But he gained his object, for the impatient monarch listened gladly, and all the more willingly in proportion to the more brilliant eloquence with which the clever connoisseur of mankind placed Barbara in contrast to all the obscure, insignificant, and ridiculous personages whom he pretended to have met. The peculiar charm which her individuality thus obtained corresponded with the idea which the monarch himself had formed of the expected guest, and it flattered him to hear his conjecture so remarkably confirmed.
A few questions from the monarch followed the baron’s report. While the latter was still answering the last one, Chamberlain de Praet announced the singer’s arrival, and Count Bueren escorted the aged Marquise de Leria to the monarch.
The Emperor went at once to the table, and as he descended the stairs, leaning lightly on Malfalconnet’s arm, it was scarcely perceptible that he used the left foot less firmly than the other.
According to his command, only the small table at which he was to sit with the marquise had been laid in the dining-room. The boy choir had taken a position opposite to it.
At his entrance Barbara rose quickly from the chair, into which she had sunk by no means from weariness.
With a throbbing heart, and still heavily oppressed by anxiety, she awaited the next moments and what they would bring.
The Benedictio Mensae was again to open the concert. She needed no notes for this familiar music. Yet she looked toward Appenzelder, who had thanked her for her appearance as if she had done him a great favour.
Now the orchestra behind her was silent. Now she saw the lackeys and attendants bow profoundly. Now Appenzelder raised his arm.
She saw it, but he had not yet touched the desk with the little ebony staff, and she availed herself of the pause to glance toward the anxiously expected sovereign, whose presence she felt.
There he stood.
Barbara scarcely noticed the old lady at his left; he, he alone captivated her eyes, her heart, her senses, her whole being.
What a happy surprise!
How Wolf, Maestro Gombert, and others had described the Emperor, and how he stood before her!
This chivalrous, superb, almost youthful gentleman and hero, whose haughty, self-assured bearing so admirably suited the magnificence of his rich-hued garments, was said to be a gouty old man, bowed by the weight of care! Had it not been so abominable, it would have tempted her to laugh.
How petty men were, how cruel was the fate of the great, to whom envy clings like their own shadow, and whose image was basely distorted even by those who knew the grandeur of their intellect and their deeds, and who owed to them their best success in life!
Her heart beat for this man, not only with the artist’s desire to satisfy the connoisseur, no, but with stormy passion—she felt it now; yet, though the god of love was called a blind boy, she had retained the full, clear strength of vision and the absolute power of discernment.