A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Count Frohlinger added a low "amen" to the last words of the dying man, then approached the widow, and in the kindly, cordial manner natural to him, strove to comfort her.
Finally he ordered his men, to loose the smith's bonds, and instantly guide him to the frontier with the woman and child. He also spoke to Adam, but said only a few words, not cheery ones as usual, but grave and harsh in purport.
They were a command to leave the country without delay, and never return to his home again.
The Jew's corpse was laid on a bier formed of pine, branches, and the bearers lifted it on their shoulders. Ruth clung closely to her mother, both trembling like leaves in the wind, while he who was dearest to them on earth was borne away, but only the child could weep.
The men, whom Count Frohlinger had left behind as a guard, waited patiently with the smith for his son's return until noon, then they urged departure, and the party moved forward.
Not a word was spoken, till the, travellers stopped before the charcoal-burner's house.
Jorg was in the city, but his wife said that the boy had been there, and had gone back to the forest an hour before. The tavern could accommodate a great many people, she added, and they could wait for him there.
The fugitives followed this advice, and after Adam had seen the women provided with shelter, he again sought the scene of the misfortune, and waited there for the boy until night.
Beside the stump on which his friend had died, he prayed long and earnestly, vowing to his dead preserver to live henceforth solely for his family. Unbroken stillness surrounded him, it seemed as if he were in church, and every tree in the forest was a witness of the oath he swore.
The next morning the smith again sought the charcoal-burner, and this time found him. Jorg laid the blame to Ulrich's impatience, but promised to go to Marx in search of him and bring him to the smith. The men composing the escort urged haste, so Adam went on without Ulrich towards the north-west, to the valley of the Rhine.
The charcoal-burner had lost the reward offered the informer, and could not even earn the money due a messenger.
He had lured Ulrich to the attic and locked him in there, but during his absence the boy escaped. He was a nimble fellow, for he had risked the leap from the window, and then swung himself over the fence into the road.
Jorg's conjecture did not deceive him, for as soon as Ulrich perceived that he had been betrayed into a trap, he had leaped into the open air.
He must warn his friends, and anxiety for them winged his feet.
Once and again he lost his way, but at last found the right path, though he had wasted many hours, first in the village, then behind the locked door, and finally in searching for the right road.
The sun had already passed the meridian, when he at last reached the clearing.
The but was deserted; no one answered his loud, anxious shouts.
Where had they gone?
He searched the wide, snow-covered expanse for traces, and found only too many. Here horses' hoofs, there large and small feet had pressed the snow, yonder hounds had run, and--Great Heaven!--here, by the tree-stump, red blood stained the glimmering white ground.
His breath failed, but he did not cease to search, look, examine.
Yonder, where for the length of a man the snow had vanished and grass and brown earth appeared, people had fought together, and there--Holy Virgin! What was this!--there lay his father's hammer. He knew it only too well; it was the smaller one, which to distinguish it from the two larger tools, Goliath and Samson, he called David-the boy had swung it a hundred times himself.
His heart stood still, and when he found some freshly-hewn pine-boughs, and a fir-trunk that had been rejected by one of the men, he said to himself: "The bier was made here," and his vivid imagination showed him his father fighting, struck down, and then a mournful funeral procession. Exulting bailiffs bore a tall strong-limbed corpse, and a slender, black-robed body, his father and his teacher. Then came the quiet, beautiful wife and Ruth in bonds, and behind them Marx and Rahel. He distinctly saw all this; it even seemed as if he heard the sobs of the women, and wailing bitterly, he thrust his hands in his floating locks and ran to and fro. Suddenly he thought that the troopers would return to seize him also. Away, away! anywhere--away! a voice roared and buzzed in his ears, and he set out on a run towards the south, always towards the south.
The boy had not eaten a mouthful, since the oatmeal porridge obtained at the charcoal-burner's, in the morning, but felt neither hunger nor thirst, and dashed on and on without heeding the way.
Long after his father had left the clearing for the second time, he still ran on--but gasping for breath while his steps grew slower and shorter. The moon rose, one star after another revealed its light, yet he still struggled forward.
The forest lay behind him; he had reached a broad road, which he followed southward, always southward, till his strength utterly failed. His head and hands were burning like fire, yet it was very, very cold; but little snow lay here in the valley, and in many places the moonlight showed patches of bare, dark turf.
Grief was forgotten. Fatigue, anxiety and hunger completely engrossed the boy's mind. He felt tempted to throw himself down in the road and sleep, but remembered the frozen people of whom he had heard, and dragged himself on to the nearest village. The lights had long been extinguished; as he approached, dogs barked in the yards, and the melancholy lowing of a cow echoed from many a stable. He was again among human beings; the thought exerted a soothing influence; he regained his self-control, and sought a shelter for the night.
At the end of the village stood a barn, and Ulrich noticed by the moonlight an open hatchway in the wall. If he could climb up to it! The framework offered some support for fingers and toes, so he resolved to try it.
Several times, when Half-way up, he slipped to the ground, but at last reached the top, and found a bed in the soft hay under a sheltering roof. Surrounded by the fragrance of the dried grasses, he soon fell asleep, and in a dream saw amidst various confused and repulsive shapes, first his father with a bleeding wound in his broad chest, and then the doctor, dancing with old Rahel. Last of all Ruth appeared; she led him into the forest to a juniper-bush, and showed him a nest full of young birds. But the half-naked creatures vexed him, and he trampled them under foot, over which the little girl lamented so loudly and bitterly, that he awoke.
Morning was already dawning, his head ached, and he was very cold and hungry, but he had no desire nor thought except to proceed; so he again went out into the open air, brushed off the hay that still clung to his hair and clothes, and walked on towards the south.
It had grown warmer and was beginning to snow heavily.
Walking became more and more difficult; his headache grew unendurable, yet his feet still moved, though it seemed as if he wore heavy leaden shoes.
Several freight-wagons with armed escorts, and a few peasants, with rosaries in their hands, who were on their way to church, met the lad, but no one had overtaken him.
On the hinge of noon he heard behind him the tramp of horses' hoofs and the rattle of wheels, approaching nearer and nearer with ominous haste.
If it should be the troopers!
Ulrich's heart stood still, and turning to look back, he saw several horsemen, who were trotting past a spur of the hill around which the road wound.
Through the falling flakes the boy perceived glittering weapons, gay doublets and scarfs, and now--now--all hope was over, they wore Count Frohlinger's colors!
Unless the earth should open before him, there was no escape. The road belonged to the horsemen; on the right lay a wide, snow-covered plain, on the left rose a cliff, kept from falling on the side towards the highway by a rude wall. It needed this support less on account of the road, than for the sake of a graveyard, for which the citizens of the neighboring borough used the gentle slope of the mountain.
The graves, the bare elder-bushes and bushy cypresses in the cemetery were covered with snow, and the brighter the white covering that rested on every surrounding object, the stronger was the relief in which the black crosses stood forth against it.
A small chapel in the rear of the graveyard caught Ulrich's eye. If it was possible to climb the wall, he might hide behind it. The horsemen were already close at his heels, when he summoned all his remaining strength, rushed to a stone projecting from the wall, and began to clamber up.
The day before it would have been a small matter for him to reach the cemetery; but now the exhausted boy only dragged himself upward, to slip on the smooth stones and lose the hold, that the dry, snow-covered plants growing in the wide crevices treacherously offered him.
The horsemen had noticed him, and a young man-at-arms exclaimed: "A runaway! See how the young vagabond acts. I'll seize him."
He set spurs to his horse as he spoke, and just as the boy succeeded in reaching his goal, grasped his foot; but Ulrich clung fast to a gravestone, so the shoe was left in the trooper's hand and his comrades burst into a loud laugh. It sounded merry, but it echoed in the ears of the tortured lad like a shriek from hell, and urged him onward. He leaped over two, five, ten graves--then he stumbled over a head-stone concealed by the snow.
With a great effort he rose again, but ere he reached the chapel fell once more, and now his will was paralyzed. In mortal terror he clung to a cross, and as his senses failed, thought of "the word." It seemed as if some one had called the right one, and from pure Weakness and fatigue, he could not remember it.
The young soldier was not willing to encounter the jeers of his comrades, by letting the vagabond escape. With a curt: "Stop, you rascal," he threw the shoe into the graveyard, gave his bridle to the next man in the line; and a few minutes after was kneeling by Ulrich's side. He shook and jerked him, but in vain; then growing anxious, called to the others that the boy was probably dead.
"People never die so quickly!" cried the greyhaired leader of the band: "Give him a blow."
The youth raised his arm, but did not strike the lad. He had looked into Ulrich's face, and found something there that touched his heart. "No, no," he shouted, "come up here, Peter; a handsome boy; but it's all over with him, I say."
During this delay, the traveller whom the men were escorting, and his old servant, approached the cemetery at a rapid trot. The former, a gentleman of middle age, protected from the cold by costly furs, saw with a single hasty glance the cause of the detention.
Instantly dismounting, he followed the leader of the troop to the end of the wall, where there was a flight of rude steps.
Ulrich's head now lay in the soldier's arms, and the traveller gazed at him with a look of deep sympathy. The steadfast glance of his bright eyes rested on the boy's features as if spellbound, then he raised his hand, beckoned to the elder soldier, and exclaimed: "Lift him; we'll take him with us; a corner can be found in the wagon."
The vehicle, of which the traveller spoke, was slow in coming. It was a long four-wheeled equipage, over which, as a protection against wind and storm, arched a round, sail-cloth cover. The driver crouched among the straw in a basket behind the horses, like a brooding hen.
Under the sheltering canopy, among the luggage of the fur-clad gentleman, sat and reclined four travellers, whom the owner of the vehicle had gradually picked up, and who formed a motley company.
The two Dominican friars, Magisters Sutor and Stubenrauch, had entered at Cologne, for the wagon came straight from Holland, and belonged to the artist Antonio Moor of Utrecht, who was going to King Philip's court. The beautiful fur border on the black cap and velvet cloak showed that he had no occasion to practise economy; he preferred the back of a good horse to a seat in a jolting vehicle.
The ecclesiastics had taken possession of the best places in the back of the wagon. They were inseparable brothers, and formed as it were one person, for they behaved like two bodies with one soul. In this double life, fat Magister Sutor represented the will, lean Stubenrauch reflection and execution. If the former proposed to be down or sit, eat or drink, sleep or talk, the latter instantly carried the suggestion into execution, rarely neglecting to establish, by wise words, for what reason the act in question should be performed precisely at that time.
Farther towards the front, with his back resting against a chest, lay a fine-looking young Lansquenet. He was undoubtedly a gay, active fellow, but now sat mute and melancholy, supporting with his right hand his wounded left arm, as if it were some brittle vessel.
Opposite to him rose a heap of loose straw, beneath which something stirred from time to time, and from which at short intervals a slight cough was heard.
As soon as the door in the back of the vehicle opened, and the cold snowy air entered the dark, damp space under the tilt, Magister Sutor's lips parted in a long-drawn "Ugh!" to which his lean companion instantly added a torrent of reproachful words about the delay, the draught, the danger of taking cold.
When the artist's head appeared in the opening, the priest paused, for Moor paid the travelling expenses; but when his companion Sutor drew his cloak around him with every token of discomfort and annoyance, he followed his example in a still more conspicuous way.
The artist paid no heed to these gestures, but quietly requested his guests to make room for the boy.
A muffled head was suddenly thrust out from under the straw, a voice cried: "A hospital on wheels!" then the head vanished again like that of a fish, which has risen to take a breath of air.
"Very true," replied the artist. "You need not draw up your limbs so far, my worthy Lansquenet, but I must request these reverend gentlemen to move a little farther apart, or closer together, and make room for the sick lad on the leather sack."
While these words were uttered, one of the escort laid the still senseless boy under the tilt.
Magister Sutor noticed the snow that clung to Ulrich's hair and clothing, and while struggling to rise, uttered a repellent "no," while Stubenrauch hastily added reproachfully: "There will be a perfect pool here, when that melts; you gave us these places, Meister Moor, but we hardly expected to receive also dripping limbs and rheumatic pains. . . ."
Before he finished the sentence, the bandaged head again appeared from the straw, and the high, shrill voice of the man concealed under it, asked? "Was the blood of the wounded wayfarer, the good Samaritan picked up by the roadside, dry or wet?"
An encouraging glance from Sutor requested Stubenrauch to make an appropriate answer, and the latter in an unctuous tone, hastily replied: "It was the Lord, who caused the Samaritan to find the wounded man by the roadside--this did not happen in our case, for the wet boy is forced upon us, and though we are Samaritans. . . ."
"You are not yet merciful," cried the voice from the straw.
The artist laughed, but the soldier, slapping his thigh with his sound hand, cried:
"In with the boy, you fellows outside; here, put him on my right--move farther apart, you gentlemen down below; the water will do us no harm, if you'll only give us some of the wine in your basket yonder."
The priests, willy-nilly, now permitted Ulrich to be laid on the leathern sack between them, and while first Sutor, and then Stubenrauch, shrunk away to mutter prayers over a rosary for the senseless lad's restoration to consciousness, and to avoid coming in contact with his wet clothes, the artist entered the vehicle, and without asking permission, took the wine from the priests' basket. The soldier helped him, and soon their united exertions, with the fiery liquor, revived the fainting boy.
Moor rode forward, and the wagon jolted on until the day's journey ended at Emmendingen. Count von Hochburg's retainers, who were to serve as escort from this point, would not ride on Christmas day. The artist made no objection, but when they also declared that no horse should leave the stable on the morrow, which was a second holiday, he shrugged his shoulders and answered, without any show of anger, but in a firm, haughty tone, that he should then probably be obliged--if necessary with their master's assistance,--to conduct them to Freiburg to-morrow.
The inns at Emmendingen were among the largest and best in the neighborhood of Freiburg, and on account of the changes of escort, which frequently took place here, there was no lack of accommodation for numerous horses and guests.
As soon as Ulrich was taken into the warm hostelry he fainted a second time, and the artist now cared for him as kindly as if he were the lad's own father.
Magister Sutor ordered the roast meats, and his companion Stubenrauch all the other requisites for a substantial meal, in which they had made considerable progress, while the artist was still engaged in ministering to the sick lad, in which kindly office the little man, who had been hidden under the straw in the wagon, stoutly assisted.
He had been a buffoon, and his dress still bore many tokens of his former profession. His big head swayed upon his thin neck; his droll, though emaciated features constantly changed their expression, and even when he was not coughing, his mouth was continually in motion.
As soon as Ulrich breathed calmly and regularly, he searched his clothing to find some clue to his residence, but everything he discovered in the lad's pockets only led to more and more amusing and startling conjectures, for nothing can contain a greater variety of objects than a school-boy's pockets, if we except a school-girl's.
There was a scrap of paper with a Latin exercise bristling with errors, a smooth stone, a shabby, notched knife, a bit of chalk for drawing, an iron arrow-head, a broken hobnail, and a falconer's glove, which Count Lips had given his comrade. The ring the doctor's wife had bestowed as a farewell token, was also discovered around his neck.
All these things led Pellicanus--so the jester was named--to make many a conjecture, and he left none untried.
As a mosaic picture is formed from stones, he by a hundred signs, conjured up a vision of the lad's character, home, and the school from which he had run away.
He called him the son of a noble of moderate property. In this he was of course mistaken, but in other respects perceived, with wonderful acuteness, how Ulrich had hitherto been circumstanced, nay even declared that he was a motherless child, a fact proved by many things he lacked. The boy had been sent to school too late--Pellicanus was a good Latin scholar--and perhaps had been too early initiated into the mysteries of riding, hunting, and woodcraft.
The artist, merely by the boy's appearance, gained a more accurate knowledge of his real nature, than the jester gathered from his investigations and inferences.
Ulrich pleased him, and when he saw the pen-and-ink sketch on the back of the exercise, which Pellicanus showed him, he smiled and felt strengthened in the resolve to interest himself still more in the handsome boy, whom fate had thrown in his way. He now only needed to discover who the lad's parents were, and what had driven him from the school.
The surgeon of the little town had bled Ulrich, and soon after he fell into a sound sleep, and breathed quietly. The artist and jester now dined together, for the monks had finished their meal long before, and were taking a noonday nap. Moor ordered roast meat and wine for the Lansquenet, who sat modestly in one corner of the large public room, gazing sadly at his wounded arm.
"Poor fellow!" said the jester, pointing to the handsome young man. "We are brothers in calamity; one just like the other; a cart with a broken wheel."
"His arm will soon heal," replied the artist, "but your tool"--here he pointed to his own lips--"is stirring briskly enough now. The monks and I have both made its acquaintance within the past few days."
"Well, well," replied Pellicanus, smiling bitterly, "yet they toss me into the rubbish heap."
"That would be. . . ."
"Ah, you think the wise would then be fools with the fools," interrupted Pellicanus. "Not at all. Do you know what our masters expect of us?"
"You are to shorten the time for them with wit and jest."
"But when must we be real fools, my Lord? Have you considered? Least of all in happy hours. Then we are expected to play the wise man, warn against excess, point out shadows. In sorrow, in times of trouble, then, fool, be a fool! The madder pranks you play, the better. Make every effort, and if you understand your trade well, and know your master, you must compel him to laugh till he cries, when he would fain wail for grief, like a little girl. You know princes too, sir, but I know them better. They are gods on earth, and won't submit to the universal lot of mortals, to endure pain and anguish. When people are ill, the physician is summoned, and in trouble we are at hand. Things are as we take them--the gravest face may have a wart, upon which a jest can be made. When you have once laughed at a misfortune, its sting loses its point. We deaden it--we light up the darkness--even though it be with a will 'o the wisp--and if we understand our business, manage to hack the lumpy dough of heavy sorrow into little pieces, which even a princely stomach can digest."
"A coughing fool can do that too, so long as there is nothing wanting in his upper story."
"You are mistaken, indeed you are. Great lords only wish to see the velvet side of life--of death's doings, nothing at all. A man like me--do you hear--a cougher, whose marrow is being consumed--incarnate misery on two tottering legs--a piteous figure, whom one can no more imagine outside the grave, than a sportsman without a terrier, or hound--such a person calls into the ears of the ostrich, that shuts its eyes: 'Death is pointing at you! Affliction is coming!' It is my duty to draw a curtain between my lord and sorrow; instead of that, my own person brings incarnate suffering before his eyes. The elector was as wise as if he were his own fool, when he turned me out of the house."
"He graciously gave you leave of absence."
"And Gugelkopf is already installed in the palace as my successor! My gracious master knows that he won't have to pay the pension long. He would willingly have supported me up yonder till I died; but my wish to go to Genoa suited him exactly. The more distance there is between his healthy highness and the miserable invalid, the better."
"Why didn't you wait till spring, before taking your departure?"
"Because Genoa is a hot-house, that the poor consumptive does not need in summer. It is pleasant to be there in winter. I learned that three years ago, when we visited the duke. Even in January the sun in Liguria warms your back, and makes it easier to breathe. I'm going by way of Marseilles. Will you give me the corner in your carriage as far as Avignon?"
"With pleasure! Your health, Pellicanus! A good wish on Christmas day is apt to be fulfilled."
The artist's deep voice sounded full and cordial, as he uttered the words. The young soldier heard them, and as Moor and the jester touched glasses, he raised his own goblet, drained it to the dregs, and asked modestly: "Will you listen to a few lines of mine, kind sir?"
"Say them, say them!" cried the artist, filling his glass again, while the lansquenet, approaching the table, fixed his eyes steadily on the beaker, and in an embarrassed manner, repeated:
"On Christmas-day, when Jesus Christ, To save us sinners came, A poor, sore-wounded soldier dared To call upon his name. 'Oh! hear,' he said, 'my earnest prayer, For the kind, generous man, Who gave the wounded soldier aid, And bore him through the land. So, in Thy shining chariot, I pray, dear Jesus mine, Thou'lt bear him through a happy life To Paradise divine.'"
"Capital, capital!" cried the artist, pledging the lansquenet and insisting that he should sit down between him and the jester.
Pellicanus now gazed thoughtfully into vacancy, for what the wounded man could do, he too might surely accomplish. It was not only ambition, and the habit of answering every good saying he heard with a better one, but kindly feeling, that urged him to honor the generous benefactor with a speech.
After a few minutes, which Moor spent in talking with the soldier, Pellicanus raised his glass, coughed again, and said, first calmly, then in an agitated voice, whose sharp tones grew more and more subdued:
"A rogue a fool must be, 't is true, Rog'ry sans folly will not do; Where folly joins with roguery, There's little harm, it seems to me. The pope, the king, the youthful squire, Each one the fool's cap doth attire; He who the bauble will not wear, The worst of fools doth soon appear. Thee may the motley still adorn, When, an old man, the laurel crown Thy head doth deck, while gifts less vain, Thine age to bless will still remain. When fair grandchildren thee delight, Mayst then recall this Christmas night. When added years bring whitening hair, The draught of wisdom then wilt share, But it will lack the flavor due, Without a drop of folly too. And if the drop is not at hand, Remember poor old Pellican, Who, half a rogue and half a fool, Yet has a faithful heart and whole."
"Thanks, thanks!" cried the artist, shaking the jester's hand. "Such a Christmas ought to be lauded! Wisdom, art, and courage at one table! Haven't I fared like the man, who picked up stones by the way side, and to-they were changed to pure gold in his knapsack."
"The stone was crumbling," replied the jester; "but as for the gold, it will stand the test with me, if you seek it in the heart, and not in the pocket. Holy Blasius! Would that my grave might lack filling, as long as my little strong-box here; I'd willingly allow it."
"And so would I!" laughed the soldier:
"Then travelling will be easy for you," said the artist. "There was a time, when my pouch was no fuller than yours. I know by the experience of those days how a poor man feels, and never wish to forget it. I still owe you my after-dinner speech, but you must let me off, for I can't speak your language fluently. In brief, I wish you the recovery of your health, Pellican, and you a joyous life of happiness and honor, my worthy comrade. What is your name?"
"Hans Eitelfritz von der Lucke, from Colln on the Spree," replied the soldier. "And, no offence, Herr Moor, God will care for the monks, but there were three poor invalid fellows in your cart. One goblet more to the pretty sick boy in there."