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- In The Blue Pike, Complete - 6/20 -

cloth upon her rough husband's already well-mended jerkin by the dim light of a small lamp, into which she had put some fat and a bit of rag for a wick. It was difficult to thread the needle. Had it not been for the yellow blaze of the pitchpans fastened to the wall with iron clamps, which had already been burning an hour, she could scarcely have succeeded.

"Make room there," the waiter called to the vagrants, giving the sleeping Jungel a push with his club foot. The latter grasped his crutch, as he had formerly seized the sword he carried as a foot soldier ere he lost his leg before Padua. Then, with a Spanish oath learned in the Netherlands, he turned over, still half asleep, on his side. So Dietel found room, and, after vainly looking for Kuni among the others, gazed out at the starlit sky.

Yonder, in front of the house, beside the tall oleanders which grew in wine casks cut in halves instead of in tubs, the learned and aristocratic gentlemen sat around the table with outstretched heads, examining by the light of the torches the pages which Dr. Eberbach drew forth, one after another, from the inexhaustible folds of the front of his black robe.

Dietel, the schoolmaster's son, who had once sat on the bench with the pupils of the Latin class, pricked up his cars; he heard foreign words which interested him like echoes of memories of his childhood. He did not understand them, yet he liked to listen, for they made him think of his dead father. He had always meant kindly, but he had been a morose, deeply embittered man. How pitilessly he had flogged him and the other boys with hazel rods. And he would have been still harsher and sterner but for his mother's intercession.

A pleasant smile hovered around his lips as he remembered her. Instead of continuing to listen to the Greek sentences which Herr Wilibald Pirckheimer was reading aloud to the others, he could not help thinking of the pious, gentle little woman who, with her cheerful kindness, so well understood how to comfort and to sustain courage. She never railed or scolded; at the utmost she only wiped her eyes with her apron when the farmers of his little native town in Hesse sent to the schoolmaster, for the school tax, grain too bad for bread, hay too sour for the three goats, and half-starved fowls.

He thoughtfully patted the plump abdomen which, thanks to the fleshpots of The Blue Pike, had grown so rotund in his fifteen years of service.

"It pays better to provide for people's bodies than for their brains," he said to himself. "The Nuremberg and Augsburg gentlemen outside are rich folk's children. For them learning is only the raisins, almonds, and citron in the cake; knowledge agrees with them better than it did with my father. He was the ninth child of respectable stocking weavers, but, as the pastor perceived that he was gifted with special ability, his parents took a portion of their savings to make him a scholar. The tuition fee and the boy were both confided to a Beanus--that is, an older pupil, who asserted that he understood Latin--in order that he might look after the inexperienced little fellow and help him out of school as well as in. But, instead of using for his protigee the florins intrusted to him, the Beanus shamefully squandered the money saved for a beloved child by so many sacrifices. While he feasted on roast meat and wine, the little boy placed in his charge went hungry." Whenever, in after years, the old man described this time of suffering, his son listened with clinched fists, and when Dietel saw a Beanus at The Blue Pike snatch the best pieces from the child in his care, he interfered in his behalf sternly enough. Nay, he probably brought to him from the kitchen, on his own account, a piece of roast meat or a sausage. Many of the names which fell from the moist lips of the gentlemen outside--Lucian and Virgil, Ovid and Seneca, Homer and Plato--were perfectly familiar to him. The words the little doctor was reading must belong to their writings. How attentively the others listened! Had not Dietel run away from the monks' school at Fulda he, too, might have enjoyed the witticisms of these sages, or even been permitted to sit at the same table with the great lights of the Church from Cologne.

Now it was all over with studying.

And yet--it could not be so very serious a matter, for Doctor Eberbach had just read something aloud at which the young Nuremberg ambassador, Lienhard Groland, could not help laughing heartily. It seemed to amuse the others wonderfully, too, and even caused the astute Dr. Peutinger to strike his clinched fist upon the table with the exclamation, "A devil of a fellow!" and Wilibald Pirckheimer to assent eagerly, praising Hutten's ardent love for his native land and courage in battling for its elevation; but this Hutten whom he so lauded was the ill-advised scion of the knightly race that occupied Castle Steckelberg in his Hessian home, whom he knew well. The state of his purse was evident from the fact that the landlord of The Pike had once been obliged to detain him because he could not pay the bill--though it was by no means large--in any other coin than merry tales.

But even the best joke of the witty knight would have failed to produce its effect on the listening waiter just now; for the gentlemen outside were again discussing the Reuchlin controversy, and in doing so uttered such odious words about the Cologne theologians, whom Dietel knew as godly gentlemen who consumed an ample supply of food, that he grew hot and cold by turns. He was a good man who would not hurt a fly. Yet, when he heard things and opinions which his mother had taught him to hold sacred assailed, he could become as angry as a savage brute. The little impious blasphemer Eberbach, especially, he would have been more than ready to lash with the best hazel rod which he had ever cut for his dead father. But honest anger affords a certain degree of enjoyment, so it was anything rather than agreeable to him to be called away.

The feather curler and his table companions wanted Kitzing wine, but it was in the cellar, and a trip there would have detained him too long from his post of listener. So he turned angrily back into the room, and told the business men that princes, bishops, and counts were satisfied with the table wine of The Blue Pike, which had been already served to them, and the sceptre and crozier were of more importance than their twisted feathers. "Those are not the wisest people," he added sagely, "who despise what is good to try to get better. So stick to the excellent Blue Pike wine and say no more about it!"

Without waiting for an answer from the astonished guests, he limped back to his window to resume his listening. The conversation, however, had already taken a new turn, for Dr. Peutinger was describing the Roman monument which he had had put up in the courtyard of his Augsburg house, but, as this interested Dietel very little, he soon turned his attention to the high road, whence a belated guest might still come to The Blue Pike.

The landlady's little kitchen garden lay between it and the river Main, and there--no, it was no deception--there, behind the low hawthorn hedge, a human figure was moving.

One of the vagabonds had certainly slipped into the garden to steal fruit or vegetables, or even honey from the bee hives. An unprecedented offence! Dietel's blood boiled, for the property of The Blue Pike was as dear to him as his own.

With prompt decision he went through the entry into the yard, where he meant to unchain the butcher's dog to help him chase the abominable robber. But some time was to elapse ere he could execute this praiseworthy intention; for before he could cross the threshold the landlord of The Pike appeared, berated him, and ordered him to be more civil in the performance of his duties. The words were intended less for the waiter than for the feather dealer and his friends.

The latter had complained of Dietel to the landlord of The Pike, and, after he had received a reproof, they punished him for his rudeness by ordering him to fetch one jug of wine from the cellar after another. At last, when, with many a malediction, he had brought up the fifth, his tormentors released him, but then the best time was lost. Nevertheless he continued the pursuit and entered the little garden with the dog, but the thief had fled.

After assuring himself of this fact he stood still, rubbing his narrow forehead with the tips of his fingers.

The rogue was most probably one of the vagrants, and like a flash it entered his mind that the ropedancer, Kuni, who in her prosperous days, instead of eating meat and vegetables, preferred to satisfy her appetite with fruits and sweet dainties, might be the culprit. Besides, when he had looked around among the guests just before, she was no longer with the other vagabonds.

Certain of having found the right trail, he instantly went to the window below which the strollers lay, thrust his head into the room from the outside, and waked the wife of the tongueless swearer. She had fallen asleep on the floor with the sewing in her hand. The terror with which she started up at his call bore no favourable testimony to her good conscience, but she had already recovered her bold unconcern when he imperiously demanded to know what had become of lame Kuni.

"Ask the other travellers--the soldiers, the musicians, the monks, for aught I care," was the scornful, irritating answer. But when Dietel angrily forbade such insolent mockery, she cried jeeringly:

"Do you think men don't care for her because she has lost her foot and has that little cough? You ought to know better.

"Master Dieter has a sweetheart for every finger, though the lower part of his own body isn't quite as handsome as it might be."

"On account of my foot?" the waiter answered spitefully. "You'll soon find that it knows how to chase. Besides, the Nuremberg city soldiers will help me in the search. If you don't tell me at once where the girl went--by St. Eoban, my patron----"

Here red-haired Gitta interrupted him in a totally different tone; she and her companions had nothing good to expect from the city soldiers.

In a very humble manner she protested that Kuni was an extraordinarily charitable creature. In a cart standing in the meadow by the highroad lay the widow of a beggar, Nickel; whom the peasants had hung on account of many a swindling trick. A goose and some chickens had strayed off to his premises. The woman had just given birth to twins when Nickel was hung, and she was now in a violent fever, with frequent attacks of convulsions, and yet had to nurse the infants. The landlady of The Pike had sent her some broth and a little milk for the children. As for Kuni, she had gone to carry some linen from her own scanty store to the two babies, who were as naked as little frogs. He would find her with the sick mother.

All this flowed from Gitta's lips with so much confidence that Dietel, whose heart was easily touched by such a deed of charity, though he by no means put full confidence in her, allowed himself to be induced to let the city soldiers alone for the present and test the truth of her strange statement himself.

So he prepared to go in search of the cart, but the landlord of The Pike met him at the door, and, angrily asking what ailed him that day, ordered him to fetch the Erbach, more of which was wanted inside. Dietel went down into the cellar again, but this time he was not to leave it so

In The Blue Pike, Complete - 6/20

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