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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 5. - 1/13 -
A WORD, ONLY A WORD
By Georg Ebers
The Spanish nature is contagious, thought Hans Eitelfritz, tossing on his couch in Ulrich's tent. What a queer fellow the gay young lad has become! Sighs are cheap with him, and every word costs a ducat. He is worthy all honor as a soldier. If they make him Eletto, it will be worth while to join the free army.
Ulrich had briefly told the lansquenet, how he had obtained the name of Navarrete and how he had come from Madrid and Lepanto to the Netherlands. Then he went to rest, but he could not sleep.
He had found his mother again. He now possessed the best gift Ruth had asked him to beseech of the "word." The soldier's sweetheart, the faithless wife, the companion of his rival, whom only yesterday he had avoided, the fortune-teller, the camp-sibyl, was the woman who had given him birth. He, who thought he had preserved his honor stainless, whose hand grasped the sword if another looked askance at him, was the child of one, at whom every respectable woman had the right to point her finger. All these thoughts darted through his brain; but strangely enough, they melted like morning mists when the sun rises, before the feeling of joy that he had his mother again.
Her image did not rise before his memory in Zorrillo's tent, but framed by balsams and wall-flowers. His vivid imagination made her twenty years younger, and how beautiful she still was, how winningly she could glance and smile. Every appreciative word, all the praises of the sibyl's beauty, good sense and kindness, which he had heard in the camp, came back freshly to his mind, and he would fain have started up to throw himself on her bosom, call her his mother, hear her give him all the sweet, pet names, which sounded so tender from her lips, and feel the caress of her soft hands. How rich the solitary man felt, how surpassingly rich! He had been entirely alone, deserted even by his mother! Now he was so no longer, and pleasant dreams blended with his ambitious plans, like golden threads in dark cloth.
When power was once his, he would build her a beautiful, cosy nest with his share of the booty. She must leave Zorrillo, leave him to-morrow. The little nest should belong to her and him alone, entirely alone, and when his soul longed for peace, love, and quiet, he would rest there with her, recall with her the days of his childhood, cherish and care for her, make her forget all her sins and sufferings, and enjoy to the full the happiness of having her again, calling a loving mother's heart his own.
At every breath he drew he felt freer and gayer. Suddenly there was a rustling at the tent-door. He seized his two-handed sword, but did not raise it, for a beloved voice he recognized, called softly: "Ulrich, Ulrich, it is I!"
He started up, hastily threw on his doublet, rushed towards her, clasped her in his arms, and let her stroke his curls, kiss his cheeks and eyes, as in the old happy days. Then he drew her into the tent, whispering "Softly, softly, the snorer yonder is the German."
She followed him, leaned against him, and raised his hand to her lips; he felt them grow wet with tears. They had not yet said anything to each other, except how happy, how glad, how thankful they were to have each other again; then a sentinel passed, and she started up, exclaiming anxiously: "So late, so late; Zorrillo will be waiting!"
"Zorrillo!" cried Ulrich scornfully, "you have been a long time with him. If they give me the power...."
"They will choose you, child, they shall choose you," she hastily interrupted. "Oh, God! oh, God! perhaps this will bring you misfortune instead of blessing; but you desire it! Count Mannsfeld is coming tomorrow; Zorrillo knows it. He will bring a pardon for all; promotions too, but no money yet."
"Oh, ho!" cried Ulrich, "that may decide the matter."
"Perhaps so, you deserve to command them. You were born for some special purpose, and your card always turns up so strangely. Eletto! It sounds proud and grand, but many have been ruined by it...."
"Because power was too hard for them."
"It must serve you. You are strong. A child of good fortune. Folly! I will not fear. You have probably fared well in life. Ah, my lamb, I have done little for you, but one thing I did unceasingly: I prayed for you, poor boy, morning and night; have you noticed, have you felt it?"
He drew her to his heart again, but she released herself from his embrace, saying: "To-morrow, Ulrich; Zorrillo...."
"Zorrillo, always Zorrillo," he repeated, his blood boiling angrily. "You are mine and, if you love me, you will leave him."
"I cannot, Ulrich, it will not do. He is kind, you will yet be friends."
"We, we? On the day of judgment, nay, not even then! Are you more firmly bound to yon smooth fellow, than to my honest father? There stands something in the darkness, it is good steel, and if needful will cut the tie asunder."
"Ulrich, Ulrich !" wailed Flora, raising her hands beseechingly. "Not that, not that; it must not be. He is kind and sensible, and loves me fondly. Oh, Heaven! Oh, Ulrich! The mother has glided to her son at night, as if she were following forbidden paths. Oh, this is indeed a punishment. I know how heavily I have sinned, I deserve whatever may befall me; but you, you must not make me more wretched, than I already am. Your father, he ....if he were still alive, for your sake I would crawl to him on my knees, and say: "Here I am, forgive me--but he is dead. Pasquale, Zorrillo lives; do not think me a vain, deluded woman; Zorrillo cannot bear to have me leave him...."
"And my father? He bore it. But do you know how? Shall I describe his life to you?"
"No, no! Oh, child, how you torture me! I know how I sinned against your father, the thought does not cease to torture me, for he truly loved me, and I loved him, too, loved him tenderly. But I cannot keep quiet a long time, and cast down my eyes, like the women there, it is not in my blood; and Adam shut me up in a cage and for many years let me see nothing except himself, and the cold, stupid city in the ravine by the forest. One day a fierce longing came upon me, I could not help going forth--forth into the wide world, no matter with whom or whither. The soldier only needed to hint and I fell.--I did not stay with him long, he was a windy braggart; but I was faithful to Captain Grandgagnage and accompanied the wild fellow with the Walloons through every land, until he was shot. Then ten years ago, I joined Zorrillo; he is my friend, he shares my feelings, I am necessary to his existence. Do not laugh, Ulrich; I well know that youth lies behind me, that I am old, yet Pasquale loves me; since I have had him, I have been more content and, Holy Virgin! now--I love him in return. Oh, Heaven! Oh, Heaven! Why is it so? This heart, this miserable heart, still throbs as fast as it did twenty years ago."
"You will not leave him?"
"No, no, I love him, and I know why. Every one calls him a brave man, yet they only half know him; no one knows him wholly as I do. No one else is so good, so generous. You must let me speak! Do you suppose I ever forgot you? Never, never! But you have always been to me the dear little boy; I never thought of you as a man, and since I could not have you and longed so greatly for you, for a child, I opened my heart to the soldiers' orphans, the little creature you saw in the tent is one of these poor things, I have often had two or three such babies at the same time. It would have been an abomination to Grandgagnage, but Zorrillo rejoices in my love for children, and I have given what the Walloon bequeathed me and his own booty to the soldiers' widows and the little naked babies in the camp. He was satisfied, for whatever I do pleases him. I will not, cannot leave him!"
She paused, hiding her face in her hands, but Ulrich paced to and fro, violently agitated. At last he said firmly: "Yet you must part from him. He or I! I will have nothing to do with the lover of my father's wife. I am Adam's son, and will be constant to him. Ah, mother, I have been deprived of you so long. You can tend strangers' orphaned children, yet you make your own son an orphan. Will you do this? No, a thousand times, no, you cannot! Do not weep so, you must not weep! Hear me, hear me! For my sake, leave this Spaniard! You will not repent it. I have just been dreaming of the nest I will build for you. There I will cherish and care for you, and you shall keep as many orphan children as you choose. Leave him, mother, you must leave him for the sake of your child, your Ulrich!"
"Oh, God! oh, God!" she sobbed. "I will try, yes, I will try.... My child, my dear child!"
Ulrich clasped her closely in his arms, kissed her hair, and said, softly: "I know, I know, you need love, and you shall find it with me."
"With you!" she repeated, sobbing. Then releasing herself from his embrace she hurried to the feverish woman, at whose summons she had left her tent.
As morning dawned, she returned home and found Zorrillo still awake. He enquired about her patient, and told her he had given the child something to drink while she was away.
Flora could not help weeping bitterly again, and Zorrillo, noticing it, exclaimed chidingly: "Each has his own griefs to bear, it is not wise to take strangers' troubles so deeply to heart."
"Strangers' troubles," she repeated, mournfully, and went to rest.
White-haired woman, why have you remained so young? All the cares and sorrows of youth and age are torturing you at the same time! One love is fighting a mortal battle with another in your breast. Which will conquer?
She knows, she knew it ere she entered the tent. The mother fled from the child, but she cannot abandon her new-found son. Oh, maternal love, thou dost hover in radiant bliss far above the clouds, and amid choirs of angels! Oh, maternal heart, thou dost bleed pierced with swords, more full of sorrows than any other!
Poor, poor Florette! On this July morning she was enduring superhuman
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