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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 2. - 5/13 -
"The receiver is as bad as the thief. If they catch him...."
"He'll be put in the stocks for a week. That's the worst that can befall him."
"No, no. Let me alone,--or I'll tell Adam what you're plotting...."
"Then I'll denounce you first, you gallows' fruit, you rogue, you poacher. They've suspected you a long time! Will you change your mind now, you blockhead?"
"Yes, yes; but Ulrich is here too, and the boy is as dear to me as my own child."
"I'll come here later, say that no vehicle can be had, and take him away with me. When it's all over, I'll let him go."
"Then I'll keep him. He already helps me as much, as if he were a grown man. Oh, dear, dear! The Jew, the gentle man, and the poor women, and the little girl, Ruth...."
"Big Jews and little Jews, nothing more. You've told me yourself, how the Hebrews were persecuted in your dead father's day. So we'll go shares. There's a light in the room still. You'll detain them. Count Frohlinger has been at his hunting-box since last evening....If they insist on moving forward, guide them to the village."
"And I've been an honest man all my life," whined the poacher, and then continued, threateningly: "If you harm a hair on Ulrich's head...."
"Fool that you are! I'll willingly leave the big feeder to you. Go in now, then I'll come and fetch the boy. There's money at stake--fifteen florins!" Fifteen minutes after, Jorg entered the but.
The smith and the doctor believed the charcoal-burner, when he told them that all the vehicles in the village were in use, but he would find one elsewhere. They must let the boy go with him, to enquire at the farm- houses in another village. Somebody would doubtless be found to risk his horses. The lad looked like a young nobleman, and the peasants would take earnest-money from him. If he, Jorg, should show them florins, it would get him into a fine scrape. The people knew he was as poor as a beggar.
The smith asked the poacher's opinion, and the latter growled:
"That will, doubtless, be a good plan."
He said no more, and when Adam held out his hand to the boy, and kissed him on the forehead, and the doctor bade him an affectionate farewell, Marx called himself a Judas, and would gladly have flung the tempting florins to the four winds, but it was too late.
The smith and Lopez heard him call anxiously to Jorg: "Take good care of the boy!" And when Adam patted him on the shoulder, saying: "You are a faithful fellow, Marx!" he could have howled like a mastiff and revealed all; but it seemed as if he again felt the rope around his neck, so he kept silence.
The grey dawn was already glimmering, yet neither the expected vehicle nor Jorg had come. Old Rahel, usually an early riser, was sleeping as soundly as if she had to make up the lost slumber of ten nights; but the smith's anxiety would no longer allow him to remain in the close room. Ruth followed him into the open air, and when she timidly touched him-- for there had always been something unapproachable to her in the silent man's gigantic figure--he looked at her from head to foot, with strange, questioning sympathy, and then asked suddenly, with a haste unusual to him.
"Has your father told you about Jesus Christ?"
"Often!" replied Ruth.
"And do you love Him?"
"Dearly. Father says He loved all children, and called them to Him."
"Of course, of course!" replied the smith, blushing with shame for his own distrust.
The doctor did not follow the others, and as soon as his wife saw that they were alone, she beckoned to him.
Lopez sat down on the couch beside her, and took her hand. The slender fingers trembled in his clasp, and when, with loving anxiety, he drew her towards him, he felt the tremor of her delicate limbs, while her eyes expressed bitter suffering and terrible dread.
"Are you afraid?" he asked, tenderly.
Elizabeth shuddered, threw her arms passionately around his neck, and nodded assent.
"The wagon will convey us to the Rhine Valley, please God, this very day, and there we shall be safe," he continued, soothingly. But she shook her head, her features assuming an expression of indifference and contempt. Lopez understood how to read their meaning, and asked: "So it is not the bailiffs you fear; something else is troubling you?"
She nodded again, this time still more eagerly, drew out the crucifix, which she had hitherto kept concealed under her coverlid, showed it to him, then pointed upward towards heaven, lastly to herself and him, and shrugged her shoulders with an air of deep, mournful renunciation.
"You are thinking of the other world," said Lopez; then, fixing his eyes on the ground, he continued, in a lower tone: "I know you are tortured by the fear of not meeting me there."
"Yes," she gasped, with a great effort, pressing her forehead against his shoulder.
A hot tear fell on the doctor's hand, and he felt as if his own heart was weeping with his beloved, anxious wife.
He knew that this thought had often poisoned her life and, full of tender sympathy, turned her beautiful face towards him and pressed a long kiss on her closed eyes, then said, tenderly:
"You are mine, I am yours, and if there is a life beyond the grave, and an eternal justice, the dumb will speak as they desire, and sing wondrous songs with the angels; the sorrowful will again be happy there. We will hope, we will both hope! Do you remember how I read Dante aloud to you, and tried to explain his divine creation, as we sat on the bench by the fig-tree. The sea roared below us, and our hearts swelled higher than its storm-lashed waves. How soft was the air, how bright the sunshine! This earth seemed doubly beautiful to you and me as, led by the hand of the divine seer and singer, we descended shuddering to the nether world. There the good and noble men of ancient times walked in a flowery meadow, and among them the poet beheld in solitary grandeur--do you still remember how the passage runs? 'E solo in parte vidi 'l Saladino.' Among them he also saw the Moslem Saladin, the conqueror of the Christians. If any one possessed the key of the mysteries of the other world, Elizabeth, it was Dante. He assigned a lofty place to the pagan, who was a true man--a man with a pure mind, a zeal for goodness and right, and I think I shall have a place there too. Courage, Elizabeth, courage!"
A beautiful smile had illumined the wife's features, while she was reminded of the happiest hours of her life, but when he paused, gazed into her eyes, and clasped her right hand in his, she was seized with an intense longing to pray once, only once, with him to the Saviour so, drawing her fingers from his, she pressed the image of the Crucified One to her breast with her left hand, pleading with mute motions of her lips, inteligible to him alone, and with ardent entreaty in her large, tearful eyes: "Pray, pray with me, pray to the saviour."
Lopez was greatly agitated; his heart beat faster, and a strong impulse urged him to start up, cry "no," and not allow himself to be moved, by an affectionate meakness, into bowing his manly soul before one, who, to him, was no more than human.
The noble figure of the crucified Saviour, carved by an artist's hand in ivory, hung from an ebony cross, and he thrust the image back, intending to turn proudly way, he gazed at the face and found there only pain, quiet endurance, and touching sorrow. Ah, his own heart had often bled, as the pure brow of this poor, persecuted, tortured saint bled beneath its crown of thorns. To defy this silent companion in suffering, was no manly deed--to pay homage, out of love, to Him, who had brought love into the world, seemed to possess a sweet, ensnaring charm--so he clasped his slender hands closely round his dumb wife's fingers, pressed his dark curls gainst Elizabeth's fair hair, and both, for the first and last time, repeated together a mute, fervent prayer.
Before the hut, and surrounded by the forest, was a large clearing, where two roads crossed.
Adam, Marx and Ruth had gazed first down one and then the other, to look for the wagon, but nothing was to be seen or heard. As, with increasing anxiety, they turned back to the first path, the poacher grew restless. His crooked mouth twisted to and fro in strange contortions, not a muscle of his coarse face was till, and this looked so odd and yet so horrible, that Ruth could not help laughing, and the smith asked what ailed him.
Marx made no reply; his ear had caught the distant bay of a dog, and he knew what the sound meant. Work at the anvil impairs the hearing, and the smith did not notice the approaching peril, and repeated: "What ails you, man?"
"I am freezing," replied the charcoal-burner, cowering, with a piteous expression.
Ruth heard no more of the conversation, she had stopped and put her hand to her ear, listening with head bent forward, to the noises in the distance.
Suddenly she uttered a low cry, exclaiming: "There's a dog barking, Meister Adam, I hear it."
The smith turned pale and shook his head, but she cried earnestly: "Believe me; I hear it. Now it's barking again."
Adam too, now heard a strange noise in the forest. With lightning speed he loosened the hammer in his belt, took Ruth by the hand, and ran up the clearing with her.
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