While Frau Lerch was working with wonderful dexterity, she also permitted her nimble tongue no rest. In the tenderest accents of faithful maternal solicitude she counselled her how to conduct herself in his Majesty’s presence. Hurriedly showing Barbara how the stiff Spanish ladies of the court curtsied, she exclaimed: “And another thing, my darling pet: It is important for all ladies, even those of royal blood, to try to win the favour of so great a monarch when they meet him for the first time. You can use your eyes, too, and how effectually! I saw you a short time ago, and, if I had been a young gentleman, how gladly I would have changed places with the handsome recruiting officer Pyramus at the New Scales! That was a flaming fire! Now, isn’t it true, darling—now we no longer have even a single glance for such insignificant fellows! Consider that settled! But things of that sort have no effect upon his august Majesty. You must cast down your sparkling blue eyes in modest embarrassment, as if you still wore the confirmation wreath. All the fashionable sons of the burghers complain of your repellent coldness. Let his Majesty feel it too. That will pour oil on the flames, and they must blaze up high; I’d stake both my hands on it, much as I need them. But if it results as I expect, my darling, don’t forget old Lerch, who loves you even more than your own mother did. How beautiful and stately she was! But she forgot her little Wawerl only too often. I have a faithful nature, child, and understand life. If, sooner or later, you need the advice of a true, helpful friend, you know where to find little old Lerch.”
These warnings had sounded impressive enough, but Barbara had by no means listened attentively. Instead, she had been anticipating, with torturing impatience, her appearance before the great man for whom she was adorned and the songs which she would have to sing. If she was permitted to choose herself, he would also hear the bird-song, with the “Car la saison est bonne,” which had extorted such enthusiastic applause from the Netherland maestro.
She must choose something grander, more solemn, for she wished to make a deeper, stronger, more lasting impression upon the man who was now to listen to her voice.
Mere lukewarm satisfaction would not content her in the case of the Emperor Charles; she wished to arouse his enthusiasm, his rapture. What bliss it would be if she was permitted to penetrate deeply into his soul, if it were allotted to her to make the ruler’s grave eyes sparkle with radiant delight!
In increasing excitement, she saw herself, in imagination, lowering the sheet of music, and the sovereign, deeply moved, holding out both hands to her.
But that would have been too much happiness! What if the violent throbbing of her heart should silence her voice? What if the oppressive timidity, which conquers every one who for the first time is permitted to stand in the presence of majesty, should cause her to lose her memory and be unable to find the mood which she required in order to execute her task with the perfection that hovered before her mind?