I still took my flowers every day, when the sun had set, to the marble table in the dim arbor. But since that evening all had been over. Not a soul took any notice of them, and when I went to look after them early the next morning, there they lay as I had left them, gazing sadly at me with their heads hanging, and the dew-drops glistening upon their fading petals as if they were weeping. This distressed me, and I plucked no more flowers. I let the weeds grow in my garden as they pleased, and the flowers stayed on their stalks until the wind blew them away. Within me there were the same desolation and neglect.
In this critical state of affairs it happened once that, as I was leaning out of my window gazing dully into vacancy, the lady's-maid from the castle came tripping across the road. When she saw me she came and stood just outside the window. "His Grace returned from his travels yesterday," she remarked, hurriedly. "Indeed!" I said, surprised, for I had taken no interest in anything for several weeks, and did not even know that his Grace had been traveling. "Then his lovely daughter will be very glad." The maid looked at me with a strange expression of face, so that I began to wonder whether I had said anything especially stupid. "He knows absolutely nothing!" she said at last, turning up her little nose. "Well," she resumed, "there is to be a ball and masquerade this evening at the castle in honor of his Grace. My lady is to be dressed as a flower-girl—understand, as a flower-girl. And she has noticed that you have particularly pretty flowers in your garden." "That's strange," I thought to myself; "there is hardly a flower to be seen there for the weeds!" But she continued: "And since my lady needs perfectly fresh flowers for her costume, you are to bring her some this evening, and wait under the big pear-tree in the castle garden when it is dark until she comes for the flowers herself."
I was completely dazed with joy at this intelligence, and in my rapture I leaped out of the window and ran after the maid.
"Ugh, what an ugly dressing-gown!" she exclaimed, when she saw me with my fluttering robe in the open air. This vexed me, but, not to be behindhand in gallantry, I capered gaily after her to give her a kiss. Unluckily, my feet became entangled in my dressing-gown, which was much too long for me, and I fell flat on the ground. When I had picked myself up the maid was gone, and I heard her in the distance laughing fit to kill herself.
Now I had delightful food for my reflections. After all, she still remembered me and my flowers! I went into my garden and hastily tore up all the weeds from the beds, throwing them high above my head into the sunlit air, as if with the roots I were eradicating all melancholy and annoyance from my life. Once more the roses were like her lips, the sky-blue convolvulus was like her eyes, the snowy lily with its pensive, drooping head was her very image. I put them all tenderly in a little basket; the evening was calm and lovely, not a speck of a cloud in the sky. Here and there a star appeared; the murmur of the Danube was heard afar over the meadows; in the tall trees of the castle garden countless birds were twittering to one another merrily. Ah, I was so happy!
When at last night came I took my basket on my arm and set out for the large garden. The flowers in the little basket looked so gay, white, red, blue, and smelled so sweet, that my very heart laughed when I peeped in at them.
Filled with joyous thoughts, I walked in the lovely moonlight over the trim paths strewn with gravel, across the little white bridge, beneath which the swans were sleeping on the bosom of the water, and past the pretty arbors and summer-houses. I soon found the big pear-tree; it was the same under which, while I was gardener's boy, I used to lie on sultry afternoons.
All around me here was dark and lonely. A tall aspen quivered and kept whispering with its silver leaves. The music from the castle was heard at intervals, and now and then there were voices in the garden; sometimes they passed quite near me, and then all would be still again.
My heart beat fast. I had a strange uncomfortable sensation as if I were a robber. I stood for a long time stock-still, leaning against the tree and listening; but when no one appeared I could bear it no longer. I hung my basket on my arm and clambered up into the pear-tree to breathe a purer air.
The music of the dance floated up to me over the tree-tops. I overlooked the entire garden and gazed directly into the brilliantly illuminated windows of the castle. Chandeliers glittered there like galaxies of stars; a multitude of gaily-dressed gentlemen and ladies wandered and waltzed and whirled about unrecognizable, like the gay figures of a magic-lantern; at times some of them leaned out of the windows and looked down into the garden. In front of the castle the brilliant light gilded the grass, the shrubbery, and the trees, so that the flowers and the birds seemed to be aroused by it. All around and below me, however, the garden lay black and still.
"She is dancing there now," I thought to myself up in the tree," and has long since forgotten you and your flowers. All are gay; not a human being cares for you in the least. And thus it is with me, always and everywhere. Every one has his little nook marked out for him on this earth, his warm hearth, his cup of coffee, his wife, his glass of wine in the evening, and is perfectly happy; even the Porter with his big nose is content. For me there is no place, I seem to be just too late everywhere; the world has not a bit of need of me."
As I was philosophizing thus, I suddenly heard something rustle on the grass below me. Two soft voices were speaking together in a low tone. In a moment the foliage of the shrubbery was parted, and the lady's-maid's little face appeared among the leaves, peering about on all sides. The moonlight sparkled in her saucy eyes as they peeped out. I held my breath and stared down at her. Before long the flower-girl did actually appear among the trees, just as the maid had described her to me yesterday. My heart throbbed as if it would burst. She had on a mask, and seemed to be gazing around in surprise. Somehow she did not look to me as slender and graceful as she had been. At last she reached the tree, and took off her mask. It was the other—the elder lady!
How glad I was, when I had recovered from the first shock, that I was up here in safety! How in the world did she chance to come here? If the dear, lovely Lady fair should happen to come at this instant for her flowers, there would be a fine to-do! I could have cried for vexation at the whole affair.
Meanwhile the disguised flower-girl beneath me began: "It is so stifling hot in the ball-room, I had to come out to cool myself in this lovely open air." Thereupon she fanned herself with her mask and puffed and blew. In the bright moonlight I could plainly see how swollen were the cords of her neck; she looked very angry and quite scarlet in the face. The lady's maid was all the while searching behind every bush, as if she were looking for a lost pin.
"I do so need more fresh flowers for my character," the flower-girl continued. "Where can he be?" The maid went on searching, and kept chuckling to herself. "What did you say, Rosetta?" the flower-girl asked, shrewishly. "I say what I always have said," the maid replied, putting on a very serious, honest face; "the Receiver is a lazy fellow; of course he is lying behind some bush sound asleep."
My blood tingled with longing to jump down and defend my reputation, when on a sudden a burst of music and loud shouts were heard from the castle.
The flower-girl could stay no longer. "The people are cheering his Grace," she said passionately. "Come, we shall be missed!" And she clapped on her mask in a hurry, and ran in a rage with the maid toward the castle. The trees and bushes seemed to point after her with long, derisive fingers, the moonlight danced nimbly up and down over her stout figure as though over the key-board of a piano, and thus to the sound of trumpets and kettle-drums she made her exit, like many a singer whom I have seen upon the stage.
I, seated above in my tree, was downright bewildered, and gazed fixedly at the castle; a circle of tall torches upon the steps of the entrance cast a strange glare upon the glittering windows and deep into the garden; the assembled servants were to serenade their master. In the midst of them stood the gorgeous Porter, like a minister of state, before a music-stand, working away busily at a bassoon.
Just as I had settled myself to listen to the beautiful serenade, the folding-doors leading to the balcony above the entrance parted. A tall gentleman, very handsome and dignified, in uniform and glittering with orders, stepped out on the balcony, leading by the hand the lovely young Lady fair, dressed in white like a lily in the night, or like the moon in the clear skies.
I could not take my eyes from her, and garden, trees, and fields disappeared before me, as she stood there tall and slender, so wondrously illuminated by the torch-light, now speaking with such grace to the young officer, and now nodding down kindly to the musicians. The people below were beside themselves with delight, and at last I too could restrain myself no longer, and joined in the cheers with all my might.
But when, soon after, she disappeared from the balcony, one after another the torches below were extinguished and the music-stands cleared away, and the garden around was once more dark, and the trees rustled as before—then it all became clear to me; I saw that it was really only the aunt who had ordered the flowers of me, that the Lady fair never thought of me and had been married long ago, and that I myself was a big fool.
All this plunged me into an abyss of reflection. I rolled myself round like a hedgehog on the prickles of my own thoughts. Snatches of music still reached me now and then from the ball-room—the clouds floated lonely away above the dim garden. And there I sat, all through the night, up in the tree, like a night-owl, amid the ruins of my happiness.
The cool breeze of morning aroused me at last from my dreamings. I was startled as I looked about me. The music and dancing had long since ceased, and everything around the castle and on the lawn, and the marble steps and columns, all looked quiet, cool, and solemn; the fountain alone plashed on before the entrance. Here and there in the boughs near me the birds were awaking, shaking their bright feathers, and as they stretched their little wings, peering curiously and amazed at their strange fellow-sleeper. The joyous rays of morning flashed across my breast and over the garden.
I stood erect in my tree, and for the first time for a long while looked far abroad over the country, to where the ships glided down the Danube among the vineyards, and the high-roads, still deserted, stretched like bridges across the gleaming landscape and far over the distant hills and valleys.
I cannot tell how it was, but all at once my former love of travel took possession of me, all the old melancholy, and delight, and ardent expectation. And at the same moment I thought of the Lady fair over in the castle sleeping among flowers, beneath silken coverlets, with an angel surely keeping watch beside her bed in the silence of the dawn. "No!" I cried aloud. "I must go away from here, far, far away—as far as the sky stretches its blue arch!"
As I uttered the words I tossed my basket high into the air, so that it was beautiful to see how the flowers fell among the branches and lay in gay colors on the green sod below. Then I got down as quickly as possible, and went through the quiet garden to my dwelling. I paused many times at spots where I had seen her pass, or where I had lain in the shade and thought of her.
In and about my cottage all was just as I had left it the day before. The garden was torn up and laid waste, the big account-book lay open on the table in my room, my fiddle, which I had almost clean forgotten, hung dusty on the wall; a ray of morning light glittered upon the strings. It struck a chord in my heart. "Yes," I said, "come here, thou faithful instrument! Our kingdom is not of this world!"
So I took the fiddle from the wall, and leaving behind me the account-book, dressing-gown, slippers, pipes, and parasol, I walked out of my cottage, as poor as when I entered it, and down along the gleaming high-road.
I looked back often and often; I felt very strange, sad, and yet merry, like a bird escaping from his cage. And when I had walked some distance I took out my fiddle and sang—
"I wander on, in God confiding, For all are His, wood, field, and fell; O'er earth and skies He still presiding, For me will order all things well."
The castle, the garden, and the spires of Vienna vanished behind me in the morning mists; far above me countless larks exulted in the air; thus, past gay villages and hamlets and over green hills, I wandered on toward Italy.
Here was a puzzle! It had never occurred to me that I did not know my way. Not a human being was to be seen in the quiet early morning whom I could question, and right before me the road divided into many roads, which went on far, far over the highest mountains, as though to the very end of the world—so that I actually grew giddy as I looked along them.
At last a peasant appeared, going to church I fancy, as it was Sunday, in an old-fashioned coat with large silver buttons, and swinging a long malacca cane with a massive silver head, which sparkled from afar in the sunlight. I immediately asked him very politely, "Can you tell me which is the road to Italy?" The fellow stood still, stared at me, thrust out his under lip reflectively, and stared at me again. I began once more: "To Italy, where oranges grow." "What do I care for your oranges!" said the peasant, and walked on sturdily. I should have credited the fellow with more politeness, for he really looked very fine.
What was to be done? Turn round and go back to my native village? Why, the folks would have jeered me, and the boys would have run after me crying, "Oh, indeed! you're welcome back from 'out in the world.' How does it look 'out in the world?' Haven't you brought us some ginger-nuts from 'out in the world?'" The Porter with the High Roman nose, who certainly was familiar with Universal History, used often to say to me, "Respected Herr Receiver, Italy is a beautiful country; the dear God takes care of every one there. You can lie on your back in the sunshine and raisins drop into your mouth; and if a tarantula bites you, you dance with the greatest ease, although you never in your life before learned to dance." "Ay, to Italy! to Italy!" I shouted with delight, and, heedless of any choice of roads, hurried on along the first that came.
After I had gone a little way I saw on the right a most beautiful orchard, with the morning sun shimmering on the trunks and through the tree-tops so brilliantly that it looked as if the ground were spread with golden rugs. As no one was in sight, I clambered over the low fence and lay down comfortably on the grass under an apple-tree; all my limbs were still aching from camping out in the tree on the previous night. From where I lay I could see far abroad over the country, and as it was Sunday the sound of the church-bells from the far distance came to me over the quiet fields, and gaily-dressed peasants were walking across the meadows and along the lanes to church. I was glad at heart; the birds sang in the tree overhead; I thought of my father's mill, and of the garden of the lovely Lady fair, and of how far, far away it all was—until I fell sound asleep. I dreamed that the Lady fair came walking, or rather slowly flying, toward me from the lovely landscape to the music of the church-bells, in long white robes that waved in the rosy morning. Then again it seemed that we were not in a strange country, but in my native village, in the deep shade beside the mill. But everything was still and deserted, as it is when the people are all gone to church and only the solemn sounds of the organ wafted down through the trees break the stillness; I was oppressed with melancholy. But the Lady fair was very kind and gentle, and put her hand in mine and walked along with me, and sang, amid this solitude, the beautiful song that she used to sing to her guitar early in the morning at her open window, and in the placid mill-pool I saw her image, lovelier even than herself, except that the eyes were wondrous large and looked at me so strangely that I was almost afraid. Then suddenly the mill-wheel began to turn, at first slowly, then faster and more noisily; the pool became dark and troubled, the Lady fair turned very pale, and her robes grew longer and longer, and fluttered wildly in long strips like pennons of mist up toward the skies; the roaring of the mill-wheel sounded ever louder, and it seemed as though it were the Porter blowing upon his bassoon, so that I waked up with my heart throbbing violently.
In fact, a breeze had arisen, which was gently stirring the leaves of the apple-tree above me; but the noise and roaring came neither from the mill nor from the Porter's bassoon, but from the same peasant who had before refused to show me the way to Italy. He had taken off his Sunday coat and put on a white smock-frock. "Oho!" he said, as I rubbed my sleepy eyes, "do you want to pick your oranges here, that you trample down all my grass instead of going to church, you lazy lout, you?" I was vexed that the boor should have waked me, and I started up and cried, "Hold your tongue! I have been a better gardener than you will ever be, and a Receiver, and if you had been driving to town, you would have had to take off your dirty cap to me, sitting at my door in my yellow-dotted, red dressing-gown—" But the fellow was nothing daunted, and, putting his arms akimbo, merely asked, "What do you want here? eh! eh!" I saw that he was a short, stubbed, bow-legged fellow, with protruding goggle-eyes, and a red, rather crooked nose. And when he went on saying nothing but "Eh! eh!" and kept advancing toward me step by step, I was suddenly seized with so curious a sensation of disgust that I hastily jumped to my feet, leaped over the fence, and, without looking round, ran across country until my fiddle in my pocket twanged again.
When at last I stopped to take breath, the orchard and the whole valley were out of sight and I was in a beautiful forest. But I took little note of it, for I was downright provoked at the peasant's impertinence, and I fumed for a long time, to myself. I walked on quickly, going farther and farther from the high-road and in among the mountains. The plank-roadway which I had been following ceased, and before me was only a narrow, unfrequented foot-path. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere, and no sound was to be heard. But it was very pleasant walking; the trees rustled and the birds sang sweetly. I resigned myself to the guidance of heaven, and, taking out my violin, played all my favorite airs. Very joyous they sounded in the lonely forest.
I grew tired of playing after a while, for I stumbled every minute over the tiresome roots of the trees, and I began to grow very hungry, while the wood seemed endless. Thus I wandered for the entire day, until the sun's rays came aslant through the trunks of the trees, when at last I emerged on a little grassy vale shut in by the mountains and gay with red and yellow flowers, above which myriads of butterflies were fluttering in the golden light of the setting sun. It was as secluded here as though the world had been hundreds of miles away. The crickets chirped, and a shepherd lad lying among the tall grasses blew so melancholy an air upon his horn that it was enough to break one's heart. "Yes," thought I to myself, "who has as happy a lot as a lazy lout! Some of us, though, have to wander about among strangers, and be always on the go." As a lovely, clear stream separated me from him, I called to him to ask where the nearest village was. But he did not disturb himself to reply—only stretched his head a little out of the grass, pointed with his horn to the opposite wood, and coolly resumed his piping.
I marched on briskly, for twilight was at hand. The birds, which had made a great clatter while the sun was disappearing on the horizon, suddenly fell silent, and I began to feel almost afraid, so solemn was the perpetual rustling of the lonely forest. At last I heard dogs barking in the distance. I walked more quickly, the forest grew less and less dense, and in a little while I saw through the last trees a beautiful village-green, where a crowd of children were frolicking, and capering around a huge linden in the centre. Opposite me was an inn, and at a table before it were seated some peasants playing cards and smoking. On one side a number of lads and lasses were gathered in a group, the girls with their arms rolled in their aprons, and all gossiping together in the cool of the evening.
I took very little time for consideration, but, drawing my fiddle from my pocket, I played a merry waltz as I came out from the forest. The girls were surprised, and the old folks laughed so that the woods reechoed with their merriment. But when I reached the linden, and, leaning my back against it, went on playing gay waltzes, a whisper went round among the groups of young people to the right and left; the lads laid aside their pipes, each put his arm around his lass's waist, and in the twinkling of an eye the young folk were all waltzing around me; the dogs barked, skirts and coat-tails fluttered, and the children stood around me in a circle gazing curiously into my face and at my briskly-moving fingers.
When the first waltz was ended, it was easy to see how good music loosens the limbs. The peasant lads, who had before been restlessly shuffling about on the benches, with their pipes in their mouths and their legs stretched out stiffly in front of them, were positively transformed, and, with their gay handkerchiefs hanging from the button-holes of their coats, capered about with the lasses so that it was a pleasure to look at them. One of them, who evidently thought a deal of himself, fumbled in his waistcoat-pocket for a long while, that the others might see him, and finally brought out a little silver coin, which he tried to put into my hand. It irritated me, although I had not a stiver in my pocket. I told him to keep his pennies, I was playing only for joy, because I was glad to be among people once more. Soon afterward, however, a pretty girl came up to me with a great tankard of wine. "Musicians are thirsty folk," she said, with a laugh that displayed her pearls of teeth gleaming so temptingly between her red lips that I should have liked to kiss her then and there. She put the tankard to her charming mouth, and her eyes sparkled at me over its rim; she then handed it to me; I drained it to the bottom, and played afresh, till all were spinning merrily about me once more.
By and by the old peasants finished their game, and the young people grew tired and separated, so that gradually all was quiet and deserted in front of the inn. The girl who had brought me the wine also walked toward the village, but she went very slowly, and looked around from time to time as if she had forgotten something. At last she stopped and seemed to search for it on the ground, but as she stooped I saw her glance toward me from under her arm. I had learned polite manners at the castle, so I sprang toward her and said, "Have you lost anything, my pretty ma'amselle?" She blushed crimson. "Ah, no," she said; "it was only a rose; will you have it?" I thanked her, and stuck the rose in my button-hole. She looked very kindly at me, and said, "You play beautifully." "Yes," I replied, "it is a gift from God." "Musicians are very rare in the country about here," she began again, then stammered, and cast down her eyes. "You might earn a deal of money here. My father plays the fiddle a little, and likes to hear about foreign countries—and my father is very rich." Then she laughed, and said, "If you only would not waggle your head so, when you play." "My dearest girl," I said, "do not blush so—and as for the tremoloso motion of the head, we can't help it, great musicians all do it." "Oh, indeed!" rejoined the girl. She was about to say more, when a terrible racket arose in the inn; the front door was opened with a bang, and a tall, lean fellow was shot out of it like a ramrod, after which it was slammed to behind him.
At the first sound the girl ran off like a deer and vanished in the darkness. The man picked himself up and began to rave against the inn with such volubility that it was a wonder to hear him. "What!" he yelled, "I drunk? I not pay the chalk-marks on your smoky door? Rub them out! rub them out! Did I not shave you yesterday over a ladle, and cut you just under the nose so that you bit the ladle in two? Shaving takes off one mark; ladle, another mark; court-plaster on your nose, another. How many more of your dirty marks do you want to have paid? But all right—all right. I'll let the whole village, the whole world go unshaved. Wear your beards, for all I care, till they are so long that at the judgment-day the Almighty will not know whether you are Jews or Christians. Yes, hang yourselves with your beards, shaggy bears that you are!" Here he burst into tears and, in a maudlin, falsetto voice, sobbed out, "Am I to drink water like a wretched fish? Is that loving your neighbor? Am I not a man and a skilled surgeon? Ah, I am beside myself today; my heart is full of pity, and of love for my fellow-creatures." And then, finding that all was quiet in the house, he began to walk away. When he saw me, he came plunging toward me with outstretched arms. I thought the fellow was about to embrace me, and sprang aside, letting him stumble on in the darkness, where I heard him discoursing to himself for some time.
All sorts of fancies filled my brain. The girl who had given me the rose was young, pretty, and rich. I could make my fortune before one could turn round. And sheep and pigs, turkeys, and fat geese stuffed with apples—verily, I seemed to see the Porter strutting up to me: "Seize your luck, Receiver, seize your luck! 'Marry young, you're never wrong;' take home your bride, live in the country, and live well." Plunged in these philosophical reflections, I sat me down on a stone, for, since I had no money, I did not venture to knock at the inn. The moon shone brilliantly, the forests on the mountain-side murmured in the still night; now and then a dog barked in the village which lay farther down the valley, buried, as it were, beneath foliage and moonlight. I gazed up at the heavens, where a few clouds were sailing slowly and now and then a falling star shot down from the zenith. Thus this same moon, thought I, is shining down upon my father's mill and upon his Grace's castle. Everything there is quiet by this time, the Lady fair is asleep, and the fountains and leaves in the garden are whispering just as they used to whisper, all the same whether I am there, or here, or dead. And the world seemed to me so terribly big, and I so utterly alone in it, that I could have wept from the very depths of my heart.
While I was thus sitting there, suddenly I heard the sound of horses' hoofs in the forest. I held my breath and listened as the sound came nearer and nearer, until I could hear the horses snorting. Soon afterward two horsemen appeared under the trees, but paused at the edge of the woods, and talked together in low, very eager tones, as I could see by the moving shadows which were thrown across the bright village-green, and by their long dark arms pointing in various directions. How often at home, when my mother, now dead, had told me of savage forests and fierce robbers, had I privately longed to be a part of such a story! I was well paid now for my silly, rash longings. I reached up the linden-tree, beneath which I was sitting, as high as I could, unobserved, until I clasped the lowest branch, and then I swung myself up. But just as I had got my body half across the branch, and was about to drag my legs up after it, one of the horsemen trotted briskly across the green toward me. I shut my eyes tight amid the thick foliage, and did not stir. "Who is there?" a voice called directly under me. "Nobody!" I yelled in terror at being detected, although I could not but laugh to myself at the thought of how the rogues would look when they should turn my empty pockets inside out. "Aha!" said the robber, "whose are these legs, then, hanging down here?" There was no help for it. "They are," I replied, "only a couple of legs of a poor, lost musician." And I hastily let myself drop, for I was ashamed to hang there any longer like a broken fork.
The rider's horse shied when I dropped so suddenly from the tree. He patted the animal's neck, and said, laughing, "Well, we too are lost, so we are comrades; perhaps you can help us to find the road to B. You shall be no loser by it." I assured him that I knew nothing about the road to B., and said that I would ask in the inn, or would conduct them to the village. But the man would not listen to reason; he drew from his girdle a pistol, the barrel of which glittered in the moonlight. "My dear fellow," he said in a very friendly tone, as he wiped off the glittering barrel and then ran his eye along it—"my dear fellow, you will have the kindness to go yourself before us to B."
Verily, I was in a scrape. If I chanced to hit the right road, I should certainly get into the midst of the robber band and be beaten because I had no money; if I did not find the road, I should be beaten of course. I wasted very little thought upon the matter, but took the first road at hand, the one past the inn which led away from the village. The horseman galloped back to his companion, and both followed me slowly at some distance. Thus we wandered on foolishly enough at hap-hazard through the moonlit night. The road led through forests on the side of a mountain. Sometimes we could see, above the tops of the pines stirring darkly beneath us, far abroad into the deep, silent valleys; now and then a nightingale burst into song; the dogs bayed in the distant villages. A brook babbled ceaselessly from the depths below us, and here and there glistened in the moonlight. The hush was disturbed by the monotonous tramp of the horses and by the stir and movement of their riders, who talked together incessantly in a foreign tongue, and the bright moonlight contrasted sharply with the long shadows of the trees, which swept across the figures of the horsemen, making them appear now black, now light, now dwarfish, and anon gigantic. My thoughts grew strangely confused, as though in a dream from which I could not waken, but I marched straight ahead. We certainly must reach the end of the forest and of the night too, I thought.
At last long, rosy streaks flushed the horizon here and there but faintly, as when one breathes upon a mirror, and a lark began to sing high up above the peaceful valley. My heart at once grew perfectly light at the approach of dawn, and all fear left me. The two horsemen stretched themselves, looked around, and seemed for the first time to suspect that we might not have taken the right road. They chatted much, and I could perceive that they were talking of me; it even seemed to me that one of them began to mistrust me, as though I were a rogue trying to lead them astray in the forest. This amused me mightily, for the lighter it grew the greater grew my courage, until we emerged upon a fine, spacious opening. Here I looked about me quite savagely, and whistled once or twice through my fingers, as scoundrels always do when they wish to signal one another.
"Halt!" exclaimed one of the horsemen, so suddenly that I jumped. When I looked round I saw that both had alighted and had tied their horses to a tree. One of them came up to me rapidly, stared me full in the face, and then burst into a fit of immoderate laughter. I must confess this senseless merriment irritated me. But he said, "Why, it is actually the gardener—I should say the Receiver, from the castle!"
I stared at him in turn, but could not remember who he was; indeed, I should have had enough to do to recognize all the young gentlemen who came and went at the castle. He kept up an eternal laughter, however, declaring, "This is magnificent! You're taking a holiday, I see; we are just in want of a servant; stay with us and you will have a perpetual holiday." I was dumbfounded, and said at last that I was just on my way to visit Italy. "Italy?" the stranger rejoined. "That is just where we wish to go!" "Ah, if that be so!" I exclaimed, and, taking out my fiddle, I tuned up so that all the birds in the wood awaked. The young fellow immediately threw his arm around his companion, and they waltzed about the meadow like mad.
Suddenly they stood still. "By heavens," exclaimed one, "I can see the church-tower of B.! We shall soon be there." He took out his watch and made it repeat, then shook his head, and made the watch strike again. "No," he said, "it will not do; we should arrive too early, and that might be very bad."
Then they brought out from their saddle-bags cakes, cutlets, and bottles of wine, spread a gay cloth on the grass, stretched themselves beside it, and feasted to their hearts' content, sharing all generously with me, which I greatly enjoyed, seeing that for some days I had not had over and above enough to eat. "And let me tell you," one of them said to me—"but you do not know us yet?" I shook my head. "Then let me tell you. I am the painter Lionardo, and my friend here is a painter also, called Guido."
I could see the two painters more clearly in the dawning morning. Herr Lionardo was tall, brown, and slender, with merry, ardent eyes. The other was much younger, smaller, and more delicate, dressed in antique German style, as the Porter called it, with a white collar and bare throat, about which hung dark brown curls, which he was often obliged to toss aside from his pretty face. When he had breakfasted, he picked up my fiddle, which I had laid on the grass beside me, seated himself upon the fallen trunk of a tree, and strummed the strings. Then he sang in a voice clear as a wood-robin's, so that it went to my very heart heart—
"When the earliest morning ray Through the valley finds its way, Hill and forest fair awaking, All who can their flight are taking.
"And the lad who's free from care Shouts, with cap flung high in air, 'Song its flight can aye be winging; Let me, then, be ever singing.'"
As he sang, the ruddy rays of morning exquisitely illumined his pale face and dark, love-lit eyes. But I was so tired that the words and notes of his song mingled and blended strangely in my ears, until at last I fell sound asleep.
When, by and by, I began gradually to awaken, I heard, as in a dream, the two painters talking together beside me, and the birds singing overhead, while the morning sun shining through my closed eyelids produced the sensation of looking toward the light through red curtains. "Com' e bello!" I heard some one exclaim close to me. I opened my eyes, and saw the younger painter bending over me in the clear morning light, so near that I seemed to see only his large black eyes between his drooping curls.
I sprang up hastily, for it was broad day. Herr Lionardo seemed cross—he had two angry furrows on his brow—and hastily made ready to move on. But the other painter shook his curls away from his face and quietly hummed an air to himself as he was bridling his steed, until at last Lionardo burst into a sudden fit of laughter, picked up a bottle standing on the grass, and poured the contents into a couple of glasses. "To our happy arrival!" he exclaimed, as the two clinked their glasses melodiously. Whereupon Lionardo tossed the empty bottle high in the air, and it sparkled brilliantly.
At last they mounted their horses, and I marched on beside them. Just at our feet lay a valley in measureless extent, into which our road descended. How clear and fresh and bright and jubilant were all the sights and sounds around! I was so cool, so happy, that I felt as if I could have flown from the mountain out into the glorious landscape.
Farewell, mill, and castle, and Porter! We went at such a pace that the wind nearly blew my hat off. Right and left, villages, towns, and vineyards flew past in a twinkling; behind me the two painters were seated in the carriage, before me were four horses and a gorgeous postilion, while I, seated high up on the box, bounced into the air from time to time.
It had happened thus: Arrived at B., while we were as yet in the outskirts a tall, thin, crusty gentleman in a green plush coat came to meet us, and, with many obeisances to the two painters, conducted us into the village, where, beneath the tall linden beside the post-station, stood a fine carriage with four post-horses. Herr Lionardo meanwhile insisted that I had outgrown my clothes, and in a trice he produced another suit from his portmanteau, and I had to put on a beautiful new dress-coat and vest; very fine to see, but they were too long and too wide for me, and absolutely fluttered about me. And I also had a brand-new hat, which shone in the sunlight as if it had been smeared with fresh butter. Then the crusty stranger gentleman took the bridles of the two horses which the painters had been riding, the painters themselves got into the carriage, I mounted upon the box, and we started, just as the postmaster poked his head out of the window, in his nightcap. The postilion blew his horn merrily, and we were off for Italy.
I led a magnificent existence up there, like a bird in the air, except that I did not need to fly. I had absolutely nothing to do but to sit on the box day and night, and bring out food and drink to the carriage from the inns, for the painters never alighted, and in the daytime they shut the carriage windows close, as if the sun would have killed them; only now and then Herr Guido put his pretty head out of the carriage window and chatted kindly with me, laughing the while at Herr Lionardo, who always seemed to dislike these talks. Once or twice I nearly fell into disgrace with my master—the first time because on a clear starry night I began to play the fiddle up there on my box, and then because of my sleeping. It was strange! I longed to see all that I could of Italy, and opened my eyes wide every fifteen minutes. And yet, after I had gazed steadily about me for a while, the sixteen trotting feet before me would grow indistinct and dreamy, my eyes would gradually close, and at last I would fall into a slumber so profound and invincible that it was impossible to rouse me. Then day or night, rain or sunshine, Tyrol or Italy, it was all the same; I swayed first to the right, then to the left, then backward—nay, sometimes my head nodded down so low that my hat dropped off, and Herr Guido screamed aloud.
Thus we had passed, I hardly know how, half through the part of Italy that they call Lombardy, when on a fine evening we stopped at a country inn. The post-horses were to be ready for us at the neighboring station in a couple of hours, so the painters left the carriage, and were shown into a special apartment, to rest a little, and to write some letters. I was greatly pleased, and betook myself to the common room to eat and drink in comfort. Here everything looked rather disreputable: the maids were going about with their hair in disorder and their neckerchiefs awry, exposing their sallow skin; the men-servants were at their supper in blue smock-frocks, around a circular table, whence they glowered at me from time to time. They all wore their hair tied behind in a short, thick queue which looked quite dandified. "Here you are," I said to myself, as I ate my supper, "here you are in the country from which such queer people used to come to the Herr Pastor's with mouse-traps, and barometers, and pictures. How much a man learns who makes up his mind not to stick close to his own hearth-stone all his life!"
As I was thus eating my supper and meditating, a little man, who had been sitting in a dim corner of the room over a glass of wine, darted out of his nook at me like a spider. He was quite short and crooked, and he had a big ugly head, with a long hooked nose and sparse red whiskers, while his powdered hair stood on end all over his head as if a hurricane had swept over it. He wore an old-fashioned, threadbare dress-coat, short, plush breeches, and faded silk stockings. He had once been in Germany, and prided himself upon his knowledge of German. He sat down by me and asked a hundred questions, perpetually taking snuff the while—Was I the servitore? When did we arrive? Had we gone to Roma? All this I myself did not know, and really I could not understand his gibberish. "Parlez-vous francais?" I asked him at last in my distress. He shook his big head, and I was very glad, for neither did I speak French. But it was of no use, he had taken me in hand, and went on asking question after question; the more we parleyed the less we understood each other, until at last we both grew angry, and I actually thought the Signor would have liked to peck me with his hooked beak, until the maids, who had been listening to our confusion of tongues, laughed heartily at us. I put down my knife and fork and went out of doors; for in this strange land I, with my German tongue, seemed to have sunk down fathoms deep into the sea, where all sorts of unfamiliar, crawling creatures were gliding about me, peopling the solitude and glaring and snapping at me.
Outside, the summer night was warm and inviting. From the distant vineyards a laborer's song now and then fell on the ear; there was lightning low on the horizon, and the landscape seemed to tremble and whisper in the moonlight. Sometimes I thought I perceived a tall, dim figure gliding behind the hazel hedge in front of the house and peeping through the twigs, and then all would be motionless. Suddenly Herr Guido appeared on the balcony above me. He did not see me, and began to play with great skill on a zither which he must have found in the house, singing to it like a nightingale:
"When the yearning heart is stilled As in dreams, the forest sighing, To the listening earth replying, Tells the thoughts with which 'twas filled: Days long vanished, soothing sorrow— From the Past a light they borrow, And the heart is gently thrilled."
I do not know whether he sang any more, for I had stretched myself on a bench outside the door, and I fell asleep in the warm air from sheer exhaustion.
A couple of hours must have passed, when I was roused by the winding of a post-horn, which sounded merrily in my dreams for a while before I fully recovered consciousness. At last I sprang up; day was already dawning on the mountains, and I felt through all my limbs the freshness of the morning. Then it occurred to me that by this time we ought to be far on our way. "Aha!" I thought, "now it is my turn to laugh. How Herr Guido will shake his sleepy, curly head when he hears me outside!" So I went close beneath the window in the little garden at the back of the house, stretched my limbs well in the morning air, and sang merrily—
"If the cricket's chirp we hear, Then be sure the day is near; When the sun is rising—then 'Tis good to go to asleep again."
The window of the room where my masters were stood open, but all within was quiet; the breeze alone rustled the leaves of the vine that clambered into the window itself. "What does this mean?" I exclaimed in surprise, and ran into the house, and through the silent corridors, to the room. But when I opened the door my heart stood still with dismay; the room was perfectly empty; not a coat, not a hat, not a boot, anywhere. Only the zither upon which Herr Guido had played was hanging on the wall, and on the table in the centre of the room lay a purse full of money, with a card attached to it. I took it to the window, and could scarcely trust my eyes when I read, in large letters, "For the Herr Receiver!"
But what good could it all do me if I could not find my dear, merry masters again? I thrust the purse into my deep coat-pocket, where it plumped down as into a well and almost pulled me over backward. Then I rushed out, and made a great noise, and waked up all the maids and men in the house. They could not imagine what was the matter, and thought I must have gone crazy. But they were not a little amazed when they saw the empty nest. No one knew anything of my masters. One maid only had observed—so far as I could make out from her signs and gesticulations—that Herr Guido, when he was singing on the balcony on the previous evening, had suddenly screamed aloud, and had then rushed back into the room to the other gentleman. And once, when she waked in the night afterward, she had heard the tramp of a horse. She peeped out of the little window of her room, and saw the crooked Signor, who had talked so much to me, on a white horse, galloping so furiously across the field in the moonlight that he bounced high up from his saddle; and the maid crossed herself, for he looked like a ghost riding upon a three-legged horse. I did not know what in the world to do.
Meanwhile, however, our carriage was standing before the door ready to start, and the impatient postilion blew his horn fit to burst, for he had to be at the next station at a certain hour, because everything had been ordered with great exactitude in the way of changing horses. I ran once more through all the house, calling the painters, but no one made answer; the inn-people stared at me, the postilion cursed, the horses neighed, and, at last, completely dazed, I sprang into the carriage, the hostler shut the door behind me, the postilion cracked his whip, and away I went into the wide world.
We drove on now over hill and dale, day and night. I had no time for reflection, for wherever we arrived the horses were standing ready harnessed. I could not talk with the people, and my signs and gestures were of no use; often just in the midst of a fine dinner the postilion wound his horn, and I had to drop knife and fork and spring into the carriage again without knowing whither I was going, or why or wherefore I was obliged to hurry on at such a rattling pace.
Otherwise the life was not unpleasant. I reclined upon the soft cushions first in one corner of the carriage and then in the other, and took note of countries and people, and when we drove through the villages I leaned both arms on the window of the carriage, and acknowledged the courtesy of the men who took off their hats to me, or else I kissed my hand like an old acquaintance to the young girls at the windows, who looked surprised, and stared after me as long as the carriage was in sight.
But a day came when I was in a terrible fright. I had never counted the money in the purse left for me, and I had to pay a great deal to the postmasters and innkeepers everywhere, so that before I was aware, the purse was empty. When I first discovered this I had an idea of jumping out of the carriage and making my escape, the next time we drove through a lonely wood. But I could not make up my mind to give up the beautiful carriage and leave it all alone, when, if it were possible, I would gladly have driven in it to the end of the world.
So I sat buried in thought, not knowing what to do, when all at once we turned aside from the highway. I shouted to the postilion to ask him where he was going, but, shout as I would, the fellow never made any answer save "Si, si, Signore!" and on he drove over stock and stone till I was jolted from side to side in the carriage.
I was not at all pleased, for the high-road ran through a charming country, directly toward the setting sun, which was bathing the landscape in a sea of splendor, while before us, when we turned aside, lay a dreary hilly region, broken by ravines, where in the gray depths darkness had already set in. The further we drove, the lonelier and drearier grew the road. At last the moon emerged from the clouds, and shone through the trees with a weird, unearthly brilliancy. We had to go very slowly in the narrow rocky ravines, and the continuous, monotonous rattle of the carriage reechoed from the walls on either side, as if we were driving through a vaulted tomb. From the depths of the forest came a ceaseless murmur of unseen water-falls, and the owlets hooted in the distance "Come too! come too!" As I looked at the driver, I noticed for the first time that he wore no uniform and was not a postilion; he seemed to be growing restless, turning his head and looking behind him several times. Then he began to drive quicker, and as I leaned out of the carriage a horseman came out of the shrubbery on one side of the road, crossed it at a bound directly in front of our horses, and vanished in the forest on the other side. I felt bewildered; as far as I could see in the bright moonlight the rider was that very same crooked little man who had so pecked at me with his hooked nose in the inn, and mounted, too, on the same white horse. The driver shook his head and laughed aloud at such horsemanship, then quickly turned to me and said a great deal very eagerly, not a word of which did I understand, and then he drove on more rapidly than ever.
I was rejoiced soon afterward when I perceived a light glimmering in the distance. Gradually more and more lights appeared, and at last we passed several smoke-dried huts clinging like swallows' nests to the rocks. As the night was warm, the doors stood open, and I could see into the lighted rooms, and all sorts of ragged figures gathered about the hearths. We rattled on through the quiet night, along a steep, stony road leading up a high mountain. Soon lofty trees and hanging vines arched completely over us, and anon the heavens became visible, and we could overlook in the depths a distant circle of mountains, forests, and valleys. On the summit of the mountain stood a grand old castle, its many towers gleaming in the brilliant moonlight. "God be thanked!" I exclaimed, greatly relieved, and on the tiptoe of expectation as to whither I was being conducted.
A good half-hour passed, however, before we reached the gate-way of the castle. It led under a broad round tower, the summit of which was half ruined. The driver cracked his whip three times, so that the old castle reechoed, and a flock of startled rooks flew forth from every sheltered nook and careered wildly overhead with hoarse caws. Then the carriage rolled on through the long, dark gate-way. The iron shoes of the horses struck fire upon the stone pavement, a large dog barked, the wheels thundered along the vaulted passage, the rooks' hoarse cries resounded, and amidst all this horrible hubbub we reached a small, paved courtyard.
"A queer post-station this," I thought, when the coach stopped. The coach door was opened, and a tall old man with a small lantern scanned me grimly from beneath his bushy eyebrows. He then took my arm and helped me to alight from the coach as if I had been a person of quality. Outside, before the castle door, stood a very ugly old woman in a black camisole and petticoat, with a white apron and a black cap, the long point of which in front almost touched her nose. A large bunch of keys hung on one side of her waist, and she held in her hand an old-fashioned candelabrum with two lighted wax candles. As soon as she saw me she began to duck and curtsey and to talk volubly. I did not understand a word, but I scraped innumerable bows, and felt very uncomfortable.
Meanwhile, the old man had peered into every corner of the coach with his lantern, and grumbled and shook his head upon finding no trace of trunk or luggage. The driver, without asking for the usual pour-boire, proceeded to put up the coach in an old shed on one side of the courtyard, while the old woman by all sorts of courteous signs invited me to follow her. She showed the way with her wax candles through a long, narrow passage, and up a little stone staircase. As we passed the kitchen a couple of maids poked their heads inquisitively through the half-open door, and stared at me, as they winked and nodded furtively to each other, as if they had never in all their lives seen a man before. At last the old woman opened a door, and for a moment I was quite dazed; the apartment was spacious and very handsome, the ceiling decorated with gilded carving and the walls hung with magnificent tapestry portraying all sorts of figures and flowers. In the centre of the room stood a table spread with cutlets, cakes, salad, fruit, wine, and confections, enough to make one's mouth water. Between the windows hung a tall mirror, reaching from the floor to the ceiling.
I must say that all this delighted me. I stretched myself once or twice, and paced the room to and fro with much dignity, after which I could not resist looking at myself in such a large mirror. Of a truth Herr Lionardo's new clothes became me well, and I had caught an ardent expression of eye from the Italians, but otherwise I was just such a whey-face as I had been at home, with only a soft down on my upper lip.
Meanwhile, the old woman ground away with her toothless jaws, as if she were actually chewing the end of her long nose. She made me sit down, chucked me under the chin with her lean fingers, called me "poverino," and leered at me so roguishly with her red eyes that one corner of her mouth twitched half-way up her cheek as she at last left the room with a low courtesy.
I sat down at the table, and a young, pretty girl came in to wait on me. I made all sorts of gallant speeches to her, which she did not understand, but watched me curiously while I applied myself to the viands with evident enjoyment; they were delicious. When I had finished and rose from table, she took a candle and conducted me to another room, where were a sofa, a small mirror, and a magnificent bed with green silk curtains. I inquired by signs whether I were to sleep there. She nodded assent, but I could not undress while she stood beside me as if she were rooted to the spot. At last I went and got a large glass of wine from the table in the next room, drank it off, and wished her "Felicissima notte!" for I had managed to learn that much Italian. But while I was emptying the glass at a draught she suddenly burst into a fit of suppressed giggling, grew very red, and went into the next room, closing the door behind her. "What is there to laugh at?" thought I in a puzzle. "I believe Italians are all crazy."
Still in anxiety lest the postilion should begin to blow his horn again, I listened at the window, but all was quiet outside. "Let him blow!" I thought, undressed myself, and got into the magnificent bed, where I seemed to be fairly swimming in milk and honey! The old linden in the court-yard rustled, a rook now and then flew off the roof, and at last, completely happy, I fell asleep.
When I awoke, the beams of early morning were shining on the green curtains of my bed. At first I could not remember where I was. I seemed to be still driving in the coach, where I had been dreaming of a castle in the moonlight, and of an old witch and her pale daughter.
I sprang hastily out of bed, dressed myself, and, looking about my room, perceived in the wainscoting a small door, which I had not seen the night before. It was ajar; I opened it, and saw a pretty little room looking very fresh and neat in the early dawn. Some articles of feminine apparel were lying in disorder over the back of a chair, and in a bed beside it lay the girl who had waited upon me the evening before. She was sleeping soundly, her head resting upon her bare white arm, over which her black curls were straying. "How mortified she would be if she knew that the door was open!" I said to myself, and I crept back into my room, bolting the door after me, that the girl might not be horrified and ashamed when she awoke.
Not a sound was yet to be heard outside, except from an early robin that was singing his morning song, perched upon a spray growing out of the wall beneath my window. "No," said I, "you shall not shame me by singing all alone your early hymn of praise to God!" I hastily fetched my fiddle, which I had laid upon the table the night before, and left the room. Everything in the castle was silent as death, and I was a long while finding my way through the dim corridors out into the open air.
There I found myself in a large garden extending half-way down the mountain, its broad terraces lying one beneath the other like huge steps. But the gardening was slovenly. The paths were all grass-grown, the yew figures were not trimmed, but stretched long noses and caps a yard high into the air like ghosts, so that really they must have been quite fearsome at nightfall. Linen was hanging to dry on the broken marble statues of an unused fountain; here and there in the middle of the garden cabbages were planted beside some common flowers; everything was neglected, in disorder, and overgrown with tall weeds, among which glided varicolored lizards. On all sides through the gigantic old trees there was a distant, lonely prospect of range after range of mountains stretching as far as the eye could reach.
After I had been sauntering about through this wilderness for a while in the dawn, I descried upon the terrace below me, striding to and fro with folded arms, a tall, slender, pale youth in a long brown surtout. He seemed not to perceive me, and shortly seated himself upon a stone bench, took a book out of his pocket, read very loud from it, as if he were preaching, looked up to heaven at intervals, and leaned his head sadly upon his right hand. I looked at him for a long time, but at last I grew curious to know why he was making such extraordinary gestures, and I went hastily toward him. He had just heaved a profound sigh, and sprang up startled as I approached. He was completely confused, and so was I; we neither of us knew what to say, and we stood there bowing, until he made his escape, striding rapidly through the shrubbery. Meanwhile, the sun had arisen over the forest; I mounted on the stone bench, and scraped my fiddle merrily, so that the quiet valleys reechoed. The old woman with the bunch of keys, who had been searching anxiously for me all through the castle to call me to breakfast, appeared upon the terrace above me, and was surprised that I could play the fiddle so well. The grim old man from the castle came too, and was as much amazed, and at last the maids came, and they all stood up there together agape, while I fingered away, and wielded my bow in the most artistic manner, playing cadenzas and variations until I was downright tired.
The castle was a mighty strange place! No one dreamed of journeying further. It was no inn or post-station, as I learned from one of the maids, but belonged to a wealthy count. When I sometimes questioned the old woman as to the count's name and where he lived, she only smirked as she had done on the evening of my arrival, and slyly pinched me and winked at me archly as if she were out of her senses. If on a warm day I drank a whole bottle of wine, the maids were sure to giggle when they brought me another; and once when I wanted to smoke a pipe, and informed them by signs of my desire, they all burst into a fit of foolish laughter. But most mysterious of all was a serenade which often, and always upon the darkest nights, sounded beneath my window. A guitar was played fitfully, soft, low chords being heard from time to time. Once I imagined I heard some one down below call up, "Pst! pst!" I sprang out of bed and, putting my head out of the window, called, "Holla! who's there?" But no answer came; I only heard the rustling of the shrubbery, as if some one were hastily running away. The large dog in the court-yard, roused by my shout, barked a couple of times, and then all was still again. After this the serenade was heard no more.
Otherwise my life here was all that mortal could desire. The worthy Porter knew well what he was talking about when he was wont to declare that in Italy raisins dropped into one's mouth of themselves. I lived in the lonely castle like an enchanted prince. Wherever I went the servants treated me with the greatest respect, though they all knew that I had not a farthing in my pocket. I had but to say, "Table, be spread," and lo, I was served with delicious viands, rice, wine, melons, and Parmesan cheese. I lived on the best, slept in the magnificent canopied bed, walked in the garden, played my fiddle, and sometimes helped with the gardening. I often lay for hours in the tall grass, and the pale youth in his long surtout—he was a student and a relative of the old woman's, and was spending his vacation here—would pace around me in a wide circle, muttering from his book like a conjurer, which was always sure to send me to sleep. Thus day after day passed, until, what with the good eating and drinking, I began to grow quite melancholy. My limbs became limp from perpetually doing nothing, and I felt as if I should fall to pieces from sheer laziness.
One sultry afternoon, I was sitting in the boughs of a tall tree that overhung the valley, gently rocking myself above its quiet depths. The bees were humming among the leaves around me; all else was silent as the grave; not a human being was to be seen on the mountains, and below me on the peaceful meadows the cows were resting in the high grass. But from afar away the note of a post-horn floated across the wooded heights, at first scarcely audible, then clearer and more distinct. On the instant my heart reechoed an old song which I had learned when at home at my father's mill from a traveling journeyman, and I sang—
"Whenever abroad you are straying, Take with you your dearest one; While others are laughing and playing, A stranger is left all alone.
"And what know these trees, with their sighing, Of an older, a lovelier day? Alas, o'er yon blue mountains lying, Thy home is so far, far away!
"The stars in their courses I treasure, My pathway to her they shone o'er; The nightingale's song gives me pleasure, It sang nigh my dearest one's door.
"When starlight and dawn are contending, I climb to the mountain-tops clear; Thence gazing, my greeting I'm sending To Germany, ever most dear."
It seemed as if the post-horn in the distance would fain accompany my song. While I was singing, it came nearer and nearer among the mountains, until at last I heard it in the castle court-yard; I got down from the tree as quickly as possible, in time to meet the old woman with an opened packet coming toward me. "Here is something too for you," she said, and handed me a neat little note. It was without address; I opened it hastily, and on the instant flushed as red as a peony, and my heart beat so violently that the old woman observed my agitation. The note was from—my Lady fair, whose handwriting I had often seen at the bailiff's. It was short: "All is well once more; all obstacles are removed. I take a private opportunity to be the first to write you the good news. Come, hasten back. It is so lonely here, and I can scarcely bear to live since you left us. Aurelia."
As I read, my eyes grew dim with rapture, alarm, and ineffable delight. I was ashamed in presence of the old woman, who began to smirk and wink odiously, and I flew like an arrow to the loneliest nook of the garden. There I threw myself on the grass beneath the hazel-bushes and read the note again, repeating the words by heart, and then re-reading them over and over, while the sunlight danced between the leaves upon the letters, so that they were blended and blurred before my eyes like golden and bright-green and crimson blossoms. "Is she not married, then?" I thought; "was that young officer her brother, perhaps, or is he dead, or am I crazy, or—but no matter!" I exclaimed at last, leaping to my feet. "It is clear enough, she loves me! she loves me!"
When I crept out of the shrubbery the sun was near its setting. The heavens were red, the birds were singing merrily in the woods, the valleys were full of a golden sheen, but in my heart all was a thousand times more beautiful and more glad.
I shouted to them in the castle to serve my supper out in the garden. The old woman, the grim old man, the maids—I made them all come and sit at table with me under the trees. I brought out my fiddle and played, and ate and drank between-whiles. Then they all grew merry; the old man smoothed the grim wrinkles out of his face, and emptied glass after glass, the old woman chattered away—heaven knows about what, and the maids began to dance together on the green-sward. At last the pale student approached inquisitively, cast a scornful glance at the party, and was about to pass on with great dignity. But I sprang up in a twinkling, and, before he knew what I was about, seized him by his long surtout and waltzed merrily round with him. He actually began to try to dance after the latest and most approved fashion, and footed it so nimbly that the moisture stood in beads upon his forehead, his long coat flew round like a wheel, and he looked at me so strangely withal, and his eyes rolled so, that I began to be really afraid of him, and suddenly released him.
The old woman was very curious to know the contents of the note, and why I was so very merry of a sudden. But the matter was far too intricate for me to be able to explain it to her. I merely pointed to a couple of storks that were sailing through the air far above our heads, and said that so must I go, far, far away. At this she opened her bleared eyes wide, and cast a sinister glance first at me and then at the old man. After that, I noticed as often as I turned away that they put their heads together and talked eagerly, glancing askance toward me from time to time.
This puzzled me. I pondered upon what scheme they could be hatching, and I grew more quiet. The sun had long set, so I wished them all good night and betook myself thoughtfully to my bedroom.
I felt so happy and so restless that for a long while I paced the apartment to and fro. Outside, the wind was driving black, heavy clouds high above the castle-tower; the nearest mountain-summit could be scarcely discerned in the thick darkness. Then I thought I heard voices in the garden below. I put out my candle and sat down at the window. The voices seemed to come nearer, speaking in low tones, and suddenly a long ray of light shot from a small lantern concealed under the cloak of a dark figure. I instantly recognized the grim old steward and the old housekeeper. The light flashed in the face of the old woman, who looked to me more hideous than ever, and upon the blade of a long knife which she held in her hand. I could plainly see that both of them were looking up at my window. Then the steward folded his cloak more closely, and all was dark and silent.
"What do they want," I thought, "out in the garden, at this hour?" I shuddered; I could not help recalling all the stories of murders that I had ever heard—all the tales of witches and robbers who slaughtered people that they might devour their hearts. Whilst I was filled with such thoughts, I heard footsteps coming up the stairs softly, then very softly along the narrow passage directly to my door; and at the same time I thought I heard voices whispering together. I ran hastily to the other end of the room and behind a large table, which I could lift and bang against the door as soon as anything stirred outside. But in the darkness I upset a chair, which made a tremendous crash. In an instant all was profound silence outside. I listened behind the table, staring at the door as if I could pierce it with my eyes, which felt as if they were starting from my head. When I had kept so quiet for a while that the buzzing of a fly could have been plainly heard, I distinguished the sound of a key softly put into the keyhole of my door on the outside. I was just about to make a demonstration with my table, when the key was turned slowly three times round in the lock, and then cautiously withdrawn, after which the footsteps retreated along the passage and down the staircase.
I took a long breath. "Oho!" I thought, "they have locked me up that all may be easy when I am sound asleep." I tried the door, and found it locked, as was also the other door, behind which the pale maid slept. This had never been so before since I had been at the castle.
Here was I imprisoned in a foreign land! The Lady fair undoubtedly was even now standing at her window and looking across the quiet garden toward the high-road, to see if I were not coming from the toll-house with my fiddle. The clouds were scudding across the sky; time was passing—and I could not get away. Ah, but my heart was sore; I did not know what to do. And if the leaves rustled outside, or a rat gnawed behind the wainscot, I fancied I saw the old woman gliding in by a secret door and creeping softly through the room, with that long knife in hand.
As, given over to such fancies, I sat on the side of my bed, I heard, the first time for a long while, the music beneath my window. At the first twang of the guitar a ray of light darted into my soul. I opened the window, and called down softly, that I was awake. "Pst, pst!" was the answer from below. Without more ado, I thrust the note into my pocket, took my fiddle, got out of the window, and scrambled down the ruinous old wall, clinging to the vines growing from the crevices. One or two crumbling stones gave way, and I began to slide faster and faster, until at last I came down upon my feet with such a sudden bump that my teeth rattled in my head.
Scarcely had I thus reached the garden when I felt myself embraced with such violence that I screamed aloud. My kind friend, however, clapped his hand on my mouth, and, taking my arm, led me through the shrubbery to the open lawn. Here, to my astonishment, I recognized the tall student, who had a guitar slung around his neck by a broad silk ribbon. I explained to him as quickly as possible that I wished to escape from the garden. He seemed perfectly aware of my wishes, and conducted me by various covert pathways to the lower door in the high garden wall. But when we reached it, it was fast locked! The student, however, seemed to be quite prepared for this; he produced a large key and cautiously unlocked it.
When we found ourselves in the forest, and I was about to inquire of him the best road to the nearest town, he suddenly fell upon one knee before me, raised a hand aloft, and began to curse and to swear in the most horrible manner. I could not imagine what he wanted; I could hear frequent repetitions of "Iddio" and "cuore" and "amore" and "furore!" But when he began hobbling close up to me on both knees, I grew positively terrified, I perceived clearly that he had lost his wits, and I fled into the depths of the forest without looking back.
I heard the student behind me shouting like one possessed, and soon afterward a rough voice from the castle shouting in reply. I was sure they would pursue me. The road was entirely unknown to me; the night was dark; I should probably fall into their hands. Therefore I climbed up into a tall tree to await my opportunity to escape.
From here I could distinguish one voice after another calling in the castle. Several links appeared in the garden, and cast a weird lurid light over the old walls and down the mountain out into the black night. I commended my soul to the Almighty, for the confused uproar grew louder and nearer. At last the student, bearing aloft a torch, ran past my tree below me so fast that the skirt of his surtout flew out behind him in the wind. After this the tumult gradually retreated to the other side of the mountain; the voices sounded more and more distant, and at last the wind alone sighed through the silent forest. I then descended from my tree and ran breathless down into the valley and out into the night.
I hurried on for the rest of the night and the next day, for there was a din in my ears for a long time, as if all the people from the castle were after me, shouting, waving torches, and brandishing long knives. On the way I learned that I was only five or six miles from Rome, whereat I could have jumped for joy. As a child at home I had heard wonderful stories of gorgeous Rome, and as I lay on my back in the grass on Sunday afternoons near the mill, and everything around was so quiet, I used to picture Rome out of the clouds sailing above me, with wondrous mountains and abysses, around the blue sea, with golden gates and lofty gleaming towers, where angels in shining robes were singing.
The night had come again, and the moon shone brilliantly, when at last I emerged from the forest upon a hilltop, and saw the city lying before me in the distance. The sea gleamed afar off, the heavens glittered with innumerable stars, and beneath them lay the Holy City, a long strip of mist, like a slumbering lion on the quiet earth, watched and guarded by mountains around like shadowy giants.
I soon reached an extensive, lonely heath, where all was gray and silent as the grave. Here and there a ruined wall was still standing, or some strangely-gnarled trunk of a tree; now and then night-birds whirred through the air, and my own shadow glided long and black in the solitude beside me. They say that a primeval city lies buried here, and that Frau Venus makes it her abode, and that sometimes the old pagans rise up from their graves and wander about the heath and mislead travelers. I cared nothing, however, for such tales, but walked on steadily, for the city arose before me more and more distinct and magnificent, and the high castles and gates and golden domes gleamed wondrously in the moonlight, as if angels in golden garments were actually standing on the roofs and singing in the quiet night.
At last I passed some humble houses, and then through a gorgeous gate-way into the famous city of Rome. The moon shone bright as day among the palaces, but the streets were empty, except for some lazy fellow lying dead asleep on a marble step in the warm night air. The fountains plashed in the silent squares, and from the gardens bordering the street the trees added their murmur, and filled the air with refreshing fragrance.
As I was sauntering on, not knowing—what with delight, moonlight, and fragrance—which way to turn, I heard a guitar touched in the depths of a garden. "Great heavens!" I thought, "the crazy student with his long surtout has been secretly following me all this time." But in a moment a lady in the garden began to sing deliciously. I stood spellbound; it was the voice of the Lady fair! and the selfsame Italian song which she often used to sing at her open window!
Then the dear old time recurred so vividly to my mind that I could have wept bitterly; I saw the quiet garden before the castle in the early dawn, and thought how happy I had been among the shrubbery before that stupid fly flew up my nose. I could restrain myself no longer, but clambered over the gilded ornaments surmounting the grated gate-way and leaped down into the garden whence the song proceeded. As I did so I perceived a slender white figure standing in the distance behind a poplar-tree, looking at me in amazement; but in an instant it had turned and fled through the dim garden toward the house so quickly that in the moonlight it seemed to glide. "It was she, herself!" I exclaimed, and my heart throbbed with delight; I recognized her on the instant by her pretty little fleet feet. It was unfortunate that in clambering over the gate I had slightly twisted my ankle, and had to limp along for a minute or two before I could run after her toward the house. In the meanwhile the doors and windows had been closed. I knocked modestly, listened, and then knocked again. I seemed to hear low laughter and whispering within the house, and once I was almost sure that a pair of bright eyes peeped between the jalousies in the moonlight. But finally all was silent.
"She does not know that it is I," I thought; I took out my fiddle, and promenaded to and fro on the path before the house and sang the song of the Lady fair and played over all my songs that I had been wont to play on lovely summer nights in the castle garden, or on the bench before the toll-house so that the sound should reach the castle windows. But it was all of no use; no one stirred in the entire house. Then I put away my fiddle sadly, and seated myself upon the door-step, for I was very weary with my long march. The night was warm; the flower-beds before the house sent forth a delicious fragrance, and a fountain somewhere in the depths of the garden plashed continuously. I thought dreamily of azure flowers, of dim, green, lovely, lonely spots where brooks were rippling and gay birds singing, until at last I fell sound asleep.
When I awoke the fresh air of morning was playing over me; the birds were already awake and twittering in the trees around, as if they were making game of me. I started up and looked about; the fountain in the garden was still playing, but nothing was to be heard within the house. I peeped through the green blinds into one of the rooms, where I could see a sofa and a large round table covered with gray linen. The chairs were all standing against the wall in perfect order; the blinds were down at all the windows, as if the house had been uninhabited for example, with many a loving thought of my fair, distant home.
Meanwhile, the painter had arranged near the window one of the frames upon which a large piece of paper was stretched. An old hovel was cleverly drawn in charcoal upon the paper, and within it sat the Blessed Virgin with a lovely, happy face, upon which there was withal a shade of melancholy. At her feet in a little nest of straw lay the Infant Jesus—very lovely, with large serious eyes. Without, upon the threshold of the open door were kneeling two shepherd lads with staff and wallet. "You see," said the painter, "I am going to put your head upon one of these shepherds, and so people will know your face and, please God, take pleasure in it long after we are both under the sod, and are ourselves kneeling happily before the Blessed Mother and her Son like those shepherd lads." Then he seized an old chair, the back of which came off in his hand as he lifted it. He soon fitted it into its place again, however, pushed it in front of the frame, and I had to sit down on it, and turn my face sideways to him. I sat thus for some minutes perfectly still, without stirring. After a while, however—I am sure I do not know why—I felt that I could endure it no longer; every part of me began to twitch, and besides, there hung directly in front of me a piece of broken looking-glass into which I could not help glancing perpetually, making all sorts of grimaces from sheer weariness. The painter, noticing this, burst into a laugh, and waved his hand to signify that I might leave my chair. My face upon the paper was already finished, and was so exactly like me that I was immensely pleased with it.
The young man went on painting in the cool morning, singing as he worked, and sometimes looking from the open window at the glorious landscape. I, in the meantime, spread myself another piece of bread and butter, and walked up and down the room, looking at the pictures leaning against the wall. Two of them pleased me especially. "Did you paint these, too?" I asked the painter. "Not exactly," he replied. "They are by the famous masters Leonardo da Vinci and Guido Reni; but you know nothing about them." I was nettled by the conclusion of his remark. "Oh," I rejoined very composedly, "I know those two masters as well as I know myself." He opened his eyes at this. "How so?" he asked hastily. "Well," said I, "I traveled with them day and night, on horseback, on foot, and driving at a pace that made the wind whistle in my ears, and I lost them both at an inn, and then traveled post alone in their coach, which went bumping on two wheels over the rocks, and—" "Oho! oho!" the painter interrupted me, staring at me as if he thought me mad. Then he suddenly burst into a fit of laughter. "Ah," he cried, "now I begin to understand. You traveled with two painters called Guido and Lionardo?" When I assented, he sprang up and looked me all over from head to foot. "I verily believe," he said "that actually—Can you play the violin?" I struck the pocket of my coat so that my fiddle gave forth a tone, and the painter went on: "There was a Countess here lately from Germany, who made inquiries in every nook and corner of Rome for those two painters and a young musician with a fiddle." "A young Countess from Germany!" I cried in an ecstasy. "Was the Porter with her?" "Ah, that I do not know," replied the painter. "I saw her only once or twice at the house of one of her friends, who does not live in the city. Do you know this face?" he went on, suddenly lifting the covering from a large picture standing in a corner. In an instant I felt as we do when in a dark room the shutters are opened and the rising sun flashes in our eyes. It was—the lovely Lady fair! She was standing in the garden, in a black velvet gown, lifting her veil from her face with one hand, and looking abroad over a distant and beautiful landscape. The longer I looked the more vividly did it seem to be the castle garden, and the flowers and boughs waved in the wind, while in the depths of green I could see my little toll-house, and the high-road, and the Danube, and in the distance the blue mountains.
"'Tis she! 'tis she!" I exclaimed at last, and, seizing my hat, I ran out of the door and down the long staircase, while the astonished painter called after me to come back toward evening, and we might perhaps learn something more.
I ran in a great hurry through the city to present myself immediately at the house, in the garden of which the Lady fair had been singing yesterday evening. The streets were full of people; gentlemen and ladies were enjoying the sunshine and exchanging greetings, elegant coaches rolled past, and the bells in all the towers were summoning to mass, making wondrous melody in the air above the heads of the swarming crowd. I was intoxicated with delight, and with the hubbub, and ran on in my joy until at last I had no idea where I was. It was like enchantment; the quiet Square with the fountain, and the garden and the house, seemed the fabric of a dream, which had vanished in the clear light of day.
I could not make any inquiries, for I did not know the name of the Square. At last it began to be very sultry; the sun's rays darted down upon the pavement like burning arrows, people crept into their houses, the blinds everywhere were closed, and the street became once more silent and dead. I threw myself down in despair in front of a fine, large house with a balcony resting upon pillars and affording a deep shade, and surveyed, first the quiet city, which looked absolutely weird in its sudden noonday solitude, and anon the deep blue, perfectly cloudless sky, until, tired out, I fell asleep. I dreamed that I was lying in a lonely green meadow near my native village; a warm summer rain was falling and glittering in the sun, which was just setting behind the mountains, and whenever the raindrops fell upon the grass they turned into beautiful, bright flowers, so that I was soon covered with them.
What was my astonishment when I awoke to find a quantity of beautiful, fresh flowers lying upon me and beside me! I sprang up, but could see nothing unusual, except that in the house above me there was a window filled with fragrant shrubs and flowers, behind which a parrot talked and screamed incessantly. I picked up the scattered flowers, tied them together, and stuck the nosegay in my button-hole. Then I began to discourse with the parrot; it amused me to see him get up and down in his gilded cage with all sorts of odd twists and turns of his head, and always stepping awkwardly over his own toes. But before I was aware of it he was scolding me for a furfante! Even though it were only a senseless bird, it irritated me. I scolded him back; we both got angry; the more I scolded in German, the more he abused me in Italian.
Suddenly I heard some one laughing behind me. I turned quickly, and perceived the painter of the morning. "What nonsense are you at now!" he said. "I have been waiting for you for half an hour. The air has grown cooler: we will go to a garden in the suburbs where you will find several fellow-countrymen, and perhaps learn something further of the German Countess."
I was charmed with this proposal, and we set out immediately, the parrot screaming out abuse of me as I left him.
After we had walked for a long while outside of the city, ascending by a narrow, stony pathway an eminence dotted with villas and vineyards, we reached a small garden very high up, where several young men and maidens were sitting in the open air about a round table. As soon as we made our appearance they all signed to us to keep silence, and pointed toward the other end of the garden, where in a large, vine-wreathed arbor two beautiful ladies were sitting opposite each other at a table. One was singing, while the other accompanied her on the guitar. Between them stood a pleasant-looking gentleman, who occasionally beat time with a small baton. The setting sun shone through the vine-leaves, upon the fruits and flasks of wine with which the table was provided, and upon the plump, white shoulders of the lady with the guitar. The other one grimaced so that she looked convulsed, but she sang in Italian in so extremely artistic a manner that the sinews in her neck stood out like cords.
Just as she was executing a long cadenza with her eyes turned up to the skies, while the gentleman beside her held his baton suspended in the air waiting the moment when she would fall into the beat again, the garden gate was flung open, and a girl looking very much heated, and a young man with a pale, delicate face, entered, quarreling violently. The conductor, startled, stood with raised baton like a petrified conjurer, although the singer had some time before snapped short her long trill and had arisen angrily from the table. All the others turned upon the new arrivals in a rage. "You savage," some one at the round table called out, "you have interrupted the most perfect tableau of the description which the late Hoffmann gives on page 347 of the Ladies' Annual for 1816 of the finest of Hummel's pictures exhibited in the autumn of 1814 at the Berlin Art-Exposition!" But it did no good. "What do I care," the young man retorted, "for your tableau of tableaux! My picture any one may have; my sweetheart I choose to keep for myself. Oh, you faithless, false-hearted girl!" he went on to his poor companion, "you fine critic to whom a painter is nothing but a tradesman, and a poet only a money-maker; you care for nothing save flirtation! May you fall to the lot, not of an honest artist, but of an old Duke with a diamond-mine and beplastered with gold and silver foil! Out with the cursed note that you tried to hide from me! What have you been scribbling? From whom did it come, or to whom is it going?"
But the girl resisted him steadfastly, and the more the other young men present tried to soothe and pacify the angry lover, the more he scolded and threatened; particularly as the girl herself did not restrain her little tongue, until at last she extricated herself, weeping aloud, from the confused coil, and unexpectedly threw herself into my arms for protection. I immediately assumed the correct attitude; but since the rest paid no attention to us, she suddenly composed her face and whispered hastily in my ear, "You odious Receiver! it is all on your account. There, stuff the wretched note into your pocket; you will find out from it where we live. When you approach the gate, at the appointed hour, turn into the lonely street on the right hand."
I was too much amazed to utter a word, for, now that I looked closely, I recognized her at once; actually it was the pert lady's-maid of the Castle who had brought me the flask of wine on that lovely Sunday afternoon. She never looked as pretty as now, when, heated by her quarrel, she leaned against my shoulder, and her black curls hung down over my arm. "But, dear ma'amselle," I said in astonishment, "how do you come—" "For heaven's sake, hush!—be quiet!" she replied, and in an instant, before I could fairly collect myself, she had left me and had fled across the garden.
Meanwhile, the others had almost entirely forgotten the original cause of the turmoil, and now took a pleasing interest in proving to the young man that he was intoxicated—a great disgrace for an honorable painter. The stout, smiling gentleman from the arbor, who was—as I afterward learned—a great connoisseur and patron of Art, and who was always ready to lend his aid for the love of Science, had thrown aside his baton, and showed his broad face, fairly shining with good humor, in the midst of the thickest confusion, zealously striving to restore peace and order, but regretting between-whiles the loss of the long cadenza, and of the beautiful tableau which he had taken such pains to arrange.
In my heart all was as serenely bright as on that blissful Sunday when I had played on my fiddle far into the night at the open window where stood the flask of wine. Since the rumpus showed no signs of abating, I hastily pulled out my violin, and without more ado played an Italian dance, popular among the mountains, which I had learned at the old castle in the forest.
All turned their heads to listen. "Bravo! Bravissimo! A delicious idea!" cried the merry connoisseur of Art, running from one to another to arrange a rustic divertissement, as he called it. He made a beginning himself by leading out the lady who had played the guitar in the arbor. Thereupon he began to dance with extraordinary artistic skill, and describe all sorts of letters on the grass with the points of his toes, really trilling with his feet, and now and then jumping pretty high in the air. But he soon had enough of it, for he was rather corpulent. His jumps grew fewer and clumsier, until at last he withdrew from the circle, puffing violently, and mopping the moisture from his forehead with a snowy pocket-handkerchief. Meanwhile, the young man, who had regained his composure, brought from the inn some castanets, and before I was aware all were dancing merrily beneath the trees. The sun had set, but the crimson sky in the west cast bright reflections among the shadows, and upon the old walls and the half-buried columns covered with ivy in the depths of the garden, while below the vineyards we could see the Eternal City bathed in the evening glow. The dance in the still, clear air was charming, and my heart within me laughed to see how the slender girls and the lady's-maid glided among the trees with arms upraised like heathen wood-nymphs, and kept time to the music with their castanets. At last I could no longer restrain myself; I joined their ranks, and danced away merrily, still fiddling all the time.