A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Father Benedict had last seen the smith soon after his return from imprisonment, in the confessional of the monastery. As the monk in his youth had served in a troop of the imperial cavalry, he now, spite of his ecclesiastical dignity, managed the stables of the wealthy monastery, and had formerly come to the smithy in the market-place with many a horse, but since the monks had become involved in a quarrel with the city, Benedict ordered the animals to be shod elsewhere.
A difficult case reminded him of the skilful, half-forgotten artisan; and when the latter came out of the shed with a sack of coal, Benedict greeted him with sincere warmth. Adam, too, showed that he was glad to see the unexpected visitor, and placed his skill at the disposal of the monastery.
"It has grown late, Adam," said the monk, loosening the belt he was accustomed to wear when riding, which had become damp. "The storm overtook us on the way. The rolling and flashing overhead made the sorrel horse almost tear Gotz's hands off the wrists. Three steps sideways and one forward--so it has grown late, and you can't shoe the rascal in the dark."
"Do you mean the sorrel horse?" asked Adam, in a deep, musical voice, thrusting a blazing pine torch into the iron ring on the forge.
"Yes, Master Adam. He won't bear shoeing, yet he's very valuable. We have nothing to equal him. None of us can control him, but you formerly zounds! . . . you haven't grown younger in the last few years either, Adam! Put on your cap; you've lost your hair. Your forehead reaches down to your neck, but your vigor has remained. Do you remember how you cleft the anvil at Rodebach?"
"Let that pass," replied Adam--not angrily, but firmly. "I'll shoe the horse early to-morrow; it's too late to-day."
"I thought so!" cried the other, clasping his hands excitedly. "You know how we stand towards the citizens on account of the tolls on the bridges. I'd rather lie on thorns than enter the miserable hole. The stable down below is large enough! Haven't you a heap of straw for a poor brother in Christ? I need nothing more; I've brought food with me."
The smith lowered his eyes in embarrassment. He was not hospitable. No stranger had rested under his roof, and everything that disturbed his seclusion was repugnant to him. Yet he could not refuse; so he answered coldly: "I live alone here with my boy, but if you wish, room can be made."
The monk accepted as eagerly, as if he had been cordially invited; and after the horses and groom were supplied with shelter, followed his host into the sitting-room next the shop, and placed his saddle-bags on the table.
"This is all right," he said, laughing, as he produced a roast fowl and some white bread. "But how about the wine? I need something warm inside after my wet ride. Haven't you a drop in the cellar?"
"No, Father!" replied the smith. But directly after a second thought occurred to him, and he added: "Yes, I can serve you."
So saying, he opened the cupboard, and when, a short time after, the monk emptied the first goblet, he uttered a long drawn "Ah!" following the course of the fiery potion with his hand, till it rested content near his stomach. His lips quivered a little in the enjoyment of the flavor; then he looked benignantly with his unusually round eyes at Adam, saying cunningly:
"If such grapes grow on your pine-trees, I wish the good Lord had given Father Noah a pine-tree instead of a vine. By the saints! The archbishop has no better wine in his cellar! Give me one little sip more, and tell me from whom you received the noble gift?"
"Costa gave me the wine."
"The sorcerer---the Jew?" asked the monk, pushing the goblet away. "But, of course," he continued, in a half-earnest, half-jesting tone, "when one considers--the wine at the first holy communion, and at the marriage of Cana, and the juice of the grapes King David enjoyed, once lay in Jewish cellars!"
Benedict had doubtless expected a smile or approving word from his host, but the smith's bearded face remained motionless, as if he were dead.
The monk looked less cheerful, as he began again "You ought not to grudge yourself a goblet either. Wine moderately enjoyed makes the heart glad; and you don't look like a contented man. Everything in life has not gone according to your wishes, but each has his own cross to bear; and as for you, your name is Adam, and your trials also come from Eve!"
At these words the smith moved his hand from his beard, and began to push the round leather cap to and fro on his bald head. A harsh answer was already on his lips, when he saw Ulrich, who had paused on the threshold in bewilderment. The boy had never beheld any guest at his father's table except the doctor, but hastily collecting his thoughts he kissed the monk's hand. The priest took the handsome lad by the chin, bent his head back, looked Adam also in the face, and exclaimed:
"His mouth, nose and eyes he has inherited from your wife, but the shape of the brow and head is exactly like yours."
A faint flush suffused Adam's cheeks, and turning quickly to the boy as if he had heard enough, he cried:
"You are late. Where have you been so long?"
"In the forest with Ruth. We were gathering faggots for Dr. Costa."
"Rahel had baked some dumplings, so the doctor told me to stay."
"Then go to bed now. But first take some food to the groom in the stable, and put fresh linen on my bed. Be in the workshop early to-morrow morning, there is a horse to be shod."
The boy looked up thoughtfully and replied: "Yes, but the doctor has changed the hours; to-morrow the lesson will begin just after sunrise, father."
"Very well, we'll do without you. Good-night then."
The monk followed this conversation with interest and increasing disapproval, his face assuming a totally different expression, for the muscles between his nose and mouth drew farther back, forming with the underlip an angle turning inward. Thus he gazed with mute reproach at the smith for some time, then pushed the goblet far away, exclaiming with sincere indignation:
"What doings are these, friend Adam? I'll let the Jew's wine pass, and the dumplings too for aught I care, though it doesn't make a Christian child more pleasing in the sight of God, to eat from the same dish with those on whom the Saviour's innocent blood rests. But that you, a believing Christian, should permit an accursed Jew to lead a foolish lad. . . ."
"Let that pass," said the smith, interrupting the excited monk; but the latter would not be restrained, and only continued still more loudly and firmly: "I won't be stopped. Was such a thing ever heard of? A baptized Christian, who sends his own son to be taught by the infidel soul-destroyer!"
"Hear me, Father!"
"No indeed. It's for you to hear--you! What was I saying? For you, you who seek for your poor child a soul-destroying infidel as teacher. Do you know what that is? A sin against the Holy Ghost--the worst of all crimes. Such an abomination! You will have a heavy penance imposed upon you in the confessional."
"It's no sin--no abomination!" replied the smith defiantly.
The angry blood mounted into the monk's cheeks, and he cried: threateningly: "Oho! The chapter will teach you better to your sorrow. Keep the boy away from the Jew, or. . . ."
"Or?" repeated the smith, looking Father Benedict steadily in the face.
The latter's lips curled still more deeply, as after a pause, he replied: "Or excommunication and a fitting punishment will fall upon you and the vagabond doctor. Tit for tat. We have grown tender-hearted, and it is long since a Jew has been burned for an example to many."
These words did not fail to produce an effect, for though Adam was a brave man, the monk threatened him with things, against which he felt as powerless as when confronted with the might of the tempest and the lightning flashing from the clouds. His features now expressed deep mental anguish, and stretching out his hands repellently towards his guest, he cried anxiously "No, no! Nothing more can happen to me. No excommunication, no punishment, can make my present suffering harder to bear, but if you harm the doctor, I shall curse the hour I invited you to cross my threshold."
The monk looked at the other in surprise and answered in a more gentle tone: "You have always walked in your own way, Adam; but whither are you going now? Has the Jew bewitched you, or what binds you to him, that you look, on his account, as if a thunderbolt had struck you? No one shall have cause to curse the hour he invited Benedict to be his guest. See your way clearly once more, and when you have come to your senses--why, we monks have two eyes, that we may be able to close one when occasion requires. Have you any special cause for gratitude to Costa?"
"Many, Father, many!" cried the smith, his voice still trembling with only too well founded anxiety for his friend. "Listen, and when you know what he has done for me, and are disposed to judge leniently, do not carry what reaches your ears here before the chapter no, Father--I beseech you--do not. For if it should be I, by whom the doctor came to ruin, I--I. . . ." The man's voice failed, and his chest heaved so violently with his gasping breath, that his stout leathern apron rose and fell.
"Be calm, Adam, be calm," said the monk, soothingly answering his companion's broken words. "All shall be well, all shall be well. Sit down, man, and trust me. What is the terrible debt of gratitude you owe the doctor?"
Spite of the other's invitation, the smith remained standing and with downcast eyes, began:
"I am not good at talking. You know how I was thrown into a dungeon on Valentine's account, but no one can understand my feelings during that time. Ulrich was left alone here among this miserable rabble with nobody to care for him, for our old maid-servant was seventy. I had buried my money in a safe place and there was nothing in the house except a loaf of bread and a few small coins, barely enough to last three days. The child was always before my eyes; I saw him ragged, begging, starving. But my anxiety tortured me most, after they had released me and I was going back to my house from the castle. It was a walk of two hours, but each one seemed as long as St. John's day. Should I find Ulrich or not? What had become of him? It was already dark, when I at last stood before the house. Everything was as silent as the grave, and the door was locked. Yet I must get in, so I rapped with my fingers, and then pounded with my fist on the door and shutters, but all in vain. Finally Spittellorle--[A nickname; literally: "Hospital Loura."]--came out of the red house next mine, and I heard all. The old woman had become idiotic, and was in the stocks. Ulrich was at the point of death, and Doctor Costa had taken him home. When I heard this, I felt the same as you did just now; anger seized upon me, and I was as much ashamed as if I were standing in the pillory. My child with the Jew! There was not much time for reflection, and I set off at full speed for the doctor's house. A light was shining through the window. It was high above the street, but as it stood open and I am tall, I could look in and see over the whole room. At the right side, next the wall, was a bed, where amid the white pillows lay my boy. The doctor sat by his side, holding the child's hand in his. Little Ruth nestled to him, asking: 'Well, father?' The man smiled. Do you know him, Pater? He is about thirty years old, and has a pale, calm face. He smiled and said so gratefully, so-so joyously, as if Ulrich were his own son: 'Thank God, he will be spared to us!' The little girl ran to her dumb mother, who was sitting by the stove, winding yarn, exclaiming: 'Mother, he'll get well again. I have prayed for him every day.' The Jew bent over my child and pressed his lips upon the boy's brow--and I, I--I no longer clenched my fist, and was so overwhelmed with emotion, that I could not help weeping, as if I were still a child myself, and since then, Pater Benedictus, since. . . ." He paused; the monk rose, laid his hand on the smith's shoulder, and said:
"It has grown late, Adam. Show me to my couch. Another day will come early to-morrow morning, and we should sleep over important matters. But one thing is settled, and must remain so-under all circumstances: the boy is no longer to be taught by the Jew. He must help you shoe the horses to-morrow. You will be reasonable!"
The smith made no reply, but lighted the monk to the room where he and his son usually slept. His own couch was covered with fresh linen for the guest--Ulrich already lay in his bed, apparently asleep.
"We have no other room to give you," said Adam, pointing to the boy; but the monk was content with his sleeping companions, and after his host had left him, gazed earnestly at Ulrich's fresh, handsome face.
The smith's story had moved him, and he did not go to rest at once, but paced thoughtfully up and down the room, stepping lightly, that he might not disturb the child's slumber.
Adam had reason to be grateful to the man, and why should there not be good Jews?
He thought of the patriarchs, Moses, Solomon, and the prophets, and had not the Saviour himself, and John and Paul, whom he loved above all the apostles, been the children of Jewish mothers, and grown up among Jews? And Adam! the poor fellow had had more than his share of trouble, and he who believes himself deserted by God, easily turns to the devil. He was warned now, and the mischief to his son must be stopped once for all. What might not the child hear from the Jew, in these times, when heresy wandered about like a roaring lion, and sat by all the roads like a siren. Only by a miracle had this secluded valley been spared the evil teachings, but the peasants had already shown that they grudged the nobles the power, the cities the rich gains, and the priesthood the authority and earthly possessions, bestowed on them by God. He was disposed to let mildness rule, and spare the Jew this time--but only on one condition.
When he took off his cowl, he looked for a hook on which to hang it, and while so doing, perceived on the shelf a row of boards. Taking one down, he found a sketch of an artistic design for the enclosure of a fountain, done by the smith's hand, and directly opposite his bed a linden-wood panel, on which a portrait was drawn with charcoal. This roused his curiosity, and, throwing the light of the torch upon it, he started back, for it was a rudely executed, but wonderfully life-like head of Costa, the Jew. He remembered him perfectly, for he had met him more than once.
The monk shook his head angrily, but lifted the picture from the shelf and examined more closely the doctor's delicately-cut nose, and the noble arch of the brow. While so doing, he muttered unintelligible words, and when at last, with little show of care, he restored the modest work of art to its old place, Ulrich awoke, and, with a touch of pride, exclaimed:
"I drew that myself, Father!"
"Indeed!" replied the monk. "I know of better models for a pious lad. You must go to sleep now, and to-morrow get up early and help your father. Do you understand?"
So saying, with no gentle hand he turned the boy's head towards the wall. The mildness awakened by Adam's story had all vanished to the winds.
Adam allowed his son to practise idolatry with the Jew, and make pictures of him. This was too much. He threw himself angrily on his couch, and began to consider what was to be done in this difficult matter, but sleep soon brought his reflections to an end.
Ulrich rose very early, and when Benedict saw him again in the light of the young day, and once more looked at the Jew's portrait, drawn by the handsome boy, a thought came to him as if inspired by the saints themselves--the thought of persuading the smith to give his son to the monastery.