A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
St. John's day was close at hand. Ulrich was to go to the monastery the following morning. Hitherto Father Benedict had been satisfied, and no one molested the doctor. Yet the tranquillity, which formerly exerted so beneficial an effect, had departed, and the measures of precaution he now felt compelled to adopt, like everything else that brought him into connection with the world, interrupted the progress of his work.
The smith was obliged to provide Ulrich with clothing, and for this purpose went with the lad and a well-filled purse, not to his native place, but to the nearest large city.
There many a handsome suit of garments hung in the draper's windows, and the barefooted boy blushed crimson with delight, when he stood before this splendid show. As he was left free to choose, he instantly selected the clothes a nobleman had ordered for his son, and which, from head to foot, were blue on one side and yellow on the other. But Adam pushed them angrily aside. Ulrich's pleasure in the gay stuff reminded him of his wife's outfit, the pink and green gowns.
So he bought two dark suits, which fitted the lad's erect figure as if moulded upon him, and when the latter stood before him in the inn, neatly dressed, with shoes on his feet, and a student's cap on his head, Adam could not help gazing at him almost idolatrously.
The tavern-keeper whispered to the smith, that it was long since he had seen so handsome a young fellow, and the hostess, after bringing the beer, stroked the boy's curls with her wet hand.
On reaching home, Adam permitted his son to go to the doctor's in his new clothes; Ruth screamed with joy when she saw him, walked round and round him, and curiously felt the woollen stuff of the doublet and its blue slashes, ever and anon clapping her hands in delight.
Her parents had expected that the parting would excite her most painfully, but she smiled joyously into her playmate's face, when he bade her farewell, for she took the matter in her usual way, not as it really was, but as she imagined it to be. Instead of the awkward Ulrich of the present, the fairy-prince he was now to become stood before her; he was to return without fail at Christmas, and then how delightful it would be to play with him again. Of late they had been together even more than usual, continually seeking for the word, and planning a thousand delightful things he was to conjure up for her, and she for him and others.
It was the Sabbath, and on this day old Rahel always dressed the child in a little yellow silk frock, while on Sunday her mother did the same. The gown particularly pleased Ulrich's eye, and when she wore it, he always became more yielding and obeyed her every wish. So Ruth rejoiced that it chanced to be the Sabbath, and while she passed her hand over his doublet, he stroked her silk dress.
They had not much to say to each other, for their tongues always faltered in the presence of others. The doctor gave Ulrich many an admonitory word, his wife kissed him, and as a parting remembrance hung a small gold ring, with a glittering stone, about his neck, and old Rahel gave him a kerchief full of freshly-baked cakes to eat on his way.
At noon on St. John's day, Ulrich and his father stood before the gate of the monastery. Servants and mettled steeds were waiting there, and the porter, pointing to them, said: "Count Frohlinger is within."
Adam turned pale, pressed his son so convulsively to his breast that he groaned with pain, sent a laybrother to call Father Benedict, confided his child to him, and walked towards home with drooping head.
Hitherto Ulrich had not known whether to enjoy or dread the thought of going to the monastery-school. The preparations had been pleasant enough, and the prospect of sharing the same bench with the sons of noblemen and aristocratic citizens, flattered his unity; but when he saw his father depart, his heart melted and his eyes grew wet. The monk; noticing this, drew him towards him, patted his shoulder, and said: "Keep up your courage! You will see that it is far pleasanter with us, than down in the Richtberg."
This gave Ulrich food for thought, and he did not glance around as the Father led him up the steep stairs to the landing-place, and past the refectory into the court-yard.
Monks were pacing silently up and down the corridors that surrounded it, and one after another raised his shaven head higher over his white cowl, to cast a look at the new pupil.
Behind the court-yard stood the stately, gable-roofed building containing the guest-rooms, and between it and the church lay the school-garden, a meadow planted with fruit trees, separated from the highway by a wall.
Benedictus opened the wooden gate, and pushed Ulrich into the playground.
The noise there had been loud enough, but at his entrance the game stopped, and his future companions nudged each other, scanning him with scrutinizing glances.
The monk beckoned to several of the pupils, and made them acquainted with the smith's son, then stroking Ulrich's curls again, left him alone with the others.
On St. John's day the boys were given their liberty and allowed to play to their hearts' content.
They took no special notice of Ulrich, and after having stared sufficiently and exchanged a few words with him, continued their interrupted game of trying to throw stones over the church roof.
Meantime Ulrich looked at his comrades.
There were large and small, fair and dark lads among them, but not one with whom he could not have coped. To this point his scrutiny was first directed.
At last he turned his attention to the game. Many of the stones, that had been thrown, struck the slates on the roof; not one had passed over the church. The longer the unsuccessful efforts lasted, the more evident became the superior smile on Ulrich's lips, the faster his heart throbbed. His eyes searched the grass, and when he had discovered a flat, sharp-edged stone, he hurriedly stooped, pressed silently into the ranks of the players, and bending the upper part of his body far back, summoned all his strength, and hurled the stone in a beautiful curve high into the air.
Forty sparkling eyes followed it, and a loud shout of joy rang out as it vanished behind the church roof. One alone, a tall, thin, black-haired lad, remained silent, and while the others were begging Ulrich to throw again, searched for a stone, exerted all his power to equal the 11 "greenhorn," and almost succeeded. Ulrich now sent a second stone after the first, and, again the cast was successful. Dark-browed Xaver instantly seized a new missile, and the contest that now followed so engrossed the attention of all, that they saw and heard nothing until a deep voice, in a firm, though not unkind tone, called: "Stop, boys! No games must be played with the church."
At these words the younger boys hastily dropped the stones they had gathered, for the man who had shouted, was no less a personage than the Lord Abbot himself.
Soon the lads approached to kiss the ecclesiastic's hand or sleeve, and the stately priest, who understood how to guide those subject to him by a glance of his dark eyes, graciously and kindly accepted the salutation.
"Grave in office, and gay in sport" was his device. Count von Frohlinger, who had entered the garden with him, looked like one whose motto runs: "Never grave and always gay."
The nobleman had not grown younger since Ulrich's mother fled into the world, but his eyes still sparkled joyously and the brick-red hue that tinged his handsome face between his thick white moustache and his eyes, announced that he was no less friendly to wine than to fair women. How well his satin clothes and velvet cloak became him, how beautifully the white puffs were relieved against the deep blue of his dress! How proudly the white and yellow plumes arched over his cap, and how delicate were the laces on his collar and cuffs! His son, the very image of the handsome father, stood beside him, and the count had laid his hand familiarly on his shoulder, as if he were not his child, but a friend and comrade.
"A devil of a fellow!" whispered the count to the abbot. "Did you see the fair-haired lad's throw? From what house does the young noble come?"
The prelate shrugged his shoulders, and answered smiling:
"From the smithy at Richtberg."
"Does he belong to Adam?" laughed the other. "Zounds! I had a bitter hour in the confessional on his mother's account. He has inherited the beautiful Florette's hair and eyes; otherwise he looks like his father. With your permission, my Lord Abbot, I'll call the boy."
"Afterwards, afterwards," replied the superior of the monastery in a tone of friendly denial, which permitted no contradiction. "First tell the boys, what we have decided?"
Count Frohlinger bowed respectfully, then drew his son closer to his side, and waited for the boys, to whom the abbot beckoned.
As soon as they had gathered in a group before him, the nobleman exclaimed:
"You have just bid this good-for-nothing farewell. What should you say, if I left him among you till Christmas? The Lord Abbot will keep him, and you, you. . . ."
But he had no time to finish the sentence. The pupils rushed upon him, shouting:
"Stay here, Philipp! Count Lips must stay!"
One little flaxen-headed fellow nestled closely to his regained protector, another kissed the count's hand, and two larger boys seized Philipp by the arm and tried to drag him away from his father, back into their circle.
The abbot looked on at the tumult kindly, and bright tear-drops ran down into the old count's beard, for his heart was easily touched. When he recovered his composure, he exclaimed:
"Lips shall stay, you rogues; he shall stay! And the Lord Abbot has given you permission, to come with me to-day to my hunting-box and light a St. John's fire. There shall be no lack of cakes and wine."
"Hurrah! hurrah! Long live the count!" shouted the pupils, and all who had caps tossed them into the air. Ulrich was carried away by the enthusiasm of the others; and all the evil words his father had so lavishly heaped on the handsome, merry gentleman--all Hangemarx's abuse of knights and nobles were forgotten.
The abbot and his companion withdrew, but as soon as the boys knew that they were unobserved, Count Lips cried:
"You fellow yonder, you greenhorn, threw the stone over the roof. I saw it. Come here. Over the roof? That should be my right. Whoever breaks the first window in the steeple, shall be victor."
The smith's son felt embarrassed, for he shrank from the mischief and feared his father and the abbot. But when the young count held out his closed hands, saying: "If you choose the red stone, you shall throw first," he pointed to his companion's right hand, and, as it concealed the red pebble, began the contest. He threw the stone, and struck the window. Amid loud shouts of exultation from the boys, more than one round pane of glass, loosened from the leaden casing, rattled in broken fragments on the church roof, and from thence fell silently on the grass. Count Lips laughed aloud in his delight, and was preparing to follow Ulrich's example, but the wooden gate was pushed violently open, and Brother Hieronymus, the most severe of all the monks, appeared in the playground. The zealous priest's cheeks glowed with anger, terrible were the threats he uttered, and declaring that the festival of St. John should not be celebrated, unless the shameless wretch, who had blasphemously shattered the steeple window, confessed his fault, he scanned the pupils with rolling eyes.
Young Count Lips stepped boldly forward, saying beseechingly:
"I did it, Father--unintentionally! Forgive me!"
"You?" asked the monk, his voice growing lower and more gentle, as he continued: "Folly and wantonness without end! When will you learn discretion, Count Philipp? But as you did it unintentionally, I will let it pass for to-day."
With these words, the monk left the court-yard; and as soon as the gate had closed behind him, Ulrich approached his generous companion, and said in a tone that only he could hear, yet grateful to the inmost depths of his heart:
"I will repay you some day."
"Nonsense!" laughed the young count, throwing his arm over the shoulder of the artisan's son. "If the glass wouldn't rattle, I would throw now; but there's another day coming to-morrow."