A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
The Spanish nature is contagious, thought Hans Eitelfritz, tossing on his couch in Ulrich's tent. What a queer fellow the gay young lad has become! Sighs are cheap with him, and every word costs a ducat. He is worthy all honor as a soldier. If they make him Eletto, it will be worth while to join the free army.
Ulrich had briefly told the lansquenet, how he had obtained the name of Navarrete and how he had come from Madrid and Lepanto to the Netherlands. Then he went to rest, but he could not sleep.
He had found his mother again. He now possessed the best gift Ruth had asked him to beseech of the "word." The soldier's sweetheart, the faithless wife, the companion of his rival, whom only yesterday he had avoided, the fortune-teller, the camp-sibyl, was the woman who had given him birth. He, who thought he had preserved his honor stainless, whose hand grasped the sword if another looked askance at him, was the child of one, at whom every respectable woman had the right to point her finger. All these thoughts darted through his brain; but strangely enough, they melted like morning mists when the sun rises, before the feeling of joy that he had his mother again.
Her image did not rise before his memory in Zorrillo's tent, but framed by balsams and wall-flowers. His vivid imagination made her twenty years younger, and how beautiful she still was, how winningly she could glance and smile. Every appreciative word, all the praises of the sibyl's beauty, good sense and kindness, which he had heard in the camp, came back freshly to his mind, and he would fain have started up to throw himself on her bosom, call her his mother, hear her give him all the sweet, pet names, which sounded so tender from her lips, and feel the caress of her soft hands. How rich the solitary man felt, how surpassingly rich! He had been entirely alone, deserted even by his mother! Now he was so no longer, and pleasant dreams blended with his ambitious plans, like golden threads in dark cloth.
When power was once his, he would build her a beautiful, cosy nest with his share of the booty. She must leave Zorrillo, leave him to-morrow. The little nest should belong to her and him alone, entirely alone, and when his soul longed for peace, love, and quiet, he would rest there with her, recall with her the days of his childhood, cherish and care for her, make her forget all her sins and sufferings, and enjoy to the full the happiness of having her again, calling a loving mother's heart his own.
At every breath he drew he felt freer and gayer. Suddenly there was a rustling at the tent-door. He seized his two-handed sword, but did not raise it, for a beloved voice he recognized, called softly: "Ulrich, Ulrich, it is I!"
He started up, hastily threw on his doublet, rushed towards her, clasped her in his arms, and let her stroke his curls, kiss his cheeks and eyes, as in the old happy days. Then he drew her into the tent, whispering "Softly, softly, the snorer yonder is the German."
She followed him, leaned against him, and raised his hand to her lips; he felt them grow wet with tears. They had not yet said anything to each other, except how happy, how glad, how thankful they were to have each other again; then a sentinel passed, and she started up, exclaiming anxiously: "So late, so late; Zorrillo will be waiting!"
"Zorrillo!" cried Ulrich scornfully, "you have been a long time with him. If they give me the power. . . ."
"They will choose you, child, they shall choose you," she hastily interrupted. "Oh, God! oh, God! perhaps this will bring you misfortune instead of blessing; but you desire it! Count Mannsfeld is coming tomorrow; Zorrillo knows it. He will bring a pardon for all; promotions too, but no money yet."
"Oh, ho!" cried Ulrich, "that may decide the matter."
"Perhaps so, you deserve to command them. You were born for some special purpose, and your card always turns up so strangely. Eletto! It sounds proud and grand, but many have been ruined by it. . . ."
"Because power was too hard for them."
"It must serve you. You are strong. A child of good fortune. Folly! I will not fear. You have probably fared well in life. Ah, my lamb, I have done little for you, but one thing I did unceasingly: I prayed for you, poor boy, morning and night; have you noticed, have you felt it?"
He drew her to his heart again, but she released herself from his embrace, saying: "To-morrow, Ulrich; Zorrillo. . . ."
"Zorrillo, always Zorrillo," he repeated, his blood boiling angrily. "You are mine and, if you love me, you will leave him."
"I cannot, Ulrich, it will not do. He is kind, you will yet be friends."
"We, we? On the day of judgment, nay, not even then! Are you more firmly bound to yon smooth fellow, than to my honest father? There stands something in the darkness, it is good steel, and if needful will cut the tie asunder."
"Ulrich, Ulrich!" wailed Flora, raising her hands beseechingly. "Not that, not that; it must not be. He is kind and sensible, and loves me fondly. Oh, Heaven! Oh, Ulrich! The mother has glided to her son at night, as if she were following forbidden paths. Oh, this is indeed a punishment. I know how heavily I have sinned, I deserve whatever may befall me; but you, you must not make me more wretched, than I already am. Your father, he . . . if he were still alive, for your sake I would crawl to him on my knees, and say: 'Here I am, forgive me'--but he is dead. Pasquale, Zorrillo lives; do not think me a vain, deluded woman; Zorrillo cannot bear to have me leave him. . . ."
"And my father? He bore it. But do you know how? Shall I describe his life to you?"
"No, no! Oh, child, how you torture me! I know how I sinned against your father, the thought does not cease to torture me, for he truly loved me, and I loved him, too, loved him tenderly. But I cannot keep quiet a long time, and cast down my eyes, like the women there, it is not in my blood; and Adam shut me up in a cage and for many years let me see nothing except himself, and the cold, stupid city in the ravine by the forest. One day a fierce longing came upon me, I could not help going forth--forth into the wide world, no matter with whom or whither. The soldier only needed to hint and I fell.--I did not stay with him long, he was a windy braggart; but I was faithful to Captain Grandgagnage and accompanied the wild fellow with the Walloons through every land, until he was shot. Then ten years ago, I joined Zorrillo; he is my friend, he shares my feelings, I am necessary to his existence. Do not laugh, Ulrich; I well know that youth lies behind me, that I am old, yet Pasquale loves me; since I have had him, I have been more content and, Holy Virgin! now--I love him in return. Oh, Heaven! Oh, Heaven! Why is it so? This heart, this miserable heart, still throbs as fast as it did twenty years ago."
"You will not leave him?"
"No, no, I love him, and I know why. Every one calls him a brave man, yet they only half know him; no one knows him wholly as I do. No one else is so good, so generous. You must let me speak! Do you suppose I ever forgot you? Never, never! But you have always been to me the dear little boy; I never thought of you as a man, and since I could not have you and longed so greatly for you, for a child, I opened my heart to the soldiers' orphans, the little creature you saw in the tent is one of these poor things, I have often had two or three such babies at the same time. It would have been an abomination to Grandgagnage, but Zorrillo rejoices in my love for children, and I have given what the Walloon bequeathed me and his own booty to the soldiers' widows and the little naked babies in the camp. He was satisfied, for whatever I do pleases him. I will not, cannot leave him!"
She paused, hiding her face in her hands, but Ulrich paced to and fro, violently agitated. At last he said firmly: "Yet you must part from him. He or I! I will have nothing to do with the lover of my father's wife. I am Adam's son, and will be constant to him. Ah, mother, I have been deprived of you so long. You can tend strangers' orphaned children, yet you make your own son an orphan. Will you do this? No, a thousand times, no, you cannot! Do not weep so, you must not weep! Hear me, hear me! For my sake, leave this Spaniard! You will not repent it. I have just been dreaming of the nest I will build for you. There I will cherish and care for you, and you shall keep as many orphan children as you choose. Leave him, mother, you must leave him for the sake of your child, your Ulrich!"
"Oh, God! oh, God!" she sobbed. "I will try, yes, I will try. . . . My child, my dear child!"
Ulrich clasped her closely in his arms, kissed her hair, and said, softly: "I know, I know, you need love, and you shall find it with me."
"With you!" she repeated, sobbing. Then releasing herself from his embrace she hurried to the feverish woman, at whose summons she had left her tent.
As morning dawned, she returned home and found Zorrillo still awake. He enquired about her patient, and told her he had given the child something to drink while she was away.
Flora could not help weeping bitterly again, and Zorrillo, noticing it, exclaimed chidingly: "Each has his own griefs to bear, it is not wise to take strangers' troubles so deeply to heart."
"Strangers' troubles," she repeated, mournfully, and went to rest.
White-haired woman, why have you remained so young? All the cares and sorrows of youth and age are torturing you at the same time! One love is fighting a mortal battle with another in your breast. Which will conquer?
She knows, she knew it ere she entered the tent. The mother fled from the child, but she cannot abandon her new-found son. Oh, maternal love, thou dost hover in radiant bliss far above the clouds, and amid choirs of angels! Oh, maternal heart, thou dost bleed pierced with swords, more full of sorrows than any other!
Poor, poor Florette! On this July morning she was enduring superhuman tortures, all the sins she had committed arrayed themselves against her, shrieking into her ear that she was a lost woman, and there could be no pardon for her either in this world or the next. Yet!--the clouds drift by, birds of passage migrate, the musician wanders singing from land to land, finds love, and remorselessly strips off light fetters to seek others. His child imitates the father, who had followed the example of his, the same thing occurring back to their remotest ancestors! But eternal justice? Will it measure the fluttering leaf by the same standard as the firmly-rooted plant?
When Zorrillo saw Flora by the daylight, he said, kindly: "You have been weeping?"
"Yes," she answered, fixing her eyes on the ground. He thought she was anxious, as on a former occasion, lest his election to the office of Eletto might prove his ruin, so he drew her towards him, exclaiming "Have no fear, Bonita. If they choose me, and Mannsfeld comes, as he promised, the play will end this very day. I hope, even at the twelfth hour, they will listen to reason, and allow themselves to be guided into the right course. If they make the young madcap Eletto--his head will be at stake, not mine. Are you ill? How you look, child! Surely, surely you must be suffering; you shall not go out at night to nurse sick people again!"
The words came from an anxious heart, and sounded warm and gentle. They penetrated Florette's inmost soul, and overwhelmed with passionate emotion she clasped his hands, kissed them, and exclaimed, softly "Thanks, thanks, Pasquale, for your love, for all. I will never, never forget it, whatever happens! Go, go; the drum is beating again."
Zorrillo fancied she was uttering mere feverish ravings, and begged her to calm herself; then he left the tent, and went to the place where the election was to be held.
As soon as Flora was alone, she threw herself on her knees before the Madonna's picture, but knew not whether it would be right to pray that her son might obtain an office, which had proved the ruin of so many; and when she besought the Virgin to give her strength to leave her lover, it seemed to her like treason to Pasquale.
Her thoughts grew confused, and she could not pray. Her mobile mind wandered swiftly from lofty to petty things; she seized the cards to see whether fate would unite her to Zorrillo or to Ulrich, and the red ten, which represented herself, lay close beside the green knave, Pasquale. She angrily threw them down, determined, in spite of the oracle, to follow her son.
Meantime in the camp drums beat, fifes screamed shrilly, trumpets blared, and the shouts and voices of the assembled soldiers sounded like the distant roar of the surf.
A fresh burst of military music rang out, and now Florette started to her feet and listened. It seemed as if she heard Ulrich's voice, and the rapid throbbing of her heart almost stopped her breath. She must go out, she must see and hear what was passing. Hastily pushing the white hair back from her brow, she threw a veil over it, and hurried through the camp to the spot where the election was taking place.
The soldiers all knew her and made way for her. The leaders of the mutineers were standing on the wall of earth between the field-pieces, and amid the foremost rank, nay, in front of them all, her son was addressing the crowd.
The choice wavered between him and Zorrillo. Ulrich had already been speaking a long time. His cheeks were glowing and he looked so handsome, so noble, in his golden helmet, from beneath which floated his thick, fair locks, that her heart swelled with joy, and as the night grows brighter when the black clouds are torn asunder and the moon victoriously appears, grief and pain were suddenly irradiated by maternal love and pride.
Now he drew his tall figure up still higher, exclaiming: "Others are readier and bolder with the tongue than I, but I can speak with the sword as well as any one."
Then raising the heavy two-handed sword, which others laboriously managed with both hands, he swung it around his head, using only his right hand, in swift circles, until it fairly whistled through the air.
The soldiers shouted exultingly as they beheld the feat, and when he had lowered the weapon and silence was restored, he continued, defiantly, while his breath came quick and short: "And where do the talkers, the parleyers seek to lead us? To cringe like dogs, who lick their masters' feet, before the men who cheat us. Count Mannsfeld will come to-day; I know it, and I have also learned that he will bring everything except what is our due, what we need, what we intend to demand, what we require for our bare feet, our ragged bodies; money, money he has not to offer! This is so, I swear it; if not, stand forth, you parleyers, and give me the lie! Have you inclination or courage to give the lie to Navarrete?--You are silent!--But we will speak! We will not suffer ourselves to be mocked and put off! What we demand is fair pay for good work. Whoever has patience, can wait. Mine is exhausted.
"We are His Majesty's obedient servants and wish to remain so. As soon as he keeps his bargain, he can rely upon us; but when he breaks it, we are bound to no one but ourselves, and Santiago! we are not the weaker party. We need money, and if His Majesty lacks ducats, a city where we can find what we want. Money or a city, a city or money! The demand is just, and if you elect me, I will stand by it, and not shrink if it rouses murmuring behind me or against me. Whoever has a brave heart under his armor, let him follow me; whoever wishes to creep after Zorrillo, can do so. Elect me, friends, and I will get you more than we need, with honor and fame to boot. Saint Jacob and the Madonna will aid us. Long live the king!"
"Long live the king! Long live Navarrete! Navarrete! Hurrah for Navarrete!" echoed loudly, impetuously from a thousand bearded lips.
Zorrillo had no opportunity to speak again. The election was made.
Ulrich was chosen Eletto.
As if on wings, he went from man to man, shaking hands with his comrades. Power, power, the highest prize on earth, was attained, was his! The whole throng, soldiers, tyros, women, girls and children, crowded around him, shouting his name; whoever wore a hat or cap, tossed it in the air, whoever had a kerchief, waved it. Drums beat, trumpets sounded, and the gunner ordered all the field-pieces to be discharged, for the choice pleased him.
Ulrich stood, as if intoxicated, amid the shouts, shrieks of joy, military music, and thunder of the cannon. He raised his helmet, waved salutations to the crowd, and strove to speak, but the uproar drowned his words.
After the election Florette slipped quietly away; first to the empty tent then to the sick woman who needed her care.
The Eletto had no time to think of his mother; for scarcely had he given a solemn oath of loyalty to his comrades and received theirs, when Count Mannsfeld appeared.
The general was received with every honor. He knew Navarrete, and the latter entered into negotiations with the manly dignity natural to him; but the count really had nothing but promises to offer, and the insurgents would not give up their demand: "Money or a city!"
The nobleman reminded them of their oath of allegiance, made lavish use of kind words, threats and warnings, but the Eletto remained firm. Mannsfeld perceived that he had come in vain; the only concession he could obtain from Navarrete was, that some prudent man among the leaders should accompany him to Brussels, to explain the condition of the regiments to the council of state there, and receive fresh proposals. Then the count suggested that Zorrillo should be entrusted with the mission, and the Eletto ordered the quartermaster to prepare for departure at once. An hour after the general left the camp with Flora's lover in his train.