A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
A considerable, but hastily-collected army of patriots had been utterly routed at Tisnacq by a small force of disciplined Spaniards.
Ulrich had assisted his countrymen to gain the speedy victory, and had been greeted by his old colonel, the brave Romero, the bold cavalry-commander, Mendoza, and other distinguished officers as one of themselves. Since these aristocrats had become mutineers, the Eletto was a brother, and they did not disdain to secure his cooperation in the attack they were planning upon Antwerp.
He had shown great courage under fire, and wherever he appeared, his countrymen held out their hands to him, vowing obedience and loyalty unto death.
Ulrich felt as if he were walking on air, mere existence was a joy to him. No prince could revel in the blissful consciousness of increasing power, more fully than he. The evening after the decision he had attended a splendid banquet with Romero, Vargas, Mendoza, Tassis, and the next morning the prisoners, who had fallen into the hands of his men, were brought before him.
He had left the examination of the students, citizens' sons, and peasants to his lieutenant; but there were also three noblemen, from whom large ransoms could be obtained. The two older ones had granted what he asked and been led away; the third, a tall man in knightly armor, was left last.
Ulrich had personally encountered the latter. The prisoner, mounted upon a tall steed, had pressed him very closely; nay, the Eletto's victory was not decided, until a musket-shot had stretched the other's horse on the ground.
The knight now carried his arm in a sling. In the centre of his coat of mail and on the shoulder-pieces of his armor, the ensigns armorial of a noble family were embossed.
"You were dragged out from under your horse," said the Eletto to the knight. "You wield an excellent blade."
He had spoken in Spanish, but the other shrugged his shoulders, and answered in the German language "I don't understand Spanish."
"Are you a German?" Ulrich now asked in his native tongue. "How do you happen to be among the Netherland rebels?"
The nobleman looked at the Eletto in surprise. But the latter, giving him no time for reflection, continued "I understand German; your answer?"
"I had business in Antwerp?"
"That is my affair."
"Very well. Then we will drop courtesy and adopt a different tone."
"Nay, I am the vanquished party, and will answer you."
"I had stuffs to buy."
"Are you a merchant?"
The knight shook his head and answered, smiling: "We have rebuilt our castle since the fire."
"And now you need hangings and artistic stuff. Did you expect to capture them from us?"
"Then what brought you among our enemies?"
"Baron Floyon belongs to my mother's family. He marched against you, and as I approved his cause. . . ."
"And pillage pleases you, you felt disposed to break a lance."
"And you have done your cause no harm. Where do you live?"
"Surely you know: in Germany."
"Germany is a very large country."
"In the Black Forest in Swabia."
"And your name?"
The prisoner made no reply; but Ulrich fixed his eyes upon the coat of arms on the knight's armor, looked at him more steadily, and a strange smile hovered around his lips as he approached him, saying in an altered tone: "You think the Navarrete will demand from Count von Frohlinger a ransom as large as his fields and forests?"
"You know me?"
"Perhaps so, Count Lips."
"Ah, ha, you went from the monastery to the field."
"From the monastery? How do you know that, sir?"
"We are old acquaintances, Count Lips. Look me in the eyes."
The other gazed keenly at the Eletto, shook his head, and said: "You have not seemed a total stranger to me from the first; but I never was in Spain."
"But I have been in Swabia, and at that time you did me a kindness. Would your ransom be large enough to cover the cost of a broken church window?"
The count opened his eyes in amazement and a bright smile flashed over his face as, clapping his hands, he exclaimed with sincere delight:
"You, you--you are Ulrich! I'll be damned, if I'm mistaken! But who the devil would discover a child of the Black Forest in the Spanish Eletto?"
"That I am one, must remain a secret between us for the present," exclaimed Ulrich, extending his hand to the count. "Keep silence, and you will be free--the window will cover the ransom!"
"Holy Virgin! If all the windows in the monastery were as dear, the monks might grow fat!" cried the count. "A Swabian heart remains half Swabian, even when it beats under a Spanish doublet. Its luck, Turk's luck, that I followed Floyon;--and your old father, Adam? And Ruth--what a pleasure!"
"You ought to know . . . my father is dead, died long, long ago!" said Ulrich, lowering his eyes.
"Dead!" exclaimed the other. "And long ago? I saw him at the anvil three weeks since."
"My father? At the anvil? And Ruth? . . ." stammered Ulrich, gazing at the other with a pallid, questioning face.
"They are alive, certainly they are alive! I met him again in Antwerp. No one else can make you such armor. The devil is in it, if you hav'nt heard of the Swabian armorer."
"The Swabian--the Swabian--is he my father?"
"Your own father. How long ago is it? Thirteen years, for I was then sixteen. That was the last time I saw him, and yet I recognized him at the first glance. True, I shall never forget the hour, when the dumb woman drew the arrow from the Jew's breast. The scene I witnessed that day in the forest still rises before my eyes, as if it were happening now."
"He lives, they did not kill him!" exclaimed the Eletto, now first beginning to rejoice over the surprising news. "Lips, man--Philipp! I have found my mother again, and now my father too. Wait, wait! I'll speak to the lieutenant, he must take my place, and you and I will ride to Lier; there you will tell me the whole story. Holy Virgin! thanks, a thousand thanks! I shall see my father again, my father!"
It was past midnight, but the schoolmates were still sitting over their wine in a private room in the Lion at Lier. The Eletto had not grown weary of questioning, and Count Philipp willingly answered.
Ulrich now knew what death the doctor had met, and that his father had gone to Antwerp and lived there as an armorer for twelve years. The Jew's dumb wife had died of grief on the journey, but Ruth was living with the old man and kept house for him. Navarrete had often heard the Swabian and his work praised, and wore a corselet from his workshop.
The count could tell him a great deal about Ruth. He acknowledged that he had not sought Adam the Swabian for weapons, but on account of his beautiful daughter. The girl was slender as a fir-tree! And her face! once seen could never be forgotten. So might have looked the beautiful Judith, who slew Holophernes, or Queen Zenobia, or chaste Lucretia of Rome! She was now past twenty and in the bloom of her beauty, but cold as glass; and though she liked him on account of his old friendship for Ulrich and the affair in the forest, he was only permitted to look at, not touch her. She would rejoice when she heard that Ulrich was still alive, and what he had become. And the smith, the smith! Nay, he would not go home now, but back to Antwerp to be Ulrich's messenger! But now he too would like to relate his own experiences.
He did so, but in a rapid, superficial way, for the Eletto constantly reverted to old days and his father. Every person whom they had both known was enquired for.
Old Count Frohlinger was still alive, but suffered a great deal from gout and the capricious young wife he had married in his old age. Hangemarx had grown melancholy and, after all, ended his life by the rope, though by his own hand. Dark-skinned Xaver had entered the priesthood and was living in Rome in high esteem, as a member of a Spanish order. The abbot still presided over the monastery and had a great deal of time for his studies; for the school had been broken up and, as part of the property of the monastery had been confiscated, the number of monks had diminished. The magistrate had been falsely accused of embezzling minors' money, remained in prison for a year and, after his liberation, died of a liver complaint.
Morning was dawning when the friends separated. Count Philipp undertook to tell Ruth that Ulrich had found his mother again. She was to persuade the smith to forgive his wife, with whose praises her son's lips were overflowing.
At his departure Philipp tried to induce the Eletto to change his course betimes, for he was following a dangerous path; but Ulrich laughed in his face, exclaiming: "You know I have found the right word, and shall use it to the end. You were born to power in a small way; I have won mine myself, and shall not rest until I am permitted to exercise it on a great scale, nay, the grandest. If aught on earth affords a taste of heavenly joy, it is power!"
In the camp the Eletto found the troops from Aalst prepared for departure, and as he rode along the road saw in imagination, sometimes his parents, his parents in a new and happy union, sometimes Ruth in the full splendor of her majestic beauty. He remembered how proudly he had watched his father and mother, when they went to church together on Sunday, how he had carried Ruth in his arms on their flight; and now he was to see and experience all this again.
He gave his men only a short rest, for he longed to reach his mother. It was a glorious return home, to bring such tidings! How beautiful and charming he found life; how greatly he praised his destiny!
The sun was setting behind pleasant Aalst as he approached, and the sky looked as if it was strewn with roses.
"Beautiful, beautiful!" he murmured, pointing out to his lieutenant the brilliant hues in the western horizon.
A messenger hastened on in advance, the thunder of artillery and fanfare of music greeted the victors, as they marched through the gate. Ulrich sprang from his horse in front of the guildhall and was received by the captain, who had commanded during his absence.
The Eletto hastily described the course of the brilliant, victorious march, and then asked what had happened.
The captain lowered his eyes in embarrassment, saying, in a low tone: "Nothing of great importance; but day before yesterday a wicked deed was committed, which will vex you. The woman you love, the camp sibyl. . . ."
"Who? What? What do you mean?"
"She went to Zorrillo, and he--you must not be startled--he stabbed her."
Ulrich staggered back, repeating, in a hollow tone "Stabbed!" Then seizing the other by the shoulder, he shrieked: "Stabbed! That means murdered-killed!"
"He thrust his dagger into her heart, she must have died as quickly as if struck by lightning. Then Zorrillo went away, God knows where. Who could suspect, that the quiet man. . . ."
"You let him escape, helped the murderer get off, you dogs!" raved the wretched man. "We will speak of this again. Where is she, where is her body?"
The captain shrugged his shoulders, saying, in a soothing tone: "Calm yourself, Navarrete! We too grieve for the sibyl; many in the camp will miss her. As for Zorrillo, he had the password, and could go through the gate at any hour. The body is still lying in his quarters."
"Indeed!" faltered the Eletto. Then calming himself, he said, mournfully: "I wish to see her."
The captain walked silently by his side and opened the murderer's dwelling.
There, on a bed of pine-shavings, in a rude coffin made of rough planks, lay the woman who had given him birth, deserted him, and yet who so tenderly loved him. A poor soldier's wife, to whom she had been kind, was watching beside the corpse, at whose head a singly brand burned with a smoky, yellow light. The little white dog had found its way to her, and was snuffing the floor, still red with its mistress's blood.
Ulrich snatched the brand from the bracket, and threw the light on the dead woman's face. His tear-dimmed eyes sought his mother's features, but only rested on them a moment--then he shuddered, turned away, and giving the torch to his companion, said, softly: "Cover her head."
The soldier's wife spread her coarse apron over the face, which-had smiled so sweetly: but Ulrich threw himself on his knees beside the coffin, buried his face, and remained in this attitude for many minutes.
At last he slowly rose, rubbed his eyes as if waking from some confused dream, drew himself up proudly, and scanned the place with searching eyes.
He was the Eletto, and thus men honored the woman who was dear to him!
His mother lay in a wretched pauper's coffin, a ragged camp-follower watched beside her--no candles burned at her head, no priest prayed for the salvation of her soul!
Grief was raging madly in his breast, now indignation joined this gloomy guest; giving vent to his passionate emotion, Ulrich wildly exclaimed:
"Look here, captain! This corpse, this woman--proclaim it to every one--the sibyl was my mother yes, yes, my own mother! I demand respect for her, the same respect that is shown myself! Must I compel men to render her fitting honor? Here, bring torches. Prepare the catafalque in St. Martin's church, and place it before the altar! Put candles around it, as many as can be found! It is still early! Lieutenant! I am glad you are there! Rouse the cathedral priests and go to the bishop. I command a solemn requiem for my mother! Everything is to be arranged precisely as it was at the funeral of the Duchess of Aerschot! Let trumpets give the signal for assembling. Order the bells to be rung! In an hour all must be ready at St. Martin's cathedral! Bring torches here, I say! Have I the right to command--yes or no? A large oak coffin was standing at the joiner's close by. Bring it here, here; I need a better death-couch for my mother. You poor, dear woman, how you loved flowers, and no one has brought you even one! Captain Ortis, I have issued my commands! Everything must be done, when I return;--Lieutenant, you have your orders!"
He rushed from the death-chamber to the sitting-room in his own house, and hastily tore stalks and blossoms from the plants. The maid-servants watched him timidly, and he harshly ordered them to collect what he had gathered and take them to the house of death.
His orders were obeyed, and when he next appeared at Zorrillo's quarters, the soldiers, who had assembled there in throngs, parted to make way for him.
He beckoned to them, and while he went from one to another, saying: "The sibyl was my mother--Zorrillo has murdered my mother," the coffin was borne into the house.
In the vestibule, he leaned his head against the wall, moaning and sighing, until Florette was laid in her last bed, and a soldier put his hand on his shoulder. Then Ulrich strewed flowers over the corpse, and the joiner came to nail up the coffin. The blows of the hammer actually hurt him, it seemed as if each one fell upon his own heart.
The funeral procession passed through the ranks of soldiers, who filled the street. Several officers came to meet it, and Captain Ortis, approaching close to the Eletto, said: "The bishop refuses the catafalque and the solemn requiem you requested. Your mother died in sin, without the sacrament. He will grant as many masses for the repose of her soul as you desire, but such high honors. . . ."
"He refuses them to us?"
"Not to us, to the sibyl."
"She was my mother, your Eletto's mother. To the cathedral, forward!"
"It is closed, and will remain so to-day, for the bishop. . . ."
"Then burst the doors! We'll show them who has the power here."
"Are you out of your senses? The Holy Church!"
"Forward, I say! Let him who is no cowardly wight, follow me!"
Ulrich drew the commander's baton from his belt and rushed forward, as if he were leading a storming-party; but Ortis cried: "We will not fight against St. Martin!" and a murmur of applause greeted him.
Ulrich checked his pace, and gnashing his teeth, exclaimed: "Will not? Will not?" Then gazing around the circle of comrades, who surrounded him on all sides, he asked: "Has no one courage to help me to my rights? Ortis, de Vego, Diego, will you follow me, yes or no?"
"No, not against the Church!"
"Then I command you," shouted the Eletto, furiously. "Obey, Lieutenant de Vega, forward with your company, and burst the cathedral doors."
But no one obeyed, and Ortis ordered: "Back, every man of you! Saint Martin is my patron saint; let all who value their souls refuse to attack the church and defend it with me."
The blood rushed to Ulrich's brain, and incapable of longer self-control, he threw his baton into the ranks of the mutineers, shrieking: "I hurl it at your feet; whoever picks it up can keep it!"
The soldiers hesitated; but Ortis repeated his "Back!" Other officers gave the same order, and their men obeyed. The street grew empty, and the Eletto's mother was only followed by a few of her son's friends; no priest led the procession. In the cemetery Ulrich threw three handfuls of earth into the open grave, then with drooping head returned home.
How dreary, how desolate the bright, flower-decked room seemed now, for the first time the Eletto felt really deserted. No tears came to relieve his grief, for the insult offered him that day aroused his wrath, and he cherished it as if it were a consolation.
He had thrown power aside with the staff of command. Power! It too was potter's trash, which a stone might shatter, a flower in full bloom, whose leaves drop apart if touched by the finger! It was no noble metal, only yellow mica!
The knocker on the door never stopped rapping. One officer after another came to soothe him, but he would not even admit his lieutenant.
He rejoiced over his hasty deed. Fortune, he thought, cannot be escaped, art cannot be thrown aside; fame may be trampled under foot, yet still pursue us.
Power has this advantage over all three, it can be flung off like a worn-out doublet. Let it fly! Had he owed it the happiness of the last few weeks? No, no! He would have been happy with his mother in a poor, plain house, without the office of Eletto, without flowers, horses or servants. It was to her, not to power, that he was indebted for every blissful hour, and now that she had gone, how desolate was the void in his heart!
Suddenly the recollection of his father and Ruth illumined his misery like a sunbeam. The game of Eletto was now over, he would go to Antwerp the next day.
Why had fate snatched his mother from him just now, why did it deny him the happiness of seeing his parents united? His father--she had sorely wronged him, but for what will not death atone? He must take him some remembrance of her, and went to her room to look through her chest. But it no longer stood in the old place--the owner of the house, a rich matron, who had been compelled to occupy an attic-room, while strangers were quartered in her residence, had taken charge of the pale orphan and the boxes after Florette's death.
The good Netherland dame provided for the adopted child and the property of her enemy, the man whose soldiers had pillaged her brothers and cousins. The death of the woman below had moved her deeply, for the wonderful charm of Florette's manner had won her also.
Towards midnight Ulrich took the lamp and went upstairs. He had long since forgotten to spare others, by denying himself a wish.
The knocking at the door and the passing to and fro in the entry had kept Frau Geel awake. When she heard the Eletto's heavy step, she sprang up from her spinning-wheel in alarm, and the maid-servant, half roused from sleep, threw herself on her knees.
"Frau Geel!" called a voice outside.
She recognized Navarrete's tones, opened the door, and asked what he desired.
"It was his mother," thought the old lady as he threw clothes, linen and many a trifle on the floor. "It was his mother. Perhaps he wants her rosary or prayer book. He is her son! They looked like a happy couple when they were together. A wild soldier, but he isn't a wicked man yet."
While he searched she held the light for him, shaking her head over the disorder among the articles where he rummaged.
Ulrich had now reached the bottom of the chest. Here he found a valuable necklace, booty which Zorrillo had given his companion for use in case of need. This should be Ruth's. Close beside it lay a small package, tied with rose-pink ribbon, containing a tiny infant's shirt, a gay doll, and a slender gold circlet; her wedding-ring! The date showed that it had been given to her by his father, and the shirt and doll were mementos of him, her darling--of himself.
He gazed at them, changing them from one hand to the other, till suddenly his heart overflowed, and without heeding Frau Geel, who was watching him, he wept softly, exclaiming: "Mother, dear mother!"
A light hand touched his shoulder, and a woman's kind voice said: "Poor fellow, poor fellow! Yes, she was a dear little thing, and a mother, a mother--that is enough!"
The Eletto nodded assent with tearful eyes, and when she again gently repeated in a tone of sincere sympathy, her "poor fellow!" it sounded sweeter, than the loudest homage that had ever been offered to his fame and power.