No change in the child's condition. A lethargy had fallen upon him. That awful stupor, with the dark, flushed cheek and heavy breath, was to me more ominous than the restlessness of fever.
I sat down and calculated. My telegram might be in Eugen's hand in the course of an hour.
When could he be here? Was it possible that he might arrive this night? I obtained the German equivalent for Bradshaw, and studied it till I thought I had made out that, supposing Eugen to receive the telegram in the shortest possible time, he might be here by half past eleven that night. It was now five in the afternoon. Six hours and a half—and at the end of that time his non-arrival might tell me he could not be here before the morrow.
I sat still, and now that the deed was done, gave myself up, with my usual enlightenment and discretion, to fears and apprehensions. The terrible look and tone of Graf von Rothenfels returned to my mind in full force. Clearly it was just the most dangerous thing in the world for Eugen to do—to put in an appearance at the present time. But another glance at Sigmund somewhat reassured me. In wondering whether girl had ever before been placed in such a bizarre situation as mine, darkness overtook me.
Sigmund moved restlessly and moaned, stretching out little hot hands, and saying "Father!" I caught those hands to my lips, and knew that I had done right.
It was a wild night. Driving clouds kept hiding and revealing the stormy-looking moon. I was out-of-doors. I could not remain in the house; it had felt too small for me, but now nature felt too large. I dimly saw the huge pile of the schloss defined against the gray light; sometimes when the moon unveiled herself it started out clear, and black, and grim. I saw a light in a corner window—that was Sigmund's room; and another in a room below—that was the Graf's study, and there the terrible man sat. I heard the wind moan among the trees, heard the great dogs baying from the kennels; from an open window came rich, low, mellow sounds. Old Brunken was in the music-room, playing to himself upon the violoncello. That was a movement from the "Grand Septuor"—the second movement, which is, if one may use such an expression, painfully beautiful. I bethought myself of the woods which lay hidden from me, the vast avenues, the lonely tanks, the grotesques statues, and that terrible figure with its arms cast upward, at the end of the long walk, and I shivered faintly.
I was some short distance down the principal avenue, and dared not go any further. A sudden dread of the loneliness and the night-voices came upon me; my heart beating thickly, I turned to go back to the house. I would try to comfort poor Countess Hildegarde in her watching and her fears.
But there is a step near me. Some one comes up the avenue, with foot that knows its windings, its turns and twists, its ups and downs.
"Eugen!" I said, tremulously.
A sudden pause—a stop; then he said with a kind of laugh:
"Witchcraft—Zauberei!" and was going on.
But now I knew his whereabouts, and coming up to him, touched his arm.
"This, however, is reality!" he exclaimed, infolding me and kissing me as he hurried on. "May, how is he?"
"Just the same," said I, clinging to him. "Oh, thank Heaven that you are come!"
"I drove to the gates, and sent the fellow away. But what art thou doing alone at the Ghost's Corner on a stormy night?"
We were still walking fast toward the schloss. My heart was beating fast, half with fear of what was impending, half with intensity of joy at hearing his voice again, and knowing what that last letter had told me.
As we emerged upon the great terrace before the house Eugen made one (the only one) momentary pause, pressed my arm, and bit his lips. I knew the meaning of it all. Then we passed quickly on. We met no one in the great stone hall—no one on the stairway or along the passages—straight he held his way, and I with him.
We entered the room. Eugen's eyes leaped swiftly to his child's face. I saw him pass his hand over his mouth. I withdrew my hand from his arm and stood aside, feeling a tremulous thankfulness that he was here, and that that restless plaining would at last be hushed in satisfaction.
A delusion! The face over which my lover bent did not brighten; nor the eyes recognize him. The child did not know the father for whom he had yearned out his little heart—he did not hear the half-frantic words spoken by that father as he flung himself upon him, kissing him, beseeching him, conjuring him with every foolish word of fondness that he could think of, to speak, answer, look up once again.
Then fear, terror overcame the man—for the first time I saw him look pale with apprehension.
"Not this cup—not this!" muttered he. "Gott im Himmel! anything short of this—I will give him up—leave him—anything—only let him live!"
He had flung himself, unnerved, trembling, upon a chair by the bedside—his face buried in his hands. I saw the sweat stand upon his brow—I could do nothing to help—nothing but wish despairingly that some blessed miracle would reverse the condition of the child and me—lay me low in death upon that bed—place him safe and sound in his father's arms.
Is it not hard, you father of many children, to lose one of them? Do you not grudge Death his prize? But this man had but the one; the love between them was such a love as one meets perhaps once in a life-time. The child's life had been a mourning to him, the father's a burden, ever since they had parted.
I felt it strange that I should be trying to comfort him, and yet it was so; it was his brow that leaned on my shoulder; it was he who was faint with anguish, so that he could scarce see or speak—his hand that was cold and nerveless. It was I who said:
"Do not despair, I hope still."
"If he is dying," said Eugen, "he shall die in my arms."
With which, as if the idea were a dreary kind of comfort, he started up, folded Sigmund in a shawl, and lifted him out of bed, infolding him in his arms, and pillowing his head upon his breast.
It was a terrible moment, yet, as I clung to his arm, and with him looked into our darling's face, I felt that von Francius' words, spoken long ago to my sister, contained a deep truth. This joy, so like a sorrow—would I have parted with it? A thousand times, no!
Whether the motion and movement roused him, or whether that were the crisis of some change, I knew not. Sigmund's eyes opened. He bent them upon the face above him, and after a pause of reflection, said, in a voice whose utter satisfaction passed anything I had ever heard: "My own father!" released a pair of little wasted arms from his covering, and clasped them round Eugen's neck, putting his face close to his, and kissing him as if no number of kisses could ever satisfy him.
Upon this scene, as Eugen stood in the middle of the room, his head bent down, a smile upon his face which no ultimate griefs could for the moment quench, there entered the countess.
Her greeting after six years of absence, separation, belief in his dishonesty, was a strange one. She came quickly forward, laid her hand on his arm, and said:
"Eugen, it is dreadfully infectious! Don't kiss the child in that way, or you will take the fever and be laid up too."
He looked up, and at his look a shock passed across her face; with pallid cheeks and parted lips she gazed at him speechless.
His mind, too, seemed to bridge the gulf—it was in a strange tone that he answered:
"Ah, Hildegarde! What does it matter what becomes of me? Leave me this!"
"No, not that, Eugen," said I, going up to him, and I suppose something in my eyes moved him, for he gave the child into my arms in silence.
The countess had stood looking at him. She strove for silence; sought tremulously after coldness, but in vain.
"Eugen—" She came nearer, and looked more closely at him. "Herrgott! how you are altered! What a meeting! I—can it be six years ago—and now—oh!" Her voice broke into a very wail. "We loved you—why did you deceive us?"
My heart stood still. Would he stand this test? It was the hardest he had had. Graefin Hildegarde had been—was dear to him. That he was dear to her, intensely dear, that love for him was intwined about her very heart-strings, stood confessed now. "Why did you deceive us?" It sounded more like, "Tell us we may trust you; make us happy again!" One word from him, and the poor sad lady would have banished from her heart the long-staying, unwelcome guest—belief in his falseness, and closed it away from her forever.
He was spared the dreadful necessity of answering her. A timid summons from her maid at the door told her the count wanted to speak to her, and she left us quickly.
* * * * *
Sigmund did not die; he recovered, and lives now. But with that I am not at present concerned.
It was the afternoon following that never-to-be-forgotten night. I had left Eugen watching beside Sigmund, who was sleeping, his hand jealously holding two of his father's fingers.
I intended to call at Frau Mittendorf's door to say that I could not yet return there, and when I came back, said Eugen, he would have something to tell me; he was going to speak with his brother—to tell him that we should be married, "and to speak about Sigmund," he added, decisively. "I will not risk such a thing as this again. If you had not been here he might have died without my knowing it. I feel myself absolved from all obligation to let him remain. My child's happiness shall not be further sacrificed."
With this understanding I left him. I went toward the countess's room, to speak to her, and tell her of Sigmund before I went out. I heard voices ere I entered the room, and when I entered it I stood still, and a sickly apprehension clutched my very heart. There stood my evil genius—the boeser Geist of my lover's fate—Anna Sartorius. And the count and countess were present, apparently waiting for her to begin to speak.
"You are here," said the Graefin to me. "I was just about to send for you. This lady says she knows you."
"She does," said I, hesitatingly.
Anna looked at me. There was gravity in her face, and the usual cynical smile in her eyes.
"You are surprised to see me," said she. "You will be still more surprised to hear that I have journeyed all the way from Elberthal to Lahnburg on your account, and for your benefit."
I did not believe her, and composing myself as well as I could, sat down. After all, what could she do to harm me? She could not rob me of Eugen's heart, and she had already done her worst against him and his fair name.
Anna had a strong will, she exerted it. Graf Bruno was looking in some surprise at the unexpected guest; the countess sat rigidly upright, with a puzzled look, as if at the sight of Anna she recalled some far-past scene. Anna compelled their attention; she turned to me, saying:
"Please remain here, Miss Wedderburn. What I have to say concerns you as much as any one here. You wonder who I am, and what business I have to intrude myself upon you," she added to the others.
"I confess—" began the countess, and Anna went on:
"You, gnaedige Frau, have spoken to me before, and I to you. I see you remember, or feel you ought to remember me. I will recall the occasion of our meeting to your mind. You once called at my father's house—he was a music teacher—to ask about lessons for some friend or protegee of yours. My father was engaged at the moment, and I invited you into my sitting-room and endeavored to begin a conversation with you. You were very distant and very proud, scarcely deigning to answer me. When my father came into the room, I left it. But I could not help laughing at your treatment of me. You little knew from your shut-up, cossue existence among the lofty ones of the earth, what influence even such insignificant persons as I might have upon your lot. At the time I was the intimate friend of, and in close correspondence with, a person who afterward became one of your family. Her name was Vittoria Leopardi, and she married your brother-in-law, Graf Eugen."
The plain-spoken, plain-looking woman had her way. She had the same power as that which shone in the "glittering eye" of the Ancient Mariner. Whether we liked or not we gave her our attention. All were listening now, and we listened to the end.
"Vittoria Leopardi was the Italian governess at General von ——'s. At one time she had several music lessons from my father. That was how I became acquainted with her. She was very beautiful—almost as beautiful as you, Miss Wedderburn, and I, dull and plain myself, have a keen appreciation of beauty and of the gentleness which does not always accompany it. When I first knew her she was lonely and strange, and I tried to befriend her. I soon began to learn what a singular mixture of sordid worldliness and vacant weak-mindedness dwelt behind her fair face. She wrote to me often, for she was one of the persons who must have some one to whom to relate their 'triumphs' and conquests, and I suppose I was the only person she could get to listen to her.
"At that time—the time you called at our house, gnaedige Frau—her epistles were decidedly tedious. What sense she had—there was never too much of it—was completely eclipsed. At last came the announcement that her noble and gallant Uhlan had proposed, and been accepted—naturally. She told me what he was, and his possessions and prospects; his chief merit in her eyes appeared to be that he would let her do anything she liked, and release her from the drudgery of teaching, for which she never had the least affinity. She hated children. She never on any occasion hinted that she loved him very much.
"In due time the marriage, as you all know, came off. She almost dropped me then, but never completely so; I suppose she had that instinct which stupid people often have as to the sort of people who may be of use to them some time. I received no invitations to her house. She used awkwardly to apologize for the negligence sometimes, and say she was so busy, and it would be no compliment to me to ask me to meet all those stupid people of whom the house was always full.
"That did not trouble me much, though I loved her none the better for it. She had become more a study to me now than anything I really cared for. Occasionally I used to go and see her, in the morning, before she had left her room; and once, and once only, I met her husband in the corridor. He was hastening away to his duty, and scarcely saw me as he hurried past. Of course I knew him by sight as well as possible. Who did not? Occasionally she came to me to recount her triumphs and make me jealous. She did not wish to reign supreme in her husband's heart; she wished idle men to pay her compliments. Everybody in —— knew of the extravagance of that household, and the reckless, neck-or-nothing habits of its master. People were indignant with him that he did not reform. I say it would have been easier for him to find his way alone up the Matterhorn in the dark than to reform—after his marriage.
"There had been hope for him before—there was none afterward. A pretty inducement to reform, she offered him! I knew that woman through and through, and I tell you that there never lived a more selfish, feeble, vain, and miserable thing. All was self—self—self. When she was mated to a man who never did think of self—whose one joy was to be giving, whose generosity was no less a by-word than his recklessness, who was delighted if she expressed a wish, and would move heaven and earth to gratify it; the more eagerly the more unreasonable it was—mes amis, I think it is easy to guess the end—the end was ruin. I watched it coming on, and I thought of you, Frau Graefin. Vittoria was expecting her confinement in the course of a few months. I never heard her express a hope as to the coming child, never a word of joy, never a thought as to the wider cares which a short time would bring to her. She did say often, with a sigh, that women with young children were so tied; they could not do this, and they could not do that. She was in great excitement when she was invited to come here; in great triumph when she returned.
"Eugen, she said, was a fool not to conciliate his brother and that doting old saint (her words, gnaedige Frau, not mine) more than he did. It was evident that they would do anything for him if he only flattered them, but he was so insanely downright—she called it stupid, she said. The idea of missing such advantages when a few words of common politeness would have secured them. I may add that what she called 'common politeness' was just the same thing that I called smooth hypocrisy.
"Very shortly after this her child was born. I did not see her then. Her husband lost all his money on a race, and came to smash, as you English say. She wrote to me. She was in absolute need of money, she said; Eugen had not been able to give her any. He had said they must retrench. Retrench! was that what she married him for! There was a set of turquoises that she must have, or another woman would get them, and then she would die. And her milliner, a most unreasonable woman, had sent word that she must be paid.
"So she was grumbling in a letter which I received one afternoon, and the next I was frightfully startled to see herself. She came in and said smilingly that she was going to ask a favor of me. Would I take her cab on to the bank and get a check cashed for her? She did not want to go there herself. And then she explained how her brother-in-law had given her a check for a thousand thalers—was it not kind of him? It really did not enter my head at the moment to think there was anything wrong about the check. She had indorsed it, and I took it, received the money for it, and brought it to her. She trembled so as she took it, and was so remarkably quiet about it, that it suddenly flashed upon my mind that there must be something not as it ought to be about it.
"I asked her a question or two, and she said, deliberately contradicting herself, that the Herr Graf had not given it to her, but to her husband, and then she went away, and I was sure I should hear more about it. I did. She wrote to me in the course of a few days, saying she wished she were dead, since Eugen, by his wickedness, had destroyed every chance of happiness; she might as well be a widow. She sent me a package of letters—my letters—and asked me to keep them, together with some other things, an old desk among the rest. She had no means of destroying them all, and she did not choose to carry them to Rothenfels, whither she was going to be buried alive with those awful people.
"I accepted the charge. For five—no, six years, the desk, the papers, everything lay with some other possessions of mine which I could not carry about with me on the wandering life I led after my father's death—stored in an old trunk in the lumber-room of a cousin's house. I visited that house last week.
"Certain circumstances which have occurred of late years induced me to look over those papers. I burned the old bundle of letters from myself to her, and then I looked through the desk. In a pigeon-hole I found these."
She handed some pieces of paper to Graf Bruno, who looked at them. I, too, have seen them since. They bore the imitations of different signatures; her husband's, Graf Bruno's, that of Anna Sartorius, and others which I did not know.
The same conviction as that which had struck Anna flashed into the eyes of Graf von Rothenfels.
"I found those," repeated Anna, "and I knew in a second who was the culprit. He, your brother, is no criminal. She forged the signature of the Herr Graf—"
"Who forged the signature of the Herr Graf?" asked a voice which caused me to start up, which brought all our eyes from Anna's face, upon which they had been fastened, and showed us Eugen standing in the door-way, with compressed lips and eyes that looked from one to the other of us anxiously.
"Your wife," said Anna, calmly. And before any one could speak she went on: "I have helped to circulate the lie about you, Herr Graf"—she spoke to Eugen—"for I disliked you; I disliked your family, and I disliked, or rather wished to punish, Miss Wedderburn for her behavior to me. But I firmly believed the story I circulated. The moment I knew the truth I determined to set you right. Perhaps I was pleased to be able to circumvent your plans. I considered that if I told the truth to Friedhelm Helfen he would be as silent as yourself, because you chose to be silent. The same with May Wedderburn, therefore I decided to come to head-quarters at once. It is useless for you to try to appear guilty any longer," she added, mockingly. "You can tell them all the rest, and I will wish you good-afternoon."
She was gone. From that day to this I have never seen her nor heard of her again. Probably with her power over us her interest in us ceased.
Meanwhile I had released myself from the spell which held me, and gone to the countess. Something very like fear held me from approaching Eugen.
Count Bruno had gone to his brother, and touched his shoulder. Eugen looked up. Their eyes met. It just flashed into my mind that after six years of separation the first words were—must be—words of reconciliation, of forgiveness asked on the one side, eagerly extended on the other.
"Eugen!" in a trembling voice, and then, with a positive sob, "canst thou forgive?"
"My brother—I have not resented. I could not. Honor in thee, as honor in me—"
"But that thou wert doubted, hated, mistak—"
But another had asserted herself. The countess had come to herself again, and going up to him, looked him full in the face and kissed him.
"Now I can die happy! What folly, Eugen! and folly like none but thine. I might have known—"
A faint smile crossed his lips. For all the triumphant vindication, he looked very pallid.
"I have often wondered, Hildegarde, how so proud a woman as you could so soon accept the worthlessness of a pupil on whom she had spent such pains as you upon me. I learned my best notions of honor and chivalry from you. You might have credited me rather with trying to carry the lesson out than with plucking it away and casting it from me at the first opportunity."
"You have much to forgive," said she.
"Eugen, you came to see me on business," said his brother.
Eugen turned to me. I turned hot and then cold. This was a terrible ordeal indeed. He seemed metamorphosed into an exceedingly grand personage as he came to me, took my hand, and said, very proudly and very gravely:
"The first part of my business related to Sigmund. It will not need to be discussed now. The rest was to tell you that this young lady—in spite of having heard all that could be said against me—was still not afraid to assert her intention to honor me by becoming my wife and sharing my fate. Now that she has learned the truth—May, do you still care for me enough to marry me?"
"If so," interrupted his brother before I could speak, "let me add my petition and that of my wife—do you allow me, Hildegarde?"
"Indeed, yes, yes!"
"That she will honor us and make us happy by entering our family, which can only gain by the acquisition of such beauty and excellence."
The idea of being entreated by Graf Bruno to marry his brother almost overpowered me. I looked at Eugen and stammered out something inaudible, confused, too, by the look he gave me.
He was changed; he was more formidable now than before, and he led me silently up to his brother without a word, upon which Count Bruno crowned my confusion by uttering some more very Grandisonian words and gravely saluting my cheek. That was certainly a terrible moment, but from that day to this I have loved better and better my haughty brother-in-law.
Half in consideration for me, I believe, the countess began:
"But I want to know, Eugen, about this. I don't quite understand yet how you managed to shift the blame upon yourself."
"Perhaps he does not want to tell," said I, hastily.
"Yes; since the truth is known, I may tell the rest," said he. "It was a very simple matter. After all was lost, my only ray of comfort was that I could pay my debts by selling everything, and throwing up my commission. But when I thought of my wife I felt a devil. I suppose that is the feeling which the devils do experience in place of love—at least Heine says so:
"'Die Teufel nennen es Hoellenqual, Die Menschen nennen es Liebe.'
"I kept it from her as long as I could. It was a week after Sigmund was born that at last one day I had to tell her. I actually looked to her for advice, help. It was tolerably presumptuous in me, I must say, after what I had brought her to. She brought me to reason. May Heaven preserve men from needing such lessons! She reproached me—ay, she did reproach me. I thank my good genius, or whatever it is that looks after us, that I could set my teeth and not answer her a syllable."
"The minx!" said the countess aside to me. "I would have shaken her!"
"'What was she to do without a groschen?' she concluded, and I could only say that I had had thoughts of dropping my military career and taking to music in good earnest. I had never been able to neglect it, even in any worst time, for it was a passion with me. She said:
"'A composer—a beggar!' That was hard.
"I asked her, 'Will you not help me?'
"'Never, to degrade yourself in that manner,' she assured me.
"Considering that I had deserved my punishment, I left her. I sat up all night, I remember, thinking over what I had brought her to, and wondering what I could do for her. I wondered if you, Bruno, would help her and let me go away and work out my punishment, for, believe me, I never thought of shirking it. I had been most effectually brought to reason, and your example, and yours, Hildegarde, had taught me a different kind of moral fiber to that.
"I brought your note about the check to Vittoria, and asked her if she knew anything about it. She looked at me, and in that instant I knew the truth. She did not once attempt to deny it. I do not know what, in my horrible despair and shame, I may have said or done.
"I was brought to my senses by seeing her cowering before me, with her hands before her face, and begging me not to kill her. I felt what a brute I must have been, but that kind of brutality has been knocked out of me long ago. I raised her, and asked her to forgive me, and bade her keep silence and see no one, and I would see that she did not suffer for it.
"Everything seemed to stand clearly before me. If I had kept straight, the poor ignorant thing would never have been tempted to such a thing. I settled my whole course in half an hour, and have never departed from it since.
"I wrote that letter to you, and went and read it to my wife. I told her that I could never forgive myself for having caused her such unhappiness, and that I was going to release her from me. I only dropped a vague hint about the boy at first; I was stooping over his crib to say good-bye to him. She said, 'What am I to do with him?' I caught at the idea, and she easily let me take him. I asked Hugo von Meilingen to settle affairs for me, and left that night. Thanks to you, Bruno, the story never got abroad. The rest you know."
"What did you tell Hugo von Meilingen?"
"Only that I had made a mess of everything and broken my wife's heart, which he did not seem to believe. He was stanch. He settled up everything. Some day I will thank him for it. For two years I traveled about a good deal. Sigmund has been more a citizen of the world than he knows. I had so much facility of execution—"
"So much genius, you mean," I interposed.
"That I never had any difficulty in getting an engagement. I saw a wonderful amount of life of a certain kind, and learned most thoroughly to despise my own past, and to entertain a thorough contempt for those who are still leading such lives. I have learned German history in my banishment. I have lived with our trues heroes—the lower middle-classes."
"Well, well! You were always a radical, Eugen," said the count, indulgently.
"At last, at Koeln I obtained the situation of first violinist in the Elberthal Kapelle, and I went over there one wet October afternoon and saw the director, von Francius. He was busy, and referred me to the man who was next below me, Friedhelm Helfen."
Eugen paused, and choked down some little emotion ere he added:
"You must know him. I trust to have his friendship till death separates us. He is a nobleman of nature's most careful making—a knight sans peur et sans reproche. When Sigmund came here it was he who saved me from doing something desperate or driveling—there is not much of a step between the two. Fraeulein Sartorius, who seems to have a peculiar disposition, took it into her head to confront me with a charge of my guilt at a public place. Friedhelm never wavered, despite my shame and my inability to deny the charge."
"Oh, dear, how beautiful!" said the countess, in tears.
"We must have him over here and see a great deal of him."
"We must certainly know him, and that soon," said Count Bruno.
At this juncture I, from mingled motives, stole from the room, and found my way to Sigmund's bedside, where also joy awaited me. The stupor and the restlessness had alike vanished; he was in a deep sleep. I knelt down by the bedside and remained there long.
Nothing, then, was to be as I had planned it. There would be no poverty, no shame to contend against—no struggle to make, except the struggle up to the standard—so fearfully severe and unapproachable, set up by my own husband. Set up and acted upon by him. How could I ever attain it or anything near it? Should I not be constantly shocking him by coarse, gross notions as to the needlessness of this or that fine point of conduct? by my ill-defined ideas as to a code of honor—my slovenly ways of looking at questions?
It was such a fearful height, this to which he had carried his notions and behavior in the matter of chivalry and loyalty. How was I ever to help him to carry it out, and moreover, to bring up this child before me, and perhaps children of my own in the same rules?
It was no doubt a much more brilliant destiny which actually awaited me than any which I had anticipated—the wife of a nobleman, with the traditions of a long line of noblemen and noblewomen to support, and a husband with the most impossible ideas upon the subject.
I felt afraid. I thought of that poor, vain, selfish first wife, and I wondered if ever the time might come when I might fall in his eyes as she had fallen, for scrupulous though he was to cast no reproach upon her, I felt keenly that he despised her, that had she lived, after that dreadful discovery he would never have loved her again. It was awful to think of. True, I should never commit forgery; but I might, without knowing it, fail in some other way, and then—woe to me!
Thus dismally cogitating I was roused by a touch on my shoulder and a kiss on the top of my head. Eugen was leaning over me, laughing.
"You have been saying your prayers so long that I was sure you must be asking too much."
I confided some of my doubts and fears to him, for with his actual presence that dreadful height of morality seemed to dwindle down. He was human too—quick, impulsive, a very mortal. And he said:
"I would ask thee one thing, May. Thou dost not seem to see what makes all the difference. I loved Vittoria: I longed to make some sacrifice for her, would she but have let me. But she could not; poor girl! She did not love me."
"Well! Mein Engel—you do," said he, laughing.
"Oh, I see!" said I, feeling myself blushing violently. Yes, it was true. Our union should be different from that former one. After all it was pleasant to find that the high tragedy which we had so wisely planned for ourselves had made a faux pas and come ignominiously to ground.
"And surely, when all this is past They shall not want their rest at last."
On the 23d of December—I will not say how few or how many years after those doings and that violent agitation which my friend Graefin May has striven to make coherent in the last chapter—I, with my great-coat on my arm, stood waiting for the train which was to bear me ten miles away from the sleepy old musical ducal Hauptstadt, in which I am Herzoglicher Kapellmeister, to Rothenfels, where I was bidden to spend Christmas. I had not long to wait. Having ascertained that my bag was safe, in which reposed divers humble proofs of my affection for the friends of the past, I looked leisurely out as the train came in for a second-class carriage, and very soon found what I wanted. I shook hands with an acquaintance, and leaned out of the window, talking to him till the train started. Then for the first time I began to look at my fellow-traveler; a lady, and most distinctly not one of my own countrywomen, who, whatever else they may excel in, emphatically do not know how to clothe themselves for traveling. Her veil was down, but her face was turned toward me, and I thought I knew something of the grand sweep of the splendid shoulders and majestic bearing of the stately form. She soon raised her veil, and looking at me, said, with a grave bow:
"Herr Helfen, how do you do?"
"Ah, pardon me, gnaedige Frau; for the moment I did not recognize you. I hope you are well."
"Quite well, thank you," said she, with grave courtesy; but I saw that her beautiful face was thin and worn, her pallor greater than ever.
She had never been a person much given to mirthfulness; but now she looked as if all smiles had passed forever from her lips—a certain secret sat upon them, and closed them in an outline, sweet, but utterly impenetrable.
"You are going to Rothenfels, I presume?" she said.
"Yes. And you also?"
"I also—somewhat against my will; but I did not want to hurt my sister's feelings. It is the first time I have left home since my husband's death."
I bowed. Her face did not alter. Calm, sad, and staid—whatever storms had once shaken that proud heart, they were lulled forever now.
Two years ago Adelaide von Francius had buried keen grief and sharp anguish, together with vivid hope or great joy, with her noble husband, whom we had mourned bitterly then, whom we yet mourn in our hearts, and whom we shall continue to mourn as long as we live.
May's passionate conviction that he and she should meet again had been fulfilled. They had met, and each had found the other unchanged; and Adelaide had begun to yield to the conviction that her sister's love was love, pure and simple, and not pity. Since his death she had continued to live in the town in which their married life had been passed—a life which for her was just beginning to be happy—that is to say, she was just learning to allow herself to be happy, in the firm assurance of his unalterable love and devotion, when the summons came; a sharp attack, a short illness, all over—eyes closed, lips, too—silent before her for evermore.
It has often been my fate to hear criticisms both on von Francius and his wife, and upon their conduct. This I know, that she never forgave herself the step she had taken in her despair. Her pride never recovered from the burden laid upon it—that she had taken the initiative, had followed the man who had said farewell to her. Bad her lot was to be, sad, and joyless, whether in its gilded cage, or linked with the man whom she loved, but to be with whom she had had to pay so terrible a price. I have never heard her complain of life and the world; yet she can find neither very sweet, for she is an extremely proud woman, who has made two terrible failures in her affairs.
Von Francius, before he died, had made a mark not to be erased in the hearts of his musical compatriots. Had he lived—but that is vain! Still, one feels—one can now but feel—that, as his widow said to me, with matter-of-fact composure:
"He was much more hardly to be spared than such a person as I, Herr Helfen. If I might have died and left him to enrich and gladden the world, I should have felt that I had not made such a mess of everything after all."
Yet she never referred to him as "my poor husband," or by any of those softening terms by which some people approach the name of a dead dear one; all the same we knew quite well that with him life had died for her.
Since his death, she and I had been in frequent communication; she was editing a new edition of his works, for which, after his death, there had been an instant call. It had lately been completed; and the music of our former friend shall, if I mistake not, become, in the best and highest sense of the word, popular music—the people's music. I had been her eager and, she was pleased to say, able assistant in the work.
We journeyed on together through the winter country, and I glanced at her now and then—at the still, pale face which rose above her English-fashioned sealskin, and wondered how it was that some faces, though never so young and beautiful, have written upon them in unmistakable characters, "The End," as one saw upon her face. Still, we talked about all kinds of matters—musical, private, and public. I asked if she went out at all.
"Only to concerts with the von ——s, who have been friends of mine ever since I went to ——," she replied; and then the train rolled into the station of Lahnburg.
There was a group of faces I knew waiting to meet us.
"Ah! there is my sister Stella," said Adelaide, in a low voice. "How she is altered! And that is May's husband, I suppose. I remember his face now that I see it."
We had been caught sight of. Four people came crowding round us. Eugen—my eyes fell upon him first—we grasped hands silently. His wife, looking lovelier than ever in her winter furs and feathers. A tall boy in a sealskin cap—my Sigmund—who had been hanging on his father's arm, and whose eyes welcomed me more volubly than his tongue, which was never given to excessive wagging.
May and Frau von Francius went home in a carriage which Sigmund, under the direction of an awful-looking Kutscher, drove.
Stella, Eugen, and I walked to Rothenfels, and they quarreled, as they always did, while I listened and gave an encouraging word to each in turn. Stella Wedderburn was very beautiful; and after spending Christmas at Rothenfels, she was going home to be married. Eugen, May, and Sigmund were going too, for the first time since May's marriage.
Graf Bruno that year had temporarily abdicated his throne, and Eugen had been constituted host for the season. The guests were his and his wife's; the arrangements were his, and the entertainment fell to his share.
Graefin Hildegarde looked a little amazed at such of her guests, for instance, as Karl Linders. She had got over the first shock of seeing me a regular visitor in the house, and was pleased to draw me aside on this occasion, and inform me that really that young man, Herr Linders, was presentable—quite presentable—and never forgot himself; he had handed her into her carriage yesterday really quite creditably. No doubt it was long friendship with Eugen which had given him that extra polish.
"Indeed, Frau Graefin, he was always like that. It is natural."
"He is very presentable, really—very. But as a friend of Eugen's," and she smiled condescendingly upon me, "he would naturally be so."
In truth, Karl was Karl. "Time had not thinned his flowing locks;" he was as handsome, as impulsive, and as true as ever; had added two babies to his responsibilities, who, with his beloved Frau Gemahlin, had likewise been bidden to this festivity, but had declined to quit the stove and private Christmas-tree of home life. He wore no more short jackets now; his sister Gretchen was engaged to a young doctor, and Karl's head was growing higher—as it deserved—for it had no mean or shady deeds to bow it.
The company then consisted in toto of Graf and Graefin von Rothenfels, who, I must record it, both looked full ten years younger and better since their prodigal was returned to them, of Stella Wedderburn, Frau von Francius, Karl Linders, and Friedhelm Helfen. May, as I said, looked lovelier than ever. It was easy to see that she was the darling of the elder brother and his wife. She was a radiant, bright creature, yet her deepest affections were given to sad people—to her husband, to her sister Adelaide, to Countess Hildegarde.
She and Eugen are well mated. It is true he is not a very cheerful man—his face is melancholy. In his eyes is a shadow which never wholly disappears—lines upon his broad and tranquil brow which are indelible. He has honor and titles, and a name clean and high before men, but it was not always so. That terrible bringing to reason—that six years' grinding lesson of suffering, self-suppression—ay, self-effacement—have left their marks, a "shadow plain to see," and will never leave him. He is a different man from the outcast who stepped forth into the night with a weird upon him, nor ever looked back till it was dreed out in darkness to its utmost term.
He has tasted of the sorrows—the self-brought sorrows which make merry men into sober ones, the sorrows which test a man and prove his character to be of gold or of dross, and therefore he is grave. Grave too is the son who is more worshiped by both him and his wife than any of their other children. Sigmund von Rothenfels is what outsiders call "a strange, incomprehensible child;" seldom smiles, and has no child friends. His friends are his father and "Mother May"—Muetterchen he calls her; and it is quaint sometimes to see how on an equality the three meet and associate. His notions of what is fit for a man to be and do he takes from his father; his ideal woman—I am sure he has one—would, I believe, turn out to be a subtle and impossible compound of May and his aunt Hildegarde.
We sometimes speculate as to what he will turn out. Perhaps the musical genius which his father will not bring before the world in himself may one day astonish that world in Sigmund. It is certain that his very life seems bound up in the art, and in that house and that circle it must be a very Caliban, or something yet lower, which could resist the influence.
One day May, Eugen, Karl, and I, repaired to the music-room and played together the Fourth Symphonie and some of Schumann's "Kinderscenen," but May began to cry before it was over, and the rest of us had thoughts that did lie too deep for tears—thoughts of that far-back afternoon of Carnival Monday, and how we "made a sunshine in a shady place"—of all that came before—and after.
Between me and Eugen there has never come a cloud, nor the faintest shadow of one. Built upon days passed together in storm and sunshine, weal and woe, good report and evil report, our union stands upon a firm foundation of that nether rock of friendship, perfect trust, perfect faith, love stronger than death, which makes a peace in our hearts, a mighty influence in our lives which very truly "passeth understanding."
THE CRIMINAL WITNESS.
In the spring of '48, I was called to Jackson to attend court, having been engaged to defend a young man who had been accused of robbing the mail. I had a long conference with my client, and he acknowledged to me that on the night when the mail was robbed he had been with a party of dissipated companions over to Topham, and that on returning, they met the mail-carrier on horseback coming from Jackson. Some of his companions were very drunk, and they proposed to stop the carrier and overhaul his bag. The roads were very muddy at the time, and the coach could not run. My client assured me that he not only had no hand in robbing the mail, but that he tried to dissuade his companions from doing so. But they would not listen to him. One of them slipped up behind the carrier, and knocked him from his horse. Then they bound and blindfolded him, and having tied him to a tree, they took his mail-bag, and made off into a neighboring field, where they overhauled it, finding some five hundred dollars in money in the various letters. He went with them, but in no way did he have any hand in the crime. Those who did do it had fled, and, as the carrier had recognized him as in the party, he had been arrested.
The mail-bag had been found, as well as the letters. Those letters from which money had been taken, were kept, by order of the officers, and duplicates sent to the various persons, to whom they were directed, announcing the particulars. These letters had been given me for examination, and I had then returned them to the prosecuting attorney.
I got through with my private preliminaries about noon, and as the case would not come up before the next day, I went into the court in the afternoon, to see what was going on. The first case which came up was one of theft, and the prisoner was a young girl, not more than seventeen years of age, named Elizabeth Madworth. She was very pretty, and bore that mild, innocent look, which we seldom find in a culprit.
The complaint against her set forth that she had stolen one hundred dollars from a Mrs. Naseby; and as the case went on, I found that this Mrs. Naseby was her mistress, she (Mrs. N.) being a wealthy widow, living in the town. The poor girl declared her innocence in the wildest terms, and called on God to witness that she would rather die than steal. But circumstances were hard against her. A hundred dollars, in bank notes had been stolen from her mistress's room, and she was the only one who had access there.
At this juncture, while the mistress was upon the witness stand, a young man came and caught me by the arm.
"They tell me you are a good lawyer?" he whispered.
"I am a lawyer," I answered.
"Then—oh!—save her! You can certainly do it, for she is innocent."
"Has she no counsel?" I asked.
"None that's good for anything—nobody that'll do anything for her. Oh, save her, and I'll pay you all I've got. I can't pay you much, but I can raise something."
I reflected for a moment. I cast my eyes toward the prisoner, and she was at that moment looking at me. She caught my eye, and the volume of humble, prayerful entreaty I read in those large, tearful orbs, resolved me in a moment. I arose and went to the girl, and asked her if she wished me to defend her. She said yes. Then I informed the court that I was ready to enter into the case, and I was admitted at once.
I asked for a moment's cessation, that I might speak with my client. I went and sat down by her side, and asked her to state candidly the whole case. She told me she had lived with Mrs. Naseby nearly two years, and that during all that time she had never had any trouble before. About two weeks ago, she said, her mistress lost a hundred dollars.
"She missed it from her drawer," the girl told me, "and she asked me about it, but I knew nothing of it. The next thing I knew, Nancy Luther told Mrs. Naseby that she saw me take the money from her drawer—that she watched me through the keyhole. Then they went to my trunk, and they found twenty-five dollars of the missing money there. But, oh, sir, I never took it—and somebody else put that money there!"
I then asked her if she suspected any one.
"I don't know," she said, "who could have done it but Nancy. She has never liked me, because she thought I was treated better than she was. She is the cook, and I was the chamber-maid."
She pointed Nancy Luther out to me. She was a stout, bold-faced girl, somewhere about five-and-twenty years old, with a low forehead, small gray eyes, a pug nose and thick lips.
"Oh, sir, can you help me?" my client asked, in a fearful whisper.
"Nancy Luther, did you say that girl's name was?" I asked, for a new light had broken in upon me.
"Is there any other girl of that name about here?"
"Then rest easy. I'll try hard to save you."
I left the courtroom, and went to the prosecuting attorney and asked him for the letters I had handed him—the ones that had been stolen from the mail-bag. He gave them to me, and, having selected one, I returned the rest, and told him I would see that he had the one I kept before night. I then returned to the courtroom, and the case went on.
Mrs. Naseby resumed her testimony. She said she entrusted her room to the prisoner's care, and that no one else had access there save herself. Then she described about missing the money, and closed by telling how she found twenty-five dollars of it in the prisoner's trunk. She could swear it was the identical money she had lost, it being in two tens and one five-dollar bill.
"Mrs. Naseby," said I, "when you first missed your money, had you any reason to believe that the prisoner had it?"
"No, sir," she answered.
"Had you ever before detected her in any dishonesty?"
"Should you have thought of searching her trunk, had not Nancy Luther advised you and informed you?"
Mrs. Naseby then left the stand, and Nancy Luther took her place. She came up with a bold look, and upon me she cast a defiant glance, as much as to say "Trap me, if you can." She gave her evidence as follows:
She said that on the night when the money was stolen she saw the prisoner going upstairs, and from the sly manner in which she went up, she suspected all was not right. So she followed her up. "Elizabeth went into Mrs. Naseby's room, and shut the door after her. I stooped down and looked through the keyhole, and saw her at the mistress's drawer. I saw her take out the money and put it in her pocket. Then she stooped down and picked up the lamp, and as I saw that she was coming out, I hurried away." Then she went on and told how she had informed her mistress of this, and how she proposed to search the girl's trunk.
I called Mrs. Naseby back to the stand.
"You say that no one save yourself and the prisoner had access to your room," I said. "Now, could Nancy Luther have entered that room, if she wished?"
"Certainly, sir. I meant no one else had any right there."
I saw that Mrs. N., though naturally a hard woman, was somewhat moved by poor Elizabeth's misery.
"Could your cook have known, by any means in your knowledge, where your money was?"
"Yes, sir; for she has often come up to my room when I was there, and I have given her money with which to buy provisions of marketmen who happened along with their wagons."
"One more question: Have you known of the prisoner's having used any money since this was stolen?"
I now called Nancy Luther back, and she began to tremble a little, though her look was as bold and defiant.
"Miss Luther," I said, "why did you not inform your mistress at once of what you had seen without waiting for her to ask you about the lost money?"
"Because I could not make up my mind at once to expose the poor young girl," she answered, promptly.
"You say you looked through the keyhole and saw her take the money?"
"Where did she place the lamp, while she did so?"
"On the bureau."
"In your testimony, you said she stooped down when she picked it up. What did you mean by that?"
The girl hesitated, and finally said she didn't mean anything, only that she picked up the lamp.
"Very well," said I. "How long have you been with Mrs. Naseby?"
"Not quite a year, sir."
"How much does she pay you a week?"
"A dollar and three-quarters."
"Have you taken up any of your pay since you have been there?"
"I don't know, sir."
"Why don't you know?"
"How should I? I've taken it at different times, just as I wanted it, and have kept no account."
"Now, if you had had any wish to harm the prisoner, couldn't you have raised twenty-five dollars to put in her trunk?"
"No, sir," she replied, with virtuous indignation.
"Then you have not laid up any money since you have been there?"
"No, sir—only what Mrs. Naseby may owe me."
"Then you didn't have twenty-five dollars when you came there?"
"No, sir; and what's more, the money found in the girl's trunk was the very money that Mrs. Naseby lost. You might have known that, if you'd only remember what you hear."
"Will you tell me if you belong to this State?" I asked next.
"I do, sir."
"In what town?"
She hesitated, and for an instant the bold look forsook her. But she finally answered:
"I belong in Somers, Montgomery County."
I next turned to Mrs. Naseby.
"Do you ever take a receipt from your girls when you pay them?" I asked.
"Always," she answered.
"Can you send and get one of them for me?"
She said she would willingly go, if the court said so. The court did say so, and she went. Her dwelling was not far off, and she soon returned, and handed me four receipts, which I took and examined. They were all signed in a strange, straggling hand, by the witness.
"Now, Nancy Luther," said I, turning to the witness, "please tell the court, and the jury, and tell me, too, where you got the seventy-five dollars you sent in a letter to your sister in Somers?"
The witness started as though a volcano had burst at her feet. She turned pale as death, and every limb shook violently. I waited until the people could have an opportunity to see her emotion, and then I repeated the question.
"I—never—sent—any," she fairly gasped.
"You did!" I thundered, for I was excited now.
"I—I—didn't," she faintly uttered, grasping the rail by her side for support.
"May it please your honor, and gentlemen of the jury," I said, as soon as I had looked the witness out of countenance, "I came here to defend a youth who had been arrested for helping to rob the mail, and in the course of my preliminary examinations, I had access to the letters which had been torn open and rifled of money. When I entered upon this case, and I heard the name of this witness pronounced, I went out and got the letter which I now hold, for I remembered to have seen one bearing the signature of Nancy Luther. This letter was taken from the mail-bag, and it contained seventy-five dollars, and by looking at the post-mark, you will observe that it was mailed on the very next day after the hundred dollars were taken from Mrs. Naseby's drawer. I will read it to you, if you please."
The court nodded assent, and I read the following, which was without date, save that made by the post-master upon the outside. I give it here verbatim:
"SISTER DORCAS: I cend yu heer sevente fiv dolers, which i want yu to kepe for me till i cum hum. I can't kepe it heer coz ime afrade it will git stole. don't speke wun word tu a livin sole bout this coz I don't want nobodi tu kno i hav got enny mony. yu wont now wil yu. i am first rate heer, only that gude fur nuthin snipe of liz madwurth is heer yit—but i hop tu git red ov her now. yu no i rote yu bout her. give my luv to awl inquiren friends. this is from your sister til deth. NANCY LUTHER."
"Now, your honor," I said, as I handed him the letter, and also the receipts, "you will see that the letter is directed to 'Dorcas Luther, Somers, Montgomery County.' And you will also observe that one hand wrote that letter and signed those receipts. The jury will also observe. And now I will only add: It is plain to see how the hundred dollars were disposed of. Seventy-five were put into that letter and sent off for safe-keeping, while the remaining twenty-five were placed in the prisoner's trunk for the purpose of covering the real criminal."
The case was given to the jury immediately following their examination of the letter. Without leaving their seats, they returned a verdict of—"Not Guilty."
The youth, who had first asked me to defend the prisoner, caught me by the hand, but he could not speak plainly. He simply looked at me through his tears for a moment, and then rushed to the fair prisoner. He seemed to forget where he was, for he flung his arms about her, and as she laid her head upon his bosom, she wept aloud.
I will not attempt to describe the scene that followed; but if Nancy Luther had not been immediately arrested for theft, she would have been obliged to seek the protection of the officers, or the excited people would surely have maimed her, if they had done no more. On the next morning, I received a note, very handsomely written, in which I was told that "the within" was but a slight token of the gratitude due me for my effort in behalf of a poor, defenseless, but much loved, maiden. It was signed "Several Citizens," and contained one hundred dollars. Shortly afterward, the youth came to pay me all the money he could raise. I simply showed him the note I had received, and asked him if he would keep his hard earnings for his wife, when he got one. He owned that he intended to make Lizzie Madworth his wife very soon.
I will only add that on the following day I succeeded in clearing my next client from conviction of robbing the mail; and I will not deny that I made a considerable handle of the fortunate discovery of the letter which had saved an innocent girl, on the day before, in my appeal to the jury; and if I made them feel that the finger of Omnipotence was in the work, I did it because I sincerely believe my client was innocent of all crime; and I am sure they thought so too.
1. Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.
3. German readers may find it unusual that German nouns have not been capitalized; the book did not follow the German convention, and the transcriber has not changed that in this e-text.