No one, not even the handsomest young knight, could compare in her eyes with the mature, powerful guide of the destiny of many millions, whose lofty brow was illumined by the grandeur of his intellect, and with whose name the memory of glorious victories was associated. The pride justified by his birth had led him from one lofty deed to another, and he could not help carrying his head so high, for how far all the rest of mankind lay beneath him! There was no living mortal to whom the Emperor Charles would have been obliged to look up, or before whom he need bow his head at all.
She would fain have been able to stamp his image deeply, ineffaceably upon her soul. But, alas!
Just at that moment a short, imperious sound reached her ear. Appenzelder had struck the desk with his baton. The Benedictio must begin at once, and now her breath was really coming so quickly that it seemed impossible for her to sing in this condition.
Deeply troubled, she pressed her hand upon her bosom.
Then the cruel, tyrannical baton struck the wood a second time, and——
But what did this mean?
The Emperor had left his elderly companion after she was seated at the table, and was advancing—her eyes, clouded by anxious expectation, did not deceive her—and was walking with stately dignity toward the boy choir; no, not to it, but directly toward herself.—Now it seemed as though her heart stood still.
At no price could she have produced even a single note.
But it was not required, for the wave of the imperial hand which she saw was to Appenzelder, and commanded him to silence his choir.
The unexpected movement concerned her alone, and ere Barbara found time to ask herself what brought him to her, he already stood before her.
How friendly and yet how chivalrously stately as the slight bow which the monarch bestowed upon her; and he had scarcely done so when, in peculiar German, whose strange accent seemed to her extremely charming and musical, he exclaimed: “we welcome you to the Golden Cross, fairest of maidens. You now behold what man can accomplish when he strives for anything with genuine zeal. The wisest among the wise declare that even gods fail in the conflict against the obstinacy of beautiful women, and yet our longing desire succeeded in capturing you, lovely fugitive.”
Barbara alternately flushed and paled as she listened to these words.
She had not heard Frau Lerch’s counsel, and yet, obedient to a secret impulse, she timidly lowered her blue eyes. But not a word of the sovereign had escaped her, and, though she still lacked the power of speech, she found courage to smile and shake her head in denial.
The Emperor did not miss a single change of feature, and, swiftly understanding her mute contradiction, went on gaily: “Look! look! So, fairest of the fair, you refuse to acknowledge our glorious victory? That bears witness to a specially independent comprehension of things. But we, how are we to explain such a denial of an accomplished fact?”