So, in a happier frame of mind than he had experienced for a long time, he said in a low tone, that he might not be understood by their guest: “Greater people than we rejoice in the gifts which emperors and kings bestow, and—we can use them, can’t we?”
Then he rubbed his hands, laughed as if he had outwitted the people of whom he was thinking, and whispered to his daughter: “The baker will wonder when he gets paid this time in glittering gold, and the butcher and Master Reinhard! My boots still creak softly when I step, and you know what that means. The soles of your little shoes probably only sing, but they, too, are not silent.”
The old man, released from a heavy burden of care, laughed merrily again at this jest, and then, raising his voice, told his daughter and Wolf that he would first get a cool drink and then go outside the gate wherever his lame foot might carry him. Would not the young nobleman accompany him?
But Wolf preferred to stay with Barbara, that he might plead his cause in person. There was something so quiet and diffident in her manner. If she would not listen to him to-day, she never would. In saying farewell, the captain remarked that he would not meddle in the affair of the Council. Wawerl alone must decide that.
“When I return home,” he concluded, “you will have come to an agreement, and, whatever the determination may be, I shall be satisfied. Perhaps some bright idea may come to me, too, over the wine. I’ll go to the Black Bear, where I always meet fellow-soldiers.”
Then he raised his hand with a gay farewell salute, and left the room.
As soon as the captain’s limping steps died away on the stairs, Wolf summoned all his courage and moved nearer to Barbara.
His heart throbbed anxiously as he told himself that the next few minutes would decide his future destiny.
As he saw her before him, fairer than ever, with downcast eves, silent and timid, without a trace of the triumphant self-assurance which she had gained during his absence, he firmly believed that he had made the right choice, and that her consent would render him the most enviable of happy mortals. If she refused him her hand—he felt this no less plainly—his life would be forever robbed of light and joy.
True, he was no longer as blithe and full of hope as when he entered her plain lodgings a short time before.
The doubt of the worthy man, behind whom the house door had just closed, had awakened his doubts also. Yet what he now had it in his power to offer, since his conversation with the syndic, was by no means trivial. He must hold fast to it, and as he raised his eyes more freely to her his courage increased, for she was still gazing at the floor in silent submission, as if ready to commit her fate into his hands; nay, in the brief seconds during which his eyes rested upon her, he perceived an expression which seemed wholly alien to her features, and bestowed upon this usually alert, self-assured, vivacious creature an air of weary helplessness.