[Footnote C: Helfen—to help.]
"Doch!" from half a dozen around.
"None whatever. I intend to remain in my present condition—no lower if I can help it, but certainly no higher. I have good reasons for knowing it to be my duty to do so."
And then he urged them so strongly to stand by Herr von Francius that we were quite astonished. He told them that von Francius would some time rank with Schumann, Raff, or Rubinstein, and that the men who rejected him now would then be pointed out as ignorant and prejudiced.
And amid the silence that ensued, he began to direct us—we had a probe to Liszt's "Prometheus," I remember.
He had won the day for von Francius, and von Francius, getting to hear of it, came one day to see him and frankly apologized for his prejudice in the past, and asked Eugen for his friendship in the future. Eugen's answer puzzled me.
"I am glad, you know, that I honor your genius, and wish you well," said he, "and your offer of friendship honors me. Suppose I say I accept it—until you see cause to withdraw it."
"You are putting rather a remote contingency to the front," said von Francius.
"Perhaps—perhaps not," said Eugen, with a singular smile. "At least I am glad to have had this token of your sense of generosity. We are on different paths, and my friends are not on the same level as yours—"
"Excuse me; every true artist must be a friend of every other true artist. We recognize no division of rank or possession."
Eugen bowed, still smiling ambiguously, nor could von Francius prevail upon him to say anything nearer or more certain. They parted, and long afterward I learned the truth, and knew the bitterness which must have been in Eugen's heart; the shame, the gloom; the downcast sorrow, as he refused indirectly but decidedly the thing he would have liked so well—to shake the hand of a man high in position and honorable in name—look him in the face and say, "I accept your friendship—nor need you be ashamed of wearing mine openly."
He refused the advance; he refused that and every other opening for advancement. The man seemed to have a horror of advancement, or of coming in any way forward. He rejected even certain offers which were made that he should perform some solos at different concerts in Elberthal and the neighborhood. I once urged him to become rich and have Sigmund back again. He said: "If I had all the wealth in Germany, it would divide us further still."
I have said nothing about the blank which Sigmund's absence made in our lives, simply because it was too great a blank to describe. Day after day we felt it, and it grew keener, and the wound smarted more sharply. One can not work all day long, and in our leisure hours we learned to know only too well that he was gone—and gone indeed. That which remained to us was the "Resignation," the "miserable assistant" which poor Beethoven indicated with such a bitter smile. We took it to us as inmate and Hausfreund, and made what we could of it.
"So runs the world away."
Koenigsallee, No. 3, could scarcely be called a happy establishment. I saw much of its inner life, and what I saw made me feel mortally sad—envy, hatred, and malice; no hour of satisfaction; my sister's bitter laughs and sneers and jibes at men and things; Sir Peter's calm consciousness of his power, and his no less calm, crushing, unvarying manner of wielding it—of silently and horribly making it felt. Adelaide's very nature appeared to have changed. From a lofty indifference to most things, to sorrow and joy, to the hopes, fears, and feelings of others, she had become eager, earnest, passionate, resenting ill-usage, strenuously desiring her own way, deeply angry when she could not get it. To say that Sir Peter's influence upon her was merely productive of a negative dislike would be ridiculous. It was productive of an intense, active hatred, a hatred which would gladly, if it could, have vented itself in deeds. That being impossible, it showed itself in a haughty, unbroken indifference of demeanor which it seemed to be Sir Peter's present aim in some way to break down, for not only did she hate him—he hated her.
She used to the utmost what liberty she had. She was not a woman to talk of regret for what she had done, or to own that she had miscalculated her game. Her life was a great failure, and that failure had been brought home to her mind in a mercilessly short space of time; but of what use to bewail it? She was not yet conquered. The bitterness of spirit which she carried about with her took the form of a scoffing pessimism. A hard laugh at the things which made other people shake their heads and uplift their hands; a ready scoff at all tenderness; a sneer at anything which could by any stretch of imagination be called good; a determined running up of what was hard, sordid, and worldly, and a persistent and utter skepticism as to the existence of the reverse of those things; such was now the yea, yea, and nay, nay, of her communication.
To a certain extent she had what she had sold herself for; outside pomp and show in plenty—carriages, horses, servants, jewels, and clothes. Sir Peter liked, to use his own expression, "to see my lady blaze away"—only she must blaze away in his fashion, not hers. He declared he did not know how long he might remain in Elberthal; spoke vaguely of "business at home," about which he was waiting to hear, and said that until he heard the news he wanted, he could not move from the place he was in. He was in excellent spirits at seeing his wife chafing under the confinement to a place she detested, and appeared to find life sweet.
Meanwhile she, using her liberty, as I said, to the utmost extent, had soon plunged into the midst of the fastest set in Elberthal.
There was a fast set there as there was a musical set, an artistic set, a religious set, a free-thinking set; for though it was not so large or so rich as many dull, wealthy towns in England, it presented from its mixed inhabitants various phases of society.
This set into which Adelaide had thrown herself was the fast one; a coterie of officers, artists, the richer merchants and bankers, medical men, literati, and the young (and sometimes old) wives, sisters and daughters of the same; many of them priding themselves upon not being natives of Elberthal, but coming from larger and gayer towns—Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and others.
They led a gay enough life among themselves—a life of theater, concert, and opera-going, of dances, private at home, public at the Malkasten or Artists' Club, flirtations, marriages, engagements, disappointments, the usual dreary and monotonous round. They considered themselves the only society worthy the name in Elberthal, and whoever was not of their set was niemand.
I was partly dragged, partly I went to a certain extent of my own will, into this vortex. I felt myself to have earned a larger experience now of life and life's realities. I questioned when I should once have discreetly inclined the head and held my peace. I had a mind to examine this clique and the characters of some of its units, and see in what it was superior to some other acquaintances (in an humbler sphere) with whom my lot had been cast. As time went on I found the points of superiority to decrease—those of inferiority rapidly to increase.
I troubled myself little about them and their opinions. My joys and griefs, hopes and fears, lay so entirely outside their circle that I scarce noticed whether they noticed me or not. I felt and behaved coldly toward them! to the women because their voices never had the ring of genuine liking in speaking to me; to the men because I found them as a rule shallow, ignorant, and pretentious; repellent to me, as I dare say I, with my inability to understand them, was to them. I saw most men and things through a distorting glass; that of contrast, conscious or unconscious, with Courvoisier.
My musician, I reasoned, wrongly or rightly, had three times their wit, three times their good looks, manners and information, and many times three times their common sense, as well as a juster appreciation of his own merits; besides which, my musician was not a person whose acquaintance and esteem were to be had for the asking—or even for a great deal more than the asking, while it seemed that these young gentleman gave their society to any one who could live in a certain style and talk a certain argot, and their esteem to every one who could give them often enough the savory meat that their souls loved, and the wine of a certain quality which made glad their hearts, and rendered them of a cheerful countenance.
But my chief reason for mixing with people who were certainly as a rule utterly distasteful and repugnant to me, was because I could not bear to leave Adelaide alone. I pitied her in her lonely and alienated misery; and I knew that it was some small solace to her to have me with her.
The tale of one day will give an approximate idea of most of the days I spent with her. I was at the time staying with her. Our hours were late. Breakfast was not over till ten, that is by Adelaide and myself. Sir Peter was an exceedingly active person, both in mind and body, who saw after the management of his affairs in England in the minutest manner that absence would allow. Toward half past eleven he strolled into the room in which we were sitting, and asked what we were doing.
"Looking over costumes," said I, as Adelaide made no answer, and I raised my eyes from some colored illustrations.
"Costumes—what kind of costumes?"
"Costumes for the maskenball," I answered, taking refuge in brevity of reply.
"Oh!" He paused. Then, turning suddenly to Adelaide:
"And what is this entertainment, my lady?"
"The Carnival Ball," said she, almost inaudibly, between her closed lips, as she shut the book of illustrations, pushed it away from her, and leaned back in her chair.
"And you think you would like to go to the Carnival Ball, hey?"
"No, I do not," said she, as she stroked her lap-dog with a long, white hand on which glittered many rings, and steadily avoided looking at him. She did wish to go to the ball, but she knew that it was as likely as not that if she displayed any such desire he would prevent it. Despite her curt reply she foresaw impending the occurrence which she most of anything disliked—a conversation with Sir Peter. He placed himself in our midst, and requested to look at the pictures. In silence I handed him the book. I never could force myself to smile when he was there, nor overcome a certain restraint of demeanor which rather pleased and flattered him than otherwise. He glanced sharply round in the silence which followed his joining our company, and turning over the illustrations, said:
"I thought I heard some noise when I came in. Don't let me interrupt the conversation."
But the conversation was more than interrupted; it was dead—the life frozen out of it by his very appearance.
"When is the carnival, and when does this piece of tomfoolery come off?" he inquired, with winning grace of diction.
"The carnival begins this year on the 26th of February. The ball is on the 27th," said I, confining myself to facts and figures.
"And how do you get there? By paying?"
"Well, you have to pay—yes. But you must get your tickets from some member of the Malkasten Club. It is the artists' ball, and they arrange it all."
"H'm! Ha! And as what do you think of going, Adelaide?" he inquired, turning with suddenness toward her.
"I tell you I had not thought of going—nor thought anything about it. Herr von Francius sent us the pictures, and we were looking over them. That is all."
Sir Peter turned over the pages and looked at the commonplace costumes therein suggested—Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Picardy Peasant, Maria Stuart, a Snow Queen, and all the rest of them.
"Well, I don't see anything here that I would wear if I were a woman," he said, as he closed the book. "February, did you say?"
"Yes," said I, as no one else spoke.
"Well, it is the middle of January now. You had better be looking out for something; but don't let it be anything in those books. Let the beggarly daubers see how English women do these things."
"Do you intend me to understand that you wish us to go to the ball?" inquired Adelaide, in an icy kind of voice.
"Yes, I do," almost shouted Sir Peter. Adelaide could, despite the whip and rein with which he held her, exasperate and irritate him—by no means more thoroughly than by pretending that she did not understand his grandiloquent allusions, and the vague grandness of the commands which he sometimes gave. "I mean you to go, and your little sister here, and Arkwright too. I don't know about myself. Now, I am going to ride. Good-morning."
As Sir Peter went out, von Francius came in. Sir Peter greeted him with a grin and exaggerated expressions of affability at which von Francius looked silently scornful. Sir Peter added:
"Those two ladies are puzzled to know what they shall wear at the Carnival Ball. Perhaps you can give them your assistance."
Then he went away. It was as if a half-muzzled wolf had left the room.
Von Francius had come to give me my lesson, which was now generally taken at my sister's house and in her presence, and after which von Francius usually remained some half hour or so in conversation with one or both of us. He had become an intime of the house. I was glad of this, and that without him nothing seemed complete, no party rounded, scarcely an evening finished.
When he was not with us in the evening, we were somewhere where he was; either at a concert or a probe, or at the theater or opera, or one of the fashionable lectures which were then in season.
It could hardly be said that von Francius was a more frequent visitor than some other men at the house, but from the first his attitude with regard to Adelaide had been different. Some of those other men were, or professed to be, desperately in love with the beautiful English woman; there was always a half gallantry in their behavior, a homage which might not be very earnest, but which was homage all the same, to a beautiful woman. With von Francius it had never been thus, but there had been a gravity and depth about their intercourse which pleased me. I had never had the least apprehension with regard to those other people; she might amuse herself with them; it would only be amusement, and some contempt.
But von Francius was a man of another mettle. It had struck me almost from the first that there might be some danger, and I was unfeignedly thankful to see that as time went on and his visits grew more and more frequent and the intimacy deeper, not a look, not a sign occurred to hint that it ever was or would be more than acquaintance, liking, appreciation, friendship, in successive stages. Von Francius had never from the first treated her as an ordinary person, but with a kind of tacit understanding that something not to be spoken of lay behind all she did and said, with the consciousness that the skeleton in Adelaide's cupboard was more ghastly to look upon than most people's secret specters, and that it persisted, with an intrusiveness and want of breeding peculiar to guests of that caliber, in thrusting its society upon her at all kinds of inconvenient times.
I enjoyed these music lessons, I must confess. Von Francius had begun to teach me music now, as well as singing. By this time I had resigned myself to the conviction that such talent as I might have lay in my voice, not my fingers, and accepted it as part of the conditions which ordain that in every human life shall be something manque, something incomplete.
The most memorable moments with me have been those in which pain and pleasure, yearning and satisfaction, knowledge and seeking, have been so exquisitely and so intangibly blended, in listening to some deep sonata, some stately and pathetic old ciacconna or gavotte, some concerto or symphony; the thing nearest heaven is to sit apart with closed eyes while the orchestra or the individual performer interprets for one the mystic poetry, or the dramatic fire, or the subtle cobweb refinements of some instrumental poem.
I would rather have composed a certain little "Traumerei" of Schumann's or a "Barcarole" of Rubinstein's, or a sonata of Schubert's than have won all the laurels of Grisi, all the glory of Malibran and Jenny Lind.
But it was not to be. I told myself so, and yet I tried so hard in my halting, bungling way to worship the goddess of my idolatry, that my master had to restrain me.
"Stop!" said he this morning, when I had been weakly endeavoring to render a ciacconna from a suite of Lachner's, which had moved me to thoughts too deep for tears at the last symphonie concert. "Stop, Fraeulein May! Duty first; your voice before your fingers."
"Let me try once again!" I implored.
He shut up the music and took it from the desk.
"Entbehren sollst du; sollst entbehren!" said he, dryly.
I took my lesson and then practiced shakes for an hour, while he talked to Adelaide; and then, she being summoned to visitors, he went away.
Later I found Adelaide in the midst of a lot of visitors—Herr Hauptmann This, Herr Lieutenant That, Herr Maler The Other, Herr Concertmeister So-and-So—for von Francius was not the only musician who followed in her train. But there I am wrong. He did not follow in her train; he might stand aside and watch the others who did; but following was not in his line.
There were ladies there too—gay young women, who rallied round Lady Le Marchant as around a master spirit in the art of Zeitvertreib.
This levee lasted till the bell rang for lunch, when we went into the dining-room, and found Sir Peter and his secretary, young Arkwright, already seated. He—Arkwright—was a good-natured, tender-hearted lad, devoted to Adelaide. I do not think he was very happy or very well satisfied with his place, but from his salary he half supported a mother and sister, and so was fain to "grin and bear it."
Sir Peter was always exceedingly affectionate to me. I hated to be in the same room with him, and while I detested him, was also conscious of an unheroic fear of him. For Adelaide's sake I was as attentive to him as I could make myself, in order to free her a little from his surveillance, for poor Adelaide Wedderburn, with her few pounds of annual pocket-money, and her proud, restless, ambitious spirit, had been a free, contented woman in comparison with Lady Le Marchant.
On the day in question he was particularly amiable, called me "my dear" every time he spoke to me, and complimented me upon my good looks, telling me I was growing monstrous handsome—ay, devilish handsome, by Gad! far outstripping my lady, who had gone off dreadfully in her good looks, hadn't she, Arkwright?
Poor Arkwright, tingling with a scorching blush, and ready to sink through the floor with confusion, stammered out that he had never thought of venturing to remark upon my Lady Le Marchant's looks.
"What a lie, Arkwright! You know you watch her as if she was the apple of your eye," chuckled Sir Peter, smiling round upon the company with his cold, glittering eyes. "What are you blushing so for, my pretty May? Isn't there a song something about my pretty May, my dearest May, eh?"
"My pretty Jane, I suppose you mean," said I, nobly taking his attention upon myself, while Adelaide sat motionless and white as marble, and Arkwright cooled down somewhat from his state of shame and anguish at being called upon to decide which of us eclipsed the other in good looks.
"Pretty Jane! Whoever heard of a pretty Jane?" said Sir Peter. "If it isn't May, it ought to be. At any rate, there was a Charming May."
"The month—not a person."
"Pretty Jane, indeed! You must sing me that after lunch, and then we can see whether the song was pretty or not, my dear, eh?"
"Certainly, Sir Peter, if you like."
"Yes, I do like. My lady here seems to have lost her voice lately. I can't imagine the reason. I am sure she has everything to make her sing for joy; have you not, my dear?"
"Everything, and more than everything," replies my lady, laconically.
"And she has a strong sense of duty, too; loves those whom she ought to love, and despises those whom she ought to despise. She always has done, from her infancy up to the time when she loved me and despised public opinion for my sake."
The last remark was uttered in tones of deeper malignity, while the eyes began to glare, and the under lip to droop, and the sharp eye-teeth, which lent such a very emphatic point to all Sir Peter's smiles, sneers, and facial movements in general, gleamed.
Adelaide's lip quivered for a second; her color momentarily faded.
In this kind of light and agreeable badinage the meal passed over, and we were followed into the drawing-room by Sir Peter, loudly demanding "'My Pretty Jane'—or May, or whatever it was."
"We are going out," said my lady. "You can have it another time. May can not sing the moment she has finished lunch."
"Hold your tongue, my dear," said Sir Peter; and inspired by an agreeable and playful humor, he patted his wife's shoulder and pinched her ear.
The color fled from her very lips and she stood pale and rigid with a look in her eyes which I interpreted to mean a shuddering recoil, stopped by sheer force of will.
Sir Peter turned with an engaging laugh to me:
"Miss May—bonny May—made me a promise, and she must keep it; or if she doesn't I shall take the usual forfeit. We know what that is. Upon my word, I almost wish she would break her promise."
"I have no wish to break my promise," said I, hastening to the piano, and then and there singing "My Pretty Jane," and one or two others, after which he released us, chuckling at having contrived to keep my lady so long waiting for her drive.
The afternoon's programme was, I confess, not without attraction to me; for I knew that I was pretty, and I had not one of the strong and powerful minds which remained unelated by admiration and undepressed by the absence of it.
We drove to the picture exhibitions, and at both of them had a little crowd attending us. That crowd consisted chiefly of admirers, or professed admirers, of my sister, with von Francius in addition, who dropped in at the first exhibition.
Von Francius did not attend my sister; it was by my side that he remained and it was to me that he talked. He looked on at the men who were around her, but scarcely addressed her himself.
There was a clique of young artists who chose to consider the wealth of Sir Peter Le Marchant as fabulous, and who paid court to his wife from mixed motives; the prevailing one being a hope that she would be smitten by some picture of theirs at a fancy price, and order it to be sent home—as if she ever saw with anything beyond the most superficial outward eye those pictures, and as if it lay in her power to order any one, even the smallest and meanest of them. These ingenuous artists had yet to learn that Sir Peter's picture purchases were formed from his own judgment, through the medium of himself or his secretary, armed with strict injunctions as to price, and upon the most purely practical and business-like principles—not in the least at the caprice of his wife.
We went to the larger gallery last. As we entered it I turned aside with von Francius to look at a picture in a small back room, and when we turned to follow the others, they had all gone forward into the large room; but standing at the door by which we had entered, and looking calmly after us, was Courvoisier.
A shock thrilled me. It was some time since I had seen him; for I had scarcely been at my lodgings for a fortnight, and we had had no haupt-proben lately. I had heard some rumor that important things—or, as Frau Lutzler gracefully expressed it, was wichtiges—had taken place between von Francius and the kapelle, and that Courvoisier had taken a leading part in the affair. To-day the greeting between the two men was a cordial if a brief one.
Eugen's eyes scarcely fell upon me; he included me in his bow—that was all. All my little day-dream of growing self-complacency was shattered, scattered; the old feeling of soreness, smallness, wounded pride, and bruised self-esteem came back again. I felt a wild, angry desire to compel some other glance from those eyes than that exasperating one of quiet indifference. I felt it like a lash every time I encountered it. Its very coolness and absence of emotion stung me and made me quiver.
We and Courvoisier entered the large room at the same time. While Adelaide was languidly making its circuit, von Francius and I sat upon the ottoman in the middle of the room. I watched Eugen, even if he took no notice of me—watched him till every feeling of rest, every hard-won conviction of indifference to him and feeling of regard conquered came tumbling down in ignominious ruins. I knew he had had a fiery trial. His child, for whom I used to watch his adoration with a dull kind of envy, had left him. There was some mystery about it, and much pain. Frau Lutzler had begun to tell me a long story culled from one told her by Frau Schmidt, and I had stopped her, but knew that "Herr Courvoisier was not like the same man any more."
That trouble was visible in firmly marked lines, even now; he looked subdued, older, and his face was thin and worn. Yet never had I noticed so plainly before the bright light of intellect in his eye; the noble stamp of mind upon his brow. There was more than the grace of a kindly nature in the pleasant curve of the lips—there was thought, power, intellectual strength. I compared him with the young men who were at this moment dangling round my sister. Not one among them could approach him—not merely in stature and breadth and the natural grace and dignity of carriage, but in far better things—in the mind that dominates sense; the will that holds back passion with a hand as strong and firm as that of a master over the dog whom he chooses to obey him. This man—I write from knowledge—had the capacity to appreciate and enjoy life—to taste its pleasures—never to excess, but with no ascetic's lips. But the natural prompting—the moral "eat, drink, and be merry," was held back with a ruthless hand, with chain of iron, and biting thong to chastise pitilessly each restive movement. He dreed out his weird most thoroughly, and drank the cup presented to him to the last dregs.
When the weird is very long and hard—when the flavor of the cup is exceeding bitter, this process leaves its effects in the form of sobered mien, gathering wrinkles, and a permanent shadow on the brow, and in the eyes. So it was with him.
He went round the room, looking at a picture here and there with the eye of a connoisseur—then pausing before the one which von Francius had brought me to look at on Christmas-day, Courvoisier, folding his arms, stood before it and surveyed it, straightly, and without moving a muscle; coolly, criticisingly and very fastidiously. The blase-looking individual in the foreground received, I saw, a share of his attention—the artist, too, in the background; the model, with the white dress, oriental fan, bare arms, and half-bored, half-cynic look. He looked at them all long—attentively—then turned away; the only token of approval or disapproval which he vouchsafed being a slight smile and a slight shrug, both so very slight as to be almost imperceptible. Then he passed on—glanced at some other pictures—at my sister, on whom his eyes dwelt for a moment as if he thought that she at least made a very beautiful picture; then out of the room.
"Do you know him?" said von Francius, quite softly, to me.
I started violently. I had utterly forgotten that he was at my side, and I know not what tales my face had been telling. I turned to find the dark and impenetrable eyes of von Francius fixed on me.
"A little," I said.
"Then you know a generous, high-minded man—a man who has made me feel ashamed of myself—and a man to whom I made an apology the other day with pleasure."
My heart warmed. This praise of Eugen by a man whom I admired so devotedly as I did Max von Francius seemed to put me right with myself and the world.
Soon afterward we left the exhibition, and while the others went away it appeared somehow by the merest casualty that von Francius was asked to drive back with us and have afternoon tea, englischerweise—which he did, after a moment's hesitation.
After tea he left for an orchestra probe to the next Saturday's concert; but with an auf wiedersehen, for the probe will not last long, and we shall meet again at the opera and later at the Malkasten Ball.
I enjoyed going to the theater. I knew my dress was pretty. I knew that I looked nice, and that people would look at me, and that I, too, should have my share of admiration and compliments as a schoene Englaenderin.
We were twenty minutes late—naturally. All the people in the place stare at us and whisper about us, partly because we have a conspicuous place—the proscenium loge to the right of the stage, partly because we are in full toilet—an almost unprecedented circumstance in that homely theater—partly, I suppose, because Adelaide is supremely beautiful.
Mr. Arkwright was already with us. Von Francius joined us after the first act, and remained until the end. Almost the only words he exchanged with Adelaide were:
"Have you seen this opera before, Lady Le Marchant?"
It was Auber's merry little opera, "Des Teufels Antheil." The play was played. Von Francius was beside me. Whenever I looked down I saw Eugen, with the same calm, placid indifference upon his face; and again I felt the old sensation of soreness, shame, and humiliation. I feel wrought up to a great pitch of nervous excitement when we leave the theater and drive to the Malkasten, where there is more music—dance music, and where the ball is at its height. And in a few moments I find myself whirling down the room in the arms of von Francius, to the music of "Mein schoenster Tag in Baden," and wishing very earnestly that the heart-sickness I feel would make me ill or faint, or anything that would send me home to quietness and—him. But it does not have the desired effect. I am in a fever; I am all too vividly conscious, and people tell me how well I am looking, and that rosy cheeks become me better than pale ones.
They are merry parties, these dances at the Malkasten, in the quaintly decorated saal of the artists' club-house. There is a certain license in the dress. Velvet coats, and coats, too, in many colors, green and prune and claret, vying with black, are not tabooed. There are various uniforms of hussars, infantry, and uhlans, and some of the women, too, are dressed in a certain fantastically picturesque style to please their artist brothers or fiances.
The dancing gets faster, and the festivities are kept up late. Songs are sung which perhaps would not be heard in a quiet drawing-room; a little acting is done with them. Music is played, and von Francius, in a vagrant mood, sits down and improvises a fitful, stormy kind of fantasia, which in itself and in his playing puts me much in mind of the weird performances of the Abbate Liszt.
I at least hear another note than of yore, another touch. The soul that it wanted seems gradually creeping into it. He tells a strange story upon the quivering keys—it is becoming tragic, sad, pathetic. He says hastily to me and in an under-tone: "Fraeulein May, this is a thought of one of your own poets:
"'How sad, and mad, and bad it was, And yet how it was sweet.'"
I am almost in tears, and every face is affording illustrations for "The Expressions of the Emotions in Men and Women," when it suddenly breaks off with a loud, Ha! ha! ha! which sounds as if it came from a human voice, and jars upon me, and then he breaks into a waltz, pushing the astonished musicians aside, and telling the company to dance while he pipes.
A mad dance to a mad tune. He plays and plays on, ever faster, and ever a wilder measure, with strange eerie clanging chords in it which are not like dance notes, until Adelaide prepares to go, and then he suddenly ceases, springs up, and comes with us to our carriage. Adelaide looks white and worn.
Again at the carriage door, "a pair of words" passes between them.
"Milady is tired?" from him, in a courteous tone, as his dark eyes dwell upon her face.
"Thanks, Herr Direktor, I am generally tired," from her, with a slight smile, as she folds her shawl across her breast with one hand, and extends the other to him.
"Adieu, Herr von Francius."
The ball is over, and I think we have all had enough of it.
THE CARNIVAL BALL.
"Aren't you coming to the ball, Eugen?"
"I would if I were you."
"But you are yourself, you see, and I am I. What was it that Heinrich Mohr in 'The Children of the World' was always saying? Ich bin ich, und setze mich selbst. Ditto me, that's all."
"It is no end of a lark," I pursued.
"My larking days are over."
"And you can talk to any one you like."
"I am going to talk to myself, thanks. I have long wanted a little conversation with that interesting individual, and while you are masquerading, I will be doing the reverse. By the time you come home I shall be so thoroughly self-investigated and set to rights that a mere look at me will shake all the frivolity out of you."
"Miss Wedderburn will be there."
"I hope she may enjoy it."
"At least she will look so lovely that she will make others enjoy it."
He made no answer.
"You won't go—quite certain?"
"Quite certain, mein lieber. Go yourself, and may you have much pleasure."
Finding that he was in earnest, I went out to hire one domino and purchase one mask, instead of furnishing myself, as I had hoped, with two of each of those requisites.
It was Sunday, the first day of the carnival, and that devoted to the ball of the season. There were others given, but this was the Malerball, or artists' ball. It was considered rather select, and had I not been lucky enough to have one or two pupils, members of the club, who had come forward with offerings of tickets, I might have tried in vain to gain admittance.
Everybody in Elherthal who was anybody would be at this ball. I had already been at one like it, as well as at several of the less select and rougher entertainments, and I found a pleasure which was somewhat strange even to myself in standing to one side and watching the motley throng and the formal procession which was every year organized by the artists who had the management of the proceedings.
The ball began at the timely hour of seven; about nine I enveloped myself in my domino, and took my way across the road to the scene of the festivities, which took up the whole three saals of the Tonhalle.
The night was bitter cold, but cold with that rawness which speaks of a coming thaw. The lamps were lighted, and despite the cold there was a dense crowd of watchers round the front of the building and in the gardens, with cold, inquisitive noses flattened against the long glass doors through which I have seen the people stream in the pleasant May evenings after the concert or musikfest into the illuminated gardens.
The last time I had been in the big saal had been to attend a dry probe to a dry concert—the "Erste Walpurgisnacht" of Mendelssohn. The scene was changed now; the whole room was a mob—"motley the only wear." It was full to excess, so that there was scarcely room to move about, much less for dancing. For that purpose the middle saal of the three had been set aside, or rather a part of it railed off.
I felt a pleasant sense of ease and well-being—a security that I should not be recognized, as I had drawn the pointed hood of my domino over my head, and enveloped myself closely in its ample folds, and thus I could survey the brilliant Maskenball as I surveyed life from a quiet, unnoticed obscurity, and without taking part in its active affairs.
There was music going on as I entered. It could scarcely be heard above the Babel of tongues which was sounding. People were moving as well as they could. I made my way slowly and unobtrusively toward the upper end of the saal, intending to secure a place on the great orchestra, and thence survey the procession.
I recognized dozens of people whom I knew personally, or by sight, or name, transformed from sober Rhenish burger, or youths of the period, into persons and creatures whose appropriateness or inappropriateness to their every-day character it gave me much joy to witness. The most foolish young man I knew was attired as Cardinal Richelieu; the wisest, in certain respects, had a buffoon's costume, and plagued the statesman and churchman grievously.
By degrees I made my way through the mocking, taunting, flouting, many-colored crowd, to the orchestra, and gradually up its steps until I stood upon a fine vantage-ground. Near me were others; I looked round. One party seemed to keep very much together—a party which for richness and correctness of costume outshone all others in the room. Two ladies, one dark and one fair, were dressed as Elsa and Ortrud. A man, whose slight, tall, commanding figure I soon recognized, was attired in the blue mantle, silver helm and harness of Lohengrin the son of Percivale; and a second man, too boyish-looking for the character, was masked as Frederic of Telramund. Henry the Fowler was wanting, but the group was easily to be recognized as personating the four principal characters from Wagner's great opera.
They had apparently not been there long, for they had not yet unmasked. I had, however, no difficulty in recognizing any of them. The tall, fair girl in the dress of Elsa was Miss Wedderburn; the Ortrud was Lady Le Marchant, and right well she looked the character. Lohengrin was von Francius, and Friedrich von Telramund was Mr. Arkwright, Sir Peter's secretary. Here was a party in whom I could take some interest, and I immediately and in the most unprincipled manner devoted myself to watching them—myself unnoticed.
"Who in all that motley crowd would I wish to be?" I thought, as my eyes wandered over them.
The procession was just forming; the voluptuous music of "Die Tausend und eine Nacht" waltzes was floating from the gallery and through the room. They went sweeping past—or running, or jumping; a ballet-girl whose mustache had been too precious to be parted with and a lady of the vielle cour beside her, nuns and corpses; Christy Minstrels (English, these last, whose motives were constantly misunderstood), fools and astrologers, Gretchens, Claerchens, devils, Egmonts, Joans of Arc enough to have rescued France a dozen times, and peasants of every race: Turks and Finns; American Indians and Alfred the Great—it was tedious and dazzling.
Then the procession was got into order; a long string of German legends, all the misty chronicle of Gudrun, the "Nibelungenlied" and the Rheingold—Siegfried and Kriemhild—those two everlasting figures of beauty and heroism, love and tragedy, which stand forth in hues of pure brightness that no time can dim; Brunhild and von Tronje-Hagen—this was before the days of Bayreuth and the Tetralogy—Tannhauser and Lohengrin, the Loreley, Walther von der Vogelweide, the two Elizabeths of the Wartburg, dozens of obscure legends and figures from "Volkslieder" and Folklore which I did not recognize; "Dornroschen," Rubezahl; and the music to which they marched, was the melancholy yet noble measure, "The Last Ten of the Fourth Regiment."
I surveyed the masks and masquerading for some time, keeping my eye all the while upon the party near me. They presently separated. Lady Le Marchant took the arm which von Francius offered her, and they went down the steps. Miss Wedderburn and the young secretary were left alone. I was standing near them, and two other masks, both in domino, hoveredaeae about. One wore a white domino with a scarlet rosette on the breast. The other was a black domino, closely disguised, who looked long after von Francius and Lady Le Marchant, and presently descended the orchestra steps and followed in their wake.
"Do not remain with me, Mr. Arkwright," I heard Miss Wedderburn say. "You want to dance. Go and enjoy yourself."
"I could not think of leaving you alone, Miss Wedderburn."
"Oh, yes, you could, and can. I am not going to move from here. I want to look on—not to dance. You will find me here when you return."
Again she urged him not to remain with her, and finally he departed in search of amusement among the crowd below.
Miss Wedderburn was now alone. She turned; her eyes, through her mask, met mine through my mask, and a certain thrill shot through me. This was such an opportunity as I had never hoped for, and I told myself that I should be a great fool if I let it slip. But how to begin? I looked at her. She was very beautiful, this young English girl, with the wonderful blending of fire and softness which had made me from the first think her one of the most attractive women I had ever seen.
As I stood, awkward and undecided, she beckoned me to her. In an instant I was at her side, bowing but maintaining silence.
"You are Herr Helfen, nicht wahr?" said she, inquiringly.
"Yes," said I, and removed my mask. "How did you know it?"
"Something in your figure and attitude. Are you not dancing?"
"Nor I—I am not in the humor for it. I never felt less like dancing, nor less like a masquerade." Then—hesitatingly—"Are you alone to-night?"
"Yes. Eugen would not come."
"He will not be here at all?"
"Not at all?"
"I am surprised."
"I tried to persuade him to come," said I, apologetically. "But he would not. He said he was going to have a little conversation at home with himself."
"So!" She turned to me with a mounting color, which I saw flush to her brow above her mask, and with parted lips.
"He has never cared for anything since Sigmund left us," I continued.
"Sigmund—was that the dear little boy?"
"You say very truly."
"Tell me about him. Was not his father very fond of him?"
"Fond! I never saw a man idolize his child so much. It was only need—the hardest need that made them part."
"How—need? You do not mean poverty?" said she, somewhat awe-struck.
"Oh, no! Moral necessity. I do not know the reason. I have never asked. But I know it was like a death-blow."
"Ah!" said she, and with a sudden movement removed her mask, as if she felt it stifling her, and looked me in the face with her beautiful clear eyes.
"Who could oblige him to part with his own child?" she asked.
"That I do not know, mein Fraeulein. What I do know is that some shadow darkens my friend's life and imbitters it—that he not only can not do what he wishes, but is forced to do what he hates—and that parting was one of the things."
She looked at me with eagerness for some moments; then said, quickly:
"I can not help being interested in all this, but I fancy I ought not to listen to it, for—for—I don't think he would like it. He—he—I believe he dislikes me, and perhaps you had better say no more."
"Dislikes you!" I echoed. "Oh, no!"
"Oh, yes! he does," she repeated, with a faint smile, which struggled for a moment with a look of pain, and then was extinguished. "I certainly was once very rude to him, but I should not have thought he was an ungenerous man—should you?"
"He is not ungenerous; the very reverse; he is too generous."
"It does not matter, I suppose," said she, repressing some emotion. "It can make no difference, but it pains me to be so misunderstood and so behaved to by one who was at first so kind to me—for he was very kind."
"Mein Fraeulein," said I, eager, though puzzled, "I can not explain it; it is as great a mystery to me as to you. I know nothing of his past—nothing of what he has been or done; nothing of who he is—only of one thing I am sure—that he is not what he seems to be. He may be called Eugen Courvoisier, or he may call himself Eugen Courvoisier; he was once known by some name in a very different world to that he lives in now. I know nothing about that, but I know this—that I believe in him. I have lived more than three years with him; he is true and honorable; fantastically, chivalrously honorable" (her eyes were downcast and her cheeks burning). "He never did anything false or dishonest—"
A slight, low, sneering laugh at my right hand caused me to look up. That figure in a white domino with a black mask, and a crimson rosette on the breast, stood leaning up against the foot of the organ, but other figures were near; the laugh might have come from one of them; it might have nothing to do with us or our remarks. I went on in a vehement and eager tone:
"He is what we Germans call a ganzer kerl—thorough in all—out and out good. Nothing will ever make me believe otherwise. Perhaps the mystery will never be cleared up. It doesn't matter to me. It will make no difference in my opinion of the only man I love."
A pause. Miss Wedderburn was looking at me; her eyes were full of tears; her face strangely moved. Yes—she loved him. It stood confessed in the very strength of the effort she made to be calm and composed. As she opened her lips to speak, that domino that I mentioned glided from her place and stooping down between us, whispered or murmured:
"You are a fool for your pains. Believe no one—least of all those who look most worthy of belief. He is not honest; he is not honorable. It is from shame and disgrace that he hides himself. Ask him if he remembers the 20th of April five years ago; you will hear what he has to say about it, and how brave and honorable he looks."
Swift as fire the words were said, and rapidly as the same she had raised herself and disappeared. We were left gazing at each other. Miss Wedderburn's face was blanched—she stared at me with large dilated eyes, and at last in a low voice of anguish and apprehension said:
"Oh, what does it mean?"
Her voice recalled me to myself.
"It may mean what it likes," said I, calmly. "As I said, it makes no difference to me. I do not and will not believe that he ever did anything dishonorable."
"Do you not?" said she, tremulously. "But—but—Anna Sartorius does know something of him."
"Who is Anna Sartorius?"
"Why, that domino who spoke to us just now. But I forgot. You will not know her. She wanted long ago to tell me about him, and I would not let her, so she said I might learn for myself, and should never leave off until I knew the lesson by heart. I think she has kept her word," she added, with a heartsick sigh.
"You surely would not believe her if she said the same thing fifty times over," said I, not very reasonably, certainly.
"I do not know," she replied, hesitatingly. "It is very difficult to know."
"Well, I would not. If the whole world accused him I would believe nothing except from his own lips."
"I wish I knew all about Anna Sartorius," said she, slowly, and she looked as if seeking back in her memory to remember some dream. I stood beside her; the motley crowd ebbed and flowed beneath us, but the whisper we had heard had changed everything; and yet, no—to me not changed, but only darkened things.
In the meantime it had been growing later. Our conversation, with its frequent pauses, had taken a longer time than we had supposed. The crowd was thinning. Some of the women were going.
"I wonder where my sister is!" observed Miss Wedderburn, rather wearily. Her face was pale, and her delicate head drooped as if it were overweighed and pulled down by the superabundance of her beautiful chestnut hair, which came rippling and waving over her shoulders. A white satin petticoat, stiff with gold embroidery; a long trailing blue mantle of heavy brocade, fastened on the shoulders with golden clasps; a golden circlet in the gold of her hair; such was the dress, and right royally she became it. She looked a vision of loveliness. I wondered if she would ever act Elsa in reality; she would be assuredly the loveliest representative of that fair and weak-minded heroine who ever trod the boards. Supposing it ever came to pass that she acted Elsa to some one else's Lohengrin, would she think of this night? Would she remember the great orchestra—and me, and the lights, and the people—our words—a whisper? A pause.
"But where can Adelaide be?" she said, at last. "I have not seen them since they left us."
"They are there," said I, surveying from my vantage-ground the thinning ranks. "They are coming up here too. And there is the other gentleman, Graf von Telramund, following them."
They drew up to the foot of the orchestra, and then Mr. Arkwright came up to seek us.
"Miss Wedderburn, Lady Le Marchant is tired and thinks it is time to be going."
"So am I tired," she replied. I stepped back, but before she went away she turned to me, holding out her hand:
"Good-night, Herr Helfen. I, too, will not believe without proof."
We shook hands, and she went away.
* * * * *
The lamp still burning, the room cold, the stove extinct. Eugen seated motionless near it.
"Eugen, art thou asleep?"
"I asleep, my dear boy! Well, how was it?"
"Eugen, I wish you had been there."
"Why?" He roused himself with an effort and looked at me. His brow was clouded, his eyes too.
"Because you would have enjoyed it. I did. I saw Miss Wedderburn, and spoke to her. She looked lovely."
"In that case it would have been odd indeed if you had not enjoyed yourself."
"You are inexplicable."
"It is bed-time," he remarked, rising and speaking, as I thought, coldly.
We both retired. As for the whisper, frankly and honestly, I did not give it another thought.
Following Arkwright, I joined Adelaide and von Francius at the foot of the orchestra. She had sent word that she was tired. Looking at her, I thought indeed she must be very tired, so white, so sad she looked.
"Adelaide," I expostulated, "why did you remain so long?"
"Oh, I did not know it was so late. Come!"
We made our way out of the hall through the veranda to the entrance. Lady Le Merchant's carriage, it seemed, was ready and waiting. It was a pouring night. The thaw had begun. The steady downpour promised a cheerful ending to the carnival doings of the Monday and Tuesday; all but a few homeless or persevering wretches had been driven away. We drove away too. I noticed that the "good-night" between Adelaide and von Francius was of the most laconical character. They barely spoke, did not shake hands, and he turned and went to seek his cab before we had all got into the carriage.
Adelaide uttered not a word during our drive home, and I, leaning back, shut my eyes and lived the evening over again. Eugen's friend had laughed the insidious whisper to scorn. I could not deal so summarily with it; nor could I drive the words of it out of my head. They set themselves to the tune of the waltz, and rang in my ears:
"He is not honest; he is not honorable. It is from shame and disgrace that he is hiding. Ask him if he remembers the 20th of April five years ago."
The carriage stopped. A sleepy servant let us in. Adelaide, as we went upstairs, drew me into her dressing-room.
"A moment, May. Have you enjoyed yourself?"
"H'm—well—yes and no. And you, Adelaide?"
"I never enjoy myself now," she replied, very gently. "I am getting used to that, I think."
She clasped her jeweled hands and stood by the lamp, whose calm light lighted her calm face, showing it wasted and unutterably sad.
Something—a terror, a shrinking as from a strong menacing hand—shook me.
"Are you ill, Adelaide?" I cried.
"No. Good-night, dear May. Schlaf' wohl, as they say here."
To my unbounded astonishment, she leaned forward and gave me a gentle kiss; then, still holding my hand, asked: "Do you still say your prayers, May?"
"What do you say?"
"Oh! the same that I always used to say; they are better than any I can invent."
"Yes. I never do say mine now. I rather think I am afraid to begin again."
"Good-night, Adelaide," I said, inaudibly; and she loosed my hand.
At the door I turned. She was still standing by the lamp; still her face wore the same strange, subdued look. With a heart oppressed by new uneasiness, I left her.
It must have been not till toward dawn that I fell into a sleep, heavy, but not quiet—filled with fantastic dreams, most of which vanished as soon as they had passed my mind. But one remained. To this day it is as vivid before me, as if I had actually lived through it.
Meseemed again to be at the Grafenbergerdahl, again to be skating, again rescued—and by Eugen Courvoisier. But suddenly the scene changed; from a smooth sheet of ice, across which the wind blew nippingly, and above which the stars twinkled frostily, there was a huge waste of water which raged, while a tempest howled around—the clear moon was veiled, all was darkness and chaos. He saved me, not by skating with me to the shore, but by clinging with me to some floating wood until we drove upon a bank and landed. But scarcely had we set foot upon the ground, than all was changed again. I was alone, seated upon a bench in the Hofgarten, on a spring afternoon. It was May; the chestnuts and acacias were in full bloom, and the latter made the air heavy with their fragrance. The nightingales sung richly, and I sat looking, from beneath the shade of a great tree, upon the fleeting Rhine, which glided by almost past my feet. It seemed to me that I had been sad—so sad as never before. A deep weight appeared to have been just removed from my heart, and yet so heavy had it been that I could not at once recover from its pressure; and even then, in the sunshine, and feeling that I had no single cause for care or grief, I was unhappy, with a reflex mournfulness.
And as I sat thus, it seemed that some one came and sat beside me without speaking, and I did not turn to look at him; but ever as I sat there and felt that he was beside me, the sadness lifted from my heart, until it grew so full of joy that tears rose to my eyes. Then he who was beside me placed his hand upon mine, and I looked at him. It was Eugen Courvoisier. His face and his eyes were full of sadness; but I knew that he loved me, though he said but one word, "Forgive!" to which I answered, "Can you forgive?" But I knew that I alluded to something much deeper than that silly little episode of having cut him at the theater. He bowed his head; and then I thought I began to weep, covering my face with my hands; but they were tears of exquisite joy, and the peace at my heart was the most entire I had ever felt. And he loosened my hands, and drew me to him and kissed me, saying "My love!" And as I felt—yes, actually felt—the pressure of his lips upon mine, and felt the spring shining upon me, and heard the very echo of the twitter of the birds, saw the light fall upon the water, and smelled the scent of the acacias, and saw the Lotus-blume as she—
"Duftet und weinet und zittert Vor Liebe und Liebesweh,"
I awoke, and confronted a gray February morning, felt a raw chilliness in the air, heard a cold, pitiless rain driven against the window; knew that my head ached, my heart harmonized therewith; that I was awake, not in a dream; that there had been no spring morning, no acacias, no nightingales; above all, no love—remembered last night, and roused to the consciousness of another day, the necessity of waking up and living on.
Nor could I rest or sleep. I rose and contemplated through the window the driving rain and the soaking street, the sorrowful naked trees, the plain of the parade ground, which looked a mere waste of mud and half-melted ice; the long plain line of the Caserne itself—a cheering prospect truly!
When I went down-stairs I found Sir Peter, in heavy traveling overcoat, standing in the hall; a carriage stood at the door; his servant was putting in his master's luggage and rugs. I paused in astonishment. Sir Peter looked at me and smiled with the dubious benevolence which he was in the habit of extending to me.
"I am very sorry to be obliged to quit your charming society, Miss Wedderburn, but business calls me imperatively to England; and, at least, I am sure that my wife can not be unhappy with such a companion as her sister."
"You are going to England?"
"I am going to England. I have been called so hastily that I can make no arrangements for Adelaide to accompany me, and indeed it would not be at all pleasant for her, as I am only going on business; but I hope to return for her and bring her home in a few weeks. I am leaving Arkwright with you. He will see that you have all you want."
Sir Peter was smiling, ever smiling, with the smile which was my horror.
"A brilliant ball, last night, was it not?" he added, extending his hand to me, in farewell, and looking at me intently with eyes that fascinated and repelled me at once.
"Very, but—but—you were not there?"
"Was I not? I have a strong impression that I was. Ask my lady if she thinks I was there. And now good-bye, and au revoir!"
He loosened my hand, descended the steps, entered the carriage, and was driven away. His departure ought to have raised a great weight from my mind, but it did not; it impressed me with a sense of coming disaster.
Adelaide breakfasted in her room. When I had finished I went to her. Her behavior puzzled me. She seemed elated, excited, at the absence of Sir Peter, and yet, suddenly turning to me, she exclaimed, eagerly:
"Oh, May! I wish I had been going to England, too! I wish I could leave this place, and never see it again."
"Was Sir Peter at the ball, Adelaide?" I asked.
She turned suddenly pale; her lip trembled; her eye wavered, as she said in a low, uneasy voice:
"I believe he was—yes; in domino."
"What a sneaking thing to do!" I remarked, candidly. "He had told us particularly that he was not coming."
"That very statement should have put us on our guard," she remarked.
"On our guard? Against what?" I asked, unsuspectingly.
"Oh, nothing—nothing! I wonder when he will return! I would give a world to be in England!" she said, with a heartsick sigh; and I, feeling very much bewildered, left her.
In the afternoon, despite wind and weather, I sallied forth, and took my way to my old lodgings in the Wehrhahn. Crossing a square leading to the street I was going to, I met Anna Sartorius. She bowed, looking at me mockingly. I returned her salutation, and remembered last night again with painful distinctness. The air seemed full of mysteries and uncertainties; they clung about my mind like cobwebs, and I could not get rid of their soft, stifling influence.
Having arrived at my lodgings, I mounted the stairs. Frau Lutzler met me.
"Na, na, Fraeulein! You do not patronize me much now. My rooms are becoming too small for you, I reckon."
"Indeed, Frau Lutzler, I wish I had never been in any larger ones," I answered her, earnestly.
"So! Well, 'tis true you look thin and worn—not as well as you used to. And were you—but I heard you were, so where's the use of telling lies about it—at the Maskenball last night? And how did you like it?"
"Oh, it was all very new to me. I never was at one before."
"Nicht? Then you must have been astonished. They say there was a Mephisto so good he would have deceived the devil himself. And you, Fraeulein—I heard that you looked very beautiful."
"So! It must have been a mistake."
"Doch nicht! I have always maintained that at certain times you were far from bad-looking, and dressed and got up for the stage, would be absolutely handsome. Nearly any one can be that—if you are not too near the foot-lights, that is, and don't go behind the scenes."
With which neat slaying of a particular compliment by a general one, she released me, and let me go on my way upstairs.
Here I had some books and some music. But the room was cold; the books failed to interest me, and the music did not go—the piano was like me—out of tune. And yet I felt the need of some musical expression of the mood that was upon me. I bethought myself of the Tonhalle, next door, almost, and that in the rittersaal it would be quiet and undisturbed, as the ball that night was not to be held there, but in one of the large rooms of the Caserne.
Without pausing to think a second time of the plan, I left the house and went to the Tonhalle, only a few steps away. In consequence of the rain and bad weather almost every trace of the carnival had disappeared. I found the Tonhalle deserted save by a bar-maid at the restauration. I asked her if the rittersaal were open, and she said yes. I passed on. As I drew near the door I heard music; the piano was already being played. Could it be von Francius who was there? I did not think so. The touch was not his—neither so practiced, so brilliant, nor so sure.
Satisfied, after listening a moment, that it was not he, I resolved to go in and pass through the room. If it were any one whom I could send away I would do so, if not, I could go away again myself.
I entered. The room was somewhat dark, but I went in and had almost come to the piano before I recognized the player—Courvoisier. Overcome with vexation and confusion at the contretemps, I paused a moment, undecided whether to turn back and go out again. In any case I resolved not to remain in the room. He was seated with his back to me, and still continued to play. Some music was on the desk of the piano before him.
I might turn back without being observed. I would do so. Hardly, though—a mirror hung directly before the piano, and I now saw that while he continued to play, he was quietly looking at me, and that his keen eyes—that hawk's glance which I knew so well—must have recognized me. That decided me. I would not turn back. It would be a silly, senseless proceeding, and would look much more invidious than my remaining. I walked up to the piano, and he turned, still playing.
"Guten Tag, mein Fraeulein."
I merely bowed, and began to search through a pile of songs and music upon the piano. I would at any rate take some away with me to give some color to my proceedings. Meanwhile he played on.
I selected a song, not in the least knowing what it was, and rolling it up, was turning away.
"Are you busy, Miss Wedderburn?"
"Would it be asking too much of you to play the pianoforte accompaniment?"
"I will try," said I, speaking briefly, and slowly drawing off my gloves.
"If it is disagreeable to you, don't do it," said he, pausing.
"Not in the very least," said I, avoiding looking at him.
He opened the music. It was one of Jensen's "Wanderbilder" for piano and violin—the "Kreuz am Wege."
"I have only tried it once before," I remarked, "and I am a dreadful bungler."
"Bitte sehr!" said he, smiling, arranging his own music on one of the stands and adding, "Now I am ready."
I found my hands trembling so much that I could scarcely follow the music. Truly this man, with his changes from silence to talkativeness, from ironical hardness to cordiality, was a puzzle and a trial to me.
"Das Kreuz am Wege" turned out rather lame. I said so when it was over.
"Suppose we try it again," he suggested, and we did so. I found my fingers lingering and forgetting their part as I listened to the piercing beauty of his notes.
"That is dismal," said he.
"It is a dismal subject, is it not?"
"Suggestive, at least. 'The Cross by the Wayside.' Well, I have a mind for something more cheerful. Did you leave the ball early last night?"
"No; not very early."
"Did you enjoy it?"
"It was all new to me—very interesting—but I don't think I quite enjoyed it."
"Ah, you should see the balls at Florence, or Venice, or Vienna!"
He smiled as he leaned back, as if thinking over past scenes.
"Yes," said I, dubiously, "I don't think I care much for such things, though it is interesting to watch the little drama going on around."
"And to act in it," I also thought, remembering Anna Sartorius and her whisper, and I looked at him. "Not honest, not honorable. Hiding from shame and disgrace."
I looked at him and did not believe it. For the moment the torturing idea left me. I was free from it and at peace.
"Were you going to practice?" he asked. "I fear I disturb you."
"Oh, no! It does not matter in the least. I shall not practice now."
"I want to try some other things," said he, "and Friedhelm's and my piano was not loud enough for me, nor was there sufficient space between our walls for the sounds of a symphony. Do you not know the mood?"
"But I am afraid to ask you to accompany me."
"You seem unwilling."
"I am not: but I should have supposed that my unwillingness—if I had been unwilling—would have been an inducement to you to ask me."
"Since you took a vow to be disagreeable to me, and to make me hate you."
A slight flush passed rapidly over his face, as he paused for a moment and bit his lips.
"Mein Fraeulein—that night I was in bitterness of spirit—I hardly knew what I was saying—"
"I will accompany you," I interrupted him, my heart beating. "Only how can I begin unless you play, or tell me what you want to play?"
"True," said he, laughing, and yet not moving from his place beside the piano, upon which he had leaned his elbow, and across which he now looked at me with the self-same kindly, genial glance as that he had cast upon me across the little table at the Koeln restaurant. And yet not the self-same glance, but another, which I would not have exchanged for that first one.
If he would but begin to play I felt that I should not mind so much; but when he sat there and looked at me and half smiled, without beginning anything practical, I felt the situation at least trying.
He raised his eyes as the door opened at the other end of the saal.
"Ah, there is Friedhelm," said he, "now he will take seconds."
"Then I will not disturb you any longer."
"On the contrary," said he, laying his hand upon my wrist. (My dream of the morning flashed into my mind.) "It would be better if you remained, then we could have a trio. Friedel, come here! You are just in time. Fraeulein Wedderburn will be good enough to accompany us, and we can try the Fourth Symphony."
"What you call 'Spring'?" inquired Helfen, coming up smilingly. "With all my heart. Where is the score?"
"What you call Spring?" Was it possible that in winter—on a cold and unfriendly day—we were going to have spring, leafy bloom, the desert filled with leaping springs, and blossoming like a rose? Full of wonder, surprise, and a certain excitement at the idea, I sat still and thought of my dream, and the rain beat against the windows, and a draughty wind fluttered the tinselly decorations of last night. The floor was strewed with fragments of garments torn in the crush—paper and silken flowers, here a rosette, there a buckle, a satin bow, a tinsel spangle. Benches and tables were piled about the room, which was half dark; only to westward, through one window, was visible a paler gleam, which might by comparison be called light.
The two young men turned over the music, laughing at something, and chaffing each other. I never in my life saw two such entire friends as these; they seemed to harmonize most perfectly in the midst of their unlikeness to each other.
"Excuse that we kept you waiting, mein Fraeulein," said Courvoisier, placing some music before me. "This fellow is so slow, and will put everything into order as he uses it."
"Well for you that I am, mein lieber," said Helfen, composedly. "If any one had the enterprise to offer a prize to the most extravagant, untidy fellow in Europe, the palm would be yours—by a long way too."
"Friedel binds his music and numbers it," observed Courvoisier. "It is one of the most beautiful and affecting of sights to behold him with scissors, paste-pot, brush and binding. It occurs periodically about four times a year, I think, and moves me almost to tears when I see it."
"Der edle Ritter leaves his music unbound, and borrows mine on every possible occasion when his own property is scattered to the four winds of heaven."
"Aber! aber!" cried Eugen. "That is too much! I call Frau Schmidt to witness that all my music is put in one place."
"I never said it wasn't. But you never can find it when you want it, and the confusion is delightfully increased by your constantly rushing off to buy a new partitur when you can't find the old one; so you have three or four of each."
"This is all to show off what he considers his own good qualities; a certain slow, methodical plodding and a good memory, which are natural gifts, but which he boasts of as if they were acquired virtues. He binds his music because he is a pedant and a prig, and can't help it; a bad fellow to get on with. Now, mein bester, for the 'Fruhling.'"
"But the Fraeulein ought to have it explained," expostulated Helfen, laughing. "Every one has not the misfortune to be so well acquainted with you as I am. He has rather insane fancies sometimes," he added, turning to me, "without rhyme or reason that I am aware, and he chooses to assert that Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, or the chief motive of it, occurred to him on a spring day, when the master was, for a time, quite charmed from his bitter humor, and had, perhaps, some one by his side who put his heart in tune with the spring songs of the birds, the green of the grass, the scent of the flowers. So he calls it the 'Fruhling Symphonie,' and will persist in playing it as such. I call the idea rather far-fetched, but then that is nothing unusual with him."
"Having said your remarkably stupid say, which Miss Wedderburn has far too much sense to heed in the least, suppose you allow us to begin," said Courvoisier, giving the other a push toward his violin.
But we were destined to have yet another coadjutor in the shape of Karl Linders, who at that moment strolled in, and was hailed by his friends with jubilation.
"Come and help! Your 'cello will give just the mellowness that is wanted," said Eugen.
"I must go and get it then," said Karl, looking at me.
Eugen, with an indescribable expression as he intercepted the glance, introduced us to one another. Karl and Friedhelm Helfen went off to another part of the Tonhalle to fetch Karl's violoncello, and we were left alone again.
"Perhaps I ought not to have introduced him. I forgot 'Lohengrin,'" said Eugen.
"You know that you did not," said I, in a low voice.
"No," he answered, almost in the same tone. "It was thinking of that which led me to introduce poor old Karl to you. I thought, perhaps, that you would accept it as a sign—will you?"
"A sign of what?"
"That I feel myself to have been in the wrong throughout—and forgive."
As I sat, amazed and a little awed at this almost literal fulfillment of my dream, the others returned.
Karl contributed the tones of his mellowest of instruments, which he played with a certain pleasant breadth and brightness of coloring, and my dream came ever truer and truer. The symphony was as spring-like as possible. We tried it nearly all through; the hymn-like and yet fairy-like first movement; the second, that song of universal love, joy, and thanksgiving, with Beethoven's masculine hand evident throughout. To the notes there seemed to fall a sunshine into the room, and we could see the fields casting their covering of snow, and withered trees bursting into bloom; brooks swollen with warm rain, birds busy at nest-making; clumps of primroses on velvet leaves, and the subtle scent of violets; youths and maidens with love in their eyes; and even a hint of later warmth, when hedges should be white with hawthorn, and the woodland slopes look, with their sheets of hyacinths, as if some of heaven's blue had been spilled upon earth's grass.
As the last strong, melodious modulations ceased, Courvoisier pointed to one of the windows.
"Friedhelm, you wretched unbeliever, behold the refutation of your theories. The symphony has brought the sun out."
"For the first time," said Friedhelm, as he turned his earnest young face with its fringe of loose brown hair toward the sneaking sun-ray, which was certainly looking shyly in. "As a rule the very heavens weep at the performance. Don't you remember the last time we tried it, it began to rain instantly?"
"Miss Wedderburn's co-operation must have secured its success then on this occasion," said Eugen, gravely, glancing at me for a moment.
"Hear! hear!" murmured Karl, screwing up his violoncello and smiling furtively.
"Oh, I am afraid I hindered rather than helped," said I, "but it is very beautiful."
"But not like spring, is it?" asked Friedhelm.
"Well, I think it is."
"There! I knew she would declare for me," said Courvoisier, calmly, at which Karl Linders looked up in some astonishment.
"Shall we try this 'Traumerei,' Miss Wedderburn, if you are not too tired?"
I turned willingly to the piano, and we played Schumann's little "Dreams."
"Ah," said Eugen, with a deep sigh (and his face had grown sad), "isn't that the essence of sweetness and poetry? Here's another which is lovely. 'Noch ein Paar,' nicht wahr?"
"And it will be 'noch ein Paar' until our fingers drop off," scolded Friedhelm, who seemed, however, very willing to await that consummation. We went through many of the Kinderscenen and some of the Kreissleriana, and just as we finished a sweet little "Bittendes Kind," the twilight grew almost into darkness, and Courvoisier laid his violin down.
"Miss Wedderburn, thank you a thousand times!"
"Oh, bitte sehr!" was all I could say. I wanted to say so much more; to say that I had been made happy; my sadness dispelled, a dream half fulfilled, but the words stuck, and had they come ever so flowingly I could not have uttered them with Friedhelm Helfen, who knew so much, looking at us, and Karl Linders on his best behavior in what he considered superior company.
I do not know how it was that Karl and Friedhelm, as we all came from the Tonhalle, walked off to the house, and Eugen and I were left to walk alone through the soaking streets, emptied of all their revelers, and along the dripping Koenigsallee, with its leafless chestnuts, to Sir Peter's house. It was cold, it was wet—cheerless, dark, and dismal, and I was very happy—very insanely so. I gave a glance once or twice at my companion. The brightness had left his face; it was stern and worn again, and his lips set as if with the repression of some pain.
"Herr Courvoisier, have you heard from your little boy?"
"I do not expect to hear from him, mein Fraeulein. When he left me we parted altogether."
"Oh, how dreadful!"
No answer. And we spoke no more until he said "Good-evening" to me at the door of No. 3. As I went in I reflected that I might never meet him thus face to face again. Was it an opportunity missed, or was it a brief glimpse of unexpected joy?
As days went on and grew into weeks, and weeks paired off until a month passed, and I still saw the same stricken look upon my sister's face, my heart grew full of foreboding.
One morning the astonishing news came that Sir Peter had gone to America.
"America!" I ejaculated (it was always I who acted the part of chorus and did the exclamations and questioning), and I looked at Harry Arkwright, who had communicated the news, and who held an open letter in his hand.
"Yes, to America, to see about a railway which looks very bad. He has no end of their bonds," said Harry, folding up the letter.
"When will he return?"
"He doesn't know. Meanwhile we are to stay where we are."
Adelaide, when we spoke of this circumstance, said, bitterly:
"Everything is against me!"
"Against you, Adelaide?" said I, looking apprehensively at her.
"Yes, everything!" she repeated.
She had never been effusive in her behavior to others; she was now, if possible, still less so, but the uniform quietness and gentleness with which she now treated all who came in contact with her, puzzled and troubled me. What was it that preyed upon her mind? In looking round for a cause my thoughts lighted first on one person, then on another; I dismissed the idea of all, except von Francius, with a smile. Shortly I abandoned that idea too. True, he was a man of very different caliber from the others; a man, too, for whom Adelaide had conceived a decided friendship, though in these latter days even that seemed to be dying out. He did not come so often; when he did come they had little to say to each other. Perhaps, after all, the cause of her sadness lay no deeper than her every-day life, which must necessarily grow more mournful day by day. She could feel intensely, as I had lately become aware, and had, too, a warm, quick imagination. It might be that a simple weariness of life and the anticipation of long years to come of such a life lay so heavily upon her soul as to have wrought that gradual change.
Sometimes I was satisfied with this theory; at others it dwindled into a miserably inadequate measure. When Adelaide once or twice kissed me, smiled at me, and called me "dear," it was on my lips to ask the meaning of the whole thing, but it never passed them. I dared not speak when it came to the point.
One day, about this time, I met Anna Sartorius in one of the picture exhibitions. I would have bowed and passed her, but she stopped and spoke to me.
"I have not seen you often lately," said she; "but I assure you, you will hear more of me some time—and before long."
Without replying, I passed on. Anna had ceased even to pretend to look friendly upon me, and I did not feel much alarm as to her power for or against my happiness or peace of mind.
Regularly, once a month, I wrote to Miss Hallam and occasionally had a few lines from Stella, who had become a protegee of Miss Hallam's too. They appeared to get on very well together, at which I did not wonder; for Stella, with all her youthfulness, was of a cynical turn of mind, which must suit Miss Hallam well.
My greatest friend in Elberthal was good little Dr. Mittendorf, who had brought his wife to call upon me, and to whose house I had been invited several times since Miss Hallam's departure.
During this time I worked more steadily than ever, and with a deeper love of my art for itself. Von Francius was still my master and my friend. I used to look back upon the days, now nearly a year ago, when I first saw him, and seeing him, distrusted and only half liked him, and wondered at myself; for I had now as entire a confidence in him as can by any means be placed in a man. He had thoroughly won my esteem, respect, admiration—in a measure, too, my affection. I liked the power of him; the strong hand with which he carried things in his own way; the idiomatic language, and quick, curt sentences in which he enunciated his opinions. I felt him like a strong, kind, and thoughtful elder brother, and have had abundant evidence in his deeds and in some brief unemotional words of his that he felt a great regard of the fraternal kind for me. It has often comforted me, that friendship—pure, disinterested and manly on his side, grateful and unwavering on mine.
I still retained my old lodgings in the Wehrhahn, and was determined to do so. I would not be tied to remain in Sir Peter Le Marchant's house unless I choose. Adelaide wished me to come and remain with her altogether. She said Sir Peter wished it too; he had written and said she might ask me. I asked what was Sir Peter's motive in wishing it? Was it not a desire to humiliate both of us, and to show us that we—the girl who had scorned him, and the woman who had sold herself to him—were in the end dependent upon him, and must follow his will and submit to his pleasure?
She reddened, sighed, and owned that it was true; nor did she press me any further.
A month, then, elapsed between the carnival in February and the next great concert in the latter end of March. It was rather a special concert, for von Francius had succeeded, in spite of many obstacles, in bringing out the Choral Symphony.
He conducted well that night; and he, Courvoisier, Friedhelm Helfen, Karl Linders, and one or two others, formed in their white heat of enthusiasm a leaven which leavened the whole lump. Orchestra and chorus alike did a little more than their possible, without which no great enthusiasm can be carried out. As I watched von Francius, it seemed to me that a new soul had entered into the man. I did not believe that a year ago he could have conducted the Choral Symphony as he did that night. Can any one enter into the broad, eternal clang of the great "world-story" unless he has a private story of his own which may serve him in some measure as a key to its mystery? I think not. It was a night of triumph for Max von Francius. Not only was the glorious music cheered and applauded, he was called to receive a meed of thanks for having once more given to the world a never-dying joy and beauty.
I was in the chorus. Down below I saw Adelaide and her devoted attendant, Harry Arkwright. She looked whiter and more subdued than ever. All the splendor of the praise of "joy" could not bring joy to her heart—
"Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt"
brought no warmth to her cheek, nor lessened the load on her breast.
The concert over, we returned home. Adelaide and I retired to her dressing-room, and her maid brought us tea. She seated herself in silence. For my part, I was excited and hot, and felt my cheeks glowing. I was so stirred that I could not sit still, but moved to and fro, wishing that all the world could hear that music, and repeating lines from the "Ode to Joy," the grand march-like measure, feeling my heart uplifted with the exaltation of its opening strain:
"Freude, schoener Gotterfunken! Tochter aus Elysium!"
As I paced about thus excitedly, Adelaide's maid came in with a note. Mr. Arkwright had received it from Herr von Francius, who had desired him to give it to Lady Le Marchant.
Adelaide opened it and I went on with my chant. I know now how dreadful it must have sounded to her.
"Freude trinken alle Wesen An den Bruesten der Natur—"
"May!" said Adelaide, faintly.
I turned in my walk and looked at her. White as death, she held the paper toward me with a steady hand, and I, the song of joy slain upon my lips, took it. It was a brief note from von Francius.
"I let you know, my lady, first of all that I have accepted the post of Musik-Direktor in ——. It will be made known to-morrow."
I held the paper and looked at her. Now I knew the reason of her pallid looks. I had indeed been blind. I might have guessed better.
"Have you read it?" she asked, and she stretched her arms above her head, as if panting for breath.
"Adelaide!" I whispered, going up to her; "Adelaide—oh!"
She fell upon my neck. She did not speak, and I, speechless, held her to my breast.
"You love him, Adelaide?" I said, at last.
"With my whole soul!" she answered, in a low, very low, but vehement voice. "With my whole soul."
"And you have owned it to him?"
"Tell me," said I, "how it was."
"I think I have loved him since almost the first time I saw him—he made quite a different impression upon me than other men do—quite. I hardly knew myself. He mastered me. No other man ever did—except—" she shuddered a little, "and that only because I tied myself hand and foot. But I liked the mastery. It was delicious; it was rest and peace. It went on for long. We knew—each knew quite well that we loved, but he never spoke of it. He saw how it was with me and he helped me—oh, why is he so good? He never tried to trap me into any acknowledgment. He never made any use of the power he knew he had except to keep me right. But at the Maskenball—I do not know how it was—we were alone in all the crowd—there was something said—a look. It was all over. But he was true to the last. He did not say, 'Throw everything up and come to me.' He said, 'Give me the only joy that we may have. Tell me you love me.' And I told him. I said, 'I love you with my life and my soul, and everything I have, for ever and ever.' And that is true. He said, 'Thank you, milady. I accept the condition of my knighthood,' and kissed my hand. There was some-one following us. It was Sir Peter. He heard all, and he has punished me for it since. He will punish me again."
"That is all that has been said. He does not know that Sir Peter knows, for he has never alluded to it since. He has spared me. I say he is a noble man."
She raised herself, and looked at me.
Dear sister! With your love and your pride, your sins and your folly, inexpressibly dear to me! I pressed a kiss upon her lips.
"Von Francius is good, Adelaide; he is good."
"Von Francius would have told me this himself, but he has been afraid for me; some time ago he said to me that he had the offer of a post at a distance. That was asking my advice. I found out what it was, and said, 'Take it.' He has done so."
"Then you have decided?" I stammered.
"To part. He has strength. So have I. It was my own fault. May—I could bear it if it were for myself alone. I have had my eyes opened now. I see that when people do wrong they drag others into it—they punish those they love—it is part of their own punishment."
A pause. Facts, I felt, were pitiless; but the glow of friendship for von Francius was like a strong fire. In the midst of the keenest pain one finds a true man, and the discovery is like a sudden soothing of sharp anguish, or like the finding a strong comrade in a battle.
Adelaide had been very self-restrained and quiet all this time, but now suddenly broke out into low, quick, half sobbed-out words:
"Oh, I love him, I love him! It is dreadful! How shall I go through with it?"
Ay, there was the rub! Not one short, sharp pang, and over—all fire quenched in cool mists of death and unconsciousness, but long years to come of daily, hourly, paying the price; incessant compunction, active punishment. A prospect for a martyr to shirk from, and for a woman who has made a mistake to—live through.
We needed not further words. The secret was told, and the worst known. We parted. Von Francius was from this moment a sacred being to me.
But from this time he scarcely came near the house—not even to give me my lessons. I went to my lodging and had them there. Adelaide said nothing, asked not a question concerning him, nor mentioned his name, and the silence on his side was almost as profound as that on hers. It seemed as if they feared that should they meet, speak, look each other in the eyes, all resolution would be swept away, and the end hurry resistless on.
"And behold, though the way was light and the sun did shine, yet my heart was ill at ease, for a sinister blot did now and again fleck the sun, and a muttered sound perturbed the air. And he repeated oft 'One hath told me—thus—or thus.'"
Karl Linders, our old acquaintance, was now our fast friend. Many changes had taken place in the personnel of our fellow-workmen in the kapelle, but Eugen, Karl, and I remained stationary in the same places and holding the same rank as on the day we had first met. He, Karl, had been from the first more congenial to me than any other of my fellows (Eugen excepted, of course). Why, I could never exactly tell. There was about him a contagious cheerfulness, good-humor, and honesty. He was a sinner, but no rascal; a wild fellow—Taugenichts—wilder Gesell, as our phraseology had it, but the furthest thing possible from a knave.
Since his visits to us and his earnest efforts to curry favor with Sigmund by means of nondescript wool beasts, domestic or of prey, he had grown much nearer to us. He was the only intimate we had—the only person who came in and out of our quarters at any time; the only man who sat and smoked with us in an evening. At the time when Karl put in his first appearance in these pages he was a young man not only not particular, but utterly reckless as to the society he frequented. Any one, he was wont to say, was good enough to talk with, or to listen while talked to. Karl's conversation could not be called either affected or pedantic; his taste was catholic, and comprised within wide bounds; he considered all subjects that were amusing appropriate matter of discussion, and to him most subjects were—or were susceptible of being made—amusing.
Latterly, however, it would seem that a process of growth had been going on in him. Three years had worked a difference. In some respects he was, thank Heaven! still the old Karl—the old careless, reckless, aimless fellow; but in others he was metamorphosed.
Karl Linders, a handsome fellow himself and a slave to beauty, as he was careful to inform us—susceptible in the highest degree to real loveliness—so he often told us—and in love on an average, desperately and forever, once a week, had at last fallen really and actually in love.
For a long time we did not guess it—or rather, accepting his being in love as a chronic state of his being—one of the "inseparable accidents," which may almost be called qualities, we wondered what lay at the bottom of his sudden intense sobriety of demeanor and propriety of conduct, and looked for some cause deeper than love, which did not usually have that effect upon him; we thought it might be debt. We studied the behavior itself; we remarked that for upward of ten days he had never lauded the charms of any young woman connected with the choral or terpsichorean staff of the opera, and wondered.
We saw that he had had his hair very much cut, and we told him frankly that we did not think it improved him. To our great surprise he told us that we knew nothing about it, and requested us to mind our own business, adding testily, after a pause, that he did not see why on earth a set of men like us should make ourselves conspicuous by the fashion of our hair, as if we were Absaloms or Samsons.
"Samson had a Delilah, mein lieber," said I, eying him. "She shore his locks for him. Tell us frankly who has acted the part by you."
"Bah! Can a fellow have no sense in his own head to find such things out? Go and do likewise, and I can tell you you'll be improved."
But we agreed when he was gone that the loose locks, drooping over the laughing glance, suited him better than that neatly cropped propriety.
Days passed, and Karl was still not his old self. It became matter of public remark that his easy, short jacket, a mongrel kind of garment to which he was deeply attached, was discarded, not merely for grand occasions, but even upon the ordinary Saturday night concert, yea, even for walking out at midday, and a superior frock-coat substituted for it—a frock-coat in which, we told him, he looked quite edel. At which he pished and pshawed, but surreptitiously adjusted his collar before the looking-glass which the propriety and satisfactoriness of our behavior had induced Frau Schmidt to add to our responsibilities, pulled his cuffs down, and remarked en passant that "the 'cello was a horribly ungraceful instrument."
"Not as you use it," said we both, politely, and allowed him to lead the way to the concert-room.
A few evenings later he strolled into our room, lighted a cigar, and sighed deeply.
"What ails thee, then, Karl?" I asked.
"I've something on my mind," he replied, uneasily.
"That we know," put in Eugen; "and a pretty big lump it must be, too. Out with it, man! Has she accepted the bottle-nosed oboist after all?"
"Have you got into debt? How much? I dare say we can manage it between us."
"No—oh, no! I am five thalers to the good."
Our countenances grow more serious. Not debt? Then what was it, what could it be?
"I hope nothing has happened to Gretchen," suggested Eugen, for Gretchen, his sister, was the one permanently strong love of Karl's heart.
"Oh, no! Das Maedel is very well, and getting on in her classes."
"Then what is it?"
"I'm—engaged—to be married."
I grieve to say that Eugen and I, after staring at him for some few minutes, until we had taken in the announcement, both burst into the most immoderate laughter—till the tears ran down our cheeks, and our sides ached.
Karl sat quite still, unresponsive, puffing away at his cigar; and when we had finished, or rather were becoming a little more moderate in the expression of our amusement, he knocked the ash away from his weed, and remarked:
"That's blind jealousy. You both know that there isn't a Maedchen in the place who would look at you, so you try to laugh at people who are better off than yourselves."
This was so stinging (from the tone more than the words) as coming from the most sweet-tempered fellow I ever knew, that we stopped. Eugen apologized, and we asked who the lady was.
"I shouldn't suppose you cared to know," said he, rather sulkily. "And it's all very fine to laugh, but let me see the man who even smiles at her—he shall learn who I am."
We assured him, with the strongest expressions that we could call to our aid, that it was the very idea of his being engaged that made us laugh—not any disrespect, and begged his pardon again. By degrees he relented. We still urgently demanded the name of the lady.
"Als verlobte empfehlen sich Karl Linders and—who else?" asked Eugen.
"Als verlobte empfehlen sich[D] Karl Linders and Clara Steinmann," said Karl, with much dignity.
[Footnote D: The German custom on an engagement taking place is to announce it with the above words, signifying "M. and N. announce (recommend) themselves as betrothed." This appears in the newspaper—as a marriage with us.]