A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
After dinner the artist went with his old servant, who had attended to the horses and then enjoyed a delicious Christmas roast, to Count von Hochburg, to obtain an escort for the next day.
Pellicanus had undertaken to watch Ulrich, who was still sleeping quietly.
The jester would gladly have gone to bed himself, for he felt cold and tired, but, though the room could not be heated, he remained faithfully at his post for hours. With benumbed hands and feet, he watched by the light of the night-lamp every breath the boy drew, often gazing at him as anxiously and sympathizingly, as if he were his own child.
When Ulrich at last awoke, he timidly asked when he was, and when the jester had soothed him, begged for a bit of bread, he was so hungry.
How famished he felt, the contents of the dish that were speedily placed before him, soon discovered Pellicanus wanted to feed him like a baby, but the boy took the spoon out of his hand, and the former smilingly watched the sturdy eater, without disturbing, him, until he was perfectly satisfied; then he began to perplex the lad with questions, that seemed to him neither very intelligible, nor calculated to inspire confidence.
"Well, my little bird!" the jester began, joyously anticipating a confirmation of the clever inferences he had drawn, "I suppose it was a long flight to the churchyard, where we found you. On the grave is a better place than in it, and a bed at Emmendingen, with plenty of grits and veal, is preferable to being in the snow on the highway, with a grumbling stomach Speak freely, my lad! Where does your nest of robbers hang?"
"Nest of robbers?" repeated Ulrich in amazement.
"Well, castle or the like, for aught I care," continued Pellicanus inquiringly. "Everybody is at home somewhere, except Mr. Nobody; but as you are somebody, Nobody cannot possibly be your father. Tell me about the old fellow!"
"My father is dead," replied the boy, and as the events of the preceding day rushed back upon his memory, he drew the coverlet over his face and wept.
"Poor fellow!" murmured the jester, hastily drawing his sleeve across his eyes, and leaving the lad in peace, till he showed his face again. Then he continued: "But I suppose you have a mother at home?"
Ulrich shook his head mournfully, and Pellicanus, to conceal his own emotion, looked at him with a comical grimace, and then said very kindly, though not without a feeling of satisfaction at his own penetration:
"So you are an orphan! Yes, yes! So long as the mother's wings cover it, the young bird doesn't fly so thoughtlessly out of the warm nest into the wide world. I suppose the Latin school grew too narrow for the young nobleman?"
Ulrich raised himself, exclaiming in an eager, defiant tone:
"I won't go back to the monastery; that I will not."
"So that's the way the hare jumps!" cried the fool laughing. "You've been a bad Latin scholar, and the timber in the forest is dearer to you, than the wood in the school-room benches. To be sure, they send out no green shoots. Dear Lord, how his face is burning!" So saying, Pellicanus laid his hand on the boy's forehead and when he felt that it was hot, deemed it better to stop his examination for the day, and only asked his patient his name.
"Ulrich," was the reply.
"And what else?"
"Let me alone!" pleaded the boy, drawing the coverlet over his head again.
The jester obeyed his wish, and opened the door leading into the tap-room, for some one had knocked. The artist's servant entered, to fetch his master's portmanteau. Old Count von Hochburg had invited Moor to be his guest, and the painter intended to spend the night at the castle. Pellicanus was to take care of the boy, and if necessary send for the surgeon again. An hour after, the sick jester lay shivering in his bed, coughing before sleeping and between naps. Ulrich too could obtain no slumber.
At first he wept softly, for he now clearly realized, for the first time, that he had lost his father and should never see Ruth, the doctor, nor the doctor's dumb wife Elizabeth again. Then he wondered how he had come to Einmendingen, what sort of a place it was, and who the queer little man could be, who had taken him for a young noble--the quaint little man with the cough, and a big head, whose eyes sparkled so through his tears. The jester's mistake made him laugh, and he remembered that Ruth had once advised him to command the "word," to transform him into a count.
Suppose he should say to-morrow, that his father had been a knight?
But the wicked thought only glided through his mind; even before he had reflected upon it, he felt ashamed of himself, for he was no liar.
Deny his father! That was very wrong, and when he stretched himself out to sleep, the image of the valiant smith stood with tangible distinctness before his soul. Gravely and sternly he floated upon clouds, and looked exactly like the pictures Ulrich had seen of God the Father, only he wore the smith's cap on his grey hair. Even in Paradise, the glorified spirit had not relinquished it.
Ulrich raised his hands as if praying, but hastily let them fall again, for there was a great stir outside of the inn. The tramp of steeds, the loud voices of men, the sound of drums and fifes were audible, then there was rattling, marching and shouting in the court-yard.
"A room for the clerk of the muster-roll and paymaster!" cried a voice.
"Gently, gently, children!" said the deep tones of the provost, who was the leader, counsellor and friend of the Lansquenets. "A devout servant must not bluster at the holy Christmas-tide; he's permitted to drink a glass, Heaven be praised. Your house is to be greatly honored, Landlord! The recruiting for our most gracious commander, Count von Oberstein, is--to be done here. Do you hear, man! Everything to be paid for in cash, and not a chicken will be lost; but the wine must be good! Do you understand? So this evening broach a cask of your best. Pardon me, children--the very best, I meant to say."
Ulrich now heard the door of the tap-room open, and fancied he could see the Lansquenets in gay costumes, each one different from the other, crowd into the apartment.
The jester coughed loudly, scolding and muttering to himself; but Ulrich listened with sparkling eyes to the sounds that came through the ill-fitting door, by which he could hear what was passing in the next room.
With the clerk of the muster-rolls, the paymaster and provost had appeared the drummers and fifers, who the day after to-morrow were to sound the license for recruiting, and besides these, twelve Lansquenets, who were evidently no novices.
Many an exclamation of surprise and pleasure was heard directly after their entrance into the tap-room, and amid the confusion of voices, the name of Hans Eitelfritz fell more than once upon Ulrich's ear.
The provost's voice sounded unusually cordial, as he greeted the brave fellow with the wounded hand--an honor of great value to the latter, for he had served five years in the same company with the provost, "Father Kanold," who read the very depths of his soldiers' hearts, and knew them all as if they were his own sons.
Ulrich could not understand much amid the medley of voices in the adjoining room, but when Hans Eitelfritz, from Colln on the Spree, asked to be the first one put down on the muster-roll, he distinctly heard the provost oppose the clerk's scruples, saying warmly "write, write; I'd rather have him with one hand, than ten peevish fellows with two. He has fun and life in him. Advance him some money too, he probably lacks many a piece of armor."
Meantime the wine-cask must have been opened, for the clink of glasses, and soon after loud singing was audible.
Just as the second song began, the boy fell asleep, but woke again two hours after, roused by the stillness that had suddenly succeeded the uproar.
Hans Eitelfritz had declared himself ready to give a new song in his best vein, and the provost commanded silence.
The singing now began; during its continuance Ulrich raised himself higher and higher in bed, not a word escaped him, either of the song itself, or the chorus, which was repeated by the whole party, with exuberant gayety, amid the loud clinking of goblets. Never before had the lad heard such bold, joyous voices; even at the second verse his heart bounded and it seemed as if he must join in the tune, which he had quickly caught. The song ran as follows:
Who, who will venture to hold me back? Drums beat, fifes are playing a merry tune! Down hammer, down pen, what more need I, alack I go to seek fortune, good fortune! Oh father, mother, dear sister mine, Blue-eyed maid at the bridge-house, my fair one. Weep not, ye must not at parting repine, I go to seek fortune, good fortune! The cannon roar loud, the sword flashes bright, Who'll dare meet the stroke of my falchion? Close-ranked, horse and foot in battle unite, In war, war, dwells fortune, good fortune! The city is taken, the booty mine; With red gold, I'll deck--I know whom; Pair maids' cheeks burn red, red too glows the wine, Fortune, Paradise of good fortune! Deep, scarlet wounds, brave breasts adorn, Impoverished, crippled age I shun A death of honor, 'mid glory won, This too is good fortune, good fortune! A soldier-lad composed this ditty Hans Eitelfritz he, fair Colln's son, His kindred dwell in the goodly city, But he himself in fortune, good fortune!
"He himself in fortune, good fortune," sang Ulrich also, and while, amid loud shouts of joy, the glasses again clinked against each other, he repeated the glad "fortune, good fortune." Suddenly, it flashed upon him like a revelation, "Fortune," that might be the word!
Such exultant joy, such lark-like trilling, such inspiring promises of happiness had never echoed in any word, as they now did from the "fortune," the young lansquenet so gaily and exultantly uttered.
"Fortune, Fortune!" he exclaimed aloud, and the jester, who was lying sleepless in his bed and could not help smiling at the lad's singing, raised himself, saying:
"Do you like the word? Whoever understands how to seize it when it flits by, will always float on top of everything, like fat on the soup. Rods are cut from birches, willows, and knotted hazel-sticks-ho! ho! you know that, already;--but, for him who has good fortune, larded cakes, rolls and sausages grow. One bold turn of Fortune's wheel will bring him, who has stood at the bottom, up to the top with the speed of lightning. Brother Queer-fellow says: 'Up and down, like an avalanche.' But now turn over and go to sleep. To-morrow will also be a Christmas-day, which will perhaps bring you Fortune as a Christmas gift."
It seemed as if Ulrich had not called upon Fortune in vain, for as soon as he closed his eyes, a pleasant dream bore him with gentle hands to the forge on the market-place, and his mother stood beside the lighted Christmas-tree, pointing to the new sky-blue suit she had made him, and the apples, nuts, hobby-horse, and jumping jack, with a head as round as a ball, huge ears, and tiny flat legs. He felt far too old for such childish toys, and yet took a certain pleasure in them. Then the vision changed, and he again saw his mother; but this time she was walking among the angels in Paradise. A royal crown adorned her golden hair, and she told him she was permitted to wear it there, because she had been so reviled, and endured so much disgrace on earth.
When the artist returned from Count von Hochburg's the next morning, he was not a little surprised to see Ulrich standing before the recruiting-table bright and well.
The lad's cheeks were glowing with shame and anger, for the clerk of the muster-rolls and paymaster had laughed in his face, when he expressed his desire to become a Lansquenet.
The artist soon learned what was going on, and bade his protege accompany him out of doors. Kindly, and without either mockery or reproof, he represented to him that he was still far too young for military service, and after Ulrich had confirmed everything the painter had already heard from the jester, Moor asked who had given him instruction in drawing.
"My father, and afterwards Father Lukas in the monastery," replied the boy. "But don't question me as the little man did last night."
"No, no," said his protector. "But there are one or two more things I wish to know. Was your father an artist?"
"No," murmured the lad, blushing and hesitating. But when he met the stranger's clear gaze, he quickly regained his composure, and said:
"He only knew how to draw, because he understood how to forge beautiful, artistic things."
"And in what city did you live?"
"In no city. Outside in the woods."
"Oho!" said the artist, smiling significantly, for he knew that many knights practised a trade. "Answer only two questions more; then you shall be left in peace until you voluntarily open your heart to me. What is your name?"
"I know that; but your father's?"
"And what else?"
Ulrich gazed silently at the ground, for the smith had borne no other name.
"Well then," said Moor, "we will call you Ulrich for the present; that will suffice. But have you no relatives? Is no one waiting for you at home?"
"We have led such a solitary life--no one."
Moor looked fixedly into the boy's face, then nodded, and with a well-satisfied expression, laid his hand on Ulrich's curls, and said:
"Look at me. I am an artist, and if you have any love for my profession, I will teach you."
"Oh!" cried the boy, clasping his hands in glad surprise.
"Well then," Moor continued, "you can't learn much on the way, but we can work hard in Madrid. We are going now to King Philip of Spain."
"Spain, Portugal!" murmured Ulrich with sparkling eyes; all he had heard in the doctor's house about these countries returned to his mind.
"Fortune, good fortune!" cried an exultant voice in his heart. This was the "word," it must be, it was already exerting its spell, and the spell was to prove its inherent power in the near future.
That very day the party were to go to Count von Rappoltstein in the village of Rappolts, and this time Ulrich was not to plod along on foot, or he in a close baggage-wagon; no, he was to be allowed to ride a spirited horse. The escort would not consist of hired servants, but of picked men, and the count was going to join the train in person at the hill crowned by the castle, for Moor had promised to paint a portrait of the nobleman's daughter, who had married Count von Rappoltstein. It was to be a costly Christmas gift, which the old gentleman intended to make himself and his faithful wife.
The wagon was also made ready for the journey; but no one rode inside; the jester, closely muffled in wraps, had taken his seat beside the driver, and the monks were obliged to go on by way of Freiburg, and therefore could use the vehicle no longer.
They scolded and complained about it, as if they had been greatly wronged, and when Sutor refused to shake hands with the artist, Stubenrauch angrily turned his back upon the kind-hearted man.
The offended pair sullenly retired, but the Christmas sun shone none the less brightly from the clear sky, the party of travellers had a gay, spick and span, holiday aspect, and the world into which they now fared stoutly forth, was so wide and beautiful, that Ulrich forgot his grief, and joyously waved his new cap in answer to the Lansquenet's farewell gesture.
It was a merry ride, for on the way they met numerous travellers, who were going through the hamlet of Rappolts to the "three castles on the mountain" and saluted the old nobleman with lively songs. The Counts von Rappoltstein were the "piper-kings," the patrons of the brotherhood of musicians and singers on the Upper Rhine. Usually these joyous birds met at the castle of their "king" on the 8th of September, to pay him their little tax and be generously entertained in return; but this year, on account of the plague in the autumn, the festival had been deferred until the third day after Christmas, but Ulrich believed 'Fortune' had arranged it so for him.
There was plenty of singing, and the violins and rebecs, flutes, and reed-pipes were never silent. One serenade followed another, and even at the table a new song rang out at each new course.
The fiery wine, game and sweet cakes at the castle board undoubtedly pleased the palate of the artisan's son, but he enjoyed feasting his ears still more. He felt as if he were in Heaven, and thought less and less of the grief he had endured.
Day by day Fortune shook her horn of plenty, and flung new gifts down upon him.
He had told the stable-keepers of his power over refractory horses, and after proving what he could do, was permitted to tame wild stallions and ride them about the castle-yard, before the eyes of the old and young count and the beautiful young lady. This brought him praise and gifts of new clothes. Many a delicate hand stroked his curls, and it always seemed to him as if his mighty spell could bestow nothing better.
One day Moor took him aside, and told him that he had commenced a portrait of young Count Rappolstein too. The lad was obliged to be still, having broken his foot in a fall from his horse, and as Ulrich was of the same size and age, the artist wished him to put on the young count's clothes and serve as a model.
The smith's son now received the best clothes belonging to his aristocratic companion in age. The suit was entirely black, but each garment of a different material, the stockings silk, the breeches satin, the doublet soft Flanders velvet. Golden-yellow puffs and slashes stood forth in beautiful relief against the darker stuff. Even the knots of ribbon on the breeches and shoes were as yellow as a blackbird's beak. Delicate lace trimmed the neck and fell on the hands, and a clasp of real gems confined the black and yellow plumes in the velvet hat.
All this finery was wonderfully becoming to the smith's son, and he must have been blind, if he had not noticed how old and young nudged each other at sight of him. The spirit of vanity in his soul laughed in delight, and the lad soon knew the way to the large Venetian mirror, which was carefully kept in the hall of state. This wonderful glass showed Ulrich for the first time his whole figure and the image which looked back at him from the crystal, flattered and pleased him.
But, more than aught else, he enjoyed watching the artist's hand and eye during the sittings. Poor Father Lukas in the monastery must hide his head before this master. He seemed to actually grow while engaged in his work, his shoulders, which he usually liked to carry stooping forward, straightened, the broad, manly breast arched higher, and the kindly eyes grew stern, nay sometimes wore a terrible expression.
Although little was said during the sittings, they were always too short for the boy. He did not stir, for it always seemed to him as if any movement would destroy the sacred act he witnessed, and when, in the pauses, he looked at the canvas and saw how swiftly and steadily the work progressed, he felt as if before his own eyes, he was being born again to a nobler existence. In the wassail-hall hung the portrait of a young Prince of Navarre, whose life had been saved in the chase by a Rappoltstein. Ulrich, attired in the count's clothes, looked exactly like him. The jester had been the first to perceive this strange circumstance. Every one, even Moor, agreed with him, and so it happened that Pellicanus henceforth called his young friend the Navarrete. The name pleased the boy. Everything here pleased him, and he was full of happiness; only often at night he could not help grieving because, while his father was dead, he enjoyed such an overflowing abundance of good things, and because he had lost his mother, Ruth, and all who had loved him.