A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Half an hour before midnight Moor entered the calash, and Ulrich Navarrete mounted the white Andalusian.
The artist, deeply agitated, had already taken leave of his protege in the studio, had given him a purse of gold for his travelling-expenses and any other wants, and told him that he would always find with him in Flanders a home, a father, love, and instruction in his art.
The painter alighted before Don Fabrizio's palace; a short time after Ulrich noisily drew the leather curtain before the partition of the calash, and then called to the coachman, who had often driven Moor when he was unexpectedly summoned to one of the king's pleasure-palaces at night: "Go ahead!"
They were stopped at the gate, but the guards knew the favorite's calash and fair-haired pupil, and granted the latter the escort he asked for his master. So they went forward; at first rapidly, then at a pace easy for the horses. He told the coachman that Moor had alighted at the second station, and would ride with His Majesty to Avila, where he wished to find the carriage.
During the whole way, Ulrich thought little of himself, and all the more of the master. If the pursuers had set out the morning after the departure, and followed him instead of Don Fabrizio's party, Moor might now be safe. He knew the names of the towns on the road to Valencia and thought: "Now he may be here, now he may be there, now he must be approaching Tarancon."
In the evening the calash reached the famous stronghold of Avila where, according to the agreement, Ulrich was to leave the carriage and try to make his own escape. The road led through the town, which was surrounded by high walls and deep ditches. There was no possibility of going round it, yet the drawbridges were already raised and the gates locked, so he boldly called the warder and showed his passport.
An officer asked to see the artist. Ulrich said that he would follow him; but the soldier was not satisfied, and ordered him to alight and accompany him to the commandant.
Ulrich struck his spurs into the Andalusian's flanks and tried to go back over the road by which he had come; but the horse had scarcely begun to gallop, when a shot was fired, that stretched it on the ground. The rider was dragged into the guard-house as a prisoner, and subjected to a severe examination.
He was suspected of having murdered Moor and of having stolen his money, for a purse filled with ducats was found on his person. While he was being fettered, the pursuers reached Avila.
A new examination began, and now trial followed trial, torture, torture.
Even at Avila a sack was thrown over his head, and only opened, when to keep him alive, he was fed with bread and water. Firmly bound in a two-wheeled cart, drawn by mules, he was dragged over stock and stones to Madrid.
Often, in the darkness, oppressed for breath, jolted, bruised, unable to control his thoughts, or even his voice, he expected to perish; yet no fainting-fit, no moment of utter unconsciousness pityingly came to his relief, far less did any human heart have compassion on his suffering.
At last, at last he was unbound, and led, still with his head covered, into a small, dark room.
Here he was released from the sack, but again loaded with chains.
When he was left alone and had regained the capacity to think, he felt convinced that he was in one of the dungeons of the Inquisition. Here were the damp walls, the wooden bench, the window in the ceiling, of which he had heard. He was soon to learn that he had judged correctly.
His body was granted a week's rest, but during this horrible week he did not cease to upbraid himself as a traitor, and execrate the fate which had used him a second time to hurl a friend and benefactor into ruin. He cursed himself, and when he thought of the "word" "fortune, fortune!" he gnashed his teeth scornfully and clenched his fist.
His young soul was darkened, embittered, thrown off its balance. He saw no deliverance, no hope, no consolation. He tried to pray, to God, to Jesus Christ, to the Virgin, to the Saints; but they all stood before him, in a vision, with lifeless features and paralyzed arms. For him, who had relied on "Fortune," and behaved like a fool, they felt no pity, no compassion, they would not lend their aid.
But soon his former energy returned and with it the power to lift his soul in prayer. He regained them during the torture, on the rack.
Weeks, months elapsed. Ulrich still remained in the gloomy cell, loaded with chains, scantily fed on bread and water, constantly looking death in the face; but a fresh, beautiful spirit of defiance and firm determination to live animated the youth, who was now at peace with himself. On the rack he had regained the right to respect himself, and striven to win the master's praise, the approval of the living and his beloved dead.
The wounds on his poor, crushed, mangled hands and feet still burned. The physician had seen them, and when they healed, shook his head in amazement.
Ulrich rejoiced in his scars, for on the rack and in the Spanish boot, on nails, and the pointed bench, in the iron necklace and with the stifling helmet on his head, he had resolutely refused to betray through whom and whither the master had escaped.
They might come back, burn and spear him; but through him they should surely learn nothing, nothing at all. He was scarcely aware that he had a right to forgiveness; yet he felt he had atoned.
Now he could think of the past again. The Holy Virgin once more wore his lost mother's features; his father, Ruth, Pellicanus, Moor looked kindly at him. But the brightest light shone into his soul through the darkness of the dungeon, when he thought of art and his last work. It stood before him distinctly in brilliant hues, feature for feature, as on the canvas; he esteemed himself happy in having painted it, and would willingly have gone to the rack once, twice, thrice, if he could merely have obtained the certainty of creating other pictures like this, and perhaps still nobler, more beautiful ones.
Art! Art! Perhaps this was the "word," and if not, it was the highest, most exquisite, most precious thing in life, beside which everything else seemed small, pitiful and insipid. With what other word could God have created the world, human beings, animals, and plants? The doctor had often called every flower, every beetle, a work of art, and Ulrich now understood his meaning, and could imagine how the Almighty, with the thirst for creation and plastic hand of the greatest of all artists had formed the gigantic bodies of the stars, had given the sky its glittering blue, had indented and rounded the mountains, had bestowed form and color on everything that runs, creeps, flies, buds and blossoms, and had fashioned man--created in His own image--in the most majestic form of all.
How wonderful the works of God appeared to him in the solitude of the dark dungeon--and if the world was beautiful, was it not the work of His Divine Art!
Heaven and earth knew no word greater, more powerful, more mighty in creating beauty than: Art. What, compared with its gifts, were the miserable, delusive ones of Fortune: gay clothes, spiced dishes, magnificent rooms, and friendly glances from beautiful eyes, that smile on every one who pleases them! He would blow them all into the air, for the assistance of Art in joyous creating. Rather, a thousand times rather, would he beg his bread, and attain great things in Art, than riot and revel in good-fortune.
Colors, colors, canvas, a model like Sophonisba, and success in the realm of Art! It was for these things he longed, these things made him yearn with such passionate eagerness for deliverance, liberty.
Months glided by, maturing Ulrich's mind as rapidly as if they had been years; but his inclination to retire within himself deepened into intense reserve.
At last the day arrived on which, through the influence of the Marquesa Romero, the doors of his dungeon opened.
It was soon after receiving a sharp warning to renounce his obstinacy at the next examination, that the youth was suddenly informed that he was free. The jailer took off his fetters, and helped him exchange his prison garb for the dress he had worn when captured; then disguised men threw a sack over his head and led him up and down stairs and across pavements, through dust and grass, into the little court-yard of a deserted house in the suburbs. There they left him, and he soon released his head from its covering.
How delicious God's free air seemed, as his chest heaved with grateful joy! He threw out his arms like a bird stretching its wings to fly, then he clasped his hands over his brow, and at last, as if a second time pursued, rushed out of the court-yard into the street. The passers-by looked after him, shaking their heads, and he certainly presented a singular spectacle, for the dress in which he had fled many months before, had sustained severe injuries on the journey from Avila; his hat was lost on the way, and had not been replaced by a new one. The cuffs and collar, which belonged to his doublet, were missing, and his thick, fair hair hung in dishevelled locks over his neck and temples; his full, rosy cheeks had grown thin, his eyes seemed to have enlarged, and during his imprisonment a soft down had grown on his cheeks and chin.
He was now eighteen, but looked older, and the grave expression on his brow and in his eyes, gave him the appearance of a man.
He had rushed straight forward, without asking himself whither; now he reached a busy street and checked his career. Was he in Madrid? Yes, for there rose the blue peaks of the Guadarrama chain, which he knew well. There were the little trees at which the denizen of the Black Forest had often smiled, but which to-day looked large and stately. Now a toreador, whom he had seen more than once in the arena, strutted past. This was the gate, through which he had ridden out of the city beside the master's calash.
He must go into the town, but what should he do there?
Had they restored the master's gold with the clothes?
He searched the pockets, but instead of the purse, found only a few large silver coins, which he knew he had not possessed at the time of his capture.
In a cook-shop behind the gate he enjoyed some meat and wine after his long deprivation, and after reflecting upon his situation he decided to call on Don Fabrizio.
The porter refused him admittance, but after he had mentioned his name, kindly invited him into the porch, and told him that the baron and his wife were in the country with the Marquesa Romero. They were expected back on Tuesday, and would doubtless receive him then, for they had already asked about him several times. The young gentleman probably came from some foreign country; it was the custom to wear hats in Madrid.
Ulrich now noticed what he lacked, but before leaving, to supply the want, asked the porter, if he knew what had become of Master Moor.
Safe! He was safe! Several weeks before Donna Sophonisba had received a letter sent from Flanders, and Ulrich's companion was well informed, for his wife served the baroness as 'doncella'.
Joyously, almost beside himself with pure, heart-cheering delight, the released prisoner hurried away, bought himself a new cap, and then sought the Alcazar.
Before the treasury, in the place of old Santo, Carmen's father, stood a tall, broad portero, still a young man, who rudely refused him admittance.
"Master Moor has not been here for a long time," said the gate-keeper angrily: "Artists don't wear ragged clothes, and if you don't wish to see the inside of a guard-house--a place you are doubtless familiar with--you had better leave at once."
Ulrich answered the gate-keeper's insulting taunts indignantly and proudly, for he was no longer the yielding boy of former days, and the quarrel soon became serious.
Just then a dainty little woman, neatly dressed for the evening promenade, with the mantilla on her curls, a pomegranate blossom in her hair, and another on her bosom, came out of the Alcazar. Waving her fan, and tripping over the pavement like a wag-tail, she came directly towards the disputants.
Ulrich recognized her instantly; it was Carmen, the pretty embroiderer of the shell-grotto in the park, now the wife of the new porter, who had obtained his dead predecessor's office, as well as his daughter.
"Carmen!" exclaimed Ulrich, as soon as he saw the pretty little woman, then added confidently. "This young lady knows me."
"I?" asked the young wife, turning up her pretty little nose, and looking at the tall youth's shabby costume. "Who are you?"
"Master Moor's pupil, Ulrich Navarrete; don't you remember me?"
"I? You must be mistaken!"
With these words she shut her fan so abruptly, that it snapped loudly, and tripped on.
Ulrich shrugged his shoulders, then turned to the porter more courteously, and this time succeeded in his purpose; for the artist Coello's body-servant came out of the treasury, and willingly announced him to his master, who now, as court-artist, occupied Moor's quarters.
Ulrich followed the friendly Pablo into the palace, where every step he mounted reminded him of his old master and former days.
When he at last stood in the anteroom, and the odor of the fresh oil-colors, which were being ground in an adjoining room, reached his nostrils, he inhaled it no less eagerly than, an hour before, he had breathed the fresh air, of which he had been so long deprived.
What reception could he expect? The court-artist might easily shrink from coming in contact with the pupil of Moor, who had now lost the sovereign's favor. Coello was a very different man from the Master, a child of the moment, varying every day. Sometimes haughty and repellent, on other occasions a gay, merry companion, who had jested with his own children and Ulrich also, as if all were on the same footing. If today . . . but Ulrich did not have much time for such reflections; a few minutes after Pablo left, the door was torn open, and the whole Coello family rushed joyously to meet him; Isabella first. Sanchez followed close behind her, then came the artist, next his stout, clumsy wife, whom Ulrich had rarely seen, because she usually spent the whole day lying on a couch with her lap-dog. Last of all appeared the duenna Catalina, a would-be sweet smile hovering around her lips.
The reception given him by the others was all the more joyous and cordial.
Isabella laid her hands on his arm, as if she wanted to feel that it was really he; and yet, when she looked at him more closely, she shook her head as if there was something strange in his appearance. Sanchez embraced him, whirling him round and round, Coello shook hands, murmuring many kind words, and the mother turned to the duenna, exclaiming:
"Holy Virgin! what has happened to the pretty boy? How famished he looks! Go to the kitchen instantly, Catalina, and tell Diego to bring him food--food and drink."
At last they all pulled and pushed him into the sitting-room, where the mother immediately threw herself on the couch again; then the others questioned him, making him tell them how he had fared, whence he came, and many other particulars.
He was no longer hungry, but Senora Petra insisted upon his seating himself near her couch and eating a capon, while he told his story.
Every face expressed sympathy, approval, pity, and at last Coello said:
"Remain here, Navarrete. The king longs for Moor, and you will be as safe with us, as if you were in Abraham's lap. We have plenty for you to do. You come to me as opportunely, as if you had dropped from the skies. I was just going to write to Venice for an assistant. Holy Jacob! You can't stay so, but thanks to the Madonna and Moor, you are not poor. We have ample means, my young sir. Donna Sophonisba gave me a hundred zechins for you; they are lying in yonder chest, and thank Heaven, haven't grown impatient by waiting. They are at your disposal. Your master, my master, the noble master of all portrait-painters, our beloved Moor arranged it. You won't go about the streets in this way any longer. Look, Isabella; this sleeve is hanging by two strings, and the elbow is peering out of the window. Such a dress is airy enough, certainly. Take him to the tailor's at once, Sanchez, Oliverio, or . . . but no, no; we'll all stay together to-day. Herrera is coming from the Escurial. You will endure the dress for the sake of the wearer, won't you, ladies? Besides, who is to choose the velvet and cut for this young dandy? He always wore something unusual. I can still see the master's smile, provoked by some of the lad's new contrivances in puffs and slashes. It is pleasant to have you here, my boy! I ought to slay a calf, as the father did for the prodigal son; but we live in miniature. Instead of neat-cattle, only a capon! . . ."
"But you're not drinking, you're not drinking! Isabella, fill his glass. Look! only see these scars on his hands and neck. It will need a great deal of lace to conceal them. No, no, they are marks of honor, you must show them. Come here, I will kiss this great scar, on your neck, my brave, faithful fellow, and some day a fair one will follow my example. If Antonio were only here! There's a kiss for him, and another, there, there. Art bestows it, Art, for whom you have saved Moor!"
A master's kiss in the name of Art! It was sweeter than the beautiful Carmen's lips!
Coello was himself an artist, a great painter! Where could his peers be found--or those of Moor, and the architect Herrera, who entered soon after. Only those, who consecrated their lives to Art, the word of words, could be so noble, cheerful, kind.
How happy he was when he went to bed! how gratefully he told his beloved dead, in spirit, what had fallen to his lot, and how joyously he could pray!
The next morning he went with a full purse into the city, returning elegantly dressed, and with neatly-arranged locks. The peinador had given his budding moustache a bold twist upward.
He still looked thin and somewhat awkward, but the tall youth promised to become a stately man.