If only he would refrain from wounding her with that irritating sharpness, which made her rebellious blood boil and clouded her clear brain! He was indeed the Emperor, to whom reverence was due; but during the happy hours which tenderly united them he himself desired to be nothing but the man to whom the heart of the woman he loved belonged. She must keep herself worthy of him, nothing more, and this toilsome errand would prevent her from sullying herself with an ugly sin.
During these reflections the chill had become more and more unendurable, yet she thought far less of the discomfort which it caused her than of increased danger to Erasmus from the Hiltners’ long absence.
The third quarter of an hour was already drawing to an end when Valentin came hurrying up and told Barbara that they were on the way. He had managed to speak to the syndic, and told him who was waiting for him.
A young maid-servant, running rapidly, came first to open the house and light the lamps. She was followed, quite a distance in advance of the others, by Dr. Hiltner.
The fisherman’s communication had made him anxious. He, too, had heard that Barbara was the Emperor’s favourite. Besides, more than one complaint of her offensive arrogance had reached him. But, for that very reason, the wise man said to himself, it must be something of importance that led her to him at this hour and in such weather.
At first he answered her greeting with cool reserve, but when she explained that she had come, in spite of the storm, because the matter concerned the weal or woe of a person dear to him, and he saw that she was dripping wet, he honestly regretted his long delay, and in his manly, resolute manner requested her to follow him into the house; but Barbara could not be persuaded to do so.
To give the thunderstorm time to pass and take his wife and daughter home dry, he had entered a tavern near the lindens and there engaged in conversation with several friends over some wine. Whenever he urged returning, the young people—she knew why—objected. But at last they had started, and Bernhard Trainer had accompanied the Hiltners, in order to woo Martina on the way. Her parents had seen this coming, and willingly confided their child’s happiness to him.
The betrothed couple now came up also, and saw with surprise the earnest zeal with which Martina’s father was discussing something, they knew not what, with the singer on whose account they had had their first quarrel. The lover had condemned Barbara’s unprecedented arrogance during the dance so severely that Martina found it unendurable to listen longer.
Frau Sabina, too, did not know how to interpret Barbara’s presence; but one thing was certain in her kindly heart—this was no place for such conversation. How wet the poor girl must be! The wrong which Barbara had done her child was not taken into consideration under these circumstances and, with maternal solicitude, she followed her husband’s example, and earnestly entreated Barbara to change her clothes in her house and warm herself with a glass of hot black currant wine. But Barbara could not be induced to do so, and hurriedly explained to the syndic what he lacked the clew to understand.