European Encounter

 

 

 

Chapter Two -- Imprisonment

 

Studying the small hand-drawn map that had been given him, Bernardo peered down the two narrow streets that angled out from the corner on which he was standing. Although not big in size, Heidelberg was confusing to the mute. The streets were even more confining than some of the ones in Seville and the town as a whole seemed jammed up against the mountainside on which a ruined castle stood sentinel. After the experience in Köln, Bernardo was a bit paranoid about the possibility of getting into trouble with German officials and had tried not to go anywhere unaccompanied, but this time he had been unable to avoid it.

Using the map, the manservant had just left the Platz, or plaza, which paled in comparison to the Maria Louisa Park in Seville. Bernardo missed the Moorish inspired buildings and large open areas. This little city seemed close and dark to him and he would be glad to finish his errand and get back to the university where the tournament was being held.

He was also looking forward to the end of the competition, when he felt his duty to Don José would end and he could terminate his employment with the man. The idea that he had a position with Don Diego de la Vega had alleviated his worries and made the idea of leaving the son of General Rodriguez a much more pleasant task. Bernardo was not bothered by the fact that, technically speaking, he was going down in station, as Don Diego, as a colonial, was considered of lesser rank than the son of a hero of the Peninsular War.

In fact, Don Diego’s offer had delighted him. Having been drawn by the young man’s personality, he felt that employment with the Californio would be most interesting. It would be nice to be working for someone so congenial, too. The man seemed to enjoy life and not worry about rank, position or pleasing a demanding parent as Don Jose did.

Bringing himself back to the task at hand, Bernardo looked again at the map and realized that it had been drawn in error. Like so much that Don José had done in the past week, this, too, had been done in foul temper and with too much haste. Rodriguez had done everything except strike him, browbeating and haranguing him at every opportunity. Nothing Bernardo had done had pleased his young employer.

Now he had to find the residence of one of Don José’s father’s friends, a Gen. Neufeldt, with a defective map. Walking up to a street vendor, Bernardo showed him the outside of the letter he was delivering, with the general’s name and address on it, and signed his desire for directions.  When the vendor started giving directions in German, the mute realized his mistake.

Deciding that pretending deafness would cause the man to gesture the directions, Bernardo pointed to his ears and mouth. The vendor nodded and pointed and signed. That was much easier to follow and Bernardo started down the narrow street on the right. About halfway down the street a loud clattering noise made him jump as though he had been shot. Then a large hand grabbed him by the shoulder.

Terrified that he was going to be robbed, Bernardo jerked out the tiny dirk that he kept in his sash for protection. It was knocked out of his hand and to his consternation, he found himself facing the biggest Polizist he had ever seen in his life. Fear washed over him and he frantically began signing his intents and innocence of anything that he might be accused of, even showing him the letter he was taking to General Neufeldt. His captor grabbed it from his hand and with an iron grip, propelled Bernardo toward the city hall.

Saints, preserve me, Bernardo prayed as he was hustled along the street. This time there was no one to help him and he soon found himself locked in a cell with several other prisoners. Sitting on a wooden bench, he pondered any possible solutions and coming up with nothing, the manservant finally lay down to rest.

Surely Don José would look for him when he didn’t return. Bernardo picked at the food, which had been brought to him earlier. It was unfamiliar and anxiety had made his appetite disappear. By night, he was beginning to despair of any release. Thinking back on Don José’s behavior, the manservant wondered if somehow, his employer knew about his plans to quit and then hire on with young de la Vega. The shorter than usual temper, his hostility, and more demanding behavior had occurred just after the encounter in Köln.

Ever optimistic, Bernardo couldn’t believe that Rodriguez would allow him to stay in jail once he had found out his servant’s predicament. His master’s temper had to be a result of pre-tournament jitters. Of course, when the fine was paid, that would make it much more difficult to get out of Don José’s employment, but right now, the important thing was to get out of this vermin infested cell. As the night grew later, Bernardo took the thin threadbare blanket he had been given and curled up on the wooden bench, trying desperately to sleep. It took several hours before he fell into an exhausted, nightmare filled state.

Another day passed, in which Bernardo alternately paced and implored his guards to get him a paper and pen. He knew if he could get a letter to Don José, he would soon be released. His cellmates had been released or taken elsewhere, although they had not provided companionship for him, as he had been unable to communicate with them.

By nightfall of the second full day, Bernardo finally found a guard more kindly disposed to his predicament than any of the others and writing materials were smuggled in to him. A short note was soon finished and slipped back to the guard. Bernardo nodded and smiled his gratitude.  The guard assured him in sign, that he would get it to Don José as soon as he could, the next day.

Then a sudden thought occurred to Bernardo. What if his master really didn’t care if he was in jail or not?  Motioning to the guard, the manservant took the note back and scratched out the name José Rodriguez and wrote in Diego de la Vega. Bernardo felt assured that Don Diego would act and not leave him here. As the guard left, the mute heaved a sigh of relief and rested on the hard wooden bench until he grew weary and lay down again.

The next day just after the noon meal, Bernardo was escorted to a room, which appeared to be some kind of a courtroom. A magistrate and several officials discussed him; he saw his little dirk and the letter he had been carrying. When questioned, Bernardo could only shrug and sign his inability to understand the language and to talk even if he could. Finally the magistrate looked at another letter and glaring at him, pronounced what Bernardo could only interpret as a sentence.  The only word, which he understood was the name of a town, Berchtesgaden.   Bernardo paled, having looked at a map of Germany before the trip, and he realized that for some reason he was being sent to the mountainous southern tip of the country to serve whatever sentence had been meted out. Desperately, he tried to sign his desire to see a countryman, to get help, anything that would get him out of this mess. Bernardo wished he had acted when Don Diego had first made his offer of employment.

Later that afternoon, the kind-hearted guard indicated in sign that he had given the note to de la Vega’s fencing master and was assured of its delivery. Then the man opened the cell door and put a small set of manacles on Bernardo’s wrists. With regret, the German signed, Bernardo was being transferred to Berchtesgaden by way of Stuttgart this very evening.

Bernardo signed as best he could an inquiry as to the reason for going to southern Germany to serve a sentence. The guard indicated that the big mines were located in that area, although he was just conjecturing. Then the manservant signed a query about the nature of the crime he was accused of. With a shake of his head, the guard informed him that he had been convicted of being a spy and also for drawing a weapon on a government official.

Reeling with shock, Bernardo leaned against the cell bars. The guard gently led him to the front of the building where several guards and a riderless horse were waiting. As he helped him mount, the guard wished the sad faced mute Godspeed. Bernardo, understanding, could only nod his appreciation as the small group rode off down the dark and narrow street.

 

 

Chapter Three
Chapter One
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