A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Towards evening, the members of the mutiny met at the Zorrillos to hold a council.
The weather outside was hot and sultry, and the more people assembled, the heavier and more oppressive became the air within the spacious tent, the interior of which looked plain enough, for its whole furniture consisted of some small roughly-made tables, some benches and chairs, and one large table, and a superb ebony chest with ivory ornaments, evidently stolen property. On this work of art lay the pillows used at night, booty obtained at Haarlem; they were covered with bright but worn-out silk, which had long shown the need of the thrifty touch of a woman's hand. Pictures of the saints were pasted on the walls, and a crucifix hung over the door.
Behind the great table, between a basket and the wine cask, from which the sibyl replenished the mugs, stood a high-backed chair. A coarse barmaid, who had grown up in the camp, served the assembled men, but she had no occasion to hurry, for the Spaniards were slow drinkers.
The guests sat, closely crowded together, in a circle, and seemed grave and taciturn; but their words sounded passionate, imperious, defiant, and the speakers often struck their coats of mail with their clenched fists, or pounded on the floor with their swords.
If there was any difference of opinion, the disputants flew into a furious rage, and then a chorus of fierce, blustering voices rose like a tenfold echo. It often seemed as if the next instant swords must fly from their sheaths and a bloody brawl begin; but Zorrillo, who had been chosen to preside over the meeting, only needed to raise his baton and command order, to transform the roar into a low muttering; the weather-beaten, scarred, pitiless soldiers, even when mutineers, yielded willing obedience to the word of command and the iron constraint of discipline.
On the sea and at Schouwen their splendid costumes had obtained a beggarly appearance. The velvet and brocade extorted from the rich citizens of Antwerp, now hung tattered and faded around their sinewy limbs. They looked like foot-pads, vagabonds, pirates, yet sat, as military custom required, exactly in the order of their rank; on the march and in the camp, every insurgent willingly obeyed the orders of the new leader, who by the fortune of war had thrown pairs-royal on the drumhead.
One thing was certain: some decisive action must be taken. Every one needed doublets and shoes, money and good lodgings. But in what way could these be most easily procured? By parleying and submitting on acceptable conditions, said some; by remaining free and capturing a city, roared others; first wealthy Mechlin, which could be speedily reached. There they could get what they wanted without money. Zorrillo counselled prudent conduct; Navarrete impetuously advised bold action. They, the insurgents, he cried, were stronger than any other military force in the Netherlands, and need fear no one. If they begged and entreated they would be dismissed with copper coins; but if they enforced their demands they would become rich and prosperous.
With flashing eyes he extolled what the troops, and he himself had done; he enlarged upon the hardships they had borne, the victories won for the king. He asked nothing but good pay for blood and toil, good pay, not coppers and worthless promises.
Loud shouts of approval followed his speech, and a gunner, who now held the rank of captain, exclaimed enthusiastically:
"Navarrete, the hero of Lepanto and Haarlem, is right! I know whom I will choose."
"Victor, victor Navarrete!" echoed from many a bearded lilt.
But Zorrillo interrupted these declarations, exclaiming, not without dignity, while raising his baton still higher. "The election will take place to-morrow, gentlemen; we are holding a council to-day. It is very warm in here; I feel it as much as you do. But before we separate, listen a few minutes to a man, who means well." Zorrillo now explained all the reasons, which induced him to counsel negotiations and a friendly agreement with the commander-in-chief. There was sound, statesmanlike logic in his words, yet his language did not lack warmth and charm. The men perceived that he was in earnest, and while he spoke the sibyl went behind him, laid her hand on his shoulder, and wiped the perspiration from his brow with her handkerchief. Zorrillo permitted it, and without interrupting himself, gave her a grateful, affectionate glance.
The bronzed warriors liked to look at her, and even permitted her to utter a word of advice or warning during their discussions, for she was a wise woman, not one of the ordinary stamp. Her blue eyes sparkled with intelligence and mirth, her full lips seemed formed for quick, gay repartee, she was always kind and cheer ful in her manner even to the most insignificant. But whence came the deep lines about her red mouth and the outer corners of her eyes? She covered them with rouge every day, to conceal the evidence of the sorrowful hours she spent when alone? The lines were well disguised, yet they increased, and year by year grew deeper.
No wrinkle had yet dared to appear on the narrow forehead; and the delicate features, dazzlingly-white teeth, girlish figure, and winning smile lent this woman a youthful aspect. She might be thirty, or perhaps even past forty.
A pleasure made her younger by ten summers, a vexation transformed her into a matron. The snow white hair, carefully arranged on her forehead, seemed to indicate somewhat advanced age; but it was known that it had turned grey in a few days and nights, eight years before, when a discontented blackguard stabbed the quartermaster, and he lay for weeks at the point of death.
This white hair harmonized admirably with the red cheeks of the camp-sibyl, who appreciating the fact, did not dye it.
During Zorrillo's speech her eyes more than once rested on Ulrich with a strangely intense expression. As soon as he paused, she went back again behind the table to the crying child, to cradle it in her arms.
Zorrillo--perceiving that a new and violent argument was about to break forth among the men--closed the meeting. Before adjourning, however, it was unanimously decided that the election should be held on the morrow.
While the soldiers noisily rose, some shaking hands with Zorrillo, some with Navarrete, the stately sergeant-major of a German lansquenet troop, which was stationed in Antwerp, and did not belong to the insurgents, entered the wide open door of the tent. His dress was gay and in good order; a fine Dalmatian dog followed him.
A thunder-storm had begun, and it was raining violently. Some of the Spaniards were twisting their rosaries, and repeating prayers, but neither thunder, lightning, nor water seemed to have destroyed the German's good temper, for he shook the drops from his plumed hat with a merry "phew," gaily introducing himself to his comrades as an envoy from the Pollviller regiment.
His companions, he said, were not disinclined to join the "free army"--he had come to ask how the masters of Schouwen fared.
Zorrillo offered the sergeant-major a chair, and after the latter had raised and emptied two beakers from the barmaid's pewter waiter in quick succession, he glanced around the circle of his rebel comrades. Some he had met before in various countries, and shook hands with them. Then he fixed his eyes on Ulrich, pondering where and under what standard he had seen this magnificent, fair-haired warrior.
Navarrete recognizing the merry lansquenet, Hans Eitelfritz of Colln on the Spree, held out his hand, and cried in the Spanish language, which the lansquenet had also used:
"You are Hans Eitelfritz! Do you remember Christmas in the Black Forest, Master Moor, and the Alcazar in Madrid?"
"Ulrich, young Master Ulrich! Heavens and earth!" cried Eitelfritz;--but suddenly interrupted himself; for the sibyl, who had risen from the table to bring the envoy, with her own hands, a larger goblet of wine, dropped the beaker close beside him.
Zorrillo and he hastily sprung to support the tottering woman, who was almost fainting. But she recovered herself, waving them back with a mute gesture.
All eyes were fixed upon her, and every one was startled; for she stood as if benumbed, her bright, youthful face had suddenly become aged and haggard. "What is the matter?" asked Zorrillo anxiously. Recovering her self-control, she answered hastily "The thunder, the storm. . . ."
Then, with short, light steps, she went back to the table, and as she resumed her seat the bell for evening prayers was heard outside.
Most of the company rose to obey the summons.
"Good-bye till to-morrow morning, Sergeant! The election will take place early to-morrow."
"A Dios, a Dios, hasta mas ver, Sibila, a Dios!" was loudly shouted, and soon most of the guests had left the tent.
Those who remained behind were scattered among the different tables. Ulrich sat at one alone with Hans Eitelfritz.
The lansquenet had declined Zorrillo's invitation to join him; an old friend from Madrid was present, with whom he wished to talk over happier days. The other willingly assented; for what he had intended to say to his companions was against Ulrich and his views. The longer the sergeant-major detained him the better. Everything that recalled Master Moor was dear to Ulrich, and as soon as he was alone with Hans Eitelfritz, he again greeted him in a strange mixture of Spanish and German. He had forgotten his home, but still retained a partial recollection of his native language. Every one supposed him to be a Spaniard, and he himself felt as if he were one.
Hans Eitelfritz had much to tell Ulrich; he had often met Moor in Antwerp, and been kindly received in his studio.
What pleasure it afforded Navarrete to hear from the noble artist, how he enjoyed being able to speak German again after so many years, difficult as it was. It seemed as if a crust melted away from his heart, and none of those present had ever seen him so gay, so full of youthful vivacity. Only one person knew that he could laugh and play noisily, and this one was the beautiful woman at the long table, who knew not whether she should die of joy, or sink into the earth with shame.
She had taken the year old infant from the basket. It was a pale, puny little creature, whose father had fallen in battle, and whose mother had deserted it.
The handsome standard-bearer yonder was called Ulrich! He must be her son! Alas, and she could only cast stolen glances at him, listen by stealth to the German words that fell from the beloved lips. Nothing escaped her notice, yet while looking and listening, her thoughts wandered to a far distant country, long vanished days; beside the bearded giant she saw a beautiful, curly-haired child; besides the man's deep voice she heard clear, sweet childish tones, that called her "mother" and rang out in joyous, silvery laughter.
The pale child in her arms often raised its little hand to its cheek, which was wet with the tears of the woman; who tended it. How hard, how unspeakably, terribly hard it was for this woman, with the youthful face and white locks, to remain quiet! How she longed to start up and call joyously to the child, the man, her lover's enemy, but her own, own Ulrich:
"Look at me, look at me! I am your mother. You are mine! Come, come to my heart! I will never leave you more!"
Ulrich now laughed heartily again, not suspecting what was passing in a mother's heart, close beside him; he had no eyes for her, and only listened to the jests of the German lansquenet, with whom he drained beaker after beaker.
The strange child served as a shield to protect the camp-sibyl from her son's eyes, and also to conceal from him that she was watching, listening, weeping. Eitelfritz talked most and made one joke after another; but she did not laugh, and only wished he would stop and let Ulrich speak, that she might be permitted to hear his voice again.
"Give the dog Lelaps a little corner of the settle," cried Hans Eitelfritz. "He'll get his feet wet on the damp floor--for the rain is trickling in--and take cold. This choice fellow isn't like ordinary dogs."
"Do you call the tiger Lelaps?" asked Ulrich. "An odd name."
"I got him from a student at Tubingen, dainty Junker Fritz of Hallberg, in exchange for an elephant's tusk I obtained in the Levant, and he owes his name to the merry rogue. I tell you, he's wiser than many learned men; he ought to be called Doctor Lelaps."
"He's a pretty creature."
"Pretty! More, far more! For instance, at Naples we had the famous Mortadella sausage for breakfast, and being engaged in eager conversation, I forgot him. What did my Lelaps do? He slipped quietly into the garden, returned with a bunch of forget-me-nots in his mouth, and offered it to me, as a gallant presents a bouquet to his fair one. That meant: dogs liked sausage too, and it was not seemly to forget him. What do you say to that show of sense?"
"I think your imagination more remarkable than the dog's sagacity."
"You believed in my good fortune in the old days, do you now doubt this true story?"
"To be sure, that is rather preposterous, for whoever loyally and faithfully trusts good-fortune--your good fortune--is ill-advised. Have you composed any new songs?"
"'That is all over now!" sighed the trooper. "See this scar! Since an infidel dog cleft my skull before Tunis, I can write no more verses; yet it hasn't grown quiet in my upper story on that account. I lie now, instead of composing. My boon companions enjoy the nonsensical trash, when I pour it forth at the tavern."
"And the broken skull: is that a forget-me-not story too, or was it. . . ."
"Look here! It's the actual truth. It was a bad blow, but there's a grain of good in everything evil. For instance, we were in the African desert just dying of thirst, for that belongs to the desert as much as the dot does to the letter i. Lelaps yonder was with me, and scented a spring. Then it was necessary to dig, but I had neither spade nor hatchet, so I took out the loose part of the skull, it was a hard piece of bone, and dug with it till the water gushed out of the sand, then I drank out of my brain-pan as if it were a goblet."
"Man, man!" exclaimed Ulrich, striking his clenched fist on the table.
"Do you suppose a dog can't scent a spring?" asked Eitelfritz, with comical wrath. "Lelaps here was born in Africa, the native land of tigers, and his mother. . . ."
"I thought you got him in Tubingen?"
"I said just now that I tell lies. I imposed upon you, when I made you think Lelaps came from Swabia; he was really born in the desert, where the tigers live.
"No offence, Herr Ulrich! We'll keep our jests for another evening. As soon as I'm knocked down, I stop my nonsense. Now tell me, where shall I find Navarrete, the standard-bearer, the hero of Lepanto and Schouwen? He must be a bold fellow; they say Zorrillo and he. . . ."
The lansquenet had spoken loudly; the quartermaster, who caught the name Navarrete, turned, and his eyes met Ulrich's.
He must be on his guard against this man.
The instant Zorrillo recognized him as a German, he would hold a powerful weapon. The Spaniards would give the command only to a Spaniard.
This thought now occurred to him for the first time. It had needed the meeting with Hans Eitelfritz, to remind him that he belonged to a different nation from his comrades. Here was a danger to be encountered, so with the rapid decision, acquired in the school of war, he laid his hand heavily on his countryman's, saying in a low, impressive tone: "You are my friend, Hans Eitelfritz, and have no wish to injure me."
"Zounds, no! What's up?"
"Well then, keep to yourself where and how we first met each other. Don't interrupt me. I'll tell you later in my tent, where you must take up your quarters, how I gained my name, and what I have experienced in life. Don't show your surprise, and keep calm. I, Ulrich, the boy from the Black Forest, am the man you seek, I am Navarrete."
"You?" asked the lansquenet, opening his eyes in amazement. "Nonsense! You're paying me off for the yarns I told you just now."
No, Hans Eitelfritz, no! I am not jesting, I mean it. I am Navarrete! Nay more! If you keep your mouth shut, and the devil doesn't put his finger into the pie, I think, spite of all the Zorrillos, I shall be Eletto to-morrow.
"You know the Spanish temper! The German Ulrich will be a very different person to them from the Castilian Navarrete. It is in your power to spoil my chance."
The other interrupted him by a peal of loud, joyous laughter, then shouted to the dog: "Up, Lelaps! My respects to Caballero Navarrete."
The Spaniards frowned, for they thought the German was drunk, but Hans Eitelfritz needed more liquor than that to upset his sobriety.
Flashing a mischievous glance at Ulrich from his bright eyes, he whispered: "If necessary, I too can be silent. You man without a country! You soldier of fortune! A Swabian the commander of these stiffnecked braggarts. Now see how I'll help you."
"What do you mean to do?" asked Ulrich; but Hans Eitelfritz had already raised the huge goblet, banging it down again so violently that the table shook. Then he struck the top with his clenched fist, and when the Spaniards fixed their eyes on him, shouted in their language: "Yes, indeed, it was delightful in those days, Caballero Navarrete. Your uncle, the noble Conde in what's its name, that place in Castile, you know, and the Condesa and Condesilla. Splendid people! Do you remember the coal-black horses with snow-white tails in your father's stable, and the old servant Enrique. There wasn't a longer nose than his in all Castile! Once, when I was in Burgos, I saw a queer, longish shadow coming round a street corner, and two minutes after, first a nose and then old Enrique appeared."
"Yes, yes," replied Ulrich, guessing the lansquenet's purpose. "But it has grown late while we've been gossiping; let us go!"
The woman at the table had not heard the whispers exchanged between the two men; but she guessed the object of the lansquenet's loud words. As the latter slowly rose, she laid the child in the basket, drew a long breath, pressed her fingers tightly upon her eyes for a short time, and then went directly up to her son.
Florette did not know herself, whether she owed the name of sibyl to her skill in telling fortunes by cards, or to her wise counsel. Twelve years before, while still sharing the tent of the Walloon captain Grandgagnage, it had been given her, she could not say how or by whom. The fortune-telling she had learned from a sea-captain's widow, with whom she had lodged a long time.
When her voice grew sharp and weaker, in order to retain consideration and make herself important, she devoted herself to predicting the future; her versatile mind, her ambition, and the knowledge of human-nature gained in the camp and during her wanderings from land to land, aided her to acquire remarkable skill in this strange pursuit.
Officers of the highest rank had sat opposite to her cards, listening to her oracular sayings, and Zorrillo, the man who had now been her lover for ten years, owed it to her influence, that he did not lose his position as quartermaster after the last mutiny.
Hans Eitelfritz had heard of her skill and when, as he was leaving, she approached and offered to question the cards for him, he would not allow Ulrich to prevent him from casting a glance into the future.
On the whole, what was predicted to him sounded favorable, but the prophetess did not keep entirely to the point, for in turning the cards she found much to say to Ulrich, and once, pointing to the red and green knaves, remarked thoughtfully: "That is you, Navarrete; that is this gentleman. You must have met each other on some Christmas day, and not here, but in Germany; if I see rightly, in Swabia."
She had just overheard all this.
But a shudder ran through Ulrich's frame when he heard it, and this woman, whose questioning glance had always disturbed him, now inspired him with a mysterious dread, which he could not control. He rose to withdraw; but she detained him, saying: "Now it is your turn, Captain."
"Some other time," replied Ulrich, repellently. Good fortune always comes in good time, and to know ill-luck in advance, is a misfortune I should think."
"I can read the past, too."
Ulrich started. He must learn what his rival's companion knew of his former life, so he answered quickly, "Well, for aught I care, begin."
"Gladly, gladly, but when I look into the past, I must be alone with the questioner. Be kind enough to give Zorrillo your company for quarter of an hour, Sergeant."
"Don't believe everything she tells you, and don't look too deep into her eyes. Come, Lelaps, my son!" cried the lansquenet, and did as he was requested.
The woman dealt the cards silently, with trembling hands, but Ulrich thought: "Now she will try to sound me, and a thousand to one will do everything in her power to disgust me with desiring the Eletto's baton. That's the way blockheads are caught. We will keep to the past."
His companion met this resolution halfway; for before she had dealt the last two rows, she rested her chin on the cards in her hands and, trying to meet his glance, asked:
"How shall we begin? Do you still remember your childhood?"
"I have not seen him for a long time. Don't the cards tell you, that he is dead?"
"Dead, dead:--of course he's dead. You had a mother too?"
"Yes, yes," he answered impatiently; for he was unwilling to talk with this woman about his mother.
She shrank back a little, and said sadly: "That sounds very harsh. Do you no longer like to think of your mother?"
"What is that to you?"
"I must know."
"No, what concerns my mother is . . . I will--is too good for juggling."
"Oh," she said, looking at him with a glance from which he shrank. Then she silently laid down the last cards, and asked: "Do you want to hear anything about a sweetheart?"
"I have none. But how you look at me! Have you grown tired of Zorrillo? I am ill-suited for a gallant."
She shuddered slightly. Her bright face had again grown old, so old and weary that he pitied her. But she soon regained her composure, and continued:
"What are you saying? Ask the questions yourself now, if you please."
"Where is my native place?"
"A wooded, mountainous region in Germany."
"Ah, ha! and what do you know of my father?"
"You look like him, there is an astonishing resemblance in the forehead and eyes; his voice, too, was exactly like yours."
"A chip of the old block."
"Well, well. I see Adam before me. . . ."
"Adam?" asked Ulrich, and the blood left his cheeks.
"Yes, his name was Adam," she continued more boldly, with increasing vivacity: "there he stands. He wears a smith's apron, a small leather cap rests on his fair hair. Auriculas and balsams stand in the bow-window. A roan horse is being shod in the market-place below."
The soldier's head swam, the happiest period of his childhood, which he had not recalled for a long time, again rose before his memory; he saw his father stand before him, and the woman, the sibyl yonder, had the eyes and mouth, not of his mother, but of the Madonna he had destroyed with his maul-stick. Scarcely able to control himself, he grasped her hand, pressing it violently, and asked in German:
"What is my name? And what did my mother call me?"
She lowered her eyes as if in shame, and whispered softly in German: "Ulrich, Ulrich, my darling, my little boy, my lamb, Ulrich--my child! Condemn me, desert me, curse me, but call me once more 'my mother.'"
"My mother," he said gently, covering his face with his hands--but she started up, hurried back to the pale baby in the cradle, and pressing her face upon the little one's breast, moaned and wept bitterly.
Meantime, Zorrillo had not averted his eyes from Navarrete and his companion. What could have passed between the two, what ailed the man?
Rising slowly, he approached the basket before which the sibyl was kneeling, and asked anxiously: "What was it, Flora?"
She pressed her face closer to the weeping child, that he might not see her tears, and answered quickly "I predicted things, things . . . go, I will tell you about it later."
He was satisfied with this answer, but she was now obliged to join the Spaniards, and Ulrich took leave of her with a silent salutation.