A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Ulrich was obliged to share the jester's sleeping-room, and as Pellicanus shrank from getting out of bed, while suffering from night-sweats, and often needed something, he roused Ulrich from his sleep, and the latter was always ready to assist him. This happened more frequently as they continued their journey, and the poor little man's illness increased.
The count had furnished Ulrich with a spirited young horse, that shortened the road for him by its tricks and capers. But the jester, who became more and more attached to the boy, also did his utmost to keep the feeling of happiness alive in his heart. On warm days he nestled in the rack before the tilt with the driver, and when Ulrich rode beside him, opened his eyes to everything that passed before him.
The jester had a great deal to tell about the country and people, and he embellished the smallest trifle with tales invented by himself, or devised by others.
While passing a grove of birches, he asked the lad if he knew why the trunks of these trees were white, and then explained the cause, as follows:
"When Orpheus played so exquisitely on his lute, all the trees rushed forward to dance. The birches wanted to come too, but being vain, stopped to put on white dresses, to outdo the others. When they finally appeared on the dancing-ground, the singer had already gone--and now, summer and winter, year in and year out, they keep their white dresses on, to be prepared, when Orpheus returns and the lute sounds again."
A cross-bill was perched on a bough in a pine-wood, and the jester said that this bird was a very peculiar species. It had originally been grey, and its bill was as straight as a sparrow's, but when the Saviour hung upon the cross, it pitied him, and with its little bill strove to draw the nails from the wounded hands. In memory of this friendly act, the Lord had marked its beak with the cross, and painted a dark-red spot on its breast, where the bird hall been sprinkled with His Son's blood. Other rewards were bestowed upon it, for no other bird could hatch a brood of young ones in winter, and it also had the power of lessening the fever of those, who cherished it.
A flock of wild geese flew over the road and the hills, and Pellicanus cried: "Look there! They always fly in two straight lines, and form a letter of the alphabet. This time it is an A. Can you see it? When the Lord was writing the laws on the tablets, a flock of wild geese flew across Mt. Sinai, and in doing so, one effaced a letter with its wing. Since that time, they always fly in the shape of a letter, and their whole race, that is, all geese, are compelled to let those people who wish to write, pluck the feathers from their wings."
Pellicanus was fond of talking to the boy in their bedroom. He always called him Navarrete, and the artist, when in a cheerful mood, followed his example.
Ulrich felt great reverence for Moor; the jester, on the contrary, was only a good comrade, in whom he speedily reposed entire confidence.
Many an allusion and jesting word showed that Pellicanus still believed him to be the son of a knight, and this at last became unendurable to the lad.
One evening, when they were both in bed, he summoned up his courage and told him everything he knew about his past life.
The jester listened attentively, without interrupting him, until Ulrich finished his story with the words "And while I was gone, the bailiffs and dogs tracked them, but my father resisted, and they killed him and the doctor."
"Yes, yes," murmured the jester. "It's a pity about Costa. Many a Christian might feel honored at resembling some Jews. It is only a misfortune to be born a Hebrew, and be deprived of eating ham. The Jews are compelled to wear an offensive badge, but many a Christian child is born with one. For instance, in Sparta they would have hurled me into the gulf, on account of my big head, and deformed shoulder. Nowadays, people are less merciful, and let men like us drag the cripple's mark through life. God sees the heart; but men cannot forget their ancestor, the clod of earth--the outside is always more to them than the inside. If my head had only been smaller, and some angel had smoothed my shoulder, I might perhaps now be a cardinal, wear purple, and instead of riding under a grey tilt, drive in a golden coach, with well-fed black steeds. Your body was measured with a straight yard stick, but there's trouble in other places. So your father's name was Adam, and he really bore no other?"
"No, certainly not."
"That's too little by half. From this day we'll call you in earnest Navarrete: Ulrich Navarrete. That will be something complete. The name is only a dress, but if half of it is taken from your body, you are left half-bare and exposed to mockery. The garment must be becoming too, so we adorn it as we choose. My father was called Kurschner, but at the Latin school Olearius and Faber and Luscinius sat beside me, so I raised myself to the rank of a Roman citizen, and turned Kurschner into Pellicanus. . . ."
The jester coughed violently, and continued One thing more. To expect gratitude is folly, nine times out of ten none is reaped, and he who is wise thinks only of himself, and usually omits to seek thanks; but every one ought to be grateful, for it is burdensome to have enemies, and there is no one we learn to hate more easily, than the benefactor we repay with ingratitude. You ought and must tell the artist your history, for he has deserved your confidence.
The jester's worldly-wise sayings, in which selfishness was always praised as the highest virtue, often seemed very puzzling to the boy, yet many of them were impressed on his young soul. He followed the sick man's advice the very next morning, and he had no cause to regret it, for Moor treated him even more kindly than before.
Pellicanus intended to part from the travellers at Avignon, to go to Marseilles, and from there by ship to Savona, but before he reached the old city of the popes, he grew so feeble, that Moor scarcely hoped to bring him alive to the goal of his journey.
The little man's body seemed to continually grow smaller, and his head larger, while his hollow, livid cheeks looked as if a rose-leaf adorned the centre of each.
He often told his travelling-companions about his former life.
He had originally been destined for the ecclesiastical profession, but though he surpassed all the other pupils in the school, he was deprived of the hope of ever becoming a priest, for the Church wants no cripples. He was the child of poor people, and had been obliged to fight his way through his career as a student, with great difficulty.
"How shabby the broad top of my cap often was!" he said. "I was so much ashamed of it. I am so small. Dear me, anybody could see my head, and could not help noticing all the worn places in the velvet, if he cast his eyes down. How often have I sat beside the kitchen of a cook-shop, and seasoned dry bread with the smell of roast meat. Often too my poodledog went out and stole a sausage for me from the butcher."
At other times the little fellow had fared better; then, sitting in the taverns, he had given free-play to his wit, and imposed no constraint on his sharp tongue.
Once he had been invited by a former boon-companion, to accompany him to his ancestral castle, to cheer his sick father; and so it happened that he became a buffoon, wandered from one great lord to another, and finally entered the elector's service.
He liked to pretend that he despised the world and hated men, but this assertion could not be taken literally, and was to be regarded in a general, rather than a special sense, for every beautiful thing in the world kindled eager enthusiasm in his heart, and he remained kindly disposed towards individuals to the end.
When Moor once charged him with this, he said, smiling:
"What would you have? Whoever condemns, feels himself superior to the person upon whom he sits in judgment, and how many fools, like me, fancy themselves great, when they stand on tiptoe, and find fault even with the works of God! 'The world is evil,' says the philosopher, and whoever listens to him, probably thinks carelessly: 'Hear, hear! He would have made it better than our Father in heaven.' Let me have my pleasure. I'm only a little man, but I deal in great things. To criticise a single insignificant human creature, seems to me scarcely worth while, but when we pronounce judgment on all humanity and the boundless universe, we can open our mouths-wonderfully wide!"
Once his heart had been filled with love for a beautiful girl, but she had scornfully rejected his suit and married another. When she was widowed, and he found her in dire poverty, he helped her with a large share of his savings, and performed this kind service again, when the second worthless fellow she married had squandered her last penny.
His life was rich in similar incidents.
In his actions, the queer little man obeyed the dictates of his heart; in his speech, his head ruled his tongue, and this seemed to him the only sensible course. To practise unselfish generosity he regarded as a subtle, exquisite pleasure, which he ventured to allow himself, because he desired nothing more; others, to whom he did not grudge a prosperous career, he must warn against such folly.
There was a keen, bitter expression on his large, thin face, and whoever saw him for the first time might easily have supposed him to be a wicked, spiteful man. He knew this, and delighted in frightening the men and maid-servants at the taverns by hideous grimaces--he boasted of being able to make ninety-five different faces--until the artist's old valet at last dreaded him like the "Evil One."
He was particularly gay in Avignon, for he felt better than he had done for a long time, and ordered a seat to be engaged for him in a vehicle going to Marseilles.
The evening before their separation, he described with sparkling vivacity, the charms of the Ligurian coast, and spoke of the future as if he were sure of entire recovery and a long life.
In the night Ulrich heard him groaning louder than usual, and starting up, raised him, as he was in the habit of doing when the poor little man was tortured by difficulty of breathing. But this time Pellicanus did not swear and scold, but remained perfectly still, and when his heavy head fell like a pumpkin on the boy's breast, he was greatly terrified and ran to call the artist.
Moor was soon standing at the head of the sick-bed, holding a light, so that its rays could fall upon the face of the gasping man. The latter opened his eyes and made three grimaces in quick succession--very comical ones, yet tinged with sadness.
Pellicanus probably noticed the artist's troubled glance, for he tried to nod to him, but his head was too heavy and his strength too slight, so he only succeeded in moving it first to the right and then to the left, but his eyes expressed everything he desired to say. In this way several minutes elapsed, then Pellicanus smiled, and with a sorrowful gaze, though a mischievous expression hovered around his mouth, scanned:
"'Mox erit' quiet and mute, 'gui modo' jester 'erat'." Then he said as softly as if every tone came, not from his chest, but merely from his lips--
"Is it agreed, Navarrete, Ulrich Navarrete? I've made the Latin easy for you, eh? Your hand, boy. Yours, too, dear, dear master . . . Moor, Ethiopian--Blackskin. . . ."
The words died away in a low, rattling sound, and the dying man's eyes became glazed, but it was several hours before he drew his last breath.
A priest gave him Extreme Unction, but consciousness did not return.
After the holy man had left him, his lips moved incessantly, but no one could understand what he said. Towards morning, the sun of Provence was shining warmly and brightly into the room and on his bed, when he suddenly threw his arm above his head, and half speaking, half singing to Hans Eitelfritz's melody, let fall from his lips the words: "In fortune, good fortune." A few minutes after he was dead.
Moor closed his eyes. Ulrich knelt weeping beside the bed, and kissed his poor friend's cold hand.
When he rose, the artist was gazing with silent reverence at the jester's features; Ulrich followed his eyes, and imagined he was standing in the presence of a miracle, for the harsh, bitter, troubled face had obtained a new expression, and was now the countenance of a peaceful, kindly man, who had fallen asleep with pleasant memories in his heart.