Barbara’s voice reached Wolf from a considerable distance.
He knew the playmate of his childhood; her words never sounded so loud and sharp unless she was excited.
She had said little on the way out, and Herr Peter Schlumperger asked what had vexed her. Then she roused herself, and, to conquer the great anxiety which again and again took possession of her, she drank Herr Peter’s sweet Malmsey wine more recklessly than usual.
At last, more intoxicated by her own vivacity than by the juice of the grape, she talked so loudly and freely with the other ladies and gentlemen that it became too much even for Frau Kastenmayr, who had glanced several times with sincere anxiety from her golden-haired favourite to her brother, and then back to Barbara.
Such reckless forwardness ill beseemed a chaste Ratisbon maiden and the future wife of a Peter Schlumperger, and she would gladly have urged departure. But some of the city pipers had been sent to the forest, and when they began to play, and Herr Peter himself invited the young people to dance, her good humour wholly disappeared; for Barbara, whom the young gentlemen eagerly sought, had devoted herself to dancing with such passionate zest that at last her luxuriant hair became completely loosened, and for several measures fluttered wildly around her. True, she had instantly hastened deeper into the woods with Nandl Woller, her cousin, to fasten it again, but the incident had most unpleasantly wounded Frau Kastenmayr’s strict sense of propriety.
Nothing unusual ought to happen to a girl of Barbara’s age, and the careless manner in which she treated what had befallen her before the eyes of so many men angered the austere widow so deeply that she withdrew a large share of her favour. This was the result of the continual singing.
Any other girl would fasten her hair firmly and resist flying in the dance from one man’s arm to another’s, especially in the presence of a suitor who was in earnest, and who held aloof from these amusements of youth.
Doubtless it was her duty to keep her brother from marriage with a girl who, so long as her feet were moving in time to the violins and clarionets, did not even bestow a single side glance upon her estimable lover.
So her displeasure had caused the early departure.
Torch-bearers rode at the head of the tolerably long train of the residents of Ratisbon, and some of the guests carried cressets. So there was no lack of light, and as the lantern in her neighbour’s hand permitted the baron to recognise Barbara, Malfalconnet, according to the agreement, rode up to the singer, while Wolf accosted Herr Peter Schlumperger, and informed him of the invitation which the steward, in the Emperor’s name, was bringing his fair guest.
The Ratisbon councillor allowed him to finish his explanation, and then with quiet dignity remarked that his Majesty’s summons did not concern him. It rested entirely with jungfrau Blomberg to decide whether she would accept it at so late an hour.