"Von Francius," said Eugen, tranquilly. "I had seen him, and he was very busy and referred me to you—that's all."
"Well—let us call it von Francius."
"But what's the end of it? Is that the whole story?"
"I thought I might as well help you a bit," said I, rather awkwardly. "You were not like other people, you see—it was the child, I think. I was as much amazed as Karl, if I didn't show it so much, and after that—"
"Well. There was the child, you see, and things seemed quite different somehow. I've been very comfortable" (this was my way of putting it) "ever since, and I am curious to see what the boy will be like in a few years. Shall you make him into a musician too?"
Courvoisier's brow clouded a little.
"I don't know," was all he said. Later, I learned the reason of that "don't know."
"So it was no love affair," said Eugen again. "Then I have been wrong all the time. I quite fancied it was some girl—"
"What could make you think so?" I asked, with a whole-hearted laugh. "I tell you I don't know what it is to be in love. The other fellows are always in love. They are in a constant state of Schwaeramerei about some girl or other. It goes in epidemics. They have not each a separate passion. The whole lot of them will go mad about one young woman. I can't understand it. I wish I could, for they seem to enjoy it so much."
"You heathen!" said he, but not in a very bantering tone.
"Why, Eugen, do you mean to say that you are so very susceptible? Oh, I beg your pardon," I added, hastily, shocked and confused to find that I had been so nearly overstepping the boundary which I had always marked out for myself. And I stopped abruptly.
"That's like you, Friedhelm," said he, in a tone which was in some way different from his usual one. "I never knew such a ridiculous, chivalrous, punctilious fellow as you are. Tell me something—did you never speculate about me?"
"Never impertinently, I assure you, Eugen," said I, earnestly.
"You impertinent! That is amusing, I must say. But surely you have given me a thought now and then, have wondered whether I had a history, or sprung out of nothing?"
"Certainly, and wondered what your story was; but I do not need to know it to—"
"I understand. Well, but it is rather difficult to say this to such an unsympathetic person; you won't understand it. I have been in love, Friedel."
"So I can suppose."
I waited for the corollary, "and been loved in return," but it did not come. He said, "And received as much regard in return as I deserved—perhaps more."
As I could not cordially assent to this proposition, I remained silent.
After a pause he went on: "I am eight-and-twenty, and have lived my life. The story won't bear raking up now—perhaps never. For a long time I went on my own way, and was satisfied with it—blindly, inanely, densely satisfied with it; then all at once I was brought to reason—" He laughed, not a very pleasant laugh. "Brought to reason," he resumed, "but how? By waking one morning to find myself a spoiled man, and spoiled by myself, too."
A pause, while I turned this information over in my mind, and then said, composedly:
"I don't quite believe in your being a spoiled man. Granted that you have made some fiasco—even a very bad one—what is to prevent your making a life again?"
"Ha, ha!" said he, ungenially. "Things not dreamed of, Friedel, by your straightforward philosophy. One night I was, take it all in all, straight with the world and my destiny; the next night I was an outcast, and justly so. I don't complain. I have no right to complain."
Again he laughed.
"I once knew some one," said I, "who used to say that many a good man and many a great man was lost to the world simply because nothing interrupted the course of his prosperity."
"Don't suppose that I am an embryo hero of any description," said he, bitterly. "I am merely, as I said, a spoiled man, brought to his senses and with life before him to go through as best he may, and the knowledge that his own fault has brought him to what he is."
"But look here! If it is merely a question of name or money," I began.
"It is not merely that; but suppose it were, what then?"
"It lies with yourself. You may make a name either as a composer or performer—your head or your fingers will secure you money and fame."
"None the less should I be, as I said, a spoiled man," he said, quietly. "I should be ashamed to come forward. It was I myself who sent myself and my prospects caput;[A] and for that sort of obscurity is the best taste and the right sphere."
[Footnote A: Caput—a German slang expression with the general significance of the English "gone to smash," but also a hundred other and wider meanings, impossible to render in brief.]
"But there's the boy," I suggested. "Let him have the advantage."
"Don't, don't!" he said, suddenly, and wincing visibly, as if I had touched a raw spot. "No; my one hope for him is that he may never be known as my son."
"Poor little beggar! I wonder what will become of him," he uttered, after a pause, during which I did not speak again.
Eugen puffed fitfully at his cigar, and at last knocking the ash from it and avoiding my eyes, he said, in a low voice:
"I suppose some time I must leave the boy."
"Leave him!" I echoed, intelligently.
"When he grows a little older—before he is old enough to feel it very much, though, I must part from him. It will be better."
Another pause. No sign of emotion, no quiver of the lips, no groan, though the heart might be afaint. I sat speechless.
"I have not come to the conclusion lately. I've always known it," he went on, and spoke slowly. "I have known it—and have thought about it—so as to get accustomed to it—see?"
"At that time—as you seem to have a fancy for the child—will you give an eye to him—sometimes, Friedel—that is, if you care enough for me—"
For a moment I did not speak. Then I said:
"You are quite sure the parting must take place?"
"When it does, will you give him to me—to my charge altogether?"
"What do you mean?"
"If he must lose one father, let me grow as like another to him as I can."
"On no other condition," said I. "I will not 'have an eye' to him occasionally. I will not let him go out alone among strangers, and give a look in upon him now and then."
Eugen had covered his face with his hands, but spoke not.
"I will have him with me altogether, or not at all," I finished, with a kind of jerk.
"Impossible!" said he, looking up with a pale face, and eyes full of anguish—the more intense in that he uttered not a word of it. "Impossible! You are no relation—he has not a claim—there is not a reason—not the wildest reason for such a—"
"Yes, there is; there is the reason that I won't have it otherwise," said I, doggedly.
"It is fantastic, like your insane self," he said, with a forced smile, which cut me, somehow, more than if he had groaned.
"Fantastic! I don't know what you mean. What good would it be to me to see him with strangers? I should only make myself miserable with wishing to have him. I don't know what you mean by fantastic."
He drew a long breath. "So be it, then," said he, at last. "And he need know nothing about his father. I may even see him from time to time without his knowing—see him growing into a man like you, Friedel; it would be worth the separation, even if one had not to make a merit of necessity; yes, well worth it."
"Like me? Nie, mein lieber; he shall be something rather better than I am, let us hope," said I; "but there is time enough to talk about it."
"Oh, yes! In a year or two from now," said he, almost inaudibly. "The worst of it is that in a case like this, the years go so fast, so cursedly fast."
I could make no answer to this, and he added, "Give me thy hand upon it, Friedel."
I held out my hand. We had risen, and stood looking steadfastly into each other's eyes.
"I wish I were—what I might have been—to pay you for this," he said, hesitatingly, wringing my hand and laying his left for a moment on my shoulder; then, without another word, went into his room, shutting the door after him.
I remained still—sadder, gladder than I had ever been before. Never had I so intensely felt the deep, eternal sorrow of life—that sorrow which can be avoided by none who rightly live; yet never had life towered before me so rich and so well worth living out, so capable of high exultation, pure purpose, full satisfaction, and sufficient reward. My quarrel with existence was made up.
"The merely great are, all in all, No more than what the merely small Esteem them. Man's opinion Neither conferred nor can remove This man's dominion."
Three years passed—an even way. In three years there happened little of importance—little, that is, of open importance—to either of us. I read that sentence again, and can not help smiling; "to either of us." It shows the progress that our friendship has made. Yes, it had grown every day.
I had no past, painful or otherwise, which I could even wish to conceal; I had no thought that I desired hidden from the man who had become my other self. What there was of good in me, what of evil, he saw. It was laid open to him, and he appeared to consider that the good predominated over the bad; for, from that first day of meeting, our intimacy went on steadily in one direction—increasing, deepening. He was six years older than I was. At the end of this time of which I speak he was one-and-thirty, I five-and-twenty; but we met on equal ground—not that I had anything approaching his capacities in any way. I do not think that had anything to do with it. Our happiness did not depend on mental supremacy. I loved him—because I could not help it; he me, because—upon my word, I can think of no good reason—probably because he did.
And yet we were as unlike as possible. He had habits of reckless extravagance, or what seemed to me reckless extravagance, and a lordly manner (when he forgot himself) of speaking of things, which absolutely appalled my economical burgher soul. I had certain habits, too, the outcomes of my training, and my sparing, middle-class way of living, which I saw puzzled him very much. To cite only one insignificant incident. We were both great readers, and, despite our sometimes arduous work, contrived to get through a good amount of books in the year. One evening he came home with a brand-new novel, in three volumes, in his hands.
"Here, Friedel; here is some mental dissipation for to-night. Drop that Schopenhauer, and study Heyse. Here is 'Die Kinder der Welt;' it will suit our case exactly, for it is what we are ourselves."
"How clean it looks!" I observed, innocently.
"So it ought, seeing that I have just paid for it."
"Paid for it!" I almost shouted. "Paid for it! You don't mean that you have bought the book!"
"Calm thy troubled spirit! You don't surely mean that you thought me capable of stealing the book?"
"You are hopeless. You have paid at least eighteen marks for it."
"That's the figure to a pfennig."
"Well," said I, with conscious superiority, "you might have had the whole three volumes from the library for five or six groschen."
"I know. But their copy looked so disgustingly greasy I couldn't have touched it; so I ordered a new one."
"Very well. Your accounts will look well when you come to balance and take stock," I retorted.
"What a fuss about a miserable eighteen marks!" said he, stretching himself out, and opening a volume. "Come, Sig, learn how the children of the world are wiser in their generation than the children of light, and leave that low person to prematurely age himself by beginning to balance his accounts before they are ripe for it."
"I don't know whether you are aware that you are talking the wildest and most utter rubbish that was ever conceived," said I, nettled. "There is simply no sense in it. Given an income of—"
"Aber, ich bitte Dich!" he implored, though laughing; and I was silent.
But his three volumes of "Die Kinder der Welt" furnished me with many an opportunity to "point a moral or adorn a tale," and I believe really warned him off one or two other similar extravagances. The idea of men in our position recklessly ordering three-volume novels because the circulating library copy happened to be greasy, was one I could not get over for a long time.
We still inhabited the same rooms at No. 45, in the Wehrhahn. We had outstayed many other tenants; men had come and gone, both from our house and from those rooms over the way whose windows faced ours. We passed our time in much the same way—hard work at our profession, and, with Eugen at least, hard work out of it; the education of his boy, whom he made his constant companion in every leisure moment, and taught, with a wisdom that I could hardly believe—it seemed so like inspiration—composition, translation, or writing of his own—incessant employment of some kind. He never seemed able to pass an idle moment; and yet there were times when, it seemed to me, his work did not satisfy him, but rather seemed to disgust him.
Once when I asked him if it were so, he laid down his pen and said, "Yes."
"Then why do you do it?"
"Because—for no reason that I know; but because I am an unreasonable fool."
"An unreasonable fool to work hard?"
"No; but to go on as if hard work now can ever undo what years of idleness have done."
"Do you believe in work?" I asked.
"I believe it is the very highest and holiest thing there is, and the grandest purifier and cleanser in the world. But it is not a panacea against every ill. I believe that idleness is sometimes as strong as work, and stronger. You may do that in a few years of idleness which a life-time of afterwork won't cover, mend, or improve. You may make holes in your coat from sheer laziness, and then find that no amount of stitching will patch them up again."
I seldom answered these mystic monologues. Love gives a wonderful sharpness even to dull wits; it had sharpened mine so that I often felt he indulged in those speeches out of sheer desire to work off some grief or bitterness from his heart, but that a question might, however innocent, overshoot the mark, and touch a sore spot—the thing I most dreaded. And I did not feel it essential to my regard for him to know every item of his past.
In such cases, however, when there is something behind—when one knows it, only does not know what it is (and Eugen had never tried to conceal from me that something had happened to him which he did not care to tell)—then, even though one accept the fact, as I accepted it, without dispute or resentment, one yet involuntarily builds theories, has ideas, or rather the ideas shape themselves about the object of interest, and take their coloring from him, one can not refrain from conjectures, surmises. Mine were necessarily of the most vague and shadowy description; more negative than active, less theories as to what he had been or done than inferences from what he let fall in talk or conduct as to what he had not been or done.
In our three years' acquaintance, it is true, there had not been much opportunity for any striking display on his part of good or bad qualities; but certainly ample opportunity of testing whether he were, taken all in all, superior, even with, or inferior to the average man of our average acquaintance. And, briefly speaking, to me he had become a standing model of a superior man.
I had by this time learned to know that when there were many ways of looking at a question, that one, if there were such an one, which was less earthily practical, more ideal and less common than the others, would most inevitably be the view taken by Eugen Courvoisier, and advocated by him with warmth, energy, and eloquence to the very last. The point from which he surveyed the things and the doings of life was, taken all in all, a higher one than that of other men, and was illumined with something of the purple splendor of that "light that never was on sea or land." A less practical conduct, a more ideal view of right and wrong—sometimes a little fantastic even—always imbued with something of the knightliness which sat upon him as a natural attribute. Ritterlich, Karl Linders called him, half in jest, half in earnest; and ritterlich he was.
In his outward demeanor to the world with which he came in contact, he was courteous to men; to a friend or intimate, as myself, an ever-new delight and joy; to all people, truthful to fantasy; and to women, on the rare occasions on which I ever saw him in their company, he was polite and deferential—but rather overwhelmingly so; it was a politeness which raised a barrier, and there was a glacial surface to the manner. I remarked this, and speculated about it. He seemed to have one manner to every woman with whom he had anything to do; the maid-servant who, at her leisure or pleasure, was supposed to answer our behests (though he would often do a thing himself, alleging that he preferred doing so to "seeing that poor creature's apron"), old Frau Henschel who sold the programmes at the kasse at the concerts, to the young ladies who presided behind a counter, to every woman to whom he spoke a chance word, up to Frau Sybel, the wife of the great painter, who came to negotiate about lessons for the lovely Fraeulein, her daughter, who wished to play a different instrument from that affected by every one else. The same inimitable courtesy, the same unruffled, unrufflable quiet indifference, and the same utter unconsciousness that he, or his appearance, or behavior, or anything about him, could possibly interest them. And yet he was a man eminently calculated to attract women, only he never to this day has been got to believe so, and will often deprecate his poor power of entertaining ladies.
I often watched this little by-play of behavior from and to the fairer sex with silent amusement, more particularly when Eugen and I made shopping expeditious for Sigmund's benefit. We once went to buy stockings—winter stockings for him; it was a large miscellaneous and smallware shop, full of young women behind the counters and ladies of all ages before them.
We found ourselves in the awful position of being the only male creatures in the place. Happy in my insignificance and plainness, I survived the glances that were thrown upon us; I did not wonder that they fell upon my companions. Eugen consulted a little piece of paper on which Frau Schmidt had written down what we were to ask for, and, marching straight up to a disengaged shop-woman, requested to be shown colored woolen stockings.
"For yourself, mein Herr?" she inquired, with a fascinating smile.
"No, thank you; for my little boy," says Eugen, politely, glancing deferentially round at the piles of wool and packets of hosen around.
"Ah, so! For the young gentleman? Bitte, meine Herren, be seated." And she gracefully pushes chairs for us; on one of which I, unable to resist so much affability, sit down.
Eugen remains standing; and Sigmund, desirous of having a voice in the matter, mounts upon his stool, kneels upon it, and leans his elbows on the counter.
The affable young woman returns, and with a glance at Eugen that speaks of worlds beyond colored stockings, proceeds to untie a packet and display her wares. He turns them over. Clearly he does not like them, and does not understand them. They are striped; some are striped latitudinally, others longitudinally. Eugen turns them over, and the young woman murmurs that they are of the best quality.
"Are they?" says he, and his eyes roam round the shop. "Well, Sigmund, wilt thou have legs like a stork, as these long stripes will inevitably make them, or wilt thou have legs like a zebra's back?"
"I should like legs like a little boy, please," is Sigmund's modest expression of a reasonable desire.
Eugen surveys them.
"Von der besten Qualitaet," repeats the young woman, impressively.
"Have you no blue ones?" demands Eugen. "All blue, you know. He wears blue clothes."
"Assuredly, mein Herr, but of a much dearer description; real English, magnificent."
She retires to find them, and a young lady who has been standing near us turns and observes:
"Excuse me—you want stockings for your little boy?"
We both assent. It is a joint affair, of equal importance to both of us.
"I wouldn't have those," says she, and I remark her face.
I have seen her often before—moreover, I have seen her look very earnestly at Eugen. I learned later that her name was Anna Sartorius. Ere she can finish, the shop-woman with wreathed smiles still lingering about her face, returns and produces stockings—fine, blue-ribbed stockings, such as the children of rich English parents wear. Their fineness, and the smooth quality of the wool, and the good shape appear to soothe Eugen's feelings. He pushes away his heap of striped ones, which look still coarser and commoner now, observing hopefully and cheerily:
"Ja wohl! That is more what I mean." (The poor dear fellow had meant nothing, but he knew what he wanted when he saw it.) "These look more like thy legs, Sigmund, nicht wahr? I'll take—"
I dug him violently in the ribs.
"Hold on, Eugen! How much do they cost the pair, Fraeulein?"
"Two thalers twenty-five; the very best quality," she says, with a ravishing smile.
"There! eight shillings a pair!" say I. "It is ridiculous."
"Eight shillings!" he repeats, ruefully. "That is too much."
"They are real English, mein Herr," she says, feelingly.
"But, um Gotteswillen! don't we make any like them in Germany?"
"Oh, sir!" she says, reproachfully.
"Those others are such brutes," he remarks, evidently wavering.
I am in despair. The young woman is annoyed to find that he does not even see the amiable looks she has bestowed upon him, so she sweeps back the heap of striped stockings and announces that they are only three marks the pair—naturally inferior, but you can not have the best article for nothing.
Fraeulein Sartorius, about to go, says to Eugen:
"Mein Herr, ask for such and such an article. I know they keep them, and you will find it what you want."
Eugen, much touched and much surprised (as he always is and has been) that any one should take an interest in him, makes a bow, and a speech, and rushes off to open the door for Fraeulein Sartorius, thanking her profusely for her goodness. The young lady behind the counter smiles bitterly, and now looks as if butter would not melt in her mouth. I, assuming the practical, mention the class of goods referred to by Fraeulein Sartorius, which she unwillingly brings forth, and we straightway purchase. The errand accomplished, Eugen takes Sigmund by the hand, makes a grand bow to the young woman, and instructs his son to take off his hat, and, this process being complete, we sally forth again, and half-way home Eugen remarks that it was very kind of that young lady to help us.
"Very," I assent, dryly, and when Sigmund has contributed the artless remark that all the ladies laughed at us and looked at us, and has been told by his father not to be so self-conceited, for that no one can possibly wish to look at us, we arrive at home, and the stockings are tried on.
Constantly I saw this willingness to charm on the part of women; constantly the same utter ignorance of any such thought on the part of Eugen, who was continually expressing his surprise at the kindness of people, and adding with the gravest simplicity that he had always found it so, at which announcement Karl laughed till he had to hold his sides.
And Sigmund? Since the day when Courvoisier had said to me, slowly and with difficulty, the words about parting, he had mentioned the subject twice—always with the same intention expressed. Once it was when I had been out during the evening, and he had not. I came into our sitting-room, and found it in darkness. A light came from the inner room, and, going toward it, I found that he had placed the lamp upon a distant stand, and was sitting by the child's crib, his arms folded, his face calm and sad. He rose when he saw me, brought the lamp into the parlor again, and said:
"Pardon, Friedel, that I left you without light. The time of parting will come, you know, and I was taking a look in anticipation of the time when there will be no one there to look at."
I bowed. There was a slight smile upon his lips, but I would rather have heard a broken voice and seen a mien less serene.
The second, and only time, up to now, and the events I am coming to, was once when he had been giving Sigmund a music lesson, as we called it—that is to say, Eugen took his violin and played a melody, but incorrectly, and Sigmund told him every time a wrong note was played, or false time kept. Eugen sat, giving a look now and then at the boy, whose small, delicate face was bright with intelligence, whose dark eyes blazed with life and fire, and whose every gesture betrayed spirit, grace, and quick understanding. A child for a father to be proud of. No meanness there; no littleness in the fine, high-bred features; everything that the father's heart could wish, except perhaps some little want of robustness; one might have desired that the limbs were less exquisitely graceful and delicate—more stout and robust.
As Eugen laid aside his violin, he drew the child toward him, and asked (what I had never heard him ask before):
"What wilt thou be, Sigmund, when thou art a man?"
"Ja, lieber Vater, I will be just like thee."
"How just like me?"
"I will do what thou dost."
"So! Thou wilt be a musiker like me and Friedel?"
"Ja wohl!" said Sigmund, but something else seemed to weigh upon his small mind. He eyed his father with a reflective look, then looked down at his own small hands and slender limbs (his legs were cased in the new stockings).
"How?" inquired his father.
"I should like to be a musician," said Sigmund, who had a fine confidence in his sire, and confided his every thought to him.
"I don't know how to say it," he went on, resting his elbows upon Eugen's knee, and propping his chin upon his two small fists, he looked up into his father's face.
"Friedhelm is a musician, but he is not like thee," he pursued. Eugen reddened; I laughed.
"True as can be, Sigmund," I said.
"'I would I were as honest a man,'" said Eugen, slightly altering "Hamlet;" but as he spoke English I contented myself with shaking my head at him.
"I like Friedel," went on Sigmund. "I love him; he is good. But thou, mein Vater—"
"Well?" asked Eugen again.
"I will be like thee," said the boy, vehemently, his eyes filling with tears. "I will. Thou saidst that men who try can do all they will—and I will, I will."
"Why, my child?"
It was a long earnest look that the child gave the man. Eugen had said to me some few days before, and I had fully agreed with him:
"That child's life is one strife after the beautiful in art, and nature, and life—how will he succeed in the search?"
I thought of this—it flashed subtly through my mind as Sigmund gazed at his father with a childish adoration—then, suddenly springing round his neck, said, passionately:
"Thou art so beautiful—so beautiful! I must be like thee."
Eugen bit his lip momentarily, saying to me in English:
"I am his God, you see, Friedel. What will he do when he finds out what a common clay figure it was he worshiped?"
But he had not the heart to banter the child; only held the little clinging figure to his breast; the breast which Sigmund recognized as his heaven.
It was after this that Eugen said to me when we were alone:
"It must come before he thinks less of me than he does now, Friedel."
To these speeches I could never make any answer, and he always had the same singular smile—the same paleness about the lips and unnatural light in the eyes when he spoke so.
He had accomplished one great feat in those three years—he had won over to himself his comrades, and that without, so to speak, actively laying himself out to do so. He had struck us all as something so very different from the rest of us, that, on his arrival and for some time afterward, there lingered some idea that he must be opposed to us. But I very soon, and the rest by gradual degrees, got to recognize that though in, not of us, yet he was no natural enemy of ours; if he made no advances, he never avoided or repulsed any, but on the very contrary, seemed surprised and pleased that any one should take an interest in him. We soon found that he was extremely modest as to his own merits and eager to acknowledge those of other people.
"And," said Karl Linders once, twirling his mustache, and smiling in the consciousness that his own outward presentment was not to be called repulsive, "he can't help his looks; no fellow can."
At the time of which I speak, his popularity was much greater than he knew, or would have believed if he had been told of it.
Only between him and von Francius there remained a constant gulf and a continual coldness. Von Francius never stepped aside to make friends; Eugen most certainly never went out of his way to ingratiate himself with von Francius. Courvoisier had been appointed contrary to the wish of von Francius, which perhaps caused the latter to regard him a little coldly—even more coldly than was usual with him, and he was never enthusiastic about any one or anything, while to Eugen there was absolutely nothing in von Francius which attracted him, save the magnificent power of his musical talent—a power which was as calm and cold as himself.
Max von Francius was a man about whom there were various opinions, expressed and unexpressed; he was a person who never spoke of himself, and who contrived to live a life more isolated and apart than any one I have ever known, considering that he went much into society, and mixed a good deal with the world. In every circle in Elberthal which could by any means be called select, his society was eagerly sought, nor did he refuse it. His days were full of engagements; he was consulted, and his opinion deferred to in a singular manner—singular, because he was no sayer of smooth things, but the very contrary; because he hung upon no patron, submitted to no dictation, was in his way an autocrat. This state of things he had brought about entirely by force of his own will and in utter opposition to precedent, for the former directors had been notoriously under the thumb of certain influential outsiders, who were in reality the directors of the director. It was the universal feeling that though the Herr Direktor was the busiest man, and had the largest circle of acquaintance of any one in Elberthal, yet that he was less really known than many another man of half his importance. His business as musik-direktor took up much of his time; the rest might have been filled to overflowing with private lessons, but von Francius was not a man to make himself cheap; it was a distinction to be taught by him, the more so as the position or circumstances of a would-be pupil appeared to make not the very smallest impression upon him. Distinguished for hard, practical common sense, a ready sneer at anything high-flown or romantic, discouraging not so much enthusiasm as the outward manifestation of it, which he called melodrama, Max von Francius was the cynosure of all eyes in Elberthal, and bore the scrutiny with glacial indifference.
"Make yourself quite easy, Herr Concertmeister. No child that was left to my charge was ever known to come to harm."
Thus Frau Schmidt to Eugen, as she stood with dubious smile and folded arms in our parlor, and harangued him, while he and I stood, violin-cases in our hands, in a great hurry, and anxious to be off.
"You are very kind, Frau Schmidt, I hope he will not trouble you."
"He is a well-behaved child, and not nearly so disagreeable and bad to do with as most. And at what time will you be back?"
"That is uncertain. It just depends upon the length of the probe."
"Ha! It is all the same. I am going out for a little excursion this afternoon, to the Grafenberg, and I shall take the boy with me."
"Oh, thank you," said Eugen; "that will be very kind. He wants some fresh air, and I've had no time to take him out. You are very kind."
"Trust to me, Herr Concertmeister—trust to me," said she, with the usual imperial wave of her hand, as she at last moved aside from the door-way which she had blocked up and allowed us to pass out. A last wave of the hand from Eugen to Sigmund, and then we hurried away to the station. We were bound for Cologne, where that year the Lower Rhine Musikfest was to be held. It was then somewhat past the middle of April, and the fest came off at Whitsuntide, in the middle of May. We, among others, were engaged to strengthen the Cologne orchestra for the occasion, and we were bidden this morning to the first probe.
We just caught our train, seeing one or two faces of comrades we knew, and in an hour were in Koeln.
"The Tower of Babel," and Raff's Fifth Symphonie, that called "Lenore," were the subjects we had been summoned to practice. They, together with Beethoven's "Choral Fantasia" and some solos were to come off on the third evening of the fest.
The probe lasted a long time; it was three o'clock when we left the concert-hall, after five hours' hard work.
"Come along, Eugen," cried I, "we have just time to catch the three-ten, but only just."
"Don't wait for me," he answered, with an absent look. "I don't think I shall come by it. Look after yourself, Friedel, and auf wiedersehen!"
I was scarcely surprised, for I had seen that the music had deeply moved him, and I can understand the wish of any man to be alone with the remembrance or continuance of such emotions. Accordingly I took my way to the station, and there met one or two of my Elberthal comrades, who had been on the same errand as myself, and, like me, were returning home.
Lively remarks upon the probable features of the coming fest, and the circulation of any amount of loose and hazy gossip respecting composers and soloists followed, and we all went to our usual restauration and dined together. There was an opera that night to which we had probe that afternoon, and I scarcely had time to rush home and give a look at Sigmund before it was time to go again to the theater.
Eugen's place remained empty. For the first time since he had come into the orchestra he was absent from his post, and I wondered what could have kept him.
Taking my way home, very tired, with fragments of airs from "Czar und Zimmermann," in which I had just been playing, the "March" from "Lenore," and scraps of choruses and airs from the "Thurm zu Babel," all ringing in my head in a confused jumble, I sprung up the stairs (up which I used to plod so wearily and so spiritlessly), and went into the sitting-room. Darkness! After I had stood still and gazed about for a time, my eyes grew accustomed to the obscurity. I perceived that a dim gray light still stole in at the open window, and that some one reposing in an easy-chair was faintly shadowed out against it.
"Is that you, Friedhelm?" asked Eugen's voice.
"Lieber Himmel! Are you there? What are you doing in the dark?"
"Light the lamp, my Friedel! Dreams belong to darkness, and facts to light. Sometimes I wish light and facts had never been invented."
I found the lamp and lighted it, carried it up to him, and stood before him, contemplating him curiously. He lay back in our one easy-chair, his hands clasped behind his head, his legs outstretched. He had been idle for the first time, I think, since I had known him. He had been sitting in the dark, not even pretending to do anything.
"There are things new under the sun," said I, in mingled amusement and amaze. "Absent from your post, to the alarm and surprise of all who know you, here I find you mooning in the darkness, and when I illuminate you, you smile up at me in a somewhat imbecile manner, and say nothing. What may it portend?"
He roused himself, sat up, and looked at me with an ambiguous half smile.
"Most punctual of men! most worthy, honest, fidgety old friend," said he, with still the same suppressed smile, "how I honor you! How I wish I could emulate you! How I wish I were like you! and yet, Friedel, old boy, you have missed something this afternoon."
"So! I should like to know what you have been doing. Give an account of yourself."
"I have erred and gone astray, and have found it pleasant. I have done that which I ought not to have done, and am sorry, for the sake of morality and propriety, to have to say that it was delightful; far more delightful than to go on doing just what one ought to do. Say, good Mentor, does it matter? For this occasion only. Never again, as I am a living man."
"I wish you would speak plainly," said I, first putting the lamp and then myself upon the table. I swung my legs about and looked at him.
"And not go on telling you stories like that of Munchausen, in Arabesks, eh? I will be explicit; I will use the indicative mood, present tense. Now then. I like Cologne; I like the cathedral of that town; I like the Hotel du Nord; and, above all, I love the railway station."
"Are you raving?"
"Did you ever examine the Cologne railway station?" he went on, lighting a cigar. "There is a great big waiting-room, which they lock up; there is a delightful place in which you may get lost, and find yourself suddenly alone in a deserted wing of the building, with an impertinent porter, who doesn't understand one word of Eng—of your native tongue—"
"Are you mad?" was my varied comment.
"And while you are in the greatest distress, separated from your friends, who have gone on to Elberthal (like mine), and struggling to make this porter understand you, you may be encountered by a mooning individual—a native of the land—and you may address him. He drives the fumes of music from his brain, and looks at you, and finds you charming—more than charming. My dear Friedhelm, the look in your eyes is quite painful to see. By the exercise of a little diplomacy, which, as you are charmingly naive, you do not see through, he manages to seal an alliance by which you and he agree to pass three or four hours in each other's society, for mutual instruction and entertainment. The entertainment consists of cutlets, potatoes—the kind called kartoffeln frittes, which they give you very good at the Nord—and the wine known to us as Doctorberger. The instruction is varied, and is carried on chiefly in the aisle of the Koelner Dom, to the sound of music. And when he is quite spell-bound, in a magic circle, a kind of golden net or cloud, he pulls out an earthly watch, made of dust and dross ('More fool he,' your eye says, and you are quite right), and sees that time is advancing. A whole army of horned things with stings, called feelings of propriety, honor, correctness, the right thing, etc., come in thick battalions in sturmschritt upon him, and with a hasty word he hurries her—he gets off to the station. There is still an hour, for both are coming to Elberthal—an hour of unalloyed delight; then"—he snapped his fingers—"a drosky, an address, a crack of the whip, and ade!"
I sat and stared at him while he wound up this rhodomontade by singing:
"Ade, ade, ade! Ja, Scheiden und Meiden thut Weh!"
"You are too young and fair," he presently resumed, "too slight and sober for apoplexy; but a painful fear seizes me that your mental faculties are under some slight cloud. There is a vacant look in your usually radiant eyes; a want of intelligence in the curve of your rosy lips—"
"Eugen! Stop that string of fantastic rubbish! Where have you been, and what have you been doing?"
"I have not deserved that from you. Haven't I been telling you all this time where I have been and what I have been doing? There is a brutality in your behavior which is to a refined mind most lamentable."
"But where have you been, and what have you done?"
"Another time, mein lieber—another time!"
With this misty promise I had to content myself. I speculated upon the subject for that evening, and came to the conclusion that he had invented the whole story, to see whether I would believe it (for we had all a reprehensible habit of that kind), and very soon the whole circumstance dropped from my memory.
On the following morning I had occasion to go to the public eye hospital. Eugen and I had interested ourselves to procure a ticket for free, or almost free, treatment as an out-patient for a youth whom we knew—one of the second violins—whose sight was threatened, and who, poor boy, could not afford to pay for proper treatment. Eugen being busy, I went to receive the ticket.
It was the first time I had been in the place. I was shown into a room with the light somewhat obscured, and there had to wait some few minutes. Every one had something the matter with his or her eyes—at least so I thought, until my own fell upon a girl who leaned, looking a little tired and a little disappointed, against a tall desk at one side of the room.
She struck me on the instant as no feminine appearance had ever struck me before. She, like myself, seemed to be waiting for some one or something. She was tall and supple in figure, and her face was girlish and very innocent-looking; and yet, both in her attitude and countenance there was a little pride, some hauteur. It was evidently natural to her, and sat well upon her. A slight but exquisitely molded figure, different from those of our stalwart Elberthaler Maedchen—finer, more refined and distinguished, and a face to dream of. I thought it then, and I say it now. Masses, almost too thick and heavy, of dark auburn hair, with here and there a glint of warmer hue, framed that beautiful face—half woman's, half child's. Dark-gray eyes, with long dark lashes and brows; cheeks naturally very pale, but sensitive, like some delicate alabaster, showing the red at every wave of emotion; something racy, piquant, unique, enveloped the whole appearance of this young girl. I had never seen anything at all like her before.
She looked wearily round the room, and sighed a little. Then her eyes met mine; and seeing the earnestness with which I looked at her, she turned away, and a slight, very slight, flush appeared in her cheek.
I had time to notice (for everything about her interested me) that her dress was of the very plainest and simplest kind, so plain as to be almost poor, and in its fashion not of the newest, even in Elberthal.
Then my name was called out. I received my ticket, and went to the probe at the theater.
"Wishes are pilgrims to the vale of tears."
A week—ten days passed. I did not see the beautiful girl again—nor did I forget her. One night at the opera I found her. It was "Lohengrin"—but she has told all that story herself—how Eugen came in late (he had a trick of never coming in till the last minute, and I used to think he had some reason for it)—and the recognition and the cut direct, first on her side, then on his.
Eugen and I walked home together, arm in arm, and I felt provoked with him.
"I say, Eugen, did you see the young lady with Vincent and the others in the first row of the parquet?"
"I saw some six or eight ladies of various ages in the first row of the parquet. Some were old and some were young. One had a knitted shawl over her head, which she kept on during the whole of the performance."
"Don't be so maddening. I said the young lady with Vincent and Fraeulein Sartorius. By the bye, Eugen, do you know, or have you ever known her?"
"Who is she?"
"Oh, bother! The young lady I mean sat exactly opposite to you and me—a beautiful young girl; an Englaenderin—fair, with that hair that we never see here, and—"
"In a brown hat—sitting next to Vincent. I saw her—yes."
"She saw you too."
"She must have been blind if she hadn't."
"Have you seen her before?"
"I have seen her before—yes."
"And spoken to her?"
"Even spoken to her."
"Do tell me what it all means."
"Are you so struck with her, Friedel? Don't lose your heart to her, I warn you."
"Why?" I inquired, wilily, hoping the answer would give me some clew to his acquaintance with her.
"Because, mein Bester, she is a cut above you and me, in a different sphere, one that we know nothing about. What is more, she knows it, and shows it. Be glad that you can not lay yourself open to the snub that I got to-night."
There was so much bitterness in his tone that I was surprised. But a sudden remembrance flushed into my mind of his strange remarks after I had left him that day at Cologne, and I laughed to myself, nor, when he asked me, would I tell him why. That evening he had very little to say to Karl Linders and myself.
Eugen never spoke to me of the beautiful girl who had behaved so strangely that evening, though we saw her again and again.
Sometimes I used to meet her in the street, in company with the dark, plain girl, Anna Sartorius, who, I fancied, always surveyed Eugen with a look of recognition. The two young women formed in appearance an almost startling contrast. She came to all the concerts, as if she made music a study—generally she was with a stout, good-natured-looking German Fraeulein, and the young Englishman, Vincent. There was always something rather melancholy about her grace and beauty.
Most beautiful she was; with long, slender, artist-like hands, the face a perfect oval, but the features more piquant than regular; sometimes a subdued fire glowed in her eyes and compressed her lips, which removed her altogether from the category of spiritless beauties—a genus for which I never had the least taste.
One morning Courvoisier and I, standing just within the entrance to the theater orchestra, saw two people go by. One, a figure well enough known to every one in Elberthal, and especially to us—that of Max von Francius. Did I ever say that von Francius was an exceedingly handsome fellow, in a certain dark, clean-shaved style? On that occasion he was speaking with more animation than was usual with him, and the person to whom he had unbent so far was the fair English woman—that enigmatical beauty who had cut my friend at the opera. She also was looking animated and very beautiful; her face turned to his with a smile—a glad, gratified smile. He was saying:
"But in the next lesson, you know—"
They passed on. I turned to ask Eugen if he had seen. I needed not to put the question. He had seen. There was a forced smile upon his lips. Before I could speak he had said:
"It's time to go in, Friedel; come along!" With which he turned into the theater, and I followed thoughtfully.
Then it was rumored that at the coming concert—the benefit of von Francius—a new soprano was to appear—a young lady of whom report used varied tones; some believable facts at least we learned about her. Her name, they said was Wedderburn; she was an English woman, and had a most wonderful voice. The Herr Direktor took a very deep interest in her; he not only gave her lessons; he had asked to give her lessons, and intended to form of her an artiste who should one day be to the world a kind of Patti, Lucca, or Nilsson.
I had no doubt in my own mind as to who she was, but for all that I felt considerable excitement on the evening of the haupt-probe to the "Verlorenes Paradies."
Yes, I was right. Miss Wedderburn, the pupil of von Francius, of whom so much was prophesied, was the beautiful, forlorn-looking English girl. The feeling which grew upon me that evening, and which I never found reason afterward to alter, was that she was modest, gentle, yet spirited, very gifted, and an artiste by nature and gift, yet sadly ill at ease and out of place in that world into which von Francius wished to lead her.
She sat quite near to Eugen and me, and I saw how alone she was, and how she seemed to feel her loneliness. I saw how certain young ladies drew themselves together, and looked at her (it was on this occasion that I first began to notice the silent behavior of women toward each other, and the more I have observed, the more has my wonder grown and increased), and whispered behind their music, and shrugged their shoulders when von Francius, seeing how isolated she seemed, bent forward and said a few kind words to her.
I liked him for it. After all, he was a man. But his distinguishing the child did not add to the delights of her position—rather made it worse. I put myself in her place as well as I could, and felt her feelings when von Francius introduced her to one of the young ladies near her, who first stared at him, then at her, then inclined her head a little forward and a little backward, turned her back upon Miss Wedderburn, and appeared lost in conversation of the deepest importance with her neighbor. And I thought of the words which Karl Linders had said to us in haste and anger, and after a disappointment he had lately had, "Das weib ist der teufel." Yes, woman is the devil sometimes, thought I, and a mean kind of devil too. A female Mephistopheles would not have damned Gretchen's soul, nor killed her body, she would have left the latter on this earthly sphere, and damned her reputation.
Von Francius was a clever man, but he made a grand mistake that night, unless he were desirous of making his protegee as uncomfortable as possible. How could those ladies feel otherwise than insulted at seeing the man of ice so suddenly attentive and bland to a nobody, an upstart, and a beautiful one?
The probe continued, and still she sat alone and unspoken to, her only acquaintance or companion seeming to be Fraeulein Sartorius, with whom she had come in. I saw how, when von Francius called upon her to do her part, and the looks which had hitherto been averted from her were now turned pitilessly and unwinkingly upon her, she quailed. She bit her lip; her hand trembled. I turned to Eugen with a look which said volumes. He sat with his arms folded, and his face perfectly devoid of all expression, gazing straight before him.
Miss Wedderburn might have been satisfied to the full with her revenge. That was a voice! such a volume of pure, exquisite melody as I had rarely heard. After hearing that, all doubts were settled. The gift might be a blessing or a curse—let every one decide that for himself, according to his style of thinking—but it was there. She possessed the power which put her out of the category of commonplace, and had the most melodious "Open, Sesame!" with which to besiege the doors of the courts in which dwell artists—creative and interpretative.
The performance finished the gap between her and her companions. Their looks said, "You are not one of us." My angry spirit said, "No; you can never be like her."
She seemed half afraid of what she had done when it was over, and shrunk into herself with downcast eyes and nervous quivering of the lips at the subdued applause of the men. I wanted to applaud too, but I looked at Eugen. I had instinctively given him some share in the affairs of this lovely creature—a share, which he always strenuously repudiated, both tacitly and openly.
Nevertheless, when I saw him I abstained from applauding, knowing, by a lightning-quick intuition, that it would be highly irritating to him. He showed no emotion; if he had done, I should not have thought the occasion was anything special to him. It was his absurd gravity, stony inexpressiveness, which impressed me with the fact that he was moved—moved against his will and his judgment. He could no more help approving both of her and her voice than he could help admiring a perfect, half-opened rose.
It was over, and we went out of the saal, across the road, and home.
Sigmund, who had not been very well that day, was awake, and restless. Eugen took him up, wrapped him in a little bed-gown, carried him into the other room, and sat down with him. The child rested his head on the loved breast, and was soothed.
* * * * *
She had gone; the door had closed after her. Eugen turned to me, and took Sigmund into his arms again.
"Mein Vater, who is the beautiful lady, and why did you speak so harshly to her? Why did you make her cry?"
The answer, though ostensibly spoken to Sigmund, was a revelation to me.
"That I may not have to cry myself," said Eugen, kissing him.
"Could the lady make thee cry?" demanded Sigmund, sitting up, much excited at the idea.
Another kiss and a half laugh was the answer. Then he bade him go to sleep, as he did not understand what he was talking about.
By and by Sigmund did drop to sleep. Eugen carried him to his bed, tucked him up, and returned. We sat in silence—such an uncomfortable constrained silence, as had never before been between us. I had a book before me. I saw no word of it. I could not drive the vision away—the lovely, pleading face, the penitence. Good heavens! How could he repulse her as he had done? Her repeated request that he would take that money—what did it all mean? And, moreover, my heart was sore that he had concealed it all from me. About the past I felt no resentment; there was a secret there which I respected; but I was cut up at this. The more I thought of it, the keener was the pain I felt.
I looked up. Eugen was leaning across the table and his hand was stretched toward me; his eyes looked full into mine. I answered his look, but I was not clear yet.
"Forgive thee what?"
"This playing with thy confidence."
"Don't mention it," I forced myself to say, but the sore feeling still remained. "You have surely a right to keep your affairs to yourself if you choose."
"You will not shake hands? Well, perhaps I have no right to ask it; but I should like to tell you all about it."
I put my hand into his.
"I was wounded," said I, "it is true. But it is over."
"Then listen, Friedel."
He told me the story of his meeting with Miss Wedderburn. All he said of the impression she had made upon him was:
"I thought her very charming, and the loveliest creature I had ever seen. And about the trains. It stands in this way. I thought a few hours of her society would make me very happy, and would be like—oh, well! I knew that in the future, if she ever should see me again, she would either treat me with distant politeness as an inferior, or, supposing she discovered that I had cheated her, would cut me dead. And as it did not matter, as I could not possibly be an acquaintance of hers in the future, I gave myself that pleasure then. It has turned out a mistake on my part, but that is nothing new; my whole existence has been a monstrous mistake. However, now she sees what a churl's nature was under my fair-seeming exterior, her pride will show her what to do. She will take a wrong view of my character, but what does that signify? She will say that to be deceitful first and uncivil afterward are the main features of the German character, and when she is at Cologne on her honey-moon, she will tell her bride-groom about this adventure, and he will remark that the fellow wanted horsewhipping, and she—"
"There! You have exercised your imagination quite sufficiently. Then you intend to keep up this farce of not recognizing her. Why?"
He hesitated, looked as nearly awkward as he could, and said, a little constrainedly:
"Because I think it will be for the best."
"For you or for her?" I inquired, not very fairly, but I could not resist it.
Eugen flushed all over his face.
"What a question!" was all he said.
"I do not think it such a remarkable question. Either you have grown exceedingly nervous as to your own strength of resistance or your fear for hers."
"Friedhelm," said he, in a cutting voice, "that is a tone which I should not have believed you capable of taking. It is vulgar, my dear fellow, and uncalled for; and it is so unlike you that I am astonished. If you had been one of the other fellows—"
I fired up.
"Excuse me, Eugen, it might be vulgar if I were merely chaffing you, but I am not; and I think, after what you have told me, that I have said very little. I am not so sure of her despising you. She looks much more as if she were distressed at your despising her."
"If you can mention an instance in her behavior this evening which looked as if she were desirous of snubbing you, I should be obliged by your mentioning it," I continued:
"Well—well. If she had wished to snub you she would have sent you that money through the post, and made an end of it. She simply desired, as was evident all along, to apologize for having been rude to a person who had been kind to her. I can quite understand it, and I am not sure that your behavior will not have the very opposite effect to that you expect."
"I think you are mistaken. However, it does not matter; our paths lie quite apart. She will have plenty of other things to take up her time and thoughts. Anyhow I am glad that you and I are quits once more."
So was I. We said no more upon the subject, but I always felt as if a kind of connecting link existed between my friend and me, and that beautiful, solitary English girl.
The link was destined to become yet closer. The concert was over at which she sung. She had a success. I see she has not mentioned it; a success which isolated her still more from her companions, inasmuch as it made her more distinctly professional and them more severely virtuous.
One afternoon when Eugen and I happened to have nothing to do, we took Sigmund to the Grafenberg. We wandered about in the fir wood, and at last came to a pause and rested. Eugen lay upon his back and gazed up into the thickness of brown-green fir above, and perhaps guessed at the heaven beyond the dark shade. I sat and stared before me through the straight red-brown stems across the ground,
"With sheddings from the pining umbrage tinged,"
to an invisible beyond which had charms for me, and was a kind of symphonic beauty in my mind. Sigmund lay flat upon his stomach, kicked his heels and made intricate patterns with the fir needles, while he hummed a gentle song to himself in a small, sweet voice, true as a lark's, but sadder. There was utter stillness and utter calm all round.
Presently Eugen's arm stole around Sigmund and drew him closer and closer to him, and they continued to look at each other until a mutual smile broke upon both faces, and the boy said, his whole small frame as well as his voice quivering (the poor little fellow had nerves that vibrated to the slightest emotion): "I love thee."
A light leaped into the father's eyes; a look of pain followed it quickly.
"And I shall never leave thee," said Sigmund.
Eugen parried the necessity of speaking by a kiss.
"I love thee too, Friedel," continued he, taking my hand. "We are very happy together, aren't we?" And he laughed placidly to himself.
Eugen, as if stung by some tormenting thought, sprung up and we left the wood.
Oh, far back, by-gone day! There was a soft light over you shed by a kindly sun. That was a time in which joy ran a golden thread through the gray homespun of every-day life.
Back to the restauration at the foot of the berg, where Sigmund was supplied with milk and Eugen and I with beer, where we sat at a little wooden table in a garden and the pleasant clack of friendly conversation sounded around; where the women tried to make friends with Sigmund, and the girls whispered behind their coffee-cups or (pace, elegant fiction!) their beer-glasses, and always happened to be looking up if our eyes roved that way. Two poor musiker and a little boy; persons of no importance whatever, who could scrape their part in the symphony with some intelligence and feel they had done their duty. Well, well! it is not all of us who can do even so much. I know some instruments that are always out of tune. Let us be complacent where we justly can. The opportunities are few.
We took our way home. The days were long, and it was yet light when we returned and found the reproachful face of Frau Schmidt looking for us, and her arms open to receive the weary little lad who had fallen asleep on his father's shoulder.
I went upstairs, and, by a natural instinct, to the window. Those facing it were open; some one moved in the room. Two chords of a piano were struck. Some one came and stood by the window, shielded her eyes from the rays of the setting sun which streamed down the street and looked westward. Eugen was passing behind me. I pulled him to the window, and we both looked—silently, gravely.
The girl dropped her hand; her eyes fell upon us. The color mounted to her cheek; she turned away and went to the interior of the room. It was May Wedderburn.
"Also!" said Eugen, after a pause. "A new neighbor; it reminds me of one of Andersen's 'Maerchen,' but I don't know which."
"For though he lived aloof from ken, The world's unwitnessed denizen, The love within him stirs Abroad, and with the hearts of men His own confers."
The story of my life from day to day was dull enough, same enough for some time after I went to live at the Wehrhahn. I was studying hard, and my only variety was the letters I had from home; not very cheering, these. One, which I received from Adelaide, puzzled me somewhat. After speaking of her coming marriage in a way which made me sad and uncomfortable, she condescended to express her approval of what I was doing, and went on:
"I am catholic in my tastes. I suppose all our friends would faint at the idea of there being a 'singer' in the family. Now, I should rather like you to be a singer—only be a great one—not a little twopenny-halfpenny person who has to advertise for engagements.
"Now I am going to give you some advice. This Herr von Francius—your teacher or whatever he is. Be cautious what you are about with him. I don't say more, but I say that again. Be cautious! Don't burn your fingers. Now, I have not much time, and I hate writing letters, as you know. In a week I am to be married, and then—nous verrons. We go to Paris first, and then on to Rome, where we shall winter—to gratify my taste, I wonder, or Sir Peter's for moldering ruins, ancient pictures, and the Coliseum by moonlight? I have no doubt that we shall do our duty by the respectable old structures. Remember what I said, and write to me now and then.
I frowned and puzzled a little over this letter. Be cautious? In what possible way could I be cautious? What need could there be for it when all that passed between me and von Francius was the daily singing lesson at which he was so strict and severe, sometimes so sharp and cutting with me. I saw him then; I saw him also at the constant proben to concerts whose season had already begun; proben to the "Passions-musik," the "Messiah," etc. At one or two of these concerts I was to sing. I did not like the idea, but I could not make von Francius see it as I did. He said I must sing—it was part of my studies, and I was fain to bend to his will.
Von Francius—I looked at Adelaide's letter, and smiled again. Von Francius had kept his word; he had behaved to me as a kind elder brother. He seemed instinctively to understand the wish, which was very strong on my part, not to live entirely at Miss Hallam's expense—to provide, partially at any rate, for myself, if possible. He helped me to do this. Now he brought me some music to be copied; now he told me of a young lady who wanted lessons in English—now of one little thing—now of another, which kept me, to my pride and joy, in such slender pocket-money as I needed. Truly, I used to think in those days, it does not need much money nor much room for a person like me to keep her place in the world. I wished to trouble no one—only to work as hard as I could, and do the work that was set for me as well as I knew how. I had my wish and so far was not unhappy.
But what did Adelaide mean? True, I had once described von Francius to her as young, that is youngish, clever and handsome. Did she, remembering my well-known susceptibility, fear that I might fall in love with him and compromise myself by some silly Schwaermerei? I laughed about all by myself at the very idea of such a thing. Fall in love with von Francius, and—my eyes fell upon the two windows over the way. No; my heart was pure of the faintest feeling for him, save that of respect, gratitude, and liking founded at that time more on esteem than spontaneous growth. And he—I smiled at that idea, too.
In all my long interviews with von Francius throughout our intercourse he maintained one unvaried tone, that of a kind, frank, protecting interest, with something of the patron on his part. He would converse with me about Schiller and Goethe, true; he would also caution me against such and such shop-keepers as extortioners, and tell me the place where they gave the largest discount on music paid for on the spot; would discuss the "Waldstein" or "Appassionata" with me, or the beauties of Rubinstein or the deep meanings of Schumann, also the relative cost of living en pension or providing for one's self.
No. Adelaide was mistaken. I wished, parenthetically, that she could make the acquaintance of von Francius, and learn how mistaken—and again my eyes fell upon the opposite windows. Friedhelm Helfen leaned from one, holding fast Courvoisier's boy. The rich Italian coloring of the lovely young face; the dusky hair; the glow upon the cheeks, the deep blue of his serge dress, made the effect of a warmly tinted southern flower; it was a flower-face too; delicate and rich at once.
Adelaide's letter dropped unheeded to the floor. Those two could not see me, and I had a joy in watching them.
To say, however, that I actually watched my opposite neighbors would not be true. I studiously avoided watching them; never sat in the window; seldom showed myself at it, though in passing I sometimes allowed myself to linger, and so had glimpses of those within. They were three and I was one. They were the happier by two. Or if I knew that they were out, that a probe was going on, or an opera or concert, there was nothing I liked better than to sit for a time and look to the opposite windows. They were nearly always open, as were also mine, for the heat of the stove was oppressive to me, and I preferred to temper it with a little of the raw outside air. I used sometimes to hear from those opposite rooms the practicing or playing of passages on the violin and violoncello—scales, shakes, long complicated flourishes and phrases. Sometimes I heard the very strains that I had to sing to: airs, scraps of airs, snatches from operas, concerts and symphonies. They were always humming and singing things. They came home haunted with "The Last Rose," from "Marta"—now some air from "Faust," "Der Freischuetz," or "Tannhauser."
But one air was particular to Eugen, who seemed to be perfectly possessed by it—that which I had heard him humming when I first met him—the March from "Lenore." He whistled it and sung it; played it on violin, 'cello and piano; hummed it first thing in the morning and last thing at night; harped upon it until in despair his companion threw books and music at him, and he, dodging them, laughed, begged pardon, was silent for five minutes, and then the March da Capo set in a halting kind of measure to the ballad.
By way of a slight and wholesome variety there was the whole repertory of "Volkslieder," from
"Du, du, liegst mir im Herzen; Du, du, liegst mir im Sinn,"
"Maedele, ruck, ruck, ruck An meine gruene Seite."
Sometimes they—one or both of them with the boy—might be seen at the window leaning out, whistling or talking. When doors banged and quick steps rushed up or down the stairs two steps at a time I knew it was Courvoisier. Friedhelm Helfen's movements were slower and more sedate. I grew to know his face as well as Eugen's, and to like it better the more I saw of it. A quite young, almost boyish face, with an inexpressibly pure, true, and good expression upon the mouth and in the dark-brown eyes. Reticent, as most good faces are, but a face which made you desire to know the owner of it, made you feel that you could trust him in any trial. His face reminded me in a distant manner of two others, also faces of musicians, but greater in their craft than he, they being creators and pioneers, while he was only a disciple, of Beethoven and of the living master, Rubinstein. A gentle, though far from weak face, and such a contrast in expression and everything else to that of my musician, as to make me wonder sometimes whether they had been drawn to each other from very oppositeness of disposition and character. That they were very great friends I could not doubt; that the leadership was on Courvoisier's side was no less evident. Eugen's affection for Helfen seemed to have something fatherly in it, while I could see that both joined in an absorbing worship of the boy, who was a very Croesus in love if in nothing else. Sigmund had, too, an adorer in a third musician, a violoncellist, one of their comrades, who apparently spent much of his spare substance in purchasing presents of toys and books and other offerings, which he laid at the shrine of St. Sigmund, with what success I could not tell. Beyond this young fellow, Karl Linders, they had not many visitors. Young men used occasionally to appear with violin-cases in their hands, coming for lessons, probably.
All these things I saw without absolutely watching for them; they made that impression upon me which the most trifling facts connected with a person around whom cling all one's deepest pleasures and deepest pains ever do and must make. I was glad to know them, but at the same time they impressed the loneliness and aloofness of my own life more decidedly upon me.
I remember one small incident which at the time it happened struck home to me. My windows were open; it was an October afternoon, mild and sunny. The yellow light shone with a peaceful warmth upon the afternoon quietness of the street. Suddenly that quietness was broken. The sound of music, the peculiar blatant noise of trumpets smote the air. It came nearer, and with it the measured tramp of feet. I rose and went to look out. A Hussar regiment was passing; before them was borne a soldier's coffin; they carried a comrade to his grave. The music they played was the "Funeral March for the Death of a Hero," from the "Sinfonia Eroica." Muffled, slow, grand and mournful, it went wailing and throbbing by. The procession passed slowly on in the October sunshine, along the Schadowstrasse, turning off by the Hofgarten, and so on to the cemetery. I leaned out of the window and looked after it—forgetting all outside, till just as the last of the procession passed by my eyes fell upon Courvoisier going into his house, and who presently entered the room. He was unperceived by Friedhelm and Sigmund, who were looking after the procession. The child's face was earnest, almost solemn—he had not seen his father come up. I saw Helfen's lip caress Sigmund's loose black hair that waved just beneath them.
Then I saw a figure—only a black shadow to my eyes which were dazzled by the sun—come behind them. One hand was laid upon Helfen's shoulder, another turned the child's chin. What a change! Friedhelm's grave face smiled: Sigmund sprung aside, made a leap to his father, who stooped to him, and clasping his arms tight round his neck was raised up in his arms.
They were all satisfied—all smiling—all happy. I turned away. That was a home—that was a meeting of three affections. What more could they want? I shut the window—shut it all out, and myself with it into the cold, feeling my lips quiver. It was very fine, this life of independence and self-support, but it was dreadfully lonely.
The days went on. Adelaide was now Lady Le Marchant. She had written to me again, and warned me once more to be careful what I was about. She had said that she liked her life—at least she said so in her first two or three letters, and then there fell a sudden utter silence about herself, which seemed to me ominous.
Adelaide had always acted upon the assumption that Sir Peter was a far from strong-minded individual, with a certain hardness and cunning perhaps in relation to money matters, but nothing that a clever wife with a strong enough sense of her own privileges could not overcome.
She said nothing to me about herself. She told me about Rome; who was there; what they did and looked like; what she wore; what compliments were paid to her—that was all.
Stella told me my letters were dull—and I dare say they were—and that there was no use in her writing, because nothing ever happened in Skernford, which was also true. And for Eugen, we were on exactly the same terms—or rather no terms—as before. Opposite neighbors, and as far removed as if we had lived at the antipodes.
My life, as time went on, grew into a kind of fossilized dream, in which I rose up and lay down, practiced so many hours a day, ate and drank and took my lesson, and it seemed as if I had been living so for years, and should continue to live on so to the end of my days—until one morning my eyes would not open again, and for me the world would have come to an end.
"And nearer still shall further be, And words shall plague and vex and buffet thee."
It was December, close upon Christmas. Winter at last in real earnest. A black frost. The earth bound in fetters of iron. The land gray; the sky steel; the wind a dagger. The trees, leafless and stark, rattled their shriveled boughs together in that wind.
It met you at corners and froze the words out of your mouth; it whistled a low, fiendish, malignant whistle round the houses; as vicious and little louder than the buzz of a mosquito. It swept, thin, keen and cutting, down the Koenigsallee, and blew fine black dust into one's face.
It cut up the skaters upon the pond in the Neue Anlage, which was in the center of the town, and comparatively sheltered; but it was in its glory whistling across the flat fields leading to the great skating-ground of Elberthal in general—the Schwanenspiegel at the Grafenbergerdahl.
The Grafenberg was a low chain of what, for want of a better name, may be called hills, lying to the north of Elberthal. The country all around this unfortunate apology for a range of hills was, if possible, flatter than ever. The Grafenbergerdahl was, properly, no "dale" at all, but a broad plain of meadows, with the railway cutting them at one point, then diverging and running on under the Grafenberg.
One vast meadow which lay, if possible, a trifle lower than the rest, was flooded regularly by the autumn rains, but not deeply. It was frozen over now, and formed a model skating place, and so, apparently, thought the townspeople, for they came out, singly or in bodies, and from nine in the morning till dusk the place was crowded, and the merry music of the iron on the ice ceased not for a second.
I discovered this place of resort by accident one day when I was taking a constitutional, and found myself upon the borders of the great frozen mere covered with skaters. I stood looking at them, and my blood warmed at the sight. If there were one thing—one accomplishment upon which I prided myself, it was this very one—skating.
In a drawing-room I might feel awkward—confused among clever people, bashful among accomplished ones; shy about music and painting, diffident as to my voice, and deprecatory in spirit as to the etiquette to be observed at a dinner-party. Give me my skates and put me on a sheet of ice, and I was at home.
As I paused and watched the skaters, it struck me that there was no reason at all why I should deny myself that seasonable enjoyment. I had my skates, and the mere was large enough to hold me as well as the others—indeed, I saw in the distance great tracts of virgin ice to which no skater seemed yet to have reached.
I went home, and on the following afternoon carried out my resolution; though it was after three o'clock before I could set out.
A long, bleak way. First up the merry Jaegerhofstrasse, then through the Malkasten garden, up a narrow lane, then out upon the open, bleak road, with that bitter wind going ping-ping at one's ears and upon one's cheek. Through a big gate-way, and a court-yard pertaining to an orphan asylum—along a lane bordered with apple-trees, through a rustic arch, and, hurrah! the field was before me—not so thickly covered as yesterday, for it was getting late, and the Elberthalers did not seem to understand the joy of careering over the black ice by moonlight, in the night wind. It was, however, as yet far from dark, and the moon was rising in silver yonder, in a sky of a pale but clear blue.
I quickly put on my skates—stumbled to the edge, and set off. I took a few turns, circling among the people—then, seeing several turn to look at me, I fixed my eyes upon a distant clump of reeds rising from the ice, and resolved to make it my goal. I could only just see it, even with my long-sighted eyes, but struck out for it bravely. Past group after group of the skaters who turned to look at my scarlet shawl as it flashed past. I glanced at them and skimmed smoothly on, till I came to the outside circle where there was a skater all alone, his hands thrust deep into his great-coat pockets, the collar of the same turned high about his ears, and the inevitable little gray cloth Studentenhut crowning the luxuriance of waving dark hair. He was gliding round in complicated figures and circles, doing the outside edge for his own solitary gratification, so far as I could see; active, graceful, and muscular, with practiced ease and assured strength in every limb. It needed no second glance on my part to assure me who he was—even if the dark bright eyes had not been caught by the flash of my cloak, and gravely raised for a moment as I flew by. I dashed on, breasting the wind. To reach the bunch of reeds seemed more than ever desirable now. I would make it my sole companion until it was time to go away. At least he had seen me, and I was safe from any contretemps—he would avoid me as strenuously as I avoided him. But the first fresh lust after pleasure was gone. Just one moment's glance into a face had had the power to alter everything so much. I skated on, as fast, as surely as ever, but,
"A joy has taken flight."
The pleasant sensation of solitude, which I could so easily have felt among a thousand people had he not been counted among them, was gone. The roll of my skates upon the ice had lost its music for me; the wind felt colder—I sadder. At least I thought so. Should I go away again now that this disturbing element had appeared upon the scene? No, no, no, said something eagerly within me, and I bit my lip, and choked back a kind of sob of disgust as I realized that despite my gloomy reflections my heart was beating a high, rapid march of—joy! as I skimmed, all alone, far away from the crowd, among the dismal withered reeds, and round the little islets of stiffened grass and rushes which were frozen upright in their places.
The daylight faded, and the moon rose. The people were going away. The distant buzz of laughter had grown silent. I could dimly discern some few groups, but very few, still left, and one or two solitary figures. Even my preternatural eagerness could not discern who they were! The darkness, the long walk home, the probe at seven, which I should be too tired to attend, all had quite slipped from my mind; it was possible that among those figures which I still dimly saw, was yet remaining that of Courvoisier, and surely there was no harm in my staying here.
I struck out in another direction, and flew on in the keen air; the frosty moon shedding a weird light upon the black ice; I saw the railway lines, polished, gleaming too in the light; the belt of dark firs to my right; the red sand soil frozen hard and silvered over with frost. Flat and tame, but still beautiful. I felt a kind of rejoicing in it; I felt it home. I was probably the first person who had been there since the freezing of the mere, thought I, and that idea was soon converted to a certainty in my mind, for in a second my rapid career was interrupted. At the furthest point from help or human presence the ice gave way with a crash, and I shrieked aloud at the shock of the bitter water. Oh, how cold it was! how piercing, frightful, numbing! It was not deep—scarcely above my knees, but the difficulty was how to get out. Put my hand where I would the ice gave way. I could only plunge in the icy water, feeling the sodden grass under my feet. What sort of things might there not be in that water? A cold shudder, worse than any ice, shot through me at the idea of newts and rats and water-serpents, absurd though it was. I screamed again in desperation, and tried to haul myself out by catching at the rushes. They were rotten with the frost and gave way in my hand. I made a frantic effort at the ice again; stumbled and fell on my knees in the water. I was wet all over now, and I gasped. My limbs ached agonizingly with the cold. I should be, if not drowned, yet benumbed, frozen to death here alone in the great mere, among the frozen reeds and under the steely sky.
I was pausing, standing still, and rapidly becoming almost too benumbed to think or hold myself up, when I heard the sound of skates and the weird measure of the "Lenore March" again. I held my breath; I desired intensely to call out, shriek aloud for help, but I could not. Not a word would come.
"I did hear some one," he muttered, and then in the moonlight he came skating past, saw me, and stopped.
"Sie, Fraeulein!" he began, quickly, and then altering his tone. "The ice has broken. Let me help you."
"Don't come too near; the ice is very thin—it doesn't hold at all," I chattered, scarcely able to get the words out.
"You are cold?" he asked, and smiled. I felt the smile cruel; and realized that I probably looked rather ludicrous.
"Cold!" I repeated, with an irrepressible short sob.
He knelt down upon the ice at about a yard's distance from me.
"Here it is strong," said he, holding out his arms. "Lean this way, mein Fraeulein, and I will lift you out."
"Oh, no! You will certainly fall in yourself."
"Do as I tell you," he said, imperatively, and I obeyed, leaning a little forward. He took me round the waist, lifted me quietly out of the water, and placed me upon the ice at a discreet distance from the hole in which I had been stuck, then rose himself, apparently undisturbed by the effort.
Miserable, degraded object that I felt! My clothes clinging round me; icy cold, shivering from head to foot; so aching with cold that I could no longer stand. As he opened his mouth to say something about its being "happily accomplished," I sunk upon my knees at his feet. My strength had deserted me; I could no longer support myself.
"Frozen!" he remarked to himself, as he stooped and half raised me. "I see what must be done. Let me take off your skates—sonst geht's nicht."
I sat down upon the ice, half hysterical, partly from the sense of the degrading, ludicrous plight I was in, partly from intense yet painful delight at being thus once more with him, seeing some recognition in his eyes again, and hearing some cordiality in his voice.
He unfastened my skates deftly and quickly, slung them over his arm, and helped me up again. I essayed feebly to walk, but my limbs were numb with cold. I could not put one foot before the other, but could only cling to his arm in silence.
"So!" said he, with a little laugh. "We are all alone here! A fine time for a moonlight skating."
"Ah! yes," said I, wearily, "but I can't move."
"You need not," said he. "I am going to carry you away in spite of yourself, like a popular preacher."
He put his arm round my waist and bade me hold fast to his shoulder. I obeyed, and directly found myself carried along in a swift, delightful movement, which seemed to my drowsy, deadened senses, quick as the nimble air, smooth as a swallow's flight. He was a consummate master in the art of skating—that was evident. A strong, unfailing arm held me fast. I felt no sense of danger, no fear lest he should fall or stumble; no such idea entered my head.
We had far to go—from one end of the great Schwanenspiegel to the other. Despite the rapid motion, numbness overcame me; my eyes closed, my head sunk upon my hands, which were clasped over his shoulder. A sob rose to my throat. In the midst of the torpor that was stealing over me, there shot every now and then a shiver of ecstasy so keen as to almost terrify me. But then even that died away. Everything seemed to whirl round me—the meadows and trees, the stiff rushes and the great black sheet of ice, and the white moon in the inky heavens became only a confused dream. Was it sleep or faintness, or coma? What was it that seemed to make my senses as dull as my limbs, and as heavy? I scarcely felt the movement, as he lifted me from the ice to the ground. His shout did not waken me, though he sent the full power of his voice ringing out toward the pile of buildings to our left.
With the last echo of his voice I lost consciousness entirely; all failed and faded, and then vanished before me, until I opened my eyes again feebly, and found myself in a great stony-looking room, before a big black stove, the door of which was thrown open. I was lying upon a sofa, and a woman was bending over me. At the foot of the sofa, leaning against the wall, was Courvoisier, looking down at me, his arms folded, his face pensive.
"Oh, dear!" cried I, starting up. "What is the matter? I must go home."
"You shall—when you can," said Courvoisier, smiling as he had smiled when I first knew him, before all these miserable misunderstandings had come between us.
My apprehensions were stilled. It did me good, warmed me, sent the tears trembling to my eyes, when I found that his voice had not resumed the old accent of ice, nor his eyes that cool, unrecognizing stare which had frozen me so many a time in the last few weeks.
"Trinken sie 'mal, Fraeulein," said the woman, holding a glass to my lips; it held hot spirits and water, which smoked.
"Bah!" replied I, gratefully, and turning away. "Nie, nie!" she repeated. "You must drink just a Schnaeppschen, Fraeulein."
I pushed it away with some disgust. Courvoisier took it from her hand and held it to me.
"Don't be so foolish and childish. Think of your voice after this," said he, smiling kindly; and I, with an odd sensation, choked down my tears and drank it. It was bad—despite my desire to please, I found it very bad.
"Yes, I know," said he, with a sympathetic look, as I made a horrible face after drinking it, and he took the glass. "And now this woman will lend you some dry things. Shall I go straight to Elberthal and send a drosky here for you, or will you try to walk home?"
"Oh, I will walk. I am sure it would be the best—if—do you think it would?"
"Do you feel equal to it? is the question," he answered, and I was surprised to see that though I was looking hard at him he did not look at me, but only into the glass he held.
"Yes," said I. "And they say that people who have been nearly drowned should always walk; it does them good."
"In that case then," said he, repressing a smile, "I should say it would be better for you to try. But pray make haste and get your wet things off, or you will come to serious harm."
"I will be as quick as ever I can."
"Now hurry," he replied, sitting down, and pulling one of the woman's children toward him. "Come, mein Junge, tell me how old you are?"
I followed the woman to an inner room, where she divested me of my dripping things, and attired me in a costume consisting of a short full brown petticoat, a blue woolen jacket, thick blue knitted stockings, and a pair of wide low shoes, which habiliments constituted the uniform of the orphan asylum of which she was matron, and belonged to her niece.
She expatiated upon the warmth of the dress, and did not produce any outer wrap or shawl, and I, only anxious to go, said nothing, but twisted up my loose hair, and went back into the large stony room before spoken of, from which a great noise had been proceeding for some time.