"There will be no happy day," said Linda.
"Don't say that, my dear."
"I do say it. There will be no happy day for you or for me."
"But we must fix a day, you know," said Peter.
"I will arrange it with my aunt." Then Linda got up and left the room. Peter Steinmarc attempted no further conversation with her, nor did Madame Staubach again endeavour to create any intercourse between them. It must come after marriage. It was clearly to her God's will that these two people should be married, and she could not but be right to leave the result to His wisdom. A day was named. With a simple nod of her head Linda agreed that she would become Peter's wife on the fifteenth of March; and she received visits from Herr Molk and from Jacob Heisse to congratulate her on her coming happiness.
Throughout February Linda never flinched. She hardly spoke at all except on matters of household business, but to them she was sedulously attentive. She herself insisted on understanding what legal arrangement was made about the house, and would not consent to sign the necessary document preparatory to her marriage till there was inserted in it a clause giving to her aunt a certain life-interest in the property in the event either of her marriage or of her death. Peter did his best to oppose this, as did also Madame Staubach herself; but Linda prevailed, and the clause was there. "She would have to live with you whether or no," said Herr Molk to the town-clerk. "You couldn't turn the woman out into the street." But Peter had wished to be master of his own house, and would not give up the point till much eloquence and authority had been used. He had come to wish with all his heart that he had never seen Linda Tressel or the red house; but he had gone so far that he could not retract. Linda never flinched, never uttered a word of complaint; sat silent while Peter was smoking, and awaited her doom. Once her aunt spoke to her about her feelings as a bride. "You do love him, do you not, Linda?" said Madame Staubach. "I do not love him," Linda had replied. Then Madame Staubach dared to ask no further question, but prayed that the necessary affection might be given.
There were various things to be bought, and money for the purpose was in a moderate degree forthcoming. Madame Staubach possessed a small hoard, which was now to be spent, and something she raised on her own little property. A portion of this was intrusted wholly to Linda, and she exercised care and discretion in its disposition. Linen for the house she purchased, and things needed for the rooms and the kitchen. But she would expend nothing in clothes for herself. When pressed on the subject by her aunt, she declared that her marriage would be one that required no finery. Her own condition and that of her proposed husband, she said, made it quite unnecessary. When she was told that Steinmarc would be offended by such exaggerated simplicity, she turned upon her aunt with such a look of scorn that Madame Staubach did not dare to say another word. Indeed at this time Madame Staubach had become almost afraid of her niece, and would sit watching the silent stern industry of the younger woman with something of awe. Could it be that there ever came over her heart a shock of regret for the thing she was doing? Was it possible that she should already be feeling remorse? If it was so with her, she turned herself to prayer, and believed that the Lord told her that she was right.
But there were others who watched, and spoke among themselves, and felt that the silent solemnity of Linda's mode of life was a cause for trembling. Max Bogen's wife had come to her father's house, and had seen Linda, and had talked to Tetchen, and had said at home that Linda was—mad. Her father had become frightened, and had refused to take any part in the matter. He acknowledged that he had given his advice in favour of the marriage, but he had done this merely as a matter of course,—to oblige his neighbour, Madame Staubach. He would have nothing more to do with it. When Fanny told him that she feared that Linda would lose her senses, he went into his workshop and busied himself with a great chair. But Tetchen was not so reticent. Tetchen said much to Madame Staubach;—so much that the unfortunate widow was nearly always on her knees, asking for help, asking in very truth for new gifts of obstinate persistency; and Tetchen also said much to Fanny Bogen.
"But what can we do, Tetchen?" asked Fanny.
"If I had my will," said Tetchen, "I would so handle him that he would be glad enough to be off his bargain. But you'll see they'll never live together as man and wife,—never for a day."
They who said that Linda was mad at this time were probably half-right; but if so, her madness had shown itself in none of those forms which are held to justify interference by authority. There was no one in Nuremberg who could lock a woman up because she was silent; or could declare her to be unfit for marriage because she refused to buy wedding clothes. The marriage must go on. Linda herself felt that it must be accomplished. Her silence and her sternness were not now consciously used by her as means of opposing or delaying the coming ceremony, but simply betrayed the state of mind to which she was reduced. She counted the days and she counted the hours as a criminal counts them who sits in his cell and waits for the executioner. She knew, she thought she knew, that she would stand in the church and have her hand put into that of Peter Steinmarc; but what might happen after that she did not know.
She would stand at the altar and have her hand put into that of Peter Steinmarc, and she would be called his wife in sight of God and man. She spent hours in solitude attempting to realise the position with all its horrors. She never devoted a minute to the task of reconciling herself to it. She did not make one slightest endeavour towards teaching herself that after all it might be possible for her to live with the man as his companion in peace and quietness. She hated him with all the vigour of her heart, and she would hate him to the end. On that subject no advice, no prayer, no grace from heaven, could be of service to her. Satan, with all the horrors of hell, as they had been described to her, was preferable to the companionship of Peter Steinmarc. And yet she went on without flinching.
She went on without flinching till the night of the tenth of March. Up to that time, from the day on which she had last consented to her martyrdom, no idea of escape had occurred to her. As she left her aunt on that evening, Madame Staubach spoke to her. "You should at any rate pray for him," said Madame Staubach. "I hope that you pray that this marriage may be for his welfare." How could she pray for him? And how could she utter such a prayer as that? But she tried; and as she tried, she reflected that the curse to him would be as great as it was to her. Not only was she to be sacrificed, but the miserable man was bringing himself also to utter wretchedness. Unless she could die, there would be no escape for him, as also there would be none for her. That she should speak to him, touch him, hold intercourse with him, was, she now told herself, out of the question. She might be his servant, if he would allow her to be so at a distance, but nothing more. Or it might be possible that she should be his murderess! A woman who has been taught by her religion that she is and must be a child of the Evil One, may become guilty of what most terrible crime you please without much increase of damage to her own cause,—without much damage according to her own views of life and death. Linda, as she thought of it in her own chamber, with her eyes wide open, looking into the dark night from out of her window, declared to herself that in certain circumstances she would certainly attempt to kill him. She shuddered and shook till she almost fell from her chair. Come what might, she would not endure the pressure of his caress.
Then she got up and resolved that she would even yet make one other struggle to escape. It would not be true of her to say that at this moment she was mad, but the mixed excitement and terror of her position as she was waiting her doom, joined to her fears, her doubts, and, worse than all, her certainties as to her condition in the sight of God, had almost unstrung her mind. She had almost come to believe that the world was at its end, and that the punishment of which she had heard so much was already upon her. "If this is to be a doom for ever," she said to herself, "the God I have striven to love is very cruel." But then there came an exercise of reason which told her that it could not be a doom for ever. It was clear to her that there was much as yet within her own power which could certainly not be so in that abode of the unblessed to which she was to be summoned. There was the window before her, with the silent river running below; and she knew that she could throw herself from it if she chose to put forth the power which she still possessed. She felt that "she herself might her quietus make with a bare bodkin." Why should she
"Fardels bear, To grunt and sweat under a weary life, But that the dread of something after life, The undiscovered country from whose bourne No traveller returns, puzzles the will, And makes us rather bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of."
Linda knew nothing of Hamlet, but the thought was there, exact; and the knowledge that some sort of choice was still open to her, if it were only the choice of sending herself at once to a world different from this, a world in which Peter Steinmarc would not be the avenger of her life's wickedness, made her aware that even yet something might be done.
On the following morning she was in the kitchen, as was usual with her now, at an early hour, and made the coffee for her aunt's breakfast, and for Peter's. Tetchen was there also, and to Tetchen she spoke a word or two in good humour. Tetchen said afterwards that she knew that something was to happen, because Linda's manner to her had been completely changed that morning. She sat down with her aunt at eight, and ate a morsel of bread, and endeavoured to swallow her coffee. She was thinking at the time that it might be the case that she would never see her aunt again. All the suffering that she had endured at Madame Staubach's hands had never quenched her love. Miserable as she had been made by the manner in which this woman had executed the trust which circumstances had placed in her hands, Linda had hardly blamed her aunt even within her own bosom. When with a frenzy of agony Madame Staubach would repeat prayer after prayer, extending her hands towards heaven, and seeking to obtain that which she desired by the painful intensity of her own faith, it had never occurred to Linda that in such proceedings she was ill-treated by her aunt. Her aunt, she thought, had ever shown to her all that love which a mother has for her child, and Linda in her misery was never ungrateful. As soon as the meal was finished she put on her hat and cloak, which she had brought down from her room, and then kissed her aunt.
"God bless you, my child," said Madame Staubach, "and enable you to be an affectionate and dutiful wife to your husband." Then Linda went forth from the room and from the house, and as she went she cast her eyes around, thinking that it might be possible that she should never see them again.
Linda told no lie as she left her aunt, but she felt that she was acting a lie. It had been arranged between them, before she had entertained this thought of escaping from Nuremberg, that she should on this morning go out by herself and make certain purchases. In spite of the things that had been done, of Valcarm's visit to the upper storeys of the house, of the flight to Augsburg, of Linda's long protracted obstinacy and persistently expressed hatred for the man who was to be her husband, Madame Staubach still trusted her niece. She trusted Linda perhaps the more at this time from a feeling that she had exacted so much from the girl. When, therefore, Linda kissed her and went out, she had no suspicion on her mind; nor was any aroused till the usual dinner-hour was passed, and Linda was still absent. When Tetchen at one o'clock said something of her wonder that the fraulein had not returned, Madame Staubach had suggested that she might be with her friend Herr Molk. Tetchen knew what was the warmth of that friendship, and thought that such a visit was not probable. At three o'clock the postman brought a letter which Linda herself had dropped into the box of the post-office that morning, soon after leaving the house. She had known when, in ordinary course, it would be delivered. Should it lead by any misfortune to her discovery before she could escape, that she could not help. Even that, accompanied by her capture, would be as good a mode as any other of telling her aunt the truth. The letter was as follows:—
DEAREST AUNT,—I think you hardly know what are my sufferings. I truly believe that I have deserved them, but nevertheless they are insupportable. I cannot marry Peter Steinmarc. I have tried it, and cannot. The day is very near now; but were it to come nearer, I should go mad, or I should kill myself. I think that you do not know what the feeling is that has made me the most wretched of women since this marriage was first proposed to me. I shall go away to-morrow, and shall try to get to my uncle's house in Cologne. It is a long way off, and perhaps I shall never get there: but if I am to die on the road, oh, how much better will that be! I do not want to live. I have made you unhappy, and everybody unhappy, but I do not think that anybody has been so unhappy as I am. I shall give you a kiss as I go out, and you will think that it was the kiss of Judas; but I am not a Judas in my heart. Dear aunt Charlotte, I would have borne it if I could,—Your affectionate, but undutiful niece,
Undutiful! So she called herself; but had she not, in truth, paid duty to her aunt beyond that which one human being can in any case owe to another? Are we to believe that the very soul of the offspring is to be at the disposition of the parent? Poor Linda! Madame Staubach, when the letter was handed to her by Tetchen, sat aghast for a while, motionless, with her hands before her. "She is off again, I suppose," said Tetchen.
"Yes; she has gone."
"It serves you right. I say it now, and I will say it. Why was she so driven?" Madame Staubach said never a word. Could she have had Linda back at the instant, just now, at this very moment, she would have yielded. It was beginning to become apparent to her that God did not intend that her prayers should be successful. Doubtless the fault was with herself. She had lacked faith. Then as she sat there she began to reflect that it might be that she herself was not of the elect. What if, after all, she had been wrong throughout! "Is anything to be done?" said Tetchen, who was still standing by her side.
"What ought I to do, Tetchen?"
"Wring Peter Steinmarc's neck," said Tetchen. "That would be the best thing." Even this did not bring forth an angry retort from Madame Staubach. About an hour after that Peter came in. He had already heard that the bird had flown. Some messenger from Jacob Heisse's house had brought him the tidings to the town-hall.
"What is this?" said he. "What is this? She has gone again."
"Yes," said Tetchen, "she has gone again. What did you expect?"
"And Ludovic Valcarm is with her?"
"Ludovic Valcarm is not with her!" said Madame Staubach, with an expression of wrath which made him start a foot back from where he stood.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, when he had recovered himself, and reflected that he had no cause for fear, "she is no better than she should be."
"She is ten times too good for you. That is all that is the matter with her," said Tetchen.
"I have done with her,—have done with her altogether," said Peter, rubbing his hands together.
"I should think you have," said Tetchen.
"Tell him to leave me," said Madame Staubach, waving Peter away with her hand. Then Tetchen took the town-clerk by his arm, and led him somewhat roughly out of the room. So he shall disappear from our sight. No reader will now require to be told that he did not become the husband of Linda Tressel.
Madame Staubach did nothing and said nothing further on the matter that night. Tetchen indeed went up to the railway station, and found that Linda had taken a ticket through to Mannheim, and had asked questions there, openly, in reference to the boats from thence down the Rhine. She had with her money sufficient to take her to Cologne, and her aunt endeavoured to comfort herself with thinking that no further evil would come of this journey than the cost, and the rumours it would furnish. As to Peter Steinmarc, that was now all over. If Linda would return, no further attempt should be made. Tetchen said nothing on the subject, but she herself was by no means sure that Linda had no partner in her escape. To Tetchen's mind it was so natural that there should be a partner.
Early on the following morning Madame Staubach was closeted with Herr Molk in the panelled chamber of the house in the Egidien Platz, seeking advice. "Gone again, is she?" said Herr Molk, holding up his hand. "And that fellow is with her of course?"
"No, no, no!" exclaimed Madame Staubach.
"Are you sure of that! At any rate she must marry him now, for nobody else will take her. Peter won't bite again at that bait." Then Madame Staubach was compelled to explain that all ideas of matrimony in respect to her niece must be laid aside, and she was driven also to confess that she had persevered too long in regard to Peter Steinmarc. "He certainly is a little rusty for such a young woman as Linda," said Herr Molk, confessing also his part of the fault. At last he counselled Madame Staubach that she could do nothing but follow her niece to Cologne, as she had before followed her to Augsburg. Such a journey would be very terrible to her. She had not been in Cologne for years, and did not wish to see again those who were there. But she felt that she had no alternative, and she went.
For very many years no connection had been maintained between the two women who lived together in Nuremberg, and their nearest relative, who was a half-brother of Madame Staubach's, a lawyer, living in Cologne. This uncle of Linda's was a Roman Catholic, and had on this account been shunned by Madame Staubach. Some slight intercourse there had been on matters of business, and thus it had come to pass that Linda knew the address of her uncle. But this was all that she knew, and knowing this only, she had started for Cologne. The reader will hardly require to be told that she had not gone in company with him who a few weeks since had been her lover. The reader, perhaps, will have understood Linda's character so thoroughly as to be convinced that, though she had submitted to be dragged out of her window by her lover, and carried away to Augsburg in the night, still it was not probable that she should again be guilty of such indiscretion as that. The lesson had not been in vain. If there be any reader who does not know Linda's character better than it was known to Herr Molk, or even to Tetchen, this story has been told in vain. All alone she started, and all alone she made the entire journey. Long as it was, there was no rest for her on the way. She went by a cheap and slow train, and on she went through the long day and the long night, and on through the long day again. She did not suffer with the cold as she had suffered on that journey to Augsburg, but the weariness of the hours was very great, and the continuation of the motion oppressed her sorely. Then joined to this suffering was the feeling that she was going to a strange world in which no one would receive her kindly. She had money to take her to Cologne, but she would have none to bring her back again. It seemed to her as she went that there could be no prospect to her returning to a home which she had disgraced so thoroughly.
At Mannheim she found that she was obliged to wait over four hours before the boat started. She quitted the railway a little after midnight, and she was told that she was to be on board before five in the morning. The night was piercing cold, though never so cold as had been that other night; and she was dismayed at the thought of wandering about in that desolate town. Some one, however, had compassion on her, and she was taken to a small inn, in which she rested on a bed without removing her clothes. When she rose in the morning, she walked down to the boat without a word of complaint, but she found that her limbs were hardly able to carry her. An idea came across her mind that if the people saw that she was ill they would not take her upon the boat. She crawled on, and took her place among the poorer passengers before the funnels. For a considerable time no one noticed her, as she sat shivering in the cold morning air on a damp bench. At last a market-woman going down to Mayence asked her a question. Was she ill? Before they had reached Mayence she had told her whole story to the market-woman. "May God temper the wind for thee, my shorn lamb!" said the market-woman to Linda, as she left her; "for it seems that thou hast been shorn very close." By this time, with the assistance of the woman, she had found a place below in which she could lie down, and there she remained till she learned that the boat had reached Cologne. Some one in authority on board the vessel had been told that she was ill; and as they had reached Cologne also at night, she was allowed to remain on board till the next morning. With the early dawn she was astir, and the full daylight of the March morning was hardly perfect in the heavens when she found herself standing before the door of a house in the city, to which she had been brought as being the residence of her uncle.
She was now, in truth, so weak and ill that she could hardly stand. Her clothes had not been off her back since she left Nuremberg, nor had she come prepared with any change of raiment. A woman more wretched, more disconsolate, on whose shoulders the troubles of this world lay heavier, never stood at an honest man's door to beg admittance. If only she might have died as she crawled through the streets!
But there she was, and she must make some petition that the door might be opened for her. She had come all the way from Nuremberg to this spot, thinking it possible that in this spot alone she might receive succour; and now she stood there, fearing to raise the knocker on the door. She was a lamb indeed, whose fleece had been shorn very close; and the shearing had been done all in the sacred name of religion! It had been thought necessary that the vile desires of her human heart should be crushed within her bosom, and the crushing had brought her to this. She looked up in her desolation at the front of the house. It was a white, large house, as belonging to a moderately prosperous citizen, with two windows on each side of the door, and five above, and then others again above them. But there seemed to be no motion within it, nor was there any one stirring along the street. Would it not be better, she thought, that she should sit for a while and wait upon the door-step? Who has not known that frame of mind in which any postponement of the thing dreaded is acceptable?
But Linda's power of postponement was very short. She had hardly sunk on to the step, when the door was opened, and the necessity for explaining herself came upon her. Slowly and with pain she dragged herself on to her feet, and told the suspicious servant, who stood filling the aperture of the doorway, that her name was Linda Tressel, and that she had come from Nuremberg. She had come from the house of Madame Staubach at Nuremberg. Would the servant be kind enough to tell Herr Gruener that Linda Tressel, from Madame Staubach's house in Nuremberg, was at his door? She claimed no kindred then, feeling that the woman might take such claim as a disgrace to her master. When she was asked to call again later, she looked piteously into the woman's face, and said that she feared she was too ill to walk away.
Before the morning was over she was in bed, and her uncle's wife was at her bedside, and there had been fair-haired cousins in her room, creeping in to gaze at her with their soft blue eyes, touching her with their young soft hands, and calling her Cousin Linda with their soft voices. It seemed to her that she could have died happily, so happily, then, if only they might have been allowed to stand round her bed, and still to whisper and still to touch her. But they had been told that they might only just see their new cousin and then depart,—because the new cousin was ill. The servant at the front door had doubted her, as it is the duty of servants to doubt in such cases; but her uncle had not doubted, and her uncle's wife, when she heard the story, wept over her, and told her that she should be at rest.
Linda told her story from the first to the last. She told everything,—her hatred for the one man, her love for the other; her journey to Augsburg. "Ah, dear, dear, dear," said aunt Gruener when this was told to her. "I know how wicked I have been," said Linda, sorrowing. "I do not say that you have been wicked, my dear, but you have been unfortunate," said aunt Gruener. And then Linda went on to tell her, as the day so much dreaded by her drew nearer and nearer, as she came to be aware that, let her make what effort she would, she could not bring herself to be the man's wife,—that the horror of it was too powerful for her,—she resolved at the last moment that she would seek the only other relative in the world of whom she knew even the name. Her aunt Gruener thoroughly commended her for this, saying, however, that it would have been much better that she should have made the journey at some period earlier in her troubles. "Aunt Charlotte does not seem to be a very nice sort of woman to live with," said aunt Gruener. Then Linda, with what strength she could, took Madame Staubach's part. "She always thought that she was doing right," said Linda, solemnly. "Ah, that comes of her religion," said aunt Gruener. "We think differently, my dear. Thank God, we have got somebody to tell us what we ought to do and what we ought not to do." Linda was not strong enough to argue the question, or to remind her aunt that this somebody, too, might possibly be wrong.
Linda Tressel was now happier than she had remembered herself to have been since she was a child, though ill, so that the doctor who came to visit her could only shake his head and speak in whispers to aunt Gruener. Linda herself, perceiving how it was with the doctor,—knowing that there were whispers though she did not hear them, and shakings of the head though she did not see them,—told her aunt with a smile that she was contented to die. Her utmost hope, the extent of her wishes, had been to escape from the extremity of misery to which she had been doomed. She had thought often, she said, as she had been making that journey, that her strength would not serve her to reach the house of her relative. "God," she said, "had been very good to her, and she was now contented to go."
Madame Staubach arrived at Cologne four days after her niece, and was also welcomed at her brother's house. But the welcome accorded to her was not that which had been given to Linda. "She has been driven very nearly to death's door among you," said the one aunt to the other. To Linda Madame Staubach was willing to own that she had been wrong, but she could make no such acknowledgment to the wife of her half-brother,—to a benighted Papist. "I have endeavoured to do my duty by my niece," said Madame Staubach, "asking the Lord daily to show me the way." "Pshaw!" said the other woman. "Your always asking the way, and never knowing it, will end in her death. She will have been murdered by your prayers." This was very terrible, but for Linda's sake it was borne.
There was nothing of reproach either from Linda to her aunt or from Madame Staubach to her niece, nor was the name of Peter Steinmarc mentioned between them for many days. It was, indeed, mentioned but once again by poor Linda Tressel. For some weeks, for nearly a month, they all remained in the house of Herr Gruener, and then Linda was removed to apartments in Cologne, in which all her earthly troubles were brought to a close. She never saw Nuremberg again, or Tetchen, who had been faithful at least to her, nor did she ever even ask the fate of Ludovic Valcarm. His name Madame Staubach never dared to mention; and Linda was silent, thinking always that it was a name of offence. But when she had been told that she must die,—that her days were indeed numbered, and that no return to Nuremberg was possible for her,—she did speak a word of Peter Steinmarc. "Tell him, aunt Charlotte, from me," she said, "that I prayed for him when I was dying, and that I forgave him. You know, aunt Charlotte, it was impossible that I should marry him. A woman must not marry a man whom she does not love." Madame Staubach did not venture to say a word in her own justification. She did not dare even to recur to the old tenets of her fierce religion, while Linda still lived. She was cowed, and contented herself with the offices of a nurse by the sickbed of the dying girl. She had been told by her sister-in-law that she had murdered her niece. Who can say what were the accusations brought against her by the fury of her own conscience?
Every day the fair-haired cousins came to Linda's bedside, and whispered to her with their soft voices, and looked at her with their soft eyes, and touched her with their soft hands. Linda would kiss their plump arms and lean her head against them, and would find a very paradise of happiness in this late revelation of human love. As she lay a-dying she must have known that the world had been very hard to her, and that her aunt's teaching had indeed crushed her,—body as well as spirit. But she made no complaint; and at last, when the full summer had come, she died at Cologne in Madame Staubach's arms.
During those four months at Cologne the zeal of Madame Staubach's religion had been quenched, and she had been unable to use her fanaticism, even towards herself. But when she was alone in the world the fury of her creed returned. "With faith you shall move a mountain," she would say, "but without faith you cannot live." She could never trust her own faith, for the mountain would not be moved.
A small tombstone in the Protestant burying-ground at Cologne tells that Linda Tressel, of Nuremberg, died in that city on the 20th of July 1863, and that she was buried in that spot.