A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
While the boy flung the damp bundles of brushwood on the floor beside the hearth in the doctor's kitchen, a servant from the monastery was leading three horses under the rude shed in front of the smith Adam's work-shop The stately grey-haired monk, who had ridden the strong cream-colored steed, was already standing beside the embers of the fire, pressing his hands upon the warm chimney.
The forge stood open, but spite of knocking and shouting, neither the master of the place, nor any other living soul appeared. Adam had gone out, but could not be far away, for the door leading from the shop into the sitting-room, was also unlocked.
The time was growing long to Father Benedict, so for occupation he tried to lift the heavy hammer. It was a difficult task, though he was no weakling, yet it was not hard for Adam's arm to swing and guide the burden. If only the man had understood how to govern his life as well as he managed his ponderous tool!
He did not belong to Richtberg. What would his father have said, had he lived to see his son dwell here?
The monk had known the old smith well, and he also knew many things about the son and his destiny, yet no more than rumor entrusts to one person concerning another's life. Even this was enough to explain why Adam had become so reserved, misanthropic and silent a man, though even in his youth he certainly had not been what is termed a gay fellow.
The forge where he grew up, was still standing in the market-place of the little city below; it had belonged to his grandfather and great-grandfather. There had never been any lack of custom, to the annoyance of the wise magistrates, whose discussions were disturbed by the hammering that rang across the ill-paved square to the windows of the council-chamber; but, on the other hand, the idle hours of the watchmen under the arches of the ground-floor of the town-hall were sweetened by the bustle before the smithy.
How Adam had come from the market-place to the Richtberg, is a story speedily told.
He was the only child of his dead parents, and early learned his father's trade. When his mother died, the old man gave his son and partner his blessing, and some florins to pay his expenses, and sent him away. He went directly to Nuremberg, which the old man praised as the high-school of the smith's art, and there remained twelve years. When, at the end of that time, news came to Adam that his father was dead, and he had inherited the forge on the market-place, he wondered to find that he was thirty years old, and had gone no farther than Nuremberg. True, everything that the rest of the world could do in the art of forging might be learned there.
He was a large, heavy man, and from childhood had moved slowly and reluctantly from the place where he chanced to be.
If work was pressing, he could not be induced to leave the anvil, even when evening had closed in; if it was pleasant to sit over the beer, he remained till after the last man had gone. While working, he was as mute as the dead to everything that was passing around him; in the tavern he rarely spoke, and then said only a few words, yet the young artists, sculptors, workers in gold and students liked to see the stout drinker and good listener at the table, and the members of his guild only marvelled how the sensible fellow, who joined in no foolish pranks, and worked in such good earnest, held aloof from them to keep company with these hairbrained folk, and remained a Papist.
He might have taken possession of the shop on the market-place directly after his father's death, but could not arrange his departure so quickly, and it was fully eight months before he left Nuremberg.
On the high-road before Schwabach a wagon, occupied by some strolling performers, overtook the traveller. They belonged to the better class, for they appeared before counts and princes, and were seven in number. The father and four sons played the violin, viola and reboc, and the two daughters sang to the lute and harp. The old man invited Adam to take the eighth place in the vehicle, so he counted his pennies, and room was made for him opposite Flora, called by her family Florette. The musicians were going to the fair at Nordlingen, and the smith enjoyed himself so well with them, that he remained several days after reaching the goal of the journey. When he at last went away Florette wept, but he walked straight on until noon, without looking back. Then he lay down under a blossoming apple-tree, to rest and eat some lunch, but the lunch did not taste well; and when he shut his eyes he could not sleep, for he thought constantly of Florette. Of course! He had parted from her far too soon, and an eager longing seized upon him for the young girl, with her red lips and luxuriant hair. This hair was a perfect golden-yellow; he knew it well, for she had often combed and braided it in the tavern-room beside the straw where they all slept.
He yearned to hear her laugh too, and would have liked to see her weep again.
Then he remembered the desolate smithy in the narrow market-place and the dreary home, recollected that he was thirty years old, and still had no wife.
A little wife of his own! A wife like Florette! Seventeen years old, a complexion like milk and blood, a creature full of gayety and joyous life! True, he was no light-hearted lad, but, lying under the apple-tree in the month of May, he saw himself in imagination living happily and merrily in the smithy by the market-place, with the fair-haired girl who had already shed tears for him. At last he started up, and because he had determined to go still farther on this day, did so, though for no other reason than to carry out the plan formed the day before. The next morning, before sunrise, he was again marching along the highway, this time not forward towards the Black Forest, but back to Nordlingen.
That very evening Florette became his betrothed bride, and the following Tuesday his wife.
The wedding was celebrated in the midst of the turmoil of the fair. Strolling players, jugglers and buffoons were the witnesses, and there was no lack of music and tinsel.
A quieter ceremony would have been more agreeable to the plain citizen and sensible blacksmith, but this purgatory had to be passed to reach Paradise.
On Wednesday he went off in a fair wagon with his young wife, and in Stuttgart bought with a portion of his savings many articles of household furniture, less to stop the gossips' tongues, of which he took no heed, than to do her honor in his own eyes. These things, piled high in a wagon of his own, he had sent into his native town as Florette's dowry, for her whole outfit consisted of one pink and one grass-green gown, a lute and a little white dog.
A delightful life now began in the smithy for Adam. The gossips avoided his wife, but they stared at her in church, and among them she seemed to him, not unjustly, like a rose amid vegetables. The marriage he had made was an abomination to respectable citizens, but Adam did not heed them, and Flora appeared to feel equally happy with him. When, before the close of the first twelvemonth after their wedding, Ulrich was born, the smith reached the summit of happiness and remained there for a whole year.
When, during that time, he stood in the bow-window amid the fresh balsam, auricular and yellow wallflowers holding his boy on his shoulder, while his wife leaned on his arm, and the pungent odor of scorched hoofs reached his nostrils, and he saw his journeyman and apprentice shoeing a horse below, he often thought how pleasant it had been pursuing the finer branches of his craft in Nuremberg, and that he should like to forge a flower again; but the blacksmith's trade was not to be despised either, and surely life with one's wife and child was best.
In the evening he drank his beer at the Lamb, and once, when the surgeon Siedler called life a miserable vale of tears, he laughed in his face and answered: "To him who knows how to take it right, it is a delightful garden."
Florette was kind to her husband, and devoted herself to her child, so long as he was an infant, with the most self-sacrificing love. Adam often spoke of a little daughter, who must look exactly like its mother; but it did not come.
When little Ulrich at last began to run about in the street, the mother's nomadic blood stirred, and she was constantly dinning it into her husband's ears that he ought to leave this miserable place and go to Augsburg or Cologne, where it would be pleasant; but he remained firm, and though her power over him was great, she could not move his resolute will.
Often she would not cease her entreaties and representations, and when she even complained that she was dying of solitude and weariness, his veins swelled with wrath, and then she was frightened, fled to her room and wept. If she happened to have a bold day, she threatened to go away and seek her own relatives. This displeased him, and he made her feel it bitterly, for he was steadfast in everything, even anger, and when he bore ill-will it was not for hours, but months, nor at such times could he be conciliated by coaxing or tears.
By degrees Florette learned to meet his discontent with a shrug of her shoulders, and to arrange her life in her own way. Ulrich was her comfort, pride and plaything, but sporting with him did not satisfy her.
While Adam was standing behind the anvil, she sat among the flowers in the bow-window, and the watchmen now looked higher up than the forge, the worthy magistrates no longer cast unfriendly glances at the smith's house, for Florette grew more and more beautiful in the quiet life she now enjoyed, and many a neighboring noble brought his horse to Adam to be shod, merely to look into the eyes of the artisan's beautiful wife.
Count von Frohlingen came most frequently of all, and Florette soon learned to distinguish the hoof-beats of his horse from those of the other steeds, and when he entered the shop, willingly found some pretext for going there too. In the afternoons she often went with her child outside the gate, and then always chose the road leading to the count's castle. There was no lack of careful friends, who warned Adam, but he answered them angrily, so they learned to be silent.
Florette had now grown gay again, and sometimes sang like a joyous bird.
Seven years elapsed, and during the summer of the eighth a scattered troop of soldiers came to the city and obtained admission. They were quartered under the arches of the town-hall, but many also lay in the smithy, for their helmets, breast-plates and other pieces of armor required plenty of mending. The ensign, a handsome, proud young fellow, with a dainty moustache, was Adam's most constant customer, and played very kindly with Ulrich, when Florette appeared with him. At last the young soldier departed, and the very same day Adam was summoned to the monastery, to mend something in the grating before the treasury.
When he returned, Florette had vanished; "run after the ensign," people said, and they were right. Adam did not attempt to wrest her from the seducer; but a great love cannot be torn from the heart like a staff that is thrust into the ground; it is intertwined with a thousand fibres, and to destroy it utterly is to destroy the heart in which it has taken root, and with it life itself. When he secretly cursed her and called her a viper, he doubtless remembered how innocent, dear and joyous she had been, and then the roots of the destroyed affection put forth new shoots, and he saw before his mental vision ensnaring images, of which he felt ashamed as soon as they had vanished.
Lightning and hail had entered the "delightful garden" of Adam's life also, and he had been thrust forth from the little circle of the happy into the great army of the wretched.
Purifying powers dwell in undeserved suffering, but no one is made better by unmerited disgrace, least of all a man like Adam. He had done what seemed to him his duty, without looking to the right or the left, but now the stainless man felt himself dishonored, and with morbid sensitiveness referred everything he saw and heard to his own disgrace, while the inhabitants of the little town made him feel that he had been ill-advised, when he ventured to make a fiddler's daughter a citizen.
When he went out, it seemed to him--and usually unjustly--as if people were nudging each other; hands, pointing out-stretched fingers at him, appeared to grow from every eye. At home he found nothing but desolation, vacuity, sorrow, and a child, who constantly tore open the burning, gnawing wounds in his heart. Ulrich must forget "the viper," and he sternly forbade him to speak of his mother; but not a day passed on which he would not fain have done so himself.
The smith did not stay long in the house on the market-place. He wished to go to Freiburg or Ulm, any place where he had not been with her. A purchaser for the dwelling, with its lucrative business, was speedily found, the furniture was packed, and the new owner was to move in on Wednesday, when on Monday Bolz, the jockey, came to Adam's workshop from Richtberg. The man had been a good customer for years, and bought hundreds of shoes, which he put on the horses at his own forge, for he knew something about the trade. He came to say farewell; he had his own nest to feather, and could do a more profitable business in the lowlands than up here in the forest. Finally he offered Adam his property at a very low price.
The smith had smiled at the jockey's proposal, still he went to the Richtberg the very next day to see the place. There stood the executioner's house, from which the whole street was probably named. One wretched hovel succeeded another. Yonder before a door, Wilhelm the idiot, on whom the city boys played their pranks, smiled into vacancy just as foolishly as he had done twenty years ago, here lodged Kathrin, with the big goitre, who swept the gutters; in the three grey huts, from which hung numerous articles of ragged clothing, lived two families of charcoal-burners, and Caspar, the juggler, a strange man, whom as a boy he had seen in the pillory, with his deformed daughters, who in winter washed laces and in summer went with him to the fairs.
In the hovels, before which numerous children were playing, lived honest, but poor foresters. It was the home of want and misery. Only the jockey's house and one other would have been allowed to exist in the city. The latter was occupied by the Jew, Costa, who ten years before had come from a distant country to the city with his aged father and a dumb wife, and remained there, for a little daughter was born and the old man was afterwards seized with a fatal illness. But the inhabitants would tolerate no Jews among them, so the stranger moved into the forester's house on the Richtberg which had stood empty because a better one had been built deeper in the woods. The city treasury could use the rent and tax exacted from Jews and demanded of the stranger. The Jew consented to the magistrate's requirement, but as it soon became known that he pored over huge volumes all day long and pursued no business, yet paid for everything in good money, he was believed to be an alchemist and sorcerer.
All who lived here were miserable or despised, and when Adam had left the Richtberg he told himself that he no longer belonged among the proud and unblemished and since he felt dishonored and took disgrace in the same dogged earnest, that he did everything else, he believed the people in the Richtberg were just the right neighbors for him. All knew what it is to be wretched, and many had still heavier disgrace to bear. And then! If want drove his miserable wife back to him, this was the right place for her and those of her stamp.
So he bought the jockey's house and well-supplied forge. There would be customers enough for all he could do there in obscurity.
He had no cause to repent his bargain.
The old nurse remained with him and took care of Ulrich, who throve admirably. His own heart too grew lighter while engaged in designing or executing many an artistic piece of work. He sometimes went to the city to buy iron or coals, but usually avoided any intercourse with the citizens, who shrugged their shoulders or pointed to their foreheads, when they spoke of him.
About a year after his removal he had occasion to speak to the file-cutter, and sought him at the Lamb, where a number of Count Frolinger's retainers were sitting. Adam took no notice of them, but they began to jeer and mock at him. For a time he succeeded in controlling himself, but when red-haired Valentine went too far, a sudden fit of rage overpowered him and he felled him to the floor. The others now attacked him and dragged him to their master's castle, where he lay imprisoned for six months. At last he was brought before the count, who restored him to liberty "for the sake of Florette's beautiful eyes."
Years had passed since then, during which Adam had lived a quiet, industrious life in the Richtberg with his son. He associated with no one, except Doctor Costa, in whom he found the first and only real friend fate had ever bestowed upon him.