A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
The fire in the smithy was extinguished, no hammer fell on the anvil; for the wounded man lay in a burning fever; every loud noise disturbed him. Adam had noticed this himself, and gave no time to his work, for he had to assist in nursing his son, when it was necessary to raise his heavy body, and to relieve Ruth, when, after long night-watches, her vigorous strength was exhausted.
The old man saw that the girl's bands were more deft than his own toil-hardened ones, and let her take the principal charge-but the hours when she was resting in her room were the dearest to him, for then he was alone with Ulrich, could read his countenance undisturbed and rejoice in gazing at every feature, which reminded him of his child's boyhood and of Flora.
He often pressed his bearded lips to the invalid's burning forehead or limp hand, and when the physician with an anxious face had left the house, he knelt beside Ulrich's couch, buried his forehead among the pillows, and fervently prayed the Heavenly Father, to spare his child and take in exchange his own life and all that he possessed.
He often thought the end had come, and gave himself up without resistance to his grief; Ruth, on the contrary, never lost hope, not even in the darkest hours. God had not let her find Ulrich, merely to take him from her again. The end of danger was to her the beginning of deliverance. When he recognized her the first time, she already saw him, leaning on her shoulder, walk through the room; when he could raise himself, she thought him cured.
Her heart was overflowing with joy, yet her mind remained watchful and thoughtful during the long, toilsome nursing. She did not forget the smallest trifle, for before she undertook anything she saw in her mind every detail involved, as if it were already completed. Ulrich took no food which she had not prepared with her own hand, no drink which she had not herself brought from the cellar or the well. She perceived in advance what disturbed him, what pleased him, what he needed. If she opened or closed the curtain, she gave or withheld no more light than was agreeable to him; if she arranged the pillows behind him, she placed them neither too high nor too low, and bound up his wounds with a gentle yet firm hand, like an experienced physician. Whatever he felt--pain or comfort--she experienced with him.
By degrees the fever vanished; consciousness returned, his pain lessened, he could move himself again, and began to feel stronger. At first he did not know where he was; then he recognized Ruth, and then his father.
How still, how dusky, how clean everything that surrounded him was! Delightful repose stole over him, pleasant weariness soothed every stormy emotion of his heart. Whenever he opened his eyes, tender, anxious glances met him. Even when the pain returned he enjoyed peaceful, consoling mental happiness. Ruth felt this also, and regarded it as a peerless reward.
When she entered the sick-room with fresh linen, and the odor of lavender her dead mother had liked floated softly to him from the clean sheets, he thought his boyhood had returned, and with it the wise, friendly doctor's house. Elizabeth, the shady pine-woods of his home, its murmuring brooks and luxuriant meadows, again rose before his mind; he saw Ruth and himself listening to the birds, picking berries, gathering flowers, and beseeching beautiful gifts from the "word." His father appeared even more kind, affectionate, and careful than in those days. The man became the boy again, and all his former good traits of character now sprang up freshly under the bright light and vivifying dew of love.
He received Ruth's unwearied attentions with ardent gratitude, and when he gazed into her faithful eyes, when her hand touched him, her soft, deep voice penetrated the depths of his soul, an unexampled sense of happiness filled his breast.
Everything, from the least to the greatest, embraced his soul with the arms of love. It seemed as if the ardent yearning of his heart extended far beyond the earth, and rose to God, who fills the universe with His infinite paternal love. His every breath, Ulrich thought, must henceforth be a prayer, a prayer of gratitude to Him, who is love itself, the Love, through and in which he lived.
He had sought love, to enjoy its gifts; now he was glad to make sacrifices for its sake. He saw how Ruth's beautiful face saddened when he was suffering, and with manly strength of will concealed inexpressible agony under a grateful smile. He feigned sleep, to permit her and his father to rest, and when tortured by feverish restlessness, lay still to give his beloved nurses pleasure and repay their solicitude. Love urged him to goodness, gave him strength for all that is good. His convalescence advanced and, when he was permitted to leave his bed, his father was the first one to support him through the room and down the steps into the court-yard. He often felt with quiet emotion the old man stroke the hand that rested on his arm, and when, exhausted, he returned to the sick-room, he sank with a grateful heart into his comfortable seat, casting a look of pleasure at the flowers, which Ruth had taken from her chamber window and placed on the table beside him.
His family now knew what he had endured and experienced, and the smith found a kind, soothing word for all that, a few months before, he had considered criminal and unpardonable.
During such a conversation, Ulrich once exclaimed "War! You know not how it bears one along with it; it is a game whose stake is life. That of others is of as little value as your own; to do your worst to every one, is the watchword; but now--every thing has grown so calm in my soul, and I have a horror of the turmoil in the field. I was talking with Ruth yesterday about her father, and she reminded me of his favorite saying, which I had forgotten long ago. Do you know what it is? 'Do unto others, as ye would that others should do unto you.' I have not been cruel, and never drew the sword out of pleasure in slaying; but now I grieve for having brought woe to so many!
"What things were done in Haarlem! If you had moved there instead of to Antwerp, and you and Ruth . . . I dare not think of it! Memories of those days torture me in many a sleepless hour, and there is much that fills me with bitter remorse. But I am permitted to live, and it seems as if I were new-born, and henceforth existence and doing good must be synonymous to me. You were right to be angry. . . ."
"That is all forgiven and forgotten," interrupted the smith in a resonant voice, pressing his son's fingers with his hard right hand.
These words affected the convalescent like a strengthening potion, and when the hammers again moved in the smithy, Ulrich was no longer satisfied with his idle life, and began with Ruth to look forward to and discuss the future.
"The words: 'fortune,' 'fame,' 'power,'" he said once, "have deceived me; but art! You don't know, Ruth, what art is! It does not bestow everything, but a great deal, a great deal. Meister Moor was indeed a teacher! I am too old to begin at the beginning once more. If it were not for that. . . ."
"I should like to try painting again."
The girl exhorted him to take courage, and told his father of their conversation. The smith put on his Sunday clothes and went to the artist's house. The latter was in Brussels, but was expected home soon.
From this time, every third day, Adam donned his best clothes, which he disliked to wear, and went to the artist's; but always in vain.
In the month of February the invalid was playing chess with Ruth,--she had learned the game from the smith and Ulrich from her,--when Adam entered the room, saying: "when the game is over, I wish to speak to you, my son."
The young girl had the advantage, but instantly pushed the pieces together and left the two alone.
She well knew what was passing in the father's mind, for the day before he had brought all sorts of artist's materials, and told her to arrange the little gable-room, with the large window facing towards the north, and put the easel and colors there. They had only smiled at each other, but they had long since learned to understand each other, even without words.
"What is it?" asked Ulrich in surprise.
The smith then told him what he had provided and arranged, adding: "the picture on the standard--you say you painted it yourself."
"It was your mother, exactly as she looked when. . . . She did not treat either of us rightly--but she!--the Christian must forgive;--and as she was your mother--why--I should like . . . perhaps it is not possible; but if you could paint her picture, not as a Madonna, only as she looked when a young wife. . . ."
"I can, I will!" cried Ulrich, in joyous excitement. "Take me upstairs, is the canvas ready?"
"In the frame, firmly in the frame! I am an old man, and you see, child, I remember how wonderfully sweet your mother was; but I can never succeed in recalling just how she looked then. I have tried, tried thousands and thousands of times; at--Richtberg, here, everywhere--deep as was my wrath!"
"You shall see her again surely--surely!" interrupted Ulrich. "I see her before me, and what I see in my mind, I can paint!"
The work was commenced the very same day. Ulrich now succeeded wonderfully, and lavished on the portrait all the wealth of love, with which his heart was filled.
Never had he guided the brush so joyously; in painting this picture he only wished to give, to give--give his beloved father the best he could accomplish, so he succeeded.
The young wife, attired in a burgher dress, stood with her bewitching eyes and a melancholy, half-tender, half-mournful smile on her lips.
Adam was not permitted to enter the studio again until the portrait was completed. When Ulrich at last unveiled the picture, the old man--unable longer to control himself--burst into loud sobs and fell upon his son's breast. It seemed to Adam that the pretty creature in the golden frame--far from needing his forgiveness--was entitled to his gratitude for many blissful hours.
Soon after, Adam found Moor at home, and a few hours later took Ulrich to him. It was a happy and a quiet meeting, which was soon followed by a second interview in the smith's house.
Moor gazed long and searchingly at Ulrich's work. When he had examined it sufficiently, he held out his hand to his pupil, saying warmly:
"I always said so; you are an artist! From to-morrow we will work together again, daily, and you will win more glorious victories with the brush than with the sword."
Ulrich's cheeks glowed with happiness and pride.
Ruth had never before seen him look so, and as she gazed joyfully into his eyes, he held out his hands to her, exclaiming: "An artist, an artist again! Oh, would that I had always remained one! Now I lack only one thing more--yourself!"
She rushed to his embrace, exclaiming joyously "Yours, yours! I have always been so, and always shall be, to-day, to-morrow, unto death, forever and ever!"
"Yes, yes," he answered gravely. "Our hearts are one and ever will be, nothing can separate them; but your fate shall not be linked to mine till, Moor himself calls me a master. Love imposes no condition--I am yours and you are mine--but I impose the trial on myself, and this time I know it will be passed."
A new spirit animated the pupil. He rushed to his work with tireless energy, and even the hardest task became easy, when he thought of the prize he sought. At the end of a year, Moor ceased to instruct him, and Ruth became the wife of Meister Ulrich Schwab.
The famous artist-guild of Antwerp soon proudly numbered him among them, and even at the present day his pictures are highly esteemed by connoisseurs, though they are attributed to other painters, for he never signed his name to his works.
Of the four words, which illumined his life-path as guiding-stars, he had learned to value fame and power least; fortune and art remained faithful to him, but as the earth does not shine by its own might, but receives its light from the sun, so they obtained brilliancy, charm and endearing power through love.
The fierce Eletto, whose sword raged in war, following the teachings of his noble Master, became a truly Christian philanthropist.
Many have gazed with quiet delight at the magnificent picture, which represents a beautiful mother, with a bright, intelligent face, leading her three blooming children towards a pleasant old man, who holds out his arms to them. The old man is Adam, the mother Ruth, the children are the armorer's grandchildren; Ulrich Schwab was the artist.
Meister Moor died soon after Ulrich's marriage, and a few years after, Sophonisba di Moncada came to Antwerp to seek the grave of him she had loved. She knew from the dead man that he had met his dear Madrid pupil, and her first visit was to the latter.
After looking at his works, she exclaimed:
"The word! Do you remember, Meister? I told you then, that you had found the right one. You are greatly altered, and it is a pity that you have lost your flowing locks; but you look like a happy man, and to what do you owe it? To the word, the only right word: 'Art!'"
He let her finish the sentence, then answered gravely "There is still a loftier word, noble lady! Whoever owns it--is rich indeed. He will no longer wander--seek in doubt.
"And this is?" she asked incredulously, with a smile of superior knowledge.
"I have found it," he answered firmly. "It is 'Love.'"
Sophonisba bent her head, saying softly and sadly: "yes, yes--love."