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- In The Blue Pike, Volume 3. - 2/6 -
useless hobbler and did not sell the cart and the donkey. But though there was no lack of good offers for the excellent Spanish beast of burden, he allowed matters to remain as before. If the rage seething in his heart led him, in his drunken frenzy, to make Kuni feel its effects, too, the pleading glance of the blue eyes, still large and expressive, with which she had so often hushed the wailing child, sufficed to soothe him.
Yesterday, for the first time, he had seriously threatened to drive the ropedancer away, and she knew that Cyriax was capable of anything. True, his wife was attached to Kuni, but she had little influence over her vicious husband. So the sick cripple might only too easily find herself left on the highway.
Still, she had given Cyriax cause for the threat. All day and during the night she had been busy with the unfortunate mother and her twins, and therefore had frequently neglected to fill his brandy bottle. But this could not be helped, and she was not accustomed to think of the future. Whatever her heart urged she did, no matter what might happen. If Cyriax left her in the lurch, she must beg or starve unless chance, which so often mingled in her existence, willed otherwise.
With the child's life the modest happiness which Kuni had enjoyed during the last few months had vanished, not only because the tongueless blasphemer had become a different person, and she sorely missed the delicate little creature who had filled and cheered her heart, but she had also lost the peace of mind which she enjoyed during the existence of her charge.
The young Augsburg maiden, whom she thought she had bought out of the flames of purgatory, did not appear to her again, but the vagrant's child came all the more frequently, and whenever she showed herself she wailed and wept bitterly. Sweet little Juli's soul must now--whether it had been Juliane's or not--endure the tortures of purgatory, and this pierced Kuni's heart the more deeply the more affectionately she remembered the sickly-child.
Ever since she had used a black plaster, given to her at Singen by a quack, the stump of her foot had become sore again, and sharp pain tortured her so cruelly that, especially when the cough racked her emaciated body and she was jolted to and fro in the springless cart over stony roads, she was afraid that she should lose her reason.
At Pforzheim a barber had examined the wound and, shaking his head, pronounced the black plaster a malignant blood poisoner, and when she refused to have the leg amputated, applied a yellow one, which proved no better. When Cyriax counted up his receipts in the evening, called to red-haired Gitta his favourite maxim, "Fools never die," and handed to her--Kuni--the larger brandy bottle to fill, she had often summoned up her courage and begged him to buy an indulgence for his sweet little Juli. The result was certain--she knew it from her own experience.
Shortly after the child's death he had thrust his hand into his purse more than once at such an appeal and given money for a few candles, but it had not been possible to persuade him to purchase the paper.
This refusal was by no means due to mere parsimony. Kuni knew what induced him to maintain his resistance so obstinately, for in her presence he had told pock-marked Ratz that he would not take the indulgence gratis. Wherever he might be, his family ought to go, and he did not wish to be anywhere that he would not find Juli.
He did not doubt the continued life of the soul after death, but precisely because he was sure that the gates of paradise would remain closed to him throughout eternity he would not help to open them for the dead child. When his imagination tortured him with fancies that mice and beetles were leaping and running out of his pockets and the breast of his doublet, he thought that his end was drawing near. If the devil then had power over his soul, his imps might drag him wherever they pleased, if only he might see little Juli there and hear her call "Baba" and "Father." It would lessen the tortures of hell, however severe they might be. Was it possible for him to conceive of any greater folly than to rob himself of this consolation by transporting the child, through the indulgence, to the kingdom of heaven, where he could never see her again. He had accumulated a goodly sum by begging, it is true, but, strangely enough, he did not think of purchasing salvation for himself in order to meet his child again in heaven, instead of amid the flames of purgatory. Though he had become as rich as the Fuggers, paradise, he knew, would still be closed to him. He was not fit for it.
He hated everybody who was rich and respectable. He would rather be with his child in the mire of hell than to go with her to a magnificent garden of paradise where swearing was forbidden, where there was no brandy and no highroad, and which offered only pleasures which were none to him.
So Kuni was forced to see the child remain in the fires of purgatory, which hurt her little less than her aching limb.
At her entrance into The Blue Pike pain and mental suffering had driven her to the verge of despair. But the day which began so sorrowfully was followed by an evening of delight--she owed to it her new meeting with Lienhard.
From childhood she had been homeless, and every quarter of the globe to which a highroad led was her native land. Yet in Spain and during the journey back she had felt a gnawing longing for Germany, nay, nothing had troubled her more than the thought of dying and being buried outside of its frontier. Her mother, a native of the Rhine country, had given her birth during the fair at Cologne on the Spree; but, whenever homesickness assailed her, it was always the steeples of St. Sebald and St. Ulrich which beckoned to her, and she had longed for the Frank country, the Main, or the richly wooded banks of the Pegnitz. Was this because, in Nuremberg, for the only time in her life, she had been a member of a decorous household, or had the love which, wherever Cyriax's cart and donkey carried her, always drew her heart back to the same ancient city, made it so dear to her?
Probably the latter, for yesterday she had yearned ardently to reach Nuremberg; but since she had seen Lienhard again, she rejoiced that she was in Miltenberg and at The Blue Pike.
Never had he seemed to her so handsome, so manly. Besides, he had spoken to her, listened to her reply, and even given her money with lavish generosity. It was like him! No one else would have been capable of it.
She could live a long time on his three gold florins, if Cyriax abandoned her; yet the unexpected wealth burned in her hand and perplexed her. Did Lienhard no longer know that she would not accept money from him? Had she robbed herself of the certainty that beautified existence; had she failed to show him her superiority to other vagrant girls? Yet no! What he gave her was more, far more, than even a prince bestowed upon an ordinary mendicant. He must measure her by a special standard. If he had only given her the gold with a kind word, not flung it silently into her lap. This half destroyed her pleasure in the present, and the ample supply of money clouded her already disturbed peace of mind still more. Had it been possible, she would have returned the gift as she did the alms at Augsburg. But how was this to be accomplished in the over- crowded inn?
Yet, if she kept the florins, the sacrifice at the convent would lose a large portion of its value, and the good opinion which her act at Augsburg must have inspired might be shadowed.
For some time before leaving the room in the tavern she had turned the coins restlessly over and over under her kerchief, and meanwhile, as if in a dream, made but evasive answers to the questions and demands of Cyriax and Gitta.
Then she glided nearer to the gentlemen at the table, intending to return Lienhard's gift; but the landlord of The Pike followed her suspiciously, and drove her back to her companions.
Thence she had been called to the sick woman and went out of doors. She found the mother of the twins in the meadow by the Main and eagerly devoted herself to them.
The widow's burning head and gasping breath were no favourable symptoms. She herself felt that her end was approaching. Her tongue was parched. The water in the jug was warm and flat, yet she longed for a cool drink. During the day Kuni had noticed a well in the kitchen garden, and, in spite of her aching foot, hastened to it at once to draw the cool water. While doing so, the red and white pinks which she had noticed at noon again caught her eye in the starlight night. The sick woman could enjoy their fragrance now, and to-morrow, feast her eyes upon their bright colours.
From childhood she had always been fond of flowers. Stealing was prohibited by her father as wicked and dangerous, and she had never transgressed his commands. When she picked up the costly rosary in Nuremberg, she had intended to return it to the owner. But to pluck the flowers and fruit which the Lord caused to grow and ripen for every one was a different thing, and had never troubled her conscience. So she carelessly gathered a few pinks. Three should go to the sick woman, but Lienhard Groland would have the largest and finest. She would try to slip the flowers into his hand, with the money, as a token of her gratitude. But even while saying to herself that these blossoms should be her last greeting to him, she felt the red spots burning more hotly on her cheeks. Ah, if only he would accept the pinks! Then the most cruel things might happen, she could bear them.
While kneeling before the bed, the waiter, Dietel, noticed her. As she saw him also, she hurried back to the suffering mother as fast as her lame limb would carry her, and raised the jug of fresh water to her parched lips.
This had been a delicious refreshment to the sick woman, and when Kuni saw how much comfort her little service afforded the invalid, her heart grew lighter. Had it been possible she, who was of no importance to any one, would willingly have lain down on the heap of straw in the place of the mother upon whom two young lives depended.
How delightful it was to bring aid! And she possessed the means of being helpful.
So, with sparkling eyes, she pressed the three gold coins into the sufferer's burning hand, and told her that the village authorities would rear the twins for such a sum. Then the parched lips of the fevered woman lauded the merciful kindness bestowed by the lame ropedancer--who at that moment seemed to her as powerful as a queen--so warmly and tenderly that Kuni felt the blood again mount into her cheeks--this time with shame at the praise which she deserved so little, yet which rendered her so happy. Finally, the sufferer expressed a desire for a priest, that she might not pass from earth without a sacrament. Her sins oppressed her sorely. She, and she alone, was to blame for Nickel's being hanged. Never in all her life had she been a glutton; but before the birth of the twins the devil had tormented her with a strange longing for roast fowl, which she had been unable to repress and keep to herself. Solely for her gratification, Nickel stole the goose and the hens. In spite of many a bad business in which his reckless nature had involved him, he was a good fellow, with a loving heart.
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