A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
What fame is--Ulrich was to learn!
He saw in Messina the hero of Lepanto revered as a god. Wherever the victor appeared, fair hands strewed flowers in his path, balconies and windows were decked with hangings, and exulting women and girls, joyous children and grave men enthusiastically shouted his name and flung laurel-wreaths and branches to him. Messages, congratulations and gifts arrived from all the monarchs and great men of the world.
When he saw the wonderful youth dash by, Ulrich marvelled that his steed did not put forth wings and soar away with him into the clouds. But he too, Navarrete, had done his duty, and was to enjoy the sweetness of renown. When he appeared on Don Juan's most refractory steed, among the last of the victor's train, he felt that he was not overlooked, and often heard people tell each other of his deeds.
This made him raise his head, swelled his heart, urged him into new paths of fame.
The commander-in-chief also longed to press forward, but found himself condemned to inactivity, while he saw the league dissolve, and the fruit of his victory wither. King Philip's petty jealousy opposed his wishes, poisoned his hopes, and barred the realization of his dreams.
Don Juan was satiated with fame. "Power" was the food for which he longed. The busy spider in the Escurial could not deprive him of the laurel, but his own "word," his highest ambition in life, his power, he would consent to share with no mortal man, not even his brother.
"Laurels are withering leaves, power is arable land," said Don Juan to Escovedo.
It befits an emperor's son, thought Ulrich, to cherish such lofty wishes; to men of lower rank fame can remain the guiding star on life's pathway.
The elite of the army was in the Netherlands; there he could find what he desired.
Don Juan let him go, and when fame was the word, Ulrich had no cause to complain of its ill-will.
He bore the standard of the proud "Castilian" regiment, and when strange troops met him as he entered a city, one man whispered to another: "That is Navarrete, who was in the van at every assault on Haarlem, who, when all fell back before Alkmaar, assailed the walls again, it was not his fault that they were forced to retreat . . . he turned the scale with his men on Mook-Heath . . . have you heard the story? How, when struck by two bullets, he wrapped the banner around him, and fell with, and on it, upon the grass."
And now, when with the rebellious army he had left the island of Schouwen behind him and was marching through Brabant, it was said:
"Navarrete! It was he, who led the way for the Spaniards with the standard on his head, when they waded through the sea that stormy night, to surprise Zierikzee."
Whoever bore arms in the Netherlands knew his name; but the citizens also knew who he was, and clenched their fists when they spoke of him.
On the battle-field, in the water, on the ice, in the breaches of their firm walls, in burning cities, in streets and alleys, in council-chambers and plundered homes, he had confronted them as a murderer and destroyer. Yet, though the word fame had long been embittered to him, the inhumanity which clung to his deeds had the least share in it.
He was the servant of his monarch, nothing more. All who bore the name of Netherlander were to him rebels and heretics, condemned by God, sentenced by his king; not worthy peasants, skilful, industrious citizens, noble men, who were risking property and life for religion and liberty.
This impish crew disdained to pray to the merciful mother of God and the saints, these temple violators had robbed the churches of their statues, driven the pious monks and nuns from their cloisters! They called the Pope the Anti-Christ, and in every conquered city he found satirical songs and jeering verses about his lord, the king, his generals and all Spaniards.
He had kept the faith of his childhood, which was shared by every one who bore arms with him, and had easily obtained absolution, nay, encouragement and praise, for the most terrible deeds of blood.
In battle, in slaughter, when his wounds burned, in plundering, at the gaming-table, everywhere he called upon the Holy Virgin, and also, but very rarely, on the "word," fame.
He no longer believed in it, for it did not realize what he had anticipated. The laurel now rustled on his curls like withered leaves. Fame would not fill the void in his heart, failed to satisfy his discontented mind; power offered the lonely man no companionship of the soul, it could not even silence the voice which upbraided him--the unapproachable champion, him at whom no mortal dared to look askance--with being a miserable fool, defrauded of true happiness and the right ambition.
This voice tortured him on the soft down beds in the town, on the straw in the camp, over his wine and on the march.
Yet how many envied him. Ay! when he bore the standard at the head of the regiment he marched like a victorious demi-god! No one else could support so well as he the heavy pole, plated with gold, and the large embroidered silken banner, which might have served as a sail for a stately ship; but he held the staff with his right hand, as if the burden intrusted to him was an easily-managed toy. Meantime, with inimitable solemnity, he threw back the upper portion of the body and his curly head, placing his left hand on his hip. The arch of the broad chest stood forth in fine relief, and with it the breast-plate and points of his armor. He seemed like a proud ship under swelling sails, and even in hostile cities, read admiration in the glances of the gaping crowd. Yet he was a miserable, discontented man, and could not help thinking more and more frequently of Don Juan's "word."
He no longer trusted to the magic power of a word, as in former times. Still, he told himself that the "arable field" of the emperor's son, "power," was some thing lofty and great-ay, the loftiest aim a man could hope to attain.
Is not omnipotence God's first attribute? And now, on the march from Schouwen through Brabant, power beckoned to him. He had already tasted it, when the mutinous army to which he belonged attempted to pillage a smithy. He had stepped before the spoilers and saved the artisan's life and property. Whoever swung the hammer before the bellows was sacred to him; he had formerly shared gains and booty with many a plundered member of his father's craft.
He now carried a captain's staff, but this was mere mummery, child's play, nothing more. A merry soldier's-cook wore a captain's plume on the side of his tall hat. The field-officer, most of the captains and the lieutenants, had retired after the great mutiny on the island of Schouwen was accomplished, and their places were now occupied by ensigns, sergeants and quartermasters. The higher officers had gone to Brussels, and the mutinous army marched without any chief through Brabant.
They had not received their well-earned pay for twenty-two months, and the starving regiments now sought means of support wherever they could find them.
Two years since, after the battle of Mook-Heath, the army had helped itself, and at that time, as often happened on similar occasions, an Eletto--[The chosen one. The Italian form is used, instead of the Spanish 'electo'.]--had been chosen from among the rebellious subaltern officers. Ulrich had then been lying seriously wounded, but after the end of the mutiny was told by many, that no other would have been made Eletto had he only been well and present. Now an Eletto was again to be chosen, and whoever was elected would have command of at least three thousand men, and possibly more, as it was expected that other regiments would join the insurrection. To command an army! This was power, this was the highest attainment; it was worth risking life to obtain it.
The regiments pitched their camp at Herenthals, and here the election was to be held.
In the arrangement of the tents, the distribution of the wagons which surrounded the camp like a wall, the stationing of field-pieces at the least protected places, Ulrich had the most authority, and while exercising it forced himself, for the first time in his life, to appear gentle and yielding, when he would far rather have uttered words of command. He lived in a state of feverish excitement; sleep deserted his couch, he imagined that every word he heard referred to himself and his election.
During these days he learned to smile when he was angry, to speak pleasantly while curses were burning on his lips. He was careful not to betray by look, word, or deed what was passing in his mind, as he feared the ridicule that would ensue should he fail to achieve his purpose.
One more day, one more night, and perhaps he would be commander-in-chief, able to conquer a kingdom and keep the world in terror. Perhaps, only perhaps; for another was seeking with dangerous means to obtain control of the army.
This was Sergeant-Major and Quartermaster Zorrillo, an excellent and popular soldier, who had been chosen Eletto after the battle of Mook-Heath, but voluntarily resigned his office at the first serious opposition he encountered.
It was said that he had done this by his wife's counsel, and this woman was Ulrich's most dangerous foe.
Zorrillo belonged to another regiment, but Ulrich had long known him and his companion, the "campsibyl."
Wine was sold in the quartermaster's tent, which, before the outbreak of the mutiny, had been the rendezvous of the officers and chaplains.
The sibyl entertained the officers with her gay conversation, while they drank or sat at the gaining-table; she probably owed her name to the skill she displayed in telling fortunes by cards. The common soldiers liked her too, because she took care of their sick wives and children.
Navarrete preferred to spend his time in his own regiment, so he did not meet the Zorrillos often until the mutiny at Schouwen and on the march through Brabant. He had never sought, and now avoided them; for he knew the sibyl was leaving no means untried to secure her partner's election. Therefore he disliked them; yet he could not help occasionally entering their tent, for the leaders of the mutiny held their counsels there. Zorrillo always received him courteously; but his companion gazed at him so intently and searchingly, that an anxious feeling, very unusual to the bold fellow, stole over him.
He could not help asking himself whether he had seen her before, and when the thought that she perhaps resembled his mother, once entered his mind, he angrily rejected it.
The day before she had offered to tell his fortune; but he refused point-blank, for surely no good tidings could come to him from those lips.
To-day she had asked what his Christian name was, and for the first time in years he remembered that he was also called "Ulrich." Now he was nothing but "Navarrete," to himself and others. He lived solely for himself, and the more reserved a man is, the more easily his Christian name is lost to him.
As, years before, he had told the master that he was called nothing but Ulrich, he now gave the harsh answer: "I am Navarrete, that's enough!"