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- In The Blue Pike, Volume 1. - 1/7 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
IN THE BLUE PIKE
By Georg Ebers
Translated from the German by Mary T. Safford
"May a thunderbolt strike you!" The imprecation suited the rough fellow who uttered it. He had pointed out of doors as he spoke, and scarcely lowered the strange tones of his voice, yet of all the rabble who surrounded him only two persons understood his meaning--a fading, sickly girl, and the red-haired woman, only a few years her senior, who led the swearing man by a chain, like a tame bear.
The Nuremberg magistrates had had Cyriax's tongue cropped for gross blasphemy, and listeners could scarcely comprehend the words he mangled in his gasping speech.
The red-haired woman dropped the knife with which she was slicing bread and onions into a pot, and looked at her companion with an anxious, questioning glance.
"Nuremberg Honourables," he stammered as fast as he could, snatched his wife's shawl from her shoulders, and drew it over his unkempt head.
The woman beckoned to their travelling companions--a lame fellow of middle age who, propped on crutches, leaned against the wall, an older pock-marked man with a bloated face, and the sickly girl--calling to them in the harsh, metallic voice peculiar to hawkers and elderly singers at fairs.
"Help Cyriax hide. You first, Jungel! They needn't recognise him as soon as they get in. Nuremberg magistrates are coming. Aristocratic blood-suckers of the Council. Who knows what may still be on the tally for us?"
Kuni, the pale-faced girl, wrapped her bright-coloured garment tighter around her mutilated left leg, and obeyed. Lame Jungel, too, prepared to fulfil red-haired Gitta's wish.
But Raban had glanced out, and hastily drew the cloth jerkin, patched with green and blue linen, closer through his belt, ejaculating anxiously:
"Young Groland of the Council. I know him."
This exclamation induced the other vagabonds to glide along the wall to the nearest door, intending to slip out.
"A Groland?" asked Gitta, Cyriax's wife, cowering as if threatened with a blow from an invisible hand. "It was he--"
"He?" laughed the chain-bearer, while he crouched beside her, drawing himself into the smallest space possible. "No, Redhead! The devil dragged the man who did that down to the lower regions long ago, on account of my tongue. It's his son. The younger, the sharper. This stripling made Casper Rubling,--[Dice, in gambler's slang]--poor wretch, pay for his loaded dice with his eyesight."
He thrust his hand hurriedly into his jerkin as he spoke, and gave Gitta something which he had concealed there. It was a set of dice, but, with ready presence of mind, she pressed them so hard into the crumb of the loaf of bread which she had just cut that it entirely concealed them.
All this had passed wholly unnoticed in the corner of the long, wide room, for all the numerous travellers whom it sheltered were entirely occupied with their own affairs. Nothing was understood except what was said between neighbour and neighbour, for a loud uproar pervaded the tavern of The Blue Pike.
It was one of the most crowded inns, being situated on the main ferry at Miltenberg, where those journeying from Nuremberg, Augsburg, and other South German cities, on their way to Frankfort and the Lower Rhine, rested and exchanged the saddle for the ship. Just at the present time many persons of high and low degree were on their way to Cologne, whither the Emperor Maximilian, having been unable to come in April to Trier on the Moselle, had summoned the Reichstag.
The opening would take place in a few days, and attracted not only princes, counts, and knights, exalted leaders and more modest servants of the Church, ambassadors from the cities, and other aristocrats, but also honest tradesfolk, thriving money-lenders with the citizen's cloak and the yellow cap of the Jew, vagrants and strollers of every description, who hoped to practise their various feats to the best advantage, or to fill their pockets by cheating and robbery.
This evening many had gathered in the spacious taproom of The Blue Pike. Now those already present were to be joined by the late arrivals whom Cyriax had seen ride up.
It was a stately band. Four aristocratic gentlemen at the head of the troop were followed by an escort of twenty-five Nuremberg mercenaries, a gay company whose crimson coats, with white slashes on the puffed sleeves, presented a showy spectacle. Their helmets and armour glittered in the bright light of the setting sun of the last day of July, as they turned their horses in front of the wide gateway of The Blue Pike to ride into Miltenberg and ask lodgings of the citizens.
The trampling of hoofs, the shouts of command, and the voices of the gentlemen and their attendants outside attracted many guests to the doors and windows of the long, whitewashed building.
The strollers, however, kept the place at theirs without difficulty; no one desired to come near them.
The girl with the bandaged foot had now also turned her face toward the street. As her gaze rested on the youngest of the Nuremberg dignitaries, her pale cheeks flushed, and, as if unconsciously, the exclamation: "It is he!" fell from her lips.
"Who?" asked red-haired Gitta, and was quickly answered in a low tone
"I mean Lienhard, Herr Groland."
"The young one," stuttered Cyriax.
Then, raising the shawl, he continued inquisitively:
"Do you know him? For good or for evil?"
The girl, whose face, spite of its sunken cheeks and the dark rings under the deep-set blue eyes, still bore distinct traces of former beauty, started and answered sharply, though not very loudly, for speech was difficult:
"Good is what you call evil, and evil is what you call good. My acquaintance with Lienhard, Herr Groland, is my own affair, and, you may be sure, will remain mine." She glanced contemptuously away from the others out of doors, but Cyriax, spite of his mutilated tongue, retorted quickly and harshly:
"I always said so. She'll die a saint yet." Then grasping Kuni's arm roughly, he dragged her down to him, and whispered jeeringly:
"Ratz has a full purse and sticks to his offer for the cart. If you put on airs long, he'll get it and the donkey, too, and you'll be left here. What was it about Groland? You can try how you'll manage on your stump without us, if we're too bad for you."
"We are not under eternal obligations to you on the child's account," added red-haired Gitta in a gentler tone. "Don't vex my husband, or he'll keep his word about the cart, and who else will be bothered with a useless creature like you?"
The girl lowered her eyes and looked at her crippled limb.
How would she get on without the cart, which received her when the pain grew too sharp and the road was too hard and long?
So she turned to the others again, saying soothingly:
"It all happened in the time before I fell." Then she looked out of doors once more, but she did not find what she sought. The Nuremberg travellers had ridden through the broad gateway into the large square courtyard, surrounded by stables on three sides. When Cyriax and his wife again called to her, desiring to know what had passed between her and Groland, she clasped her hands around her knees, fixed her eyes on the gaystuffs wound around the stump where her foot had been amputated, and in a low, reluctant tone, continued:
"You want to learn what I have to do with Herr Groland? It was about six years ago, in front of St. Sebald's church, in Nuremberg. A wedding was to take place. The bridegroom was one of the Council--Lienhard Groland. The marriage was to be a very quiet one--the bridegroom's father lay seriously ill. Yet there could have been no greater throng at the Emperor's nuptials. I stood in the midst of the crowd. A rosary dropped from the belt of the fat wife of a master workman--she was decked out like a peacock--and fell just in front of me. It was a costly ornament, pure gold and Bohemian garnets. I did not let it lie there."
"A miracle!" chuckled Cyriax, but the girl was obliged to conquer a severe attack of coughing before she could go on with her story.
"The chaplet fairly burned my hand. I would gladly have given it back, but the woman was no longer before me. Perhaps I might have returned it, but I won't say so positively. However, there was no time to do it; the wedding party was coming, and on that account But what is the use of talking? While I was still gazing, the owner discovered her loss. An officer seized me, and so I was taken to prison and the next day was brought before the magistrates. Herr Groland was one of them, and, since it wasn't certain that I would not have restored the property I found, he interceded in my behalf. When the others still wished to punish me, he besought my release because it was my first offence. So we met, and when I admit that I am grateful to him for it, you know all."
"H'm," replied Cyriax, giggling, as he nudged his wife in the side and
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