It afforded the young man genuine pleasure to wait upon the faithful old woman and give her her medicine and barley-gruel. His mother had brought him to Ratisbon when he was a little boy four years old, and Ursel at that time had been his nurse. She had clung more closely to him than the woman to whom he owed his life, for his mother had deserted him to take the veil in the convent of the Sisters of St. Clare, but her maid-servant Ursel would not part from him. So she was received by his foster parents when they adopted him, and had served them faithfully until their deaths.
The wrinkled countenance of the old woman, who, even on her sick-bed, retained her neat appearance, expressed shrewdness and energy.
Wolf’s services were a pleasure and an honour. A grateful, affectionate glance acknowledged each, and meanwhile he became clearly aware of the treasure which he, the orphaned youth, possessed in this faithful old friend.
If he saw aright, she might yet live a long time, and this gave him heartfelt joy. With her he would lose the last witness of his childhood, the chronicle, as it were, of his earliest youth. He could not understand why he had never before induced her to tell him her recollections.
During his boyhood, which was crowded with work, he had been content when she told him in general outlines that, during the Peasant War, fierce bands had attacked his father’s castle, that one of his own bondmen had slain him with an axe, and that his mother had fled with Wolf to Ratisbon, where her brother lived as provost of the cathedral. He had invited her, at the outbreak of the peasant insurrection, to place herself under his protection.
The old woman had also described to him how, amid great hardships, they had reached the city in midwinter, and finally that his mother found Baron Sandhof, her brother, at the point of death, and, after her hope of having a home with the provost of the cathedral was baffled, she had taken the veil in the convent of the Dominicans, called here the Black Penitents. Wolf’s foster father, the organist Stenzel, who was closely connected with his uncle, had rendered this step easier for the deserted widow by receiving the little boy in his childless home.
Ursel must give him more minute particulars concerning all these things.
His mother, who knew that he was well cared for, had troubled herself very little about him, and devoted her life to the care of her own salvation and that of her murdered husband, who had died without the benefit of the holy sacrament.
When he was fifteen, she closed her eyes on the world, and the hour when, on her death bed, she had asked of him a vow to be faithful to the Catholic Church and shut his heart against heresy, was as vividly before his memory as if she had just passed away.
He did not allude to these things now, for his heart urged him to confide to the faithful old woman what he thought of Barbara, and the beautiful hopes with which he had left her.