IN THE BLUE PIKE - VOLUME 2.
IN THE BLUE PIKE - VOLUME 2.
The ropedancer Kuni really had been with the sick mother and her babes
and had toiled for them with the utmost diligence.
The unfortunate woman was in great distress.
The man who had promised to take her in his cart to her native village of
Schweinfurt barely supported himself and his family by the tricks of his
trained poodles. He made them perform their very best feats in the
taverns under the village lindens and at the fairs. But the children
who gazed at the four-footed artists though they never failed to give
hearty applause frequently paid in no other coin. He would gladly have
helped the unfortunate woman but to maintain the wretched mother and her
twins imposed too heavy a burden upon the kind-hearted vagabond and he
had withdrawn his aid.
Then the ropedancer met her. True she herself was in danger of being
left lying by the wayside; but she was alone and the mother had her
children. These were two budding hopes while she had nothing more to
expect save the end--the sooner the better. There could be no new
happiness for her.
And yet to have found some one who was even more needy than she lifted
her out of herself and to have power to be and do something in her
behalf pleased her nay even roused an emotion akin to that which in
better days she had felt over a piece of good fortune which others
envied. Perhaps she herself might be destined to die on the highway
without consolation the very next day; but she could save this unhappy
woman from it and render her end easier. Oh how rich Lienhard's gold
coins made her! Yet if instead of three there had been as many dozens
she would have placed the larger portion in the twins' pillows. How it
must soothe their mother's heart! Each one was a defence against hunger
and want. Besides the gold had been fairly burning her hand. It came
from Lienhard. Had it not been for Cyriax and the crowd of people in the
room she would have made him take it back--she alone knew why.
How did this happen?
Why did every fibre of her being rebel against receiving even the
smallest trifle from the man to whom she would gladly have given the
whole world? Why after she had summoned up courage and approached
Lienhard to restore his gift had she felt such keen resentment and
bitter suffering when the landlord of The Blue Pike stopped her?
As she now seized his gold it seemed as though she saw Lienhard before
her. She had already told Cyriax how she met the aristocratic Nuremberg
patrician a member of the ancient and noble Groland family whom his
native city had now made an ambassador so young. But what secretly bound
her to him had never passed her lips.
Once in her life she had felt something which placed her upon an equal
footing with the best and purest of her sex--a great love for one from
whom she asked nothing nothing at all save to be permitted to think of
him and to sacrifice everything everything for him--even life. So
strange had been the course of this love that people would have doubted
her sanity or her truthfulness had she described it to them.
While standing before St. Sebald's church in Nuremberg the vision of the
young Councillor's bride at first made a far stronger impression upon her
mind than his own. Then her gaze rested on Lienhard. As he had chosen
the fairest of women the bride had also selected the tallest most
stately and certainly the best and wisest of men. During her
imprisonment the image of this rare couple had been constantly before
her. Not until through the young husband's intercession she had
regained her liberty after he prevented her kissing his hand and
to soothe her had stroked her hair and cheeks in the magistrate's room
did the most ardent gratitude take possession of her soul. From this
emotion which filled heart and mind a glowing wealth of other feelings
had blossomed like buds upon a rosebush. Everything in her nature had
attracted her toward him and the desire to devote herself to him body
and soul shed the last drop of blood in her heart for him completely
ruled her. His image rose before her day and night sometimes alone
sometimes with his beautiful bride. Not only to him but to her also she
would joyfully have rendered the most menial service merely to be near
them and to be permitted to show that the desire to prove her gratitude
had become the object of her life.
When with good counsel for the future he dismissed her from the chief
magistrate's room he had asked her where she was to be found in case he
should have anything to say to her. It seemed as though from mingled
alarm and joy her heart would stop beating. If her lodgings instead of
an insignificant tavern had been her own palace she would gladly have
opened all its gates to him yet a feverish thrill ran through her limbs
at the thought that he might seek her among her vagabond companions and
ask in return for his kindness what he would never have presumed to seek
had she been the child of reputable parents yet which with mingled
anger and happiness she resolved not to refuse.
During the day and the night when she expected his visit she had become
aware that she who had never cared for any man save for the gifts he
bestowed was fired with love for Lienhard. Such ardent yearning could
torture only a loving heart yet what she felt was very unlike the love
with which she was familiar in songs and had seen in other girls; for
she by no means thought with jealous rancour of the woman to whom he
belonged body and soul--his beautiful wife. It rather seemed to her
that she was his and he would no longer be the same if he were separated
from her nay as if her very love was hers also. When she heard a noise
outside of her little room she started and eagerly as she yearned to see
him blissful as she thought it must be to sink upon his breast and offer
him her lips to kiss the bold ropedancer who never cared for the
opinions of others could not shake off even for a moment the fear of
wronging the fair wife who had a better right to him. Instead of hating
her or even wishing to share the heart of the man she loved with his
bride she shrank from the approaching necessity of clouding her young
happiness as though it were the direst misfortune. Yet she felt that its
prevention lay not in her own hands but in those of Fate. Should it
please Destiny to lead Lienhard to her and inspire him with a desire for
her love all resistance she knew would be futile. So she began to
repeat several paternosters that he might remain away from her. But her
yearning was so great that she soon desisted and again and again went to
the window with a fervent wish that he might come.
In the terrible tumult of her heart she had forgotten to eat or to drink
since early morning and at last in the afternoon some one knocked at
the door and the landlady called her.
While she was hurriedly smoothing her thick black hair and straightening
her best gown which she had put on for him in the morning she heard the
hostess say that Herr Groland of the Council was waiting for her
downstairs. Every drop of blood left her glowing cheeks and the knees
which never trembled on the rope shook as she descended the narrow steps.
He came forward to meet her in the entry holding out his hand with open-
hearted frankness. How handsome and how good he was! No one wore that
look who desired aught which must be hidden under the veil of darkness.
Ere her excited blood had time to cool he had beckoned to her to follow
him into the street where a sedan chair was standing.
An elderly lady of dignified bearing looked out and met her eyes with a
pleasant glance. It was Frau Sophia the widow of Herr Conrad Schurstab
of the Council one of the richest and most aristocratic noblewomen in
the city. Lienhard had told her about the charming prisoner who had been
released and begged her to help him bring her back to a respectable and
orderly life. The lady needed an assistant who now that it was hard for
her to stoop would inspect the linen closets manage the poultry yard-
her pride--and keep an eye on the children when they came to visit their
grandmother. So she instantly accompanied Lienhard to the tavern and
Kuni pleased her. But it would have been difficult not to feel some
degree of sympathy for the charming young creature who in great
embarrassment yet joyously as though released from a heavy burden
raised her large blue eyes to the kind stranger.
It was cold in the street and as Kuni had come out without any wrap
Frau Schurstab in her friendly consideration shortened the conference.
Lienhard Uroland had helped her with a few words and when the sedan
chair and the young Councillor moved down the street all the necessary
details were settled. The vagrant had bound herself and assumed duties
though they were very light ones. She was to move that evening into the
distinguished widow's house not as a servant but as the old lady's
Loni the manager of the company of rope-dancers had watched the
negotiations from the taproom. During their progress each of the three
windows was filled with heads but no one had been able to hear what was
whispered in the street. Just as the curious spectators were hoping that
now they might perhaps guess what the aristocratic lady wanted with Kuni
the sedan chair began to move and the young girl entered the hot room to
tell Loni that she would leave the company that day forever.
"In-de-e-ed?" Loni asked in astonishment lifting the gold circlet which
rested on his head. Then he passed his hand through the coal-black hair
which parted in the middle fell in smooth strands upon his neck and
exerted all his powers of persuasion to convince her of the folly of her
plan. After his arguments were exhausted he raised his voice louder.
As usual when excited by anger he swung his lower right arm to and fro
feeling the prominent muscles with his left hand. But Kuni remained
resolute and when be at last perceived that his opposition only
increased her obstinacy he exclaimed:
"Then rush on to your destruction! The day will come when you will see
where you belong. If only it doesn't arrive too late. A man grows
twelve and a woman thirty-six months older every year."
With these words he turned his back upon her and the clown brought the
amount of wages which was due.
Many an eye grew dim with tears when Kuni bade farewell to her
companions. Shortly after sunset she was welcomed to Frau Schurstab's
The first greeting was friendly and she received nothing but kindness
and indulgent treatment afterward. She had a sunny chamber of her own
and how large and soft her bed was! But while when on the road with
Loni's band if they could reach no town she had often slept soundly and
sweetly on a heap of straw here she spent one restless night after
During the first a series of questions disturbed her slumber. Was it
really only the desire to take her from her vagabond life which had
induced Lienhard to open this house to her? Did he not perhaps also
cherish the wish to keep her near him? He had certainly come to her with
Frau Schurstab to protect her reputation. Had it not been so he might
have left the matron at home; for Loni and everybody in the company knew
that she never troubled herself about gossip. Last year she had obtained
a leave of absence from Loni who was making a tour of the little Frank
towns and spent the carnival season in revelry with a sergeant of the
Nurembreg soldiers. When the booty he had gained in Italy was
squandered she gave him his dismissal. Her reputation among her
companions was neither better nor worse than that of the other strolling
players who like her were born on the highway yet she was glad that
Lienhard had tried to spare her. Or had he only come with the old
noblewoman on account of his own fair name?
Perhaps--her pulses again throbbed faster at the thought--he had not
ventured to come alone because some feeling for her stirred in his own
heart and spite of his beautiful young wife he did not feel safe from
her. Then Fran Schurstab was to serve as a shield. This conjecture
flattered her vanity and reconciled her to the step which she had taken
and already began to regret.
But suppose he really felt no more for her than the forester who finds a
child lost in the woods and guides it into the right path? How would
she endure that? Yet were it otherwise if he was like the rest of men
if he profited by what her whole manner must betray to him how should
she face his wife who undoubtedly would soon come to call on her aunt?
All these questions roused a tumult of unprecedented violence in her
young ardent inexperienced soul which was renewed each successive
night. It became more and more difficult for her to understand why she
had left Loni's band and entered into relations for which she was not
suited and in which she could never never be at ease or feel happy.
Nothing was lacking in this wealthy household not even kindness and
love. Frau Sophia was indulgent and friendly even when Kuni whose
heart and brain were occupied with so many other thoughts neglected or
forgot anything. The matron's grandchildren of whom she often had
charge soon became warmly attached to her. While among the rope-dancers
she had been fond of children and many a little one who journeyed with
the band held out its arms to her more joyously than to its own mother.
There was something in her nature that attracted them. Besides her
skilful hands could show them many a rare trick and she could sing
numerous songs new to the Schurstab boys and girls which she had picked
up here and there. Then too she permitted many a prank which no one
else would have allowed. Her duties connected with the household linen
and the poultry yard its owner's pride were so easily performed that
in her leisure hours she often voluntarily helped the housekeeper. At
first the latter eyed her askance but she soon won her affection. Both
she and her mistress showed her as much attention as the gardener bestows
upon a wild plant which he has transferred to good soil where it thrives
under his care.
She kept aloof from the servants and neither man nor maid molested her.
Perhaps this was due to foolish arrogance for after they had learned
from rumour that Kuni had danced on the tight rope they considered
themselves far superior. The younger maids timidly kept out of her way
and Kuni surpassed them in pride and looked down upon them because her
free artist blood rebelled against placing herself on the plane of a
servitor. She did not vouchsafe them a word yet neither did she allow
any of them to render her even the most trivial service. But she could
not escape Seifried the equerry of her mistress's eldest son. At first
according to her custom she had roused the handsome fellow's hopes by
fiery glances which she could not restrain. Now he felt that she cared
for him and in his honest fashion offered to make her his beloved wife;
but she refused his suit at first kindly then angrily. As he still
persisted she begged the housekeeper though she saw that matchmaking was
her delight to keep him away.
Even in March Frau Sophia thanked Lienhard for the new inmate of her
household who far exceeded her expectations. In April her praise became
still warmer only she regretted that Kuni's pretty face was losing its
fresh colour and her well-formed figure its roundness. She was sorry
too that she so often seemed lost in thought and appeared less merry
while playing with the children.
Lienhard and his young wife excused the girl's manner. Comfortable as
she was now she was still a prisoned bird. It would be unnatural nay
suspicious if she did not sometimes long for the old freedom and her
former companions. She would also remember at times the applause of the
multitude. The well-known Loni her former employer had besought him to
win her back to his company complaining loudly of her loss because it
was difficult to replace her with an equally skilful young artist. It
was now evident how mistaken the juggler had been when he asserted that
Kuni who was born among vagrants would never live in a respectable
family. He Lienhard had great pleasure in knowing that the girl on
the road to ruin had been saved by Frau Sophia's goodness.
Lienhard's father had died shortly after Kuni entered her new home.
Every impulse to love dalliance she felt must shrink before this great
sorrow. The idea sustained her hopes. She could not expect him to seek
her again until the first bitterness of grief for the loss of this
beloved relative had passed away. She could wait and she succeeded in
doing so patiently.
But week after week went by and there was no change in his conduct. Then
a great anxiety overpowered her and this did not escape his notice; for
one day while his young wife hung on his arm and added a few brief words
of sympathy he asked Kuni if she was ill or if she needed anything; but
she answered curtly in the negative and hurried into the garden where
the children with merry shouts were helping the gardener to free the
beds of crocuses and budding tulips from the pine boughs which had
protected them from the frosts of winter.
Another sleepless night followed this incident. It was useless to
deceive herself. She might as well mistake black for white as to believe
that Lienhard cared for her. To no one save his fair young wife would he
grant even the smallest ray of the love of which he was doubtless
capable and in which she beheld the sun that dispensed life and light.
She had learned this for he had often met her in Frau Sophia's house
since his father's funeral. The child of the highway had never been
taught to conceal her feelings and maintain timid reserve. Her eyes had
told him eloquently enough first her deep sympathy and afterward the
emotions which so passionately stirred her heart. Had the feelings which
her glances were intended to reveal passed merely for the ardent
gratitude of an impassioned soul?
Gratitude! For what?
His lukewarm interest had tempted her from a free gay life full of
constant excitement into the oppressive wearisome monotony of this
quiet house where she was dying of ennui. How narrow how petty how
tiresome everything seemed and what she had bartered for it was the
world the whole wide wide world. As the chicken lured the fox the
hope of satisfying the fervent longing of her heart though even once and
for a few brief moments had brought her into the snare. But the fire
which burned within had not been extinguished. An icy wind had fanned
the flames till they blazed higher and higher threatening her
Frau Schurstab had made her attend church and go to the confessional.
But the mass whose meaning she did not understand offered no solace to
the soul which yearned for love alone. Besides it wearied her to remain
so long in the same place and the confession forced the girl who had
never shrunk from honestly expressing what she felt into deception. The
priest to whom she was taken was a frequent visitor at the Schurstab
house and she would have died ere she would have confided to him the
secret of her heart. Besides to her the feeling which animated her was
no sin. She had not summoned it. It had taken possession of her against
her will and harmed no one except herself not even the wife who was so
sure of her husband. How could she have presumed to dispute with her the
possession of Herr Lienhard's love? Yet it seemed an insult that Frau
Katharina had no fear that she could menace her happiness. Could the
former know that Kuni would have been content with so little--a tender
impulse of his heart a kiss a hasty embrace? That would do the other
no injury. In the circles whence she had been brought no one grudged
another such things. How little she thought would have been taken from
the wealthy Katharina by the trifling gift which would have restored to
her happiness and peace. The fact that Lienhard though he never failed
to notice her would not understand and always maintained the same
pleasant aristocratic reserve of manner she sometimes attributed to
fear sometimes to cruelty sometimes to arrogance; she would not believe
that he saw in her only a person otherwise indifferent to him whom he
wished to accustom to the mode of life which he and his friends believed
to be the right path pleasing in the sight of God. Love feminine
vanity the need of approval her own pride--all opposed this view.
When the last snow of winter had melted and the spring sunshine of April
was unfolding the green leafage and opening bright flowers in the
meadows the hedges the woods and the gardens she found the new home
which she had entered during the frosts of February and whose solid
walls excluded every breath of air more and more unendurable. A gnawing
feeling of homesickness for the free out-of-door life the wandering from
place to place the careless untrammelled people to whom she belonged
took possession of her. She felt as though everything which surrounded
her was too small the house the apartments her own chamber nay her
very clothing. Only the hope of the first token that Lienhard was not so
cold and unconquerable as he seemed that she would at last constrain him
to pass the barrier which separated them still detained her.
Then came the day when to avoid answering his question whether she
needed anything she had gone into the garden. Before reaching the
children who were playing among the crocuses and tulips she had said
to herself that she must leave this house--it was foolish nay mad to
continue to cherish the hope which had brought her hither. She would
suffer keenly in tearing it from her heart but a wild delight seized her
at the thought that this imprisonment would soon be over that she would
be free once more entirely her own mistress released from every
restraint and consideration. How rapturous was the idea that she would
soon be roving through the fields and woods again with gay reckless
companions! Was there anything more pleasurable than to forget herself
and devote her whole soul to the execution of some difficult and
dangerous feat to attract a thousand eyes by her bewitching grace and
sustained by her enthusiasm force a thousand hearts to throb anxiously
and give loud applause as she flew over the rope?
Never had the children seen her more extravagantly gay than after her
resolve to leave them. Yet when at a late hour Kuni went to bed the
old housekeeper heard her weeping so piteously in her chamber that she
rose to ask what had happened. But the girl did not even open her door
and declared that she had probably had the nightmare.
During the next few days she sometimes appeared more cheerful and docile
sometimes more dull and troubled than her household companions had ever
seen her. Frau Schurstab shook her head over her protegee's varying
moods. But when the month of May began and Lienhard told his aunt that
Loni who had only remained in Nuremberg during Lent to spend the time
when all public performances were prohibited had applied to the Council
for permission to give exhibitions with his company Easter week in the
Haller Meadows the matron was troubled about her protegee's peace of
mind. Her nephew had had the same thought and advised her to move to
her country estate that Kuni might see and hear nothing of the jugglers;
but she had noticed the clown with other members of the company as they
passed through the streets on foot and mounted on horses and donkeys
inviting the people with blare of trumpets and beating of drums to
witness the wonderful feats which Loni's famous band of artists would
Then Kuni packed her bundle. But when she heard the next morning that
before going to the country Frau Schurstab would attend the christening
of her youngest grandson and spend the whole day with the daughter who
was the little boy's mother she untied it.
One sunny May morning she was left alone as she had expected. She could
not be invited to the ceremony with the other guests and she would not
join the servants. The housekeeper and most of the men and maids had
accompanied their mistress to help in the kitchen and to wait upon the
visitors. Deep silence reigned throughout the great empty house but
Kuni's heart had never throbbed so loudly. If Lienhard came now her
fate would be decided and she knew that he must come. Just before noon
he really did rap with the knocker on the outer door. He wanted the
christening gift which Frau Schurstab had forgotten to take for the
infant. The money was in the chest in the matron's room. Kuni led the
way. The house seemed to reel around her as she went up the stairs
behind him. The next moment she felt must decide her destiny.
Now he laid his hand upon the doorknob now he opened the door. The
widow's chamber was before her. Thick silk curtains shut out the bright
May sunshine from the quiet room. How warm and pleasant it was!
She already saw herself in imagination kneeling by his side before the
chest to help him search. While doing so his fingers might touch hers
perhaps her hair might brush against his. But instead of entering he
turned to her with careless unconcern saying:
"It is fortunate that I have found you alone. Will you do me a favour
He had intended to ask her to help him prepare a surprise for his aunt.
The day after to-morrow was Frau Sophia Schurstab's birthday. Early in
the morning she must find among her feathered favourites a pair of rare
India fowls which he had received from Venice.