A Word Only a Word - Volume 1

A Word Only a Word - Volume 1

A WORD ONLY A WORD - VOLUME 1. GEORG EBERS Translated from the German by Mary J. Safford Volume 1. CHAPTER I. "A word only a word!" cried a fresh boyish voice then two hands were loudly clapped and a gay laugh echoed through the forest. Hitherto silence had reigned under the boughs of the pines and tops of the beeches but now a wood-pigeon joined in the lad's laugh and a jay startled by the clapping of hands spread its brown wings delicately flecked with blue and soared from one pine to another. Spring had entered the Black Forest a few weeks before. May was just over yet the weather was as sultry as in midsummer and clouds were gathering in denser and denser masses. The sun was still some distance above the horizon but the valley was so narrow that the day star had disappeared before making its majestic entry into the portals of night. When it set in a clear sky it only gilded the border of pine trees on the crest of the lofty western heights; to-day it was invisible and the occasional quickly interrupted twittering of the birds seemed more in harmony with the threatening clouds and sultry atmosphere than the lad's gay laughter. Every living creature seemed to be holding its breath in anxious suspense but Ulrich once more laughed joyously then bracing his bare knee against a bundle of faggots cried: "Give me that stick Ruth that I may tie it up. How dry the stuff is and how it snaps! A word! To sit over books all day long for one stupid word--that's just nonsense!" "But all words are not alike" replied the girl. "Piff is paff and paff is puff!" laughed Ulrich. "When I snap the twigs you always hear them say 'knack knack' and 'knack' is a word too. The juggler Caspar's magpie can say twenty." "But father said so" replied Ruth arranging the dry sticks. "He toils hard but not for gold and gain to find the right words. You are always wanting to know what he is looking for in his big books so I plucked up courage to ask him and now I know. I suppose he saw I was astonished for he smiled just as he does when you have asked some foolish question at lessons and added that a word was no trifling thing and should not be despised for God had made the world out of one single word." Ulrich shook his head and after pondering a few minutes replied. "Do you believe that?" "Father said so" was the little girl's only answer. Her words expressed the firm immovable security of childish confidence and the same feeling sparkled in her eyes. She was probably about nine years old and in every respect a perfect contrast to her companion her senior by several summers for the latter was strongly built and from beneath his beautiful fair locks a pair of big blue eyes flashed defiance at the world while Ruth was a delicate little creature with slender limbs pale cheeks and coal-black hair. The little girl wore a fashionably-made though shabby dress shoes and stockings--the boy was barefoot and his grey doublet looked scarcely less worn than the short leather breeches which hardly reached his knees; yet he must have had some regard for his outer man for a red knot of real silk was fastened on his shoulder. He could scarcely be the child of a peasant or woodland laborer--the brow was too high the nose and red lips were too delicately moulded the bearing was too proud and free. Ruth's last words had given him food for thought but he left them unanswered until the last bundle of sticks was tied up. Then he said hesitatingly: "My mother--you know.... I dare not speak of her before father he goes into such a rage; my mother is said to be very wicked--but she never was so to me and I long for her day after day very very much as I long for nothing else. When I was so high my mother told me a great many things such queer things! About a man who wanted treasures and before whom mountains opened at a word he knew. Of course it's for such a word your father is seeking." "I don't know" replied the little girl. "But the word out of which God made the whole earth and sky and all the stars must have been a very great one." Ulrich nodded then raising his eyes boldly exclaimed: "Ah if he should find it and would not keep it to himself but let you tell me! I should know what I wanted." Ruth looked at him enquiringly but he cried laughingly: "I shan't tell. But what would you ask?" "I? I should ask to have my mother able to speak again like other people. But you would wish...." "You can't know what I would wish." "Yes yes. You would bring your mother back home again." "No I wasn't thinking of that" replied Ulrich flushing scarlet and fixing his eyes on the ground. "What then? Tell me; I won't repeat it." "I should like to be one of the count's squires and always ride with him when he goes hunting." "Oh!" cried Ruth. "That would be the very thing if I were a boy like you. A squire! But if the word can do everything it will make you lord of the castle and a powerful count. You can have real velvet clothes with gay slashes and a silk bed." "And I'll ride the black stallion and the forest with all its stags and deer will belong to me; as to the people down in the village I'll show them!" Raising his clenched fist and his eyes in menace as he uttered the words he saw that heavy rain-drops were beginning to fall and a thunder-shower was rising. Hastily and skilfully loading himself with several bundles of faggots he laid some on the little girl's shoulders and went down with her towards the valley paying no heed to the pouring rain thunder or lightning; but Ruth trembled in every limb. At the edge of the narrow pass leading to the city they stood still. The moisture was trickling down its steep sides and had gathered into a reddish torrent on the rocky bottom. "Come!" cried Ulrich stepping on to the edge of the ravine where stones and sand loosened by the wet were now rattling down. "I'm afraid" answered the little girl trembling. "There's another flash of lightning! Oh! dear oh dear! how it blazes!--oh! oh! that clap of thunder!" She stooped as if the lightning had struck her covered her face with her little hands and fell on her knees the bundle of faggots slipping to the ground. Filled with terror she murmured as if she could command the mighty word: "Oh Word Word get me home!" Ulrich stamped impatiently glanced at her with mingled anger and contempt and muttering reproaches threw her bundle and his own into the ravine then roughly seized her hand and dragged her to the edge of the cliff. Half-walking half-slipping with many an unkind word though he was always careful to support her the boy scrambled down the steep slope with his companion and when they were at last standing in the water at the bottom of the gully picked up the dripping fagots and walked silently on carrying her burden as well as his own. After a short walk through the running water and mass of earth and stones slowly sliding towards the valley several shingled roofs appeared and the little girl uttered a sigh of relief; for in the row of shabby houses each standing by itself that extended from the forest to the level end of the ravine was her own home and the forge belonging to her companion's father. It was still raining but the thunder-storm had passed as quickly as it rose and twilight was already gathering over the mist-veiled houses and spires of the little city from which the street ran to the ravine. The stillness of the evening was only interrupted by a few scattered notes of bells the finale of the mighty peal by which the warder had just been trying to disperse the storm. The safety of the town in the narrow forest-valley was well secured a wall and ditch enclosed it; only the houses on the edge of the ravine were unprotected. True the mouth of the pass was covered by the field pieces on the city wall and the strong tower beside the gate but it was not incumbent on the citizens to provide for the safety of the row of houses up there. It was called the Richtberg and nobody lived there except the rabble executioners and poor folk who were not granted the rights of citizenship. Adam the smith had forfeited his and Ruth's father Doctor Costa was a Jew who ought to be thankful that he was tolerated in the old forester's house. The street was perfectly still. A few children were jumping over the mud-puddles and an old washerwoman was putting a wooden vessel under the gutter to collect the rain-water. Ruth breathed more freely when once again in the street and among human beings and soon clinging to the hand of her father who had come to meet her she entered the house with him and Ulrich. CHAPTER II. While the boy flung the damp bundles of brushwood on the floor beside the hearth in the doctor's kitchen a servant from the monastery was leading three horses under the rude shed in front of the smith Adam's work-shop The stately grey-haired monk who had ridden the strong cream-colored steed was already standing beside the embers of the fire pressing his hands upon the warm chimney. The forge stood open but spite of knocking and shouting neither the master of the place nor any other living soul appeared. Adam had gone out but could not be far away for the door leading from the shop into the sitting-room was also unlocked. The time was growing long to Father Benedict so for occupation he tried to lift the heavy hammer. It was a difficult task though he was no weakling yet it was not hard for Adam's arm to swing and guide the burden. If only the man had understood how to govern his life as well as he managed his ponderous tool! He did not belong to Richtberg. What would his father have said had he lived to see his son dwell here? The monk had known the old smith well and he also knew many things about the son and his destiny yet no more than rumor entrusts to one person concerning another's life. Even this was enough to explain why Adam had become so reserved misanthropic and silent a man though even in his youth lie certainly had not been what is termed a gay fellow. The forge where he grew up was still standing in the market-place of the little city below; it had belonged to his grandfather and great- grandfather. There had never been any lack of custom to the annoyance of the wise magistrates whose discussions were disturbed by the hammering that rang across the ill-paved square to the windows of the council-chamber; but on the other hand the idle hours of the watchmen under the arches of the ground-floor of the town-hall were sweetened by the bustle before the smithy. How Adam had come from the market-place to the Richtberg is a story speedily told. He was the only child of his dead parents and early learned his father's trade. When his mother died the old man gave his son and partner his blessing and some florins to pay his expenses and sent him away. He went directly to Nuremberg which the old man praised as the high-school of the smith's art and there remained twelve years. When at the end of that time news came to Adam that his father was dead and he had inherited the forge on the market-place he wondered to find that he was thirty years old and had gone no farther than Nuremberg. True everything that the rest of the world could do in the art of forging might be learned there. He was a large heavy man and from childhood had moved slowly and reluctantly from the place where he chanced to be. If work was pressing he could not be induced to leave the anvil even when evening had closed in; if it was pleasant to sit over the beer he remained till after the last man had gone. While working he was as mute as the dead to everything that was passing around him; in the tavern he rarely spoke and then said only a few words yet the young artists sculptors workers in gold and students liked to see the stout drinker and good listener at the table and the members of his guild only marvelled how the sensible fellow who joined in no foolish pranks and worked in such good earnest held aloof from them to keep company with these hairbrained folk and remained a Papist. He might have taken possession of the shop on the market-place directly after his father's death but could not arrange his departure so quickly and it was fully eight months before he left Nuremberg. On the high-road before Schwabach a wagon occupied by some strolling performers overtook the traveller. They belonged to the better class for they appeared before counts and princes and were seven in number. The father and four sons played the violin viola and reboc and the two daughters sang to the lute and harp. The old man invited Adam to take the eighth place in the vehicle so he counted his pennies and room was made for him opposite Flora called by her family Florette. The musicians were going to the fair at Nordlingen and the smith enjoyed himself so well with them that he remained several days after reaching the goal of the journey. When he at last went away Florette wept but he walked straight on until noon without looking back. Then he lay down under a blossoming apple-tree to rest and eat some lunch but the lunch did not taste well; and when he shut his eyes he could not sleep for he thought constantly of Florette. Of course! He had parted from her far too soon and an eager longing seized upon him for the young girl with her red lips and luxuriant hair. This hair was a perfect golden-yellow; he knew it well for she had often combed and braided it in the tavern- room beside the straw where they all slept. He yearned to hear her laugh too and would have liked to see her weep again. Then he remembered the desolate smithy in the narrow market-place and the dreary home recollected that he was thirty years old and still had no wife. A little wife of his own! A wife like Florette! Seventeen years old a complexion like milk and blood a creature full of gayety and joyous life! True he was no light-hearted lad but lying under the apple-tree in the month of May he saw himself in imagination living happily and merrily in the smithy by the market-place with the fair-haired girl who had already shed tears for him. At last he started up and because he had determined to go still farther on this day did so though for no other reason than to carry out the plan formed the day before. The next morning before sunrise he was again marching along the highway this time not forward towards the Black Forest but back to Nordlingen. That very evening Florette became his betrothed bride and the following Tuesday his wife. The wedding was celebrated in the midst of the turmoil of the fair. Strolling players jugglers and buffoons were the witnesses and there was no lack of music and tinsel. A quieter ceremony would have been more agreeable to the plain citizen and sensible blacksmith but this purgatory had to be passed to reach Paradise. On Wednesday he went off in a fair wagon with his young wife and in Stuttgart bought with a portion of his savings many articles of household furniture less to stop the gossips' tongues of which he took no heed than to do her honor in his own eyes. These things piled high in a wagon of his own he had sent into his native town as Florette's dowry for her whole outfit consisted of one pink and one grass-green gown a lute and a little white dog. A delightful life now began in the smithy for Adam. The gossips avoided his wife but they stared at her in church and among them she seemed to him not unjustly like a rose amid vegetables. The marriage he had made was an abomination to respectable citizens but Adam did not heed them and Flora appeared to feel equally happy with him. When before the close of the first twelvemonth after their wedding Ulrich was born the smith reached the summit of happiness and remained there for a whole year. When during that time he stood in the bow-window amid the fresh balsam auricular and yellow wallflowers holding his boy on his shoulder while his wife leaned on his arm and the pungent odor of scorched hoofs reached his nostrils and he saw his journeyman and apprentice shoeing a horse below he often thought how pleasant it had been pursuing the finer branches of his craft in Nuremberg and that he should like to forge a flower again; but the blacksmith's trade was not to be despised either and surely life with one's wife and child was best. In the evening he drank his beer at the Lamb and once when the surgeon Siedler called life a miserable vale of tears he laughed in his face and answered: "To him who knows how to take it right it is a delightful garden." Florette was kind to her husband and devoted herself to her child so long as he was an infant with the most self-sacrificing love. Adam often spoke of a little daughter who must look exactly like its mother; but it did not come. When little Ulrich at last began to run about in the street the mother's nomadic blood stirred and she was constantly dinning it into her husband's ears that he ought to leave this miserable place and go to Augsburg or Cologne where it would be pleasant; but he remained firm and though her power over him was great she could not move his resolute will. Often she would not cease her entreaties and representations and when she even complained that she was dying of solitude and weariness his veins swelled with wrath and then she was frightened fled to her room and wept. If she happened to have a bold day she threatened to go away and seek her own relatives. This displeased him and he made her feel it bitterly for he was steadfast in everything even anger and when he bore ill-will it was not for hours but months nor at such times could he be conciliated by coaxing or tears. By degrees Florette learned to meet his discontent with a shrug of her shoulders and to arrange her life in her own way. Ulrich was her comfort pride and plaything but sporting with him did not satisfy her. While Adam was standing behind the anvil she sat among the flowers in the bow-window and the watchmen now looked higher up than the forge the worthy magistrates no longer cast unfriendly glances at the smith's house for Florette grew more and more beautiful in the quiet life she now enjoyed and many a neighboring noble brought his horse to Adam to be shod merely to look into the eyes of the artisan's beautiful wife. Count von Frohlingen came most frequently of all and Florette soon learned to distinguish the hoof-beats of his horse from those of the other steeds and when he entered the shop willingly found some pretext for going there too. In the afternoons she often went with her child outside the gate and then always chose the road leading to the count's castle. There was no lack of careful friends who warned Adam but he answered them angrily so they learned to be silent. Florette had now grown gay again and sometimes sang like a joyous bird. Seven years elapsed and during the summer of the eighth a scattered troop of soldiers came to the city and obtained admission. They were quartered under the arches of the town-hall but many also lay in the smithy for their helmets breast-plates and other pieces of armor required plenty of mending. The ensign a handsome proud young fellow with a dainty moustache was Adam's most constant customer and played very kindly with Ulrich when Florette appeared with him. At last the young soldier departed and the very same day Adam was summoned to the monastery to mend something in the grating before the treasury. When he returned Florette had vanished; "run after the ensign" people said and they were right. Adam did not attempt to wrest her from the seducer; but a great love cannot be torn from the heart like a staff that is thrust into the ground; it is intertwined with a thousand fibres and to destroy it utterly is to destroy the heart in which it has taken root and with it life itself. When he secretly cursed her and called her a viper he doubtless remembered how innocent dear and joyous she had been and then the roots of the destroyed affection put forth new shoots and he saw before his mental vision ensnaring images of which he felt ashamed as soon as they had vanished. Lightning and hail had entered the "delightful garden" of Adam's life also and he had been thrust forth from the little circle of the happy into the great army of the wretched. Purifying powers dwell in undeserved suffering but no one is made better by unmerited disgrace least of all a man like Adam. He had done what seemed to him his duty without looking to the right or the left but now the stainless man felt himself dishonored and with morbid sensitiveness referred everything he saw and heard to his own disgrace while the inhabitants of the little town made him feel that he had been ill- advised when he ventured to make a fiddler's daughter a citizen. When he went out it seemed to him--and usually unjustly--as if people were nudging each other; hands pointing out-stretched fingers at him appeared to grow from every eye. At home he found nothing but desolation vacuity sorrow and a child who constantly tore open the burning gnawing wounds in his heart. Ulrich must forget "the viper" and he sternly forbade him to speak of his mother; but not a day passed on which he would not fain have done so himself. The smith did not stay long in the house on the market-place. He wished to go to Freiburg or Ulm any place where he had not been with her. A purchaser for the dwelling with its lucrative business was speedily found the furniture was packed and the new owner was to move in on Wednesday when on Monday Bolz the jockey came to Adam's workshop from Richtberg. The man had been a good customer for years and bought hundreds of shoes which he put on the horses at his own forge for he knew something about the trade. He came to say farewell; he had his own nest to feather and could do a more profitable business in the lowlands than up here in the forest. Finally he offered Adam his property at a very low price. ...