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- A Word Only A Word, Volume 5. - 6/13 -
sibyl was my mother--Zorrillo has murdered my mother," the coffin was borne into the house.
In the vestibule, he leaned his head against the wall, moaning and sighing, until Florette was laid in her last bed, and a soldier put his hand on his shoulder. Then Ulrich strewed flowers over the corpse, and the joiner came to nail up the coffin. The blows of the hammer actually hurt him, it seemed as if each one fell upon his own heart.
The funeral procession passed through the ranks of soldiers, who filled the street. Several officers came to meet it, and Captain Ortis, approaching close to the Eletto, said: "The bishop refuses the catafalque and the solemn requiem you requested. Your mother died in sin, without the sacrament. He will grant as many masses for the repose of her soul as you desire, but such high honors...."
"He refuses them to us?"
"Not to us, to the sibyl."
"She was my mother, your Eletto's mother. To the cathedral, forward!"
"It is closed, and will remain so to-day, for the bishop...."
"Then burst the doors! We'll show them who has the power here."
"Are you out of your senses? The Holy Church!"
"Forward, I say! Let him who is no cowardly wight, follow me!"
Ulrich drew the commander's baton from his belt and rushed forward, as if he were leading a storming-party; but Ortis cried: "We will not fight against St. Martin!" and a murmur of applause greeted him.
Ulrich checked his pace, and gnashing his teeth, exclaimed: "Will not? Will not?" Then gazing around the circle of comrades, who surrounded him on all sides, he asked: "Has no one courage to help me to my rights? Ortis, de Vego, Diego, will you follow me, yes or no?"
"No, not against the Church!"
"Then I command you," shouted the Eletto, furiously. "Obey, Lieutenant de Vega, forward with your company, and burst the cathedral doors."
But no one obeyed, and Ortis ordered: "Back, every man of you! Saint Martin is my patron saint; let all who value their souls refuse to attack the church and defend it with me."
The blood rushed to Ulrich's brain, and incapable of longer self-control, he threw his baton into the ranks of the mutineers, shrieking: "I hurl it at your feet; whoever picks it up can keep it!"
The soldiers hesitated; but Ortis repeated his "Back!" Other officers gave the same order, and their men obeyed. The street grew empty, and the Eletto's mother was only followed by a few of her son's friends; no priest led the procession. In the cemetery Ulrich threw three handfuls of earth into the open grave, then with drooping head returned home.
How dreary, how desolate the bright, flower-decked room seemed now, for the first time the Eletto felt really deserted. No tears came to relieve his grief, for the insult offered him that day aroused his wrath, and he cherished it as if it were a consolation.
He had thrown power aside with the staff of command. Power! It too was potter's trash, which a stone might shatter, a flower in full bloom, whose leaves drop apart if touched by the finger! It was no noble metal, only yellow mica!
The knocker on the door never stopped rapping. One officer after another came to soothe him, but he would not even admit his lieutenant.
He rejoiced over his hasty deed. Fortune, he thought, cannot be escaped, art cannot be thrown aside; fame may be trampled under foot, yet still pursue us.
Power has this advantage over all three, it can be flung off like a worn- out doublet. Let it fly! Had he owed it the happiness of the last few weeks? No, no! He would have been happy with his mother in a poor, plain house, without the office of Eletto, without flowers, horses or servants. It was to her, not to power, that he was indebted for every blissful hour, and now that she had gone, how desolate was the void in his heart!
Suddenly the recollection of his father and Ruth illumined his misery like a sunbeam. The game of Eletto was now over, he would go to Antwerp the next day.
Why had fate snatched his mother from him just now, why did it deny him the happiness of seeing his parents united? His father--she had sorely wronged him, but for what will not death atone? He must take him some remembrance of her, and went to her room to look through her chest. But it no longer stood in the old place--the owner of the house, a rich matron, who had been compelled to occupy an attic-room, while strangers were quartered in her residence, had taken charge of the pale orphan and the boxes after Florette's death.
The good Netherland dame provided for the adopted child and the property of her enemy, the man whose soldiers had pillaged her brothers and cousins. The death of the woman below had moved her deeply, for the wonderful charm of Florette's manner had won her also.
Towards midnight Ulrich took the lamp and went upstairs. He had long since forgotten to spare others, by denying himself a wish.
The knocking at the door and the passing to and fro in the entry had kept Frau Geel awake. When she heard the Eletto's heavy step, she sprang up from her spinning-wheel in alarm, and the maid-servant, half roused from sleep, threw herself on her knees.
"Frau Geel!" called a voice outside.
She recognized Navarrete's tones, opened the door, and asked what he desired.
"It was his mother," thought the old lady as he threw clothes, linen and many a trifle on the floor. "It was his mother. Perhaps he wants her rosary or prayer book. He is her son! They looked like a happy couple when they were together. A wild soldier, but he isn't a wicked man yet."
While he searched she held the light for him, shaking her head over the disorder among the articles where he rummaged.
Ulrich had now reached the bottom of the chest. Here he found a valuable necklace, booty which Zorrillo had given his companion for use in case of need. This should be Ruth's. Close beside it lay a small package, tied with rose-pink ribbon, containing a tiny infant's shirt, a gay doll, and a slender gold circlet; her wedding-ring! The date showed that it had been given to her by his father, and the shirt and doll were mementos of him, her darling--of himself.
He gazed at them, changing them from one hand to the other, till suddenly his heart overflowed, and without heeding Frau Geel, who was watching him, he wept softly, exclaiming: "Mother, dear mother!"
A light hand touched his shoulder, and a woman's kind voice said: "Poor fellow, poor fellow! Yes, she was a dear little thing, and a mother, a mother--that is enough!"
The Eletto nodded assent with tearful eyes, and when she again gently repeated in a tone of sincere sympathy, her "poor fellow!" it sounded sweeter, than the loudest homage that had ever been offered to his fame and power.
The next morning while Ulrich was packing his luggage, assisted by his servant, the sound of drums and fifes, bursts of military music and loud cheers were heard in the street, and going to the window, he saw the whole body of mutineers drawn up in the best order.
The companies stood in close ranks before his house, impetuous shouts and bursts of music made the windows rattle, and now the officers pressed into his room, holding out their swords, vowing fealty unto death, and entreating him to remain their commander.
He now perceived, that power cannot be thrown aside like a worthless thing. His tortured heart was stirred with deep emotion, and the drooping wings of ambition unfolded with fresh energy. He reproached, raged, but yielded; and when Ortis on his knees, offered him the commander's baton, he accepted it.
Ulrich was again Eletto, but this need not prevent his seeing his father and Ruth once more, so he declared that he would retain his office, but should be obliged to ride to Antwerp that day, secretly inform the officers of the conspiracy against the city, and the necessity of negotiating with the commandant, that their share of the rich prize might not be lost.
What many had suspected and hoped was now to become reality. Their Eletto was no idle man! When Navarrete appeared at noon in front of the troops with his own work, the standard, in his hand, he was received with shouts of joy, and no one murmured, though many recognized in the Madonna's countenance the features of the murdered sibyl.
Two days later Ulrich, full of eager expectation, rode into Antwerp, carrying in his portmanteau the mementos he had taken from his mother's chest, while in imagination he beheld his father's face, the smithy at Richtberg, the green forest, the mountains of his home, the Costas' house, and his little playfellow. Would he really be permitted to lean on his father's broad breast once more?
And Ruth, Ruth! Did she still care for him, had Philipp described her correctly?
He went to the count without delay, and found him at home. Philipp received him cordially, yet with evident timidity and embarrassment. Ulrich too was grave, for he had to inform his companion of his mother's death.
"So that is settled," said the count. "Your father is a gnarled old tree, a real obstinate Swabian. It's not his way to forgive and forget."
"And did he know that my mother was so near to him, that she was in Aalst."
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