While he was generally obliged to maintain an attitude of defence toward her, she now seemed to need friendly consolation. So, obeying a hasty impulse, he warmly extended both hands, and in a gentle, sympathizing tone exclaimed, “Wawerl, my dear girl, what troubles you?”
Then her glance met his, and her blue eyes flashed upon him with an expression of defiant resistance; but he could not help thinking of the young witch who was said to have resembled her, and a presentiment told him that she was lost to him.
The confirmation of this foreboding was not delayed, for in a tone whose repellent sternness startled him, she angrily burst forth: “What should trouble me? It as ill becomes you to question me with such looks and queries as it pleases me.” Wolf, in bewilderment, assured her that she had seemed to him especially charming in her gracious gentleness. If anything had happened to cloud her fearless joyousness, let her forget it, for the matter now to be considered concerned the happiness of two human lives.
That was what she was saying to herself, Barbara replied in a more friendly tone, and, with newly awakened hope, the young knight informed her that the time had now come when, without offending against modesty, he might call himself a “made man.”
With increasing eagerness and confidence he then told her what the councillor had offered. Without concealing her father’s scruples, he added the assurance that he felt perfectly secure against the temptations of which there would certainly be no lack while he was in the service of a Protestant magistracy.
“And when you, devout, pure, true girl, stand by my side,” he concluded with an ardour which surprised Barbara in this quiet, reserved man, “when you are once mine, my one love, then I shall conquer the hardest obstacle as if it were mere pastime, then I would not change places with the Emperor, for then my happiness would be——”
Hitherto she had silently permitted him to speak, but now her cheeks suddenly flamed with a deep flush, and she warmly interrupted: “You deserve to be happy, Wolf, and I could desire nothing more ardently than to see you glad and content; but you would never become so through me. How pale you grow! For my sake, do not take it so much to heart; it grieves me to see you suffer. Only believe that. It cuts me to the heart to inflict such great sorrow upon one so loyal, good, and dear, who values me so much more than I deserve.”
Here Wolf, deeply agitated, wildly called her name, and besought her not to cast aside so harshly the wealth of love and fidelity which he offered.
His own anguish of soul, and the pain inflicted by the cruel blow which crushed his dearest hopes, robbed him of fortitude and calmness. With tears in his eyes, he threw himself on his knees before her and gazed into her face with anxious entreaty, exclaiming brokenly: “Do not—do not inflict this suffering upon me, Wawerl! Rob me of everything except hope. Defer your acceptance until I can offer you a still fairer future, only be merciful and leave me hope!”