I stood in the door-way and saw Eugen surrounded by other children, in addition to the one he had first called to him. There were likewise two dogs, and they—the children, the dogs, and Herr Concertmeister Courvoisier most of all—were making as much noise as they possibly could. I paused for a moment to have the small gratification of watching the scene. One child on his knee and one on his shoulder pulling his hair, which was all ruffled and on end, a laugh upon his face, a dancing light in his eyes as if he felt happy and at home among all the little flaxen heads.
Could he be the same man who had behaved so coldly to me? My heart went out to him in this kinder moment. Why was he so genial with those children and so harsh to me, who was little better than a child myself?
His eye fell upon me as he held a shouting and kicking child high in the air, and his own face laughed all over in mirth and enjoyment.
"Come here, Miss Wedderburn; this is Hans, there is Fritz, and here is Franz—a jolly trio; aren't they?"
He put the child into his mother's arms, who regarded him with an eye of approval, and told him that it was not every one who knew how to ingratiate himself with her children, who were uncommonly spirited.
"Ready?" he asked, surveying me and my costume and laughing. "Don't you feel a stranger in these garments?"
"I should have said silk and lace and velvet, or fine muslins and embroideries, were more in your style."
"You are quite mistaken. I was just thinking how admirably this costume suits me, and that I should do well to adopt it permanently."
"Perhaps there was a mirror in the inner room," he suggested.
"A mirror! Why?"
"Then your idea would quite be accounted for. Young ladies must of course wish to wear that which becomes them."
"Very becoming!" I sneered, grandly.
"Very," he replied, emphatically. "It makes me wish to be an orphan."
"Ah, mein Herr," said the woman, reproachfully, for he had spoken German. "Don't jest about that. If you have parents—"
"No, I haven't," he interposed, hastily.
"Or children either?"
"I should not else have understood yours so well," he laughed. "Come, my—Miss Wedderburn, if you are ready."
After arranging with the woman that she should dry my things and return them, receiving her own in exchange, we left the house.
It was quite moonlight now; the last faint streak of twilight had disappeared. The way that we must traverse to reach the town stretched before us, long, straight, and flat.
"Where is your shawl?" he asked, suddenly.
"I left it; it was wet through."
Before I knew what he was doing, he had stripped off his heavy overcoat, and I felt its warmth and thickness about my shoulders.
"Oh, don't!" I cried, in great distress, as I strove to remove it again, and looked imploringly into his face.
"Don't do that. You will get cold; you will—"
"Get cold!" he laughed, as if much amused, as he drew the coat around me and fastened it, making no more ado of my resisting hands than if they had been bits of straw.
"So!" said he, pushing one of my arms through the sleeve. "Now," as he still held it fastened together, and looked half laughingly at me, "do you intend to keep it on or not?"
"I suppose I must."
"I call that gratitude. Take my arm—so. You are weak yet."
We walked on in silence for some time. I was happy; for the first time since the night I had heard "Lohengrin" I was happy and at rest. True, no forgiveness had been asked or extended; but he had ceased to behave as if I were not forgiven.
"Am I not going too fast?" he inquired.
"Yes, I am, I see. We will moderate the pace a little."
We walked more slowly. Physically I was inexpressibly weary. The reaction after my drenching had set in; I felt a languor which amounted to pain, and an aching and weakness in every limb. I tried to regret the event, but could not; tried to wish it were not such a long walk to Elberthal, and found myself perversely regretting that it was such a short one.
At length the lights of the town came in sight. I heaved a deep sigh. Soon it would be over—"the glory and the dream."
"I think we are exactly on the way to your house, nicht wahr?" said he.
"Yes; and to yours since we are opposite neighbors."
"You are not as lonely as I am, though; you have companions."
"And—your little boy."
"Sigmund also," was all he said.
But "auch Sigmund" may express much more in German than in English. It did so then.
"And you?" he added.
"I am alone," said I.
I did not mean to be foolishly sentimental. The sigh that followed my words was involuntary.
"So you are. But I suppose you like it?"
"Like it? What can make you think so?"
"Well, at least you have good friends."
"Have I? Oh, yes, of course!" said I, thinking of von Francius.
"Do you get on with your music?" he next inquired.
"I hope so. I—do you think it strange that I should live there all alone?" I asked, tormented with a desire to know what he did think of me, and crassly ready to burst into explanations on the least provocation. I was destined to be undeceived.
"I have not thought about it at all; it is not my business."
Snub number one. He had spoken quickly, as if to clear himself as much as possible from any semblance of interest to me.
I went on, rashly plunging into further intricacies of conversation:
"It is curious that you and I should not only live near to each other, but actually have the same profession at last."
Snub number two. But I persevered.
"Music. Your profession is music, and mine will be."
"I do not see the resemblance. There is little point of likeness between a young lady who is in training for a prima-donna and an obscure musiker, who contributes his share of shakes and runs to the symphony."
"I in training for a prima-donna! How can you say so?"
"Do we not all know the forte of Herr von Francius? And—excuse me—are not your windows opposite to ours, and open as a rule? Can I not hear the music you practice, and shall I not believe my own ears?"
"I am sure your own ears do not tell you that a future prima-donna lives opposite to you," said I, feeling most insanely and unreasonably hurt and cut up at the idea.
"Will you tell me that you are not studying for the stage?"
"I never said I was not. I said I was not a future prima-donna. My voice is not half good enough. I am not clever enough, either."
"As if voice or cleverness had anything to do with it. Personal appearance and friends at court are the chief things. I have known prime-donne—seen them, I mean—and from my place below the foot-lights I have had the impertinence to judge them upon their own merits. Provided they were handsome, impudent, and unscrupulous enough, their public seemed gladly to dispense with art, cultivation, or genius in their performances and conceptions."
"And you think that I am, or shall be in time, handsome, impudent, and unscrupulous enough," said I, in a low choked tone.
My fleeting joy was being thrust back by hands most ruthless. Unmixed satisfaction for even the brief space of an hour or so was not to be included in my lot.
"O, bewahre!" said he, with a little laugh, that chilled me still further. "I think no such thing. The beauty is there, mein Fraeulein—pardon me for saying so—"
Indeed, I was well able to pardon it. Had he been informing his grandmother that there were the remains of a handsome woman to be traced in her, he could not have spoken more unenthusiastically.
"The beauty is there. The rest, as I said, when one has friends, these things are arranged for one."
"But I have no friends."
"No," with again that dry little laugh. "Perhaps they will be provided at the proper time, as Elijah was fed by the ravens. Some fine night—who knows—I may sit with my violin in the orchestra at your benefit, and one of the bouquets with which you are smothered may fall at my feet and bring me aus der fuge. When that happens, will you forgive me if I break a rose from the bouquet before I toss it on to the feet of its rightful owner? I promise that I will seek for no note, nor spy out any ring or bracelet. I will only keep the rose in remembrance of the night when I skated with you across the Schwanenspiegel, and prophesied unto you the future. It will be a kind of 'I told you so,' on my part."
Mock sentiment, mock respect, mock admiration; a sneer in the voice, a dry sarcasm in the words. What was I to think? Why did he veer round in this way, and from protecting kindness return to a raillery which was more cruel than his silence? My blood rose, though, at the mockingness of his tone.
"I don't know what you mean," said I, coldly. "I am studying operatic music. If I have any success in that line, I shall devote myself to it. What is there wrong in it? The person who has her living to gain must use the talents that have been given her. My talent is my voice; it is the only thing I have—except, perhaps, some capacity to love—those—who are kind to me. I can do that, thank God! Beyond that I have nothing, and I did not make myself."
"A capacity to love those who are kind to you," he said, hastily. "And do you love all who are kind to you?"
"Yes," said I, stoutly, though I felt my face burning.
"And hate them that despitefully use you?"
"Naturally," I said, with a somewhat unsteady laugh. A rush of my ruling feeling—propriety and decent reserve—tied my tongue, and I could not say, "Not all—not always."
He, however, snapped, as it were, at my remark or admission, and chose to take it as if it were in the deepest earnest; for he said, quickly, decisively, and, as I thought, with a kind of exultation:
"Ah, then I will be disagreeable to you."
This remark, and the tone in which it was uttered, came upon me with a shock which I can not express. He would be disagreeable to me because I hated those who were disagreeable to me, ergo, he wished me to hate him. But why? What was the meaning of the whole extraordinary proceeding?
"Why?" I asked, mechanically, and asked nothing more.
"Because then you will hate me, unless you have the good sense to do so already."
"Why? What effect will my hatred have upon you?"
"None. Not a jot. Gar keine. But I wish you to hate me, nevertheless."
"So you have begun to be disagreeable to me by pulling me out of the water, lending me your coat, and giving me your arm all along this hard, lonely road," said I, composedly.
"That was before I knew of your peculiarity. From to-morrow morning on I shall begin. I will make you hate me. I shall be glad if you hate me."
I said nothing. My head felt bewildered; my understanding benumbed. I was conscious that I was very weary—conscious that I should like to cry, so bitter was my disappointment.
As we came within the town, I said:
"I am very sorry, Herr Courvoisier, to have given you so much trouble."
"That means that I am to put you into a cab and relieve you of my company."
"It does not," I ejaculated, passionately, jerking my hand from his arm. "How can you say so? How dare you say so?"
"You might meet some of your friends, you know."
"And I tell you I have no friends except Herr von Francius, and I am not accountable to him for my actions."
"We shall soon be at your house now."
"Herr Courvoisier, have you forgiven me?"
"Forgiven you what?"
"My rudeness to you once."
"Ah, mein Fraeulein," said he, shrugging his shoulders a little and smiling slightly, "you are under a delusion about that circumstance. How can I forgive that which I never resented?"
This was putting the matter in a new, and, for me, an humbling light.
"Never resented!" I murmured, confusedly.
"Never. Why should I resent it? I forgot myself, nicht wahr! and you showed me at one and the same time my proper place and your own excellent good sense. You did not wish to know me, and I did not resent it. I had no right to resent it."
"Excuse me," said I, my voice vibrating against my will; "you are wrong there, and either you are purposely saying what is not true, or you have not the feelings of a gentleman." His arm sprung a little aside as I went on, amazed at my own boldness. "I did not show you your 'proper place.' I did not show my own good sense. I showed my ignorance, vanity, and surprise. If you do not know that, you are not what I take you for—a gentleman."
"Perhaps not," said he, after a pause. "You certainly did not take me for one then. Why should I be a gentleman? What makes you suppose I am one?"
Questions which, however satisfactorily I might answer them to myself, I could not well reply to in words. I felt that I had rushed upon a topic which could not be explained, since he would not own himself offended. I had made a fool of myself and gained nothing by it. While I was racking my brain for some satisfactory closing remark, we turned a corner and came into the Wehrhahn. A clock struck seven.
"Gott im Himmel!" he exclaimed. "Seven o'clock! The opera—da geht's schon an! Excuse me, Fraeulein, I must go. Ah, here is your house."
He took the coat gently from my shoulders, wished me gute besserung, and ringing the bell, made me a profound bow, and either not noticing or not choosing to notice the hand which I stretched out toward him, strode off hastily toward the theater, leaving me cold, sick, and miserable, to digest my humble pie with what appetite I might.
Christmas morning. And how cheerfully I spent it! I tried first of all to forget that it was Christmas, and only succeeded in impressing the fact more forcibly and vividly upon my mind, and with it others; the fact that I was alone especially predominating. And a German Christmas is not the kind of thing to let a lonely person forget his loneliness in; its very bustle and union serves to emphasize their solitude to solitary people.
I had seen such quantities of Christmas-trees go past the day before. One to every house in the neighborhood. One had even come here, and the widow of the piano-tuner had hung it with lights and invited some children to make merry for the feast of Weihnachten Abend.
Every one had a present except me. Every one had some one with whom to spend their Christmas—except me. A little tiny Christmas-tree had gone to the rooms whose windows faced mine. I had watched its arrival; for once I had broken through my rule of not deliberately watching my neighbors, and had done so. The tree arrived in the morning. It was kept a profound mystery from Sigmund, who was relegated, much to his disgust, to the society of Frau Schmidt down-stairs, who kept a vigilant watch upon him and would not let him go upstairs on any account.
The afternoon gradually darkened down. My landlady invited me to join her party down-stairs; I declined. The rapturous, untutored joy of half a dozen children had no attraction for me; the hermit-like watching of the scene over the way had. I did not light my lamp. I was secure of not being disturbed; for Frau Lutzler, when I would not come to her, had sent my supper upstairs, and said she would not be able to come to me again that evening.
"So much the better!" I murmured, and put myself in a window corner.
The lights over the way were presently lighted. For a moment I trembled lest the blinds were going to be put down, and all my chance of spying spoiled. But no; my neighbors were careless fellows—not given to watching their neighbors themselves nor to suspecting other people of it. The blinds were left up, and I was free to observe all that passed.
Toward half past five I saw by the light of the street-lamp, which was just opposite, two people come into the house; a young man who held the hand of a little girl. The young man was Karl Linders, the violoncellist; the little girl, I supposed, must be his sister. They went upstairs, or rather Karl went upstairs; his little sister remained below.
There was a great shaking of hands and some laughing when Karl came into the room. He produced various packages which were opened, their contents criticised, and hung upon the tree. Then the three men surveyed their handiwork with much satisfaction. I could see the whole scene. They could not see my watching face pressed against the window, for they were in light and I was in darkness.
Friedhelm went out of the room, and, I suppose, exerted his lungs from the top of the stairs, for he came back, flushed and laughing, and presently the door opened, and Frau Schmidt, looking like the mother of the Gracchi, entered, holding a child by each hand. She never moved a muscle. She held a hand of each, and looked alternately at them. Breathless, I watched. It was almost as exciting as if I had been joining in the play—more so, for to me everything was sur l'imprevu—revealed piecemeal, while to them some degree of foreknowledge must exist, to deprive the ceremony of some of its charms.
There was awed silence for a time. It was a pretty scene. In the middle of the room a wooden table; upon it the small green fir, covered with little twinkling tapers; the orthodox waxen angels, and strings of balls and bonbons hanging about—the white Christ-kind at the top in the arms of Father Christmas. The three men standing in a semi-circle at one side; how well I could see them! A suppressed smile upon Eugen's face, such as it always wore when pleasing other people. Friedhelm not allowing the smile to fully appear upon his countenance, but with a grave delight upon his face, and with great satisfaction beaming from his luminous brown eyes. Karl with his hands in his pockets, and an attitude by which I knew he said, "There! what do you think of that?" Frau Schmidt and the two children on the other side.
The tree was not a big one. The wax-lights were probably cheap ones; the gifts that hung upon the boughs or lay on the table must have been measured by the available funds of three poor musicians. But the whole affair did its mission admirably—even more effectively than an official commission to (let us say) inquire into the cause of the loss of an ironclad. It—the tree I mean, not the commission—was intended to excite joy and delight, and it did excite them to a very high extent. It was meant to produce astonishment in unsophisticated minds—it did that too, and here it has a point in common with the proceedings of the commission respectfully alluded to.
The little girl who was a head taller than Sigmund, had quantities of flaxen hair plaited in a pigtail and tied with light blue ribbon—new; and a sweet face which was a softened girl miniature of her brother's. She jumped for joy, and eyed the tree and the bonbons, and everything else with irrepressible rapture. Sigmund was not given to effusive declaration of his emotion, but after gazing long and solemnly at the show, his eyes turned to his father, and the two smiled in the odd manner they had, as if at some private understanding existing between themselves. Then the festivities were considered inaugurated.
Friedhelm Helfen took the rest of the proceedings into his own hands; and distributed the presents exactly as if he had found them all growing on the tree, and had not the least idea what they were nor whence they came. A doll which fell to the share of the little Gretchen was from Sigmund, as I found from the lively demonstrations that took place. Gretchen kissed him, at which every one laughed, and made him kiss the doll, or receive a kiss from it—a waxy salute which did not seem to cause him much enthusiasm.
I could not see what the other things were, only it was evident that every one gave every one else something, and Frau Schmidt's face relaxed into a stern smile on one or two occasions, as the young men presented her one after the other with some offering, accompanied with speeches and bows and ceremony. A conspicuous parcel done up in white paper was left to the last. Then Friedhelm took it up, and apparently made a long harangue, for the company—especially Karl Linders—became attentive. I saw a convulsive smile twitch Eugen's lips now and then, as the oration proceeded. Karl by and by grew even solemn, and it was with an almost awe-struck glance that he at last received the parcel from Friedhelm's hands, who gave it as if he were bestowing his blessing.
Great gravity, eager attention on the part of the children, who pressed up to him as he opened it; then the last wrapper was torn off, and to my utter amazement and bewilderment Karl drew forth a white woolly animal of indefinite race, on a green stand. The look which crossed his face was indescribable; the shout of laughter which greeted the discovery penetrated even to my ears.
With my face pressed against the window I watched; it was really too interesting. But my spying was put an end to. A speech appeared to be made to Frau Schmidt, to which she answered by a frosty smile and an elaborate courtesy. She was apparently saying good-night, but, with the instinct of a housekeeper, set a few chairs straight, pulled a table-cloth, and pushed a footstool to its place, and in her tour round the room her eyes fell upon the windows. She came and put the shutters to. In one moment it had all flashed from my sight—tree and faces and lamp-light and brightness.
I raised my chin from my hands, and found that I was cold, numb, and stiff. I lighted the lamp, and passed my hands over my eyes; but could not quite find myself, and instead of getting to some occupation of my own, I sat with Richter's "Through Bass and Harmony" before me and a pen in my hand, and wondered what they were doing now.
It was with the remembrance of this evening in my mind to emphasize my loneliness that I woke on Christmas morning.
At post-time my landlady brought me a letter, scented, monogrammed, with the Roman post-mark. Adelaide wrote:
"I won't wish you a merry Christmas. I think it is such nonsense. Who does have a merry Christmas now, except children and paupers? And, all being well—or rather ill, so far as I am concerned—we shall meet before long. We are coming to Elberthal. I will tell you why when we meet. It is too long to write—and too vexatious" (this word was half erased), "troublesome. I will let you know when we come, and our address. How are you getting on?
I was much puzzled with this letter, and meditated long over it. Something lay in the background. Adelaide was not happy. It surely could not be that Sir Peter gave her any cause for discomfort. Impossible! Did he not dote upon her? Was not the being able to "turn him round her finger" one of the principal advantages of her marriage? And yet, that she should be coming to Elberthal of her own will, was an idea which my understanding declined to accept. She must have been compelled to it—and by nothing pleasant. This threw another shadow over my spirit.
Going to the window, I saw again how lonely I was. The people were passing in groups and throngs; it was Christmas-time; they were glad. They had nothing in common with me. I looked inside my room—bare, meager chamber that it was—the piano the only thing in it that was more than barely necessary, and a great wonder came over me.
"What is the use of it all? What is the use of working hard? Why am I leading this life? To earn money, and perhaps applause—some time. Well, and when I have got it—even supposing, which is extremely improbable, that I win it while I am young and can enjoy it—what good will it do me? I don't believe it will make me very happy. I don't know that I long for it very much. I don't know why I am working for it, except because Herr von Francius has a stronger will than I have, and rather compels me to it. Otherwise—
"Well, what should I like? What do I wish for?" At the moment I seemed to feel myself free from all prejudice and all influence, and surveying with a calm, impartial eye possibilities and prospects, I could not discover that there was anything I particularly wished for. Had something within me changed during the last night?
I had been so eager before; I felt so apathetic now. I looked across the way. I dimly saw Courvoisier snatch up his boy, hold him in the air, and then, gathering him to him, cover him with kisses. I smiled. At the moment I felt neutral—experienced neither pleasure nor pain from the sight. I had loved the man so eagerly and intensely—with such warmth, fervor, and humility. It seemed as if now a pause had come (only for a time, I knew, but still a pause) in the warm current of delusion, and I contemplated facts with a dry, unmoved eye. After all—what was he? A man who seemed quite content with his station—not a particularly good or noble man that I could see; with some musical talent which he turned to account to earn his bread. He had a fine figure, a handsome face, a winning smile, plenty of presence of mind, and an excellent opinion of himself.
Stay! Let me be fair—he had only asserted his right to be treated as a gentleman by one whom he had treated in every respect as a lady. He did not want me—nor to know anything about me—else, why could he laugh for very glee as his boy's eyes met his? Want me? No! he was rich already. What he had was sufficient for him, and no wonder, I thought, with a jealous pang.
Who would want to have anything to do with grown-up people, with their larger selfishnesses, more developed self-seeking—robust jealousies and full-grown exactions and sophistications, when they had a beautiful little one like that? A child of one's own—not any child, but that very child to love in that ideal way. It was a relation that one scarcely sees out of a romance; it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
His life was sufficient to him. He did not suffer as I had been suffering. Suppose some one were to offer him a better post than that he now had. He would be glad, and would take it without a scruple. Perhaps, for a little while some casual thought of me might now and then cross his mind—but not for long; certainly in no importunate or troublesome manner. While I—why was I there, if not for his sake? What, when I accepted the proposal of von Francius, had been my chief thought? It had been, though all unspoken, scarcely acknowledged—yet a whispered force—"I shall not lose sight of him—of Eugen Courvoisier." I was rightly punished.
I felt no great pain just now in thinking of this. I saw myself, and judged myself, and remembered how Faust had said once, in an immortal passage, half to himself, half to Mephisto:
"Entbehren sollst du; sollst entbehren."
And that read both ways, it comes to the same thing.
"Entbehren sollst du; sollst entbehren."
It flitted rhythmically through my mind on this dreamful morning, when I seemed a stranger to myself; or rather, when I seemed to stand outside myself, and contemplate, calmly and judicially, the heart which had of late beaten and throbbed with such vivid, and such unreasoning, unconnected pangs. It is as painful and as humiliating a description of self-vivisection as there is, and one not without its peculiar merits.
The end of my reflections was the same as that which is, I believe, often arrived at by the talented class called philosophers, who spend much learning and science in going into the questions about whose skirts I skimmed; many of them, like me, after summing up, say, Cui bono?
So passed the morning, and the gray cloud still hung over my spirits. My landlady brought me a slice of kuchen at dinner-time, for Christmas, and wished me guten appetit to it, for which I thanked her with gravity.
In the afternoon I turned to the piano. After all it was Christmas-day. After beginning a bravura singing exercise, I suddenly stopped myself, and found myself, before I knew what I was about, singing the "Adeste Fidelis"—till I could not sing any more. Something rose in my throat—ceasing abruptly, I burst into tears, and cried plentifully over the piano keys.
"In tears, Fraeulein May! Aber—what does that mean?"
I looked up. Von Francius stood in the door-way, looking not unkindly at me, with a bouquet in his hand of Christmas roses and ferns.
"It is only because it is Christmas," said I.
"Are you quite alone?"
"So am I."
"You! But you have so many friends."
"Have I? It is true, that if friends count by the number of invitations that one has, I have many. Unfortunately I could not make up my mind to accept any. As I passed through the flower-market this morning I thought of you—naturally. It struck me that perhaps you had no one to come and wish you the Merry Christmas and Happy New-year which belongs to you of right, so I came, and have the pleasure to wish it you now, with these flowers, though truly they are not Maibluemchen."
He raised my hand to his lips, and I was quite amazed at the sense of strength, healthiness, and new life which his presence brought.
"I am very foolish," I remarked; "I ought to know better. But I am unhappy about my sister, and also I have been foolishly thinking of old times, when she and I were at home together."
"Ei! That is foolish. Those things—old times and all that—are the very deuce for making one miserable. Strauss—he who writes dance music—has made a waltz, and called it 'The Good Old times.' Lieber Himmel! Fancy waltzing to the memory of old times. A requiem or a funeral march would have been intelligible."
"Well, you must not sit here and let these old times say what they like to you. Will you come out with me?"
"Go out!" I echoed, with an unwilling shrinking from it. My soul preferred rather to shut herself up in her case and turn surlily away from the light outside. But, as usual, he had his way.
"Yes—out. The two loneliest people in Elberthal will make a little zauberfest for themselves. I will show you some pictures. There are some new ones at the exhibition. Make haste."
So calm, so matter-of-fact was his manner, so indisputable did he seem to think his proposition, that I half rose; then I sat down again.
"I don't want to go out, Herr von Francius."
"That is foolish. Quick! before the daylight fades and it grows too dark for the pictures."
Scarcely knowing why I complied, I went to my room and put on my things. What a shabby sight I looked! I felt it keenly; so much, that when I came back and found him seated at the piano, and playing a wonderful in-and-out fugue of immense learning and immense difficulty, and quite without pathos or tenderness, I interrupted him incontinently.
"Here I am, Herr von Francius. You have asked the most shabbily dressed person in Elberthal to be your companion. I have a mind to make you hold to your bargain, whether you like it or not."
Von Francius turned, surveying me from head to foot, with a smile. All the pedagogue was put off. It was holiday-time. I was half vexed at myself for beginning to feel as if it were holiday-time with me too.
We went out together. The wind was raw and cold, the day dreary, the streets not so full as they had been. We went along the street past the Tonhalle, and there we met Courvoisier alone. He looked at us, but though von Francius raised his hat, he did not notice us. There was a pallid change upon his face, a fixed look in his eyes, a strange, drawn, subdued expression upon his whole countenance. My heart leaped with an answering pang. That mood of the morning had fled. I had "found myself again," but again not "happily."
I followed von Francius up the stairs of the picture exhibition. No one was in the room. All the world had other occupations on Christmas afternoon, or preferred the stove-side and the family circle.
Von Francius showed me a picture which he said every one was talking about.
"Why?" I inquired when I had contemplated it, and failed to find it lovely.
"The drawing, the grouping, are admirable, as you must see. The art displayed is wonderful. I find the picture excellent."
"But the subject?" said I.
It was not a large picture, and represented the interior of an artist's atelier. In the foreground a dissipated-looking young man tilted his chair backward as he held his gloves in one hand, and with the other stroked his mustache, while he contemplated a picture standing on an easel before him. The face was hard, worn, blase; the features, originally good, and even beautiful, had had all the latent loveliness worn out of them by a wrong, unbeautiful life. He wore a tall hat, very much to one side, as if to accent the fact that the rest of the company, upon whom he had turned his back, certainly did not merit that he should be at the trouble of baring his head to them. And the rest of the company—a girl, a model, seated on a chair upon a raised dais, dressed in a long, flounced white skirt, not of the freshest, some kind of Oriental wrap falling negligently about it—arms, models of shapeliness, folded, and she crouching herself together as if wearied, or contemptuous, or perhaps a little chilly. Upon a divan near her a man—presumably the artist to whom the establishment pertained—stretched at full length, looking up carelessly into her face, a pipe in his mouth, with indifference and—scarcely impertinence—it did not take the trouble to be a fully developed impertinence—in every gesture. This was the picture; faithful to life, significant in its very insignificance, before which von Francius sat, and declared that the drawing, coloring, and grouping were perfect.[B]
[Footnote B: The original is by Charles Herman, of Brussels.]
"The subject?" he echoed, after a pause. "It is only a scrap of artist-life."
"Is that artist-life?" said I, shrugging my shoulders. "I do not like it at all; it is common, low, vulgar. There is no romance about it; it only reminds one of stale tobacco and flat champagne."
"You are too particular," said von Francius, after a pause, and with a flavor of some feeling which I did not quite understand tincturing his voice.
For my part, I was looking at the picture and thinking of what Courvoisier had said: "Beauty, impudence, assurance, and an admiring public." That the girl was beautiful—at least, she had the battered remains of a decided beauty; she had impudence certainly, and assurance too, and an admiring public, I supposed, which testified its admiration by lolling on a couch and staring at her, or keeping its hat on and turning its back to her.
"Do you really admire the picture, Herr von Francius?" I inquired.
"Indeed I do. It is so admirably true. That is the kind of life into which I was born, and in which I was for a long time brought up; but I escaped from it."
I looked at him in astonishment. It seemed so extraordinary that that model of reticence should speak to me, above all, about himself. It struck me for the very first time that no one ever spoke of von Francius as if he had any one belonging to him. Calm, cold, lonely, self-sufficing—and self-sufficing, too, because he must be so, because he had none other to whom to turn—that was his character, and viewing him in that manner I had always judged him. But what might the truth be?
"Were you not happy when you were young?" I asked, on a quick impulse.
"Happy! Who expects to be happy? If I had been simply not miserable, I should have counted my childhood a good one; but—"
He paused a moment, then went on:
"Your great novelist, Dickens, had a poor, sordid kind of childhood in outward circumstances. But mine was spiritually sordid—hideous, repulsive. There are some plants which spring from and flourish in mud and slime; they are but a flabby, pestiferous growth, as you may suppose. I was, to begin with, a human specimen of that kind; I was in an atmosphere of moral mud, an intellectual hot-bed. I don't know what there was in me that set me against the life; that I never can tell. It was a sort of hell on earth that I was living in. One day something happened—I was twelve years old then—something happened, and it seemed as if all my nature—its good and its evil, its energies and indolence, its pride and humility—all ran together, welded by the furnace of passion into one furious, white-hot rage of anger, rebellion. In an instant I had decided my course; in an hour I had acted upon it. I am an odd kind of fellow, I believe. I quitted that scene and have never visited it since. I can not describe to you the anger I then felt, and to which I yielded. Twelve years old I was then. I fought hard for many years; but, mein Fraeulein"—(he looked at me, and paused a moment)—"that was the first occasion upon which I ever was really angry; it has been the last. I have never felt the sensation of anger since—I mean personal anger. Artistic anger I have known; the anger at bad work, at false interpretations, at charlatanry in art; but I have never been angry with the anger that resents. I tell you this as a curiosity of character. With that brief flash all resentment seemed to evaporate from me—to exhaust itself in one brief, resolute, effective attempt at self-cleansing, self-government."
"Tell me more, Herr von Francius," I besought. "Do not leave off there. Afterward?"
"You really care to hear? Afterward I lived through hardships in plenty; but I had effectually severed the whole connection with that which dragged me down. I used all my will to rise. I am not boasting, but simply stating a peculiarity of my temperament when I tell you that what I determine upon I always accomplish. I determined upon rising, and I have risen to what I am. I set it, or something like it, before me as my goal, and I have attained it."
"Well?" I asked, with some eagerness; for I, after all my unfulfilled strivings, had asked myself Cui bono? "And what is the end of it? Are you satisfied?"
"How quickly and how easily you see!" said he, with a smile. "I value the position I have, in a certain way—that is, I see the advantage it gives me, and the influence. But that deep inner happiness, which lies outside of condition and circumstances—that feeling of the poet in 'Faust'—don't you remember?—
"'I nothing had, and yet enough'—
all that is unknown to me. For I ask myself, Cui bono?"
"Like me," I could not help saying.
"Fraeulein May, the nearest feeling I have had to happiness has been the knowing you. Do you know that you are a person who makes joy?"
"No, indeed I did not."
"It is true, though. I should like, if you do not mind—if you can say it truly—to hear from your lips that you look upon me as your friend."
"Indeed, Herr von Francius, I feel you my very best friend, and I would not lose your regard for anything," I was able to assure him.
And then, as it was growing dark, the woman from the receipt of custom by the door came in and told us that she must close the rooms.
We got up and went out. In the street the lamps were lighted, and the people going up and down.
Von Francius left me at the door of my lodgings.
"Good-evening, liebes Fraeulein; and thank you for your company this afternoon."
* * * * *
A light burned steadily all evening in the sitting-room of my opposite neighbors; but the shutters were closed. I only saw a thin stream coming through a chink.
"Es ist bestimmt, in Gottes Rath, Dass man vom Liebsten was man hat Muss scheiden."
Our merry little zauberfest of Christmas-eve was over. Christmas morning came. I remember that morning well—a gray, neutral kind of day, whose monotony outside emphasized the keenness of emotion within.
On that morning the postman came—a rather rare occurrence with us; for, except with notes from pupils, notices of proben, or other official communications, he seldom troubled us.
It was Sigmund who opened the door; it was he who took the letter, and wished the postman "good-morning" in his courteous little way. I dare say that the incident gave an additional pang afterward to the father, if he marked it, and seldom did the smallest act or movement of his child escape him.
"Father, here is a letter," he said, giving it into Eugen's hand.
"Perhaps it is for Friedel; thou art too ready to think that everything appertains to thy father," said Eugen, with a smile, as he took the letter and looked at it; but before he had finished speaking the smile had faded. There remained a whiteness, a blank, a haggardness.
I had caught a glimpse of the letter; it was large, square, massive, and there was a seal upon the envelope—a regular letter of fate out of a romance.
Eugen took it into his hand, and for once he made no answer to the caress of his child, who put his arms round his neck and wanted to climb upon his knee. He allowed the action, but passively.
"Let me open it!" cried Sigmund. "Let me open thy letter!"
"No, no, child!" said Eugen, in a sharp, pained tone. "Let it alone."
Sigmund looked surprised, and recoiled a little; a shock clouding his eyes. It was all right if his father said no, but a shade presently crossed his young face. His father did not usually speak so; did not usually have that white and pallid look about the eyes—above all, did not look at his son with a look that meant nothing.
Eugen was usually prompt enough in all he did, but he laid aside that letter, and proposed in a subdued tone that we should have breakfast. Which we had, and still the letter lay unopened. And when breakfast was over he even took up his violin and played runs and shakes and scales—and the air of a drinking song, which sounded grotesque in contrast with the surroundings. This lasted for some time, and yet the letter was not opened. It seemed as if he could not open it. I knew that it was with a desperate effort that he at last took it up, and—went into his room and shut the door.
I was reading—that is, I had a book in my hands, and was stretched out in the full luxury of an unexpected holiday upon the couch; but I could no more have read under the new influence, could no more have helped watching Sigmund, than I could help breathing and feeling.
He, Sigmund, stood still for a moment, looking at the closed door; gazing at it as if he expected it to open, and a loved hand to beckon him within. But it remained pitilessly shut, and the little boy had to accommodate himself as well as he could to a new phase in his mental history—the being excluded—left out in the cold. After making an impulsive step toward the door he turned, plunged his hands into his pockets as if to keep them from attacking the handle of that closed door, and walking to the window, gazed out, silent and motionless. I watched; I was compelled to watch. He was listening with every faculty, every fiber, for the least noise, the faintest movement from the room from which he was shut out. I did not dare to speak to him. I was very miserable myself; and a sense of coming loss and disaster was driven firmly into my mind and fixed there—a heavy prevision of inevitable sorrow and pain overhung my mind. I turned to my book and tried to read. It was one of the most delightful of romances that I held—no other than "Die Kinder der Welt"—and the scene was that in which Edwin and Toinette make that delightful, irregular Sunday excursion to the Charlottenburg, but I understood none of it. With that pathetic little real figure taking up so much of my consciousness, and every moment more insistently so, I could think of nothing else.
Dead silence from the room within; utter and entire silence, which lasted so long that my misery grew acute, and still that little figure, which was now growing terrible to me, neither spoke nor stirred. I do not know how long by the clock we remained in these relative positions; by my feelings it was a week; by those of Sigmund, I doubt not, a hundred years. But he turned at last, and with a face from which all trace of color had fled walked slowly toward the closed door.
"Sigmund!" I cried, in a loud whisper. "Come here, my child! Stay here, with me."
"I must go in," said he. He did not knock. He opened the door softly, and went in, closing it after him. I know not what passed. There was silence as deep as before, after one short, inarticulate murmur. There are some moments in this our life which are at once sacrificial, sacramental, and strong with the virtue of absolution for sins past; moments which are a crucible from which a stained soul may come out white again. Such were these—I know it now—in which father and son were alone together.
After a short silence, during which my book hung unheeded from my hand, I left the house, out of a sort of respect for my two friends. I had nothing particular to do, and so strolled aimlessly about, first into the Hofgarten, where I watched the Rhine, and looked Hollandward along its low, flat shores, to where there was a bend, and beyond the bend, Kaiserswerth. It is now long since I saw the river. Fair are his banks higher up—not at Elberthal would he have struck the stranger as being a stream for which to fight and die; but to me there is no part of his banks so lovely as the poor old Schoene Aussicht in the Elberthal Hofgarten, from whence I have watched the sun set flaming over the broad water, and felt my heart beat to the sense of precious possessions in the homely town behind. Then I strolled through the town, and coming down the Koenigsallee, beheld some bustle in front of a large, imposing-looking house, which had long been shut up and uninhabited. It had been a venture by a too shortly successful banker. He had built the house, lived in it three months, and finding himself bankrupt, had one morning disposed of himself by cutting his throat. Since then the house had been closed, and had had an ill name, though it was the handsomest building in the most fashionable part of the town, with a grand porte-cochere in front, and a pleasant, enticing kind of bowery garden behind—the house faced the Exerzierplatz, and was on the promenade of Elberthal. A fine chestnut avenue made the street into a pleasant wood, and yet Koenigsallee No. 3 always looked deserted and depressing. I paused to watch the workmen who were throwing open the shutters and uncovering the furniture. There were some women-servants busy with brush and duster in the hall, and a splendid barouche was being pushed through the porte-cochere into the back premises; a couple of trim-looking English grooms with four horses followed.
"Is some one coming to live here?" I demanded of a workman, who made answer:
"Ja wohl! A rich English milord has taken the house furnished for six months—Sir Le Marchant, oder so etwas. I do not know the name quite correctly. He comes in a few days."
"So!" said I, wondering what attraction Elberthal could offer to a rich English sir or milord, and feeling at the same time a mild glow of curiosity as to him and his circumstances, for I humbly confess it—I had never seen an authentic milord. Elberthal and Koeln were almost the extent of my travels, and I only remembered that at the Niederrheinisches Musikfest last year some one had pointed out to me a decrepit-looking old gentleman, with a bottle-nose and a meaningless eye, as a milord—very, very rich, and exceedingly good. I had sorrowed a little at the time in thinking that he did not personally better grace his circumstances and character, but until this moment I had never thought of him again.
"That is his secretary," pursued the workman to me, in an under-tone, as he pointed out a young man who was standing in the middle of the hall, note-book in hand. "Herr Arkwright. He is looking after us."
"When does the Englaender come?"
"In a few days, with his servants and milady, and milady's maid and dogs and bags and everything. And she—milady—is to have those rooms"—he pointed overhead, and grinned—"those where Banquier Klein was found with his throat cut. He!"
He laughed, and began to sing lustily, "In Berlin, sagt' er."
After giving one more short survey to the house, and wondering why the apartments of a suicide should be assigned to a young and beautiful woman (for I instinctively judged her to be young and beautiful), I went on my way, and my thoughts soon returned to Eugen and Sigmund, and that trouble which I felt was hanging inevitably over us.
* * * * *
Eugen was, that evening, in a mood of utter, cool aloofness. His trouble did not appear to be one that he could confide—at present, at least. He took up his violin and discoursed most eloquent music, in the dark, to which music Sigmund and I listened. Sigmund sat upon my knee, and Eugen went on playing—improvising, or rather speaking the thoughts which were uppermost in his heart. It was wild, strange, melancholy, sometimes sweet, but ever with a ringing note of woe so piercing as to stab, recurring perpetually—such a note as comes throbbing to life now and then in the "Sonate Pathetique," or in Raff's Fifth Symphony.
Eugen always went to Sigmund after he had gone to bed, and talked to him or listened to him. I do not know if he taught him something like a prayer at such times, or spoke to him of supernatural things, or upon what they discoursed. I only know that it was an interchange of soul, and that usually he came away from it looking glad. But to-night, after remaining longer than usual, he returned with a face more haggard than I had seen it yet.
He sat down opposite me at the table, and there was silence, with an ever-deepening, sympathetic pain on my part. At last I raised my eyes to his face; one elbow rested upon the table, and his head leaned upon his hand. The lamp-light fell full upon his face, and there was that in it which would let me be silent no longer, any more than one could see a comrade bleeding to death, and not try to stanch the wound. I stepped up to him and laid my hand upon his shoulder. He looked up drearily, unrecognizingly, unsmilingly at me.
"Eugen, what hast thou?"
"La mort dans l'ame," he answered, quoting from a poem which we had both been reading.
"And what has caused it?"
"Must you know, friend?" he asked. "If I did not need to tell it, I should be very glad."
"I must know it, or—or leave you to it!" said I, choking back some emotion. "I can not pass another day like this."
"And I had no right to let you spend such a day as this," he answered. "Forgive me once again, Friedel—you who have forgiven so much and so often."
"Well," said I, "let us have the worst, Eugen. It is something about—"
I glanced toward the door, on the other side of which Sigmund was sleeping.
His face became set, as if of stone. One word, and one alone, after a short pause, passed his lips—"Ja!"
I breathed again. It was so then.
"I told you, Friedel, that I should have to leave him?"
The words dropped out one by one from his lips, distinct, short, steady.
"That was bad, very bad. The worst, I thought, that could befall; but it seems that my imagination was limited."
"Eugen, what is it?"
"I shall not have to leave him. I shall have to send him away from me."
As if with the utterance of the words, the very core and fiber of resolution melted away and vanished, and the broken spirit turned writhing and shuddering from the phantom that extended its arms for the sacrifice, he flung his arms upon the table; his shoulders heaved. I heard two suppressed, choked-down sobs—the sobs of a strong man—strong alike in body and mind; strongest of all in the heart and spirit and purpose to love and cherish.
"La mort dans l'ame," indeed! He could have chosen no fitter expression.
"Send him away!" I echoed, beneath my breath.
"Send my child away from me—as if I—did not—want him," said Courvoisier, slowly, and in a voice made low and halting with anguish, as he lifted his gaze, dim with the desperate pain of coming parting, and looked me in the face.
I had begun in an aimless manner to pace the room, my heart on fire, my brain reaching wildly after some escape from the fetters of circumstance, invisible but iron strong, relentless as cramps and glaives of tempered steel. I knew no reason, of course. I knew no outward circumstances of my friend's life or destiny. I did not wish to learn any. I did know that since he said it was so it must be so. Sigmund must be sent away! He—we—must be left alone; two poor men, with the brightness gone from our lives.
The scene does not let me rightly describe it. It was an anguish allied in its intensity to that of Gethsemane. Let me relate it as briefly as I can.
I made no spoken assurance of sympathy. I winced almost at the idea of speaking to him. I knew then that we may contemplate, or believe we contemplate, some coming catastrophe for years, believing that so the suffering, when it finally falls, will be lessened. This is a delusion. Let the blow rather come short, sharp, and without forewarning; preparation heightens the agony.
"Friedel," said he at last, "you do not ask why must this be."
"I do not need to ask why. I know that it must be, or you would not do it."
"I would tell you if I could—if I might."
"For Heaven's sake, don't suppose that I wish to pry—" I began. He interrupted me.
"You will make me laugh in spite of myself," said he. "You wish to pry! Now, let me see how much more I can tell you. You perhaps think it wrong, in an abstract light, for a father to send his young son away from him. That is because you do not know what I do. If you did, you would say, as I do, that it must be so—I never saw it till now. That letter was a revelation. It is now all as clear as sunshine."
"Then you consent to take my word that it must be so, without more."
"Indeed, Eugen, I wish for no more."
He looked at me. "If I were to tell you," said he, suddenly, and an impulsive light beamed in his eyes. A look of relief—it was nothing else—of hope, crossed his face. Then he sunk again into his former attitude—as if tired and wearied with some hard battle; exhausted, or what we more expressively call niedergeschlagen.
"Now something more," he went on; and I saw the frown of desperation that gathered upon his brow. He went on quickly, as if otherwise he could not say what had to be said: "When he goes from me, he goes to learn to become a stranger to me. I promise not to see him, nor write to him, nor in any way communicate with him, or influence him. We part—utterly and entirely."
"Eugen! Impossible! Herrgott! Impossible!" cried I, coming to a stop, and looking incredulously at him. That I did not believe. "Impossible!" I repeated, beneath my breath.
"By faith men can move mountains," he retorted.
This, then, was the flavoring which made the cup so intolerable.
"You say that that is and must be wrong under all circumstances," said Eugen, eying me steadily.
I paused. I could almost have found it in my heart to say, "Yes, I do." But my faith in and love for this man had grown with me; as a daily prayer grows part of one's thoughts, so was my confidence in him part of my mind. He looked as if he were appealing to me to say that it must be wrong, and so give him some excuse to push it aside. But I could not. After wavering for a moment, I answered:
"No. I am sure you have sufficient reasons."
"I have. God knows I have."
In the silence that ensued my mind was busy. Eugen Courvoisier was not a religious man, as the popular meaning of religious runs. He did not say of his misfortune, "It is God's will," nor did he add, "and therefore sweet to me." He said nothing of whose will it was; but I felt that had that cause been a living thing—had it been a man, for instance, he would have gripped it and fastened to it until it lay dead and impotent, and he could set his heel upon it.
But it was no strong, living, tangible thing. It was a breathless abstraction—a something existing in the minds of men, and which they call "Right!" and being that—not an outside law which an officer of the law could enforce upon him; being that abstraction, he obeyed it.
As for saying that because it was right he liked it, or felt any consolation from the knowledge—he never once pretended to any such thing; but, true to his character of Child of the World, hated it with a hatred as strong as his love for the creature which it deprived him of. Only—he did it. He is not alone in such circumstances. Others have obeyed and will again obey this invisible law in circumstances as anguishing as those in which he stood, will steel their hearts to hardness while every fiber cries out, "Relent!" or will, like him, writhe under the lash, shake their chained hands at Heaven, and—submit.
"One more question, Eugen. When?"
"A year would seem soon to any of us three."
"In a very short time. It may be in weeks; it may be in days. Now, Friedhelm, have a little pity and don't probe any further."
But I had no need to ask any more questions. The dreary evening passed somehow over, and bed-time came, and the morrow dawned.
For us three it brought the knowledge that for an indefinite time retrospective happiness must play the part of sun on our mental horizon.
"My Lady's Glory."
"Koenigsallee, No. 3," wrote Adelaide to me, "is the house which has been taken for us. We shall be there on Tuesday evening."
I accepted this communication in my own sense, and did not go to meet Adelaide, nor visit her that evening, but wrote a card, saying I would come on the following morning. I had seen the house which had been taken for Sir Peter and Lady Le Marchant—a large, gloomy-looking house, with a tragedy attached to it, which had stood empty ever since I had come to Elberthal.
Up to the fashionable Koenigsallee, under the naked chestnut avenue, and past the great long Caserne and Exerzierplatz—a way on which I did not as a rule intrude my ancient and poverty-stricken garments, I went on the morning after Adelaide's arrival. Lady Le Marchant had not yet left her room, but if I were Miss Wedderburn I was to be taken to her immediately. Then I was taken upstairs, and had time to remark upon the contrast between my sister's surroundings and my own, before I was delivered over to a lady's-maid—French in nationality—who opened a door and announced me as Mlle. Veddairebairne. I had a rapid, dim impression that it was quite the chamber of a grande dame, in the midst of which stood my lady herself, having slowly risen as I came in.
"At last you have condescended to come," said the old proud, curt voice.
"How are you, Adelaide?" said I, originally, feeling that any display of emotion would be unwelcome and inappropriate, and moreover, feeling any desire to indulge in the same suddenly evaporate.
She took my hand loosely, gave me a little chilly kiss on the cheek, and then held me off at arms'-length to look at me.
I did not speak. I could think of nothing agreeable to say. The only words that rose to my lips were, "How very ill you look!" and I wisely concluded not to say them. She was very beautiful, and looked prouder and more imperious than ever. But she was changed. I could not tell what it was. I could find no name for the subtle alteration; ere long I knew only too well what it was. Then, I only knew that she was different from what she had been, and different in a way that aroused tenfold all my vague forebodings.
She was wasted too—had gone, for her, quite thin; and the repressed restlessness of her eyes made a disagreeable impression upon me. Was she perhaps wasted with passion and wicked thoughts? She looked as if it would not have taken much to bring the smoldering fire into a blaze of full fury—as if fire and not blood ran in her veins.
She was in a loose silk dressing-gown, which fell in long folds about her stately figure. Her thick black hair was twisted into a knot about her head. She was surrounded on all sides with rich and costly things. All the old severe simplicity of style had vanished—it seemed as if she had gratified every passing fantastic wish or whim of her restless, reckless spirit, and the result was a curious medley of the ugly, grotesque, ludicrous and beautiful—a feverish dream of Cleopatra-like luxury, in the midst of which she stood, as beautiful and sinuous as a serpent, and looking as if she could be, upon occasion, as poisonous as the same.
She looked me over from head to foot with piercing eyes, and then said half scornfully, half enviously:
"How well a stagnant life seems to suit some people! Now you—you are immensely improved—unspeakably improved. You have grown into a pretty woman—more than a pretty woman. I shouldn't have thought a few months could make such an alteration in any one."
Her words struck me as a kind of satire upon herself.
"I might say the same to you," said I, constrainedly. "I think you are very much altered."
Indeed I felt strangely ill at ease with the beautiful creature who, I kept trying to convince myself, was my sister Adelaide, but who seemed further apart from me than ever. But the old sense of fascination which she had been wont to exercise over me returned again in all or in more than its primitive strength.
"I want to talk to you," said she, forcing me into a deep easy-chair. "I have millions of things to ask you. Take off your hat and mantle. You must stay all day. Heavens! how shabby you are! I never saw anything so worn out—and yet your dress suits you, and you look nice in it." (She sighed deeply.) "Nothing suits me now. Formerly I looked well in everything. I should have looked well in rags, and people would have turned to look after me. Now, whatever I put on makes me look hideous."
"It does—And I am glad of it," she added, closing her lips as if she closed in some bitter joy.
"I wish you would tell me why you have come here," I inquired, innocently. "I was so astonished. It was the last place I should have thought of your coming to."
"Naturally. But you see Sir Peter adores me so that he hastens to gratify my smallest wish. I expressed a desire one day to see you, and two days afterward we were en route. He said I should have my wish. Sisterly love was a beautiful thing, and he felt it his duty to encourage it."
I looked at her, and could not decide whether she were in jest or earnest. If she were in jest, it was but a sorry kind of joke—if in earnest, she chose a disagreeably flippant manner of expressing herself.
"Sir Peter has great faith in annoying and thwarting me," she went on. "He has been looking better and more cheerful ever since we left Rome."
"But Adelaide—if you wished to leave Rome—"
"But I did not wish to leave Rome. I wished to stay—so we came away, you know."
The suppressed rage and hatred in her tone made me feel uncomfortable. I avoided speaking, but I could not altogether avoid looking at her. Our eyes met, and Adelaide burst into a peal of harsh laughter.
"Oh, your face, May! It is a study! I had a particular objection to coming to Elberthal, therefore Sir Peter instantly experienced a particular desire to come. When you are married you will understand these things. I was almost enjoying myself in Rome; I suppose Sir Peter was afraid that familiarity might bring dislike, or that if we stayed too long I might feel it dull. This is a gay, lively place, I believe—we came here, and for aught I know we are going to stay here."
She laughed again, and I sat aghast. I had been miserable about Adelaide's marriage, but I had very greatly trusted in what she had prognosticated about being able to do what she liked with him. I began now to think that there must have been some miscalculation—that she had mistaken the metal and found it not quite so ductile as she had expected. I knew enough of her to be aware that I was probably the first person to whom she had spoken in such a manner, and that not even to me would she have so spoken unless some strong feeling had prompted her to it. This made me still more uneasy. She held so fast by the fine polish of the outside of the cup and platter. Very likely the world in general supposed that she and Sir Peter were a model couple.
"I am glad you are here," she pursued. "It is a relief to have some one else than Arkwright to speak to."
"Who is Arkwright?"
"Sir Peter's secretary—a very good sort of boy. He knows all about our domestic bliss and other concerns—because he can't help. Sir Peter tells him—"
A hand on the door-handle outside. A pause ere the persons came in, for Sir Peter's voice was audible, giving directions to some one, probably the secretary of whom Adelaide had spoken. She started violently; the color fled from her face; pale dismay painted itself for a moment upon her lips, but only for a moment. In the next she was outwardly herself again. But the hand trembled which passed her handkerchief over her lips.
The door was fully opened, and Sir Peter came in.
Yes; that was the same face, the same pent-house of ragged eyebrow over the cold and snaky eye beneath, the same wolfish mouth and permanent hungry smile. But he looked better, stouter, stronger; more cheerful. It seemed as if my lady's society had done him a world of good, and acted as a kind of elixir of life.
I observed Adelaide. As he came in her eyes dropped; her hand closed tightly over the handkerchief she held, crushing it together in her grasp; she held her breath; then, recovered, she faced him.
"Heyday! Whom have we here?" he asked, in a voice which time and a residence in hearing of the language of music had not mollified. "Whom have we here? Your dress-maker, my lady? Have you had to send for a dress-maker already? Ha! what? Your sister? Impossible! Miss May, I am delighted to see you again! Are you very well? You look a little—a—shabby, one might almost say, my dear—a little seedy, hey?"
I had no answer ready for this winning greeting.
"Rather like my lady before she was my lady," he continued, pleasantly, as his eyes roved over the room, over its furniture, over us.
There was power—a horrible kind of strength and vitality in that figure—a crushing impression of his potency to make one miserable, conveyed in the strong, rasping voice. Quite a different Sir Peter from my erstwhile wooer. He was a masculine, strong, planning creature, whose force of will was able to crush that of my sister as easily as her forefinger might crush a troublesome midge. He was not blind or driveling; he could reason, plot, argue, concoct a systematic plan for revenge, and work it out fully and in detail; he was able at once to grasp the broadest bearing and the minute details of a position, and to act upon their intimations with crushing accuracy. He was calm, decided, keen, and all in a certain small, bounded, positive way which made him all the more efficient as a ruling factor in this social sphere, where small, bounded, positive strength, without keen sympathies save in the one direction—self—and without idea of generosity, save with regard to its own merits, pays better than a higher kind of strength—better than the strength of Joan of Arc, or St. Stephen, or Christ.
This was the real Sir Peter, and before the revelation I stood aghast. And that look in Adelaide's eyes, that tone in her voice, that restrained spring in her movements, would have been rebellion, revolution, but in the act of breaking forth it became—fear. She had been outwitted, most thoroughly and completely. She had got a jailer and a prison. She feared the former, and every tradition of her life bade her remain in the latter.
Sir Peter, pleasantly exhilarated by my confusion and my lady's sullen silence, proceeded with an agreeable smile:
"Are you never coming down-stairs, madame? I have been deprived long enough of the delights of your society. Come down! I want you to read to me."
"I am engaged, as you may see," she answered in a low voice of opposition.
"Then the engagement must be deferred. There is a great deal of reading to do. There is the 'Times' for a week."
"I hate the 'Times,' and I don't understand it."
"So much the more reason why you should learn to do so. In half an hour," said Sir Peter, consulting his watch, "I shall be ready, or say in quarter of an hour."
"Absurd! I can not be ready in quarter of an hour. Where is Mr. Arkwright?"
"What is Mr. Arkwright to you, my dear? You may be sure that Mr. Arkwright's time is not being wasted. If his mamma knew what he was doing she would be quite satisfied—oh, quite. In quarter of an hour."
He was leaving the room, but paused at the door, with a suspicious look.
"Miss May, it is a pity for you to go away. It will do you good to see your sister, I am sure. Pray spend the day with us. Now, my lady, waste no more time."
With that he finally departed. Adelaide's face was white, but she did not address me. She rang for her maid.
"Dress my hair, Toinette, and do it as quickly as possible. Is my dress ready?" was all she said.
"Mais oui, madame."
"Quick!" she repeated. "You have only quarter of an hour."
Despite the suppressed cries, expostulations, and announcements that it was impossible, Adelaide was dressed in quarter of an hour.
"You will stay, May?" said she; and I knew it was only the presence of Toinette which restrained her from urgently imploring me to stay.
I remained, though not all day; only until it was time to go and have my lesson from von Francius. During my stay, however, I had ample opportunity to observe how things were.
Sir Peter appeared to have lighted upon a congenial occupation somewhat late in life, or perhaps previous practice had made him an adept in it. His time was fully occupied in carrying out a series of experiments upon his wife's pride, with a view to humble and bring it to the ground. If he did not fully succeed in that, he succeeded in making her hate him as scarcely ever was man hated before.
They had now been married some two or three months, and had forsworn all semblance of a pretense at unity or concord. She thwarted him as much as she could, and defied him as far as she dared. He played round and round his victim, springing upon her at last, with some look, or word, or hint, or smile, which meant something—I know not what—that cowed her.
Oh, it was a pleasant household!—a cheerful, amiable scene of connubial love, in which this fair woman of two-and-twenty found herself, with every prospect of its continuing for an indefinite number of years; for the Le Marchants were a long-lived family, and Sir Peter ailed nothing.
"Wenn Menschen aus einander gehen, So sagen sie, Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!"
Eugen had said, "Very soon—it may be weeks, it may be days," and had begged me not to inquire further into the matter. Seeing his anguish, I had refrained; but when two or three days had passed, and nothing was done or said, I began to hope that the parting might not be deferred even a few weeks; for I believe the father suffered, and with him the child, enough each day to wipe out years of transgression.
It was impossible to hide from Sigmund that some great grief threatened, or had already descended upon his father, and therefore upon him. The child's sympathy with the man's nature, with every mood and feeling—I had almost said his intuitive understanding of his father's very thoughts, was too keen and intense to be hoodwinked or turned aside. He did not behave like other children, of course—versteht sich, as Eugen said to me with a dreary smile. He did not hang about his father's neck, imploring to hear what was the matter; he did not weep or wail, or make complaints. After that first moment of uncontrollable pain and anxiety, when he had gone into the room whose door was closed upon him, and in which Eugen had not told him all that was coming, he displayed no violent emotion; but he did what was to Eugen and me much more heart-breaking—brooded silently; grew every day wanner and thinner, and spent long intervals in watching his father, with eyes which nothing could divert and nothing deceive. If Eugen tried to be cheerful, to put on a little gayety of demeanor which he did not feel in his heart, Sigmund made no answer to it, but continued to look with the same solemn, large and mournful gaze.
His father's grief was eating into his own young heart. He asked not what it was; but both Eugen and I knew that in time, if it went on long enough, he would die of it. The picture, "Innocence Dying of Blood-stain," which Hawthorne has suggested to us, may have its prototypes and counterparts in unsuspected places. Here was one. Nor did Sigmund, as some others, children both of larger and smaller growth, might have done, turn to me and ask me to tell him the meaning of the sad change which had crept silently and darkly into our lives. He outspartaned the Spartan in many ways. His father had not chosen to tell him; he would die rather than ask the meaning of the silence.
One night—when some three days had passed since the letter had come—as Eugen and I sat alone, it struck me that I heard a weary turning over in the little bed in the next room, and a stifled sob coming distinctly to my ears. I lifted my head. Eugen had heard too; he was looking, with an expression of pain and indecision, toward the door. With a vast effort—the greatest my regard for him had yet made—I took it upon myself, laid my hand on his arm, and coercing him again into the chair from which he had half risen, whispered:
"I will tell him. You can not. Nicht wahr?"
A look was the only, but a very sufficient answer.
I went into the inner room and closed the door. A dim whiteness of moonlight struggled through the shutters, and very, very faintly showed me the outline of the child who was dear to me. Stooping down beside him, I asked if he were awake.
"Ja, ich wache," he replied, in a patient, resigned kind of small voice.
"Why dost thou not sleep, Sigmund? Art thou not well?"
"No, I am not well," he answered; but with an expression of double meaning. "Mir ist's nicht wohl."
"What ails thee?"
"If you know what ails him, you know what ails me."
"Do you not know yourself?" I asked.
"No," said Sigmund, with a short sob. "He says he can not tell me."
I slipped upon my knees beside the little bed, and paused a moment. I am not ashamed to say that I prayed to something which in my mind existed outside all earthly things—perhaps to the "Freude" which Schiller sung and Beethoven composed to—for help in the hardest task of my life.
"Can not tell me." No wonder he could not tell that soft-eyed, clinging warmth; that subtle mixture of fire and softness, spirit and gentleness—that spirit which in the years of trouble they had passed together had grown part of his very nature—that they must part! No wonder that the father, upon whom the child built his every idea of what was great and good, beautiful, right and true in every shape and form, could not say, "You shall not stay with me; you shall be thrust forth to strangers; and, moreover, I will not see you nor speak to you, nor shall you hear my name; and this I will do without telling you why"—that he could not say this—what had the man been who could have said it?
As I knelt in the darkness by Sigmund's little bed, and felt his pillow wet with his silent tears, and his hot cheek touching my hand, I knew it all. I believe I felt for once as a man who has begotten a child and must hurt it, repulse it, part from it, feels.
"No, my child, he can not tell thee, because he loves thee so dearly," said I. "But I can tell thee; I have his leave to tell thee, Sigmund."
"Thou art a very little boy, but thou art not like other boys; thy father is not just like other fathers."
"I know it."
"He is very sad."
"And his life which he has to live will be a sad one."
The child began to weep again. I had to pause. How was I to open my lips to instruct this baby upon the fearful, profound abyss of a subject—the evil and the sorrow that are in the world—how, how force those little tender, bare feet, from the soft grass on to the rough up-hill path all strewed with stones, and all rugged with ups and downs? It was horribly cruel.
"Life is very sad sometimes, mein Sigmund."
"Yes. Some people, too, are much sadder than others. I think thy father is one of those people. Perhaps thou art to be another."
"What my father is I will be," said he, softly; and I thought that it was another and a holier version of Eugen's words to me, wrung out of the inner bitterness of his heart. "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, even unto the third and fourth generation, whether they deserve it or not." The child, who knew nothing of the ancient saying, merely said with love and satisfaction swelling his voice to fullness, "What my father is, I will be."
"Couldst thou give up something very dear for his sake?"
"What a queer question!" said Sigmund. "I want nothing when I am with him."
"Ei! mein kind! Thou dost not know what I mean. What is the greatest joy of thy life? To be near thy father and see him, hear his voice, and touch him, and feel him near thee; nicht?"
"Yes," said he, in a scarcely audible whisper.
There was a pause, during which I was racking my brains to think of some way of introducing the rest without shocking him too much, when suddenly he said, in a clear, low voice:
"That is it. He would never let me leave him, and he would never leave me."
Silence again for a few moments, which seemed to deepen some sneaking shadow in the boy's mind, for he repeated through clinched teeth, and in a voice which fought hard against conviction, "Never, never, never!"
"Sigmund—never of his own will. But remember what I said, that he is sad, and there is something in his life which makes him not only unable to do what he likes, but obliged to do exactly what he does not like—what he most hates and fears—to—to part from thee."
"Nein, nein, nein!" said he. "Who can make him do anything he does not wish? Who can take me away from him?"
"I do not know. I only know that it must be so. There is no escaping from it, and no getting out of it. It is horrible, but it is so. Sometimes, Sigmund, there are things in the world like this."
"The world must be a very cruel place," he said, as if first struck with that fact.
"Now dost thou understand, Sigmund, why he did not speak? Couldst thou have told him such a thing?"
"Where is he?"
"There, in the next room, and very sad for thee."
Sigmund, before I knew what he was thinking of, was out of bed and had opened the door. I saw that Eugen looked up, saw the child standing in the door-way, sprung up, and Sigmund bounded to meet him. A cry as of a great terror came from the child. Self-restraint, so long maintained, broke down; he cried in a loud, frightened voice:
"Mein Vater, Friedel says I must leave thee!" and burst into a storm of sobs and crying such as I had never before known him yield to. Eugen folded him in his arms, laid his head upon his breast, and clasping him very closely to him, paced about the room with him in silence, until the first fit of grief was over. I, from the dark room, watched them in a kind of languor, for I was weary, as though I had gone through some physical struggle.
They passed to and fro like some moving dream. Bit by bit the child learned from his father's lips the pitiless truth, down to the last bitter drop; that the parting was to be complete, and they were not to see each other.
"But never, never?" asked Sigmund, in a voice of terror and pain mingled.
"When thou art a man that will depend upon thyself," said Eugen. "Thou wilt have to choose."
"Whether thou wilt see me again."
"When I am a man may I choose?" he asked, raising his head with sudden animation.
"Yes; I shall see to that."
"Oh, very well. I have chosen now," said Sigmund, and the thought gave him visible joy and relief.
Eugen kissed him passionately. Blessed ignorance of the hardening influences of the coming years! Blessed tenderness of heart and singleness of affection which could see no possibility that circumstances might make the acquaintance of a now loved and adored superior being appear undesirable! And blessed sanguineness of five years old, which could bridge the gulf between then and manhood, and cry, Auf wiedersehen!
* * * * *
During the next few days more letters were exchanged. Eugen received one which he answered. Part of the answer he showed to me, and it ran thus:
"I consent to this, but only upon one condition, which is that when my son is eighteen years old, you tell him all, and give him his choice whether he see me again or not. My word is given not to interfere in the matter, and I can trust yours when you promise that it shall be as I stipulate. I want your answer upon this point, which is very simple, and the single condition I make. It is, however, one which I can not and will not waive."
"Thirteen years, Eugen," said I.
"Yes; in thirteen years I shall be forty-three."
"You will let me know what the answer to that is," I went on.
He nodded. By return of post the answer came.
"It is 'yes,'" said he, and paused. "The day after to-morrow he is to go."
"Not alone, surely?"
"No; some one will come for him."
I heard some of the instructions he gave his boy.
"There is one man where you are going, whom I wish you to obey as you would me, Sigmund," he told him.
"Is he like thee?"
"No; much better and wiser than I am. But, remember, he never commands twice. Thou must not question and delay as thou dost with thy weak-minded old father. He is the master in the place thou art going to."
"Is it far from here?"
"Not exceedingly far."
"Hast thou been there?"
"Oh, yes," said Eugen, in a peculiar tone, "often."
"What must I call this man?" inquired Sigmund.
"He will tell thee that. Do thou obey him and endeavor to do what he wishes, and so thou mayst know thou art best pleasing me."
"And when I am a man I can choose to see thee again. But where wilt thou be?"
"When the time comes thou wilt soon find me if it is necessary—And thy music," pursued Eugen. "Remember that in all troubles that may come to thee, and whatever thou mayst pass through, there is one great, beautiful goddess who abides above the troubles of men, and is often most beautiful in the hearts that are most troubled. Remember—whom?"
"Beethoven," was the prompt reply.
"Just so. And hold fast to the service of the goddess Music, the most beautiful thing in the world."
"And thou art a musician," said Sigmund, with a little laugh, as if it "understood itself" that his father should naturally be a priest of "the most beautiful thing in the world."
I hurry over that short time before the parting came. Eugen said to me:
"They are sending for him—an old servant. I am not afraid to trust him with him."
And one morning he came—the old servant. Sigmund happened at the moment not to be in the sitting-room; Eugen and I were. There was a knock, and in answer to our Herein! there entered an elderly man of soldierly appearance, with a grizzled mustache, and stiff, military bearing; he was dressed in a very plain, but very handsome livery, and on entering the room and seeing Eugen, he paused just within the door, and saluted with a look of deep respect; nor did he attempt to advance further. Eugen had turned very pale.
It struck me that he might have something to say to this messenger of fate, and with some words to that effect I rose to leave them together. Eugen laid his hand upon my arm.
"Sit still, Friedhelm." And turning to the man, he added: "How were all when you left, Heinrich?"
"Well, Herr Gr—"
"All were well, mein Herr."
"Wait a short time," said he.
A silent inclination on the part of the man. Eugen went into the inner room where Sigmund was, and closed the door. There was silence. How long did it endure? What was passing there? What throes of parting? What grief not to be spoken or described?
Meanwhile the elderly man-servant remained in his sentinel attitude, and with fixed expressionless countenance, within the door-way. Was the time long to him, or short?
At last the door opened, and Sigmund came out alone. God help us all! It is terrible to see such an expression upon a child's soft face. White and set and worn as if with years of suffering was the beautiful little face. The elderly man started, surprised from his impassiveness, as the child came into the room. An irrepressible flash of emotion crossed his face; he made a step forward. Sigmund seemed as if he did not see us. He was making a mechanical way to the door, when I interrupted him.
"Sigmund, do not forget thy old Friedhelm!" I cried, clasping him in my arms, and kissing his little pale face, thinking of the day, three years ago, when his father had brought him wrapped up in the plaid on that wet afternoon, and my heart had gone out to him.
"Lieber Friedhelm!" he said, returning my embrace, "Love my father when I—am gone. And—auf—auf—wiedersehen!"
He loosed his arms from round my neck and went up to the man, saying:
"I am ready."
The large horny hand clasped round the small delicate one. The servant-man turned, and with a stiff, respectful bow to me, led Sigmund from the room. The door closed after him—he was gone. The light of two lonely lives was put out. Was our darling right or wrong in that persistent auf wiedersehen of his?
Resignation! Welch' elendes Hulfsmittel! und doch bleibt es mir das einzig Uebrige—Briefe BEETHOVEN'S.
Several small events which took place at this time had all their indirect but strong bearing on the histories of the characters in this veracious narrative. The great concert of the "Passions-musik" of Bach came off on the very evening of Sigmund's departure. It was, I confess, with some fear and trembling that I went to call Eugen to his duties, for he had not emerged from his own room since he had gone into it to send Sigmund away.
He raised his face as I came in; he was sitting looking out of the window, and told me afterward that he had sat there, he believed, ever since he had been unable to catch another glimpse of the carriage which bore his darling away from him.
"What is it, Friedel?" he asked, when I came in.
I suggested in a subdued tone that the concert began in half an hour.
"Ah, true!" said he, rising; "I must get ready. Let me see, what is it?"
"To be sure! Most appropriate music! I feel as if I could write a Passion Music myself just now."
We had but to cross the road from our dwelling to the concert-room. As we entered the corridor two ladies also stepped into it from a very grand carriage. They were accompanied by a young man, who stood a little to one side to let them pass; and as they came up and we came up, von Francius came up too.
One of the ladies was May Wedderburn, who was dressed in black, and looked exquisitely lovely to my eyes, and, I felt, to some others, with her warm auburn hair in shining coils upon her head. The other was a woman in whose pale, magnificent face I traced some likeness to our fair singer, but she was different; colder, grander, more severe. It so happened that the ladies barred the way as we arrived, and we had to stand by for a few moments as von Francius shook hands with Miss Wedderburn, and asked her smilingly if she were in good voice.
She answered in the prettiest broken German I ever heard, and then turned to the lady, saying:
"Adelaide, may I introduce Herr von Francius—Lady Le Marchant."
A stately bow from the lady—a deep reverence, with a momentary glance of an admiration warmer than I had ever seen in his eyes, on the part of von Francius—a glance which was instantly suppressed to one of conventional inexpressiveness. I was pleased and interested with this little peep at a rank which I had never seen, and could have stood watching them for a long time; the splendid beauty and the great pride of bearing of the English lady were a revelation to me, and opened quite a large, unknown world before my mental eyes. Romances and poems, and men dying of love, or killing each other for it, no longer seemed ridiculous; for a smile or a warmer glance from that icily beautiful face must be something not to forget.
It was Eugen who pushed forward, with a frown on his brow, and less than his usual courtesy. I saw his eyes and Miss Wedderburn's meet; I saw the sudden flush that ran over her fair face; the stern composure of his. He would own nothing; but I was strangely mistaken if he could say that it was merely because he had nothing to own.
The concert was a success, so far as Miss Wedderburn went. If von Francius had allowed repetitions, one song at least would have been encored. As it was, she was a success. And von Francius spent his time in the pauses with her and her sister; in a grave, sedate way he and the English lady seemed to "get on."
The concert was over. The next thing that was of any importance to us occurred shortly afterward. Von Francius had long been somewhat unpopular with his men, and at silent enmity with Eugen, who was, on the contrary, a universal favorite. There came a crisis, and the men sent a deputation to Eugen to say that if he would accept the post of leader they would strike, and refuse to accept any other than he.
This was an opportunity for distinguishing himself. He declined the honor; his words were few; he said something about how kind we had all been to him, "from the time when I arrived; when Friedhelm Helfen, here, took me in, gave me every help and assistance in his power, and showed how appropriate his name was;[C] and so began a friendship which, please Heaven, shall last till death divides us, and perhaps go on afterward." He ended by saying some words which made a deep impression upon me. After saying that he might possibly leave Elberthal, he added: "Lastly, I can not be your leader because I never intend to be any one's leader—more than I am now," he added, with a faint smile. "A kind of deputy, you know. I am not fit to be a leader. I have no gift in that line—"