The street that I had so dimly seen the night before, showed itself by daylight to be a fair, broad way. Down the middle, after the pleasant fashion of continental towns, was a broad walk, planted with two double rows of lindens, and on either side this lindenallee was the carriage road, private houses, shops, exhibitions, boarding-houses. In the middle, exactly opposite our dwelling, was the New Theater, just drawing to the close of its first season. I looked at it without thinking much about it. I had never been in a theater in my life, and the name was but a name to me.
Turning off from the pretty allee, and from the green Hofgarten which bounded it at one end, we entered a narrow, ill-paved street, the aspect of whose gutters and inhabitants alike excited my liveliest disgust. In this street was the Eye Hospital, as was presently testified to us by a board bearing the inscription, "Staedtische Augenklinik."
We were taken to a dimly lighted room in which many people were waiting, some with bandages over their eyes, others with all kinds of extraordinary spectacles on, which made them look like phantoms out of a bad dream—nearly all more or less blind, and the effect was surprisingly depressing.
Presently Miss Hallam and Merrick were admitted to an inner room, and I was left to await their return. My eye strayed over the different faces, and I felt a sensation of relief when I saw some one come in without either bandage or spectacles. The new-comer was a young man of middle height, and of proportions slight without being thin. There was nothing the matter with his eyes, unless perhaps a slight short-sightedness; he had, I thought, one of the gentlest, most attractive faces I had ever seen; boyishly open and innocent at the first glance; at the second, indued with a certain reticent calm and intellectual radiance which took away from the first youthfulness of his appearance. Soft, yet luminous brown eyes, loose brown hair hanging round his face, a certain manner which for me at least had a charm, were the characteristics of this young man. He carried a violin-case, removed his hat as he came in, and being seen by one of the young men who sat at desks, took names down, and attended to people in general, was called by him:
"Herr Helfen—Herr Friedhelm Helfen!"
"Ja—hier!" he answered, going up to the desk, upon which there ensued a lively conversation, though carried on in a low tone, after which the young man at the desk presented a white card to "Herr Friedhelm Helfen," and the latter, with a pleasant "Adieu," went out of the room again.
Miss Hallam and Merrick presently returned from the consulting-room, and we went out of the dark room into the street, which was filled with spring sunshine and warmth; a contrast something like that between Miss Hallam's life and my own, I have thought since. Far before us, hurrying on, I saw the young man with the violin-case; he turned off by the theater, and went in at a side door.
An hour's wandering in the Hofgarten—my first view of the Rhine—a dull, flat stream it looked, too. I have seen it since then in mightier flow. Then we came home, and it was decided that we should dine together with the rest of the company at one o'clock.
A bell rang at a few minutes past one. We went down-stairs, into the room in which I had already breakfasted, which, in general, was known as the saal. As I entered with Miss Hallam I was conscious that a knot of lads or young men stood aside to let us pass, and then giggled and scuffled behind the door before following us into the saal.
Two or three ladies were already seated, and an exceedingly stout lady ladled out soup at a side table, while Clara and a servant-woman carried the plates round to the different places. The stout lady turned as she saw us, and greeted us. She was Frau Steinmann, our hostess. She waited until the youths before spoken of had come in, and with a great deal of noise had seated themselves, when she began, aided by the soup-ladle, to introduce us all to each other.
We, it seemed, were to have the honor and privilege of being the only English ladies of the company. We were introduced to one or two others, and I was assigned a place by a lady introduced as Fraeulein Anna Sartorius, a brunette, rather stout, with large dark eyes which looked at me in a way I did not like, a head of curly black hair cropped short, an odd, brusque manner, and a something peculiar, or, as she said, selten in her dress. This young lady sustained the introduction with self-possession and calm. It was otherwise with the young gentlemen, who appeared decidedly mixed. There were some half dozen of them in all—a couple of English, the rest German, Dutch, and Swedish. I had never been in company with so many nationalities before, and was impressed with my situation—needlessly so.
All these young gentlemen made bows which were, in their respective ways, triumphs of awkwardness, with the exception of one of our compatriots, who appeared to believe that himself and his manners were formed to charm and subdue the opposite sex. We then sat down, and Fraeulein Sartorius immediately opened a conversation with me.
"Sprechen Sie Deutsch, Fraeulein?" was her first venture, and having received my admission that I did not speak a word of it, she continued, in good English:
"Now I can talk to you without offending you. It is so dreadful when English people who don't know German persist in thinking that they do. There was an English-woman here who always said wer when she meant where, and wo when she meant who. She said the sounds confused her."
The boys giggled at this, but the joke was lost upon me.
"What is your name?" she continued; "I didn't catch what Frau Steinmann said."
"May Wedderburn," I replied, angry with myself for blushing so excessively as I saw that all the boys held their spoons suspended, listening for my answer.
"May—das heisst Mai," said she, turning to the assembled youths, who testified that they were aware of it, and the Dutch boy, Brinks, inquired, gutturally:
"You haf one zong in your language what calls itself, 'Not always Mai,' haf you not?"
"Yes," said I, and all the boys began to giggle as if something clever had been said. Taken all in all, what tortures have I not suffered from those dreadful boys. Shy when they ought to have been bold, and bold where a modest retiringness would better have become them. Giggling inanely at everything and nothing. Noisy and vociferous among themselves or with inferiors; shy, awkward and blushing with ladies or in refined society—distressing my feeble efforts to talk to them by their silly explosions of laughter when one of them was addressed. They formed the bane of my life for some time.
"Will you let me paint you?" said Fraeulein Sartorius, whose big eyes had been surveying me in a manner that made me nervous.
"Your likeness, I mean. You are very pretty, and we never see that color of hair here."
"Are you a painter?"
"No, I'm only a Studentin yet; but I paint from models. Well, will you sit to me?"
"Oh, I don't know. If I have time, perhaps."
"What will you do to make you not have time?"
I did not feel disposed to gratify her curiosity, and said I did not know yet what I should do.
For a short time she asked no more questions, then
"Do you like town or country best?"
"I don't know. I have never lived in a town."
"Do you like amusements—concerts, and theater, and opera?"
"I don't know," I was reluctantly obliged to confess, for I saw that the assembled youths, though not looking at me openly, and apparently entirely engrossed with their dinners, were listening attentively to what passed.
"You don't know," repeated Fraeulein Sartorius, quickly seeing through my thin assumption of indifference, and proceeding to draw me out as much as possible. I wished Adelaide had been there to beat her from the field. She would have done it better than I could.
"No; because I have never been to any."
"Haven't you? How odd! How very odd! Isn't it strange?" she added, appealing to the boys. "Fraeulein has never been to a theater or a concert."
I disdained to remark that my words were being perverted, but the game instinct rose in me. Raising my voice a little, I remarked:
"It is evident that I have not enjoyed your advantages, but I trust that the gentlemen" (with a bow to the listening boys) "will make allowances for the difference between us."
The young gentlemen burst into a chorus of delighted giggles, and Anna, shooting a rapid glance at me, made a slight grimace, but looked not at all displeased. I was, though, mightily; but, elate with victory, I turned to my compatriot at the other end of the table, and asked him at what time of the year Elberthal was pleasantest.
"Oh," said he, "it's always pleasant to me, but that's owing to myself. I make it so."
Just then, several of the other lads rose, pushing their chairs back with a great clatter, bowing to the assembled company, and saying "Gesegnete Mahlzeit!" as they went out.
"Why are they going, and what do they say?" I inquired of Miss Sartorius, who replied, quite amiably:
"They are students at the Realschule. They have to be there at two o'clock, and they say, 'Blessed be the meal-time,' as they go out."
"Do they? How nice!" I could not help saying.
"Would you like to go for a walk this afternoon?" said she.
"Oh, very much!" I had exclaimed, before I remembered that I did not like her, and did not intend to like her. "If Miss Hallam can spare me," I added.
"Oh, I think she will. I shall be ready at half past two; then we shall return for coffee at four. I will knock at your door at the time."
On consulting Miss Hallam after dinner, I found she was quite willing for me to go out with Anna, and at the time appointed we set out.
Anna took me a tour round the town, showed me the lions, and gave me topographical details. She showed me the big, plain barrack, and the desert waste of the Exerzierplatz spreading before it. She did her best to entertain me, and I, with a childish prejudice against her abrupt manner, and the free, somewhat challenging look of her black eyes, was reserved, unresponsive, stupid. I took a prejudice against her—I own it—and for that and other sins committed against a woman who would have been my friend if I would have let her, I say humbly, Mea culpa!
"It seems a dull kind of a place," said I.
"It need not be. You have advantages here which you can't get everywhere. I have been here several years, and as I have no other home I rather think I shall live here."
"You have a home, I suppose?"
"Brothers and sisters?"
"Two sisters," I replied, mightily ruffled by what I chose to consider her curiosity and impertinence; though, when I looked at her, I saw what I could not but confess to be a real, and not unkind, interest in her plain face and big eyes.
"Ah! I have no brothers and sisters. I have only a little house in the country, and as I have always lived in a town, I don't care for the country. It is so lonely. The people are so stupid too—not always though. You were offended with me at dinner, nicht wahr?"
"Oh, dear, no!" said I, very awkwardly and very untruly. The truth was, I did not like her, and was too young, too ignorant and gauche to try to smooth over my dislike. I did not know the pain I was giving, and if I had, should perhaps not have behaved differently.
"Doch!" she said, smiling. "But I did not know what a child you were, or I should have let you alone."
More offended than ever, I maintained silence. If I were certainly touchy and ill to please, Fraeulein Sartorius, it must be owned, did not know how to apologize gracefully. I have since, with wider knowledge of her country and its men and women, got to see that what made her so inharmonious was, that she had a woman's form and a man's disposition and love of freedom. As her countrywomen taken in the gross are the most utterly "in bonds" of any women in Europe, this spoiled her life in a manner which can not be understood here, where women in comparison are free as air, and gave no little of the brusqueness and roughness to her manner. In an enlightened English home she would have been an admirable, firm, clever woman; here she was that most dreadful of all abnormal growths—a woman with a will of her own.
"What do they do here?" I inquired, indifferently.
"Oh, many things. Though it is not a large town there is a School of Art, which brings many painters here. There are a hundred and fifty—besides students."
"And you are a student?"
"Yes. One must have something to do—some carriere—though my countrywomen say not. I shall go away for a few months soon, but I am waiting for the last great concert. It will be the 'Paradise Lost' of Rubinstein."
"Ah, yes!" said I, politely, but without interest. I had never heard of Rubinstein and the "Verlorenes Paradies." Before the furor of 1876, how many scores of provincial English had?
"There is very much music here," she continued. "Are you fond of it?"
"Ye-es. I can't play much, but I can sing. I have come here partly to take singing lessons."
"Who is the best teacher?" was my next ingenuous question.
"That depends upon what you want to learn. There are so many: violin, Clavier, that is piano, flute, 'cello, everything."
"Oh!" I replied, and asked no more questions about music; but inquired if it were pleasant at Frau Steinmann's.
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Is it pleasant anywhere? I don't find many places pleasant, because I can not be a humbug, so others do not like me. But I believe some people like Elberthal very well. There is the theater—that makes another element. And there are the soldiers and Kaufleute—merchants, I mean, so you see there is variety, though it is a small place."
"Ah, yes!" said I, looking about me as we passed down a very busy street, and I glanced to right and left with the image of Eugen Courvoisier ever distinctly if unconfessedly present to my mental view. Did he live at Elberthal? and if so, did he belong to any of those various callings? What was he? An artist who painted pictures for his bread? I thought that very probable. There was something free and artist-like in his manner, in his loose waving hair and in his keen susceptibility to beauty. I thought of his emotion at hearing that glorious Bach music. Or was he a musician—what Anna Sartorius called ein Musiker? But no. My ideas of musicians were somewhat hazy, not to say utterly chaotic; they embraced only two classes: those who performed or gave lessons, and those who composed. I had never formed to myself the faintest idea of a composer, and my experience of teachers and performers was limited to one specimen—Mr. Smythe, of Darton, whose method and performances would, as I have since learned, have made the hair of a musician stand horrent on end. No—I did not think he was a musician. An actor? Perish the thought, was my inevitable mental answer. How should I be able to make any better one? A soldier, then? At that moment we met a mounted captain of Uhlans, harness clanking, accouterments rattling. He was apparently an acquaintance of my companion, for he saluted with a grave politeness which sat well upon him. Decidedly Eugen Courvoisier had the air of a soldier. That accounted for all. No doubt he was a soldier. In my ignorance of the strictness of German military regulations as regards the wearing of uniform, I overlooked the fact that he had been in civilian's dress, and remained delighted with my new idea; Captain Courvoisier. "What is the German for captain?" I inquired, abruptly.
"Thank you." Hauptmann Eugen Courvoisier—a noble and a gallant title, and one which became him. "How much is a thaler?" was my next question.
"It is as much as three shillings in your money."
"Oh, thank you," said I, and did a little sum in my own mind. At that rate then, I owed Herr Courvoisier the sum of ten shillings. How glad I was to find it came within my means.
As I took off my things, I wondered when Herr Courvoisier would "make out his accounts." I trusted soon.
"Probe zum verlorenen Paradiese."
Miss Hallam fulfilled her promise with regard to my singing lessons. She had a conversation with Fraeulein Sartorius, to whom, unpopular as she was, I noticed people constantly and almost instinctively went when in need of precise information or a slight dose of common sense and clear-headedness.
Miss Hallam inquired who was the best master.
"For singing, the Herr Direktor," replied Anna, very promptly. "And then he directs the best of the musical vereins—the clubs—societies, whatever you name them. At least he might try Miss Wedderburn's voice."
"Who is he?"
"The head of anything belonging to music in the town—koeniglicher musik-direktor. He conducts all the great concerts, and though he does not sing himself, yet he is one of the best teachers in the province. Lots of people come and stay here on purpose to learn from him."
"And what are these vereins?"
"Every season there are six great concerts given, and a seventh for the benefit of the direktor. The orchestra and chorus together are called a verein—musik-verein. The chorus is chiefly composed of ladies and gentlemen—amateurs, you know—Dilettanten. The Herr Direktor is very particular about voices. You pay so much for admission, and receive a card for the season. Then you have all the good teaching—the Proben."
"What is a Probe?" I demanded, hastily, remembering that Courvoisier had used the word.
"What you call a rehearsal."
Ah! then he was musical. At last I had found it out. Perhaps he was one of the amateurs who sung at these concerts, and if so, I might see him again, and if so—But Anna went on:
"It is a very good thing for any one, particularly with such a teacher as von Francius."
"You must join," said Miss Hallam to me.
"There is a probe to-night to Rubinstein's 'Paradise Lost,'" said Anna. "I shall go, not to sing, but to listen. I can take Miss Wedderburn, if you like, and introduce her to Herr von Francius, whom I know."
"Very nice! very much obliged to you. Certainly," said Miss Hallam.
The probe was fixed for seven, and shortly after that time we set off for the Tonhalle, or concert-hall, in which it was held.
"We shall be much too early," said she. "But the people are shamefully late. Most of them only come to klatsch, and flirt, or try to flirt, with the Herr Direktor."
This threw upon my mind a new light as to the Herr Direktor, and I walked by her side much impressed. She told me that if I accepted I might even sing in the concert itself, as there had only been four proben so far, and there were still several before the haupt-probe.
"What is the haupt-probe?" I inquired.
"General rehearsal—when Herr von Francius is most unmerciful to his stupid pupils. I always attend that. I like to hear him make sport of them, and then the instrumentalists laugh at them. Von Francius never flatters."
Inspired with nightmare-like ideas as to this terrible haupt-probe, I found myself, with Anna, turning into a low-fronted building inscribed "Staedtische Tonhalle," the concert-hall of the good town of Elberthal.
"This way," said she. "It is in the rittersaal. We don't go to the large saal till the haupt-probe."
I followed her into a long, rather shabby-looking room, at one end of which was a low orchestra, about which were dotted the desks of the absent instrumentalists, and some stiff-looking Celli and Contrabassi kept watch from a wall. On the orchestra was already assembled a goodly number of young men and women, all in lively conversation, loud laughter, and apparently high good-humor with themselves and everything in the world.
A young man with a fuzz of hair standing off about a sad and depressed-looking countenance was stealing "in and out and round about," and distributing sheets of score to the company. In the conductor's place was a tall man in gray clothes, who leaned negligently against the rail, and held a conversation with a pretty young lady who seemed much pleased with his attention. It did not strike me at first that this was the terrible direktor of whom I had been hearing. He was young, had a slender, graceful figure, and an exceedingly handsome, though (I thought at first) an unpleasing face. There was something in his attitude and manner which at first I did not quite like. Anna walked up the room, and pausing before the estrade, said:
He turned: his eyes fell upon her face, and left it instantly to look at mine. Gathering himself together into a more ceremonious attitude, he descended from his estrade, and stood beside us, a little to one side, looking at us with a leisurely calmness which made me feel, I knew not why, uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Anna took up her parable.
"May I introduce the young lady? Miss Wedderburn, Herr Musik-Direktor von Francius. Miss Wedderburn wishes to join the verein, if you think her voice will pass. Perhaps you will allow her to sing to-night?"
"Certainly, mein Fraeulein," said he to me, not to Anna. He had a long, rather Jewish-looking face, black hair, eyes, and mustache. The features were thin, fine, and pointed. The thing which most struck me then, at any rate, was a certain expression which, conquering all others, dominated them—at once a hardness and a hardihood which impressed me disagreeably then, though I afterward learned, in knowing the man, to know much more truly the real meaning of that unflinching gaze and iron look.
"Your voice is what, mein Fraeulein?" he asked.
"Sopran? We will see. The soprani sit over there, if you will have the goodness."
He pointed to the left of the orchestra, and called out to the melancholy-looking young man, "Herr Schonfeld, a chair for the young lady!"
Herr von Francius then ascended the orchestra himself, went to the piano, and, after a few directions, gave us the signal to begin. Till that day—I confess it with shame—I had never heard of the "Verlorenes Paradies." It came upon me like a revelation. I sung my best, substituting do, re, mi, etc., for the German words. Once or twice, as Herr von Francius's forefinger beat time, I thought I saw his head turn a little in our direction, but I scarcely heeded it. When the first chorus was over, he turned to me:
"You have not sung in a chorus before?"
"So! I should like to hear you sing something sola." He pushed toward me a pile of music, and while the others stood looking on and whispering among themselves, he went on, "Those are all sopran songs. Select one, if you please, and try it."
Not at all aware that the incident was considered unprecedented, and was creating a sensation, I turned over the music, seeking something I knew, but could find nothing. All in German, and all strange. Suddenly I came upon one entitled "Blute nur, liebes Herz," the sopran solo which I had heard as I sat with Courvoisier in the cathedral. It seemed almost like an old friend. I opened it, and found it had also English words. That decided me.
"I will try this," said I, showing it to him.
He smiled. "'S ist gut!" Then he read the title off the song aloud, and there was a general titter, as if some very great joke were in agitation, and were much appreciated. Indeed I found that in general the jokes of the Herr Direktor, when he condescended to make any, were very keenly relished by at least the lady part of his pupils.
Not understanding the reason of the titter I took the music in my hand, and waiting for a moment until he gave me the signal, sung it after the best wise I could—not very brilliantly, I dare say, but with at least all my heart poured into it. I had one requisite at least of an artist nature—I could abstract myself upon occasion completely from my surroundings. I did so now. It was too beautiful, too grand. I remembered that afternoon at Koeln—the golden sunshine streaming through the painted windows, the flood of melody poured forth by the invisible singer; above all, I remembered who had been by my side, and I felt as if again beside him—again influenced by the unusual beauty of his face and mien, and by his clear, strange, commanding eyes. It all came back to me—the strangest, happiest day of my life. I sung as I had never sung before—as I had not known I could sing.
When I stopped, the tittering had ceased; silence saluted me. The young ladies were all looking at me; some of them had put on their eye-glasses; others stared at me as if I were some strange animal from a menagerie. The young gentlemen were whispering among themselves and taking sidelong glances at me. I scarcely heeded anything of it. I fixed my eyes upon the judge who had been listening to my performance—upon von Francius. He was pulling his mustache and at first made no remark.
"You have sung that song before, gnaediges Fraeulein?"
"No. I have heard it once. I have not seen the music before."
"So!" He bowed slightly, and turning once more to the others, said:
"We will begin the next chorus. 'Chorus of the Damned,' Now, meine Herrschaften, I would wish to impress upon you one thing, if I can, that is—Silence, meine Herren!" he called sharply toward the tenors, who were giggling inanely among themselves. "A chorus of damned souls," he proceeded, composedly, "would not sing in the same unruffled manner as a young lady who warbles, 'Spring is come—tra, la, la! Spring is come—lira, lira!' in her mamma's drawing-room. Try to imagine yourself struggling in the tortures of hell"—(a delighted giggle and a sort of "Oh, you dear, wicked man!" expression on the part of the young ladies; a nudging of each other on that of the young gentlemen), "and sing as if you were damned."
Scarcely any one seemed to take the matter the least earnestly. The young ladies continued to giggle, and the young gentlemen to nudge each other. Little enough of expression, if plenty of noise, was there in that magnificent and truly difficult passage, the changing choruses of the condemned and the blessed ones—with its crowning "WEH!" thundering down from highest soprano to deepest bass.
"Lots of noise, and no meaning," observed the conductor, leaning himself against the rail of the estrade, face to his audience, folding his arms and surveying them all one after the other with cold self-possession. It struck me that he despised them while he condescended to instruct them. The power of the man struck me again. I began to like him better. At least I venerated his thorough understanding of what was to me a splendid mystery. No softening appeared in the master's eyes in answer to the rows of pretty appealing faces turned to him; no smile upon his contemptuous lips responded to the eyes—black, brown, gray, blue, yellow—all turned with such affecting devotion to his own. Composing himself to an insouciant attitude, he began in a cool, indifferent voice, which had, however, certain caustic tones in it which stung me at least to the quick:
"I never heard anything worse, even from you. My honored Fraeulein, my gnaedigen Herren, just try once to imagine what you are singing about! It is not an exercise—it is not a love song, either of which you would no doubt perform excellently. Conceive what is happening! Put yourself back into those mythical times. Believe, for this evening, in the story of the forfeited Paradise. There is strife between the Blessed and the Damned; the obedient and the disobedient. There are thick clouds in the heavens—smoke, fire, and sulphur—a clashing of swords in the serried ranks of the angels: can not you see Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, leading the heavenly host? Can not some of you sympathize a little with Satan and his struggle?"
Looking at him, I thought they must indeed be an unimaginative set! In that dark face before them was Mephistopheles at least—der Geist der stets verneint—if nothing more violent. His cool, scornful features were lighted up with some of the excitement which he could not drill into the assemblage before him. Had he been gifted with the requisite organ he would have acted and sung the chief character in "Faust" con amore.
"Ach, um Gotteswillen!" he went on, shrugging his shoulders, "try to forget what you are! Try to forget that none of you ever had a wicked thought or an unholy aspiration—"
("Don't they see how he is laughing at them?" I wondered.)
"You, Chorus of the Condemned, try to conjure up every wicked thought you can, and let it come out in your voices—you who sing the strains of the blessed ones, think of what blessedness is. Surely each of you has his own idea! Some of you may agree with Lenore:
"'Bei ihm, bei ihm ist Seligkeit, Und ohne Wilhelm Holle!'
"If so, think of him; think of her—only sing it, whatever it is. Remember the strongest of feelings:
"'Die Engel nennen es Himmelsfreude Die Teufel nennen es Hoellenqual, Die Menschen nennen es—LIEBE!'
"And sing it!"
He had not become loud or excited in voice or gesticulation, but his words, flung at them like so many scornful little bullets, the indifferent resignation of his attitude, had their effect upon the crew of giggling, simpering girls and awkward, self-conscious young men. Some idea seemed vouchsafed to them that perhaps their performance had not been quite all that it might have been; they began in a little more earnest, and the chorus went better.
For my own part, I was deeply moved. A vague excitement, a wild, and not altogether a holy one, had stolen over me. I understood now how the man might have influence. I bent to the power of his will, which reached me where I stood in the background, from his dark eyes, which turned for a moment to me now and then. It was that will of his which put me as it were suddenly into the spirit of the music, and revealed me depths in my own heart at which I had never even guessed. Excited, with cheeks burning and my heart hot within me, I followed his words and his gestures, and grew so impatient of the dull stupidity of the others that tears came to my eyes. How could that young woman, in the midst of a sublime chorus, deliberately pause, arrange the knot of her neck-tie, and then, after a smile and a side glance at the conductor, go on again with a more self-satisfied simper than ever upon her lips? What might not the thing be with a whole chorus of sympathetic singers? The very dullness which in face prevailed revealed to me great regions of possible splendor, almost too vast to think of.
At last it was over. I turned to the direktor, who was still near the piano, and asked timidly:
"Do you think I may join? Will my voice do?"
An odd expression crossed his face; he answered, dryly:
"You may join the verein, mein Fraeulein—yes. Please come this way with me. Pardon, Fraeulein Stockhausen—another time. I am sorry to say I have business at present."
A black look from a pretty brunette, who had advanced with an engaging smile and an open score to ask him some question, greeted this very composed rebuff of her advance. The black look was directed at me—guiltless.
Without taking any notice of the other, he led Anna and me to a small inner room, where there was a desk and writing materials.
"Your name, if you will be good enough?"
"Your Vorname, though—your first name."
"My Christian name—oh, May."
"M—a—na! Perhaps you will be so good as to write it yourself, and the street and number of the house in which you live."
"Have you been here long?"
"Not quite a week."
"Do you intend to make any stay?"
"Some months, probably."
"Humph! If you wish to make any progress in music, you must stay much longer."
"It—I—it depends upon other people how long I remain."
He smiled slightly, and his smile was not unpleasant; it lighted up the darkness of his face in an agreeable manner.
"So I should suppose. I will call upon you to-morrow at four in the afternoon. I should like to have a little conversation with you about your voice. Adieu, meine Damen."
With a slight bow which sufficiently dismissed us, he turned to the desk again, and we went away.
Our homeward walk was a somewhat silent one. Anna certainly asked me suddenly where I had learned to sing.
"I have not learned properly. I can't help singing."
"I did not know you had a voice like that," said she again.
"Herr von Francius will tell you all about it to-morrow," said she, abruptly.
"What a strange man Herr von Francius is!" said I. "Is he clever?"
"Oh, very clever."
"At first I did not like him. Now I think I do, though."
She made no answer for a few minutes; then said:
"He is an excellent teacher."
HERR VON FRANCIUS.
When Miss Hallam heard from Anna Sartorius that my singing had evidently struck Herr von Francius, and of his intended visit, she looked pleased—so pleased that I was surprised.
He came the following afternoon, at the time he had specified. Now, in the broad daylight, and apart from his official, professional manner, I found the Herr Direktor still different from the man of last night, and yet the same. He looked even younger now than on the estrade last night, and quiet though his demeanor was, attuned to a gentlemanly calm and evenness, there was still the one thing, the cool, hard glance left, to unite him with the dark, somewhat sinister-looking personage who had cast his eyes round our circle last night, and told us to sing as if we were damned.
"Miss Hallam, this is Herr von Francius," said I. "He speaks English," I added.
Von Francius glanced from her to me with a somewhat inquiring expression.
Miss Hallam received him graciously, and they talked about all sorts of trifles, while I sat by in seemly silence, till at last Miss Hallam said:
"Can you give me any opinion upon Miss Wedderburn's voice?"
"Scarcely, until I have given it another trial. She seems to have had no training."
"No, that is true," she said, and proceeded to inform him casually that she wished me to have every advantage I could get from my stay in Elberthal, and must put the matter into his hands. Von Francius looked pleased.
For my part, I was deeply moved. Miss Hallam's generosity to one so stupid and ignorant touched me nearly.
Von Francius, pausing a short time, at last said:
"I must try her voice again, as I remarked. Last night I was struck with her sense of the dramatic point of what we were singing—a quality which I do not too often find in my pupils. I think, mein Fraeulein, that with care and study you might take a place on the stage."
"The stage!" I repeated, startled, and thinking of Courvoisier's words.
But von Francius had been reckoning without his host. When Miss Hallam spoke of "putting the matter into his hands," she understood the words in her own sense.
"The stage!" said she, with a slight shiver. "That is quite out of the question. Miss Wedderburn is a young lady—not an actress."
"So! Then it is impossible to be both in your country?" said he, with polite sarcasm. "I spoke as simple Kuenstler—artist—I was not thinking of anything else. I do not think the gnaediges Fraeulein will ever make a good singer of mere songs. She requires emotion to bring out her best powers—a little passion—a little scope for acting and abandon before she can attain the full extent of her talent."
He spoke in the most perfectly matter-of-fact way, and I trembled. I feared lest this display of what Miss Hallam would consider little short of indecent laxity and Bohemianism, would shock her so much that I should lose everything by it. It was not so, however.
"Passion—abandon! I think you can not understand what you are talking about!" said she. "My dear sir, you must understand that those kind of things may be all very well for one set of people, but not for that class to which Miss Wedderburn belongs. Her father is a clergyman"—von Fraucius bowed, as if he did not quite see what that had to do with it—"in short, that idea is impossible. I tell you plainly. She may learn as much as she likes, but she will never be allowed to go upon the stage."
"Then she may teach?" said he, inquiringly.
"Certainly. I believe that is what she wishes to do, in case—if necessary."
"She may teach, but she may not act," said he, reflectively. "So be it, then! Only," he added as if making a last effort, "I would just mention that, apart from artistic considerations, while a lady may wear herself out as a poorly paid teacher, a prima donna—"
Miss Hallam smiled with calm disdain.
"It is not of the least use to speak of such a thing. You and I look at the matter from quite different points of view, and to argue about it would only be to waste time."
Von Francius, with a sarcastic, ambiguous smile, turned to me:
"And you, mein Fraeulein?"
"I—no. I agree with Miss Hallam," I murmured, not really having found myself able to think about it at all, but conscious that opposition was useless. And, besides, I did shrink away from the ideas conjured up by that word, the "stage."
"So!" said he, with a little bow and a half smile. "Also, I must try to make the round man fit into the square hole. The first thing will be another trial of your voice; then I must see how many lessons a week you will require, and must give you instructions about practicing. You must understand that it is not pleasure or child's play which you are undertaking. It is a work in order to accomplish which you must strain every nerve, and give up everything which in any way interferes with it."
"I don't know whether I shall have time for it," I murmured, looking doubtfully toward Miss Hallam.
"Yes, May; you will have time for it," was all she said.
"Is there a piano in the house?" said von Francius. "But, yes, certainly. Fraeulein Sartorius has one; she will lend it to us for half an hour. If you were at liberty, mein Fraeulein, just now—"
"Certainly," said I, following him, as he told Miss Hallam that he would see her again.
As he knocked at the door of Anna's sitting-room she came out, dressed for walking.
"Ach, Fraeulein! will you allow us the use of your piano for a few minutes?"
"Bitte!" said she, motioning us into the room. "I am sorry I have an engagement, and must leave you."
"Do not let us keep you on any account," said he, with touching politeness; and she went out.
"Desto besser!" he observed, shrugging his shoulders.
He pulled off his gloves with rather an impatient gesture, seated himself at the piano, and struck some chords, in an annoyed manner.
"Who is that old lady?" he inquired, looking up at me. "Any relation of yours?"
"No—oh, no! I am her companion."
"So! And you mean to let her prevent you from following the career you have a talent for?"
"If I do not do as she wishes, I shall have no chance of following any career at all," said I. "And, besides, how does any one know that I have a talent—for—for—what you say?"
"I know it; that is why I said it. I wish I could persuade that old lady to my way of thinking!" he added. "I wish you were out of her hands and in mine. Na! we shall see!"
It was not a very long "trial" that he gave me; we soon rose from the piano.
"To-morrow at eleven I come to give you a lesson," said he. "I am going to talk to Miss Hallam now. You please not come. I wish to see her alone; and I can manage her better by myself, nicht wahr!"
"Thank you," said I in a subdued tone.
"You must have a piano, too," he added; "and we must have the room to ourselves. I allow no third person to be present in my private lessons, but go on the principle of Paul Heyse's hero, Edwin, either in open lecture, or unter vier Augen."
With that he held the door open for me, and as I turned into my room, shook hands with me in a friendly manner, bidding me expect him on the morrow.
Certainly, I decided, Herr von Francius was quite unlike any one I had ever seen before; and how awfully cool he was and self-possessed. I liked him well, though.
The next morning Herr von Francius gave me my first lesson, and after that I had one from him nearly every day. As teacher and as acquaintance he was, as it were, two different men. As teacher he was strict, severe, gave much blame and little praise; but when he did once praise me, I remember, I carried the remembrance of it with me for days as a ray of sunshine. He seemed never surprised to find how much work had been prepared for him, although he would express displeasure sometimes at its quality. He was a teacher whom it was impossible not to respect, whom one obeyed by instinct. As man, as acquaintance, I knew little of him, though I heard much—idle tales, which it would be as idle to repeat. They chiefly related to his domineering disposition and determination to go his own way and disregard that of others. In this fashion my life became busy enough.
As time went on, the image of Eugen Courvoisier, my unspoken of, unguessed at, friend, did not fade from my memory. It grew stronger. I thought of him every day—never went out without a distinct hope that I might see him; never came in without vivid disappointment that I had not seen him. I carried three thalers ten groschen so arranged in my purse that I could lay my hand upon them at a moment's notice, for as the days went on it appeared that Herr Courvoisier had not made up his accounts, or if he had, had not chosen to claim that part of them owed by me.
I did not see him. I began dismally to think that after all the whole thing was at an end. He did not live at Elberthal—he had certainly never told me that he did, I reminded myself. He had gone about his business and interests—had forgotten the waif he had helped one spring afternoon, and I should never see him again. My heart fell and sunk with a reasonless, aimless pang. What did it, could it, ought it to matter to me whether I ever saw him again or not? Nothing, certainly, and yet I troubled myself about it a great deal. I made little dramas in my mind of how he and I were to meet, and how I would exert my will and make him to take the money. Whenever I saw an unusually large or handsome house, I instantly fell to wondering if it were his, and sometimes made inquiries as to the owner of any particularly eligible residence. I heard of Brauns, Muellers, Piepers, Schmidts, and the like, as owners of the same—never the name Courvoisier. He had disappeared—I feared forever.
Coming in weary one day from the town, where I had been striving to make myself understood in shops, I was met by Anna Sartorius on the stairs. She had not yet ceased to be civil to me—civil, that is, in her way—and my unreasoning aversion to her was as great as ever.
"This is the last opera of the season," said she, displaying a pink ticket. "I am glad you will get to see one, as the theater closes after to-night."
"But I am not going."
"Yes, you are. Miss Hallam has a ticket for you. I am going to chaperon you."
"I must go and see about that," said I, hastily rushing upstairs.
The news, incredible though it seemed, was quite true. The ticket lay there. I picked it up and gazed at it fondly. Stadttheater zu Elberthal. Parquet, No. 16. As I had never been in a theater in my life, this conveyed no distinct idea to my mind, but it was quite enough for me that I was going. The rest of the party, I found, were to consist of Vincent, the Englishman, Anna Sartorius, and the Dutch boy, Brinks.
It was Friday evening, and the opera was "Lohengrin." I knew nothing, then, about different operatic styles, and my ideas of operatic music were based upon duets upon selected airs from "La Traviata," "La Somnambula," and "Lucia." I thought the story of "Lohengrin," as related by Vincent, interesting. I was not in the least aware that my first opera was to be a different one from that of most English girls. Since, I have wondered sometimes what would be the result upon the musical taste of a person who was put through a course of Wagnerian opera first, and then turned over to the Italian school—leaving Mozart, Beethoven, Gluck, to take care of themselves, as they may very well do—thus exactly reversing the usual (English) process.
Anna was very quiet that evening. Afterward I knew that she must have been observing me. We were in the first row of the parquet, with the orchestra alone between us and the stage. I was fully occupied in looking about me—now at the curtain hiding the great mystery, now behind and above me at the boxes, in a youthful state of ever-increasing hope and expectation.
"We are very early," said Vincent, who was next to me, "very early, and very near," he added, but he did not seem much distressed at either circumstance.
Then the gas was suddenly turned up quite high. The bustle increased cheerfully. The old, young, and middle-aged ladies who filled the Logen in the Erster Rang—hardened theater-goers, who came as regularly every night in the week during the eight months of the season as they ate their breakfasts and went to their beds, were gossiping with the utmost violence, exchanging nods and odd little old-fashioned bows with other ladies in all parts of the house, leaning over to look whether the parquet was well filled, and remarking that there were more people in the Balcon than usual. The musicians were dropping into the orchestra. I was startled to see a fair face I knew—that pleasant-looking young violinist with the brown eyes, whose name I had heard called out at the eye hospital. They all seemed very fond of him, particularly a man who struggled about with a violoncello, and who seemed to have a series of jokes to relate to Herr Helfen, exploding with laughter, and every now and then shaking the loose thick hair from his handsome, genial face. Helfen listened to him with a half smile, screwing up his violin and giving him a quiet look now and then. The inspiring noise of tuning up had begun, and I was on the very tiptoe of expectation.
As I turned once more and looked round, Vincent said, laughing, "Miss Wedderburn, your hat has hit me three times in the face." It was, by the by, the brown hat which had graced my head that day at Koeln.
"Oh, has it? I beg your pardon!" said I, laughing too, as I brought my eyes again to bear on the stage. "The seats are too near toge—"
Further words were upon my lips, but they were never uttered. In roving across the orchestra to the foot-lights my eyes were arrested. In the well of the orchestra immediately before my eyes was one empty chair, that by right belonging to the leader of the first violins. Friedhelm Helfen sat in the one next below it. All the rest of the musicians were assembled. The conductor was in his place, and looked a little impatiently toward that empty chair. Through a door to the left of the orchestra there came a man, carrying a violin, and made his way, with a nod here, a half smile there, a tap on the shoulder in another direction. Arrived at the empty chair, he laid his hand upon Helfen's shoulder, and bending over him, spoke to him as he seated himself. He kept his hand on that shoulder, as if he liked it to be there. Helfen's eyes said as plainly as possibly that he liked it. Fast friends, on the face of it, were these two men. In this moment, though I sat still, motionless, and quiet, I certainly realized as nearly as possible that impossible sensation, the turning upside down of the world. I did not breathe. I waited, spell-bound, in the vague idea that my eyes might open and I find that I had been dreaming. After an earnest speech to Helfen the new-comer raised his head. As he shouldered his violin his eyes traveled carelessly along the first row of the parquet—our row. I did not awake; things did not melt away in a mist before my eyes. He was Eugen Courvoisier, and he looked braver, handsomer, gallanter, and more apart from the crowd of men now, in this moment, than even my sentimental dreams had pictured him. I felt it all: I also know now that it was partly the very strength of the feeling that I had—the very intensity of the admiration which took from me the reflection and reason for the moment. I felt as if every one must see how I felt. I remembered that no one knew what had happened; I dreaded lest they should. I did the most cowardly and treacherous thing that circumstances permitted to me—displayed to what an extent my power of folly and stupidity could carry me. I saw these strange bright eyes, whose power I felt, coming toward me. In one second they would be upon me. I felt myself white with anxiety. His eyes were coming—coming—slowly, surely. They had fallen upon Vincent, and he nodded to him. They fell upon me. It was for the tenth of a second only. I saw a look of recognition flash into his eyes—upon his face. I saw that he was going to bow to me. With (as it seemed to me) all the blood in my veins rushing to my face, my head swimming, my heart beating, I dropped my eyes to the play-bill upon my lap, and stared at the crabbed German characters—the names of the players, the characters they took. "Elsa—Lohengrin." I read them again and again, while my ears were singing, my heart beating so, and I thought every one in the theater knew and was looking at me.
"Mind you listen to the overture, Miss Wedderburn," said Vincent, hastily, in my ear, as the first liquid, yearning, long-drawn notes sounded from the violins.
"Yes," said I, raising my face at last, looking or rather feeling a look compelled from me, to the place where he sat. This time our eyes met fully. I do not know what I felt when I saw him look at me as unrecognizingly as if I had been a wooden doll in a shop window. Was he looking past me? No. His eyes met mine direct—glance for glance; not a sign, not a quiver of the mouth, not a waver of the eyelids. I heard no more of the overture. When he was playing, and so occupied with his music, I surveyed him surreptitiously; when he was not playing, I kept my eyes fixed firmly upon my play-bill. I did not know whether to be most distressed at my own disloyalty to a kind friend, or most appalled to find that the man with whom I had spent a whole afternoon in the firm conviction that he was outwardly, as well as inwardly, my equal and a gentleman—(how the tears, half of shame, half of joy, rise to my eyes now as I think of my poor, pedantic little scruples then!) the man of whom I had assuredly thought and dreamed many and many a time and oft was—a professional musician, a man in a band, a German band, playing in the public orchestra of a provincial town. Well! well!
In our village at home, where the population consisted of clergymen's widows, daughters of deceased naval officers, and old women in general, and those old women ladies of the genteelest description—the Army and the Church (for which I had been brought up to have the deepest veneration and esteem, as the two head powers in our land—for we did not take Manchester, Birmingham, and Liverpool into account at Skernford)—the Army and the Church, I say, look down a little upon Medicine and the Law, as being perhaps more necessary, but less select factors in that great sum—the Nation, Medicine and the Law looked down very decidedly upon commercial wealth, and Commerce in her turn turned up her nose at retail establishments, while one and all—Church and Army, Law and Medicine, Commerce in the gross and Commerce in the little—united in pointing the finger at artists, musicians, literati, et id omne genus, considering them, with some few well-known and orthodox exceptions, as bohemians, and calling them "persons." They were a class with whom we had and could have nothing in common; so utterly outside our life that we scarcely ever gave a thought to their existence. We read of pictures, and wished to see them; heard of musical wonders, and desired to hear them—as pictures, as compositions. I do not think it ever entered our heads to remember that a man with a quick life throbbing in his veins, with feelings, hopes, and fears and thoughts, painted the picture, and that in seeing it we also saw him—that a consciousness, if possible, yet more keen and vivid produced the combinations of sound which brought tears to our eyes when we heard "the band"—beautiful abstraction—play them! Certainly we never considered the performers as anything more than people who could play—one who blew his breath into a brass tube; another into a wooden pipe; one who scraped a small fiddle with fine strings, another who scraped a big one with coarse strings.
I was seventeen, and not having an original mind, had up to now judged things from earlier teachings and impressions. I do not ask to be excused. I only say that I was ignorant as ever even a girl of seventeen was. I did not know the amount of art and culture which lay among those rather shabby-looking members of the Elberthal staedtische Kapelle—did not know that that little cherubic-faced man, who drew his bow so lovingly across his violin, had played under Mendelssohn's conductorship, and could tell tales about how the master had drilled his band, and what he had said about the first performance of the "Lobgesang." The young man to whom I had seen Courvoisier speaking was—I learned it later—a performer to ravish the senses, a conductor in the true sense—not a mere man who waves the stick up and down, but one who can put some of the meaning of the music into his gestures and dominate his players. I did not know that the musicians before me were nearly all true artists, and some of them undoubted gentlemen to boot, even if their income averaged something under that of a skilled Lancashire operative. But even if I had known it as well as possible, and had been aware that there could be nothing derogatory in my knowing or being known by one of them, I could not have been more wretched than I was in having been, as it were, false to a friend. The dreadful thing was, or ought to be—I could not quite decide which—that such a person should have been my friend.
"How he must despise me!" I thought, my cheeks burning, my eyes fastened upon the play-bill. "I owe him ten shillings. If he likes he can point me out to them all and say, 'That is an English girl—lady I can not call her. I found her quite alone and lost at Koeln, and I did all I could to help her. I saved her a great deal of anxiety and inconvenience. She was not above accepting my assistance; she confided her story very freely to me; she is nothing very particular—has nothing to boast of—no money, no knowledge, nothing superior; in fact, she is simple and ignorant to quite a surprising extent; but she has just cut me dead. What do you think of her?'"
Until the curtain went up, I sat in torture. When the play began, however, even my discomfort vanished in my wonder at the spectacle. It was the first I had seen. Try to picture it, oh, worn-out and blase frequenter of play and opera! Try to realize the feelings of an impressionable young person of seventeen when "Lohengrin" was revealed to her for the first time—Lohengrin, the mystic knight, with the glamour of eld upon him—Lohengrin, sailing in blue and silver like a dream, in his swan-drawn boat, stepping majestic forth, and speaking in a voice of purest melody, as he thanks the bird and dismisses it:
"Dahin, woher mich trug dein Kahn Kehr wieder mir zu unserm Glueck! Drum sei getreu dein Dienst gethan, Leb wohl, leb wohl, mein lieber Schwan."
Elsa, with the wonder, the gratitude, the love, and alas! the weakness in her eyes! The astonished Brabantine men and women. They could not have been more astonished than I was. It was all perfectly real to me. What did I know about the stage? To me, yonder figure in blue mantle and glittering armor was Lohengrin, the son of Percivale, not Herr Siegel, the first tenor of the company, who acted stiffly, and did not know what to do with his legs. The lady in black velvet and spangles, who gesticulated in a corner, was an "Edelfrau" to me, as the programme called her, not the chorus leader, with two front teeth missing, an inartistically made-up countenance, and large feet. I sat through the first act with my eyes riveted upon the stage. What a thrill shot through me as the tenor embraced the soprano, and warbled melodiously, "Elsa, ich liebe Dich!" My mouth and eyes were wide open, I have no doubt, till at last the curtain fell. With a long sigh I slowly brought my eyes down and "Lohengrin" vanished like a dream. There was Eugen Courvoisier standing up—he had resumed the old attitude—was twirling his mustache and surveying the company. Some of the other performers were leaving the orchestra by two little doors. If only he would go too! As I nervously contemplated a graceful indifferent remark to Herr Brinks, who sat next to me, I saw Courvoisier step forward. Was he, could he be going to speak to me? I should have deserved it, I knew, but I felt as if I should die under the ordeal. I sat preternaturally still, and watched, as if mesmerized, the approach of the musician. He spoke again to the young man whom I had seen before, and they both laughed. Perhaps he had confided the whole story to him, and was telling him to observe what he was going to do. Then Herr Courvoisier tapped the young man on the shoulder and laughed again, and then he came on. He was not looking at me; he came up to the boarding, leaned his elbow upon it, and said to Eustace Vincent:
"Good-evening: wie geht's Ihnen?"
Vincent held out his hand. "Very well, thanks. And you? I haven't seen you lately."
"Then you haven't been at the theater lately," he laughed. He never testified to me by word or look that he had ever seen me before. At last I got to understand as his eyes repeatedly fell upon me without the slightest sign of recognition, that he did not intend to claim my acquaintance. I do not know whether I was most wretched or most relieved at the discovery. It spared me a great deal of embarrassment; it filled me, too, with inward shame beyond all description. And then, too, I was dismayed to find how totally I had mistaken the position of the musician. Vincent was talking eagerly to him. They had moved a little nearer the other end of the orchestra. The young man, Helfen, had come up, others had joined them. I, meanwhile, sat still—heard every tone of his voice, and took in every gesture of his head or his hand, and I felt as I trust never to feel again—and yet I lived in some such feeling as that for what at least seemed to me a long time. What was the feeling that clutched me—held me fast—seemed to burn me? And what was that I heard? Vincent speaking:
"Last Thursday week, Courvoisier—why didn't you come? We were waiting for you?"
"I missed the train."
Until now he had been speaking German, but he said this distinctly in English and I heard every word.
"Missed the train?" cried Vincent in his cracked voice.
"Nonsense, man! Helfen, here, and Alekotte were in time and they had been at the probe as much as you."
"I was detained in Koeln and couldn't get back till evening," said he. "Come along, Friedel; there's the call-bell."
I raised my eyes—met his. I do not know what expression was in mine. His never wavered, though he looked at me long and steadily—no glance of recognition—no sign still. I would have risked the astonishment of every one of them now, for a sign that he remembered me. None was given.
"Lohengrin" had no more attraction for me. I felt in pain that was almost physical, and weak with excitement as at last the curtain fell and we left our places.
"You were very quiet," said Vincent, as we walked home. "Did you not enjoy it?"
"Very much, thank you. It was very beautiful," said I, faintly.
"So Herr Courvoisier was not at the soiree," said the loud, rough voice of Anna Sartorius.
"No," was all Vincent said.
"Did you have anything new? Was Herr von Francius there too?"
"Yes; he was there too."
I pondered. Brinks whistled loudly the air of Elsa's "Brautzug," as we paced across the Lindenallee. We had not many paces to go. The lamps were lighted, the people were thronging thick as in the daytime. The air was full of laughter, talk, whistling and humming of the airs from the opera. My ear strained eagerly through the confusion. I could have caught the faintest sound of Courvoisier's voice had it been there, but it was not. And we came home; Vincent opened the door with his latch-key, said, "It has not been very brilliant, has it? That tenor is a stick," and we all went to our different rooms. It was in such wise that I met Eugen Courvoisier for the second time.
"Will you sing?"
The theater season closed with that evening on which "Lohengrin" was performed. I ran no risk of meeting Courvoisier face to face again in that alarming, sudden manner. But the subject had assumed diseased proportions in my mind. I found myself confronted with him yet, and week after week. My business in Elberthal was music—to learn as much music and hear as much music as I could: wherever there was music there was also Eugen Courvoisier—naturally. There was only one staedtische Kapelle in Elberthal. Once a week at least—each Saturday—I saw him, and he saw me at the unfailing instrumental concert to which every one in the house went, and to absent myself from which would instantly set every one wondering what could be my motive for it. My usual companions were Clara Steinmann, Vincent, the Englishman, and often Frau Steinmann herself. Anna Sartorius and some other girl students of art usually brought sketch-books, and were far too much occupied in making studies or caricatures of the audience to pay much attention to the music. The audience were, however, hardened; they were used to it. Anna and her friends were not alone in the practice. There were a dozen or more artists or soi-disant artists busily engaged with their sketch-books. The concert-room offered a rich field to them. One could at least be sure of one thing—that they were not taking off the persons at whom they looked most intently. There must be quite a gallery hidden away in some old sketch-books—of portraits or wicked caricatures of the audience that frequented the concerts of the Instrumental Musik Verein. I wonder where they all are? Who has them? What has become of the light-hearted sketchers? I often recall those homely Saturday evening concerts; the long, shabby saal with its faded out-of-date decorations; its rows of small tables with the well-known groups around them; the mixed and motley audience. How easy, after a little while, to pick out the English, by their look of complacent pleasure at the delightful ease and unceremoniousness of the whole affair; their gladness at finding a public entertainment where one's clothes were not obliged to be selected with a view to outshining those of every one else in the room; the students shrouded in a mystery, secret and impenetrable, of tobacco smoke. The spruce-looking school-boys from the Gymnasium and Realschule, the old captains and generals, the Fraeulein their daughters, the gnaedigen Frauen their wives; dressed in the disastrous plaids, checks, and stripes, which somehow none but German women ever got hold of. Shades of Le Follet! What costumes there were on young and old for an observing eye! What bonnets, what boots, what stupendously daring accumulation of colors and styles and periods of dress crammed and piled on the person of one substantial Frau Generalin, or Doctorin or Professorin! The low orchestra—the tall, slight, yet commanding figure of von Francius on the estrade; his dark face with its indescribable mixture of pride, impenetrability and insouciance; the musicians behind him—every face of them well known to the audience as those of the audience to them: it was not a mere "concert," which in England is another word for so much expense and so much vanity—it was a gathering of friends. We knew the music in which the Kapelle was most at home; we knew their strong points and their weak ones; the passage in the Pastoral Symphony where the second violins were a little weak; that overture where the blaseninstrumente came out so well—the symphonies one heard—the divine wealth of undying art and beauty! Those days are past: despite what I suffered in them they had their joys for me. Yes; I suffered at those concerts. I must ever see the one face which for me blotted out all others in the room, and endure the silent contempt which I believed I saw upon it. Probably it was my own feeling of inward self-contempt which made me believe I saw that expression there. His face had for me a miserable, basilisk-like attraction. When I was there he was there, I must look at him and endure the silent, smiling disdain which I at least believed he bestowed upon me. How did he contrive to do it? How often our eyes met, and every time it happened he looked me full in the face, and never would give me the faintest gleam of recognition! It was as though I looked at two diamonds, which returned my stare unwinkingly and unseeingly. I managed to make myself thoroughly miserable—pale and thin with anxiety and self-reproach I let this man, and the speculation concerning him, take up my whole thoughts, and I kept silence, because I dreaded so intensely lest any question should bring out the truth. I smiled drearily when I thought that there certainly was no danger of any one but Miss Hallam ever knowing it, for the only person who could have betrayed me chose now, of deliberate purpose, to cut me as completely as I had once cut him.
As if to show very decidedly that he did intend to cut me, I met him one day, not in the street, but in the house, on the stairs. He sprung up the steps, two at a time, came to a momentary pause on the landing, and looked at me. No look of surprise, none of recognition. He raised his hat; that was nothing; in ordinary politeness he would have done it had he never seen me in his life before. The same cold, bright, hard glance fell upon me, keen as an eagle's, and as devoid of every gentle influence as the same.
I silently held out my hand.
He looked at it for a moment, then with a grave coolness which chilled me to the soul, murmured something about "not having the honor," bowed slightly, and stepping forward, walked into Vincent's room.
I was going to the room in which my piano stood, where I had my music lessons, for they had told me that Herr von Francius was waiting. I looked at him as I went into the room. How different he was from that other man; darker, more secret, more scornful-looking, with not less power, but so much less benevolence.
I was distrait, and sung exceedingly ill. We had been going through the solo soprano parts of the "Paradise Lost." I believe I sung vilely that morning. I was not thinking of Eva's sin and the serpent, but of other things, which, despite the story related in the Book of Genesis, touched me more nearly. Several times already had he made me sing through Eva's stammering answer to her God's question:
"Ah, Lord!... The Serpent! The beautiful, glittering Serpent, With his beautiful, glittering words, He, Lord, did lead astray The weak Woman!"
"Bah!" exclaimed von Francius, when I had sung it some three or four times, each time worse, each time more distractedly. He flung the music upon the floor, and his eyes flashed, startling me from my uneasy thoughts back to the present. He was looking at me with a dark cloud upon his face. I stared, stooped meekly, and picked up the music.
"Fraeulein, what are you dreaming about?" he asked, impatiently. "You are not singing Eva's shame and dawning terror as she feels herself undone. You are singing—and badly, too—a mere sentimental song, such as any school-girl might stumble through. I am ashamed of you."
"I—I," stammered I, crimsoning, and ashamed for myself too.
"You were thinking of something else," he said, his brow clearing a little. "Na! it comes so sometimes. Something has happened to distract your attention. The amiable Miss Hallam has been a little more amiable than usual."
"Well, well. 'S ist mir egal. But now, as you have wasted half an hour in vanity and vexation, will you be good enough to let your thoughts return here to me and to your duty? or else—I must go, and leave the lesson till you are in the right voice again."
"I am all right—try me," said I, my pride rising in arms as I thought of Courvoisier's behavior a short time ago.
"Very well. Now. You are Eva, please remember, the first woman, and you have gone wrong. Think of who is questioning you, and—"
"Oh, yes, yes, I know. Please begin."
He began the accompaniment, and I sung for the fifth time Eva's scattered notes of shame and excuse.
"Brava!" said he, when I had finished, and I was the more startled as he had never before given me the faintest sign of approval, but had found such constant fault with me that I usually had a fit of weeping after my lesson; weeping with rage and disappointment at my own shortcomings.
"At last you know what it means," said he. "I always told you your forte was dramatic singing."
"Dramatic! But this is an oratorio."
"It may be called an oratorio, but it is a drama all the same. What more dramatic, for instance, than what you have just sung, and all that goes before? Now suppose we go on. I will take Adam."
Having given myself up to the music, I sung my best with earnestness. When we had finished von Francius closed the book, looked at me, and said:
"Will you sing the 'Eva' music at the concert?"
He bowed silently, and still kept his eyes fixed upon my face, as if to say, "Refuse if you dare."
"I—I'm afraid I should make such a mess of it," I murmured at last.
"Why any more than to-day?"
"Oh! but all the people!" said I, expostulating; "it is so different."
He gave a little laugh of some amusement.
"How odd! and yet how like you!" said he. "Do you suppose that the people who will be at the concert will be half as much alive to your defects as I am? If you can sing before me, surely you can sing before so many rows of—"
"Cabbages? I wish I could think they were."
"Nonsense! What would be the use, where the pleasure, in singing to cabbages? I mean simply inhabitants of Elberthal. What can there be so formidable about them?"
I murmured something.
"Well, will you do it?"
"I am sure I should break down," said I, trying to find some sign of relenting in his eyes. I discovered none. He was not waiting to hear whether I said "yes" or "no," he was waiting until I said "yes."
"If you did," he replied, with a friendly smile, "I should never teach you another note."
"Because you would be a coward, and not worth teaching."
"But Miss Hallam?"
"Leave her to me."
I still hesitated.
"It is the premier pas qui coute," said he, keeping a friendly but determined gaze upon my undecided face.
"I want to accustom you to appearing in public," he added. "By degrees, you know. There is nothing unusual in Germany for one in your position to sing in such a concert."
"I was not thinking of that; but that it is impossible that I can sing well enough—"
"You sing well enough for my purpose. You will be amazed to find what an impetus to your studies, and what a filip to your industry will be given by once singing before a number of other people. And then, on the stage—"
"But I am not going on the stage."
"I think you are. At least, if you do otherwise you will do wrong. You have gifts which are in themselves a responsibility."
"I—gifts—what gifts?" I asked, incredulously. "I am as stupid as a donkey. My sisters always said so, and sisters are sure to know; you may trust them for that."
"Then you will take the soprano solos?"
"Do you think I can?"
"I don't think you can; I say you must. I will call upon Miss Hallam this afternoon. And the gage—fee—what you call it?—is fifty thalers."
"What!" I cried, my whole attitude changing to one of greedy expectation. "Shall I be paid?"
"Why, natuerlich," said he, turning over sheets of music, and averting his face to hide a smile.
"Oh! then I will sing."
"Good! Only please to remember that it is my concert, and I am responsible for the soloists; and pray think rather more about the beautiful glittering serpent than about the beautiful glittering thalers."
"I can think about both," was my unholy, time-serving reply.
Fifty thalers. Untold gold!
"Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter."
It was the evening of the haupt-probe, a fine moonlight night in the middle of May—a month since I had come to Elberthal, and it seemed so much, so very much more.
To my astonishment—and far from agreeable astonishment—Anna Sartorius informed me of her intention to accompany me to the probe. I put objections in her way as well as I knew how, and said I did not think outsiders were admitted. She laughed, and said:
"That is too funny, that you should instruct me in such things. Why, I have a ticket for all the proben, as any one can have who chooses to pay two thalers at the sasse. I have a mind to hear this. They say the orchestra are going to rebel against von Francius. And I am going to the concert to-morrow, too. One can not hear too much of such fine music; and when one's friend sings, too—"
"What friend of yours is going to sing?" I inquired, coldly.
"Why, you, you allerliebster kleiner Engel," said she, in a tone of familiarity, to which I strongly objected.
I could say no more against her going, but certainly displayed no enthusiastic desire for her company.
The probe, we found, was to be in the great saal; it was half lighted, and there were perhaps some fifty people, holders of probe-tickets, seated in the parquet.
"You are going to sing well to-night," said von Francius, as he handed me up the steps—"for my sake and your own, nicht wahr?"
"I will try," said, I, looking round the great orchestra, and seeing how full it was—so many fresh faces, both in chorus and orchestra.
And as I looked, I saw Courvoisier come in by the little door at the top of the orchestra steps and descend to his place. His face was clouded—very clouded; I had never seen him look thus before. He had no smile for those who greeted him. As he took his place beside Helfen, and the latter asked him some question, he stared absently at him, then answered with a look of absence and weariness.
"Herr Courvoisier," said von Francius—and I, being near, heard the whole dialogue—"you always allow yourself to be waited for."
Courvoisier glanced up. I with a new, sudden interest, watched the behavior of the two men. In the face of von Francius I thought to discover dislike, contempt.
"I beg your pardon; I was detained," answered Courvoisier, composedly.
"It is unfortunate that you should be so often detained at the time when your work should be beginning."
Unmoved and unchanging, Courvoisier heard and submitted to the words, and to the tone in which they were spoken—sarcastic, sneering, and unbelieving.
"Now we will begin," pursued von Francius, with a disagreeable smile, as he rapped with his baton upon the rail. I looked at Courvoisier—looked at his friend, Friedhelm Helfen. The former was sitting as quietly as possible, rather pale, and with the same clouded look, but not deeper than before; the latter was flushed, and eyed von Francius with no friendly glance.
There seemed a kind of slumbering storm in the air. There was none of the lively discussion usual at the proben. Courvoisier, first of the first violins, and from whom all the others seemed to take their tone, sat silent, grave and still. Von Francius, though quiet, was biting. I felt afraid of him. Something must have happened to put him into that evil mood.
My part did not come until late in the second part of the oratorio. I had almost forgotten that I was to sing at all, and was watching von Francius and listening to his sharp speeches. I remembered what Anna Sartorius had said in describing this haupt-probe to me. It was all just as she had said. He was severe; his speeches roused the phlegmatic blood, set the professional instrumentalists laughing at their amateur co-operators, but provoked no reply or resentment. It was extraordinary, the effect of this man's will upon those he had to do with—upon women in particular.
There was one haughty-looking blonde—a Swede—tall, majestic, with long yellow curls, and a face full of pride and high temper, who gave herself decided airs, and trusted to her beauty and insolence to carry off certain radical defects of harshness of voice and want of ear. I never forgot how she stared me down from head to foot on the occasion of my first appearance alone, as if to say, "What do you want here?"
It was in vain that she looked haughty and handsome. Addressing her as Fraeulein Hulstrom, von Francius gave her a sharp lecture, and imitated the effect of her voice in a particularly soft passage with ludicrous accuracy. The rest of the chorus was tittering audibly, the musicians, with the exception of Courvoisier and his friend, nudging each other and smiling. She bridled haughtily, flashed a furious glance at her mentor, grew crimson, received a sarcastic smile which baffled her, and subsided again.
So it was with them all. His blame was plentiful; his praise so rare as to be almost an unknown quantity. His chorus and orchestra were famed for the minute perfection and precision of their play and singing. Perhaps the performance lacked something else—passion, color. Von Francius, at that time at least, was no genius, though his talent, his power, and his method were undeniably great. He was, however, not popular—not the Harold, the "beloved leader" of his people.
It was to-night that I was first shown how all was not smooth for him; that in this art union there were splits—"little rifts within the lute," which, should they extend, might literally in the end "make the music mute." I heard whispers around me. "Herr von Francius is angry."—"Nicht wahr?"—"Herr Courvoisier looks angry too."—"Yes, he does."—"There will be an open quarrel there soon."—"I think so."—"They are both clever; one should be less clever than the other."—"They are so opposed."—"Yes. They say Courvoisier has a party of his own, and that all the orchestra are on his side."—"So!" in accents of curiosity and astonishment—"Ja wohl! And that if von Francius does not mind, he will see Herr Courvoisier in his place," etc., etc., without end. All which excited me much, as the first glimpse into the affairs of those about whom we think much and know little (a form of life well known to women in general) always does interest us.
These things made me forget to be nervous or anxious. I saw myself now as part of the whole, a unit in the sum of a life which interested me. Von Francius gave me a sign of approval when I had finished, but it was a mechanical one. He was thinking of other things.
The probe was over. I walked slowly down the room looking for Anna Sartorius, more out of politeness than because I wished for her company. I was relieved to find that she had already gone, probably not finding all the entertainment she expected, and I was able, with a good conscience, to take my way home alone.
My way home! not yet. I was to live through something before I could take my way home.
I went out of the large saal through the long veranda into the street. A flood of moonlight silvered it. There was a laughing, chattering crowd about me—all the chorus; men and girls, going to their homes or their lodgings, in ones or twos, or in large cheerful groups. Almost opposite the Tonhalle was a tall house, one of a row, and of this house the lowest floor was used as a shop for antiquities, curiosities, and a thousand odds and ends useful or beautiful to artists, costumes, suits of armor, old china, anything and everything. The window was yet lighted. As I paused for a moment before taking my homeward way, I saw two men cross the moonlit street and go in at the open door of the shop. One was Courvoisier; in the other I thought to recognize Friedhelm Helfen, but was not quite sure about it. They did not go into the shop, as I saw by the bright large lamp that burned within, but along the passage and up the stairs. I followed them, resolutely beating down shyness, unwillingness, timidity. My reluctant steps took me to the window of the antiquity shop, and I stood looking in before I could make up my mind to enter. Bits of rococo ware stood in the window, majolica jugs, chased metal dishes and bowls, bits of Renaissance work, tapestry, carpet, a helm with the vizor up, gaping at me as if tired of being there. I slowly drew my purse from my pocket, put together three thalers and a ten groschen piece, and with lingering, unwilling steps, entered the shop. A pretty young woman in a quaint dress, which somehow harmonized with the place, came forward. She looked at me as if wondering what I could possibly want. My very agitation gave calmness to my voice as I inquired,
"Does Herr Courvoisier, a musiker, live here?"
"Ja wohl!" answered the young woman, with a look of still greater surprise. "On the third etage, straight upstairs. The name is on the door."
I turned away, and went slowly up the steep wooden uncarpeted staircase. On the first landing a door opened at the sound of my footsteps, and a head was popped out—a rough, fuzzy head, with a pale, eager-looking face under the bush of hair.
"Ugh!" said the owner of this amiable visage, and shut the door with a bang. I looked at the plate upon it; it bore the legend, "Hermann Duntze, Maler." To the second etage. Another door—another plate: "Bernhardt Knoop, Maler." The house seemed to be a resort of artists. There was a lamp burning on each landing; and now, at last, with breath and heart alike failing, I ascended the last flight of stairs, and found myself upon the highest etage before another door, on which was roughly painted up, "Eugen Courvoisier." I looked at it with my heart beating suffocatingly. Some one had scribbled in red chalk beneath the Christian name, "Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter." Had it been done in jest or earnest? I wondered, and then knocked. Such a knock!
I opened the door, and stepped into a large, long, low room. On the table, in the center, burned a lamp, and sitting there, with the light falling upon his earnest young face, was Helfen, the violinist, and near to him sat Courvoisier, with a child upon his knee, a little lad with immense dark eyes, tumbled black hair, and flushed, just awakened face. He was clad in his night-dress and a little red dressing-gown, and looked like a spot of almost feverish, quite tropic brightness in contrast with the grave, pale face which bent over him. Courvoisier held the two delicate little hands in one of his own, and was looking down with love unutterable upon the beautiful, dazzling child-face. Despite the different complexion and a different style of feature too, there was so great a likeness in the two faces, particularly in the broad, noble brow, as to leave no doubt of the relationship. My musician and the boy were father and son.
Courvoisier looked up as I came in. For one half moment there leaped into his eyes a look of surprise and of something more. If it had lasted a second longer I could have sworn it was welcome—then it was gone. He rose, turned the child over to Helfen, saying, "One moment, Friedel," then turned to me as to some stranger who had come on an errand as yet unknown to him, and did not speak. The little one, from Helfen's knee, stared at me with large, solemn eyes, and Helfen himself looked scarcely less impressed.
I have no doubt I looked frightened—I felt so—frightened out of my senses. I came tremulously forward, and offering my pieces of silver, said, in the smallest voice which I had ever used:
"I have come to pay my debt. I did not know where you lived, or I should have done it long before."
He made no motion to take the money, but said—I almost started, so altered was the voice from that of my frank companion at Koeln, to an icy coldness of ceremony:
"Mein Fraeulein, I do not understand."
"You—you—the things you paid for. Do you not remember me?"
"Remember a lady who has intimated that she wishes me to forget her? No, I do not."
What a horribly complicated revenge! thought I, as I said, ever lower and lower, more and more shamedfacedly, while the young violinist sat with the child on his knee, and his soft brown eyes staring at me in wonder:
"I think you must remember. You helped me at Koeln, and you paid for my ticket to Elberthal, and for something that I had at the hotel. You told me that was what I owed you."
I again tendered the money; again he made no effort to receive it, but said:
"I am sorry that I do not understand to what you refer. I only know it is impossible that I could ever have told you you owed me three thalers, or three anything, or that there could, under any circumstances, be any question of money between you and me. Suppose we consider the topic at an end."
Such a voice of ice, and such a manner, to chill the boldest heart, I had never yet encountered. The cool, unspeakable disdain cut me to the quick.
"You have no right to refuse the money," said I, desperately. "You have no right to insult me by—by—" An appropriate peroration refused itself.
Again the sweet, proud, courteous smile; not only courteous, but courtly; again the icy little bow of the head, which would have done credit to a prince in displeasure, and which yet had the deference due from a gentleman to a lady.
"You will excuse the semblance of rudeness which may appear if I say that if you unfortunately are not of a very decided disposition, I am. It is impossible that I should ever have the slightest intercourse with a lady who has once unequivocally refused my acquaintance. The lady may honor me by changing her mind; I am sorry that I can not respond. I do not change my mind."
"You must let us part on equal terms," I reiterated. "It is unjust—"
"Yourself closed all possibility of the faintest attempt at further acquaintance, mein Fraeulein. The matter is at an end."
"Herr Courvoisier, I—"
"At an end," he repeated, calmly, gently, looking at me as he had often looked at me since the night of "Lohengrin," with a glance that baffled and chilled me.
"I wish to apologize—"
"For what?" he inquired, with the faintest possible look of indifferent surprise.
"For my rudeness—my surprise—I—"
"You refer to one evening at the opera. You exercised your privilege, as a lady, of closing an acquaintance which you did not wish to renew. I now exercise mine, as a gentleman, of saying that I choose to abide by that decision, now and always."
I was surprised. Despite my own apologetic frame of mind, I was surprised at his hardness; at the narrowness and ungenerosity which could so determinedly shut the door in the face of an humble penitent like me. He must see how I had repented the stupid slip I had made; he must see how I desired to atone for it. It was not a slip of the kind one would name irreparable, and yet he behaved to me as if I had committed a crime; froze me with looks and words. Was he so self-conscious and so vain that he could not get over that small slight to his self-consequence, committed in haste and confusion by an ignorant girl? Even then, even in that moment I asked myself these questions, my astonishment being almost as great as my pain, for it was the very reverse, the very opposite of what I had pictured to myself. Once let me see him and speak to him, I had said to myself, and it would be all right; every lineament of his face, every tone of his voice, bespoke a frank, generous nature—one that could forgive. Alas! and alas! this was the truth!
He had come to the door; he stood by it now, holding it open, looking at me so courteously, so deferentially, with a manner of one who had been a gentleman and lived with gentlemen all his life, but in a way which at the same time ordered me out as plainly as possible.
I went to the door. I could no longer stand under that chilling glance, nor endure the cool, polished contempt of the manner. I behaved by no means heroically; neither flung my head back, nor muttered any defiance, nor in any way proved myself a person of spirit. All I could do was to look appealingly into his face; to search the bright, steady eyes, without finding in them any hint of softening or relenting.
"Will you not take it, please?" I asked, in a quivering voice and with trembling lips.
"Impossible, mein Fraeulein," with the same chilly little bow as before.
Struggling to repress my tears, I said no more, but passed out, cut to the heart. The door was closed gently behind me. I felt as if it had closed upon a bright belief of my youth. I leaned for a moment against the passage wall and pressed my hand against my eyes. From within came the sound of a child's voice, "Mein vater," and the soft, deep murmur of Eugen's answer; then I went down-stairs and into the open street.
That hated, hateful three thalers ten groschen were still clasped in my hand. What was I to do with it? Throw it into the Rhine, and wash it away forever? Give it to some one in need? Fling it into the gutter? Send it him by post? I dismissed that idea for what it was worth. No; I would obey his prohibition. I would keep it—those very coins, and when I felt inclined to be proud and conceited about anything on my own account, or disposed to put down superhuman charms to the account of others, I would go and look at them, and they would preach me eloquent sermons.
As I went into the house, up the stairs to my room, the front door opened again and Anna Sartorius overtook me.
"I thought you had left the probe?" said I, staring at her.
"So I had, Herzchen," said she, with her usual ambiguous, mocking laugh; "but I was not compelled to come home, like a good little girl, the moment I came out of the Tonhalle. I have been visiting a friend. But where have you been, for the probe must have been over for some time? We heard the people go past; indeed, some of them were staying in the house where I was. Did you take a walk in the moonlight?"
"Good-night," said I, too weary and too indifferent even to answer her.
"It must have been a tiring walk; you seem weary, quite ermuedet," said she, mockingly, and I made no answer.
"A haupt-probe is a dismal thing after all," she called out to me from the top of the stairs.
From my inmost heart I agreed with her.
"Phillis. I want none o' thy friendship! Lesbia. Then take my enmity!"
"When a number of ladies meet together to discuss matters of importance, we call it 'Kaffeeklatsch,'" Courvoisier had said to me on that never-forgotten afternoon of my adventure at Koeln.
It was my first kaffeeklatsch which, in a measure, decided my destiny. Hitherto, that is, up to the end of June, I had not been at any entertainment of this kind. At last there came an invitation to Frau Steinmann and to Anna Sartorius, to assist at a "coffee" of unusual magnitude, and Frau Steinmann suggested that I should go with them and see what it was like. Nothing loath, I consented.
"Bring some work," said Anna Sartorius to me, "or you will find it langweilig—slow, I mean."
"Shall we not have some music?"
"Music, yes, the sweetest of all—that of our own tongues. You shall hear every one's candid opinion of every one else—present company always excepted, and you will see what the state of Elberthal society really is—present company still excepted. By a very strange chance the ladies who meet at a klatsch are always good, pious, virtuous, and, above all, charitable. It is wonderful how well we manage to keep the black sheep out, and have nothing but lambs immaculate."
"Oh, bah! I know the Elberthal Klatscherei. It has picked me to pieces many a time. After you have partaken to-day of its coffee and its cakes, it will pick you to pieces."
"But," said I, arranging the ruffles of my very best frock, which I had been told it was de rigueur to wear, "I thought women never gossiped so much among men."
Fraeulein Sartorius laughed loud and long.
"The men! Du meine Guete! Men at a kaffeeklatsch! Show me the one that a man dare even look into, and I'll crown you—and him too—with laurel, and bay, and the wild parsley. A man at a kaffee—mag Gott es bewahren!"
"Oh!" said I, half disappointed, and with a very poor, mean sense of dissatisfaction at having put on my pretty new dress for the first time only for the edification of a number of virulent gossips.
"Men!" she reiterated with a harsh laugh as we walked toward the Goldsternstrasse, our destination. "Men—no. We despise their company, you see. We only talk about them directly or indirectly from the moment of meeting to that of parting."
"I'm sorry there are no gentlemen," said I, and I was. I felt I looked well.
Arrived at the scene of the kaffee, we were conducted to a bedroom where we laid aside our hats and mantles. I was standing before the glass, drawing a comb through my upturned hair, and contemplating with irrepressible satisfaction the delicate lavender hue of my dress, when I suddenly saw reflected behind me the dark, harshly cut face of Anna Sartorius. She started slightly; then said, with a laugh which had in it something a little forced:
"We are a contrast, aren't we? Beauty and the Beast, one might almost say. Na! 's schad't nix."
I turned away in a little offended pride. Her familiarity annoyed me. What if she were a thousand times cleverer, wittier, better read than I? I did not like her. A shade crossed her face.
"Is it that you are thoroughly unamiable?" said she, in a voice which had reproach in it, "or are all English girls so touchy that they receive a compliment upon their good looks as if it were an offense?"
"I wish you would not talk of my 'good looks' as if I were a dog or a horse!" said I, angrily. "I hate to be flattered. I am no beauty, and do not wish to be treated as if I were."
"Do you always hate it?" said she from the window, whither she had turned. "Ach! there goes Herr Courvoisier!"
The name startled me like a sudden report. I made an eager step forward before I had time to recollect myself—then stopped.
"He is not out of sight yet," said she, with a curious look, "if you wish to see him."
I sat down and made no answer. What prompted her to talk in such a manner? Was it a mere coincidence?
"He is a handsome fellow, nicht wahr?" she said, still watching me, while I thought Frau Steinmann never would manage to arrange her cap in the style that pleased her. "But a Taugenichts all the same," pursued Anna as I did not speak. "Don't you think so?" she added.
"A Taugenichts—I don't know what that is."
"What you call a good-for-nothing."
"Nicht wahr?" she persisted.
"I know nothing about it."
"I do. I will tell you all about him some time."
"I don't wish to know anything about him."
"So!" said she, with a laugh.
Without further word or look I followed Frau Steinmann down-stairs.
The lady of the house was seated in the midst of a large concourse of old and young ladies, holding her own with a well-seasoned hardihood in the midst of the awful Babel of tongues. What a noise! It smote upon and stunned my confounded ear. Our hostess advanced and led me with a wave of the hand into the center of the room, when she introduced me to about a dozen ladies: and every one in the room stopped talking and working, and stared at me intently and unwinkingly until my name had been pronounced, after which some continued still to stare at me, and commenting openly upon it. Meanwhile I was conducted to a sofa at the end of the room, and requested in a set phrase, "Bitte, Fraeulein, nehmen sie platz auf dem sofa," with which long custom has since made me familiar, to take my seat upon it. I humbly tried to decline the honor, but Anna Sartorius, behind me, whispered:
"Sit down directly, unless you want to be thought an utter barbarian. The place has been kept for you."
Deeply impressed, and very uncomfortable, I sat down. First one and then another came and spoke and talked to me. Their questions and remarks were much in this style: