A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
The magistrate's horses did not reach the city gate, from the monastery, more quickly than Ulrich.
As soon as the smith was roused from sleep by the boy's knock and recognized his voice, he knew what was coming, and silently listened to the lad's confessions, while he himself hurriedly yet carefully took out his hidden hoard, filled a bag with the most necessary articles, thrust his lightest hammer into his belt, and poured water on the glimmering coals. Then, locking the door, he sent Ulrich to Hangemarx, with whom he had already settled many things; for Caspar, the juggler, who learned more through his daughters than any other man, had come to him the day before, to tell him that something was being plotted against the Jew.
Adam found the latter still awake and at work. He was prepared for the danger that threatened him, and ready to fly. No word of complaint, not even a hasty gesture betrayed the mental anguish of the persecuted man, and the smith's heart melted, as he heard the doctor rouse his wife and child from their sleep.
The terrified moans of the startled wife, and Ruth's loud weeping and curious questions, were soon drowned by the lamentations of old Rahel, who wrapped in even more kerchiefs than usual, rushed into the sitting-room, and while lamenting and scolding in a foreign tongue, gathered together everything that lay at hand. She had dragged a large chest after her, and now threw in candlesticks, jugs, and even the chessmen and Ruth's old doll with a broken head.
When the third hour after midnight came, the doctor was ready for departure.
Marx's charcoal sledge, with its little horse, stopped before the door.
This was a strange animal, no larger than a calf, as thin as a goat, and in some places woolly, in others as bare as a scraped poodle.
The smith helped the dumb woman into the sleigh, the doctor put Ruth in her lap, Ulrich consoled the child, who asked him all sorts of questions, but the old woman would not part from the chest, and could scarcely be induced to enter the vehicle.
"You know, across the mountains into the Rhine valley--no matter where," Costa whispered to the poacher.
Hangemarx urged on his little horse, and answered, not turning to the Israelite, who had addressed him, but to Adam, who he thought would understand him better than the bookworm: "It won't do to go up the ravine, without making any circuit. The count's hounds will track us, if they follow. We'll go first up the high road by the Lautenhof. To-morrow will be a fair-day. People will come early from the villages and tread down the snow, so the dogs will lose the scent. If it would only snow."
Before the smithy, the doctor held out his hand to Adam, saying: "We part here, friend."
"We'll go with you, if agreeable to you."
"Consider," the other began warningly, but Adam interrupted him, saying:
"I have considered everything; lost is lost. Ulrich, take the doctor's sack from his shoulder."
For a long time nothing more was said.
The night was clear and cold; the men's footsteps fell noiselessly on the soft snow, nothing was heard except the creaking of the sledge, and ever and anon Elizabeth's low moaning, or a louder word in the old woman's soliloquy. Ruth had fallen asleep on her mother's lap, and was breathing heavily.
At Lautenhof a narrow path led through the mountains deep into the forest.
As it grew steeper, the snow became knee-deep, and the men helped the little horse, which often coughed, tossing its thick head up and down, as if working a churn. Once, when the poor creature met with a very heavy fall, Marx pointed to the green woollen scarf on the animal's neck, and whispered to the smith "Twenty years old, and has the glanders besides."
The little beast nodded slowly and mournfully, as if to say: "Life is hard; this will probably be the last time I draw a sleigh."
The broad, heavy-laden pine-boughs drooped wearily by the roadside, the gleaming surface of the snow stretched in a monotonous sheet of white between the trunks of the trees, the tops of the dark rocks beside the way bore smooth white caps of loose snow, the forest stream was frozen along the edges, only in the centre did the water trickle through snow-crystals and sharp icicles to the valley.
So long as the moon shone, flickering rays danced and sparkled on the ice and snow, but afterwards only the tedious glimmer of the universal snow-pall lighted the traveller's way.
"If it would only snow!" repeated the charcoal-burner.
The higher they went, the deeper grew the snow, the more wearisome the wading and climbing.
Often, on the doctor's account, the smith called in a low voice, "Halt!" and then Costa approached the sleigh and asked: "How do you feel?" or said: "We are getting on bravely."
Rahel screamed whenever a fox barked in the distance, a wolf howled, or an owl flew through the treetops, brushing the snow from the branches with its wings; but the others also started. Marx alone walked quietly and undisturbed beside his little horse's thick head; he was familiar with all the voices of the forest.
It grew colder towards morning. Ruth woke and cried, and her father, panting for breath, asked: "When shall we rest?"
"Behind the height; ten arrow-shots farther," replied the charcoal-burner.
"Courage," whispered the smith. "Get on the sledge, doctor; we'll push."
But Costa shook his head, pointed to the panting horse, and dragged himself onward.
The poacher must have sent his arrows in a strange curve, for one quarter of an hour after another slipped by, and the top was not yet gained. Meantime it grew lighter and lighter, and the charcoal-burner, with increasing anxiety, ever and anon raised his head, and glanced aside. The sky was covered with clouds-the light overhead grey, dim, and blended with mist. The snow was still dazzling, though it no longer sparkled and glittered, but covered every object with the dull whiteness of chalk.
Ulrich kept beside the sledge to push it. When Ruth heard him groan, she stroked the hand that grasped the edges, this pleased him; and he smiled.
When they again stopped, this time on the crest of the ridge, Ulrich noticed that the charcoal-burner was sniffing the air like a hound, and asked:
"What is it, Marxle?"
The poacher grinned, as he answered: "It's going to snow; I smell it."
The road now led down towards the valley, and, after a short walk, the charcoal-burner said:
"We shall find shelter below with Jorg, and a warm fire too, you poor women."
These were cheering words, and came just at the right time, for large snow-flakes began to fill the air, and a light breeze drove them into the travellers' faces. "There!" cried Ulrich, pointing to the snow covered roof of a wooden hut, that stood close before them in a clearing on the edge of the forest.
Every face brightened, but Marx shook his head doubtfully, muttering:
"No smoke, no barking; the place is empty. Jorg has gone. At Whitsuntide--how many years ago is it?--the boys left to act as raftsmen, but then he stayed here."
Reckoning time was not the charcoal-burner's strong point; and the empty hut, the dreary open window-casements in the mouldering wooden walls, the holes in the roof, through which a quantity of snow had drifted into the only room in the deserted house, indicated that no human being had sought shelter here for many a winter.
Old Rahel uttered a fresh wail of grief, when she saw this shelter; but after the men had removed the snow as well as they could, and covered the holes in the roof with pine-branches; when Adam had lighted a fire, and the sacks and coverlets were brought in from the sledge, and laid on a dry spot to furnish seats for the women, fresh courage entered their hearts, and Rahel, unasked, dragged herself to the hearth, and set the snow-filled pot on the fire.
"The nag must have two hours' rest," Marx said, "then they could push on and reach the miller in the ravine before night. There they would find kind friends, for Jacklein had been with him among the 'peasants.'" The snow-water boiled, the doctor and his wife rested, Ulrich and Ruth brought wood, which the smith had split, to the fire to dry, when suddenly a terrible cry of grief rang outside of the hut.
Costa hastily rose, the children followed, and old Rahel, whimpering, drew the upper kerchief on her head over her face.
The little horse, its tiny legs stretched far apart, was lying in the snow by the sledge. Beside it knelt Marx, holding the clumsy head on his knee, and blowing with his crooked mouth into the animal's nostrils. The creature showed its yellow teeth, and put out its bluish tongue as if it wanted to lick him; then the heavy head fell, the dying animal's eyes started from their sockets, its legs grew perfectly stiff, and this time the horse was really dead, while the shafts of the sledge vainly thrust themselves into the air, like the gaping mouth of a deserted bird.
No farther progress was possible. The women sat trembling in the hut, roasting before the fire, and shivering when a draught touched them. . . . Ruth wept for the poor little horse, and Marx sat as if utterly crushed beside his old friend's stiffening body, heeding nothing, least of all the snow, which was making him whiter than the miller, with whom he had expected to rest that evening. The doctor gazed in mute despair at his dumb wife, who, with clasped hands, was praying fervently; the smith pressed his hand upon his brow, vainly pondering over what was to be done now, until his head ached; while, from the distance, echoed the howl of a hungry wolf, and a pair of ravens alighted on a white bough beside the little horse, gazing greedily at the corpse lying in the snow.
Meantime, the abbot was sitting in his pleasantly-warmed study, which was pervaded by a faint, agreeable perfume, gazing now at the logs burning in the beautiful marble mantel-piece, and then at the magistrate, who had brought him strange tidings.
The prelate's white woollen morning-robe clung closely around his stately figure. Beside him lay, side by side, for comparison, two manuscript copies of his favorite book, the idyls of Theocritus, which, for his amusement, and to excel the translation of Coban Hesse, he was turning into Latin verse, as the duties of his office gave him leisure.
The magistrate was standing by the fire-side. He was a thick-set man of middle height, with a large head, and clever but coarse features, as rudely moulded as if they had been carved from wood. He was one of the best informed lawyers in the country, and his words flowed as smoothly and clearly from his strong lips, as if every thought in his keen brain was born fully matured and beautifully finished.
In the farthest corner of the room, awaiting a sign from his master, stood the magistrate's clerk, a little man with a round head, and legs like the sickle of the waxing or waning moon. He carried under his short arms two portfolios, filled with important papers.
"He comes from Portugal, and has lived under an assumed name?" So the abbot repeated, what he had just heard.
"His name is Lopez, not Costa," replied the other; "these papers prove it. Give me the portfolio, man! The diploma is in the brown one."
He handed a parchment to the prelate, who, after reading it, said firmly:
"This Jew is a more important person than we supposed. They are not lavish with such praise in Coimbra. Are you taking good care of the doctor's books Herr Conrad? I will look at them to-morrow."
"They are at your disposal. These papers. . . ."
"Leave them, leave them."
"There will be more than enough for the complaint without them," said the magistrate. "Our town-clerk, who though no student is, as you know, a man of much experience, shares my opinion." Then he continued pathetically: "Only he who has cause to fear the law hides his name, only he, who feels guilty, flees the judge."
A subtle smile, that was not wholly free from bitterness, hovered around the abbot's lips, for he thought of the painful trial and the torture-chamber in the town hall, and no longer saw in the doctor merely the Jew, but the humanist and companion in study.
His glance again fell on the diploma, and while the other continued his representations, the prelate stretched himself more comfortably in his arm-chair and gazed thoughtfully at the ground. Then, as if an idea had suddenly occurred to him, he touched his high forehead with the tips of his fingers, and suddenly interrupting the eager speaker, said:
"Father Anselm came to us from Porto five years ago, and when there knew every one who understood Greek. Go, Gutbub, and tell the librarian to come." The monk soon appeared.
Tidings of Ulrich's disappearance and the Jew's flight had spread rapidly through the monastery; the news was discussed in the choir, the school, the stable and the kitchen; Father Anselm alone had heard nothing of the matter, though he had been busy in the library before daybreak, and the vexatious incident had been eagerly talked of there.
It was evident, that the elderly man cared little for anything that happened in the world, outside of his manuscripts and printing. His long, narrow head rested on a thin neck, which did not stand erect, but grew out between the shoulders like a branch from the stem. His face was grey and lined with wrinkles, like pumice-stone, but large bright eyes lent meaning and attraction to the withered countenance.
At first he listened indifferently to the abbot's story, but as soon as the Jew's name was mentioned, and he had read the diploma, as swiftly as if he possessed the gift of gathering the whole contents of ten lines at a single comprehensive glance, he said eagerly:
"Lopez, Doctor Lopez was here! And we did not know it, and have not consulted with him! Where is he? What are people planning against him?"
After he had learned that the Jew had fled, and the abbot requested him to tell all he knew about the doctor, he collected his thoughts and sorrowfully began:
"To be sure, to be sure; the man committed a great offence. He is a great sinner in God's eyes. You know his guilt?"
"We know everything," cried the magistrate, with a meaning glance at the prelate. Then, as if he sincerely pitied the criminal, he continued with well-feigned sympathy: "How did the learned man commit such a misdeed?"
The abbot understood the stratagem, but Anselm's words could not be recalled, and as he himself desired to learn more of the doctor's history, he asked the monk to tell what he knew.
The librarian, in his curt, dry manner, yet with a warmth unusual to him, described the doctor's great learning and brilliant intellect, saying that his father, though a Jew, had been in his way an aristocratic man, allied with many a noble family, for until the reign of King Emanuel, who persecuted the Hebrews, they had enjoyed great distinction in Portugal. In those days it had been hard to distinguish Jews from Christians. At the time of the expulsion a few favored Israelites had been allowed to stay, among them the worthy Rodrigo, the doctor's father, who had been the king's physician and was held in high esteem by the sovereign. Lopez obtained the highest honors at Coimbra, but instead of following medicine, like his father, devoted himself to the humanities.
"There was no need to earn his living--to earn his living," continued the monk, speaking slowly and carefully, and repeating the conclusion of his sentence, as if he were in the act of collating two manuscripts, "for Rodrigo was one of the wealthiest men in Portugal. His son Lopez was rich, very rich in friends, and among them were numbered all to whom knowledge was dear. Even among the Christians he had many friends. Among us--I mean in our library--he also obtained great respect. I owe him many a hint, much aid; I mean in referring me to rare books, and explaining obscure passages. When he no longer visited us, I missed him sorely. I am not curious; or do you think I am? I am not curious, but I could not help inquiring about him, and then I heard very bad things. Women are to blame for everything; of course it was a woman again. A merchant from Flanders--a Christian--had settled in Porto. The doctor's father visited his house; but you probably know all this?"
"Of course! of course!" cried the magistrate. "But go on with your story."
"Old Doctor Rodrigo was the Netherlander's physician, and closed his eyes on the death-bed. An orphan was left, a girl, who had not a single relative in Porto. They said--I mean the young doctors and students who had seen her--that she was pleasing, very pleasing to the eye. But it was not on that account, but because she was orphaned and desolate, that the physician took the child--I mean the girl."
"And reared her as a Jewess?" interrupted the magistrate, with a questioning glance.
"As a Jewess?" replied the monk, excitedly. "Who says so? He did nothing of the sort. A Christian widow educated her in the physician's country-house, not in the city. When the young doctor returned from Coimbra, he saw her there more than once--more than once; certainly, more often than was good for him. The devil had a finger in the matter. I know, too, how they were married. Before one Jew and two Christian witnesses, they plighted their troth to each other, and exchanged rings--rings as if it were a Christian ceremony, though he remained a Jew and she a Christian. He intended to go to the Netherlands with her, but one of the witnesses betrayed them--denounced them to the Holy Inquisition. This soon interposed of course, for there it interferes with everything, and in this case it was necessary; nay more--a Christian duty. The young wife was seized in the street with her attendant and thrown into prison; on the rack she entirely lost the power of speech. The old physician and the doctor were warned in time, and kept closely concealed. Through Chamberlain de Sa, her uncle--or was it only her cousin?--through de Sa the wife regained her liberty, and then I believe all three fled to France--the father, son and wife. But no, they must have come here. . . ."
"There you have it!" cried the magistrate, interrupting the monk, and glancing triumphantly at the prelate. "An old practitioner scents crime, as a tree frog smells rain. Now, for the first time, I can say with certainty: We have him, and the worst punishment is too little for his deserts. There shall be an unparalleled execution, something wonderful, magnificent, grand! You have given me important information, and I thank you, Father."
"Then you knew nothing?" faltered the librarian; and, raising his neck higher than usual, the vein in the centre of his forehead swelled with wrath.
"No, Anselme!" said the abbot. "But it was your duty to speak, as, unfortunately, it was mine to listen. Come to me again, by and bye; I have something to say to you."
The librarian bowed silently, coldly and proudly, and without vouchsafing the magistrate a single glance, went back, not to his books, but to his cell, where he paced up and down a long time, sorrowfully murmuring Lopez's name, striking himself on the mouth, pressing his clenched hand to his brow, and at last throwing himself on his knees to pray for the Jew, before the image of the crucified Redeemer.
As soon as the monk had left the room, the magistrate exclaimed:
"What unexpected aid! What series of sins lie before us! First the small ones. He had never worn the Jews' badge, and allowed himself to be served by Christians, for Caspar's daughters were often at the House to help in sewing. A sword was found in his dwelling, and the Jew, who carries weapons, renounces, since he uses self-protection, the aid of the authorities. Finally, we know that Lopez used an assumed name. Now we come to the great offences. They are divided into four parts. He has practised magic spells; he has sought to corrupt a Christian's son by heresies; he has led a Christian woman into a marriage; and he has--I close with the worst--he has reared the daughter of a Christian woman, I mean his wife, a Jewess!"
"Reared his child a Jewess? Do you know that positively?" asked the abbot.
"She bears the Jewish name of Ruth. What I have taken the liberty to make prominent are well chosen, clearly-proved crimes, worthy of death. Your learning is great, Reverend Abbot, but I know the old writers, too. The Emperor Constantius made marriages between Jews and Christians punishable with death. I can show you the passage."
The abbot felt that the crime of which the Jew was accused was a heavy and unpardonable one, but he regarded only the sin, and it vexed him to see how the magistrate's zeal was exclusively turned against the unhappy criminal. So he rose, saying with cold hauteur:
"Then do your duty."
"Rely upon it. We shall capture him and his family to-morrow. The town-clerk is full of zeal too. We shall not be able to harm the child, but it must be taken from the Jew and receive a Christian education. It would be our right to do this, even if both parents were Hebrews. You know the Freiburg case. No less a personage than the great Ulrich Zasius has decided, that Jewish children might be baptized without their father's knowledge. I beg you to send Father Anselm to the town-hall on Saturday as a witness."
"Very well," replied the prelate, but he spoke with so little eagerness, that it justly surprised the magistrate. "Well then, catch the Jew; but take him alive. And one thing more! I wish to see and speak to the doctor, before you torture him."
"I will bring him to you day after to-morrow." The Nurembergers! the Nurembergers! . . ." replied the abbot, shrugging his shoulders.
"What do you mean?"
"They don't hang any one till they catch him." The magistrate regarded these words as a challenge to put forth every effort for the Jew's capture, so he answered eagerly: "We shall have him, Your Reverence, we shall surely have him. They are trapped in the snow. The sergeants are searching the roads; I shall summon your foresters and mine, and put them under Count Frohlinger's command. It is his duty to aid us. What they cannot find with their attendants, squires, beaters and hounds, is not hidden in the forest. Your blessing, Holy Father, there is no time to lose."
The abbot was alone.
He gazed thoughtfully at the coals in the fireplace, recalling everything he had just seen and heard, while his vivid power of imagination showed him the learned, unassuming man, who had spent long years in quiet seclusion, industriously devoting himself to the pursuit of knowledge. A slight feeling of envy stole into his heart; how rarely he himself was permitted to pursue undisturbed, and without interruption, the scientific subjects, in which alone he found pleasure.
He was vexed with himself, that he could feel so little anger against a criminal, whose guilt was deserving of death, and reproached himself for lukewarmness. Then he remembered that the Jew had sinned for love, and that to him who has loved much, much should be forgiven. Finally, it seemed a great boon, that he was soon to be permitted to make the acquaintance of the worthy doctor from Coimbra. Never had the zealous magistrate appeared so repulsive as to-day, and when he remembered how the crafty man had outwitted poor Father Anselm in his presence, he felt as if he had himself committed an unworthy deed. And yet, yet--the Jew could not be saved, and had deserved what threatened him.
A monk summoned him, but the abbot did not wish to be disturbed, and ordered that he should be left an hour alone.
He now took in his hand a volume he called the mirror of his soul, and in which he noted many things "for the confession," that he desired to determine to his own satisfaction. To-day he wrote:
"It would be a duty to hate a Jew and criminal, zealously to persecute what Holy Church has condemned. Yet I cannot do so. Who is the magistrate, and what are Father Anselm and this learned doctor! The one narrow-minded, only familiar with the little world he knows and in which he lives, the others divinely-gifted, full of knowledge, rulers in the wide domain of thought. And the former outwits the latter, who show themselves children in comparison with him. How Anselm stood before him! The deceived child was great, the clever man small. What men call cleverness is only small-minded persons' skill in life; simplicity is peculiar to the truly great man, because petty affairs are too small for him, and his eye does not count the grains of dust, but looks upward, and has a share in the infinitude stretching before us. Jesus Christ was gentle as a child and loved children, he was the Son of God, yet voluntarily yielded himself into the hands of men. The greatest of great men did not belong to the ranks of the clever. Blessed are the meek, He said. I understand those words. He is meek, whose soul is open, clear and pure as a mirror, and the greatest philosophers, the noblest minds I have met in life and history were also meek. The brute is clever; wisdom is the cleverness of the noble-minded. We must all follow the Saviour, and he among us, who unites wisdom to meekness, will come nearest to the Redeemer."