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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 5. - 5/13 -
monks might grow fat!" cried the count. "A Swabian heart remains half Swabian, even when it beats under a Spanish doublet. Its luck, Turk's luck, that I followed Floyon;--and your old father, Adam? And Ruth--what a pleasure!"
"You ought to know....my father is dead, died long, long ago!" said Ulrich, lowering his eyes.
"Dead!" exclaimed the other. "And long ago? I saw him at the anvil three weeks since."
"My father? At the anvil? And Ruth?...." stammered Ulrich, gazing at the other with a pallid, questioning face.
"They are alive, certainly they are alive! I met him again in Antwerp. No one else can make you such armor. The devil is in it, if you hav'nt heard of the Swabian armorer."
"The Swabian--the Swabian--is he my father?"
"Your own father. How long ago is it? Thirteen years, for I was then sixteen. That was the last time I saw him, and yet I recognized him at the first glance. True, I shall never forget the hour, when the dumb woman drew the arrow from the Jew's breast. The scene I witnessed that day in the forest still rises before my eyes, as if it were happening now."
"He lives, they did not kill him!" exclaimed the Eletto, now first beginning to rejoice over the surprising news. "Lips, man--Philipp! I have found my mother again, and now my father too. Wait, wait! I'll speak to the lieutenant, he must take my place, and you and I will ride to Lier; there you will tell me the whole story. Holy Virgin! thanks, a thousand thanks! I shall see my father again, my father!"
It was past midnight, but the schoolmates were still sitting over their wine in a private room in the Lion at Lier. The Eletto had not grown weary of questioning, and Count Philipp willingly answered.
Ulrich now knew what death the doctor had met, and that his father had gone to Antwerp and lived there as an armorer for twelve years. The Jew's dumb wife had died of grief on the journey, but Ruth was living with the old man and kept house for him. Navarrete had often heard the Swabian and his work praised, and wore a corselet from his workshop.
The count could tell him a great deal about Ruth. He acknowledged that he had not sought Adam the Swabian for weapons, but on account of his beautiful daughter. The girl was slender as a fir-tree! And her face! once seen could never be forgotten. So might have looked the beautiful Judith, who slew Holophernes, or Queen Zenobia, or chaste Lucretia of Rome! She was now past twenty and in the bloom of her beauty, but cold as glass; and though she liked him on account of his old friendship for Ulrich and the affair in the forest, he was only permitted to look at, not touch her. She would rejoice when she heard that Ulrich was still alive, and what he had become. And the smith, the smith! Nay, he would not go home now, but back to Antwerp to be Ulrich's messenger! But now he too would like to relate his own experiences.
He did so, but in a rapid, superficial way, for the Eletto constantly reverted to old days and his father. Every person whom they had both known was enquired for.
Old Count Frohlinger was still alive, but suffered a great deal from gout and the capricious young wife he had married in his old age. Hangemarx had grown melancholy and, after all, ended his life by the rope, though by his own hand. Dark-skinned Xaver had entered the priesthood and was living in Rome in high esteem, as a member of a Spanish order. The abbot still presided over the monastery and had a great deal of time for his studies; for the school had been broken up and, as part of the property of the monastery had been confiscated, the number of monks had diminished. The magistrate had been falsely accused of embezzling minors' money, remained in prison for a year and, after his liberation, died of a liver complaint.
Morning was dawning when the friends separated. Count Philipp undertook to tell Ruth that Ulrich had found his mother again. She was to persuade the smith to forgive his wife, with whose praises her son's lips were overflowing.
At his departure Philipp tried to induce the Eletto to change his course betimes, for he was following a dangerous path; but Ulrich laughed in his face, exclaiming: "You know I have found the right word, and shall use it to the end. You were born to power in a small way; I have won mine myself, and shall not rest until I am permitted to exercise it on a great scale, nay, the grandest. If aught on earth affords a taste of heavenly joy, it is power!"
In the camp the Eletto found the troops from Aalst prepared for departure, and as he rode along the road saw in imagination, sometimes his parents, his parents in a new and happy union, sometimes Ruth in the full splendor of her majestic beauty. He remembered how proudly he had watched his father and mother, when they went to church together on Sunday, how he had carried Ruth in his arms on their flight; and now he was to see and experience all this again.
He gave his men only a short rest, for he longed to reach his mother. It was a glorious return home, to bring such tidings! How beautiful and charming he found life; how greatly he praised his destiny!
The sun was setting behind pleasant Aalst as he approached, and the sky looked as if it was strewn with roses.
"Beautiful, beautiful!" he murmured, pointing out to his lieutenant the brilliant hues in the western horizon.
A messenger hastened on in advance, the thunder of artillery and fanfare of music greeted the victors, as they marched through the gate. Ulrich sprang from his horse in front of the guildhall and was received by the captain, who had commanded during his absence.
The Eletto hastily described the course of the brilliant, victorious march, and then asked what had happened.
The captain lowered his eyes in embarrassment, saying, in a low tone: "Nothing of great importance; but day before yesterday a wicked deed was committed, which will vex you. The woman you love, the camp sibyl...."
"Who? What? What do you mean?"
"She went to Zorrillo, and he--you must not be startled--he stabbed her."
Ulrich staggered back, repeating, in a hollow tone "Stabbed!" Then seizing the other by the shoulder, he shrieked: "Stabbed! That means murdered-killed!"
"He thrust his dagger into her heart, she must have died as quickly as if struck by lightning. Then Zorrillo went away, God knows where. Who could suspect, that the quiet man...."
"You let him escape, helped the murderer get off, you dogs!" raved the wretched man. "We will speak of this again. Where is she, where is her body?"
The captain shrugged his shoulders, saying, in a soothing tone: "Calm yourself, Navarrete! We too grieve for the sibyl; many in the camp will miss her. As for Zorrillo, he had the password, and could go through the gate at any hour. The body is still lying in his quarters."
"Indeed!" faltered the Eletto. Then calming himself, he said, mournfully: "I wish to see her."
The captain walked silently by his side and opened the murderer's dwelling.
There, on a bed of pine-shavings, in a rude coffin made of rough planks, lay the woman who had given him birth, deserted him, and yet who so tenderly loved him. A poor soldier's wife, to whom she had been kind, was watching beside the corpse, at whose head a singly brand burned with a smoky, yellow light. The little white dog had found its way to her, and was snuffing the floor, still red with its mistress's blood.
Ulrich snatched the brand from the bracket, and threw the light on the dead woman's face. His tear-dimmed eyes sought his mother's features, but only rested on them a moment--then he shuddered, turned away, and giving the torch to his companion, said, softly: "Cover her head."
The soldier's wife spread her coarse apron over the face, which-had smiled so sweetly: but Ulrich threw himself on his knees beside the coffin, buried his face, and remained in this attitude for many minutes.
At last he slowly rose, rubbed his eyes as if waking from some confused dream, drew himself up proudly, and scanned the place with searching eyes.
He was the Eletto, and thus men honored the woman who was dear to him!
His mother lay in a wretched pauper's coffin, a ragged camp-follower watched beside her--no candles burned at her head, no priest prayed for the salvation of her soul!
Grief was raging madly in his breast, now indignation joined this gloomy guest; giving vent to his passionate emotion, Ulrich wildly exclaimed:
"Look here, captain! This corpse, this woman--proclaim it to every one --the sibyl was my mother yes, yes, my own mother! I demand respect for her, the same respect that is shown myself! Must I compel men to render her fitting honor? Here, bring torches. Prepare the catafalque in St. Martin's church, and place it before the altar! Put candles around it, as many as can be found! It is still early! Lieutenant! I am glad you are there! Rouse the cathedral priests and go to the bishop. I command a solemn requiem for my mother! Everything is to be arranged precisely as it was at the funeral of the Duchess of Aerschot! Let trumpets give the signal for assembling. Order the bells to be rung! In an hour all must be ready at St. Martin's cathedral! Bring torches here, I say! Have I the right to command--yes or no? A large oak coffin was standing at the joiner's close by. Bring it here, here; I need a better death- couch for my mother. You poor, dear woman, how you loved flowers, and no one has brought you even one! Captain Ortis, I have issued my commands! Everything must be done, when I return;--Lieutenant, you have your orders!"
He rushed from the death-chamber to the sitting-room in his own house, and hastily tore stalks and blossoms from the plants. The maid-servants watched him timidly, and he harshly ordered them to collect what he had gathered and take them to the house of death.
His orders were obeyed, and when he next appeared at Zorrillo's quarters, the soldiers, who had assembled there in throngs, parted to make way for him.
He beckoned to them, and while he went from one to another, saying: "The
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