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- In The Blue Pike, Volume 3. - 1/6 -
[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
As Kuni's troubled soul had derived so much benefit from the short pilgrimage to Altotting, she hoped to obtain far more from a visit to Santiago di Compostella, famed throughout Christendom.
True, her old master, Loni, whom she had met at Regensburg, permitted her to join his band, but when she perceived that he was far less prosperous than before, and that she could not be useful to him in any way, she left him at Cologne because a kindhearted captain offered to take her to Vlissingen without pay. Thence she really did set out upon the pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostella; but St. James, the patron saint of the Spaniards, whose untiring mercy so many praised, did not prove specially favourable to her. The voyage to Compostella, the principal place where he was reverenced, which annually attracted thousands of pilgrims, cost her her last penny, and the cold nights which she was obliged to spend on deck increased her cough until it became almost unendurably violent.
In Santiago di Compostella both her means and her strength were exhausted. After vainly expecting for a long time some token of the saint's helpful kindness, only two courses were left: either she must remain in Compostella and join the beggars in the crowded road to the place of pilgrimage, or she must accept the proposal made by tongueless Cyriax and go back with him to Germany. At first she had been afraid of the brutal fellow, who feigned insanity and was led about by his wife with a chain; but once, when red-haired Gitta was seized by the Inquisition, and spent two days and two nights in jail, and Kuni nursed her child in her place, she had found him more friendly. Besides, in Compostella, the swearer had been in his most cheerful mood. Every day had filled his purse, because there was no lack of people and he understood how to extort money by the terror which horrible outbreaks of his feigned malady inspired among the densely crowded pilgrims. His wife possessed a remedy which would instantly calm his ravings, but it was expensive, and she had not the money to buy it. Not only in Compostella, but also on the long journey from Bavaria through the Swiss mountains, France, Navarre, and the whole of northern Spain, there were always kind- hearted or timid people from whom the money for the "dear prescription" could be obtained.
A cart drawn by a donkey conveyed the child of this worthy couple. When Kuni met her at Compostella she was a sickly little girl about two years old, with an unnaturally large head and thin, withered legs, who seemed to be mute because she used her mouth only to eat and to make a movement of the lips which sounded like "Baba." This sound, Cyriax explained, was a call that meant "papa." That was the name aristocratic children gave their fathers, and it meant him alone, because the little girl resembled him and loved him better than she did any one else. He really believed this, and the stammering of the fragile child's livid lips won the rough fellow's tender love.
The man who, when drunk, beat his wife till the blood came, and committed plenty of cruel deeds, trembled, wept, and could even pray with fervent piety, when--which often happened--the frail little creature, shaken by convulsions, seemed at the point of death. He had undertaken the long journey to the "world's end," not only because the pilgrimage to Compostella promised large profits, but also to urge St. James to cure his child. For his "sweet little Juli's" sake, and to obtain for her a cheap nurse who would be entirely dependent upon him, he burdened himself with the lame ropedancer. But he had no reason to repent this; Gitta had enough to do to lead him by the chain and answer the questions of the people, while Kuni nursed her charge with rare fidelity, mended the clothing of the father, mother, and child, as well or as badly as she could, and also helped Gitta with the cooking. The sickly, obstinate little girl certainly did not deserve the name of a "sweet" child, yet Kuni devoted herself to it with warm, almost passionate affection.
The vagabond couple did not fail to notice this, and, on the whole, it pleased them. If Cyriax was vexed when little Juli began to show plainly enough that she preferred her nurse even to him, he submitted because the lame girl watched the child through severe attacks of convulsions and fever as if it were her own, and willingly sacrificed her night's rest for its sake. True, he often talked loudly enough in Kuni's presence of the witch potion which the lame girl mixed in the porridge of his child, who loved him better than anything in the world, to estrange it from him and win it to herself.
Kuni paid little heed to these offensive words; she knew that she had gained the child's love by very different means from the "black art." With far more reason, she dimly felt, the sick child might have been reproached for exerting a secret spell upon her. Her name, "Julie," which she owed to her patron saint, Kuni supposed was the same as "Juliane." Besides, the daughter of the vagabond with the mutilated tongue was born a few days after the death of little Fraulein Peutinger, and this circumstance, when Kuni knew it, seemed significant. Soon after meeting the vagrant pair she had listened to a conversation between two travelling scholars, and learned some strange things. One believed that the old sages were right when they taught that the soul of a dead person continued its existence in other living creatures; for instance, the great Pythagoras had known positively, and proved that his own had dwelt, in former ages, in the breast of the hero Palamedes.
The ropedancer remembered this statement, questioned other Bacchantes about these things, and heard the doctrine of the transmigration of the soul confirmed. Hence, during many a solitary ride, while the cart rolled slowly along, she pondered over the thought that Juliane's soul had lived again in foolish Julie. How? Why? She did not rack her brains on those points. What had been a fancy, slowly became a fixed belief in the mind thus constantly dwelling upon one idea. At last she imagined that whatever she did for Cyriax's child benefited the soul of the little Augsburg girl, whose life had been shortened by her wicked prayer on the rope.
Yet she had not bought the indulgence in vain. But for that, she believed that Juliane's soul would still be burning in the flames of purgatory. The indulgence of the "Inquisitor" Tetzel had proved its power, and rescued her from the fire. To demonstrate this fact she devised many a proof. For instance, one day the idea entered her mind that foolish Juli's brain was so weak because Juliane, during her brief existence, had used more of hers than was fair.
At first this had been a mere fancy; but, true to her nature, she reverted to it again and again, while in the cart which she alone shared with the child, until it had matured to an immovable conviction. During her changeful, wandering life, she had had no fixed religious principles. But, since the notion had entered her mind that Lienhard would reward her for her love by giving her a share, even though a very small one, of his heart, she had clung tenaciously to it, in spite of all rebuffs and the offensive indifference with which he had treated her. On her sick bed and during her convalescence, she had dwelt upon the fear that her sinful prayer had killed the little wearer of the laurel wreath, until she could say to herself that events had proved it. With the same firmness she now held to the belief that she had found the right idea concerning little Juli's soul.
With the passionate desire to atone to the patrician's daughter for the wrong which she had inflicted upon her, she clasped the vagabond's child to her heart with the love of the most faithful mother, and her affectionate care seemed to benefit herself as well as the ailing little one. Juli was as devoted to her Kuni as a faithful dog. The kindness which the lame ropedancer showed to the fragile child was lavishly returned to her by a thousand proofs of the warmest attachment.
So Kuni had found one heart which kept its whole treasure of love for her alone, one creature who could not do without her, one fragile human plant to which she could be useful and helpful day and night.
Under the care of a faithful nurse little Juli gradually grew stronger, both physically and mentally. The little girl's wan cheeks began to be rosy, the convulsions and fever attacked her less frequently. Besides the faint "Baba," she learned to babble "Duni," (instead of Kuni) and afterward "Mother," and many other words. At last she talked nearly as well as other children of her age. All this afforded the lame girl a wealth of sweet joys wholly new to her, which afforded her heart such warmth and solace that, in spite of the cough which tormented her during many an hour of the day and night, she felt happier during her homeward journey with the fierce blasphemer Cyriax, from whom she expected the worst things, than in the brilliant days of her fame as an artist. Doubtless, as they approached Germany, she often wondered what Lienhard would think of her, if he should meet her amid such surroundings, as the companion of so worthless a couple; but the terror that overpowered her was transformed into pleasant satisfaction at the thought that he would approve, nay, praise her conduct, when she could show him the child, and tell him what she had done for it.
This state of affairs had continued until two months before. Then, at Schaffhausen, her darling had suddenly been attacked with violent convulsions, and the feeble intellect, which her love had so toilsomely and faithfully waked from its slumber, only too soon attained eternal peace. In all Kuni's sorrowful life she had scarcely experienced any grief so bitter. When she closed the little eyes which had gazed into her pale face so often and so tenderly, it seemed as if the sun, moon, and stars had lost their light, and henceforth she was condemned to live in dreary gloom.
What terrible days had followed the child's death! Cyriax raved as if he had really been seized with the lunacy whose pretence helped him to beg his bread. Besides, he gave himself up to unbridled indulgence in brandy, and, when drunk, he was capable of the most brutal acts. The dead Juli's mother, who, spite of an evil youth and a lenient conscience, was by no means one of the worst of women, had to endure the harshest treatment from her profligate companion.
The blow which had fallen upon him filled him with savage rage, and he longed to inflict some pain upon all who came in his way that they, too, might feel what it was to suffer.
The death of his "sweet little Juli" appeared to have hardened the last tender spot in his brutal soul.
Kuni was the only person toward whom at first he imposed some restraint upon himself. True, without any consideration for the girl's presence, he sometimes asked Gitta why they still burdened themselves with the
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