"No, I had been married once," was the dry answer, and it seemed to increase the head forester's irritation. He shrugged his shoulders spitefully.
"Well, I certainly think you had no cause for complaint against poor Eschenhagen. He, and all his people at Burgsdorf danced when you piped. With me you would not have ordered the regiment about so easily."
"In about four weeks," Frau Regine declared calmly, "you would all have been under my command, Moritz."
"What! You say that to my face? Well, I'd just like to prove it for once," retorted Schoenau, full of wrath now.
"Thank you, I shouldn't care to marry a second time, so give yourself no uneasiness."
"I can assure you I didn't mean an offer. I wouldn't think of such a thing for a moment. One refusal was enough for me. So you need not trouble giving me a second one."
With these words the master of the house rose, pushed back his chair noisily, and left his guest abruptly. Frau von Eschenhagen remained quietly sitting alone for some time, then she called out in a friendly tone:
"What is it?" he growled from the other side of the terrace.
"When are Herbert and his young wife coming?"
"At twelve o'clock," the voice had an ill-tempered ring yet.
"I am so glad. I have not seen him since he was sent to the South German capital, but I have always maintained that Herbert was the pride of our family, and he keeps up enough state for us all. Now you see he is Prussian ambassador at your court, and is 'Your Excellency.'"
"And then he's a young husband of six and fifty, don't forget that," interrupted the forester spitefully.
"Yes, he took his time about marrying, but he made a dazzling match at last. For a man of his years it was no easy matter to win such a wife as Adelheid, young, beautiful, rich—"
"And of common birth," added Schoenau.
"Stuff and nonsense! Who asks any questions now-a-days about birth when an immense fortune stands behind it? Herbert can use money now, too; he has been hampered for means his life long, and now, as ambassador, he needs more to keep up the position than he could possibly supply. But my brother need never be ashamed of his father-in-law. Stahlberg was at the head of one of our greatest industries, and a man of honor, through and through. It was a pity he died so soon after his daughter's marriage. At all events they made a very sensible choice."
"So that's what you call a sensible choice, do you, when a girl of eighteen marries a man old enough to be her father?" asked Schoenau, who, in the heat of discussion, came back to his sister-in-law again. "To be sure she has a high place in society now, as the wife of His Excellency, the Ambassador, and is a baroness and all that. But to me this beautiful, cool Adelheid, with her 'sensible' ideas, which would do a grandmother credit, is not at all sympathetic. A thoughtless maiden, who falls over head and ears in love, and then declares to her parents, 'This one, or none,' suits me far better."
"Those are fine opinions for the father of a family to express," cried Frau von Eschenhagen, much ruffled. "It's a good thing that Toni inherited my sister's good sense, otherwise she would be coming to you with some such a speech one of these days. But Stahlberg educated his daughter better. I know it from himself. She was trained to follow his wishes, and accepted Herbert at once when he offered himself. But of course you know nothing about educating children; it stands to reason that you should not."
"What? I, a man and a father, and know nothing about educating children?" cried Schoenau, red with anger. They were now both on the fair way to have another pitched battle, when they were happily interrupted by the appearance of a young girl, the daughter of the house, who stepped out on the terrace at this moment.
Antonie von Schoenau could never be called beautiful, but she had her father's fine figure and a fresh, glowing face, with clear brown eyes. Her nut-brown hair was laid in smooth braids around her head, and her attire, although perfectly suitable for a girl of her station, was yet quite simple. But Antonie was in the first bloom of youth, and that charm outweighed all others. As she stepped out now, looking so fresh and rosy and healthy, she was a daughter after Frau Regine's own heart, and that lady immediately brought the strife to an end and gave her a smiling nod.
"Father, the carriage is on its way back from the station," said the young lady, in very deliberate, almost drawling tones. "It is at the foot of the castle hill already, and Uncle Wallmoden will be here in fifteen minutes."
"Bless me, they have driven quickly!" exclaimed her father, whose face had cleared at the news. "Are the guest chambers in order?"
Toni nodded composedly, as if to say her duties were never neglected; then, as her father left the terrace to watch the approach of the guests, Frau von Eschenhagen, with a glance at the basket which the girl carried on her arm, said:
"Well, Toni, you are always busy."
"I have been in the kitchen-garden, dear auntie. The gardener declared there were no more ripe pears, so I went out to see for myself, and picked a whole basket full."
"That's right, my child," said her future mother-in-law, highly pleased, "you must keep an eye on the servants and use your hands, too, occasionally, if you want to get on in this world. You'll make a fine housekeeper. But come, now, we must go to meet your uncle, too."
Herr von Schoenau was already far across the terrace, and was just starting down the broad flight of stone steps which led from the castle court, when a man stepped out from one of the side buildings, and stood, respectful and silent, with his hat off.
"Well, Stadinger, is that you? What's brought you to Fuerstenstein?" the head forester called out. "Come here!"
Stadinger approached as commanded; in spite of his snow-white hair he came forward with a firm, erect step, while a pair of sharp, dark eyes peered out from his brown, weather-beaten face.
"I was with the castellan, Herr von Schoenau," he explained, "and have been asking him to lend us a few of his servants to help us, for we're busy up to our eyes at Rodeck, and have not people enough for all the work."
"Ah, yes, Prince Egon is back from his Oriental tour. I heard that before," said Schoenau. "But how does it happen that he's come to such a small place as Rodeck, with little room and less comfort?"
Stadinger shrugged his shoulders. "Heaven knows! But our young prince follows his own sweet will, and no one dare ask why. One morning the news came, and the castle people hardly know whether they are standing on their heads or their heels. I had enough trouble to get the place ready in two days."
"I can believe that; no one has visited Rodeck for years, but the prince's visit will put some life in the old walls, at any rate."
"Well, it turns everything topsy-turvey," growled the castle steward. "If you only knew how we have been upset, Herr Schoenau. The hunting-room is crammed full of lion and tiger skins, and all sorts of stuffed animals, and monkeys and parrots are sitting around in all the rooms. The whole place is in such an uproar from them that one can't hear one's self speak. And now his highness has just announced to me that there are a troop of elephants and a great sea-serpent on the way. I think I struck a blow at them, though."
"What is on the way?" inquired the head forester, who did not believe he had heard aright.
"A sea-serpent and a dozen elephants. I have fought against them with all my might. 'Your highness,' I said, 'we cannot accommodate any more animals, and as to the sea-serpent, such a beast will need water and we have no pond at Rodeck. And if the elephants do come we'll have to chain them to trees in the forest, I know no other way.'"
"'That's just the thing' his highness answered, 'just chain them to the trees, that'll be very wild and picturesque, and we'll send the sea-serpent to board at Fuerstenstein; the castle fish-pond is big enough.' Herr Schoenau, he will people the whole neighborhood with these monsters, I believe."
The head forester laughed aloud, and gave the steward, who seemed to enjoy his special favor, a hearty slap on the shoulder.
"But, Stadinger, have you really taken all this in earnest? You ought to know the prince better. He certainly does not seem to come back any steadier than he went away."
"No indeed, he does not," sighed Stadinger. "And what his highness does not devise for himself, Herr Rojanow hatches for him. He is the worst of the two. It's hard lines that such a dare-devil should be quartered on us."
"Rojanow? Who is he?" asked Schoenau, all attention now.
"I hardly know, but he's come with the prince, who cannot live without him. He met this friend in some heathen country. Maybe he is a half-heathen, or Turk; he looks enough like one, with his dark face and strange eyes. And the fellow, with his airs and orders acts as if he were the lord and master of Rodeck. But he's as handsome as a picture, handsomer even than our prince, who, by the way has given orders that Herr Rojanow is to be obeyed in all things just like himself."
"More than probable it's an adventurer with whom the prince is amusing himself," murmured Schoenau, and aloud he said: "Well good-bye, Stadinger, I must meet my brother-in-law now, and don't lose any sleep over the sea-serpent. When his highness threatens you with it again, tell him I will gladly keep it for him in our fish-pond, but I must see it alive first."
He nodded laughingly to the old steward and stepped down to the entrance gateway. Frau von Eschenhagen and her niece were already there, and a minute after he joined them, the carriage turned into the broad, smooth road and was driven rapidly up to the great entrance.
Regine was the first to greet the travelers. She pressed her brother's hand so heartily that he was forced to draw it back. The head forester was somewhat diffident; he had a certain feeling of shyness in the presence of his diplomatic brother-in-law, whose sarcastic tongue he secretly feared. But Toni did not allow "his excellency" her uncle, or his wife, either, to ruffle her wonted composure.
The years had not treated Herbert von Wallmoden so gently as they had his sister. He had aged perceptibly; his hair was grey now, and the sarcastic lines around his mouth had deepened. But he was the same cold aristocrat as ever, perhaps even a shade colder and more distant. With the exalted position to which he had attained, the feeling of superiority, which had ever been his chief characteristic, seemed to strengthen.
The young wife by his side was always taken by strangers to be his daughter. Unquestionably the ambassador's choice had proved his good taste. Adelheid von Wallmoden was indeed lovely, but her beauty was of that chill, statuesque type which awakens only cold admiration, and she seemed to have been born to occupy the position in the world to which her marriage had raised her. The young bride, not quite nineteen, and only six months a wife, exhibited a coolness of behavior and as complete a knowledge of all the forms and obligations of her social position, as if she had been at the side of her elderly husband for half a lifetime.
Wallmoden was politeness and attentiveness itself to her. He offered her his arm now, after the first greetings were over, to conduct her to her own apartments, and a few minutes later returned alone to the terrace to have a talk with his sister.
The intercourse between this brother and sister was in many respects very singular.
Regine was as uncouth in outward appearance as she was rugged in character, and the direct opposite of her courtly brother in every particular; but still, as they sat side by side now, after their long separation, there was a look on both faces which told that the mysterious bond of kinship was much to them both, despite the antagonism which so often came to the fore.
Herbert was made rather nervous during their conversation, for Regine did not think it necessary to refrain from brusque questioning or candid comment, and her brother was frequently embarrassed and annoyed by both, but he had learned from experience the uselessness of striving to check her open speech, so gave himself up to the inevitable with a sigh. Of course, among other things, she spoke of Willibald's and Toni's betrothal, of which Wallmoden fully approved.
The subject had been worn threadbare long years ago, so there was little really to be said. And now Frau von Eschenhagen branched off on another theme.
"Well, Herbert, how do you feel now you're a married man?" asked his sister. "You certainly were long enough about making up your mind, but better late than never, and I must admit that for an old gray-head like you, you have made a very good selection."
This frank reference to his age did not seem to please the ambassador; he pressed his lips tightly together for a moment, and then answered his sister sharply:
"My dear Regine, you should strive to use a little tact in your conversation. I know my age well enough, but the position which I occupy, and to which I elevated Adelheid by marriage, more than compensates for the difference in our ages."
"Well, that's true enough, and the marriage portion she brought you is not to be despised," assented Regine, quite unmoved by his sharp tones. "Have you presented your wife at Court yet?"
"Yes, two weeks ago, at the summer Capitol. My father-in-law's death prevented my doing so before. But this winter we must keep open house, as my position demands it. I was greatly surprised and pleased at Adelheid's behavior at Court. She acted with a calmness and proud security, upon this entirely strange ground, which was worthy of all praise. I was all the more convinced how wise my choice had been in every respect. Well now, about home matters; before everything else, tell me about Falkenried?"
"Well, what is there for me to tell? Don't you write one another regularly?"
"Yes, but his letters are always short and monosyllabic. I wrote him of my marriage, but his congratulations were very laconic. You must see him frequently, since he has been made minister of war, as you are so near the city."
A shadow darkened Regine's clear eyes, and she shook her head sadly. "You are mistaken, the colonel scarcely ever comes to Burgsdorf. He grows more reserved and unapproachable each year."
"I am sorry to hear it; he has always made an exception of you, and I hoped you could use your influence to bring him often to Burgsdorf. Have you made no attempt to renew the old intimacy?"
"I did at first, but I have finally given it up as hopeless, for I saw that I was only annoying him. There is nothing to be done, Herbert. Since that unfortunate catastrophe he has been turned to stone. You have seen him several times yourself, since then, and know he lives bereft of hope."
Wallmoden's face clouded darkly, and his voice was very bitter as he replied: "Yes, that boy Hartmut has done for him, that's certain. It's over ten years ago now, however, and I did hope Falkenried would take some interest in life again by this time."
"I never hoped that," said Frau von Eschenhagen, earnestly. "The life has all gone from the roots. I shall never forget, as long as I live, how he looked on that fateful evening, when we waited and waited, first with uneasiness and apprehension, then with deadly anxiety. You grasped the truth at once, but I would not let you say a word while there was a chance. I can see him now as he stood at the window staring out into the night, with drawn features and face like death, and to every word of ours only the one answer. 'He will come! He must come! I have his word.' And when in spite of all, Hartmut did not come, and we repaired to the railway station at daybreak, only to learn that they two, mother and son, had taken the express train hours before. God preserve us, may I never see such a look on a man's face again. I made you promise to stay by him, for I thought he would put a bullet through his heart before the day was over."
"You were wrong there," said Wallmoden with decision. "A man of Falkenried's temperament would consider it cowardice to commit suicide, even though the days of his life were one continued torture. I do not venture to think what would have happened though, had he been allowed to carry out his intention at that time."
"I know," interrupted his sister, "that he asked for his discharge, because, with his keen sense of honor, he could not bear to serve longer, after his son had become a deserter. It was a step prompted by despair."
"Yes, and it was his only salvation, that he, with his military knowledge and skill, was not allowed to sink into oblivion. The chief of the General's staff took up the matter and brought it before the King, and they decided that the father should not be allowed to sacrifice himself for a boy's rash action, and that the service could not lose such a highly esteemed officer. So they would not accept his resignation, but permitted him to go to a distant garrison, where the matter was never mentioned in his presence. Now, after ten years, it's buried and forgotten by the whole world."
"With one exception," said Regine sorrowfully. "My heart aches whenever I think of what Falkenried once was, and what he is now. The bitter experience of his marriage made him gloomy and unsocial, but in good time he recovered himself a little, and his whole soul turned to his boy and his boy's advancement. Now everything is lost and the rigid, stark fulfilment of duty is all that remains; all else is dead within him, and as a sequence, all his old friendships have become painful to him—we must let him go his own way."
She broke off with a sigh, as the face of her girlhood's friend came before her mind's eye. Then laying her hand on her brother's arm, she said in conclusion:
"Perhaps you are right, Herbert, when you say that a man chooses more wisely when he has come to years of discretion. You need not fear Falkenried's fate; your wife has good blood in her veins. I knew Herr Stahlberg well; he worked earnestly and with capability, too, or he would never have succeeded as he did in life. And he was ever an honest man, even after he became a millionaire, and Adelheid is her father's daughter, bone and sinew. You have chosen well for yourself, and I rejoice with you from the bottom of my heart."
* * * * *
The little hunting castle of Rodeck which belonged to the princely house of Adelsberg, lay but a few miles distant from "Fuerstenstein," in the midst of the deep forest. The small, plain building containing at most but a dozen rooms, had been hastily prepared for the unexpected coming of the prince. It had not been used for years, and had a neglected appearance. But as one stepped out from the dark, gloomy forest upon the light greensward, and saw the old building with its high, pointed roof, and its four little towers guarding the corners, it seemed very picturesque in its loneliness.
The Adelsbergs were old-time princes of the German empire who had long since lost their sovereignty, but who still retained their princely title, together with an immense fortune which included very great landed possessions. The family had dwindled in number so that there were but few representatives left, and only one in the direct line, Prince Egon, and he as owner of the family estates and through kinship on his dead mother's side with the reigning house, played a conspicuous part among the nobility of the country.
The young prince was understood to be very wild and erratic, and a man who was always forming eccentric attachments. He cared little for princely etiquette, and followed the whim of the moment. The old prince had held the reins with a tight hand, but at his death Egon von Adelsberg became his own master, and since that time, had followed his own free course without check or restraint.
He had just now returned from a two years' tour in the East, and instead of going to his palace in the capital, or to one of his magnificently appointed castles, always in readiness to receive him, no matter what the season, he had, on the spur of the moment, decided upon this little hunting castle of Rodeck, where he could not be comfortably housed, and where the few retainers who took charge of the place, were ill-prepared for such an honor. But as old Stadinger had said, no one dare ask why of the prince; he did as the humor of the hour pleased him.
It was the morning of a sunny autumn day. Upon the broad velvety lawn, two men attired in hunting costume, were standing talking to the steward, while in the broad court a few yards beyond, stood a light, open carriage, awaiting its owner's pleasure. The two young men seemed, at a first glance, to resemble one another. Both had tall, slender figures, deeply browned faces, and eyes in which the fiery arrogance of youth burned fiercely; but a nearer view showed how totally dissimilar they were, after all.
It was evident that the younger man, who was about twenty-four years old, owed his dark complexion to his long residence beneath a fierce sun, for his light, curly hair and blue eyes were not the fitting accompaniments for such a browned skin, but were unquestionably German. He had a blonde beard, curly like the hair which surrounded his handsome, open countenance, but the face hardly coincided with one's ideas of perfect beauty. The forehead was somewhat too narrow and the features were not regular, but something in his expression reminded one of clear sunshine, it was so good-natured and so winning.
His companion, who was a few years his senior, had nothing of this sunlight in his face, although his appearance was undoubtedly the more distinguished of the two. Slender, like his companion, he was much the taller, and his dark skin was not the legacy of an eastern sun. It was of that faint brown which makes the freshest face look pale, and the blue-black hair, which fell in heavy locks on his high forehead, only served to heighten this appearance of pallor. It was a beautiful face, with its noble, proud lines so marked and expressive, but there were deep shadows on it, too, on the brow and across the eyes, shadows found but seldom in so youthful a countenance. The great, dark eyes in which a shade of melancholy always lay, spoke of hot, unrestrained passion, and the fire which blazed within them had a mysterious, unearthly fascination. One felt that these orbs possessed some uncanny power, but they were in accord with the man's whole personality, which had about it something of this same strange witchery.
"Well, I cannot help you, Stadinger," said the younger of the men. "The new cases must be unpacked and places found for the things. Where—that is your business."
"But, your highness, it is absolutely impossible!" remonstrated Stadinger, in a tone which showed that he was on a pretty sure footing with his young master. "There's not an empty corner in all Rodeck. I have had the greatest trouble already to house all the people your highness brought with you, and every day chests bigger than a house are arriving, and ever the same cry: 'Unpack that, Stadinger! Make a place for this, Stadinger.' And hundreds of rooms empty in the other castles."
"Stop grumbling, you old ghost of the woods, and make places," interrupted the prince. "The chests that have come must be unpacked in Rodeck for the time being at least, and if the worst comes to the worst, you must find room in your own house for them."
"Yes, indeed, Stadinger has room and to spare in his own house for them," it was the tall, dark man who spoke now. "And I'll superintend the unpacking myself."
"That's a good plan," said the prince, heartily, "and Zena can assist him; she is at home yet, I suppose?"
"No, your highness, she has gone away."
"Away!" cried prince Egon. "And where has she gone?"
"To the city," was the laconic answer.
"That won't do. You should keep your grandchild with you here at Rodeck all winter."
"That matter seems to have arranged itself," answered the steward with quiet dignity. "Just now my old sister, Rosa, is at home with me. If you should come to my humble dwelling, Herr Rojanow, she would feel greatly honored."
Rojanow gave him a glance which was anything but friendly, and the young prince said sharply:
"Look here, Stadinger, you are treating us after a most unwarrantable fashion. You send Zena away, for no reason in the world, and she's the only one worth seeing about the whole place. There's not a woman in Rodeck who isn't past sixty and whose head doesn't wobble from side to side, and as to the belles of the kitchen whom you brought from Fuerstenstein to help us out, they're worse looking than our own people."
"Your highness need not look at them," suggested the steward. "I gave strict orders that none of the maids were to come into the castle, but if your highness goes to the kitchen, as you did the day before yesterday—"
"Well, I must inspect my domestic arrangements once in a while. But I won't go near the kitchen a second time, I promise you that. But I'm provoked enough at you for having gathered together all the repulsive looking creatures in the neighborhood as soon as you knew I was coming. You should be ashamed of yourself, Stadinger."
The old man looked his young master full in the face, and his voice had an impressive sound, as he answered: "I am not at all ashamed, your highness. When that prince of blessed memory, your father, assigned me to this peaceful post, he said to me: 'Keep everything quiet and orderly at Rodeck, Stadinger; remember, I depend upon you.' Well, I have kept everything in order around this castle for twelve years, and more especially have I guarded those of my own household, and I mean to do so for the future, too. Has your highness any other orders for me?"
"No, you old boor!" cried the prince, half amused, half angry. "Go on, now; we don't need any sermon on morals."
Stadinger obeyed, he bowed low and marched off. Rojanow glanced after him and shrugged his shoulders with a sneer.
"I admire your forbearance, Egon; you certainly permit your servants to speak very freely—"
"Oh, Stadinger is an exception," declared Egon. "Of late days he has allowed himself great latitude, but as to his sending Zena away he wasn't far wrong. I'd have done the same thing in his place."
"It isn't the first time the old fellow has made so bold as to call us both to account. If I were his master—he'd get his dismissal in this same hour."
"I'm afraid if I attempted that, it would be all the worse for me," laughed the prince. "Such an old heir-loom, who has served three generations already, and trotted me on his knee as a baby, deserves to be treated with respect. I would gain nothing by commanding and calling him to account. Peter Stadinger does what he pleases, and whenever it suits him, reads me a little text into the bargain."
"How you can permit such liberties is incomprehensible."
"It is natural that you should not understand it, Hartmut," said his friend, earnestly. "You only know the submissiveness of Sclavish servants in your own home, and in the Orient. They kneel and prostrate themselves whenever opportunity offers, and betray their masters at every turn, when it can be done with safety. Stadinger is a man with no civility in him. It doesn't make the least difference to him that I am 'your highness.' He is no respecter of persons, and has often said the most insulting things to my face, but I could leave hundreds of thousands in his hands, and he would guard every pfennig, and if Rodeck were in a blaze, and I within it, his seventy years would not prevent him plunging into the flames to rescue me—that's how it is with us in Germany."
"Yes, with you in Germany," Hartmut repeated slowly, as he fixed his eyes dreamily on the forest shadows.
"Are you as much prejudiced against us as ever?" asked Egon. "I had to beg you hard enough to get you to come with me, for you seemed resolved never to put foot on German soil again."
"I would I had not done so," said Rojanow, darkly. "You know—"
"That you associate bitter memories with my country—yes. You told me that much, but you must have been a boy at the time. You should have outgrown your dislike by now. You are, on this point, so obstinately reserved, that to this day I have never learned what it is that you—"
"Egon, I beg you, drop the subject," said Hartmut, almost rudely. "I have declared to you more than once, that I will not and cannot speak on the subject of my early life. If you are suspicious of me, let me go; I have not forced myself upon you, you know that, but I will not endure this questioning."
The hard, proud tone which he used toward his princely friend, seemed not unknown to the latter, who only shrugged his shoulders and said appeasingly:
"How excited you get in a moment; I believe you are right when you maintain that the air of Germany makes you nervous. You certainly have changed since you set foot in the country."
"Possibly; I feel it myself, and I know I annoy you with my queer tempers lately, so you'd better let me go, Egon."
"I will guard you well, instead. I did not catch you so easily that I can let you fly again after all my trouble. So remember that, Hartmut, for I won't let you go free at any price."
The words had a joking sound, but Rojanow seemed to resent them. His eyes were dark, almost threatening, as he replied:
"But what if I will go?"
"But you won't, for I will hold you closer than ever." Egon laid his arm affectionately on his friend's shoulder. "I wonder how this bad, obstinate Hartmut can answer to his conscience for even thinking of leaving me alone. Have we not lived together for nearly two years, and shared the same dangers and pleasures like brothers? And now you talk about deserting me, without even a question as to how I'll get along without you. Do you think I value your friendship so little, dear old fellow?"
The words were so warm and sincere that Rojanow's ill-temper was conquered. His eyes lighted up at the mention of their long and close friendship, and he answered in a voice which bespoke a sincere affection for his friend:
"Do you think that any one but you could have drawn me to Germany at all?" he said, softly. "Forgive me, Egon. I am an unstable nature and have always been a rover since—since my boyhood."
"Well, learn to settle yourself here—here in my home," exclaimed Egon. "I only stay at Rodeck that you may see its many and varied beauties. This old building, hidden away in the midst of the forest, is a veritable production of fairy-land, a woodland poem, such as you will not find at any of my other castles. The others suit me better, though I know this is to your taste. But now I must really go. You won't ride?"
"No, I will enjoy the much-praised poetry of these woods, which seem to weary you so soon. You can make your visit alone."
"I'll admit I'm not a poet like you, who can muse and dream all day long," said Egon laughing. "For a full week we have led hermits' lives, but I cannot live on sunshine, woody odors and Stadinger's sermons any longer. I must see my fellow-men, and the head forester is the only gentleman in the neighborhood; and besides, Herr von Schoenau is a splendid, jolly fellow. You will like him when you meet him."
He jumped into the carriage, waved a parting greeting to his friend, and was off. Rojanow looked after him until the vehicle had disappeared behind the trees, then he turned and struck into a path which led into the forest.
He carried a gun over his shoulder, but his thoughts were not bent on sport. He went on heedlessly, with no idea of direction, and with no thought of the distance which he was putting between himself and Rodeck, which was each moment becoming greater.
Prince Adelsberg was right when he said he knew this wild, mountain scenery was to his friend's taste. The very air had for him a certain sorcery. He stood still at last and took some long, deep breaths, but the cloud on his brow had not yet disappeared; it grew darker instead, as he leaned against a tree and cast his eyes around him.
The beauty of the sunny, autumn day, the picturesqueness of the grand old wood, could not bring to this handsome, joyless face one expression of peace or content.
He saw this country for the first time; his boyhood's home lay far to the north, and yet this place, so different from his father's birthplace and his own, brought back the past with all its painful recollections, and awakened anew within him feelings he had thought long dead and buried. Feelings and thoughts which had never troubled him during the long years in which by land or sea, he had drunk of that freedom for which he had sacrificed so much.
The old German woods! They whispered here in the South, just as they had done in the North; the same wind moved the branches of the fir and the oak, and whistled through the tops of the distant pine trees. Yes, these were the self-same voices which had once told all their secrets to the willful boy lying on the mossy bank of the Burgsdorf fish pond.
There was a stir and sound as of some one moving between the trees. Hartmut looked up indifferently, expecting to see an animal of some kind spring out, but he saw instead the fluttering of a light gown between the low bushes, and from a little side path, which he had not before noticed, a young lady stepped out, almost in front of him, and stood hesitatingly, evidently uncertain what direction to take.
Rojanow was roused from his dreaming by this unexpected apparition, and the stranger caught sight of him at once. She appeared surprised, too, but only for a second, then she stepped forward, and said, with a slight bow:
"May I beg you, sir, to show me the way to Fuerstenstein? I am a stranger here and have lost my way, and am, I fear, far from the place I seek."
Hartmut had taken in at a glance the young lady's appearance; and resolved immediately to become her guide. He did not know the way for which she inquired, and only had a vague idea of the direction in which the castle lay, but that troubled him little. He bowed gracefully as he said:
"I place myself quite at your disposal, Fraeulein. Fuerstenstein is some distance from here, and it would be impossible for you to find the way alone. I must, therefore, beg you to allow me to accompany you."
The lady had expected nothing more than that the way would be pointed out to her; this stranger's offer was not altogether agreeable, but she feared she might lose her way a second time, and the perfect politeness with which the offer was made, scarcely left her any choice. After a moment's hesitation she bowed slightly and said:
"I thank you. Pray let us lose no time, then."
Rojanow fastened the strap which held his gun a little more securely, and turned at once into a narrow, half overgrown path, which lay unquestionably in the direction of Fuerstenstein.
Without further parley he assumed the role of guide, and the adventure began to have charms for him.
The stranger was certainly lovely enough to inspire him with zeal in her service. The clear, delicate oval of her face, the high, smooth forehead, with its heavy crown of blonde hair, the regular features, were all in perfect harmony. The beauty of the countenance was faultless, though cold and symmetrical, with an expression which betokened energy of character and great strength of purpose. The girl was at most only eighteen or nineteen years old, but oddly enough, she possessed none of that indescribable attractiveness which seems the natural accompaniment of girlhood, nothing of the hilarity and naivete of youth. The great blue eyes gazed at you earnestly but coldly, and you felt instinctively that the soul which looked out through them never lost itself in girlish dreams of brave heroes and suppliant lovers. The bearing and appearance was haughty and reserved, yet in form and gesture she was gracefulness itself.
Rojanow had time and leisure to notice all this as he directed her course, sometimes behind her, sometimes in front, now holding back the low, overhanging branches, and a second later warning her of some sudden irregularity in the ground. The narrow forest footpath was anything but a pleasant road for a ramble, and was an especially trying passage for the woman. Her dress caught frequently on thorn and branch, and her long gauze veil had to be loosened from more than one bramble, while her feet sank, time and again, in the soft, moist, moss-covered earth. It could not be helped, and yet Hartmut felt in his self assumed position as guide, that he was not covering himself with as much glory as be could have wished.
"I regret extremely, Fraeulein, that you are obliged to take so uncomfortable a path," he said politely. "I fear you will be exhausted, but we are in the thickest part of the forest and have consequently no choice."
"I do not become exhausted so easily," was the answer. "I care little about the disagreeable features of the way, if it will but lead me to the goal."
The remark had a somewhat unusual sound coming as it did from the mouth of a young girl; Rojanow thought so, at any rate, and he gave a slight mocking smile as he repeated:
"If it lead to the goal! You are quite right, that is my idea too; but ladies generally cherish other opinions. They prefer to be carried quietly over all the rough places."
"Not all! You err there; many women much prefer going alone, without submitting to watch and ward, as though they were children."
"Well, perhaps there are exceptions. I prize the accident which has afforded me the opportunity of seeing so charming—"
Hartmut, who was on the point of uttering a very florid compliment, stopped suddenly, for the cold blue eyes met his with such a look of surprise and hauteur that the words died on his lips.
At this moment the lady's veil caught once more in the branch of an overhanging thorn, which held it fast. She stopped, and her attentive companion reached out his hand to free the delicate tissue, when she suddenly tore it from her hat, with a quick motion, and left it fluttering on the branch.
Rojanow bit his lips in vexation; the adventure was not at all what he had expected. He had thought to find this young woman a dependent, timid creature, who would be very grateful and would turn to him for protection, just like many another with whom he had come in contact in his rovings; but this pale girl made it very clear to him by a glance, that he was nothing but a guide and must conduct himself as such. Who, and what was she? Still in her teens, and yet acting with all the reserve and self-possession of a great lady, knowing full well how to make herself unapproachable. He resolved to enlighten himself on this matter.
Now the narrow path ended and they stepped out into a small clearing in the forest, with thick woods again to the left. It was not an easy thing just here for a man who knew nothing of the region to decide which direction to take. But Hartmut was not to be daunted, neither did he intend to exhibit any irresolution, so with apparent security he went on in the same direction they had followed from the beginning, and fortunately enough soon struck into a broad wagon road which crossed that part of the forest. Before long, thought Hartmut, they must surely come to some place where they could obtain a view of the surrounding country and get their bearings.
The wider road enabled him to walk beside his companion, and he resolved to enter upon a conversation which the many obstacles in their path had made, until now, almost an impossibility.
"I have hesitated about presuming to present myself to you, Fraeulein," he began. "My name is Rojanow, and I am, for the time being, at Rodeck, a guest of Prince Adelsberg, who, if you reside at Fuerstenstein, has the advantage of being your neighbor."
"No, I do not belong to Fuerstenstein. I am, also, only a guest," replied the lady. The princely neighbor and name of her companion, appeared to be alike matters of indifference to her; neither did she deem it necessary to give her own name in return. She merely bowed slightly as she spoke.
"Ah, then you probably live in the capital, and are only here to enjoy a few weeks of the fine autumn weather?" continued Rojanow.
The monosyllable had a very cold, reserved sound, but Hartmut was not the man to be turned from his course by a rebuff. He was accustomed to overcome all restraints and obstructions by the power of his fascinations, and that one of the sex from which he had never received anything but adulation, should refuse to succumb, was little less than an insult. There lay a charm, too, in the thought that he would force this lovely creature into conversation with him, notwithstanding her reserve.
"Are you pleased with Fuerstenstein?" he asked. "I have never been near the castle, and have only seen it in the distance, but it seems to overawe the whole region with its magnificence. A singular taste indeed to find anything lovely in this landscape, and erect a palace here."
"Evidently not your taste, at least."
"I am not specially fond of uniformity, and here there is nothing but sameness. Woods and woods, and nothing but woods—at times one is almost driven to despair."
There was a hidden rancour in these words, as if the poor German forest, with its whispers and its winds was to blame for all the bitterness which lay in the soul of this returned wanderer; it almost seemed as if he must flee from them, for he could hardly endure the simple, earnest song of olden times which fluttered down to him from the tall fir trees. But his companion only heard the slighting tone.
"Are you a foreigner, Herr Rojanow?" she asked.
A black shadow crossed Hartmut's brow, and he hesitated for a moment before he answered, coldly:
"I thought as much from your name and appearance, and from the peculiar opinions which you express, as well."
"At any rate, they are unbiased and candid," answered Hartmut, nettled by the reproof which lay in the last words. "I have been pretty much all over the world, and am just back now from the Orient. To him who knows the ocean with its radiant, transparent blue, or its terrible, deadly storms, to one who has basked in the witcheries of the warmth and light of the tropics, everything here seems cold and colorless; these eternal green forests are, in fact, the only features of a German landscape."
The compassionate shrug of the shoulders with which he concluded, appeared to rouse his companion from her imperturbability. An expression of displeasure crossed her face, and her voice had in it a tone of resentment, as she answered:
"That is altogether a matter of taste. I know, if not the Orient, at least Southern Europe very well; those sunny, glowing landscapes, with their vivid colorings attract one in the beginning—that is true enough—but soon, too soon, exhaust one. You lose all strength and vitality; you can stagnate and dream, but you can never live and work. But why discuss it? Naturally you know nothing of our great forests, or our people either, I presume."
Hartmut smiled with an unmistakable satisfaction. He had succeeded in breaking through this icy reserve. All his arts and blandishments had been exercised in vain, but he now saw that the momentary resentment had added the charm which was needed to her lovely, cold features, so he determined to arouse her still further.
If he felt aggrieved he would also find pleasure in exciting her.
"That sounds like a reproof which I shall have to bear," he said derisively. "Possibly I don't view the affairs of life as you do. I am accustomed to use other scales of measurement for nature, and for mortals as well. 'Live and work!' The whole question hinges upon the definition of these words. I have lived, years at a time, in Paris, that great central point of all civilization, where life ebbs and flows in a thousand streams. He who has been wont to stem the tide in these great, almost overwhelming waters, can nevermore find a place in the little relations, in the narrow judgments and pedantries, in all this marasmus which the noble Germans call life."
The insulting expression which he laid upon the last words, obtained for him his desire. His companion suddenly stood still and measured him from head to foot, while a flash of anger shot from her cold blue eyes. She seemed for the minute to have an angry answer at her tongue's end, but she forced it back, and drawing herself up to her full height, said in a tone of contempt and disdain:
"You forget, sir, that you are speaking to a German—I now remind you of that fact."
Hartmut colored to the roots of his hair at this merited reproof given to a stranger, a foreigner, as she supposed, who had forgotten himself. What if this girl knew to whom she was talking, what if she ever learned —a feeling of shame overcame him for the second, but he was a man of the world and controlled himself once more.
"I beg your pardon," he said, with a slight, half-mocking bow. "I was under the impression that we were merely exchanging impersonal opinions. I sincerely regret having annoyed you, Fraeulein."
A scarcely perceptible movement of her head, and a slight shrug of the shoulders showed him that he had no power to really annoy her.
"I could certainly not think of influencing your judgments, but as our ideas are so radically opposed, I think it would be better to drop the conversation altogether."
Rajanow showed no disposition to continue it. Now he knew for a surety that the cold eyes could sparkle and blaze with anger, he had forced them to do it, but the thing had ended otherwise than he had expected. He gave the slight figure at his side a half-inimical glance, and then his eyes lost themselves again in the dense green of the forest.
There was something captivating after all about this forest loneliness under the first light breath of autumn, a breath which touched the leaves tenderly and laid such delicate tints upon them, brightening the lovely landscape with its vivid reds and varied browns, with its glimpses here and there of bright gold where the sunlight pierced the woodland shade. The branches of the tall trees, centuries old, swayed gently to and fro, and threw long, cool shadows across the occasional open spaces, where the wild forest flowers rested on the breast of the moss-covered earth. An occasional pool of water, lying silent and placid, mirrored the clear, blue sky with its fleecy clouds, which seemed to intermingle with the tall green branches, as both cast their reflection in the water beneath. Only the soft rustling of the leaves, and the hum of thousands of insects as they sang together a sweet, dreamy forest song was to be heard. The very sunbeams seemed to echo this melody as they followed closely the two wanderers, as if this man and woman had come beneath their ban and would have some penalty to pay for crossing their shining path so carelessly. Suddenly an unexpected barrier stood in their way. From a thickly wooded elevation, a broad mountain stream came rushing down, seeking its way between bushes and rocks. Rojanow halted abruptly and cast a quick glance up and down, to see if any means of crossing were to be found, but his eyes could discover nothing, and turning to his companion, he said:
"I fear we are in an unpleasant situation here. This stream barricades our path completely. Usually it is no hard matter to cross it, for those mossy stones make a good enough bridge, but yesterday's heavy rain has misplaced them or covered them completely."
The young lady had stopped, too, and was looking up and down the stream also, for some crossing.
"Could we not cross farther up?" she asked, indicating a certain spot above them.
"No, because the water is swifter and deeper in that direction. This is the best place to get across. There is nothing to be done but to carry you over, and that, with your permission, I will do."
The offer was made most courteously, almost hesitatingly, but there was a gleam of triumph in Hartmut's eye, notwithstanding his modest demeanor. This time she must accept his assistance, even if she had left the veil hanging in the thorns rather than do so. There was no choice now, she must trust herself in his arms in order to reach the opposite shore. He came up to her now as if he took her consent for granted, but she drew back.
"I thank you, Herr Rojanow." Hartmut smiled with an irony which he made no attempt to conceal. He was master of the situation now, and thought to remain so.
"Would you rather go around?" he asked. "It will take us more than an hour and here we will be across in a minute or two. You need not doubt the strength of my arms, and I am sure footed; it is not at all a dangerous place to cross."
"I agree with you," was the quiet answer, "and for that reason I will essay to cross it alone."
"Alone? That is impossible, Fraeulein."
"To step through a forest brook? I do not consider that an especially difficult achievement."
"But the water is deeper than you believe. You will be wet through and through, and besides—it is really impossible."
"A wetting will do me no harm, for I do not take cold easily. Pray lead the way and I will follow."
That was clear enough and sounded so peremptory that further remonstrance was impossible. Hartmut bowed without speaking, and stepped at once into the water, his high hunting boots serving him good purpose.
He was right enough, the water was deep and swift, and the stones were so slippery that he found it difficult enough to set his foot firmly on them. He had a slight sneer on his lips as he stepped upon the opposite bank and turned to wait for the girl whom he was so anxious to protect, but who rejected all his advances so proudly. Would she venture or would the first step terrify her and force her to call him back? No, she had gathered up her skirts and followed without hesitation, notwithstanding the fact that her silk stockings and thin low shoes afforded no protection whatever. She stepped slowly and carefully on the stones over which he had just gone, until she came to the middle of the stream. Here, while the strong man's foot had been able to find a safe resting place, the woman's smaller one sought in vain for a secure support on the slimy stones. Her high heels were as much in her way as her gown, the edges of which were already thoroughly drenched. Her courage forsook her for the moment, she made several false steps, then stood perfectly quiet and cast an involuntary glance toward the opposite bank, where Hartmut stood watching her in silence, resolved to raise no hand toward her assistance until requested to do so. Perhaps she read this in his eyes and it gave her back her strength. With a look of decision on her face she gave up all further search for a secure stepping stone, and planted her foot firmly on the pebbly bottom of the stream, and a second later, thoroughly wet now, she clutched the low bough of a tree in preference to Hartmut's outstretched hand, and drew herself up on the further bank. Then turning with dripping garments, to her guide, said:
"We will go on, if you please. We cannot be very far from Fuerstenstein."
Hartmut gave no syllable of reply, but a feeling akin to hate rose within him as he looked at this woman who preferred such great discomfort rather than come into closer contact with him even for a moment.
This proud, spoiled man whose dazzling personality won all hearts, felt the humiliation which had been forced upon him most keenly, and execrated within himself the chance which had brought about this meeting.
They went on as rapidly as possible now, and Hartmut cast a glance, from time to time, at the slender, silent figure with its heavy bedraggled skirts, the drippings from which marked their course by a long line of moisture. He kept an attentive eye on the woods on either side; this dark forest road must come to an end some time.
His course had been the right one after all, which at least was some slight satisfaction to him. After a few minutes he came to an elevation which afforded him a view of the region round about. Yonder, across a sea of forest trees, rose the towers of Fuerstenstein, and at the foot of the hill on which he stood a broad carriage road was plainly visible, and this road, winding through a part of the forest, led directly to the foot of the castle hill.
"Yonder is Fuerstenstein," said he, as he turned and spoke to the young girl for the first time since they had left the stream. "It is about half an hour's walk from here, though."
"O, that is nothing. I am grateful to you for guiding me so successfully, but the way is very plain now, and I will trouble you no longer."
"I am subject to your orders," said Hartmut coldly. "If you desire to dismiss your guide so summarily, he will no longer force himself upon you."
The lady felt the reproof implied in his words. After a man had spent a couple of hours in her service, he did deserve something more than a contemptuous dismissal, even though she had found it necessary to keep him at a distance.
"I have taken too much of your time already," she said, unbending a little. "You have introduced yourself to me, Herr Rojanow, and I must, in return, tell you my name before I say good morning—Adelheid von Wallmoden." Hartmut drew a short breath, and a fleeting red colored his face as he repeated, slowly:
"Are you familiar with the name?"
"I have heard it, but not here, in—in North Germany."
"Very probable; that is my husband's home, and mine, too."
Rojanow's face showed extreme surprise as he heard this young girl, whom he had taken as a matter of course, for unmarried, speak in so matter-of-fact a tone about her husband, but he bowed, and said most courteously:
"I beg your pardon, my dear madame, for mistaking you for a girl, but I could not know you were married. And I now know that I have never had the honor of meeting your husband. The only one of the name with whom I was ever familiar, was a gentleman now past middle life. He belonged to the diplomatic service, and his name, if I do not mistake, was Herbert von Wallmoden."
"That is my husband, and he is at present ambassador to this country. He will be looking anxiously for me now, so I must not linger a moment longer. Again let me thank you, Herr Rojanow." And with a bow of adieu, the lady hurried down the hill toward the carriage road.
Hartmut stood looking after her, like one in a maze; heavy beads of perspiration stood out on his forehead. So soon? He had scarcely set foot on German soil, and here he was met at once by the old names and all the painful memories which their mention entailed.
Herbert von Wallmoden, Frau von Eschenhagen's brother, Willibald's guardian and his own boyhood's friend. Rojanow felt a sharp cut like a dagger thrust through his breast. He drew himself up and threw his shoulders back, as though he would throw from him some overwhelming burden, and the old bitter, mocking smile came to his lips again, as he said, half aloud:
"Uncle Wallmoden hasn't wasted any of his opportunities, that's evident. His hair's gray by this time, but it hasn't prevented him winning a lovely young wife. To be sure, an ambassador is a fine match, and it is evident that Adelheid von Wallmoden was born to marry such a man. She has all the aristocratic airs and manners which are the one thing needful in the diplomatic circle. Doubtless he's had her well trained to take her place in the diplomatic school. Well, he's fared well in this world, there's no doubt of that."
His eyes followed the young wife, who had just reached the foot of the hill, and a deep scowl settled on his brow.
"If I meet Wallmoden here, and perhaps I won't be able to avoid it, he'll recognize me without a doubt. Then he'll tell her all about it, and if she ever sees me again, and gives me one of her contemptuous glances, I'll—" He stamped his foot on the ground with fury at the thought, and then gave a bitter laugh.
"Pah! What need I care? What does this pale, blue-eyed creature, with her cold blood, know of freedom, of the throes of passion, of the storms which come to some lives? Let her pronounce sentence on me. Why should I shun a meeting? I will face her and bid her beware."
And with a haughty movement of his head he turned his back on the slender figure, and strode back again into the woods.
The betrothal festivities to which Baron von Wallmoden and his wife had been bidden were carried out to the letter. Antonie von Schoenau plighted her troth to her cousin, the heir of Burgsdorf.
The young people had known their parents' plan for years, and were fully agreed as to its accomplishment. Willibald subscribed like a dutiful son, to his mother's opinion that she was the suitable person to choose his life's companion for him, and he had waited patiently her pleasure as to the time when his betrothal should become an accomplished fact; the thought of having his little cousin Toni for a wife was very pleasant to him. He had known her since childhood, and she suited him exactly. She was a girl absolutely bereft of romance, and Willibald knew she would make no sentimental demands upon him, to which he, with the best will in the world, had not the temperament to respond. Toni, for her part, possessed that good taste for which Frau Regine had given her credit. Will pleased her very well, and the prospect of being mistress of Burgsdorf pleased her still better—in short, everything was as it should be.
The newly betrothed pair were at the piano in the drawing-room, and Toni was entertaining her lover with music, not voluntarily, however, but at her father's request, for she herself considered music a wearisome and superfluous accomplishment. But the head forester had insisted that his daughter should show she was not educated in housewifery alone, but had learned something at boarding-school as well. He was walking to and fro on the terrace with his sister-in-law now; they had come there to listen to the music, and discuss for the hundredth time the happiness and prospects of their children. They had, as usual, soon drifted away from pleasant topics and their contention was growing fiercer each moment.
"I really don't know what to think of you, Moritz," said Frau von Eschenhagen, very red in the face. "You don't seem to comprehend the impropriety of permitting such an intimacy. When I ask you who is the school-girl friend of Toni's who is expected at Waldhofen, you answer me coolly and complacently, that she is a singer who has been on the stage of the Court theatre for some time. An actress, a theatrical star. One of those wretched, frivolous creatures who—"
"But, Regine, don't fly into such a passion," interrupted her host angrily. "You speak as though the poor soul had lost her character just because she went on the stage."
"So she has, so she has!" Regine answered excitedly. "Who ever enters that Sodom and Gomorrah goes down to the bottom at once and can never rise again."
"That's flattering to the Court theatre company, at least," said Schoenau dryly. "But we go to see them just the same."
"As spectators! That's quite a different thing, though, for my part, I'm opposed to encouraging such people at all. Will goes to the theatre very little, and never without me. But while I, in the performance of my duty as a mother, have guarded him from any intercourse whatever with such people, you permit his future wife to come within their poisonous influence. It's enough to make the heavens cry out!"
She had raised her voice almost to a shriek at the last, partly from excitement, and partly to be heard by her brother-in-law, for the musical production was noisy now, and sent forth loud, discordant sounds through the open glass door. Toni had good strong wrists, and her touch on the piano reminded one of the stroke of an axe on hard wood. Her three listeners had strong nerves, but low speech was certainly an impossibility.
"Let me explain the matter to you," said the forester appeasingly. "I have told you already that this was an exceptional case."
"Marietta Volkmar is the grandchild of our good old doctor at Waldhofen. His son died while still in the flower of youth. The young widow followed her husband the very next year, and the poor little orphan came to her grandfather. That was ten years ago, just after I had been assigned to Fuerstenstein. Doctor Volkmar became our family physician, and his grandchild the playfellow of my children. As the school in Waldhofen was a miserable affair, I begged the doctor to permit his little one to come here and share the childrens' instruction. Then while Toni was at boarding-school for two years, Marietta was in the city pursuing her musical education, and, as a matter of course, their daily intercourse ceased. Marietta, however, has always visited us regularly during her vacations, when she came home to her grandfather, and I do not see why I should forbid her doing so as long as she remains respectable and honest."
Frau von Eschenhagen had listened to this reasonable explanation without unbending in the least. She now said spitefully:
"Respectable and honest in a theatre! Every one knows well enough what goes on in such iniquitous places; but you seem to take it as lightly as does Dr. Volkmar, who for that matter looks honest and venerable enough with his open face and long white hair. How he can send a soul entrusted to his care, his own flesh and blood at that, on to certain destruction, is beyond my comprehension."
"Regine, I always thought you a most rational woman, but in this matter you have no sense at all. The theatre and every one connected with it has always been proscribed by you, and yet you know absolutely nothing about it. It was no easy matter for the doctor to allow Marietta to go on the stage. That I know, for we talked it over frequently. It is not for us who sit in warm nests and can provide lavishly for our children, to sit in judgment upon other parents who earn their daily food with labor and bitter care. Volkmar, though seventy years of age, works day and night, but his practice brings him in little, for this is a poor, sparsely settled neighborhood, and after his death Marietta will have nothing."
"Then he should have made a teacher or a companion of her; that is a decent way to earn one's bread."
"God preserve me from bread so earned. No one knows how the poor thing would be used and ill treated. If I had a child who was dearer to me than life, whose fate it was to earn her own living, and I was told that she would have a brilliant future, and put money in her purse if she went on the stage, I would say 'go!' you may depend upon it."
This avowal seemed to take the ground from under Regine's feet. She stood for a moment gazing at him with frightened face. Then she said, solemnly:
"Moritz—it makes me shudder to hear you."
"Well, if it gives you pleasure to shudder, don't stop on my account. But when Marietta comes as usual to Fuerstenstein, I will not send her back, neither shall I raise any objection if Toni goes to her at Waldhofen. So we need say nothing more about it."
Then Herr von Schoenau cried out to his daughter, who was still pounding away, that the window-panes were rattling and the strings of the piano would be ruined. He did not really care a particle how much noise she made, neither did her aunt, who answered him now, promptly and sharply:
"Well, there's one comfort at least, Toni will soon be married. Then this friendship with the theatrical prodigy will be at an end. I give you my word for it, that no such guests will be allowed within the walls of Burgsdorf, and Willibald will not permit his young wife to keep up any correspondence either."
"That means that you will not permit it," sneered the head forester. "There are no yeas or nays in poor Will's life, he is only the obedient servant of his dear mother. It is really remarkable how you can keep the fellow, a man grown and soon to be a husband, so cowed down and under the lash."
Frau von Eschenhagen threw her head back, more insulted than ever now.
"I believe I understand my responsibilities better than you. Perhaps you would like to reprove me for educating my son to honor and love his parents?"
"Ah, but there's a point where love leaves off and tyranny begins. You have made Will quite stupid under your eternal tutelage. You couldn't let him make his own offer of marriage even. The matter was an old story to you, so you interfered as usual, without giving the poor boy a chance. 'The affair is all arranged for you, children. Your parents have settled it all for you. You are to marry one another. I give you my blessing; now kiss one another, for you are betrothed.' That's the kind of a stand you took. I, also, was taught to love and honor my parents, but if they had attempted to woo my bride for me, they'd have heard me sing another tune. And that boy of yours took it as quietly as possible; I really believe he was rejoiced that he did not have to propose for himself."
The excitement of the two had by this time reached fever heat, and it was a fortunate thing that the noise from the piano drowned all further conversation. Fraeulein Antonie had great strength in her hands, and her only idea of music was to make all the noise she could; one would have thought a regiment of soldiers was storming a fort. Just now the noise irritated her father, who wanted to hear himself speak.
"Toni, Toni, don't break the new piano in two with your thumping," he shouted crossly. "What is it you are playing, anyway?"
Toni was working away bravely, notwithstanding the perspiration was running down her face. Near her sat her lover on a little sofa, his eyes shaded by his arm as he leaned back, his very soul steeped, as it were, in the music. At her father's question the fair musician turned slowly on her stool and answered in a half-sleepy tone:
"That is the 'Janizary March,' papa. I thought it would please Will, as he is a soldier, you know."
"Yes; a dragoon by accident," muttered her father, as he stepped over to his future son-in-law, who hardly seemed to appreciate the delicate attentions of his fiancee.
"Well Will, what do you say to all this fine music?—Will, don't you hear me? I believe upon my life he's sound asleep."
The young heir, aroused now by the scolding voices on all sides, rubbed his eyes and looked at them with a dazed, drowsy air.
"What—what is the matter? Yes, it was very beautiful, dear Toni."
"Yes, to be sure it was," cried the head forester with an angry flash of his eye. "You need never trouble yourself to play for him again, my child. But come, let us leave this ardent lover to finish his nap in peace. He has good strong nerves, I must say that for him."
With these words the irate father gave Antonie his arm and led her from the room. But Frau von Eschenhagen, already highly incensed, felt that her son's inattention to his sweetheart was an additional insult, and now turned upon poor Willibald in a fury.
"Well, you have overstepped the limits of common decency, this time!" she cried in a rage. "Your blessed father wasn't much of a carpet knight in his day. He was engaged to me just twenty-four hours when he fell asleep, too, while I played for him; but I waked him up after such a fashion he never did it a second time I can assure you. Now go after Toni this minute and say what you can to excuse yourself; she has reason to be sorely vexed with you."
Regine took him by the shoulder and pushed him out of the door, as she ended her tirade.
Will took all she said quietly enough, and went at once to make his peace with his cousin. He felt really frightened over his ill-timed slumber, but he had been tired, and the music wearied him greatly.
So he was very contrite as he entered the room in which his cousin was standing at the window.
"Dearest Toni, do not be angry with me," he began, apologetically. "It was so hot, and your beautiful music had something so soothing in it that—"
Toni turned to him. It was certainly the first time that the Janizary March had ever been called a soothing composition; but the crushed, penitent look of her lover, who stood like a sinner awaiting condemnation, restored her to good humor, and she held out her hand to him, as she said heartily:
"No, I am not in the least angry with you, Will. I never cared about the stupid music, myself. We'll find something more sensible than that to do when we get to Burgsdorf."
"Yes, that we will," answered Will, cordially, as he pressed the outstretched hand warmly. He would never have thought of kissing it. "You are so good, Toni."
When Frau von Eschenhagen came upon the lovers a few minutes later, she found them absorbed in the milk and cream question. The mode of conducting a dairy in South Germany differed from that common in the North. It was a subject of which Will never tired, and his mother felt grateful in her heart for a daughter-in-law who had no uncomfortable sensitiveness.
A little later, Will found an opportunity to win complete forgiveness. Toni was anxious to get the evening post as soon as it arrived. She complained, also, that something which had been ordered for supper had not been sent from Waldhofen, and that a message which had been entrusted to a groom, had not, she feared, been properly delivered. So Willibald offered to go at once, and set all these vexatious trifles to rights, and his offer was graciously accepted.
Waldhofen was a place of great importance to the mountaineers, though in itself it was but a small town. It was about thirty minutes' walk from Fuerstenstein, and was an important centre for all the little villages and hamlets scattered through the forest.
There was seldom a soul to be seen on the streets during the afternoon hours, and it seemed a deserted, desolate place to Herr von Eschenhagen, as he crossed the dreary market-place on his way from the post-office.
He had attended to the other errands first, and delivered the message, which concerned the sending of a chest to Fuerstenstein. As the streets were of no interest to him, he turned now into a side road, where there were neat little houses, with fresh, green little lawns in front. The road was uneven and muddy after yesterday's heavy rain, but Willibald was a countryman himself, and paid no heed to bad roads, so he walked on now without a murmur.
He was in a very contented frame of mind, both as regarded himself and the world at large. Here he was, a strong, healthy young man, with a generous share of this world's goods, and the pleasurable thought that he was engaged to be married to a girl who suited him, and who would, he knew, make him a good wife.
A heavy, lumbering carriage came up the narrow, uneven road, along which he was trudging. There was a large trunk strapped on the back, and various bundles and boxes covered the seats within. Willibald wondered to himself why any one had chosen such a miserable little lane, which the recent rains had made totally unfit for vehicles, instead of taking the wide, decently paved street. The coachman seemed to be in anything but a happy frame of mind. He turned now in his seat, and said to the traveler, of whom Willibald had not caught a glimpse:
"Now really Fraeulein, we can go no farther. I told you before that we couldn't get through here, and now you see for yourself how the wheels stick in the mud—its a pretty piece of business."
"It is not very far," sounded a clear young voice from the depths of the carriage. "Only a few hundred steps, farther. So please go on no matter how slowly."
"What can't be done, can't be done!" announced the driver in a philosophic tone. "I cannot go forward through this mire, and I won't. We must turn back."
"I will not ride through the town." The clear voice had a decided, defiant tone this time. "If you won't go through this lane, stop, and I'll get out here."
The driver stopped at once, clambered down from his seat and opened the heavy door, and a second later a slender girl jumped from the carriage; jumped skillfully, too, for she landed on a dry place without coming in contact with the mud and mire which surrounded her on all sides. Then she took a view of her surroundings. But just before her the road had an abrupt turn, so she could not see very far.
The young lady was evidently annoyed to find herself farther from her destination than she had supposed. Then her glance fell on Herr von Eschenhagen, who, coming from the other direction, had just reached the bend in the road.
"I beg pardon, sir, but is the road passable?"
He did not answer at once for he was dumb with admiration at the wonderful and graceful leap which she had just made. She had gone through the air like a feather, and landed on the only dry spot on the whole road.
"Don't you hear me?" she repeated, impatiently. "Do you know whether the road is passable or not?"
"I—I am on the road now," he answered, rather staggered by the sharp, dictatorial tone.
"I can see that for myself. But I have no high boots like you. What I want to know is whether the road is as muddy as this all the way or not? Are there any dry places? Great heavens! can't you answer?"
"I—I believe you will find it dry after you get past this bend here."
"Very well, then, I will venture. So you can turn back, driver, and leave my luggage at the post-office opposite the market-place, and I'll send for it. Wait. Hand me down that black satchel, and I'll take it with me."
"But it's too heavy for you to carry, Fraeulein, and I can't leave my horses to take it for you," objected the coachman.
"Well, then, give it to that gentleman yonder. It's not very far to our garden gate. Will you please take that black leather satchel, sir—the one on the back seat with the heavy straps. Can't you hurry?"
The little foot stamped impatiently on the ground, for the master of Burgsdorf stood and stared at her with open mouth. It was something new to him to be commanded and disposed of in this way by a young woman; but at the last imperious words he came bashfully forward and took the satchel from the driver's hand. The young lady evidently thought it the most natural thing in the world to ask his assistance.
"There," she said, shortly. "Now, driver, go back to the post-office, and I'll pick my way through the Waldhofen mud."
She gathered her gray traveling cloak and frock around her and stepped along quickly, picking her way carefully as she went, and keeping as close as possible to the low hedge which bordered the road, while Willibald, of whom she took no notice, trotted on behind with her belongings. He thought he had never seen anything half so lovely as this graceful, slender creature, who scarcely reached up to his shoulder, and he feasted his eyes on the little figure as he followed after.
There was something more than ordinarily gracious and pleasing in the young girl's movements, and in her whole appearance, and she carried her little head with its mass of curly dark hair which no hat could keep concealed, with a jaunty air. Her features were irregular, but they wore an expression of saucy defiance, which with her large, dark eyes and rosy mouth, and the little dimple in the chin, made up for all imperfections of contour. The gray traveling costume, while simple in the extreme, was well and tastefully made, and told that its fair wearer was of another world than that of Waldhofen.
The road, after they had rounded the bend, was, as Willibald said, much drier, though they still had to keep close to the low, hedge-hidden wall, and take very careful steps to avoid the wet, muddy hollows. There was no conversation between the two. Will would never have thought of speaking, so he trudged on patiently, while his guide hurried forward as rapidly as the way would permit, and apparently never troubling herself about the meek burden-bearer in the rear.
In about ten minutes they reached a low garden gate at which the girl stopped abruptly. She leaned over, and pulling out a little wooden bar, opened it. Then she turned to her escort, if such he could be called, and said:
"I thank you, sir. Please give me my satchel now."
The satchel, in spite of its small size, was much too heavy for her little hands to hold. Willibald was, for the first time in his life, seized with a knightly impulse, and declared the satchel was much too heavy for her, and that he would carry it to the house for her. She accepted his courtesy with a careless nod of approval, and turning hastily, went through the small, well-kept garden to the back door of the little old-fashioned house, on which the long afternoon shadows were lingering. Now for the first time, the new-comer was seen from within, and an elderly woman started out from the little kitchen, crying:
"Fraeulein! Fraeulein Marietta, you have come to-day. Ah, what joy, what—"
Marietta flew toward her and put her hand over her mouth.
"Hush! hush! Babette. Speak softly, I want to surprise grandpapa. Is he at home?"
"Yes, the Herr Doctor is at home and is in his study. Will you go right in, Fraeulein?"
"No, I'll go into the front room and play a soft accompaniment, and sing him his favorite song! Be careful, Babette, he must not hear us."
She went in on tiptoe, as noiselessly as an elf, across the old hall, and softly opened the door of a little, low-ceilinged corner room; Babette, who, overcome by joy and surprise, had not noticed the stranger standing in the shadow, followed her dear Fraeulein. The door was left open, and Willibald could hear a cover laid back cautiously and a chair pushed gently in place. Then she began a low prelude. The sounds which the old worn out spinet gave forth were tremulous and thin, and made one think of an ancient harp; but the maiden's voice recalled the lark's song of rejoicing.
The singing was not long continued, for a door opposite was opened hastily, and an old man with white hair appeared upon the threshold.
"Marietta! my Marietta, is it really you?"
"Grandpapa!" cried the young girl exultantly, as she ceased her song and rushed forward to throw herself in the old man's arms.
"You bad child. Why did you frighten me so?" he said, tenderly. "I did not expect you until day after to-morrow, and intended going to the railway station to meet you. When I heard your voice so suddenly just now, I believed my ears had deceived me."
The girl laughed out gaily like an excited child.
"Ah, I have succeeded in surprising you, grandpapa, haven't I? I came up the back road, but the wheels stuck so in the mud that I had to get out and walk part of the way. I came in through the garden and by the back door—well, Babette, what is it?"
"Fraeulein, the carrier is still waiting with the satchel," Babette had just discovered that a stranger was on the premises. "Shall I give him money for a drink and let him go?"
The young man, thus designated as the carrier, still stood, satchel in hand, awaiting Marietta's pleasure. Dr. Volkmar turned at once, and recognizing who it was, cried in a frightened tone:
"Good heavens—Herr von Eschenhagen!"
"Do you know the gentleman?" asked Marietta, without any especial interest or surprise, for her grandfather, being the only physician in the region, of course knew every one.
"To be sure I know him. Babette, take the valise at once. I beg your pardon, sir. I did not know that you were acquainted with my granddaughter."
"Why, we never saw each other before to-day," explained Marietta. "But, grandpapa, will you not introduce me to this gentleman?"
"Certainly, my child. Herr Willibald von Eschenhagen of Burgsdorf—"
"Toni's betrothed!" interrupted Marietta delighted. "O, how comical that we should meet each other for the first time in the mud. If I had known who it was I would not have treated you so cavalierly, Herr von Eschenhagen. I let you walk behind me as though you were a veritable porter. But why didn't you speak?"
Willibald didn't speak now, but looked stupidly at the little hand which was extended to him. He felt he must do or say something, and as it was an impossibility for him to speak, he grasped the little hand in his great, brawny palm and pressed and shook it vigorously.
"Oh!" cried Marietta as she drew back hastily. "You have a terrible grip, Herr von Eschenhagen. I believe you have broken my finger."
Willibald, glowing from embarrassment and mortification, was about to stammer an apology, when the doctor came to his rescue by inviting him to come in. This invitation he accepted without speaking, and followed his host into the house. Marietta took the principal part in the conversation. She gave a very amusing account of her meeting with Willibald. Now that she knew he was her dear Toni's lover, she treated him with all the familiarity and freedom of an old friend. She asked question after question about Toni and the head forester, and her tongue went on without rest or intermission.
To the young man who sat so silent and listened so eagerly, the girl's pleasant, bird-like chatter was quite bewildering. He had met the doctor on the previous day at Fuerstenstein and had heard some talk of a certain Marietta who was a friend of his fiancee. Who or what she was, or from whence she came, he did not know, for Toni had not been very communicative on that occasion.
"And to think of this excited child leaving you standing at the back door, while she came in to play and sing to decoy me from my study," said Dr. Volkmar shaking his head. "That was very impolite, Marietta, very impolite indeed."
The young girl laughed merrily, and shook her short, curly hair.
"O, Herr von Eschenhagen has not taken it amiss. But as he only heard a bar or two of your favorite song, I think the least I can do is to sing it all for him now."
And without waiting for an answer, she seated herself at the piano, and again the clear, silvery voice with its bird-like notes, broke forth on the evening air. She sang an old, simple ballad, but with such expression, such pathos and sweetness, that a bright spring sunlight seemed to enter and flood the little rooms of the old house. But no sunshine was half so bright as the joy which lit up the face of the old white-headed man, upon whose forehead lay the shadows of years and sorrow, and on whose cheeks care had pressed deep furrows. With a half-pathetic, happy smile he listened to the old familiar melody, which spoke to his heart like a voice from his own lost youth.
But he was not the only attentive listener. The master of Burgsdorf, who had fallen asleep amid the thunders of a military march, and who had felt himself entirely in accord with Tom when she declared music to be stupid, listened almost breathlessly to the enchanting strains. Such music was a revelation to him. He sat, leaning forward in his chair, as if fearful of losing a single note, with his eyes fastened upon the pretty maiden, who, singing with all her soul, moved her little head backward and forward with a graceful movement as she warbled forth her sweet song. When it was ended Willibald leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh, and drew his hand across his eyes.
"My little singing bird," said Dr. Volkmar tenderly, as he rose and leaned over his grandchild and kissed her forehead.
"Well, grandpapa," she said teasingly, "has my voice lost anything within the last few months? But I fear it does not please Herr von Eschenhagen. He has no word of commendation for me."
She turned to Willibald with the assumed sulky look of a spoiled child. He rose now and came over to her.
A slight flush diffused his face, and in his eyes, usually so expressionless, shone a new light.
"Oh, it was very beautiful!"
The young singer might be forgiven for having expected something more then these few embarrassed words; but she felt the deep, honest admiration which they conveyed, and understood at once that her song had deeply impressed the taciturn stranger. She smiled pleasantly as she replied:
"Yes, it is a sweet song. I have scored more than one triumph singing it as an encore."
"As an encore?" repeated Will, with no idea of what she meant.
"Yes, at the theatre, which I have just left to visit grandpapa. I was such a success, grandpapa, and the director wanted me to give up all my vacation, but I had surrendered so much of it already to suit him that I declared I would have these few weeks with you."
Willibald listened to all this with increasing astonishment. Theatre, vacation, director, what did it all mean? The doctor noticed his astonishment.
"Herr von Eschenhagen does not know what you are, my child," he said quietly. "My granddaughter has been educated for an opera singer."
"How soberly you say it, grandpapa," cried Marietta, springing up and drawing her little slender figure to its full height, as she said, with an assumption of great dignity:
"For the past five months a member of the renowned and worshipful Ducal Court theatre, a person in a responsible position and worthy of all honor. Hats off, gentlemen!"
A member of the Court theatre company! Willibald drew himself together, as it were, when he heard the fatal words. The well trained son of his mother, he had a great abhorrence for all actors and actresses. He stepped unwittingly, three steps back, and stared in amazement at the young lady who had just made so startling and so frightful an announcement. She laughed out loud as he did so.
"Oh, you need not manifest so much respect for me, Herr von Eschenhagen, I will permit you to stand by the piano. Has Toni never told you that I belong to the theatre?"
"Toni? No!" stammered Willibald, greatly disconcerted. "But she is waiting for me. I must go to Fuerstenstein. I have stayed here much too long already."
"How extremely polite," laughed the girl, with a good-natured sneer. "It is not very polite to us, but where your bride is, there should you be also."
"Yes, and with my mother, too," said Will, who had a feeling that something dreadful was threatening him, and to whom his mother seemed a protecting angel. "I beg your pardon, but I have been here much too long already."
He stopped abruptly, remembering that he had said these words once before, but as none better offered themselves to his disturbed brain he repeated them for the third time.
Marietta was half dead from suppressed laughter. Dr. Volkmar declared, most courteously, that he would not think of detaining his guest a second longer, and begged him to give his compliments to the head forester and to Fraeulein von Schoenau.
The young man scarcely heard him; he reached for his hat, muttering some word of farewell, and was off without delay. He had but one thought, and that was to get away as quickly as possible. The good-natured, scarcely restrained laughter confused him greatly.
When the doctor returned, after having accompanied Willibald to the door, he found his grandchild half suffocated with laughter, while the tears were rolling down her cheeks.
"I don't believe that lover of Toni's is quite right here," she said, as she tapped her forehead with her finger. "First, he carried my satchel and was as dumb as a fish; then he thawed out a little when I sang, and now he is off on a run to Fuerstenstein and his mother, before I have a chance even to send Toni a message"
The doctor smiled, but it was a pained smile. He had observed this stranger more closely than Marietta, and knew only too well what caused the sudden and great anxiety to get away from the house.
"Evidently the young man is not much accustomed to ladies' society," he answered evasively; "he's under his mother's thumb apparently, but he seems to please his sweetheart, and that's the main thing."
"He's a handsome man," mused Marietta, "a very handsome man. But, grandpapa, I believe he's also a very stupid one."
Willibald in the meantime had gone, almost on a run, to the nearest street corner, and there he halted and tried to overcome his bewilderment and collect his thoughts. It was some time before he started slowly on his homeward way, and while standing dazed and stupid in the little country road, he threw more than one glance back at the doctor's house.
What would his mother say? She, who all her life had spurned the play-actor as she would a reptile. And she was right, Will saw that clearly; there was a sorcery about such people against which one needed protection.
But if this Marietta Volkmar should see fit to go to Fuerstenstein to visit her girlhood's friend! The young heir was horrified at the thought, and assured himself that he was horrified, but there was a new light in his eyes all the while. He saw suddenly, in his mind's eye, the reception room at Fuerstenstein, and the piano at which his betrothed had sat so long that day, but in her place was a dainty little figure, with a perfect glory of curly brown hair around her head; and the heavy notes of the "Janizary March" changed into the soft, pleading tones of the old-time ballad, and in the midst of it all, broke out the clear, bubbling laugh which sounded like music, too.
And all this sweetness was lost forever, both in this world and in the next, because it had been seen and heard on the stage. Frau von Eschenhagen had often expressed her views on that subject, and her son, a good, obedient son always, looked upon her as an oracle. But now he heaved a deep sigh, as he said half aloud:
"What a shame! What a lamentable shame!"
The little mountain of Hochberg rose about half way between Fuerstenstein and Rodeck. It was celebrated, and justly, for the fine and extensive view which could be obtained from its highest point. An ancient stone tower, all that now remained of a castle long since fallen into decay, stood upon the extreme summit.
A few peasants, more zealous than their neighbors, had built a little inn or house of rest and refreshment at its base. They made a pretense of keeping the mountain roads in order, and demanded a fair toll from the stray tourist who came to climb the winding tower stairs.
Strangers came but seldom, however, into this wild, unknown mountain region. In the autumn especially, visitors were few and far between. This bright, warm September day had, however, proved seductive. Two gentlemen on horseback, attended by a groom, had dismounted at the door and gone up into the little tower, and they had been followed, a half hour later, by some guests from the neighborhood, who had driven up the mountain-side in a light carriage.
The gentlemen were now standing on a little stone platform of the tower, and one of them was talking eagerly and excitedly as he called his companion's attention to certain newly-discovered beauties in the landscape. "Yes, our Hochberg is celebrated, there's no doubt of that," he said finally. "I felt I must show it to you, Hartmut. Do you not think the view across this far green ocean of forest is unparalleled?"
Hartmut did not answer. He seemed to be searching for some particular place through his field glass.
"In which direction does Fuerstenstein lie? Ah, I see, over yonder. It seems to be an immense old building."
"Yes, the castle is well worth seeing," said Prince Adelsberg. "You were quite right, though, day before yesterday, to refuse to accompany me there. The visit worried me to death."
"Indeed! You spoke very enthusiastically of the head forester to me."
"Yes, I always enjoy a chat with him, but he had gone driving, worse luck, and only returned just as I was leaving. His son is not at Fuerstenstein either, he's at college studying forestry, and so I was entertained by the daughter of the house, Fraeulein Antonie von Schoenau. I had a weary hour, I can assure you. A word every five minutes, and a minute getting that one out. She's a fine housewife, I fancy, with no brains for anything beyond. It was up hill work talking to her, and no mistake; then I had the honor of meeting her lover. A genuine, unsophisticated country squire, with a very energetic mother, who evidently has both him and her future daughter-in-law well under her control. Oh, we had a highly intellectual conversation, which ended in their asking my advice about the culture of turnips—I'm so well up in turnips, you know. Just then, happily, the head forester and his brother-in-law, Baron Wallmoden, returned."
Rojanow still held the field glass to his eyes, and was seemingly indifferent to his friend's gossip. Now he said in a questioning tone, "Wallmoden?"
"The new Prussian ambassador to our court. A genuine diplomatist, too, if I may judge from appearances; aristocratic, cold, dignified and reserved to the last degree, but good form, very good form. His wife, the baroness, was not visible, but I bore her absence with resignation, for he's a white-haired elderly man, and I doubt not his wife's of the same stripe."
Hartmut's lip curled as he took the glass down from his eyes. He had not mentioned his meeting with Frau von Wallmoden. Why not forget the very name as soon as possible?
"Our romantic loneliness will soon end, Herr von Schoenau tells me," continued Egon. "The whole court is coming to Fuerstenstein for the hunting season, and I can count on a visit from the duke. He'll come over to Rodeck as soon as he arrives. I'm not overjoyed, I can tell you, for my respected uncle will preach at me about my morals in a way poor Stadinger never thought of doing, and I'll have to stand it, too. At any rate Hartmut, I can take this opportunity to present you."
"If you think it necessary, and the etiquette of the court permits."
"Bah! The etiquette won't be so strictly observed here, and besides the Rojanows belong to one of the Bojarin families of your country."
"Well then, there's nothing to prevent your being presented. I am very anxious to have the duke meet you, then I'll tell him about your 'Arivana,' and as soon as he hears your play, he'll have it put on the court stage. I've no question of it."
The words conveyed the deep, almost passionate admiration which the prince had for his friend. The latter only shrugged his shoulders as he replied carelessly:
"That is possible, if you intercede for me, but I do not want to owe my success to any man's efforts in my behalf. I am no poet of repute; I scarcely know whether I am a poet at all or not, and if my work cannot make its own way I shall not force it on the world."
"You'll be obstinate enough to let a fine opportunity slip, that's like you. Have you no ambition?"
"Only too much, I fear; perhaps that's the origin of what you call my obstinacy. I have never been able to subordinate myself and conform to the rules of every day life, and as to the restrictions and trammels of your German courts, I could not adjust myself to them."
"Who told you you would have to adjust yourself to them?" questioned Egon laughingly. "You will be flattered and spoiled there, as everywhere else, for you will appear in the heavens like a meteor and no one ever requires stars of that nature to follow a prescribed orbit. Moreover you will be both a guest and a foreigner; and as such will occupy an exceptional position. When in addition to that, the poet's halo shines round your head—"
"You will have found means to bind me to your country, you think?" interjected Hartmut.
"Well yes, I certainly have not supposed that I, myself, possessed the power to attach to us permanently so wild and restless a spirit. But the rising fame of a poet is a bond which is not so easily broken. This very morning I took an oath to keep you here at any cost."
Rojanow gave him a surprised, searching look. "Why this morning?"
"Ah, that's my secret," said Egon mischievously. "But here comes some one to join us. I hear steps on the stairs."
Yes, there were steps coming up the old stone stairway, and a second later the bearded face of the old watchman peered out at the men on the platform.
"Please be careful, my lady," he was saying. "The last few steps are very steep; now here we are on the platform." He held out his hand to assist the lady, who was following him closely, but she paid no heed to his offer and stepped lightly out on the little stone balcony.
"What a lovely girl," whispered Prince Adelsberg to his friend; but Hartmut, instead of answering, was making a deep and formal bow to the lady, who could not conceal a look of surprise when she saw him.
"Ah, Herr Rojanow, you here?"
"I am admiring the fine views from Hochberg of which you, madame, have heard also, apparently."
The prince's face bore a surprised look when he heard Hartmut address this lovely girl as madame, and saw that she knew him. He came forward immediately, in order that he might share his friend's acquaintance, so Hartmut was constrained to introduce Prince Adelsberg to the Baroness von Wallmoden; he made a passing allusion to the meeting in the wood, for the young wife was wrapped in her mantle of icy indifference. It was scarcely necessary to-day, for Rojanow was as fully determined as she, to consider their acquaintance as of the slightest.