A Word Only A Word by Georg Ebers
Marx had gone out to reconnoitre in a more cheerful mood, for the doctor had made good the loss sustained in the death of his old nag, and he returned at noon with good news.
A wood-carrier, whom he met on the high-road, had told him where Jorg, the charcoal-burner, lived.
The fugitives could reach his hut before night, and in so doing approach nearer the Rhine valley. Everything was ready for departure, but old Rahel objected to travelling further. She was sitting on a stone before the hut, for the smoke in the narrow room oppressed her breathing, and it seemed as if terror had robbed her of her senses. Gazing into vacancy with wild eyes and chattering teeth, she tried to make cakes and mould dumplings out of the snow, which she probably took for flour. She neither heard the doctor's call nor saw his wife beckon, and when the former grasped her to compel her to rise, uttered a loud shriek. At last the smith succeeded in persuading her to sit down on the sledge, and the party moved forward.
Adam had harnessed himself to the front of the vehicle. Marx went to and fro, pushing when necessary. The dumb woman waded through the snow by her husband's side. "Poor wife!" he said once; but she pressed his arm closer, looking up into his eyes as if she wished to say: "Surely I shall lack nothing, if only you are spared to me!"
She enjoyed his presence as if it were a favor granted by destiny, but only at chance moments, for she could not banish her fear for him, and of the pursuers--her dread of uncertainty and wandering.
If snow rattled from a pine-tree, if she noticed Lopez turn his head, or if old Rahel uttered a moan, she shuddered; and this was not unperceived by her husband, who told himself that she had every reason to look forward to the next few hours with grave anxiety. Each moment might bring imprisonment to him and all, and if they discovered--if it were disclosed who he, who Elizabeth was. . . .
Ulrich and Ruth brought up the rear, saying little to each other.
At first the path ascended again, then led down to the valley. It had stopped snowing long before, and the farther they went the lighter the drifts became.
They had journeyed in this way for two hours, when Ruth's strength failed, and she stood still with tearful, imploring eyes. The charcoal-burner saw it, and growled:
"Come here, little girl; I'll carry you to the sleigh."
"No, let me," Ulrich eagerly interposed. And Ruth exclaimed:
"Yes, you, you shall carry me."
Marx grasped her around the waist, lifted her high into the air, and placed her in the boy's arms. She clasped her hands around his neck, and as he walked on pressed her fresh, cool cheek to his. It pleased him, and the thought entered his mind that he had been parted from her a long time, and it was delightful to have her again.
His heart swelled more and more; he felt that he would rather have Ruth than everything else in the world, and he drew her towards him as closely as if an invisible hand were already out-stretched to take her from him.
To-day her dear, delicate little face was not pale, but glowed crimson after the long walk through the frosty, winter air. She was glad to have Ulrich clasp her so firmly, so she pressed her cheek closer to his, loosened her fingers from his neck, caressingly stroked his face with her cold hand, and murmured:
"You are kind, Ulrich, and I love you!"
It sounded so tender and loving, that Ulrich's heart melted, for no one had spoken to him so since his mother went away.
He felt strong and joyous, Ruth did not seem at all heavy, and when she again clasped her hands around his neck, he said: "I should like to carry you so always."
Ruth only nodded, as if the wish pleased her, but he continued:
"In the monastery I had no one, who was very kind to me, for even Lips, well, he was a count--everybody is kind to you. You don't know what it is, to be all alone, and have to struggle against every one. When I was in the monastery, I often wished that I was lying under the earth; now I don't want to die, and we will stay with you--father told me so--and everything will be just as it was, and I shall learn no more Latin, but become a painter, or smith-artificer, or anything else, for aught I care, if I'm only not obliged to leave you again."
He felt Ruth raise her little head, and press her soft lips on his forehead just over his eyes; then he lowered the arms in which she rested, kissed her mouth, and said: "Now it seems as if I had my mother back again!"
"Does it?" she asked, with sparkling eyes. "Now put me down. I am well again, and want to run."
So saying, she slipped to the ground, and he did not detain her.
Ruth now walked stoutly on beside the lad, and made him tell her about the bad boys in the monastery, Count Lips, the pictures, the monks, and his own flight, until, just as it grew dark, they reached the goal of their walk.
Jorg, the charcoal-burner, received them, and opened his hut, but only to go away himself, for though willing to give the fugitives shelter and act against the authorities, he did not wish to be present, if the refugees should be caught. Caught with them, hung with them! He knew the proverb, and went down to the village, with the florins Adam gave him.
There was a hearth for cooking in the hut, and two rooms, one large and one small, for in summer the charcoal-burners' wives and children live with them. The travellers needed rest and refreshment, and might have found both here, had not fear embittered the food and driven sleep from their weary eyes.
Jorg was to return early the next morning with a team of horses. This was a great consolation. Old Rahel, too, had regained her self-control, and was sound asleep.
The children followed her example, and at midnight Elizabeth slept too.
Marx lay beside the hearth, and from his crooked mouth came a strange, snoring noise, that sounded like the last note of an organ-pipe, from which the air is expiring.
Hours after all the others were asleep, Adam and the doctor still sat on a sack of straw, engaged in earnest conversation.
Lopez had told his friend the story of his happiness and sorrow, closing with the words:
"So you know who we are, and why we left our home. You are giving me your future, together with many other things; no gift can repay you; but first of all, it was due you that you should know my past."
Then, holding out his hand to the smith, he asked: "You are a Christian; will you still cleave to me, after what you have heard?"
Adam silently pressed the Jew's right hand, and after remaining lost in thought for a time, said in a hollow tone:
"If they catch you, and--Holy Virgin--if they discover . . . Ruth. . . . She is not really a Jew's child . . . have you reared her as a Jewess?"
"No; only as a good human child."
"Is she baptized?"
Lopez answered this question also in the negative. The smith shook his head disapprovingly, but the doctor said: "She knows more about Jesus, than many a Christian child of her age. When she is grown up, she will be free to follow either her mother or her father."
"Why have you not become a Christian yourself? Forgive the question. Surely you are one at heart."
"That, that . . . you see, there are things. . . . Suppose that every male scion of your family, from generation to generation, for many hundred years, had been a smith, and now a boy should grow up, who said: I--I despise your trade?'"
"If Ulrich should say: 'I-I wish to be an artist;' it would be agreeable to me."
"Even if smiths were persecuted like us Jews, and he ran from your guild to another out of fear?"
"No--that would be base, and can scarcely be compared with your case; for see--you are acquainted with everything, even what is called Christianity; nay, the Saviour is dear to you; you have already told me so. Well then! Suppose you were a foundling and were shown our faith and yours, and asked for which you would decide, which would you choose?"
"We pray for life and peace, and where peace exists, love cannot be lacking, and yet! Perhaps I might decide for yours."
"There you have it."
"No, no! We have not done with this question so speedily. See, I do not grudge you your faith, nor do I wish to disturb it. The child must believe, that all its parents do and require of him is right, but the stranger sees with different, keener eyes, than the son and daughter. You occupy a filial relation towards your Church--I do not. I know the doctrine of Jesus Christ, and if I had lived in Palestine in his time, should have been one of the first to follow the Master, but since, from those days to the present, much human work has mingled with his sublime teachings. This too must be dear to you, for it belongs to your parents--but it repels me. I have lived, labored and watched all night for the truth, and were I now to come before the baptismal font and say 'yes' to everything the priests ask, I should be a liar."
"They have caused you bitter suffering; tortured your wife, driven you and your family from your home. . . ."
"I have borne all that patiently," cried the doctor, deeply moved. "But there are many other sins now committed against me and mine, for which there is no forgiveness. I know the great Pagans and their works. Their need of love extends only to the nation, to which they belong, not to humanity. Unselfish justice, is to them the last thing man owes his fellow-man. Christ extended love to all nations, His heart was large enough to love all mankind. Human love, the purest and fairest of virtues, is the sublime gift, the noble heritage, he left behind to his brothers in sorrow. My heart, the poor heart under this black doublet, this heart was created for human love, this soul thirsted, with all its powers, to help its neighbors and lighten their sorrows. To exercise human love is to be good, but they no longer know it, and what is worse, a thousand times worse, they constantly destroy in me and mine the desire to be good, good in the sense of their own Master. Worldly wealth is trash--to be rich the poorest happiness. Yet the Jew is not forbidden to strive for this, they take scarcely half his gains;--nor can they deny him the pursuit of the pleasures of the intellect--pure knowledge--for our minds are not feebler or more idle, and soar no less boldly than theirs. The prophets came from the East! But the happiness of the soul--the right to exercise charity is denied to us. It is a part of charity for each man to regard his neighbor as himself--to feel for him, as it were, with his own heart--to lighten his burdens, minister unto him in his sorrows, and to gladden his happiness. This the Christian denies the Jew. Your love ceases when you meet me and mine, and if I sought to put myself on an equality with the Christian, from the pure desire to satisfy his Master's most beautiful lesson, what would be my fate? The Jew is not permitted to be good. Not to be good! Whoever imposes that upon his brother, commits a sin for which I know no forgiveness. And if Jesus Christ should return to earth and see the pack that hunts us, surely He, who was human love incarnate, would open His arms wide, wide to us, and ask: 'Who are these apostles of hate? I know them not!'"
The doctor paused, for the door had opened, and he rose with flushed face to look into the adjoining room; but the smith held him back, saying:
"Stay, stay! Marx went out into the open air. Ah, Sir! no doubt your words are true, but were they Jews who crucified the Saviour?"
"And this crime is daily avenged," replied Lopez. "How many wicked, how many low souls, who basely squander divine gifts to obtain worthless pelf, there are among my people! More than half of them are stripped of honor and dignity on your altar of vengeance, and thrust into the arms of repulsive avarice. And this, all this. . . . But enough of these things! They rouse my inmost soul to wrath, and I have other matters to discuss with you."
The scholar now began to speak to the smith, like a dying man, about the future of his family, told him where he had concealed his small property, and did not hide the fact, that his marriage had not only drawn upon him the persecution of the Christians, but the curse of his co-religionists. He took it upon himself to provide for Ulrich, as if he were his own child, should any misfortune befall the smith; and Adam promised, if he remained alive and at liberty, to do the same for the doctor's wife and daughter.
Meantime, a conversation of a very different nature was held before the hut.
The poacher was sitting by the fire, when the door opened, and his name was called. He turned in alarm, but soon regained his composure, for it was Jorg who beckoned, and then drew him into the forest.
Marx expected no good news, yet he started when his companion said:
"I know now, who the man is you have brought. He's a Jew. Don't try to humbug me. The constable from the city has come to the village. The man, who captures the Israelite, will get fifteen florins. Fifteen florins, good money. The magistrate will count it, all on one board, and the vicar says. . . ."
"I don't care much for your priests," replied Marx. "I am from Weinsberg, and have found the Jew a worthy man. No one shall touch him."
"A Jew, and a good man!" cried Jurg, laughing. "If you won't help, so much the worse for you. You'll risk your neck, and the fifteen florins. . . . Will you go shares? Yes or no?"
"Heaven's thunder!" murmured the poacher, his crooked mouth watering." How much is half of fifteen florins?"
"About seven, I should say."
"A calf and a pig."
"A swine for the Jew, that will suit. You'll keep him here in the trap."
"I can't, Jorg; by my soul, I can't! Let me alone!"
"Very well, for aught I care; but the legal gentlemen. The gallows has waited for you long enough!"
"I can't; I can't. I've been an honest man all my life, and the smith Adam and his dead father have shown me many a kindness."
"Who means the smith any harm?"
"The receiver is as bad as the thief. If they catch him. . . ."
"He'll be put in the stocks for a week. That's the worst that can befall him."
"No, no. Let me alone,--or I'll tell Adam what you're plotting. . . ."
"Then I'll denounce you first, you gallows' fruit, you rogue, you poacher. They've suspected you a long time! Will you change your mind now, you blockhead?"
"Yes, yes; but Ulrich is here too, and the boy is as dear to me as my own child."
"I'll come here later, say that no vehicle can be had, and take him away with me. When it's all over, I'll let him go."
"Then I'll keep him. He already helps me as much, as if he were a grown man. Oh, dear, dear! The Jew, the gentle man, and the poor women, and the little girl, Ruth. . . ."
"Big Jews and little Jews, nothing more. You've told me yourself, how the Hebrews were persecuted in your dead father's day. So we'll go shares. There's a light in the room still. You'll detain them. Count Frohlinger has been at his hunting-box since last evening. . . . If they insist on moving forward, guide them to the village."
"And I've been an honest man all my life," whined the poacher, and then continued, threateningly: "If you harm a hair on Ulrich's head. . . ."
"Fool that you are! I'll willingly leave the big feeder to you. Go in now, then I'll come and fetch the boy. There's money at stake--fifteen florins!" Fifteen minutes after, Jorg entered the but.
The smith and the doctor believed the charcoal-burner, when he told them that all the vehicles in the village were in use, but he would find one elsewhere. They must let the boy go with him, to enquire at the farm-houses in another village. Somebody would doubtless be found to risk his horses. The lad looked like a young nobleman, and the peasants would take earnest-money from him. If he, Jorg, should show them florins, it would get him into a fine scrape. The people knew he was as poor as a beggar.
The smith asked the poacher's opinion, and the latter growled:
"That will, doubtless, be a good plan."
He said no more, and when Adam held out his hand to the boy, and kissed him on the forehead, and the doctor bade him an affectionate farewell, Marx called himself a Judas, and would gladly have flung the tempting florins to the four winds, but it was too late.
The smith and Lopez heard him call anxiously to Jorg: "Take good care of the boy!" And when Adam patted him on the shoulder, saying: "You are a faithful fellow, Marx!" he could have howled like a mastiff and revealed all; but it seemed as if he again felt the rope around his neck, so he kept silence.