The ringleader, Giacomo Bianchi, from Bologna, was asserting that “the old bear”—he meant Appenzelder—“would never permit the incomplete choir to sing before the Emperor and his royal sister.”
“So we shall have the afternoon,” he exclaimed. “The grooms will give me a horse, and after dinner I, and whoever cares to go with me, will ride back to the village where we last stopped. What do I want there? I’ll get the kiss which the tavernkeeper’s charming little daughter owes me. Her sweet mouth and fair braids with the bows of blue ribbon—I saw nothing prettier anywhere!”
“Yes, these blondes!” cried Angelo Negri, a Neapolitan boy of thirteen, rolling his black eyes upward enthusiastically, and kissing, for lack of warm lips, the empty air.
“Sweet, sweet, sweet,” sighed Giacoma Bianchi.
“Sweet enough,” remarked little thick-set Cornelius Groen from Breda, in broken Italian. “Yet you surely are not thinking of that silly girl, with her flaxen braids, but of the nice honey and the light white pastry she brought us. If we can get that again, I’ll ride there with you.”
“I won’t,” protested Wilhelm Haldema, from Leuwarden in Friesland. “I shall go down to the river with my pole. It’s swarming with fish.”
Wolf had remained concealed until this moment. Now he entered the huge apartment.
The boys rushed toward him with joyous ease, and, as they crowded around him, asking all sorts of questions, it was evident that he possessed their affection and confidence.
He kindly motioned to them to keep silence, and asked what induced them to expect leisure time on that day, when, by the exertion of all their powers, they were to display their skill in the presence of their mistress and the Emperor.
The answer was not delayed—nay, it sprang from many young lips at the same time. Unfortunately, its character was such that Wolf scarcely ventured to hope for the full success of the surprise.
Johann of Cologne and Benevenuto Bosco of Catania, in Sicily, the two leaders and ornaments of the choir, were so very ill that their recovery could scarcely be expected even within the next few days. The native of Cologne had been attacked on the way by a hoarseness which made the fifteenyear-old lad uneasy, because signs of the approaching change of voice had already appeared.
The break meant to the extremely musical youth, who had been distinguished by the bell-like purity of his tones, the loss of his well-paid position in the boy choir, which, for his poor mother’s sake, he must retain as long as possible. So, with mingled grief and hope, he dipped deeply into his slender purse when, at Neumarkt, where the travelling musicians spent the night just at the time the annual fair was held, he met a quack who promised to help him.
This extremely talkative old man, who styled himself “Body physician to many distinguished princes and courts,” boasted of possessing a secret remedy of the famous Bartliolomaus Anglicus, which, besides other merits, also had the power of bestowing upon a harsh voice the melody of David’s harp.