"Dear me! oh, ah, yes. How cold it is! I think I have been asleep."
"The cold is killing me," she said.
"My poor darling! What shall I do? Let me see. Where do you feel it most."
"All over. Do you not feel how I shiver? Oh, Ludovic, could we get out at the next station?"
"Impossible, Linda. What should we do there?"
"And what shall we do at Augsburg? Oh dear, I wish I had not come. I am so cold. It is killing me." Then she burst out into floods of sobbing, so that the old man opposite to her was aroused. The old man had brandy in his basket and made her drink a little. Then after a while she was quieted, and was taken by station after station without demanding of Ludovic that he should bring this weary journey to an end.
Gradually the day dawned, and the two could look at each other in the grey light of the morning. But Linda thought of her own appearance rather than that of her lover. She had been taught that it was required of a woman that she should be neat, and she felt now that she was dirty, foul inside and out,—a thing to be scorned. As their companions also bestirred themselves in the daylight, she was afraid to meet their eyes, and strove to conceal her face. The sacks in the warehouse had, in lieu of a better bed, been acceptable; but she was aware now, as she could see the skirts of her own dress and her shoes, and as she glanced her eyes gradually round upon her shoulders, that the stains of the place were upon her, and she knew herself to be unclean. That sense of killing cold had passed off from her, having grown to a numbness which did not amount to present pain, though it would hardly leave her without some return of the agony; but the misery of her disreputable appearance was almost as bad to her as the cold had been. It was not only that she was untidy and dishevelled, but it was that her condition should have been such without the company of any elder female friend whose presence would have said, "This young woman is respectable, even though her dress be soiled with dust and meal." As it was, the friend by her side was one who by his very appearance would condemn her. No one would suppose her to be his wife. And then the worst of it was that he also would judge her as others judged her. He also would say to himself that no one would suppose such a woman to be his wife. And if once he should learn so to think of her, how could she expect that he would ever persuade himself to become her husband? How she wished that she had remained beneath her aunt's roof! It now occurred to her, as though for the first time, that no one could have forced her to go to church on that thirtieth of January and become Peter Steinmarc's wife. Why had she not remained at home and simply told her aunt that the thing was impossible?
At last they were within an hour of Augsburg, and even yet she knew nothing as to his future plans. It was very odd that he should not have told her what they were to do at Augsburg. He said that she should be his queen, that she should be as happy as the day was long, that everything would be right as soon as they reached Augsburg; but now they were all but at Augsburg, and she did not as yet know what first step they were to take when they reached the town. She had much wished that he would speak without being questioned, but at last she thought that she was bound to question him. "Ludovic, where are we going to at Augsburg?"
"To the Black Bear first. That will be best at first."
"Is it an inn?"
"Yes, dear; not a great big house like the Rothe Ross at Nuremberg, but very quiet and retired, in a back street."
"Do they expect us?"
"Well, no; not exactly. But that won't matter."
"And how long shall we stay there?"
"Ah! that must depend on tidings from Berlin and Munich. It may be that we shall be compelled to get away from Bavaria altogether." Then he paused for a moment, while she was thinking what other question she could ask. "By the by," he said, "my father is in Augsburg."
She had heard of his father as a man altogether worthless, one ever in difficulties, who would never work, who had never seemed to wish to be respectable. When the great sins of Ludovic's father had been magnified to her by Madame Staubach and by Peter, with certain wise hints that swans never came out of the eggs of geese, Linda would declare with some pride of spirit that the son was not like the father; that the son had never been known to be idle. She had not attempted to defend the father, of whom it seemed to be acknowledged by the common consent of all Nuremberg that he was utterly worthless, and a disgrace to the city which had produced him. But Linda now felt very thankful for the assurance of even his presence. Had it been Ludovic's mother, how much better would it have been! But that she should be received even by his father,—by such a father,—was much to her in her desolate condition.
"Will he be at the station?" Linda asked.
"Does he expect us?"
"Well, no. You see, Linda, I only got out of prison yesterday morning."
"Does your father live in Augsburg?"
"He hardly lives anywhere. He goes and comes at present as he is wanted by the cause. It is quite on the cards that we should find that the police have nabbed him. But I hope not. I think not. When I have seen you made comfortable, and when we have had something to eat and drink, I shall know where to seek him. While I am doing so, you had better lie down."
She was afraid to ask him whether his father knew, or would suspect, aught as to his bringing a companion, or whether the old man would welcome such a companion for his son. Indeed, she hardly knew how to frame any question that had application to herself. She merely assented to his proposition that she should go to bed at the Black Bear, and then waited for the end of their journey. Early in the morning their fellow-passengers had left them, and they were now alone. But Ludovic distressed her no more by the vehemence of his caresses. He also was tired and fagged and cold and jaded. It is not improbable that he had been meditating whether he, in his present walk of life, had done well to encumber himself with the burden of a young woman.
At last they were at the platform at Augsburg. "Don't move quite yet," he said. "One has to be a little careful." When she attempted to raise herself she found herself to be so numb that all quickness of motion was out of the question. Ludovic, paying no attention to her, sat back in the carriage, with his cap before his face, looking with eager eyes over the cap on to the platform.
"May we not go now?" said Linda, when she saw that the other passengers had alighted.
"Don't be in a hurry, my girl. By God, there are those ruffians, the gendarmerie. It's all up. By Jove! yes, it's all up. That is hard, after all I did at Nuremberg."
"Look here, Linda. Get out at once and take these letters. Make your way to the Black Bear, and wait for me."
"Never mind me, but do as you're told. In a moment it will be too late. If we are noticed to be together it will be too late."
"But how am I to get to the Black Bear?"
"Heaven and earth! haven't you a tongue? But here they are, and it's all up." And so it was. A railway porter opened the door, and behind the railway porter were two policemen. Linda, in her dismay, had not even taken the papers which had been offered to her, and Valcarm, as soon as he was sure that the police were upon him, had stuffed them down the receptacle made in the door for the fall of the window.
But the fate of Valcarm and of his papers is at the present moment not of so much moment to us as is that of Linda Tressel. Valcarm was carried off, with or without the papers, and she, after some hurried words, which were unintelligible to her in her dismay, found herself upon the platform amidst the porters. A message had come from Nuremberg by the wires to Augsburg, requiring the arrest of Ludovic Valcarm, but the wires had said nothing of any companion that might be with him. Therefore Linda was left standing amidst the porters on the platform. She asked one of the men about the Black Bear. He shook his head, and told her that it was a house of a very bad sort,—of a very bad sort indeed.
A dozen times during the night Linda had remembered that her old friend Fanny Heisse, now the wife of Max Bogen, lived at Augsburg, and as she remembered it, she had asked herself what she would do were she to meet Fanny in the streets. Would Fanny condescend to speak to her, or would Fanny's husband allow his wife to hold any communion with such a castaway? How might she dare to hope that her old friend would do other than shun her, or, at the very least, scorn her, and pass her as a thing unseen? And yet, through all the days of their life, there had been in Linda's world a supposition that Linda was the good young woman, and that Fanny Heisse was, if not a castaway, one who had made the frivolities of the world so dear to her that she could be accounted as little better than a castaway. Linda's conclusion, as she thought of all this, had been, that it would be better that she should keep out of the way of the wife of an honest man who knew her. All fellowship hereafter with the wives and daughters of honest men must be denied to her. She had felt this very strongly when she had first seen herself in the dawn of the morning.
But now there had fallen upon her a trouble of another kind, which almost crushed her,—in which she was not as yet able to see that, by God's mercy, salvation from utter ruin might yet be extended to her. What should she do now,—now, at this moment? The Black Bear, to which her lover had directed her, was so spoken of that she did not dare to ask to be directed thither. When a compassionate railway porter pressed her to say whither she would go, she could only totter to a seat against the wall, and there lay herself down and sob. She had no friends, she said; no home; no protector except him who had just been carried away to prison. The porter asked her whether the man were her husband, and then again she was nearly choked with sobs. Even the manner of the porter was changed to her when he perceived that she was not the wife of him who had been her companion. He handed her over to an old woman who looked after the station, and the old woman at last learned from Linda the fact that the wife of Max Bogen the lawyer had once been her friend. About two hours after that she was seated with Max Bogen himself, in a small close carriage, and was being taken home to the lawyer's house. Max Bogen asked her hardly a question. He only said that Fanny would be so glad to have her;—Fanny, he said, was so soft, so good, and so clever, and so wise, and always knew exactly what ought to be done. Linda heard it all, marvelling in her dumb half-consciousness. This was the Fanny Heisse of whom her aunt had so often told her that one so given to the vanities of the world could never come to any good!
Max Bogen handed Linda over to his wife, and then disappeared. "Oh, Linda, what is it? Why are you here? Dear Linda." And then her old friend kissed her, and within half an hour the whole story had been told.
"Do you mean that she eloped with him from her aunt's house in the middle of the night?" asked Max, as soon as he was alone with his wife. "Of course she did," said Fanny; "and so would I, had I been treated as she has been. It has all been the fault of that wicked old saint, her aunt." Then they put their heads together as to the steps that must be taken. Fanny proposed that a letter should be at once sent to Madame Staubach, explaining plainly that Linda had run away from her marriage with Steinmarc, and stating that for the present she was safe and comfortable with her old friend. It could hardly be said that Linda assented to this, because she accepted all that was done for her as a child might accept it. But she knelt upon the floor with her head upon her friend's lap, kissing Fanny's hands, and striving to murmur thanks. Oh, if they would leave her there for three days, so that she might recover something of her strength! "They shall leave you for three weeks, Linda," said the other. "Madame Staubach is not the Emperor, that she is to have her own way in everything. And as for Peter—"
"Pray, don't talk of him;—pray, do not," said Linda, shuddering.
But all this comfort was at an end about seven o'clock on that evening. The second train in the day from Nuremberg was due at Augsburg at six, and Max Bogen, though he said nothing on the subject to Linda, had thought it probable that some messenger from the former town might arrive in quest of Linda by that train. At seven there came another little carriage up to the door, and before her name could be announced, Madame Staubach was standing in Fanny Bogen's parlour. "Oh, my child!" she said. "Oh, my child, may God in His mercy forgive my child!" Linda cowered in a corner of the sofa and did not speak.
"She hasn't done anything in the least wrong," said Fanny; "nothing on earth. You were going to make her marry a man she hated, and so she came away. If father had done the same to me, I wouldn't have stayed an hour." Linda still cowered on the sofa, and was still speechless.
Madame Staubach, when she heard this defence of her niece, was hardly pushed to know in what way it was her duty to answer it. It would be very expedient, of course, that some story should be told for Linda which might save her from the ill report of all the world,—that some excuse should be made which might now, instantly, remove from Linda's name the blight which would make her otherwise to be a thing scorned, defamed, useless, and hideous; but the truth was the truth, and even to save her child from infamy Madame Staubach would not listen to a lie without refuting it. The punishment of Linda's infamy had been deserved, and it was right that it should be endured. Hereafter, as facts came to disclose themselves, it would be for Peter Steinmarc to say whether he would take such a woman for his wife; but whether he took her or whether he rejected her, it could not be well that Linda should be screened by a lie from any part of the punishment which she had deserved. Let her go seven times seven through the fire, if by such suffering there might yet be a chance for her poor desolate half-withered soul.
"Done nothing wrong, Fanny Heisse!" said Madame Staubach, who, in spite of her great fatigue, was still standing in the middle of the room. "Do you say so, who have become the wife of an honest God-fearing man?"
But Fanny was determined that she would not be put down in her own house by Madame Staubach. "It doesn't matter whose wife I am," she said, "and I am sure Max will say the same as I do. She hasn't done anything wrong. She made up her mind to come away because she wouldn't marry Peter Steinmarc. She came here in company with her own young man, as I used to come with Max. And as soon as she got here she sent word up to us, and here she is. If there's anything very wicked in that, I'm not religious enough to understand it. But I tell you what I can understand, Madame Staubach,—there is nothing on earth so horribly wicked as trying to make a girl marry a man whom she loathes, and hates, and detests, and abominates. There, Madame Staubach; that's what I've got to say; and now I hope you'll stop and have supper with Max and Linda and me."
Linda felt herself to be blushing in the darkness of her corner as she heard this excuse for her conduct. No; she had not made the journey to Augsburg with Ludovic in such fashion as Fanny had, perhaps more than once, travelled the same route with her present husband. Fanny had not come by night, without her father's knowledge, had not escaped out of a window; nor had Fanny come with any such purpose as had been hers. There was no salve to her conscience in all this, though she felt very grateful to her friend, who was fighting her battle for her.
"It is not right that I should argue the matter with you," said Madame Staubach, with some touch of true dignity. "Alas, I know that which I know. Perhaps you will allow me to say a word in privacy to this unfortunate child."
But Max Bogen had not paid his wife a false compliment for cleverness. She perceived at once that the longer this interview between the aunt and her niece could be delayed,—the longer that it could be delayed, now that they were in each other's company,—the lighter would be the storm on Linda's head when it did come. "After supper, Madame Staubach; Linda wants her supper; don't you, my pet?" Linda answered nothing. She could not even look up, so as to meet the glance of her aunt's eyes. But Fanny Bogen succeeded in arranging things after her own fashion. She would not leave the room, though in sooth her presence at the preparation of the supper might have been useful. It came to be understood that Madame Staubach was to sleep at the lawyer's house, and great changes were made in order that the aunt and niece might not be put in the same room. Early in the morning they were to return together to Nuremberg, and then Linda's short hour of comfort would be over.
She had hardly as yet spoken a word to her aunt when Fanny left them in the carriage together. "There were three or four others there," said Fanny to her husband, "and she won't have much said to her before she gets home."
"But when she is at home!" Fanny only shrugged her shoulders. "The truth is, you know," said Max, "that it was not at all the proper sort of thing to do!"
"And who does the proper sort of thing?"
"You do, my dear."
"And wouldn't you have run away with me if father had wanted me to marry some nasty old fellow who cares for nothing but his pipe and his beer? If you hadn't, I'd never have spoken to you again."
"All the same," said Max, "it won't do her any good."
The journey home to Nuremberg was made almost in silence, and things had been so managed by Fanny's craft that when the two women entered the red house hardly a word between them had been spoken as to the affairs of the previous day. Tetchen, as she saw them enter, cast a guilty glance on her young mistress, but said not a word. Linda herself, with a veil over her face which she had borrowed from her friend Fanny, hurried up-stairs towards her own room. "Go into my chamber, Linda," said Madame Staubach, who followed her. Linda did as she was bid, went in, and stood by the side of her aunt's bed. "Kneel down with me, Linda, and let us pray that the great gift of repentance may be given to us," said Madame Staubach. Then Linda knelt down, and hid her face upon the counterpane.
All her sins were recapitulated to her during that prayer. The whole heinousness of the thing which she had done was given in its full details, and the details were repeated more than once. It was acknowledged in that prayer that though God's grace might effect absolute pardon in the world to come, such a deed as that which had been done by this young woman was beyond the pale of pardon in this world. And the Giver of all mercy was specially asked so to make things clear to that poor sinful creature, that she might not be deluded into any idea that the thing which she had done could be justified. She was told in that prayer that she was impure, vile, unclean, and infamous. And yet she probably did not suffer from the prayer half so much as she would have suffered had the same things been said to her face to face across the table. And she recognised the truth of the prayer, and she was thankful that no allusion was made in it to Peter Steinmarc, and she endeavoured to acknowledge that her conduct was that which her aunt represented it to be in her strong language. When the prayer was over Madame Staubach stood before Linda for a while, and put her two hands on the girl's arms, and lightly kissed her brow. "Linda," she said, "with the Lord nothing is impossible; with the Lord it is never too late; with the Lord the punishment need never be unto death!" Linda, though she could utter no articulate word, acknowledged to herself that her aunt had been good to her, and almost forgot the evil things that her aunt had worked for her.
Linda Tressel, before she had gone to bed on that night which she had passed at Augsburg, had written a short note which was to be delivered, if such delivery should be possible, to Ludovic Valcarm. The condition of her lover had, of course, been an added trouble to those which were more especially her own. During the last three or four hours which she had passed with him in the train her tenderness for him had been numbed by her own sufferings, and she had allowed herself for a while to think that he was not sufficiently alive to the great sacrifice she was making on his behalf. But when he was removed from her, and had been taken, as she well knew, to the prison of the city, something of the softness of her love returned to her, and she tried to persuade herself that she owed to him that duty which a wife would owe. When she spoke to Fanny on the subject, she declared that even if it were possible to her she would not go back to Ludovic. "I see it differently now," she said; "and I see how bad it is." But, still,—though she declared that she was very firm in that resolve,—she did not like to be carried back to her old home without doing something, making some attempt, which might be at least a token to herself that she had not been heartless in regard to her lover. She wrote therefore with much difficulty the following few words, which Fanny promised that her husband should endeavour to convey to the hands of Ludovic Valcarm:
DEAR LUDOVIC,—My aunt has come here for me, and takes me back to Nuremberg to-morrow. When you left me at the station I was too ill to go to the place you told me; so they sent to this house, and my dear, dear friend Fanny Heisse got her husband to come for me, and I am in their house now. Then my aunt came, and she will take me home to-morrow. I am so unhappy that you should be in trouble! I hope that my coming with you did not help to bring it about. As for me, I know it is best that I should go back, though I think that it will kill me. I was very wicked to come. I feel that now, and I know that even you will have ceased to respect me. Dear Ludovic, I hope that God will forgive us both. It will be better that we should never meet again, though the thought that it must be so is almost more than I can bear. I have always felt that I was different from other girls, and that there never could be any happiness for me in this world. God bless you, Ludovic. Think of me sometimes,—but never, never, try to come for me again.
It had cost her an hour of hard toil to write this little letter, and when it was written she felt that it was cold, ungrateful, unloving,—very unlike the words which he would feel that he had a right to expect from her. Nevertheless, such as it was, she gave it to her friend Fanny, with many injunctions that it might, if possible, be placed in the hands of Ludovic. And thus, as she told herself repeatedly on her way home, the romance of her life was over. After all, the journey to Augsburg would have been serviceable to her,—would be serviceable although her character should be infamous for ever in the town that knew her,—if by that journey she would be saved from all further mention of the name of Peter Steinmarc. No disgrace would be so bad as the prospect of that marriage. Therefore, as she journeyed homeward, sitting opposite to her aunt, she endeavoured to console herself by reflecting that his suit to her would surely be at an end. Would it ever reach his dull heart that she had consented to destroy her own character, to undergo ill-repute and the scorn of all honest people, in order that she might not be forced into the horror of a marriage with him? Could he be made to understand that in her flight from Nuremberg her great motive had been to fly from him?
On the second morning after her return even this consolation was taken from her, and she learned from her aunt that she had not given up all hope in the direction of the town-clerk. On the first day after her return not a word was said to Linda about Peter, nor would she have had any notice of his presence in the house had she not heard his shoes creaking up and down the stairs. Nor was the name of Ludovic Valcarm so much as mentioned in her presence. Between Tetchen and her there was not a word passed, unless such as were spoken in the presence of Madame Staubach. Linda found that she was hardly allowed to be for a moment out of her aunt's presence, and at this time she was unable not to be submissive. It seemed to her that her aunt was so good to her in not positively upbraiding her from morning to night, that it was impossible for her not to be altogether obedient in all things! She did not therefore even struggle to escape the long readings, and the longer prayers, and the austere severity of her aunt's presence. Except in prayer,—in prayers delivered out loud by the aunt in the niece's presence,—no direct mention was made of the great iniquity of which Linda had been guilty. Linda was called no heartrending name to her face; but she was required to join, and did join over and over again, in petitions to the throne of mercy "that the poor castaway might be received back again into the pale of those who were accepted." And at this time she would have been content to continue to live like this, to join in such prayers day after day, to have her own infamy continually brought forward as needing some special mercy, if by such means she might be allowed to live in tranquillity without sight or mention of Peter Steinmarc. But such tranquillity was not to be hers.
On the afternoon of the second day her aunt went out, leaving Linda alone in the house with Tetchen. Linda at once went to her chamber, and endeavoured to make herself busy among those possessions of her own which she had so lately thought that she was leaving for ever. She took out her all, the articles of her wardrobe, all her little treasures, opened the sweet folds of her modest raiment and refolded them, weeping all the while as she thought of the wreck she had made of herself. But no; it was not she who had made the wreck. She had been ruined by the cruelty of that man whose step at this moment she heard beneath her. She clenched her fist, and pressed her little foot against the floor, as she thought of the injury which this man had done her. There was not enough of charity in her religion to induce her even to think that she would ever cease to hate him with all the vigour of her heart. Then Tetchen came to her, and told her that her aunt had returned and desired to see her. Linda instantly went down to the parlour. Up to this moment she was as a child in her aunt's hands.
"Sit down, Linda," said Madame Staubach, who had taken off her bonnet, and was already herself stiffly seated in her accustomed chair. "Sit down, my dear, while I speak to you." Linda sat down at some distance from her aunt, and awaited dumbly the speech that was to be made to her. "Linda," continued Madame Staubach, "I have been this afternoon to the house of your friend Herr Molk." Linda said nothing out loud, but she declared to herself that Herr Molk was no friend of hers. Friend indeed! Herr Molk had shown himself to be one of her bitterest enemies. "I thought it best to see him after what—has been done, especially as he had been with you when you were ill, before you went." Still Linda said nothing. What was there that she could possibly say? Madame Staubach paused, not expecting her niece to speak, but collecting her own thoughts and arranging her words. "And Peter Steinmarc was there also," said Madame Staubach. Upon hearing this Linda's heart sank within her. Had all her sufferings, then, been for nothing? Had she passed that terrible night, that terrible day, with no result that might be useful to her? But even yet might there not be hope? Was it not possible that her aunt was about to communicate to her the fact that Peter Steinmarc declined to be bound by his engagement to her? She sighed deeply and almost sobbed, as she clasped her hands together. Her aunt observed it all, and then went on with her speech. "You will, I hope, have understood, Linda, that I have not wished to upbraid you."
"You have been very good, aunt Charlotte."
"But you must know that that which you have done is,—is,—is a thing altogether destructive of a young woman's name and character." Madame Staubach's voice, as she said this, was tremulous with the excess of her eagerness. If this were Peter Steinmarc's decision, Linda would bear it all without a complaint. She bowed her head in token that she accepted the disgrace of which her aunt had spoken. "Of course, Linda," continued Madame Staubach, "recovery from so lamentable a position is very difficult,—is almost impossible. I do not mean to say a word of what has been done. We believe,—that is, I believe, and Herr Molk, and Peter also believes it—"
"I don't care what Peter Steinmarc believes," exclaimed Linda, unable to hold her peace any longer.
"Linda, Linda, would you be a thing to be shuddered at, a woman without a name, a byword for shame for ever?" Madame Staubach had been interrupted in her statement as to the belief entertained in respect to Linda's journey by herself and her two colleagues, and did not recur to that special point in her narrative. When Linda made no answer to her last appeal, she broadly stated the conclusion to which she and her friends had come in consultation together in the panelled chamber of Herr Molk's house. "I may as well make the story short," she said. "Herr Molk has explained to Peter that things are not as bad as they have seemed to be." Every muscle and every fibre in Linda's body was convulsed when she heard this, and she shuddered and shivered so that she could hardly keep her seat upon her chair. "And Peter has declared that he will be satisfied if you will at once agree that the marriage shall take place on the thirtieth of the month. If you will do this, and will make him a promise that you will go nowhere without his sanction before that day, he will forget what has been done." Linda answered not a word, but burst into tears, and fell at her aunt's feet.
Madame Staubach was a woman who could bring herself to pardon any sin that had been committed,—that was done, and, as it were, accomplished,—hoping in all charity that it would be followed by repentance. Therefore she had forgiven, after a fashion, even the last tremendous trespass of which her niece had been guilty, and had contented herself with forcing Linda to listen to her prayers that repentance might be forthcoming. But she could forgive no fault, no conduct that seemed to herself to be in the slightest degree wrong, while it was in the course of action. She had abstained from all hard words against Linda, from all rebuke, since she had found that the young man was gone, and that her niece was willing to return to her home. But she would be prepared to exercise all the power which Linda's position had given her, to be as severe as the austerity of her nature would permit, if this girl should persist in her obstinacy. She regarded it as Linda's positive duty to submit to Peter Steinmarc as her husband. They had been betrothed with Linda's own consent. The banns had been already once called. She herself had asked for God's protection over them as man and wife. And then how much was there not due to Peter, who had consented, not without much difficult persuasion from Herr Molk, to take this soiled flower to his bosom, in spite of the darkness of the stain. "There will be no provoking difficulties made about the house?" Peter had said in a corner to the burgomaster. Then the burgomaster had undertaken that in the circumstances as they now existed, there should be no provoking difficulties. Herr Molk understood that Linda must give up something on receiving that position of an honest man's wife, which she was now hardly entitled to expect. Thus the bargain had been made, and Madame Staubach was of opinion that it was her first duty to see that it should not be again endangered by any obstinacy on behalf of Linda. Obstinate, indeed! How could she be obstinate after that which she had done? She had now fallen at her aunt's feet, was weeping, sobbing, praying for mercy. But Madame Staubach could have no mercy on the girl in this position. Such mercy would in itself be a sin. The sin done she could forgive; the sin a-doing must be crushed, and put down, and burnt out, and extinguished, let the agony coming from such process be as severe as might be. There could be no softness for Linda while Linda was obstinate. "I cannot suppose," she said, "that you mean to hesitate after what has taken place."
"Oh, aunt Charlotte! dear aunt Charlotte!"
"What is the meaning of this?"
"I don't love him. I can't love him. I will do anything else that you please. He may have the house if he wants it. I will promise;—promise never to go away again or to see anybody." But she might as well have addressed such prayers to a figure of stone. On such a matter as this Madame Staubach could not be other than relentless. Even while Linda was kneeling at her feet convulsed with sobs, she told the poor girl, with all the severity of language which she could use, of the vileness of the iniquity of that night's proceedings. Linda had been false to her friend, false to her vows, false to her God, immodest, unclean, had sinned against all the laws by which women bind themselves together for good conduct,—had in fact become a castaway in very deed. There was nothing that a female could do more vile, more loathsome than that which Linda had done. Madame Staubach believed that the time had come in which it would be wicked to spare, and she did not spare. Linda grovelled at her feet, and could only pray that God might take her to Himself at once. "He will never take you; never, never, never," said Madame Staubach; "Satan will have you for his own, and all my prayers will be of no avail."
There were two days such as this, and Linda was still alive and still bore it. On the third day, which was the fifth after her return from Augsburg, Herr Molk came to her, and at his own request was alone with her. He did not vituperate her as her aunt had done, nor did he express any special personal horror at her sin; but he insisted very plainly on the position which she had made for herself. "You see, my dear, the only thing for you is to be married out of hand at once, and then nobody will say anything about it. And what is the difference if he is a little old? girls forget to think about that after a month or two; and then, you see, it will put an end to all your troubles;—to all your troubles." Such were the arguments of Herr Molk; and it must be acknowledged that such arguments were not lacking in strength, nor were they altogether without truth. The little story of Linda's journey to Augsburg had been told throughout the city, and there were not wanting many who said that Peter Steinmarc must be a very good-natured man indeed, if, after all that had passed, he would still accept Linda Tressel as his wife. "You should remember all that of course, my dear," said Herr Molk.
How was it possible that Linda should stand alone against such influence as had been brought to bear against her? She was quite alone, for she would not admit of any intimacy with Tetchen. She would hardly speak to the old woman. She was quite aware that Tetchen had arranged with Ludovic the manner of her elopement; and though she felt no anger with him, still she was angry with the servant whose duplicity had helped to bring about the present misery. Had she not fled with her lover she might then,—so she thought now,—have held her ground against her aunt and against Peter. As things had gone with her since, such obstinacy had become impossible to her. On the morning of the seventh day she bowed her head, and though she did not speak, she gave her aunt to understand that she had yielded. "We will begin to purchase what may be necessary to-morrow," said Madame Staubach.
But even now she had not made up her mind that she would in truth marry the man. She had simply found it again impossible to say that she would not do so. There was still a chance of escape. She might die, for instance! Or she might run away again. If she did that, surely the man would persecute her no further. Or at the last moment she might stolidly decline to move; she might refuse to stand on her legs before the altar. She might be as a dead thing even though she were alive,—as a thing dead and speechless. Oh! if she could only be without ears to hear those terrible words which her aunt would say to her! And then there came another scheme into her mind. She would make one great personal appeal to Steinmarc's feelings as a man. If she implored him not to make her his wife, kneeling before him, submitting herself to him, preferring to him with all her earnestness this one great prayer, surely he would not persevere!
Hitherto, since her return from Augsburg, Peter had done very little to press his own suit. She had again had her hand placed in his since she had yielded, and had accepted as a present from him a great glass brooch which to her eyes was the ugliest thing in the guise of a trinket which the world of vanity had ever seen. She had not been a moment in his company without her aunt's presence, and there had not been the slightest allusion made by him to her elopement. Peter had considered that such allusion had better come after marriage when his power would, as he thought, be consolidated. He was surprised when he was told, early in the morning after that second hand-pledging, by Linda herself that she wanted to see him. Linda came to his door and made her request in person. Of course he was delighted to welcome his future bride to his own apartment, and begged her with as soft a smile as he could assume to seat herself in his own arm-chair. She took a humbler seat, however, and motioned to him to take that to which he was accustomed. He looked at her as he did so, and perceived that the very nature of her face was changed. She had lost the plumpness of her cheeks, she had lost the fresh colour of her youth, she had lost much of her prettiness. But her eyes were brighter than ever they had been, and there was something in their expression which almost made Peter uneasy. Though she had lost so much of her prettiness, he was not on that account moved to doubt the value of his matrimonial prize; but there did come across his mind an idea that those eyes might perhaps bring with them some discomfort into his household. "I am very glad to see you, Linda," he said. "It is very good of you to come to me here. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"There is one thing, Peter Steinmarc, that you can do for me."
"What is that, my dear?"
"Let me alone." As she spoke she clenched her small fist and brought it down with some energy on the table that was close to her. She looked into his face as she did so, and his eyes quailed before her glance. Then she repeated her demand. "Let me alone."
"I do not know what you mean, Linda. Of course you are going to be my wife now."
"I do not wish to be your wife. You know that; and if you are a man you will not force me." She had intended to be gentle with him, to entreat him, to win him by humility and softness, and to take his hand, and even kiss it if he would be good to her. But there was so much of tragedy in her heart, and such an earnestness of purpose in her mind, that she could not be gentle. As she spoke it seemed to him that she was threatening him.
"It is all settled, Linda. It cannot be changed now."
"It can be changed. It must be changed. Tell her that I am not good enough. You need not fear her. And if you will say so, I will never be angry with you for the word. I will bless you for it."
"But, Linda, you did nothing so very much amiss;—did you?" Then there came across her mind an idea that she would lie to him, and degrade herself with a double disgrace. But she hesitated, and was not actress enough to carry on the part. He winked at her as he continued to speak. "I know," he said. "It was just a foolish business, but no worse than that."
Oh heavens, how she hated him! She could have stabbed him to the heart that moment, had the weapon been there, and had she possessed the physical energy necessary for such an enterprise. He was a thing to her so foul that all her feminine nature recoiled from the closeness of his presence, and her flesh crept as she felt that the same atmosphere encompassed them. And this man was to be her husband! She must speak to him, speak out, speak very plainly. Could it be possible that a man should wish to take a woman to his bosom who had told him to his face that he was loathed? "Peter," she said, "I am sure that you don't think that I love you."
"I don't see why you shouldn't, Linda."
"I do not;—not the least; I can promise you that. And I never shall;—never. Think what it would be to have a wife who doesn't love you a bit. Would not that be bad?"
"Oh, but you will."
"Never! Don't you know that I love somebody else very dearly?" On hearing this there came something of darkness upon Peter's brow,—something which indicated that he had been touched. Linda understood it all. "But I will never speak to him again, never see him, if you will let me alone."
"See him, Linda! He is in prison, and will be sent to the quarries to work. He will never be a free man again. Ha! ha! I need not fear him, my dear."
"But you shall fear me. Yes; I will lead you such a life! Peter Steinmarc, I will make you rue the day you first saw me. You shall wish that you were at the quarries yourself. I will disgrace you, and make your name infamous. I will waste everything that you have. There is nothing so bad I will not do to punish you. Yes; you may look at me, but I will. Do you think that you are to trample me under foot, and that I will not have my revenge? You said it was a foolish business that I did. I will make it worse than foolish." He stood with his hands in the pockets of his broad flaps, looking at her, not knowing how to answer her. He was no coward,—not such a coward as to be intimidated at the moment by the girl's violence. And being now thoroughly angry, her words had not worked upon him as she had intended that they should work. His desire was to conquer her and get the best of her; but his thoughts worked slowly, and he did not know how to answer her. "Well, what do you say to me? If you will let me escape, I will always be your friend."
"I will not let you escape," he said.
"And you expect that I shall be your wife?"
"I do expect it."
"I shall die first; yes;—die first. To be your wife! Oh, there is not a beggar in the streets of Nuremberg whom I would not sooner take for my husband." She paused, but again he was at a loss for words. "Come, Peter, think of it. Do not drive a poor weak girl to desperation. I have been very unhappy,—very; you do not know how unhappy I have been. Do not make it worse for me." Then the chord which had been strung so tightly was broken asunder. Her strength failed her, and she burst into tears.
"I will make you pay dearly for all this one of these days, fraulein," said Peter, as, with his hands still in his pockets, he left the room. She watched him as he creaked down-stairs, and went into her aunt's apartments. For a moment she felt disposed to go and confront him there before her aunt. Together, the two of them, could not force her to marry him. But her courage failed her. Though she could face Peter Steinmarc without flinching, she feared the words which her aunt could say to her. She had not scrupled to threaten Steinmarc with her own disgrace, but she could not endure to be told by her aunt that she was degraded.
Peter Steinmarc, when he went into Madame Staubach's parlour, found that lady on her knees in prayer. He had entered the room without notice, having been urged to this unwonted impetuosity by the severity of the provocation which he had received. Madame Staubach raised her head; but when she saw him she did not rise. He stood there for some seconds looking at her, expecting her to get up and greet him; but when he found that such was not her purpose, he turned angrily on his heel, and went out of the house, up to his office in the town-hall. His services were not of much service to the city on that day,—neither on that day nor on the two following days. He was using all his mental faculties in endeavouring to decide what it might be best for him to do in the present emergency. The red house was a chattel of great value in Nuremberg,—a thing very desirable,—the possession of which Peter himself did desire with all his heart. But then, even in regard to the house, it was not to be arranged that Peter was to become the sole and immediate possessor of it on his marriage. Madame Staubach was to live there, and during her life the prize would be but a half-and-half possession. Madame Staubach was younger than himself; and though he had once thought of marrying her, he was not sure that he was now desirous of living in the same house with her for the remainder of his life. He had wished to marry Linda Tressel, because she was young, and was acknowledged to be a pretty girl; and he still wished to marry her, if not now for these reasons, still for others which were quite as potent. He wanted to be her master, to get the better of her, to punish her for her disdain of him, and to bring her to his feet. But he was not a man so carried away by anger or by a spirit of revenge as to be altogether indifferent to his own future happiness. There had already been some among his fellow-citizens, or perhaps citizenesses, kind enough to compliment him on his good-nature. He had been asked whether Linda Tressel had told him all about her little trip to Augsburg, and whether he intended to ask his cousin Ludovic Valcarm to come to his wedding. And now Linda herself had said things to him which made him doubt whether she was fit to be the wife of a man so respectable and so respected as himself. And were she to do those things which she threatened, where would he be then? All the town would laugh at him, and he would be reduced to live for the remainder of his days in the sole company of Madame Staubach as the result of his enterprise. He was sufficiently desirous of being revenged on Linda, but he was a cautious man, and began to think that he might buy even that pleasure too dear. He had been egged on to the marriage by Herr Molk and one or two others of the city pundits,—by the very men whose opposition he had feared when the idea of marrying Linda was first suggested to him. They had told him that Linda was all right, that the elopement had been in point of fact nothing. "Young girls will be young before they are settled," Herr Molk had said. Then the extreme desirability of the red house had been mentioned, and so Peter had been persuaded. But now, as the day drew near, and as Linda's words sounded in his ears, he hardly knew what to think of it. On the evening of the third day of his contemplation, he went again to his friend Herr Molk.
"Nonsense, Peter," said the magistrate; "you must go on now, and there is no reason why you should not. Is a man of your standing to be turned aside by a few idle words from a young girl?"
"But she told me— You can't understand what she told me. She's been away with this young fellow once, and she said as much as that she'd go again."
"Pshaw! you haven't had to do with women as I have, or you would understand them better. Of course a young girl likes to have her little romance. But when a girl has been well brought up,—and there is no better bringing up than what Linda Tressel has had,—marriage steadies them directly. Think of the position you'll have in the city when the house belongs to yourself."
Peter, when he left the magistrate, was still tossed about by an infinity of doubts. If he should once take the girl as his wife, he could never unmarry himself again. He could not do so at least without trouble, disgrace, and ruinous expense. As for revenge, he thought that he might still have a certain amount of that pleasure in repudiating his promised spouse for her bad conduct, and in declaring to her aunt that he could not bring himself to make a wife of a woman who had first disgraced herself, and then absolutely taken glory in her disgrace. As he went along from Herr Molk's house towards the island, taking a somewhat long path by the Rothe Ross where he refreshed himself, and down the Carls Strasse, and by the Church of St. Lawrence, round which he walked twice, looking up to the tower for inspiration,—he told himself that circumstances had been most cruel to him. He complained bitterly of his misfortune. If he refused to marry Linda he must leave the red house altogether, and would, of course, be ridiculed for his attempt at matrimony; and if he did marry her— Then, as far as he could see, there would be the very mischief. He pitied himself with an exceedingly strong compassion, because of the unmerited hardness of his position. It was very dark when he got to the narrow passage leading to the house along the river, and when there, in the narrowest and darkest part of the passage, whom should he meet coming from Madame Staubach's house,—coming from Linda's house, for the passage led from the red house only,—but Ludovic Valcarm his cousin?
"What, uncle Peter?" said Ludovic, assuming a name which he had sometimes used in old days when he had wished to be impertinent to his relative. Peter Steinmarc was too much taken aback to have any speech ready on the occasion. "You don't say a word to congratulate me on having escaped from the hands of the Philistines."
"What are you doing here?" said Peter.
"I've been to see my young woman," said Ludovic, who, as Peter imagined, was somewhat elated by strong drink.
"She is not your young woman," said Peter.
"She is not yours at any rate," said the other.
"She is mine if I like to take her," said Peter.
"We shall see about that. But here I am again, at any rate. The mischief take them for interfering old fools! When they had got me they had nothing to say against me."
"Pass on, and let me go by," said Peter.
"One word first, uncle Peter. Among you, you are treating that girl as cruelly as ever a girl was treated. You had better be warned by me, and leave off. If she were forced into a marriage with you, you would only disgrace yourself. I don't suppose you want to see her dead at your feet. Go on now, and think of what I have said to you." So Ludovic had been with her again! No; he, Peter Steinmarc, would not wed with one who was so abandoned. He would reject her;—would reject her that very night. But he would do so in a manner that should leave her very little cause for joy or triumph.
We must now go back for a while to Linda and her aunt. No detailed account of that meeting between Linda and Steinmarc, in Steinmarc's room, ever reached Madame Staubach's ears. That there had been an interview, and that Linda had asked Steinmarc to absolve her from her troth, the aunt did learn from the niece; and most angry she was when she learned it. She again pointed out to the sinner the terrible sin of which she was guilty in not submitting herself entirely, in not eradicating and casting out from her bosom all her human feelings, in not crushing herself, as it were, upon a wheel, in token of her repentance for what she had done. Sackcloth and ashes, in their material shape, were odious to the imagination of Madame Staubach, because they had a savour of Papacy, and implied that the poor sinner who bore them could do something towards his own salvation by his own works; but that moral sackcloth, and those ashes of the heart and mind, which she was ever prescribing to Linda, seemed to her to have none of this taint. And yet, in what is the difference? The school of religion to which Madame Staubach belonged was very like that early school of the Church of Rome in which material ashes were first used for the personal annoyance of the sinner. But the Church of Rome in Madame Staubach's day had, by the force of the human nature of its adherents, made its way back to the natural sympathies of mankind; whereas in Madame Staubach's school the austerity of self-punishment was still believed to be all in all. During the days of Steinmarc's meditation, Linda was prayed for and was preached to with an unflagging diligence which, at the end of that time, had almost brought the girl to madness. For Linda the worst circumstance of all was this, that she had never as yet brought herself to disbelieve her aunt's religious menaces. She had been so educated that what fixed belief she had on the subject at all was in accordance with her aunt's creed rather than against it. When she was alone, she would tell herself that it was her lot to undergo that eternal condemnation with which her aunt threatened her; though in telling herself so she would declare to herself also that whatever that punishment could be, her Creator, let Him be ever so relentless, could inflict nothing on her worse than that state of agony with which His creatures had tormented her in this world.
She was in this state when Tetchen crept up to her room, on that evening on which Peter had been with Herr Molk. "Fraulein," said Tetchen, "you are very unkind to me."
"Never mind," said Linda, not looking up into the woman's face.
"I have done everything in my power for you, as though you had been my own."
"I am not your own. I don't want you to do anything for me."
"I love you dearly, and I love him,—Ludovic. Have I not done everything in my power to save you from the man you hate?"
"You made me go off with him in the night, like a—like a—! Oh, Tetchen, was that treating me as though I had been your own? Would you have done that for your own child?"
"Why not,—if you are to be his wife?"
"Tetchen, you have made me hate you, and you have made me hate myself. If I had not done that, I should not be such a coward. Go away. I do not want to speak to you."
Then the old woman came close up to Linda, and stood for a moment leaning over her. Linda took no notice of her, but continued by a certain tremulous shaking of her knee to show how strongly she was moved. "My darling," said Tetchen, "why should you send away from you those who love you?"
"Nobody loves me," said Linda.
"I love you,—and Ludovic loves you."
"That is of no use,—of none at all. I do not wish to hear his name again. It was not his fault, but he has disgraced me. It was my own fault,—and yours."
"Linda, he is in the house now."
"Yes; Ludovic Valcarm."
"In the house? How did he escape?"
"They could do nothing to him. They let him go. They were obliged to let him go."
Then Linda got up from her seat, and stood for a minute with her eyes fixed upon the old woman's face, thinking what step she had better take. In the confusion of her mind, and in the state to which she had been reduced, there was no idea left with her that it might yet be possible that she would become the wife of Ludovic Valcarm, and live as such the life of a respectable woman. She had taught herself to acknowledge that her elopement with him had made that quite impossible;—that by what they had done they had both put themselves beyond the pale of such gentle mercy. Such evil had come to her from her secret interviews with this man who had become her lover almost without her own acquiescence, that she dreaded him even though she loved him. The remembrance of the night she had passed with him, partly in the warehouse and partly in the railway train, had nothing in it of the sweetness of love, to make her thoughts of it acceptable to her. This girl was so pure at heart, was by her own feelings so prone to virtue, that she looked back upon what she had done with abhorrence. Whether she had sinned or not, she hated what she had done as though it had been sinful; and now, when she was told that Ludovic Valcarm was again in the house, she recoiled from the idea of meeting him. On the former occasions of his coming to her, a choice had hardly been allowed to her whether she would see him or not. He had been with her before she had had time to fly from him. Now she had a moment for thought,—a moment in which she could ask herself whether it would be good for her to place herself again in his hands. She said that it would not be good, and she walked steadily down to her aunt's parlour. "Aunt Charlotte," she said, "Ludovic Valcarm is in the house."
"In this house,—again!" exclaimed Madame Staubach. Linda, having made her statement, said not a word further. Though she had felt herself compelled to turn informant against her lover, and by implication against Tetchen, her lover's accomplice, nevertheless she despised herself for what she was doing. She did not expect to soften her aunt by her conduct, or in any way to mitigate the rigour of her own sufferings. Her clandestine meetings with Ludovic had brought with them so much of pain and shame, that she had resolved almost by instinct to avoid another. But having taken this step to avoid it, she had nothing further to say or to do. "Where is the young man?" demanded Madame Staubach.
"Tetchen says that he is here, in the house," said Linda. Then Madame Staubach left the parlour, and crossed into the kitchen. There, standing close to the stove and warming himself, she found this terrible youth who had worked her so much trouble. It seemed to Madame Staubach that for months past she had been hearing of his having been constantly in and about the house, entering where he would and when he would, and in all those months she had never seen him. When last she had beheld him he had been to her simply a foolish idle youth with whom his elder cousin had been forced to quarrel. Since that, he had become to her a source of infinite terror. He had been described to her as one guilty of crimes which, much as she hated them, produced, even in her breast, a kind of respect for the criminal. He was a rebel of whom the magistrates were afraid. When in prison he had had means of escaping. When arrested at Nuremberg he would be the next day at Augsburg; when arrested at Augsburg he would be the next day at Nuremberg. He could get in and out of the roofs of houses, and could carry away with him a young maiden. These are deeds which always excite a certain degree of admiration in the female heart, and Madame Staubach, though she was a Baptist, was still a female. When, therefore, she found herself in the presence of Ludovic, she could not treat him with the indignant scorn with which she would have received him had he intruded upon her premises before her fears of him had been excited. "Why are you here, Ludovic Valcarm?" she said advancing hardly a step beyond the doorway. Ludovic looked up at her with his hand resting on the table. He was not drunk, but he had been drinking; his clothes were soiled; he was unwashed and dirty, and the appearance of the man was that of a vagabond. "Speak to me, and tell me why you are here," said Madame Staubach.
"I have come to look for my wife," said Ludovic.
"You have no wife;—at any rate you have none here."
"Linda Tressel is my true and lawful wife, and I have come to take her away with me. She went with me once, and now she will go again. Where is she? You're not going to keep her locked up. It's against the law to make a young woman a prisoner."
"My niece does not wish to see you;—does not intend to see you. Go away."
But he refused to go, and threatened her, alleging that Linda Tressel was of an age which allowed her to dispose as she pleased of her person and her property. Of course this was of no avail with Madame Staubach, who was determined that, whatever might happen, the young man should not force himself into Linda's presence. When Ludovic attempted to leave the kitchen, Madame Staubach stood in the doorway and called for Tetchen. The servant, who had perched herself on the landing, since Linda had entered the parlour, was down in a moment, and with various winks and little signs endeavoured to induce Valcarm to leave the house. "You had better go, or I shall call at once for my neighbour Jacob Heisse," said Madame Staubach. Then she did call, as lustily as she was able, though in vain. Upon this Ludovic, not knowing how to proceed, unable or unwilling to force his way further into the house in opposition to Madame Staubach, took his departure, and as he went met Peter Steinmarc in the passage at the back of Heisse's house. Madame Staubach was still in the kitchen asking questions of Tetchen which Tetchen did not answer with perfect truth, when Peter appeared among them. "Madame Staubach," he said, "that vagabond Ludovic Valcarm has just been here, in this house."
"He went away but a minute since," said Madame Staubach.
"Just so. That is exactly what I mean. This is a thing not to be borne,—not to be endured, and shows that your niece Linda is altogether beyond the reach of any good impressions."
"Yes, that is all very well; of course I expect that you will take her part; although, with your high ideas of religion and all that sort of thing, it is almost unaccountable that you should do so. As far as I am concerned there must be an end of it. I am not going to make myself ridiculous to all Nuremberg by marrying a young woman who has no sense whatever of self-respect. I have overlooked a great deal too much already,—a great deal too much."
"But Linda has not seen the young man. It was she herself who told me that he was here."
"Ah, very well. I don't know anything about that. I saw him coming away from here, and it may be as well to tell you that I have made up my mind. Linda Tressel is not the sort of young woman that I took her to be, and I shall have nothing more to say to her."
"You are an old goose," said Tetchen.
"Hold your tongue," said Madame Staubach angrily to her servant. Though she was very indignant with Peter Steinmarc, still it would go much against the grain with her that the match should be broken off. She had resolved so firmly that this marriage was proper for all purposes, that she had almost come to look at it as though it were a thing ordained of God. Then, too, she remembered, even in this moment, that Peter Steinmarc had received great provocation. Her immediate object was to persuade him that nothing had been done to give him further provocation. No fault had been committed by Linda which had not already been made known to him and been condoned by him. But how was she to explain all this to him in privacy, while Tetchen was in the kitchen, and Linda was in the parlour opposite? "Peter, on my word as an honest truthful woman, Linda has been guilty of no further fault."
"She has been guilty of more than enough," said Peter.
"That may be said of all us guilty, frail, sinful human beings," rejoined Madame Staubach.
"I doubt whether there are any of us so bad as she is," said Peter.
"I wonder, madame, you can condescend to argue with him," said Tetchen; "as if all the world did not know that the fraulein is ten times too good for the like of him!"
"Hold your tongue," said Madame Staubach.
"And where is Miss Linda at the present moment?" demanded Peter. Madame Staubach hesitated for an instant before she answered, and then replied that Linda was in the parlour. It might seem, she thought, that there was some cause for secrecy if she made any concealment at the present moment. Then Peter made his way out of the kitchen and across the passage, and without any invitation entered the parlour. Madame Staubach followed him, and Tetchen followed also. It was unfortunate for Madame Staubach's plans that the meeting between Peter and Linda should take place in this way, but she could not help it. But she was already making up her mind to this,—that if Peter Steinmarc ill-treated her niece, she would bring all Nuremberg about his ears.
"Linda Tressel," he said;—and as he spoke, the impetuosity of indignation to which he had worked himself had not as yet subsided, and therefore he was full of courage;—"Linda Tressel, I find that that vagabond Ludovic Valcarm has again been here."
"He is no vagabond," said Linda, turning upon him with full as much indignation as his own.
"All the city knows him, and all the city knows you too. You are no better than you should be, and I wash my hands of you."
"Let it be so," said Linda; "and for such a blessing I will pardon you the unmanly cruelty of your words."
"But I will not pardon him," said Madame Staubach. "It is false; and if he dares to repeat such words, he shall rue them as long as he lives. Linda, this is to go for nothing,—for nothing. Perhaps it is not unnatural that he should have some suspicion." Poor Madame Staubach, agitated by divided feelings, hardly knew on which side to use her eloquence.
"I should think not indeed," said Peter, in triumph. "Unnatural! Ha! ha!"
"I will put his eyes out of him if he laughs like that," said Tetchen, looking as though she were ready to put her threat into execution upon the instant.
"Peter Steinmarc, you are mistaken in this," said Madame Staubach. "You had better let me see you in private."
"Mistaken, am I? Oh! am I mistaken in thinking that she was alone during the whole night with Ludovic? A man does not like such mistakes as that. I tell you that I have done with her,—done with her,—done with her! She is a bad piece. She does not ring sound. Madame Staubach, I respect you, and am sorry for you; but you know the truth as well as I do."
"Man," she said to him, "you are ungrateful, cruel, and unjust."
"Aunt Charlotte," said Linda, "he has done me the only favour that I could accept at his hands. It is true that I have done that which, had he been a man, would have prevented him from seeking to make me his wife. All that is true. I own it."
"There; you hear her, Madame Staubach."
"And you shall hear me by-and-by," said Madame Staubach.
"But it is no thought of that that has made him give me up," continued Linda. "He knows that he never could have got my hand. I told him that I would die first, and he has believed me. It is very well that he should give me up; but no one else, no other man alive, would have been base enough to have spoken to any woman as he has spoken to me."
"It is all very well for you to say so," said Peter.
"Aunt Charlotte, I hope I may never be asked to hear another word from his lips, or to speak another word to his ears." Then Linda escaped from the room, thinking as she went that God in His mercy had saved her at last.
All January had passed by. That thirtieth of January had come and gone which was to have made Linda Tressel a bride, and Linda was still Linda Tressel. But her troubles were not therefore over, and Peter Steinmarc was once again her suitor. It may be remembered how he had reviled her in her aunt's presence, how he had reminded her of her indiscretion, and how he had then rejected her; but, nevertheless, in the first week of February he was again her suitor.
Madame Staubach had passed a very troubled and uneasy month. Though she was minded to take her niece's part when Linda was so ungenerously attacked by the man whom she had warmed in the bosom of her family, still she was most unwilling that Linda should triumph. Her feminine instincts prompted her to take Linda's part on the spur of the moment, as similar instincts had prompted Tetchen to do the same thing; but hardly the less on that account did she feel that it was still her duty to persevere with that process of crushing by which all human vanity was to be pressed out of Linda's heart. Peter Steinmarc had misbehaved himself grossly, had appeared at that last interview in a guise which could not have made him fascinating to any young woman; but on that account the merit of submitting to him would be so much the greater. There could hardly be any moral sackcloth and ashes too coarse and too bitter for the correction of a sinful mind in this world, but for the special correction of a mind sinful as Linda's had been, marriage with such a man as Peter Steinmarc would be sackcloth and ashes of the most salutary kind. The objection which Linda would feel for the man would be the exact antidote to the poison with which she had been infected by the influence of the Evil One. Madame Staubach acknowledged, when she was asked the question, that a woman should love her husband; but she would always go on to describe this required love as a feeling which should spring from a dutiful submission. She was of opinion that a virtuous child would love his parent, that a virtuous servant would love her mistress, that a virtuous woman would love her husband, even in spite of austere severity on the part of him or her who might be in authority. When, therefore, Linda would refer to what had taken place in the parlour, and would ask whether it were possible that she should love a man who had ill-used her so grossly, Madame Staubach would reply as though love and forgiveness were one and the same thing. It was Linda's duty to pardon the ill-usage and to kiss the rod that had smitten her. "I hate him so deeply that my blood curdles at the sight of him," Linda had replied. Then Madame Staubach had prayed that her niece's heart might be softened, and had called upon Linda to join her in these prayers. Poor Linda had felt herself compelled to go down upon her knees and submit herself to such prayer as well as she was able. Could she have enfranchised her mind altogether from the trammels of belief in her aunt's peculiar religion, she might have escaped from the waters which seemed from day to day to be closing over her head; but this was not within her power. She asked herself no questions as to the truth of these convictions. The doctrine had been taught to her from her youth upwards, and she had not realised the fact that she possessed any power of rejecting it. She would tell herself, and that frequently, that to her religion held out no comfort, that she was not of the elect, that manifestly she was a castaway, and that therefore there could be no reason why she should endure unnecessary torments in this life. With such impressions on her mind she had suffered herself to be taken from her aunt's house, and carried off by her lover to Augsburg. With such impressions strong upon her, she would not hesitate to declare her hatred for the man, whom, in truth, she hated with all her heart, but whom, nevertheless, she thought it was wicked to hate. She daily told herself that she was one given up by herself to Satan. But yet, when summoned to her aunt's prayers, when asked to kneel and implore her Lord and Saviour to soften her own heart,—so to soften it that she might become a submissive wife to Peter Steinmarc,—she would comply, because she still believed that such were the sacrifices which a true religion demanded. But there was no comfort to her in her religion. Alas! alas! let her turn herself which way she might, there was no comfort to be found on any side.
At the end of the first week in February no renewed promise of assent had been extracted from Linda; but Peter, who was made of stuff less stern, had been gradually brought round to see that he had been wrong. Madame Staubach had, in the first instance, obtained the co-operation of Herr Molk and others of the leading city magistrates. The question of Linda's marriage had become quite a city matter. She had been indiscreet; that was acknowledged. As to the amount of her indiscretion, different people had different opinions. In the opinion of Herr Molk, that was a thing that did not signify. Linda Tressel was the daughter of a city officer who had been much respected. Her father's successor in that office was just the man who ought to be her husband. Of course he was a little old and rusty; but then Linda had been indiscreet. Linda had not only been indiscreet, but her indiscretion had been, so to say, very public. She had run away from the city in the middle of the night with a young man,—with a young man known to be a scamp and a rebel. It must be acknowledged that indiscretion could hardly go beyond this. But then was there not the red house to make things even, and was it not acknowledged on all sides that Peter Steinmarc was very rusty?—The magistrates had made up their minds that the bargain was a just one, and as it had been made, they thought that it should be carried out. When Peter complained of further indiscretion on the part of Linda, and pointed out that he was manifestly absolved from his contract by her continued misconduct, Herr Molk went to work with most demure diligence, collected all the evidence, examined all the parties, and explained to Peter that Linda had not misbehaved herself since the contract had last been ratified. "Peter, my friend," said the burgomaster, "you have no right to go back to anything,—to anything that happened before the twenty-third." The twenty-third was the day on which Peter had expressed his pardon for the great indiscretion of the elopement. "Since that time there has been no breach of trust on her part. I have examined all the parties, Peter." It was in vain that Steinmarc tried to show that he was entitled to be absolved because Linda had said that she hated him. Herr Molk did not lose above an hour or two in explaining to him that little amenities of that kind were to be held as compensated in full by the possession of the red house. And then, had it not been acknowledged that he was very rusty,—a man naturally to be hated by a young woman who had shown that she had a preference for a young lover? "Oh, bah!" said Herr Molk, almost angry at this folly; "do not let me hear anything more about that, Peter." Steinmarc had been convinced, had assented, and was now ready to accept the hand of his bride.
Nothing more had been heard of Ludovic since the day on which he had come to the house and had disappeared. Herr Molk, when he was interrogated on the subject, would shake his head, but in truth Herr Molk knew nothing. It was the fact that Valcarm, after being confined in prison at Augsburg for three days, had been discharged by the city magistrates; and it was the case, also, though the fact was not generally known, that the city magistrates of Augsburg had declared the city magistrates of Nuremberg to be—geese. Ludovic Valcarm was not now in prison, but he had left Nuremberg, and no one knew whither he was gone. The brewers, Sach, by whom he had been employed, professed that they knew nothing respecting him; but then, as Herr Molk declared, the two brothers Sach were men who ought themselves to be in prison. They, too, were rebels, according to Herr Molk.
But in truth, as regarded Linda, no trouble need have been taken in inquiring after Ludovic. She made no inquiry respecting him. She would not even listen to Tetchen when Tetchen would suggest this or that mode of ascertaining where he might be. She had allowed herself to be reconciled to Tetchen, because Tetchen had taken her part against Peter Steinmarc; but she would submit to no intrigue at the old woman's instance. "I do not want to see him ever again, Tetchen."
"But, fraulein, you loved him."
"Yes, and I do. But of what use is such love? I could do him no good. If he were there, opposite,—where he used to be,—I would not cross the river to him."
"I hope, my dear, that it mayn't be so with you always, that's all," Tetchen had said. But Linda had no vestige of such hope at her heart. The journey to Augsburg had been to her the cause of too much agony, had filled her with too real a sense of maidenly shame, to enable her to look forward with hope to any adventure in which Ludovic should have to take a part. To escape from Peter Steinmarc, whether by death, or illness, or flight, or sullen refusal,—but to escape from him let the cost to herself be what it might,—that was all that she now desired. But she thought that escape was not possible to her. She was coming at last to believe that she would have to stand up in the church and give her hand. If it were so, all Nuremberg should ring with the tragedy of their nuptials.
Since Peter had returned, and expressed to Madame Staubach his willingness to go on with the marriage, he had, after a fashion, been again taken into that lady's favour. He had behaved very badly, but a fault repented was a fault to be forgiven. "I am sorry that there was a rumpus, Madame Staubach," he had said, "but you see that there is so much to put a man's back up when a girl runs away with a man in the middle of the night, you know."
"Peter," the widow had replied, interrupting him, "that need not be discussed again. The wickedness of the human heart is so deep that it cannot be fathomed; but we have the word of the Lord to show to us that no sinner is too vile to be forgiven. What you said in your anger was cruel and unmanly, but it has been pardoned." Then Peter sat down and lighted his pipe. He did not like the tone of his friend's remarks, but he knew well that there was nothing to be gained by discussing such matters with Madame Staubach. It was better for him to take his old seat quietly, and at once to light his pipe. Linda, on that occasion, and on many others subsequently, came and sat in the room, and there would be almost absolute silence. There might be a question asked about the household, and Linda would answer it; or Peter might remark that such a one among the small city dealers had been fined before the magistrates for some petty breach of the city's laws. But of conversation there was none, and Peter never on these evenings addressed himself specially to Linda. It was quite understood that she was to undergo persuasion, not from Peter, but from her aunt.
About the middle of February her aunt made her last attack on poor Linda. For days before something had been said daily; some word had been spoken in which Madame Staubach alluded to the match as an affair which would certainly be brought about sooner or later. And there were prayers daily for the softening of Linda's heart. And it was understood that every one in the house was supposed to be living under some special cloud of God's anger till Linda's consent should have been given. Madame Staubach had declared during the ecstasy of her devotion, that not only she herself, but even Tetchen also, would become the prey of Satan if Linda did not relent. Linda had almost acknowledged to herself that she was in the act of bringing eternal destruction on all those around her by her obstinacy. Oh, if she could only herself be dead, let the eternal consequences as they regarded herself alone be what they might!
"Linda," said her aunt, "is it not time at length that you should give us an answer?"
"An answer, aunt Charlotte?" As if she had not given a sufficiency of answers.
"Do you not see how others suffer because of your obstinacy?"
"It is not my doing."
"It is your doing. Do not allow any such thought as that to get into your mind, and assist the Devil in closing the door of your heart. They who are your friends are bound to you, and cannot separate themselves from you."
"Who are my friends?"
"I am sorry you should ask that question, Linda."
"I have no friends."
"Linda, that is ungrateful to God, and thankless. I say nothing of myself."
"You are my friend, but no one else."
"Herr Molk is your friend, and has shown himself to be so. Jacob Heisse is your friend." He, too, using such wisdom as he possessed, had recommended Linda to take the husband provided for her. "Peter Steinmarc is your friend."
"No, he is not," said Linda.
"That is very wicked,—heinously wicked." Whereupon Madame Staubach went towards the door for the purpose of bolting it, and Linda knew that this was preparatory to a prayer. Linda felt that it was impossible that she should fall on her knees and attempt to pray at this moment. What was the use of it? Sooner or later she must yield. She had no weapon with which to carry on the battle, whereas her aunt was always armed.
"Aunt Charlotte," she said, suddenly, "I will do what you want,—only not now; not quite yet. Let there be time for me to make myself ready for it."
The dreaded visitation of that special prayer was at any rate arrested, and Madame Staubach graciously accepted Linda's assent as sufficient quittance at any rate for the evil words that had been spoken on that occasion. She was too wise to demand a more gracious acquiescence, and did not say a word then even in opposition to the earnest request which had been made for delay. She kissed her niece, and rejoiced as the woman rejoiced who had swept diligently and had found her lost piece. If Linda would at last take the right path, all former deviations from it should be as nothing. And Madame Staubach half-trusted, almost thought, that it could not be but that her own prayers should prevail at last. Linda indeed had twice before assented, and had twice retracted her word. But there had been causes. The young man had come and had prevailed, who surely would not come again, and who surely, if coming, would not prevail. And then Peter himself had misbehaved. It must now be Madame Staubach's care that there should arise no further stumbling-block. There were but two modes of taking this care at her disposal. She could watch Linda all the day, and she could reiterate her prayers with renewed diligence. On neither point would she be found lacking.
"And when shall be the happy day?" said Peter. On the occasion of his visit to the parlour subsequent to the scene which has just been described, Madame Staubach left the room for a while so that the two lovers might be together. Peter had been warned that it would be so, and had prepared, no doubt, his little speech.