Barbara had seemed more beautiful than ever as she greeted him with almost humble friendliness, instead of her former defiance. The hoarse tone of her voice, once so musical, caused him so much pain that he was on the verge of losing his power to keep his resolve to conceal the feelings which, in spite of the insults she had heaped upon him, he still cherished for her. While he allowed himself to look into her face, he realized for the first time how difficult a task he had undertaken, and therefore tried to assume an expression of indifference as he began the conversation with the remark that the ride to the citadel was detaining him from his duties longer than he could answer for in such a stress of military business and, moreover, under the eyes of his Majesty. Therefore it would only be possible to talk a very short time.
He had hurled forth this statement rather than spoken it; but Barbara, smiling mournfully, replied that she could easily understand his reluctance to lose so much time merely on her account.
“For your sake, my dear lady,” he replied with an acerbity which sounded sufficiently genuine, “it might scarcely have seemed feasible to go so far from the camp; but for the brave old comrade who was intrusted to my care I would have made even more difficult things possible—and you are his daughter.”
The girl nodded silently to show that she understood the meaning of his words, and then asked how the journey had passed and what was the cause of her father’s illness.
Everything had gone as well as possible, he replied, until they reached Spain; but there the captain was tortured by homesickness. Nothing had pleased him except the piety of the people. The fiery wine did not suit him, the fare seemed unbearable, and the inability to talk with any one except himself had irritated him to actual outbursts of rage. On the neat Netherland ship which bore him homeward matters were better; nay, while running into the harbour of Antwerp he had jested almost in his old reckless manner. But when trying to descend the rope-ladder from the high ship into the skiff in which sailors had rowed from the land, he made a misstep with his stiff leg and fell into the boat.
A low cry of terror here escaped the lips of the deeply agitated daughter, and Pyramus joined in her expressions of grief, declaring that a chill still ran down his back whenever he thought of that fall. The captain had been saved as if by a miracle. Yet the consequences were by no means light, for when he, Pyramus, left him, he was barely able to totter from one chair to another. A journey on horseback, the physician said, would kill him, and a ride in a carriage over the rough roads would also endanger his life. Several months must pass ere he could think of returning home.
In reply to Barbara’s anxious question how the impatient man bore the inactivity imposed upon him, her visitor answered, “Rebelliously enough, but he has already grown quieter, and my sister is fond of him and takes the best care of him.”