainly enough that she preferred her nurse even to him, he submitted
because the lame girl watched the child through severe attacks of
convulsions and fever as if it were her own, and willingly sacrificed
her night's rest for its sake. True, he often talked loudly enough in
Kuni's presence of the witch potion which the lame girl mixed in the
porridge of his child, who loved him better than anything in the
world, to estrange it from him and win it to herself.
Kuni paid little heed to these offensive words; she knew that she
had gained the child's love by very different means from the "black
art." With far more reason, she dimly felt, the sick child might have
been reproached for exerting a secret spell upon her. Her name,
"Julie," which she owed to her patron saint, Kuni supposed was the
same as "Juliane." Besides, the daughter of the vagabond with the
mutilated tongue was born a few days after the death of little
Fraulein Peutinger, and this circumstance, when Kuni knew it, seemed
significant. Soon after meeting the vagrant pair she had listened to
a conversation between two travelling scholars, and learned some
strange things. One believed that the old sages were right when they
taught that the soul of a dead person continued its existence in other
living creatures; for instance, the great Pythagoras had known
positively, and proved that his own had dwelt, in former ages, in the
breast of the hero Palamedes.
The ropedancer remembered this statement, questioned other
Bacchantes about these things, and heard the doctrine of the
transmigration of the soul confirmed. Hence, during many a solitary
ride, while the cart rolled slowly along, she pondered over the
thought that Juliane's soul had lived again in foolish Julie. How?
Why? She did not rack her brains on those points. What had been a
fancy, slowly became a fixed belief in the mind thus constantly
dwelling upon one idea. At last she imagined that whatever she did
for Cyriax's child benefited the soul of the little Augsburg girl,
whose life had been shortened by her wicked prayer on the rope.
Yet she had not bought the indulgence in vain. But for that, she
believed that Juliane's soul would still be burning in the flames of
purgatory. The indulgence of the "Inquisitor" Tetzel had proved its
power, and rescued her from the fire. To demonstrate this fact she
devised many a proof. For instance, one day the idea entered her mind
that foolish Juli's brain was so weak because Juliane, during her
brief existence, had used more of hers than was fair.
At first this had been a mere fancy; but, true to her nature, she
reverted to it again and again, while in the cart which she alone
shared with the child, until it had matured to an immovable
conviction. During her changeful, wandering life, she had had no
fixed religious principles. But, since the notion had entered her mind
that Lienhard would reward her for her love by giving her a share,
even though a very small one, of his heart, she had clung tenaciously
to it, in spite of all rebuffs and the offensive indifference with
which he had treated her. On her sick bed and during her
convalescence, she had dwelt upon the fear that her sinful prayer had
killed the little wearer of the laurel wreath, until she could say to
herself that events had proved it. With the same firmness she now
held to the belief that she had found the right idea concerning little
With the passionate desire to atone to the patrician's daughter for
the wrong which she had inflicted upon her, she clasped the vagabond's
child to her heart with the love of the most faithful mother, and her
affectionate care seemed to benefit herself as well as the ailing
little one. Juli was as devoted to her Kuni as a faithful dog. The
kindness which the lame ropedancer showed to the fragile child was
lavishly returned to her by a thousand proofs of the warmest
So Kuni had found one heart which kept its whole treasure of love
for her alone, one creature who could not do without her, one fragile
human plant to which she could be useful and helpful day and night.
Under the care of a faithful nurse little Juli gradually grew
stronger, both physically and mentally. The little girl's wan cheeks
began to be rosy, the convulsions and fever attacked her less
frequently. Besides the faint "Baba," she learned to babble "Duni,"
(instead of Kuni) and afterward "Mother," and many other words. At
last she talked nearly as well as other children of her age. All this
afforded the lame girl a wealth of sweet joys wholly new to her, which
afforded her heart such warmth and solace that, in spite of the cough
which tormented her during many an hour of the day and night, she felt
happier during her homeward journey with the fierce blasphemer Cyriax,
from whom she expected the worst things, than in the brilliant days of
her fame as an artist. Doubtless, as they approached Germany, she
often wondered what Lienhard would think of her, if he should meet her
amid such surroundings, as the companion of so worthless a couple; but
the terror that overpowered her was transformed into pleasant
satisfaction at the thought that he would approve, nay, praise her
conduct, when she could show him the child, and tell him what she had
done for it.
This state of affairs had continued until two months before. Then,
at Schaffhausen, her darling had suddenly been attacked with violent
convulsions, and the feeble intellect, which her love had so
toilsomely and faithfully waked from its slumber, only too soon
attained eternal peace. In all Kuni's sorrowful life she had scarcely
experienced any grief so bitter. When she closed the little eyes
which had gazed into her pale face so often and so tenderly, it seemed
as if the sun, moon, and stars had lost their light, and henceforth
she was condemned to live in dreary gloom.
What terrible days had followed the child's death! Cyriax raved as
if he had really been seized with the lunacy whose pretence helped him
to beg his bread. Besides, he gave himself up to unbridled indulgence
in brandy, and, when drunk, he was capable of the most brutal acts.
The dead Juli's mother, who, spite of an evil youth and a lenient
conscience, was by no means one of the worst of women, had to endure
the harshest treatment from her profligate companion.
The blow which had fallen upon him filled him with savage rage, and
he longed to inflict some pain upon all who came in his way that they,
too, might feel what it was to suffer.
The death of his "sweet little Juli" appeared to have hardened the
last tender spot in his brutal soul.
Kuni was the only person toward whom at first he imposed some
restraint upon himself. True, without any consideration for the
girl's presence, he sometimes asked Gitta why they still burdened
themselves with the useless hobbler and did not sell the cart and the
donkey. But though there was no lack of good offers for the excellent
Spanish beast of burden, he allowed matters to remain as before. If
the rage seething in his heart led him, in his drunken frenzy, to make
Kuni feel its effects, too, the pleading glance of the blue eyes,
still large and expressive, with which she had so often hushed the
wailing child, sufficed to soothe him.
Yesterday, for the first time, he had seriously threatened to drive
the ropedancer away, and she knew that Cyriax was capable of anything.
True, his wife was attached to Kuni, but she had little influence
over her vicious husband. So the sick cripple might only too easily
find herself left on the highway.
Still, she had given Cyriax cause for the threat. All day and
during the night she had been busy with the unfortunate mother and her
twins, and therefore had frequently neglected to fill his brandy
bottle. But this could not be helped, and she was not accustomed to
think of the future. Whatever her heart urged she did, no matter what
might happen. If Cyriax left her in the lurch, she must beg or starve
unless chance, which so often mingled in her existence, willed
With the child's life the modest happiness which Kuni had enjoyed
during the last few months had vanished, not only because the
tongueless blasphemer had become a different person, and she sorely
missed the delicate little creature who had filled and cheered her
heart, but she had also lost the peace of mind which she enjoyed
during the existence of her charge.
The young Augsburg maiden, whom she thought she had bought out of
the flames of purgatory, did not appear to her again, but the
vagrant's child came all the more frequently, and whenever she showed
herself she wailed and wept bitterly. Sweet little Juli's soul must
now—whether it had been Juliane's or not—endure the tortures of
purgatory, and this pierced Kuni's heart the more deeply the more
affectionately she remembered the sickly-child.
Ever since she had used a black plaster, given to her at Singen by
a quack, the stump of her foot had become sore again, and sharp pain
tortured her so cruelly that, especially when the cough racked her
emaciated body and she was jolted to and fro in the springless cart
over stony roads, she was afraid that she should lose her reason.
At Pforzheim a barber had examined the wound and, shaking his head,
pronounced the black plaster a malignant blood poisoner, and when she
refused to have the leg amputated, applied a yellow one, which proved
no better. When Cyriax counted up his receipts in the evening, called
to red-haired Gitta his favourite maxim, "Fools never die," and handed
to her—Kuni—the larger brandy bottle to fill, she had often summoned
up her courage and begged him to buy an indulgence for his sweet
little Juli. The result was certain—she knew it from her own
Shortly after the child's death he had thrust his hand into his
purse more than once at such an appeal and given money for a few
candles, but it had not been possible to persuade him to purchase the
This refusal was by no means due to mere parsimony. Kuni knew what
induced him to maintain his resistance so obstinately, for in her
presence he had told pock-marked Ratz that he would not take the
indulgence gratis. Wherever he might be, his family ought to go, and
he did not wish to be anywhere that he would not find Juli.
He did not doubt the continued life of the soul after death, but
precisely because he was sure that the gates of paradise would remain
closed to him throughout eternity he would not help to open them for
the dead child. When his imagination tortured him with fancies that
mice and beetles were leaping and running out of his pockets and the
breast of his doublet, he thought that his end was drawing near. If
the devil then had power over his soul, his imps might drag him
wherever they pleased, if only he might see little Juli there and hear
her call "Baba" and "Father." It would lessen the tortures of
hell, however severe they might be. Was it possible for him to
conceive of any greater folly than to rob himself of this consolation
by transporting the child, through the indulgence, to the kingdom of
heaven, where he could never see her again. He had accumulated a
goodly sum by begging, it is true, but, strangely enough, he did not
think of purchasing salvation for himself in order to meet his child
again in heaven, instead of amid the flames of purgatory. Though he
had become as rich as the Fuggers, paradise, he knew, would still be
closed to him. He was not fit for it.
He hated everybody who was rich and respectable. He would rather
be with his child in the mire of hell than to go with her to a
magnificent garden of paradise where swearing was forbidden, where
there was no brandy and no highroad, and which offered only pleasures
which were none to him.
So Kuni was forced to see the child remain in the fires of
purgatory, which hurt her little less than her aching limb.
At her entrance into The Blue Pike pain and mental suffering had
driven her to the verge of despair. But the day which began so
sorrowfully was followed by an evening of delight—she owed to it her
new meeting with Lienhard.
From childhood she had been homeless, and every quarter of the
globe to which a highroad led was her native land. Yet in Spain and
during the journey back she had felt a gnawing longing for Germany,
nay, nothing had troubled her more than the thought of dying and being
buried outside of its frontier. Her mother, a native of the Rhine
country, had given her birth during the fair at Cologne on the Spree;
but, whenever homesickness assailed her, it was always the steeples of
St. Sebald and St. Ulrich which beckoned to her, and she had longed
for the Frank country, the Main, or the richly wooded banks of the
Pegnitz. Was this because, in Nuremberg, for the only time in her
life, she had been a member of a decorous household, or had the love
which, wherever Cyriax's cart and donkey carried her, always drew her
heart back to the same ancient city, made it so dear to her?
Probably the latter, for yesterday she had yearned ardently to
reach Nuremberg; but since she had seen Lienhard again, she rejoiced
that she was in Miltenberg and at The Blue Pike.
Never had he seemed to her so handsome, so manly. Besides, he had
spoken to her, listened to her reply, and even given her money with
lavish generosity. It was like him! No one else would have been
capable of it.
She could live a long time on his three gold florins, if Cyriax
abandoned her; yet the unexpected wealth burned in her hand and
perplexed her. Did Lienhard no longer know that she would not accept
money from him? Had she robbed herself of the certainty that
beautified existence; had she failed to show him her superiority to
other vagrant girls? Yet no! What he gave her was more, far more,
than even a prince bestowed upon an ordinary mendicant. He must
measure her by a special standard. If he had only given her the gold
with a kind word, not flung it silently into her lap. This half
destroyed her pleasure in the present, and the ample supply of money
clouded her already disturbed peace of mind still more. Had it been
possible, she would have returned the gift as she did the alms at
Augsburg. But how was this to be accomplished in the over- crowded
Yet, if she kept the florins, the sacrifice at the convent would
lose a large portion of its value, and the good opinion which her act
at Augsburg must have inspired might be shadowed.
For some time before leaving the room in the tavern she had turned
the coins restlessly over and over under her kerchief, and meanwhile,
as if in a dream, made but evasive answers to the questions and
demands of Cyriax and Gitta.
Then she glided nearer to the gentlemen at the table, intending to
return Lienhard's gift; but the landlord of The Pike followed her
suspiciously, and drove her back to her companions.
Thence she had been called to the sick woman and went out of doors.
She found the mother of the twins in the meadow by the Main and
eagerly devoted herself to them.
The widow's burning head and gasping breath were no favourable
symptoms. She herself felt that her end was approaching. Her tongue
was parched. The water in the jug was warm and flat, yet she longed
for a cool drink. During the day Kuni had noticed a well in the
kitchen garden, and, in spite of her aching foot, hastened to it at
once to draw the cool water. While doing so, the red and white pinks
which she had noticed at noon again caught her eye in the starlight
night. The sick woman could enjoy their fragrance now, and to-morrow,
feast her eyes upon their bright colours.
From childhood she had always been fond of flowers. Stealing was
prohibited by her father as wicked and dangerous, and she had never
transgressed his commands. When she picked up the costly rosary in
Nuremberg, she had intended to return it to the owner. But to pluck
the flowers and fruit which the Lord caused to grow and ripen for
every one was a different thing, and had never troubled her
conscience. So she carelessly gathered a few pinks. Three should go
to the sick woman, but Lienhard Groland would have the largest and
finest. She would try to slip the flowers into his hand, with the
money, as a token of her gratitude. But even while saying to herself
that these blossoms should be her last greeting to him, she felt the
red spots burning more hotly on her cheeks. Ah, if only he would
accept the pinks! Then the most cruel things might happen, she could
While kneeling before the bed, the waiter, Dietel, noticed her. As
she saw him also, she hurried back to the suffering mother as fast as
her lame limb would carry her, and raised the jug of fresh water to
her parched lips.
This had been a delicious refreshment to the sick woman, and when
Kuni saw how much comfort her little service afforded the invalid, her
heart grew lighter. Had it been possible she, who was of no
importance to any one, would willingly have lain down on the heap of
straw in the place of the mother upon whom two young lives depended.
How delightful it was to bring aid! And she possessed the means of
So, with sparkling eyes, she pressed the three gold coins into the
sufferer's burning hand, and told her that the village authorities
would rear the twins for such a sum. Then the parched lips of the
fevered woman lauded the merciful kindness bestowed by the lame
ropedancer—who at that moment seemed to her as powerful as a
queen—so warmly and tenderly that Kuni felt the blood again mount
into her cheeks—this time with shame at the praise which she deserved
so little, yet which rendered her so happy. Finally, the sufferer
expressed a desire for a priest, that she might not pass from earth
without a sacrament. Her sins oppressed her sorely. She, and she
alone, was to blame for Nickel's being hanged. Never in all her life
had she been a glutton; but before the birth of the twins the devil
had tormented her with a strange longing for roast fowl, which she had
been unable to repress and keep to herself. Solely for her
gratification, Nickel stole the goose and the hens. In spite of many
a bad business in which his reckless nature had involved him, he was a
good fellow, with a loving heart.
For her sake he would have tried to steal the ring from the
executioner's finger. Now he had gone into the other world unshriven,
with the rope about his neck, for though the benefit of the sacrament
was usually granted even to the worst criminals, the peasants strung
Nickel up to the nearest tree as soon as they caught him, without
heeding his entreaties. This made death even harder for her than the
thought of the poor little creatures yonder in the bundle of rags.
Kuni's charity had provided for the orphans, but her Nickel would
find no mercy from the heavenly Judge throughout eternity.
She had sobbed aloud as she spoke, and then writhed in such violent
convulsions that Kuni with difficulty prevented her from throwing
herself out of the hot straw in the cart upon the damp meadow.
When she grew somewhat calmer, she repeated Nickel's name again and
again till it was heartrending to hear her.
As soon as the sufferer's condition would permit, Kuni left her,
went to the window of the taproom in The Blue Pike, and surveyed its
Most of them were already asleep on heaps of straw, which were
raised at the head by chairs turned upside down. The richer guests
had gone to the bedrooms, which, however, they were obliged to share
with several others. Some of the strollers were lying on the floor
with their knapsacks under their heads. A few of the musicians were
still lingering over the wine which the travelling merchants and
artisans had ordered for them. Others had gone with some of the
vagrants into the little wood beyond the meadow, where they danced,
fiddled, and sang.
Their loud shouts were borne by the cool night breeze to the
sufferer in the cart. The gentlemen from Cologne, without troubling
themselves about the boisterous merriment of the burghers or the
transformation of the room into a sleeping apartment, were still
sitting at the table talking together eagerly.
The dealer in the indulgences, too, had not yet gone to rest. A
tall, broad-shouldered sergeant belonging to the escort had just
purchased— for the larger part of the zecchins won as his share of
the booty in the Italian war—the indulgence which he thought would
secure him from the tortures of the fire of purgatory. Before opening
the door, he struck his broad breast as though relieved of a heavy
The ropedancer looked after him thoughtfully. The paper had now
lightened the sergeant's heart as it had formerly done her own. Would
she not have been wiser to give her money for the redemption of
Nickel's lost soul than for the orphans, whom the charity of the
people would perhaps have succoured without her? Probably, too, it
would have afforded still greater consolation to the poor dying woman,
whom nothing troubled so sorely as her guilt for the doom of her
Yet, even thus she had succeeded in making the dying mother's
departure easier, and what she had commenced she intended to complete
With a tender smile that lent strange beauty to her pallid,
grief-worn face she continued her survey.
She had previously noticed an old priest, whose countenance bore
the impress of genuine kindness of heart. She soon found him again
among the travellers sleeping on the straw; but the old man's slumber
was so sound that she felt reluctant to wake him. Among the
Dominicans from Cologne, most of whom were also asleep, there were
none she would have trusted, nay, she even thought that one was the
very person who, shortly before her fall from the rope, had pursued
her with persistent importunity. But the Abbot of St. AEgidius in
Nuremberg, who had dined with the ambassadors from his native city,
was also a man of benevolent, winning expression. His cheeks were
flushed, either by the heat or the wine which he had drunk, but there
was a look of attractive kindness upon his well-formed features. When
he went through the room a short time before, Kuni had seen him pass
his hand caressingly over the fair hair of the pretty little son of a
potter's wife from Reren on the Rhine, whose cart was standing outside
in the meadow by the Main. He was scarcely of the same mind as the
gentleman from Cologne, for he had just waved his plump hand in
Perhaps she might even do him a favour by summoning him. But dared
she, a poor vagabond, disturb so distinguished a gentleman at his
Yet there was danger in delay. So she resolved to ask the
assistance of the landlady of The Pike, coughed with her handkerchief
pressed over her lips, in order not to disturb the sleepers, and
turned to leave the room.
But Gitta had just been to see the sick mother, and told Cyriax
that Kuni, silly, softhearted thing, had wasted her gold coins on the
The blasphemer flew into a great rage, muttered a few words to
pock- marked Ratz, and then staggered toward their lame travelling
companion to bar her passage across the threshold, and ask, in angry,
guttural tones, how much of the Groland gold she had flung into the
dying woman's grave.
"Is it any business of yours?" was the reply, uttered with
difficulty amid her coughing.
"Mine, mine—is it any business of mine?" gasped the tongueless
man. Then he raised his heavy fist threateningly and stammered
jeeringly: "Not—not a red heller more nor less than my cart—in the
name of all the fiends—than my cart is of yours. Four heller pounds,
Ratz, and the donkey and cart are yours."
"Done!" cried the vagrant, who already had his money ready; but
the tongueless blasphemer chuckled with malicious pleasure:
"Now you have it, fool! Whoever doesn't share with me—you know
that— doesn't ride with me."
Then he staggered back to Gitta.
The girl watched him silently for a while. At last she passed her
hand quickly across her brow, as if to dispel some unpleasant thought,
and shook her burning head, half sadly, half disapprovingly.
She had done a good deed—and this, this—But she had not performed
it for the sake of reward, she had only desired to aid the sufferer.
Straightening herself proudly, she limped toward the kitchen.
Here, frequently interrupted by fits of coughing, she told the
landlady of The Pike in touching words that the sick mother, whom she
had so kindly strengthened with nice broth, desired the sacrament, as
her life would soon be over. The Lord Abbot of St. AEgidius in
Nuremberg was still sitting over his wine.
She went no further. The landlady, who, while Kuni was talking,
had wiped her pretty flushed face with her apron, pulled the rolled up
white linen sleeves farther down over her plump arms, and gazed with
mingled surprise and approval into the girl's emaciated face,
interrupted her with the promise to do what she could for the poor
"If it were any one else," she continued, significantly, "I would
not venture to try it. But the Abbot of St. AEgidius, in his charity,
scarcely asks, when help is needed, whence did you come, who are you,
or what do you possess? I know him. Wait here a little while. If he
condescends to do it, you can take him to the poor creature at once."
While speaking she smoothed, with two swift motions of her hands,
the brown hair which had become a little disordered while bustling to
and fro to attend to the business, dipped her hands into the water
pail, dried them quickly on her apron, untied it, and tossed it to the
maid. Then she cleared her throat vigorously and left the kitchen.
In reply to the anxious question of her husband, whom she met on
the threshold of the room, as to what she was seeking there, she
answered firmly, "What is right and pious"; then modestly whispered
her request to the abbot.
Her wish was fulfilled without delay, nay, it might really have
been supposed that the interruption was very opportune to the
distinguished prelate; for, with the brief exclamation, "Imperative
official duty!" he rose from the table, and went first with the
landlady to Kuni and afterward with the latter to the cart beside the
laden potter's wain, whose white tilt gleamed in the darkness.
The landlady had undertaken to send to the sexton, whose house was
near, that he might immediately obtain everything the abbot needed for
the dying woman's viaticum.
Kuni told the sufferer what an exalted servant of the Church was
ready to receive her confession and give her the sacrament.
Then she whispered that she might mention Nickel's burdened soul to
the abbot. Whatever happened, she could now depart from earth in
Reserving for herself half of the flowers she had gathered in the
garden she glided away, in order not to disturb the dying woman's
At the edge of the meadow Kuni paused to reflect. She would gladly
have flung herself down on the dewy grass to rest, stretched at full
length on the cool turf. She was worn out, and her foot ached and
burned painfully after her long walk in the warm August night; but
something else exerted a still stronger attraction over her poor
longing heart; the desire to see Lienhard again and give him the pinks
as a token of gratitude for so much kindness.
He was still sitting with the other gentlemen at the table in front
of the tavern. One of the torches threw its light full on his manly
face. Kuni knew that he could not see her in the darkness surrounding
her figure, yet it seemed as though she was meeting the gaze of his
sparkling dark eyes. Now he was speaking. How she longed to know
what he said. Summoning up her courage, she glided along in the shadow
of the wall and sat down behind the oleander bush on the sharp edge of
the tub. No one noticed her, but she was afraid that a fit of
coughing might betray her presence, so she pressed her apron firmly
over her lips and sat straining her ears to listen. In spite of the
violent aching of her foot and the loud rattling in her chest, she
thought it a specially favourable dispensation of Providence that she
had found her way here just at this moment; for Lienhard was still
speaking. The others had asked him to tell them connectedly how the
beautiful Katharina Harsdtirffer had become his wife, in spite of the
opposition of her stern father and though the Honourable Council had
punished him for such insubordination with imprisonment and exile.
He had already related this in detail when Kuni came to listen.
Now, pointing to Wilibald Pirckheimer, who sat opposite, he went on
with his story, describing how, thanks to the mediation of the latter
and of the great artist, Albrecht Durer, he had obtained an audience
at Innsbruck with the Emperor Maximilian, how the sovereign had
interceded personally in behalf of himself and his betrothal, and how,
in consequence of this royal intervention, he had attained the goal of
"Our Honourables," he concluded, "now willingly permitted me to
return home, and Hans Harsdtirffer, Katharina's father-Heaven rest his
soul— relinquished his opposition to our marriage. Perhaps he would
have done so earlier, but for the keen antagonism which, owing to
their totally different natures, had arisen between the stern man and
my lighthearted father, and displayed itself in the Council as well as
in all the affairs of life. Not until his old opponent, to whom I
owed my existence, was on his death-bed, did Herr Hans clasp hands
with him in reconciliation, and consent to our betrothal."
"And I know," Wilibald Pirckheimer interrupted, that among the many
obstacles which his foes placed in his path, and which clouded his
active life, you two, and your loyal love, gave him more light and
greater consolation than anything else. I have often heard him gladly
acknowledge this, and as for you, friend Lienhard."
"I know," replied the young Honourable modestly, checking him,
"that he was right in deeming the immature youth, which I was at the
time of my first wooing, unworthy of his daughter."
"Though you had been the peer in strength and beauty of the valiant
Achilles, and in wisdom of the subtle Ulysses, son of Laertes, I would
not contradict you," interrupted Pirckheimer; "for, gentlemen, this
gallant husband's wife is a jewel of a peculiar kind. Nuremberg is
proud of calling Frau Katharina her daughter. Far as the German
language is spoken, her equal would be sought in vain."
"You are an enviable man," said little Dr. Eberbach, turning to
Lienhard. "But probably you will permit me one question. Even when a
boy,—as we heard, you loved the child Katharina. As a youth, you
took this love across the Alps to Padua and Bologna. But when, like
the noble Virgil, I perceive that 'Nowhere is there aught to
trust-nowhere,'— [Virg. AEn. iv, 373.]—and find that the esteemed
Catullus's words, 'No man passes through life without
error,'—[Catull. Dist. I, 5.]— are verified, I would fain learn
whether in Italy also you held fast, in small things as well as great
ones, to the—among us men—rare bird of the fidelity sworn to the
woman whom we love. I, who compared to you, am like a faun with
pointed ears beside the handsome Ares, nevertheless know by experience
how easily the glowing eyes of that country kindle conflagrations.
Was the armour of a former love really strong enough to guard your
heart from every flame, even before any vow bound you to the child
whom you chose so early for the companion of your life"?
"It was the same before the priest's consecration as afterward,"
replied the young Councillor, gravely and firmly.
Then, changing his manner, he held out his brimming glass toward
the Thuringian and gaily continued:
"It ought not to seem so amazing to a man of your learning, my
incredulous Herr Doctor. Surely your far-famed Propertius says,
'Love is benefited by many things, a faithful nature and resolute
persistence.' Believe me, doctor, even without the counsel of your
experienced Roman, I should have kept faith with the lovely child at
home. From my boyhood, Katharina was to me the woman, the one above
all others, the worthy Tryphon, my teacher of Greek in Bologna, would
have said. My heart's darling has always been my light, as Helios was
that of the Greeks, though there were the moon and so many planets and
"And the vagrant we saw just now, on whom you bestowed a golden
shower of remembrance as Father Zeus endowed the fair Danae?" asked
Doctor Peutinger of Augsburg, shaking his finger mischievously at his
young friend. "We humanists follow the saying of Tibullus: 'Whoever
confesses let him be forgiven,' and know the world sufficiently to be
aware that within the walls of Ilium and without enormities are
committed."— [Horace, Epist. 1, 2, 16.]
"A true statement," replied Lienhard. "It probably applies to me
as much as to the young girl, but there was really nothing between us
which bore the most distant resemblance to a love intrigue. As a
magistrate, I acquitted her of a trivial misdemeanour which she
committed while my wedding procession was on its way to the altar. I
did this because I was unwilling to have that happy hour become a
source of pain to any one. In return, she grew deeply attached to me,
who can tell whether from mere gratitude, or because a warmer feeling
stirred her strange heart? At that time she was certainly a pretty,
dainty creature, and yet, as truly as I hope to enjoy the love of my
darling wife for many a year, there was nothing, absolutely nothing,
between me and the blue-eyed, dark-haired wanderer which the confessor
might not have witnessed. I myself wonder at this, because I by no
means failed to see the ropedancer's peculiar changeful charms, and
the tempter pointed them out to me zealously enough. Besides, she has
no ordinary nature. She had accomplished really marvellous feats in
her art, until at Augsburg, during the Reichstag, when in the
Emperor's presence, she risked the most daring ventures—"
"Could it be the same person who, before our poor Juliane's eyes,
had the awful fall which frightened the child so terribly?" asked
Doctor Peutinger earnestly.
"The very same," replied Lienhard in a tone of sincere pity; but
the Augsburg doctor continued, sighing:
"With that sudden fright, which thrilled her sensitive nature to
its inmost depths, began the illness of the angel whose rich, loving
heart throbbed so tenderly for you also, Herr Lienhard."
"As mine did for the peerless child," replied the young Councillor
with eager warmth. "While Juliane, who sickened at the sight of the
girl dancing on the edge of the grave, was pointing out to me some
pages in the manuscript of Lucian, which I was to take from you to
Herr Wilibald yonder, the unfortunate performer met with the terrible
accident. We thought that she was killed, but, as if by a miracle, she
lived. Ropedancing, of course, was over forever, as she had lost a
foot. This, we supposed, would tend to her welfare and induce her to
lead a regular, decorous life; but we were mistaken. In spite of her
lameness, Kuni's restless nature drove her back to the highroad. Yet
she would have been at liberty to remain in the convent as a lay
sister without taking the vows."
"My wife, too, had opened our house to her for Juliane's sake,"
added Doctor Peutinger. "The sick child could not get the fall which
had frightened her so terribly out of her head. Her compassionate
heart was constantly occupied with the poor girl, and when she urged
her mother to provide for her, she willingly gratified her wish and
often inquired about the sufferer's health. How Juliane rejoiced when
she heard that the bold and skilful dancer's life would be saved! But
when, through the abbess, my wife offered her a situation in our home,
the vagabond disdained what the mother and daughter had planned for
her, Heaven knows how kindly."
"She treated the gift which we—my wife and I—left in the convent
for her in the same way," added Lienhard. "Why did she refuse the aid
I offered no less willingly? Probably because she was too proud to
accept alms from a man from whom her ardent heart vainly desired
Here Lienhard Groland hesitated, and it sounded like a confession
as he eagerly continued:
"And, gentleman, she often seemed to me well worthy of a man's
desire. Why should I deny it? Within and without the walls of
Troy—we have just heard it—sin is committed, and had not the image
of another woman stood between us, as the Alps rise between Germany
and Italy-perhaps—But of what avail are conjectures? Will you
believe that there were hours when I felt as though I ought to make
some atonement to the poor girl?"
"In your place I should have done it long ago, for the benefit of
both," protested little Doctor Eberbach merrily. "The commands of
conscience should be obeyed, even when, by way of exception, it
requires something pleasant. But how grave you look, sir. No
offence! You are one of the rare specimens of featherless birds
endowed with reason, who unite to the austerity of Cato the amiability
"All due honour to Cato," added Wilibald Pirckheimer with a slight
bend of his stately head; "but in my young days we had a better
understanding of the art of reconciling stern duty with indulgent
compassion, when dealing with a beautiful Calypso whom our sternness
threatened to wound. But everything in the good old days was not
better than at the present time, and that you, whom I honour as the
most faithful of husbands, may not misunderstand me, Lienhard: To
bend and to succumb are two different things."
"Succumb!" Sir Hans von Obernitz, the Nuremberg magistrate, here
interposed indignantly. "A Groland, who, moreover, is blessed with a
loyal, lovely wife, succumb to the sparkling eyes of a vagabond
wanton! The Pegnitz would flow up the castle cliff first. I should
think we might have less vulgar subjects to discuss."
"The daring, skilful ropedancer certainly does not belong to the
latter," Doctor Peutinger eagerly retorted. "Besides, who would not
desire to know how the free, hot-blooded daughter of the highway
settled the account with you, friend Lienhard? Love disdained is said
to be the mother of hatred, and from the days of Potiphar's wife has
often caused cruel vengeance. Had this girl whom Sir Hans holds in
such light esteem really possessed an evil nature, like others of her
"That she does not," Lienhard Groland here warmly interrupted the
"Whatever Kuni may lack, and whatever errors she may have
committed, she is, and will remain a rare creature, even among the few
whose lofty spirit can not be bowed or broken by the deepest calamity.
When I met her here again at The Blue Pike, among the most corrupt
vagabonds, ill and poor, perhaps already the victim of death, I
thought it a fitting time to renew the gift which she had refused. I
would gladly do more for the poor girl, and my wife at home certainly
would not be vexed; she, too, is fond of Kuni, and—I repeat it—this
girl has a good, nay, the best nature. If, instead of among
vagabonds, she had been born in a respectable household—"
Here the young envoy was suddenly interrupted. His table
companions also raised their heads in surprise—a strange noise echoed
through the night air.
Little Doctor Eberbach started up in affright, Hans von Obernitz,
the Nuremberg magistrate, grasped the hilt of his sword, but Doctor
Schedel instantly perceived that the sound which reached his aged ears
was nothing but a violent, long-repressed fit of coughing. He and the
other gentlemen were gazing at the oleander tree whence, before any
one approached it, a groan of pain was heard.
The experienced physician shook his white locks gravely and said:
"Whoever uttered that is near the end of his sufferings."
He made a movement to rise as he spoke; he felt that his help was
But another incident diverted the attention of his companions and
Dietel, the waiter, had at last been released from his confinement
in the cellar, and instantly began the search for the thief in the
garden with twofold zeal.
Without considering how long a time had passed since he first tried
to bring the culprit into the clutches of the law, he had resumed the
pursuit where it was interrupted. As a thoughtless child whose bird
has flown from the cage looks into the water jug to find it, he had
turned the light of his lantern upon places where a kitten could not
have hidden itself, and had even been to the meadow on the bank of the
Main to seek Kuni with the widow of the thief Nickel; but here the
sacrament was just being given to the sufferer, and to interrupt such
a ceremony would have been a great crime. His eyes were keen, and the
red pinks had gleamed from the straw on which the dying woman lay in
the light of the lantern, whose long pole the sexton had thrust into
the soft earth of the meadow. Those flowers must have come from the
garden of the landlady of The Pike, and she valued her pinks more than
anything else. The ropedancer had gathered them for the sick woman,
and certainly had not stopped at that one act of theft. How far these
vagabonds' impudence went! But he, whose duty it was to look after
the property of The Blue Pike, would spoil their pleasure in thieving.
The dog Phylax had soon put him on the trail, and before any of the
gentlemen could reach the groaning person Dietel's triumphant shout
rang from behind the oleander:
"Now we've caught the pilferer, and we'll make an example of her!"
His first glance had fallen on the little bunch of pinks in the
girl's hand, and the vein on his forehead swelled with wrath at this
damage to his mistress's favourite flowers.
But when he shook the culprit by the shoulder and, to his surprise,
met with no resistance, he threw the light of the lantern upon her
face, and what he saw there suddenly troubled him, for the girl's
lips, chin, and dress were covered with bright blood, and her head
drooped on one side as if it had lost its support.
This frightened him, and instead of continuing to boast of his
success, he called for help.
The Nuremberg gentlemen soon surrounded Kuni, and Doctor Hartmann
Schedel told the waiter to carry her, with the aid of his assistants,
summoned by his shout, into the house and provide her with a
Dietel obeyed the command without delay—nay, when he heard the
famous leech whisper to the other gentlemen that the sufferer's life
was but a failing lamp, his feelings were completely transformed. All
the charity in his nature began to stir and grew more zealous as he
gazed at Kuni's face, distorted by pain. The idea of giving up to her
his own neat little room behind the kitchen seemed like a revelation
from St. Eoban, his patron. She should rest in his bed. The wanderer
who, a few years ago, had scattered her gold so readily and joyously
for the pleasure of others certainly would not poison it. Her misery
seemed to him a touching proof of the transitory nature of all earthly
things. Poor sufferer! Yet she ought to find recovery on his couch,
if anywhere; for he had surrounded it with images of the saints, pious
maxims, and little relics, bought chiefly from the venders who
frequented the tavern. Among them was a leather strap from St.
Elizabeth's shoe, whose healing power he had himself tested during an
attack of bilious fever.
The burden which he shared with his assistants was a light one, but
he was not to reach his destination without delay—the little bunch of
pinks fell from the hand of the unconscious girl, and Dietel silently
picked up the stolen property which had just roused his wrath to such
a degree, and placed it carefully on the senseless sufferer's bosom.
The second hinderance was more serious. Cyriax had heard that Kuni
was dying, and fearing that he might be obliged to pay the funeral
expenses he stuttered to the bystanders, with passionate gestures,
that an hour ago he had discharged the cripple whom he had dragged
about with him, out of sheer sympathy, long enough. She was nothing
more to him now than the cock in the courtyard, which was crowing to
greet the approach of dawn.
But the landlord of The Pike and others soon forced Cyriax out of
the way. Kuni was laid on Dietel's bed, and the gray-haired leech
examined her with the utmost care.
The landlady of The Pike helped to undress her, and when the good
woman, holding her apron to her eyes from which tears were streaming,
opened the door again and the Abbot of St. AEgidius approached the
couch, to render aid to the dying for the second time that night, he
saw by Hartmann Schedel's face that he had not come too soon.
The ropedancer had recovered consciousness, and the kind prelate's
presence was a solace to her. The confession lasted a long time, and
the story which she had to confide to the priest must have been as
strange as it was interesting, for the abbot listened eagerly and with
evident emotion. When he had performed the duties of his office he
remained alone for a time; he could not immediately regain a mood in
which he cared to rejoin the others. He did not ask for the gentlemen
from Cologne; those from Nuremberg, whom he sought, had returned to
the table in front of the tavern long before.
The waves of the Main were now reflecting the golden light of the
morning sun. Dewdrops glittered on the grass and flowers in the
meadow with the cart, and in the landlady's little garden. Carriers'
men were harnessing the freshly groomed bays to the pole. The brass
rings on the high collars of the stallions jingled loudly and merrily,
and long whiplashes cracked over the four and six-horse teams which
were beginning the day's journey along the highroad.
But even the rattling of the carts and the trampling of the horses'
hoofs could not rouse the Cologne professors, who, with their clerical
companions, had gone to rest, and slept in darkened rooms until late
into the morning. Most of the humbler guests had already left their
Cyriax was one of the first who followed the road. He had sold his
cart and donkey, and wanted to burden his red-haired wife with his
possessions, but as she resolutely refused he had taken the bundle on
his own lazy shoulders. Now he dragged himself and his new load
onward, swearing vehemently, for Ratz had remained with the cart in
Miltenberg, where the sham lunatic no longer found it safe to stay.
This time it was he who was obliged to pull his wife along by the
chain, for she had long refused, as if fairly frantic, to desert the
dying girl who had nursed her child so faithfully. Again and again
the doubly desolate woman looked back toward the companion whom she
had abandoned in her suffering until they reached Frankfort. There
Gitta left Cyriax and accompanied Ratz. The cart in which her child
had lived and died, not its repulsive owner, induced her to sever the
bond which, for nine years, had bound her to the blasphemer.
The travelling scholars set off singing merrily; but the strolling
musicians waited for the ship to sail down the Main, on whose voyage
they could earn money and have plenty to drink.
The vagrants tramped along the highway, one after another, without
troubling themselves about the dying ropedancer.
"Everybody finds it hard enough to bear his own cross," said
Jungel, seizing his long crutches. Only "Dancing Gundel" lingered in
Miltenberg through sympathy in the fate of the companion who had
reached the height of fame, while she, the former "Phyllis," had gone
swiftly downhill. It was a Christian duty, she said to the blind boy
who begged their bread, not to let Kuni, who had once held so lofty a
position, take the last journey without a suitable escort. When she
heard that her former companion had received the sacrament, she
exclaimed to her blind son, while slicing garlic into the barley
porridge: "She will now be at rest. We shall earn a pretty penny at
the mass in Frankfort if you can only manage to look as sorrowful when
you hold out your hand as you do now!"
The monks, the dealer in indulgences, the burghers and artisans who
were just preparing to embark for the voyage down the Main, gazed in
bewilderment at the distinguished gentlemen who, incredible as it
seemed, had actually—for Dietel said so—foregone their morning nap
for the sake of a vagabond girl. The feather-curler shook his head as
if something marvellous had happened when he heard the ambassador of
the Honourable Council of his own native city, the distinguished Herr
Lienhard Groland, say to old Doctor Schedel:
"I will wait here with you, my venerable friend. Since the poor
girl can live only a few hours longer, I can join the others, if I
hurry, before they leave Frankfort."
"That's right, Lienhard," cried Wilibald Pirckheimer, and the Abbot
of St. AEgidius added approvingly:
"You will thereby do something which is pleasing in the sight of
Heaven. Yes, gentlemen, I repeat it: there are few deathbeds beside
which I have found so little reason to be ashamed of the fate of being
a mortal as by the humble couch of this vagabond girl. If, before the
judgment seat above, intention and faith are weighed with the same
scales as works, few who close their eyes behind silken curtains will
be so sure of a favourable sentence as this poorest of the poor."
"Did the girl really keep no portion of Herr Lienhard's rich gift
for herself?" asked the Nuremberg imperial magistrate.
"Nothing," replied the abbot. "She gave the whole, down to her
last copper, to the stranger, though she herself must remain here,
poor, lame, and deserted—and she had only met the sick woman by
accident upon the highway. My duty forbids me to repeat the details,
and how she bore herself even while at Augsburg, but, thanks to the
confession which I have just received, I shall count this morning
among those never to be forgotten. O gentlemen, death is a serious
matter, and intercourse with the dying is the best school for the
priest. Then the inmost depths of the soul are opened to him."
"And," observed Wilibald Pirckheimer, "I think the psychologist
would then learn that, the deeper we penetrate the human breast, the
darker is the spectacle."
"Yes, my learned friend," the abbot answered, "but we also perceive
that the deepest and darkest shafts contain the purest specimens of
gold and silver ore."
"And were you really permitted to find such in this neglected
vagabond, reverend sir?" asked Doctor Eberbach, with an incredulous
"As certainly," answered the prelate with repellent dignity, "as
that the Saviour was right when he called those who were pure in heart
blessed above those who were wise and overflowing with knowledge!"
Then, without waiting for the Thuringian's answer, he hastily
turned to the young ambassador and begged him to grant the dying girl,
who clung to him with tender devotion, a brief farewell.
"Willingly," replied Lienhard, requesting the physician to
The latter had just beckoned Doctor Peutinger to his side, to
examine with him the indulgence which he had found under the kerchief
crossed over the sick girl's bosom. It did not secure redemption from
the flames of purgatory for the ropedancer's soul, as the gentlemen
expected, but for another, and that other—the learned humanist and
Imperial Councillor would not believe his own eyes—was his beloved,
prematurely lost child. There, in large letters, was "Juliane
Peutinger of Augsburg."
Astonished, almost bewildered, the usually quiet statesman
expressed his amazement.
The other gentlemen were preparing to examine the paper with him,
when the abbot, without betraying the secret of Kuni's heart, which
she had confided to him in her confession, told Juliane's father that
the ropedancer had scarcely left the convent ere she gave up both the
Emperor's gift and the viaticum—in short, her whole property, which
would have been large enough to support her a long time—in order to
do what she could for the salvation of the child for whom her soul was
more concerned than for her own welfare.
The astonished father's eyes filled with tears of grateful emotion,
and when Lienhard went with the gray-haired leech to the dying girl
Doctor Peutinger begged permission to accompany them. The physician,
however, requested him to remain away from the sufferer, who would be
disturbed by the sight of a strange face. Then Peutinger charged his
young friend to give Kuni his kind greetings and thank her for the
love with which she had remembered his dear child.
The young Councillor silently followed the physician to the sick
bed, at whose head leaned a Gray Sister, who was one of the guests of
The Blue Pike and had volunteered to nurse the patient.
The nun shook her head sorrowfully as the two men crossed the
threshold. She knew how the dying look, and that the hand of death
already touched this sufferer. Yet her kind, colourless face, framed
by the white sides of her cap, quickly regained its usual quiet,
The regular features, now slightly flushed with the fever, of the
patient in her charge, on the contrary, were constantly varying in
expression. She had noticed the entrance of the visitors, and when she
opened her sparkling blue eyes and saw the person to whom her poor
heart clung with insatiable yearning they were filled with a sunny
radiance, and a smile hovered round her lips.
She had known that he would come, that he would not let her die
without granting her one more glance.
Now she would fain have nodded to him and expressed in very, very
appropriate words the delight, the embarrassment, the gratitude which
filled her soul, but her panting chest could give no breath for
utterance. Nay, extreme exhaustion even prevented the movement of her
lips. But her heart and brain were by no means inactive. A wealth of
internal and external experiences, long since forgotten, rose before
her mind. First she fancied that she saw Lienhard, as at their first
meeting, approaching the garlanded door of St. Sebald's with his
beautiful bride, arrayed in her wedding robes. Then she was
transported to the court room and felt his hand stroke her hair. The
hours at Frau Schurstab's when she had awaited his visits with an
anxious heart came back to her memory. Then she again saw herself
upon the rope. Lienhard was toying with the little elf below. But
what she beheld this time was far from awakening new wicked wishes,
for Juliane once more wore her laurel crown and beckoned kindly to her
like a dear, familiar friend. Finally, pale little Juli appeared, as
if shrouded in mists. Last of all, she saw herself filling the jug
for the sick woman and gathering the red pinks for her and Lienhard in
the landlady's little garden by the shimmering starlight. The
flowers, whose fragrance was too strong, yet which she had not the
strength to remove, lay on the coverlet before her. They were intended
for Lienhard, and as she stretched her slender fingers toward them and
tried to clasp them she succeeded. She even found strength to hold
out her right hand to him with a beseeching glance. And lo! ere her
arm fell again the proud man had seized the flowers. Then she saw him
fasten the pinks on the breast of his dark doublet, and heard the
thrill of deep emotion in his voice, as he said:
"I thank you, dear Kuni, for the beautiful flowers. I will keep
them. Your life was a hard one, but you have borne the burden bravely.
I saw this clearly, and not I alone. I am also to thank you and give
you very friendly remembrances in the name of Doctor Peutinger, of
Augsburg, little Juliane's father. He will think of you as a mistress
of your art, a noble, high-minded girl, and I—I shall certainly do
He clasped her burning hand as he spoke; but at these words she
felt as she had probably done a few hours before, when, hidden behind
the oleander, she listened to the conversation in which he mentioned
her kindly. Again a warm wave of joy seemed to surge upward in her
breast, and she fancied that her heart was much too small for such a
wealth of rapture, and it was already overflowing in hot waves,
washing all grief far, far away.
Her gift had been accepted.
The red pinks looked at her from his doublet, and she imagined that
everything around was steeped in rosy light, and that a musical
tinkling and singing echoed in her ears.
Never had she experienced such a feeling of happiness.
Now she even succeeded in moving her lips, and the man, who still
held her little burning hand clasped in his first heard his own name
very faintly uttered; then her parched lips almost inaudibly repeated
the exclamation: "Too late!" and again, "Too late!"
The next instant she pressed her left hand upon her panting breast.
The rosy hue around her blended with the red tint of the pinks, and
another haemorrhage bore the restless wanderer to that goal where
every mortal journey ends.