daughter's voice tickled Gottlieb. 'That's it, birdie! You and the proverb are right. I don't know which is best,
And keep alive
Than vengeance wake
With that you take.'
A clatter in the cathedral square brought Gottlieb on his legs to the window. It was a company of horsemen sparkling in harness. One trumpeter rode at the side of the troop, and in front a standard-bearer, matted down the chest with ochre beard, displayed aloft to the good citizens of Cologne, three brown hawks, with birds in their beaks, on an azure stardotted field.
'Holy Cross!' exclaimed Gottlieb, low in his throat; 'the arms of Werner! Where got he money to mount his men? Why, this is daring all Cologne in our very teeth! 'Fend that he visit me now! Ruin smokes in that ruffian's track. I 've felt hot and cold by turns all day.'
The horsemen came jingling carelessly along the street in scattered twos and threes, laughing together, and singling out the maidens at the gable-shadowed windows with hawking eyes. The good citizens of Cologne did not look on them favourably. Some showed their backs and gruffly banged their doors: others scowled and pocketed their fists: not a few slunk into the side alleys like well-licked curs, and scurried off with forebent knees. They were in truth ferocious-looking fellows these trusty servants of the robber Baron Werner, of Werner's Eck, behind Andernach. Leather, steel, and dust, clad them from head to foot; big and black as bears; wolf-eyed, fox-nosed. They glistened bravely in the falling beams of the sun, and Margarita thrust her fair braided yellow head a little forward over her father's shoulder to catch the whole length of the grim cavalcade. One of the troop was not long in discerning the young beauty. He pointed her boldly out to a comrade, who approved his appetite, and referred her to a third. The rest followed lead, and Margarita was as one spell-struck when she became aware that all those hungry eyes were preying on hers. Old Gottlieb was too full of his own fears to think for her, and when he drew in his head rather suddenly, it was with a dismal foreboding that Werner's destination in Cologne was direct to the house of Gottlieb Groschen, for purposes only too well to be divined.
'Devil's breeches!' muttered Gottlieb; 'look again, Grete, and see if that hell-troop stop the way outside.'
Margarita's cheeks were overflowing with the offended rose.
'I will not look at them again, father.'
Gottlieb stared, and then patted her.
'I would I were a man, father!'
Gottlieb smiled, and stroked his beard.
'Oh! how I burn!'
And the girl shivered visibly.
'Grete! mind to be as much of a woman as you can, and soon such raff as this you may sweep away, like cobwebs, and no harm done.'
He was startled by a violent thumping at the streetdoor, and as brazen a blast as if the dead were being summoned. Aunt Lisbeth entered, and flitted duskily round the room, crying:
'We are lost: they are upon us! better death with a bodkin! Never shall it be said of me; never! the monsters!'
Then admonishing them to lock, bar, bolt, and block up every room in the house, Aunt Lisbeth perched herself on the edge of a chair, and reversed the habits of the screech-owl, by being silent when stationary.
'There's nothing to fear for you, Lisbeth,' said Gottlieb, with discourteous emphasis.
'Gottlieb! do you remember what happened at the siege of Mainz? and poor Marthe Herbstblum, who had hoped to die as she was; and Dame Altknopfchen, and Frau Kaltblut, and the old baker, Hans Topf's sister, all of them as holy as abbesses, and that did not save them! and nothing will from such godless devourers.'
Gottlieb was gone, having often before heard mention of the calamity experienced by these fated women.
'Comfort thee, good heart, on my breast,' said Margarita, taking Lisbeth to that sweet nest of peace and fortitude.
'Margarita! 'tis your doing! have I not said—lure them not, for they swarm too early upon us! And here they are! and, perhaps, in five minutes all will be over!
Herr Je!—What, you are laughing! Heavens of goodness, the girl is delighted!'
Here a mocking ha-ha! accompanied by a thundering snack at the door, shook the whole house, and again the trumpet burst the ears with fury.
This summons, which seemed to Aunt Lisbeth final, wrought a strange composure in her countenance. She was very pale, but spread her dress decently, as if fear had departed, and clasped her hands on her knees.
'The will of the Lord above must be done,' said she; 'it is impious to complain when we are given into the hand of the Philistines. Others have been martyred, and were yet acceptable.'
To this heroic speech she added, with cold energy: 'Let them come!'
'Aunt,' cried Margarita, 'I hear my father's voice with those men. Aunty! I will not let him be alone. I must go down to him. You will be safe here. I shall come to you if there's cause for alarm.'
And in spite of Aunt Lisbeth's astonished shriek of remonstrance, she hurried off to rejoin Gottlieb.