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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 1. - 6/10 -
once, remained firmly fixed in his memory "Game, birds and fish every one is free to catch." Moreover, many a verse from the Gospel, unfavorable to the rich, but promising the kingdom of heaven to the poor, and that the last shall be first, had reached his ears. Doubtless many of the leaders glowed with lofty enthusiasm for the liberation of the poor people from unendurable serfdom and oppression; but when Marx, and men like him, left wife and children and risked their lives, they remembered only the past, and the injustice they had suffered, and were full of a fierce yearning to trample the dainty, torturing demons under their heavy peasant feet.
The charcoal-burner had never lighted such bright fires, never tasted such delicious meat and spicy wine, as during that period of his life, while vengeance had a still sweeter savor than all the rest. When the castle fell, and its noble mistress begged for mercy, he enjoyed a foretaste of the promised paradise. Satan has also his Eden of fiery roses, but they do not last long, and when they wither, put forth sharp thorns. The peasants felt them soon enough, for at Sindelfingen they found their master in Captain Georg Truchsess of Waldberg.
Marx fell into his troopers' hands and was hung on the gallows, but only in mockery and as a warning to others; for before he and his companions perished, the men took them down, cut their oath-fingers from their hands, and drove them back into their old servitude. When he at last returned home, his house had been taken from his family, whom he found in extreme poverty. The father of Adam, the smith, to whom he had formerly sold charcoal, redeemed the house, gave him work, and once, when a band of horsemen came to the city searching for rebellious peasants, the old man did not forbid him to hide three whole days in his barn.
Since that time everything had been quiet in Swabia, and neither in forest, stream nor meadow had any freedom existed.
Marx had only himself to provide for; his wife was dead, and his sons were raftsmen, who took pine logs to Mayence and Cologne, sometimes even as far as Holland. He owed gratitude to no one but Adam, and showed in his way that he was conscious of it, for he taught Ulrich all sorts of things which were of no advantage to a boy, except to give him pleasure, though even in so doing he did not forget his own profit. Ulrich was now fifteen, and could manage a cross-bow and hit the mark like a skilful hunter, and as the lad did not lack a love for the chase, Marx afforded him the pleasure. All he had heard about the equal rights of men he engrafted into the boy's soul, and when to-day, for the hundredth time, Ulrich expressed a doubt whether it was not stealing to kill game that belonged to the count, the charcoal-burner straightened his mouth, and said:
"Forest, stream and meadow are free. Surely you know that."
The boy gazed thoughtfully at the ground for a time, and then asked:
"The fields too?"
"The fields?" repeated Marx, in surprise. "The fields? The fields are a different matter." He glanced as he spoke, at the field of oats he had sown in the autumn, and which now bore blades a finger long. "The fields are man's work and belong to him who tills them, but the forest, stream and meadow were made by God. Do you understand? What God created for Adam and Eve is everybody's property."
As the sun rose higher, and the cuckoo began to raise its voice, Ulrich's name was shouted loudly several times in rapid succession through the forest. The arrow he had been shaping flew into a corner, and with a hasty "When it grows dusk, Marxle!" Ulrich dashed into the woods, and soon joined his playmate Ruth.
The pair strolled slowly through the forest by the side of the stream, enjoying the glorious morning, and gathering flowers to carry a bouquet to the little girl's mother. Ruth culled the blossoms daintily with the tips of her fingers; Ulrich wanted to help, and tore the slender stalks in tufts from the roots by the handful. Meantime their tongues were not idle. Ulrich boastfully told her that Pater Benedictus had seen his picture of her father, recognized it instantly, and muttered something over it. His mother's blood was strong in him; his imaginary world was a very different one from that of the narrow-minded boys of the Richtberg.
His father had told him much, and the doctor still more, about the wide, wide world-kings, artists and great heroes. From Hangemarx he learned, that he possessed the same rights and dignity as all other men, and Ruth's wonderful power of imagination peopled his fancy with the strangest shapes and figures. She made royal crowns of wreaths, transformed the little hut, the lad had built of boughs, behind the doctor's house, into a glittering imperial palace, converted round pebbles into ducats and golden zechins--bread and apples into princely banquets; and when she had placed two stools before the wooden bench on which she sat with Ulrich her fancy instantly transformed them into a silver coronation coach with milk-white steeds. When she was a fairy, Ulrich was obliged to be a magician; if she was the queen, he was king.
When, to give vent to his animal spirits, Ulrich played with the Richtberg boys, he always led them, but allowed himself to be guided by little Ruth. He knew that the doctor was a despised Jew, that she was a Jewish child; but his father honored the Hebrew, and the foreign atmosphere, the aristocratic, secluded repose that pervaded the solitary scholar's house, exerted a strange influence over him.
When he entered it, a thrill ran through his frame; it seemed as if he were penetrating into some forbidden sanctuary. He was the only one of all his playfellows, who was permitted to cross this threshold, and he felt it as a distinction, for, in spite of his youth, he realized that the quiet doctor, who knew everything that existed in heaven and on earth, and yet was as mild and gentle as a child, stood far, far above the miserable drudges, who struggled with sinewy hands for mere existence on the Richtberg. He expected everything from him, and Ruth also seemed a very unusual creature, a delicate work of art, with whom he, and he only, was allowed to play.
It might have happened, that when irritated he would upbraid her with being a wretched Jewess, but it would scarcely have surprised him, if she had suddenly stood before his eyes as a princess or a phoenix.
When the Richtberg lay close beneath them, Ruth sat down on a stone, placing her flowers in her lap. Ulrich threw his in too, and, as the bouquet grew, she held it towards him, and he thought it very pretty; but she said, sighing:
"I wish roses grew in the forest; not common hedgeroses, but like those in Portugal--full, red, and with the real perfume. There is nothing that smells sweeter."
So it always was with the pair. Ruth far outstripped Ulrich in her desires and wants, thus luring him to follow her.
"A rose!" repeated Ulrich. "How astonished you look!"
Her wish reminded him of the magic word she had mentioned the day before, and they talked about it all the way home, Ulrich saying that he had waked three times in the night on account of it. Ruth eagerly interrupted him, exclaiming:
"I thought of it again too, and if any one would tell the what it was, I should know what to wish now. I would not have a single human being in the world except you and me, and my father and mother."
"And my little mother!" added Ulrich, earnestly.
"And your father, too!"
"Why, of course, he, too!" said the boy, as if to make hasty atonement for his neglect.
The sun was shining brightly on the little windows of the Israelite's sitting-room, which were half open to admit the Spring air, though lightly shaded with green curtains, for Costa liked a subdued light, and was always careful to protect his apartment from the eyes of passers-by.
There was nothing remarkable to be seen, for the walls were whitewashed, and their only ornament was a garland of lavender leaves, whose perfume Ruth's mother liked to inhale. The whole furniture consisted of a chest, several stools, a bench covered with cushions, a table, and two plain wooden arm-chairs.
One of the latter had long been the scene of Adam's happiest hours, for he used to sit in it when he played chess with Costa.
He had sometimes looked on at the noble game while in Nuremberg; but the doctor understood it thoroughly, and had initiated him into all its rules.
For the first two years Costa had remained far in advance of his pupil, then he was compelled to defend himself in good earnest, and now it not unfrequently happened that the smith vanquished the scholar. True, the latter was much quicker than the former, who if the situation became critical, pondered over it an unconscionably long time.
Two hands more unlike had rarely met over a chess-board; one suggested a strong, dark ploug-ox, the other a light, slender-limbed palfrey. The Israelite's figure looked small in contrast with the smith's gigantic frame. How coarse-grained, how heavy with thought the German's big, fair head appeared, how delicately moulded and intellectual the Portuguese Jew's.
To-day the two men had again sat down to the game, but instead of playing, had been talking very, very earnestly. In the course of the conversation the doctor had left his place and was pacing restlessly to and fro. Adam retained his seat.
His friend's arguments had convinced him. Ulrich was to be sent to the monastery-school. Costa had also been informed of the danger that threatened his own person, and was deeply agitated. The peril was great, very great, yet it was hard, cruelly hard, to quit this peaceful nook. The smith understood what was passing in his mind, and said:
"It is hard for you to go. What binds you here to the Richtberg?"
"Peace, peace!" cried the other. "And then," he added more calmly, "I have gained land here."
"The large and small graves behind the executioner's house, they are my estates."
"It is hard, hard to leave them," said the smith, with drooping head. "All this comes upon you on account of the kindness you have shown my
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