The captain limped out into the cellar, but Barbara was already standing behind the table again, moving the irons.
“When I am rich,” she exclaimed, in reply to Wolf, who asked her to stop her work in this happy hour and share the delicious wine with him and her father, “I shall shun such maid-servant’s business. But what else can be done? We have less money than we need to keep up our position, and that must be remedied. Besides, a neatly crimped ruff is necessary if a poor girl like me is to stand beside the others in the singing rehearsal early to-morrow morning. Poor folks are alike everywhere, and, so long as I can do no better—but luck will come to me, too, some day—this right hand must be my maid. Let it alone, or my iron will burn your fingers!”
This threat was very nearly fulfilled, for Wolf had caught her right hand to hold it firmly while he at last compelled her to hear that his future destiny depended upon her decision.
How much easier he had expected to find the wooing! Yet how could it be otherwise? Every young man in Ratisbon was probably courting this peerless creature. No doubt she had already rebuffed many another as sharply as she had just prevented him from seizing her hand. If her manner had grown more independent, she had learned to defend herself cleverly.
He would first try to assail her heart with words, and they were at his disposal in black and white. He had placed in the little box with the breastpin a piece of paper on which he had given expression to his feelings in verse. Hitherto it had remained unnoticed and fluttered to the ground. Picking it up, he introduced his suit, after a brief explanation, by reading aloud the lines which he had composed in Brussels to accompany his gifts to her.
It was an easy task, for he had painted rather than written his poetic homage, with beautiful ornaments on the initial letters, and in the most careful red and black Gothic characters, which looked like print. So, with a vivacity of intonation which harmonized with the extravagance of the poetry, he began:
of my heart wert thou in days of old,
Beloved maid, in childhood’s garb so plain;
I bring thee velvet now, and silk and gold
Though I am but a poor and simple swain
That in robes worthy of thee may be seen
My sovereign, of all thy sex the queen.”
Barbara nodded pleasantly to him, saying: “Very pretty. Perhaps you might arrange your little verse in a duo, but how you must have taxed your imagination, you poor fellow, to transform the flighty good-for-nothing whom you left five years ago into a brilliant queen!”
“Because, even at that time,” he ardently exclaimed. “I had placed you on the throne of my heart, because the bud already promised—Yet no! In those days I could not suspect that it would unfold into so marvellous a rose. You stand before me now more glorious than I beheld you in the most radiant of all my dreams, and therefore the longing to possess you, which I could never relinquish, will make me appear almost insolently bold. But it must be risked, and if you will fulfil the most ardent desire of a faithful heart—”