A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
The next morning while Ulrich was packing his luggage, assisted by his servant, the sound of drums and fifes, bursts of military music and loud cheers were heard in the street, and going to the window, he saw the whole body of mutineers drawn up in the best order.
The companies stood in close ranks before his house, impetuous shouts and bursts of music made the windows rattle, and now the officers pressed into his room, holding out their swords, vowing fealty unto death, and entreating him to remain their commander.
He now perceived, that power cannot be thrown aside like a worthless thing. His tortured heart was stirred with deep emotion, and the drooping wings of ambition unfolded with fresh energy. He reproached, raged, but yielded; and when Ortis on his knees, offered him the commander's baton, he accepted it.
Ulrich was again Eletto, but this need not prevent his seeing his father and Ruth once more, so he declared that he would retain his office, but should be obliged to ride to Antwerp that day, secretly inform the officers of the conspiracy against the city, and the necessity of negotiating with the commandant, that their share of the rich prize might not be lost.
What many had suspected and hoped was now to become reality. Their Eletto was no idle man! When Navarrete appeared at noon in front of the troops with his own work, the standard, in his hand, he was received with shouts of joy, and no one murmured, though many recognized in the Madonna's countenance the features of the murdered sibyl.
Two days later Ulrich, full of eager expectation, rode into Antwerp, carrying in his portmanteau the mementos he had taken from his mother's chest, while in imagination he beheld his father's face, the smithy at Richtberg, the green forest, the mountains of his home, the Costas' house, and his little playfellow. Would he really be permitted to lean on his father's broad breast once more?
And Ruth, Ruth! Did she still care for him, had Philipp described her correctly?
He went to the count without delay, and found him at home. Philipp received him cordially, yet with evident timidity and embarrassment. Ulrich too was grave, for he had to inform his companion of his mother's death.
"So that is settled," said the count. "Your father is a gnarled old tree, a real obstinate Swabian. It's not his way to forgive and forget."
"And did he know that my mother was so near to him, that she was in Aalst."
"He will forgive the dead. Surely, surely he will, if I beseech him, when we are united, if I tell him. . . ."
"Poor fellow! You think all this is so easy.--It is long since I have had so hard a task, yet I must speak plainly. He will have nothing to do with you, either."
"Nothing to do with me?" cried Ulrich.
"Is he out of his senses? What sin have I committed, what does he. . . ."
"He knows that you are Navarrete, the Eletto of Herenthals, the conqueror of Aalst, and therefore. . . ."
"Why of course. You see, Ulrich, when a man becomes famous like you, he is known for a long distance, everything he does makes a great hue and cry, and echo repeats it in every alley."
"To my honor before God and man."
"Before God? Perhaps so; certainly before the Spaniards. As for me--I was with the squadron myself, I call you a brave soldier; but--no offence--you have behaved ill in this country. The Netherlanders are human beings too."
"They are rebels, recreant heretics."
"Take care, or you will revile your own father. His faith has been shaken. A preacher, whom he met on his flight here, in some tavern, led him astray by inducing him to read the bible. Many things the Church condemns are sacred to him. He thinks the Netherlanders a free, noble nation. Your King Philip he considers a tyrant, oppressor, and ruthless destroyer. You who have served him and Alba--are in his eyes; but I will not wound you. . . ."
"What are we, I will hear."
"No, no, it would do no good. In short, to Adam the Spanish army is a bloody pest, nothing more."
"There never were braver soldiers."
"Very true; but every defeat, all the blood you have shed, has angered him and this nation, and wrath, which daily receives fresh food and to which men become accustomed, at last turns to hate. All great crimes committed in this war are associated with Alba's name, many smaller ones with yours, and so your father. . . ."
"Then we will teach him a better opinion! I return to him an honest soldier, the commander of thousands of men! To see him once more, only to see him! A son remains a son! I learned that from my mother. We were rivals and enemies, when I met her! And then, then--alas, that is all over! Now I wish to find in my father what I have lost; will you go to the smithy with me?"
"No, Ulrich, no. I have said everything to your father that can be urged in your defence, but he is so devoured with rage. . . ."
"Santiago!" exclaimed the Eletto, bursting into sudden fury, "I need no advocate! If the old man knows what share I have taken in this war, so much the better. I'll fill up the gaps myself. I have been wherever the fight raged hottest! 'Sdeath! that is my pride! I am no longer a boy and have fought my way through life without father or mother. What I am, I have made myself, and can defend with honor, even to the old man. He carries heavy guns, I know; but I am not accustomed to shoot with feather balls!"
"Ulrich, Ulrich! He is an old man, and your father!"
"I will remember that, as soon as he calls me his son."
One of the count's servants showed Ulrich the way to the smith's house.
Adam had entirely given up the business of horseshoeing, for nothing was to be seen in the ground floor of the high, narrow house, except the large door, and a window on each side. Behind the closed one at the right were several pieces of armor, beautifully embossed, and some artistically-wrought iron articles. The left-hand one was partly open, granting entrance to the autumn sunshine. Ulrich dismissed the servant, took the mementos of his mother in his hand, and listened to the hammer-strokes, that echoed from within.
The familiar sound recalled pleasant memories of his childhood and cooled his hot blood. Count Philipp was right. His father was an old man, and entitled to demand respect from his son. He must endure from him what he would tolerate from no one else. Nay, he again felt that it was a great happiness to be near the beloved one, from whom he had so long been parted; whatever separated him from his old father, must surely vanish into nothing, as soon as they looked into each other's eyes.
What a master in his trade, his father still was! No one else would have found it so easy to forge the steel coat of mail with the Medusa head in the centre. He was not working alone here as he did at Richtberg; for Ulrich heard more than one hammer striking iron in the workshop.
Before touching the knocker, he looked into the open window.
A woman's tall figure was standing at the desk. Her back was turned, and he saw only the round outline of the head, the long black braids, the plain dress, bordered with velvet, and the lace in the neck. An elderly man in the costume of a merchant was just holding out his hand in farewell, and he heard him say: "You've bought too cheap again, far too cheap, Jungfer Ruth."
"Just a fair price," she answered quietly. "You will have a good profit, and we can afford to pay it. I shall expect the iron day after to-morrow."
"It will be delivered before noon. Master Adam has a treasure in you, dear Jungfer. If my son were alive, I know where he would seek a wife. Wilhelm Ykens has told me of his troubles; he is a skilful goldsmith. Why do you give the poor fellow no hope? Consider! You are past twenty, and every year it grows harder to say yes to a lover."
"Nothing suits me better, than to stay with father," she answered gaily. "He can't do without me, you know, nor I without him. I have no dislike to Wilhelm, but it seems very easy to live without him. Farewell, Father Keulitz."
Ulrich withdrew from the window, until the merchant had vanished down a side street; then he again glanced into the narrow room. Ruth was now seated at the desk, but instead of looking over the open account book, her eyes were gazing dreamily into vacancy, and the Eletto now saw her beautiful, calm, noble face. He did not disturb her, for it seemed as if he could never weary of comparing her features with the fadeless image his memory had treasured during all the vicissitudes of life.
Never, not even in Italy, had he beheld a nobler countenance. Philipp was right. There was something royal in her bearing. This was the wife of his dreams, the proud woman, with whom the Eletto desired to share power and grandeur. And he had already held her once in his arms! It seemed as if it were only yesterday. His heart throbbed higher and higher. As she now rose and thoughtfully approached the window, he could no longer contain himself, and exclaimed in a low tone: "Ruth, Ruth! Do you know me, girl? It is I--Ulrich!"
She shrank back, putting out her hands with a repellent gesture; but only for a moment. Then, struggling to maintain her composure, she joyously uttered his name, and as he rushed into the room, cried "Ulrich!" "Ulrich!" and no longer able to control her feelings, suffered him to clasp her to his heart.
She had daily expected him with ardent longing, yet secret dread: for he was the fierce Eletto, the commander of the insurgents, the bloody foe of the brave nation she loved. But at sight of his face all, all was forgotten, and she felt nothing but the bliss of being reunited to him whom she had never, never forgotten, the joy of seeing, feeling that he loved her.
His heart too was overflowing with passionate delight. Faltering tender words, he drew her head to his breast, then raised it to press his mouth to her pure lips. But her intoxication of joy passed away--and before he could prevent it, she had escaped from his arms, saying sternly: "Not that, not that. . . . Many a crime lies between us and you."
"No, no!" he eagerly exclaimed. "Are you not near me? Your heart and mine have belonged to each other since that day in the snow. If my father is angry because I serve other masters than his, you, yes you, must reconcile us again. I could stay in Aalst no longer."
"With the mutineers?" she asked sadly. "Ulrich, Ulrich, that you should return to us thus!"
He again seized her hand, and when she tried to withdraw it, only smiled, saying with the confidence of a man, who is sure of his cause:
"Cast aside this foolish reserve. To-morrow you will freely give me, not only one hand, but both. I am not so bad as you think. The fortune of war flung me under the Spanish flag, and 'whose bread I eat, his song I sing,' says the soldier. What would you have? I served with honor, and have done some doughty deeds; let that content you."
This angered Ruth, who resolutely exclaimed:
"No, a thousand times no! You are the Eletto of Aalst, the pillager of cities, and this cannot be swept aside as easily as the dust from the floor. I. . . . I am only a feeble girl;--but father, he will never give his hand to the blood-stained man in Spanish garb! I know him, I know it."
Ulrich's breath came quicker; but he repressed the angry emotion and replied, first reproachfully, then beseechingly:
"You are the old man's echo. What does he know of military honor and warlike fame; but you, Ruth, must understand me. Do you still remember our sport with the 'word,' the great word that accomplished everything? I have found it; and you shall enjoy with me what it procures. First help me appease my father; I shall succeed, if you aid me. It will doubtless be a hard task. He could not bring himself to forgive his poor wife--Count Philipp says so;--but now! You see, Ruth, my mother died a few days ago; she was a dear, loving woman and might have deserved a better fate.
"I am alone again now, and long for love--so ardently, so sincerely, more than I can tell you. Where shall I find it, if not with you and my own father? You have always cared for me; you betray it, and after all you know I am not a bad man, do you not? Be content with my love and take me to my father, yourself. Help me persuade him to listen to me. I have something here which you can give him from me; you will see that it will soften his heart!"
"Then give it to me," replied Ruth, "but whatever it may be--believe me, Ulrich, so long as you command the Spanish mutineers, he will remain hard, hard as his own iron!"
"Spaniards! Mutineers! Nonsense! Whoever wishes to love, can love; the rest may be settled afterwards. You don't know how high my heart throbs, now that I am near you, now that I see and hear you. You are my good angel and must remain so, now look here. This is my mother's legacy. This little shirt I once wore, when I was a tiny thing, the gay doll was my plaything, and this gold hoop is the wedding-ring my father gave his bride at the altar--she kept all these things to the last, and carried them like holy relics from land to land, from camp to camp. Will you take these mementos to him?"
She nodded silently.
"Now comes the best thing. Have you ever seen more beautiful workmanship? You must wear this necklace, Ruth, as my first gift."
He held up the costly ornament, but she shrank back, asking bitterly
"In honorable war," he answered, proudly, approaching to fasten the jewels round her neck with his own hands; but she pushed him back, snatched the ornament, and hurled it on the floor, exclaiming angrily:
"I loathe the stolen thing. Pick it up. It may suit the camp-followers."
This destroyed his self-control, and seizing both her arms in an iron grasp, he muttered through his clenched teeth:
"That is an insult to my mother; take it back." But Ruth heard and saw nothing; full of indignation she only felt that violence was being done her, and vainly struggled against the irresistible strength, which held her fast.
Meantime the door had opened wide, but neither noticed it until a man's deep voice loudly and wrathfully exclaimed:
"Back, you scoundrel! Come here, Ruth. This is the way the assassin greets his family; begone, begone! you disgrace of my house!"
Adam had uttered the words, and now drew the hammer from the belt of his leather apron.
Ulrich gazed mutely into his face. There stood his father, strong, gigantic, as he had looked thirteen years before. His head was a little bowed, his beard longer and whiter, his eyebrows were more bushy and his expression had grown more gloomy; otherwise he was wholly unchanged in every feature.
The son's eyes rested on the smith as if spellbound. It seemed as if some malicious fate had drawn him into a snare.
He could say nothing except, "father, father," and the smith found no other answer than the harsh "begone!"
Ruth approached the armorer, clung to his side, and pleaded:
"Hear him, don't send him away so; he is your child, and if anger just now overpowered him. . . ."
"Spanish custom--to abuse women!" cried Adam. "I have no son Navarrete, or whatever the murderous monster calls himself. I am a burgher, and have no son, who struts about in the stolen clothes of noblemen; as to this man and his assassins, I hate them, hate them all. Your foot defiles my house. Out with you, knave, or I will use my hammer."
Ulrich again exclaimed, "father, father!" Then, regaining his self-control by a violent effort, he gasped:
"Father, I came to you in good will, in love. I am an honest soldier and if any one but you--'Sdeath--if any other had dared to offer me this. . . ."
"Murder the dog, you would have said," interrupted the smith. "We know the Spanish blessing: a sandre, a carne!--[Blood, murder.]--Thanks for your forbearance. There is the door. Another word, and I can restrain myself no longer."
Ruth had clung firmly to the smith, and motioned Ulrich to go. The Eletto groaned aloud, struck his forehead with his clenched fist, and rushed into the open air.
As soon as Adam was alone with Ruth she caught his hand, exclaiming beseechingly:
"Father, father, he is your own son! Love your enemies, the Saviour commanded; and you. . . ."
"And I hate him," said the smith, curtly and resolutely. "Did he hurt you?"
"Your hate hurts me ten times as much! You judge without examining; yes, father, you do! When he assaulted me, he was in the right. He thought I had insulted his mother."
Adam shrugged his shoulders, and she continued "The poor woman is dead. Ulrich brought you yonder ring; she never parted with it."
The armorer started, seized the golden hoop, looked for the date inside, and when he had found it, clasped the ring in his hands and pressed them silently to his temples. He stood in this attitude a short time, then let his arms fall, and said softly:
"The dead must be forgiven. . . ."
"And the living, father? You have punished him terribly, and he is not a wicked man, no, indeed he is not! If he comes back again, father?"
"My apprentices shall show the Spanish mutineer the door," cried the old man in a harsh, stern tone; "to the burgher's repentant son my house will be always open."
Meantime the Eletto wandered from one street to another. He felt bewildered, disgraced.
It was not grief--no quiet heartache that disturbed--but a confused blending of wrath and sorrow. He did not wish to appear before the friend of his youth, and even avoided Hans Eitelfritz, who came towards him. He was blind to the gay, joyous bustle of the capital; life seemed grey and hollow. His intention of communicating with the commandant of the citadel remained unexecuted; for he thought of nothing but his father's anger, of Ruth, his own shame and misery.
He could not leave so.
His father must, yes, he must hear him, and when it grew dusk, he again sought the house to which he belonged, and from which he had been so cruelly expelled.
The door was locked. In reply to his knock, a man's unfamiliar voice asked who he was, and what he wanted.
He asked to speak with Adam, and called himself Ulrich.
After waiting a long time he heard a door torn open, and the smith angrily exclaim:
"To your spinning-wheel! Whoever clings to him so long as he wears the Spanish dress, means evil to him as well as to me."
"But hear him! You must hear him, father!" cried Ruth.
The door closed, heavy steps approached the door of the house; it opened, and again Adam confronted his son.
"What do you want?" he asked harshly.
"To speak to you, to tell you that you did wrong to insult me unheard."
"Are you still the Eletto? Answer!"
"And intend to remain so?"
"Que como--puede ser--" faltered Ulrich, who confused by the question, had strayed into the language in which he had been long accustomed to think. But scarcely had the smith distinguished the foreign words, when fresh anger seized him.
"Then go to perdition with your Spaniards!" was the furious answer.
The door slammed so that the house shook, and by degrees the smith's heavy tread died away in the vestibule.
"All over, all over!" murmured the rejected son. Then calming himself, he clenched his fist and muttered through his set teeth: "There shall be no lack of ruin; whoever it befalls, can bear it."
While walking through the streets and across the squares, he devised plan after plan, imagining what must come. Sword in hand he would burst the old man's door, and the only booty he asked for himself should be Ruth, for whom he longed, who in spite of everything loved him, who had belonged to him from her childhood.
The next morning he negotiated cleverly and boldly with the commandant of the Spanish forces in the citadel. The fate of the city was sealed! and when he again crossed the great square and saw the city-hall with its proud, gable-crowned central building, and the shops in the lower floor crammed with wares, he laughed savagely.
Hans Eitelfritz had seen him in the distance, and shouted:
"A pretty little house, three stories high. And how the broad windows, between the pillars in the side wings, glitter!"
Then he lowered his voice, for the square was swarming with men, carts and horses, and continued:
"Look closer and choose your quarters. Come with me! I'll show you where the best things we need can be found. Haven't we bled often enough for the pepper-sacks? Now it will be our turn to fleece them. The castles here, with the gingerbread work on the gables, are the guildhalls. There is gold enough in each one, to make the company rich. Now this way! Directly behind the city-hall lies the Zucker Canal. There live stiff-necked people, who dine off of silver every day. Notice the street!"
Then he led him back to the square, and continued "The streets here all lead to the quay. Do you know it? Have you seen the warehouses? Filled to the very roof! The malmsey, dry canary and Indian allspice, might transform the Scheldt and Baltic Sea into a huge vat of hippocras."
Ulrich followed his guide from street to street. Wherever he looked, he saw vast wealth in barns and magazines; in houses, palaces and churches.
Hans Eitelfritz stopped before a jeweller's shop, saying:
"Look here! I particularly admire these things, these toys: the little dog, the sled, the lady with the hoopskirt, all these things are pure silver. When the pillage begins, I shall grasp these and take them to my sister's little children in Colln; they will be delighted, and if it should ever be necessary, their mother can sell them."
What a throng crowded the most aristocratic streets! English, Spanish, Italian and Hanseatic merchants tried to outdo the Netherland traders in magnificent clothes and golden ornaments. Ulrich saw them all assembled in the Gothic exchange on the Mere, the handsomest square in the city. There they stood in the vast open hall, on the checkered marble floor, not by hundreds, but by thousands, dealing in goods which came from all quarters of the globe--from the most distant lands. Their offers and bids mingled in a noise audible at a long distance, which was borne across the square like the echo of ocean surges.
Sums were discussed, which even the winged imagination of the lansquenet could scarcely grasp. This city was a remarkable treasure, a thousand-fold richer booty than had been garnered from the Ottoman treasure-ship on the sea at Lepanto.
Here was the fortune the Eletto needed, to build the palace in which he intended to place Ruth. To whom else would fall the lion's share of the enormous prize!
His future happiness was to arise from the destruction of this proud city, stifling in its gold.
These were ambitious brilliant plans, but he devised them with gloomy eyes, in a darkened mind. He intended to win by force what was denied him, so long as the power belonged to him.
There could be no lack of flames and carnage; but that was part of his trade, as shavings belong to flames, hammer-strokes to smiths.
Count Philipp had no suspicion of the assault, was not permitted to suspect anything. He attributed Ulrich's agitated manner to the rejection he had encountered in his father's house, and when he took leave of him on his departure to Swabia, talked kindly with his former schoolmate and advised him to leave the Spanish flag and try once more to be reconciled to the old man.
Before the Eletto quitted the city, he gave Hans Eitelfritz, whose regiment had secretly joined the mutiny, letters of safeguard for his family and the artist, Moor.
He had not forgotten the latter, but well-founded timidity withheld him from appearing before the honored man, while cherishing the gloomy thoughts that now filled his soul.
In Aalst the mutineers received him with eager joy, harsh and repellent as he appeared, they cheerfully obeyed him; for he could hold out to them a prospect, which lured a bright smile to the bearded lips of the grimmest warrior.
If power was the word, he scarcely understood how to use it aright, for wholly absorbed in himself, he led a joyless life of dissatisfied longing and gloomy reverie.
It seemed to him as if he had lost one half of himself, and needed Ruth to become the whole man. Hours grew to days, days to weeks, and not until Roda's messenger appeared from the citadel in Antwerp to summon him to action, did he revive and regain his old vivacity.