About five minutes later a young lady walking briskly came along a narrow path which led past the temple. She was of slight, graceful figure, wore a dark, fur-trimmed mantle with cap and muff to match, and was glancing over a roll of manuscript as she stepped quickly forward.
Suddenly she gave a surprised cry, which had anything but a joyful sound, as the young man stepped in front of her.
"Oh, Count Westerburg."
The man bowed low as he exclaimed:
"What a happy accident! Who would have thought to find Fraeulein Marietta Volkmar seeking the fresh air of the park at this hour."
Marietta stood still and looked the speaker well over from head to foot, before she answered, in a tone of mingled anger and contempt:
"I do not believe it is by accident that you so often and so persistently cross my path, Herr Count, although I have been very explicit as to the annoyance which your attentions cause me."
"Oh, yes, you have been very cruel to me," said the count reprovingly, but with unmistakable assurance. "You will not permit me to visit you, despise my gifts of flowers, hardly acknowledge my greetings when you meet me. What have I done to you? I have ventured to prove my devotion by laying at your feet a little tribute in the form of jewels, but you return them with—"
"With the explanation that I decline such insolent advances now and always," Marietta interrupted angrily; "that I will have no more of your brazen impertinences. You have waylaid me purposely to-day."
"Good heavens! I am only here to sue for pardon for my boldness," said the count, as he stepped, with apparent submissiveness, directly in front of her in the narrow path. "I know full well how unapproachable you are, and that no one guards her reputation more jealously than the beautiful Marietta."
"My name is Fraeulein Volkmar," cried Marietta angrily. "Save such familiar speeches for those who appreciate them. I do not, and if you do not cease your importunities, I will in future claim protection against them."
"Whose protection?" sneered the count. "Perhaps that of the old woman with whom you live, and who is forever at your side! It is only when you go to Professor Marani that she is left at home; you do not regard the old singing master as dangerous. But that is the only time when you are without her."
"Except for a morning walk in the park, of which you are apparently aware. Get out of my path, please. I want to go on."
She attempted to pass him, but the count put out both arms to intercept her.
"You will at least, give me permission to accompany you, Fraeulein? You can see for yourself the walks are lonely and deserted, and I'm bound to offer you my protection."
The park was indeed deserted; no sign of life in any direction, and the brave girl was secretly alarmed, but she answered, boldly:
"Do not attempt to follow me a single step. Your protection would be as unendurable as is your presence. How often have I to repeat that?"
"Ah, how angry she can get," said the count with a malicious laugh. "Ah, I must be repaid for those hard words. I must have a kiss from those rosy lips which speak so harshly."
He made a movement to take her in his arms, as the girl drew back, really alarmed now, but in the same moment he lay sprawling upon the sward, a heavy blow, well aimed, having thrown him to the damp ground, where he lay, a most contemptible object!
Marietta turned, more alarmed than ever, in the direction from which the blow had come, and the angry, hot expression on her face was succeeded by one of boundless surprise, when she saw who it was that had come to her aid so suddenly, and now stood by her side gazing grimly at the prostrate man whom he had put in this humiliating position with such evident satisfaction.
"Herr von Eschenhagen—you?"
Count Westerburg had in the meantime risen with some difficulty, and now advanced threateningly toward his new enemy.
"Sir, what do you mean by this? Who has given you the right—who has given you the right—"
"Stay where you are! Don't advance a step nearer this lady," interrupted Willibald, placing himself in front of Marietta, "or I'll send you flying under those trees, and you won't get up from the second blow as soon as you did from the first."
The count, who was neither very large nor very rugged, and who had felt already the weight of this young giant's fist, measured Willibald for a minute, but that was long enough to convince him that a hand to hand scuffle could only result one way.
"You will give me satisfaction—if you are capable of giving satisfaction," he began in a half-suffocated voice. "Probably you don't know that you have before you a—"
"A low scoundrel whom it will give me pleasure to discipline," said Willibald, composedly. "Remain where you are, if you please, or I shall be obliged to do it on the spot. My name is Willibald von Eschenhagen of Burgsdorf, and I am to be found at the residence of the Prussian ambassador, if you have anything more to say. I beg you to accept my protection, Fraeulein, and I'll pledge myself that you'll not be insulted again."
And then something unheard of, almost past belief, happened.
Herr von Eschenhagen, without awkwardness or embarrassment, with the grace of a gentleman of the old school, offered Fraeulein Volkmar his arm and led her away, without troubling himself farther about the low scoundrel!
Marietta had accepted his arm, but she spoke no word; as soon as they were out of hearing she began, with an agitation which was anything but natural to her: "Herr von Eschenhagen—"
"I—I am very grateful to you for your protection. But the Count—you have insulted him deeply—he will challenge you, and you will accept his challenge?"
"Certainly, with the greatest pleasure," answered Will, and a smile broke over his face which proved that such a state of affairs would give him great gratification. His stupidity and obtuseness had disappeared, he felt he was a hero and deliverer, and was very well satisfied with himself. Marietta looked up at him in speechless surprise.
"But it is terrible that all this should happen on my account," she remonstrated. "And that it should be you, of all men."
The last remark did not please the young man.
"You evidently regret that, Fraeulein," he said rather stiffly. "But under such circumstances you cannot always have what you want. I was near by, and you were forced to accept my services even though I do not stand very well in your esteem."
A flush crossed Marietta's face as she remembered the time when she had poured the vials of her wrath and contempt over this man who now came to her rescue so bravely.
"I was thinking of Toni and her father," she answered softly. "I am altogether blameless, but if I should be the cause of tearing you from your bride—"
"Then Toni would have to accept it as an intervention of Providence," answered Willibald, upon whom the mention of his betrothed seemed to make no impression. "One can but lose his life once, and there is no use looking on the worst side, either. Where shall I take you, Fraeulein? To Park street? I think I heard you lived on that street."
She shook her head violently.
"No, no; I cannot walk, I shall call a carriage; there are some over there. I had meant to go to Professor Marani, to practice a new part, but I cannot sing now."
Willibald turned his steps in the direction where the carriages were standing, and they went on in silence until they came near them. Marietta stopped then, and turning to her escort, said anxiously:
"Herr von Eschenhagen, must it be? Can nothing be done?"
"Well, hardly. I knocked the count down, and called him a low scoundrel, and most fellows would regard that as sufficient grounds for a duel. But, don't you worry about it. The whole affair will be over to-morrow or next day, with only a couple of scratches to tell the tale, in all probability."
"And I shall have to wait two or three days in anxiety and uncertainty. Cannot you send me some news?"
Will looked down into the dark, tearful eyes, and a light came in his own such as had gleamed from them on the first day he saw the little "singing bird."
"When all is happily over, I'll come myself and bring you the news if I may?"
"Certainly, certainly. But if it should end unfortunately, if you should fall?"
"Then hold me in kinder remembrance than you have done hitherto," said Willibald, earnestly and cordially. "You took me for a coward. O, don't say a word, you were right; I have felt it bitterly enough, but I was accustomed always to obey my mother, who I knew loved me devotedly. But now you see that I know also how a man should behave when he sees a defenseless girl insulted, and I will avenge that insult—if need be with my blood."
Without waiting for an answer, he hailed a driver, assisted Marietta into the carriage, and repeated to the man the street and number which she gave him. She placed her little hand in his for a moment, and gave him a long look, then, as the carriage rolled away, she threw herself back on the cushions with a loud sob. Will looked after the carriage as long as it was in sight, then he threw his shoulders back and said, with a sort of fierce pleasure:
"Now, have a care, Herr Count. It will be a real pleasure for me to have a shot at you."
The short November day was nearly over, and the twilight shadows were lengthening rapidly, when Prince Egon, returning from a short walk, entered his brilliantly lighted palace.
"Is Herr Rojanow in his rooms?" he asked a footman.
"Yes, your highness," the servant answered with a respectful bow.
"Then order the carriage for nine o'clock, to take us to the castle."
So saying Egon sprang quickly up the stairs, and hastened to his friend's apartments, which were on the first floor, not far from his own, and which were furnished with all the old-time magnificence of a princely house. A lamp was burning on the table in Hartmut's little study, and he himself, looking weary and dejected, was lying full length upon a couch.
"He of the laurel wreath is taking his rest," said the prince, laughing, as he entered the room and came quickly forward to his friend. "I can't find fault with you this time, for you haven't had a minute's rest to-day. There's something exciting in being the rising star in the poet's heaven, but it's hard on the nerves, I must admit. People are vieing with one another to do you honor. You certainly had an overwhelming reception to-day."
"Yes, and we must go to the court to-night," Hartmut answered in a tired, indifferent tone; evidently the prospect was not an enlivening one.
"We must, indeed. The high and mighty desire to do homage to the hero of the hour, my dear aunt at the head of them. You must know that she thinks she's the embodiment of soulfulness and poesy herself, and that she has discovered a responsive spirit in you Praise the Lord! She'll leave me alone for a while, and if she gets very deep in her illusions, she'll forget ail about the marriage plan, for the time at least; but you seem to be very indifferent to the ducal favor which, by the way, is quite pronounced. You hardly speak. Are you ill?"
"I'm tired. I wish I could escape from all the noise, and go to Rodeck."
"To Rodeck? That would be a fine place in the November mists and the damp, leafless forests. Ugh, it gives me the horrors."
"All the same, I have a great longing for the dreary loneliness, and I'm going there, too, after a few days; that is, if you have no objection."
"Well, I have very serious objections," retorted Egon crossly. "In heaven's name what's the matter with you anyway? Now when the whole city is wild over the author of 'Arivana' and your presence is demanded everywhere, you want to run away from all the glory and triumph, and hide yourself in a little, dark hole which is only bearable in midsummer. Such an idea is unheard of."
"For my own sake—I need quiet and rest—I will go to Rodeck."
The young prince shook his head. He was accustomed to have his friend do as he pleased without much heed to his remonstrances, and he knew no means by which he could combat this new whim; but it did appear to him a very unaccountable one.
"I believe my highly esteemed aunt knows what she's talking about sometimes," he said, between a joke and a reproof. "She said to me last night, in the theatre, 'Our friend has caprices like other poets.' I agree with her. What has come over you, Hartmut? Yesterday and to-day you were fairly beaming with triumph and joy, and now I have scarcely left you for an hour and return to find you in the depths of melancholy. Have you seen anything in the papers which has annoyed you? Something from the pen of a malicious, spiteful critic, I'll be bound."
He turned toward the writing-table, where the evening papers lay.
"No, no," Rojanow said, hastily, but he turned his face sidewise, so that it lay in the shadow. "All the papers mention 'Arivana,' and each strives to outdo his neighbor in writing complimentary things about me. You know I am of an uncertain temper, and am often cast down, without being able to give reason for my depression."
"Yes, but now when you are overwhelmed with praise, fairly extolled to the skies, such depression should be far from you. You really seem exhausted. That comes from the excitement we both have undergone during the past few weeks."
He bent anxiously over his friend, who stretched out his hand to him as if to atone for this sudden change.
"Forgive me, Egon. You must have patience with me—I'll be myself again in a little while."
"I sincerely hope so. My poet has much honor awaiting him, even to-night. I'll leave you now. Try and rest, and don't let any one else disturb you. You have three good hours before we need start."
The prince went. He had not seen the bitter smile on his friend's face when he referred to his triumphs and good fortune; and yet the prince had spoken the truth. Fame was good fortune and happiness, perhaps the highest in life, and Hartmut was willing to acknowledge that it was so, until an hour ago, when a bitter drop had mingled in his cup.
When the young man had entered his room an hour before, he had glanced hastily over the evening papers. A review of his work was to be found in each, and he read with interest the impressions which the drama had made: of its strength, and depth, and power, and how skillfully the young and talented Roumanian, Hartmut Rojanow, had outlined and elaborated his characters.
Then, as he turned the sheet, another name met his gaze, a name which, for the moment, deadened his very senses.
The article which caught his eye stated that the recent journey of the Prussian Ambassador to Berlin, had been on a matter of great significance. Herr von Wallmoden had had an audience of the duke immediately on his return, and they had discussed matters of the gravest importance, and now a high Prussian officer was expected, who was the bearer of certain special dispatches to the duke. It was evident that some weighty military affair was under discussion, and Colonel Hartmut von Falkenried would be in the city in a few days.
Hartmut let the paper drop from his hands; his whole body seemed to turn to ice. His father to be here in a day or two! Herr von Wallmoden would of course tell him all. The possibility of meeting him now seemed to resolve itself into a certainty.
"When you have made a great, proud name and future for yourself then you can stand before him and ask him whether he despises you or not," Zalika had said to her son on that memorable night when he had protested against breaking his word to his father. Now the first step toward this brilliant future had been taken.
Hartmut Rojanow already wore the laurel wreath, and that was enough, surely, to obliterate the past. It should and must be enough; and it was this thought which blazed from Hartmut's eyes as he looked toward the ambassador's box last night.
But could he look thus into his father's eyes? Despite all his defiance he feared those eyes, and them alone, in all the world.
He had partly decided to go to Rodeck, and then he picked up the paper again to see if any date was named for the distinguished officer's arrival. He felt within him a something—a secret and burning longing. Perhaps now when his great triumph was but just begun, the hour for reconciliation had come; perhaps, when Falkenried saw what the freedom and life for which his son had craved so long ago, had developed, he would forgive the boy for the sake of the man. He was his child still, his only son, whom he had clasped to his arms with such passionate tenderness on that last evening at Burgsdorf.
This memory brought with it a mighty longing in Hartmut's soul for those arms, for a home, for all that he had lost since those boyhood's days, which, despite their severity, had been so innocent, so peaceful, so happy.
The door opened, and a servant entered and extended a card on a salver. Rojanow made an impatient movement to take it away.
"Didn't I tell you I wouldn't see any one else to-day?"
"I told the gentleman that," explained the servant, "but he said he'd like Herr Rojanow to hear his name, anyway—Willibald von Eschenhagen."
Hartmut rose suddenly from his reclining position; he did not believe he had heard aright.
"What name, did you say?"
"Von Eschenhagen—here is the card."
"Ah—show him up. Hurry!"
The servant left the room, and a minute later Willibald entered, but remained standing, uncertain and hesitating, near the door. Hartmut had sprung up and was staring at him. Yes, these were the same old features, the dear face, the honest blue eyes of his youth's friend, and with a passionate cry of:
"Will! My own dear Will! Is it really you? You have come to me!" he threw his arms stormingly around his friend's neck.
The young heir, who little understood how his appearance just at the moment when old memories were welling up in Hartmut's brain, had moved his friend, was almost overcome by this reception. He remembered that Hartmut had always been his superior, intellectually, and how many times he had been made to feel this. He had thought that the author of "Arivana" would have grown even more imperious and self-assertive, and now he was given this tender and overwhelming reception.
"Are you then so rejoiced to see me, Hartmut?" he asked, somewhat timorously. "I almost feared it would not be right for me to come."
"Not right, when I have not seen you for ten long years?" cried Hartmut, reprovingly. And then he drew his friend toward him and began to ask questions and chatter away with such genuine heartiness, that Will soon lost his shyness and could speak as of old to him.
He explained that he had only been three days in town, and was on his way to Fuerstenstein.
"Yes, and you're to be married soon. I heard of your betrothal at Rodeck, and I have seen Fraeulein von Schoenau once. I wish you great happiness, old fellow."
Willibald took the wish for his happiness with characteristic coolness. He sat and gazed on the floor, and said in a low tone:
"Yes—my mother chose a wife for me."
"I can well believe that," said Hartmut laughing. "But you at least gave your 'yes' willingly."
Willibald did not answer, but seemed to be studying the pattern of the carpet intently; suddenly he asked abruptly:
"Hartmut—how do you go to work to write poetry anyhow?"
Hartmut repressed a smile with difficulty. "That is not easy to explain. I really fear I cannot answer you intelligibly."
"Yes, writing poetry is a curious thing," sighed Willibald with a sad shake of the head. "I tried it myself after I came out of the theatre last night."
"What! You've taken to poetry?"
"Haven't I, though," said Will with a lofty self-consciousness. "But," he added dejectedly, "I can't make it rhyme, and it hasn't the same sound as your verses. I have it in my head, but I don't suppose I have it just right. How did you begin yours? The commencement is the stumbling block. It's nothing very great or romantic, like 'Arivana.'"
"Addressed to her of course?" hazarded Hartmut.
"Yes, to her," Willibald admitted with a deep sigh; and now his listener laughed out loud and clear.
"Well, you are a model son, one must concede that. It's not unusual for a man to be engaged in response to a father's or mother's wishes, but your sense of duty is so strong that you fall in love with the girl and even go so far as to write verses in her praise."
"But they are not to her," cried Willibald suddenly, and with so sorrowful a face that Hartmut gazed at him dumbfounded. He believed that his friend was out of his mind, and Willibald's next statement quite overpowered him, without weakening this suspicion.
"I had a quarrel early this morning with an insolent fellow who attempted to insult a lady, Fraeulein Marietta Volkmar of the Court theatre of this city. I struck him to the ground and I'd do it again if I had an opportunity;—him, or any one else who came near Fraeulein Volkmar."
He had grown so excited, and rose, as he spoke, with such a threatening air, that Hartmut seized him by the arm and held him fast.
"Well, I've no intention of going near her, so you needn't shake your fist at me, old boy. But what have you to do with the opera singer, Marietta Volkmar, who has always posed as a very mirror of virtue?"
"Hartmut, have a care. You must speak respectfully of this lady to me. To make a long story short, this Count Westerburg has challenged me, and we're going to have a shot at one another, and I sincerely hope I'll leave him with a remembrance he won't soon forget."
"Well, you're making very fair progress in your romance, I must say," Hartmut answered with growing astonishment. "You've been in town two days, have had a quarrel with a stranger, who has demanded satisfaction, are the knight and protector of a young singer on whose account you are going to fight a duel. For God's sake, Will, what'll your mother say?"
"As it concerns an affair of honor, my mother will have no right to say anything," Willibald declared with true heroism. "But I will have to find a second here, where I am a stranger and know no one. Of course uncle Wallmoden knows nothing of the matter, or he would have the police interfere at once, so I resolved to come and ask you whether you would perform that service for me?"
"Ah, that's why you came?" said Hartmut in a pained voice. "I thought for the moment it was the old friendship which had brought you. But, all the same, I am at your service. With what weapons do you fight?"
"That's an advantage for you. When we used to shoot at a target at Burgsdorf, you were a fine shot. I'll see the Count's second the first thing in the morning, and let you know of the arrangements at once; but I must write to you, for I won't enter Herr von Wallmoden's house."
Willibald only nodded. He had thought that his uncle's enmity would be returned in full by Rojanow, so considered it better to say nothing on the subject.
"Yes, write me," he answered. "You make what arrangements you deem fit. I have no experience in such matters, and leave it all to you. Here is the second's address. Now I must go. I have much to do yet—I must prepare for the worst."
He rose and held out his hand to his friend, but Hartmut did not see it. He sat with eyes fastened on the ground, as he said in a low, stifled tone:
"Wait a minute, Will—Burgsdorf is not far from Berlin—do you often see—"
"Who?" asked Will.
The young heir was evidently embarrassed by the question; he had avoided the name of Falkenried all through the conversation, and he did not know that the father was expected in the city.
"No," he answered finally, "We don't see the Colonel at all."
"But he comes to Burgsdorf sometimes, does he not?"
"No—he keeps to himself, but I saw him by chance the other day with uncle Wallmoden in Berlin."
"And how does he look? Is he much changed in these last years?"
Willibald shrugged his shoulders: "He has certainly grown old. You would hardly recognize him with his white hair."
"White hair!" exclaimed Hartmut. "He is scarcely fifty-two years old—has he been ill?"
"No—not that I know. His gray hair came suddenly in a few months when he demanded that his resignation be accepted."
Hartmut grew pale and stared at the speaker with anxious eyes.
"My father wished to leave the army, he, heart and soul a soldier, devoted to his profession—in what year did that happen?"
"They would not accept it," said Will, evasively. "They sent him to a distant garrison instead, and for the last three years he has been minister of war."
"But he wanted to go—in what year was it?" Hartmut asked in a determined voice now.
"It was when you disappeared. He believed his honor demanded it. You should not have treated your father so, Hartmut; it nearly killed him."
Hartmut gave no answer, made no attempt to vindicate himself, but he breathed heavily.
"We'd better not talk about it," said Will, turning to go. "Nothing can be undone now, I'll expect your letter in the morning, and you'll arrange everything. Good-night."
Hartmut did not seem to hear his friend's words nor notice his departure; he stood and stared on the ground. A few minutes after Willibald had left the room he threw his head back, and passed his hand over his eyes.
"He would have resigned," he muttered, "resigned, because he believed his honor demanded it—no, no, I cannot see him, not now—I shall go to Rodeck."
The gifted poet, who had stood proud and triumphant before the whole world and received the laurel wreath of fame, dared not meet his father's eye—rather face loneliness and desolation.
* * * * *
Marietta Volkmar lived with an old kinswoman of her grandfather in a modest little house surrounded by a tiny garden, in one of those restful, retired streets which are fast disappearing from our large cities.
The two women, old and young, lived a quiet, uneventful life, which permitted no breath of gossip concerning the young singer; they were objects of interest and affection to the other inmates of the house, and Marietta's clear voice was a welcome sound and her bright young face a cheering sight, to the few who had apartments under the same roof.
For the past two days the "singing bird" had been dumb, and whosoever caught sight of her face, saw pale, tear-stained cheeks and swollen eyes. The people of the house could not explain it, and shook their heads over it until old Fraeulein Berger said that Dr. Volkmar was ill, and his grandchild could not obtain permission just now to go to him. All this was true enough for the good doctor was suffering from a severe cold.
But it was no sufficient reason for Marietta's despondency, which had caused much comment among her fellow-workers at the theatre.
She stood at the window of the comfortable little living-room, having just returned from rehearsal, and looked out drearily into the quiet street. Fraeulein Berger was stitching industriously by the little centre table, and looked up now at the young girl with a grave shake of the head.
"Child, why do you take the thing so hard?" she said, almost sharply. "You'll wear yourself out with all this anxiety and excitement. What's the sense of looking on the worst side?"
Marietta turned toward the speaker; she was very pale and there was a sob in her voice, as she replied:
"This is the third day and I can learn nothing. O, it is terrible, this waiting hour after hour for bad news."
"But why need it be bad?" remonstrated the old lady. "Yesterday afternoon Herr von Eschenhagen, was well and happy. I went out myself at your desire and found he was out driving with Herr and Frau von Wallmoden. Perhaps the matter has been settled amicably."
"Then I'd have had news before now," the girl answered, hopelessly. "He promised me and he'd keep his word, I know it. If anything has happened, if he has fallen—I believe I can't live through it."
The last words sounded forth so passionately that Fraeulein Berger glanced at the speaker frightened.
"Marietta, that sounds very unreasonable," she said. "It wasn't your fault that you were insulted, neither would you be to blame if your friend Toni's fiance was shot. You couldn't really be more despairing if it was your own lover who was to fight."
A deep flush overspread the pale features of the girl for a moment, and she turned again toward the window.
"You do not understand, auntie," she replied in a low tone. "You do not know how much happiness I have had in the head forester's house, how humbly Toni begged my pardon for the insults her future mother-in-law heaped upon me. What will she think of me when she hears that her lover has had a duel on my account? What will Frau von Eschenhagen say?"
"Well, they can be easily convinced that you are blameless in the whole affair, and if it ends well, they need know nothing about it. I hardly know you, child, the last few days. You, who always laughed every care and anxiety away, to sit and mope and grieve. It's incomprehensible to me. You have hardly eaten or drunk a thing for two days, and wouldn't sit down to your breakfast this morning. But you must eat some dinner, and I must go and see to it at once."
With this the old lady rose and left the room. She was right, poor Marietta seemed indeed a changed girl. It was without doubt a painful, depressing feeling, that blame would undoubtedly rest upon her; her friends at Fuerstenstein perhaps might never be made to understand the real state of the case, how innocent she was of any intention to wrong or even annoy them; her reputation, too, of which she had been so guarded; would not every paper be teeming with this "affair of honor," if either combatant were killed?
"If need be with my blood," these had been Willibald's last words to her and they rang in her ears. "O, God be merciful. Not that! not that!"
Suddenly a tall, manly figure turned the corner and came forward hastily through the little street, evidently in search of some special number, and as Marietta looked down she gave a cry of delight, for she recognized Herr von Eschenhagen.
She did not wait for the bell to be answered, but rushed out impetuously to open the door herself.
Her eyes were wet with tears, but her voice sounded clear and jubilant:
"You have come at last—God be praised!"
"Yes, here I am, safe and sound," Willibald replied, while his whole face glowed at this reception.
How they got back to the little sitting-room neither of them ever knew, but he had drawn her arm through his and led her in, while she feasted her eyes on his flushed, happy face. But now she noticed that his right wrist was bandaged.
"You have been hurt?" she said, in an anxious whisper.
"Only a scratch, not worth talking about," Willibald answered, with great cheerfulness of spirit. "I gave the count something worth remembering, though—a fine shot through his shoulder—nothing dangerous, but slow to heal, so that he'll have plenty of time for reflection. It's very satisfactory, very!"
"Then it's all over? I knew it."
"Yes, we met this morning at eight o'clock. But there's nothing to be anxious about now, Fraeulein. It's all well over."
The young singer gave a deep sigh, as she said: "I thank you, Herr von Eschenhagen, I thank you from my heart. You have risked your life on my account, and I cannot be too grateful."
"There is no occasion for gratitude, Fraeulein, but as I have faced a pistol on your account, you must, at least accept a little memento of the occasion. You must not trample this peace offering under your feet."
As he spoke he unwrapped—somewhat awkwardly, for he had only his left hand—a full blown rose and two buds from its cover of tissue paper.
Marietta's eyes sank and a flush of shame o'erspread her features as she took the flowers, without speaking, and pinned them on her breast; then she reached out her hand, as if begging for forgiveness; it was grasped at once.
"You are accustomed to receive gifts of flowers," he said almost apologetically. "I hear from all sides how much homage is paid you."
The young girl smiled, but smiled more sadly than joyfully.
"You have seen what manner of homage is done me at times," she said. "Count Westerburg is not the first against whom I have had to contend. So many men consider it perfectly legitimate to attempt liberties with any one who appears on the stage, and sometimes even those with whom one associates are not—believe me, Herr von Eschenhagen, my lot is not always an enviable one."
Willibald appeared surprised.
"Not an enviable one? Why, I thought you loved your profession, heart and soul, and that nothing could induce you to leave it."
"Certainly, I love it; but I am realizing each day, more and more, with how much that is hard and bitter I have to contend. My teacher, Professor Marani, says 'one must mount with the wings of an eagle, then he leaves all the dross far beneath him.' I think he is right, but I am not an eagle, I am only what my dear grandfather has often called me, 'a singing bird,' with nothing but my voice, and no strength to mount to dizzy heights. The critics have said before now that my acting lacked fire and strength, and I feel myself that I have little dramatic talent. I can only sing, and I'd much rather do that at home in our own green woods, than here in a golden cage."
The girl's voice had a worn, discouraged ring, very unusual in one so full of vivacity. The recent occurrence had brought her unprotected position before her most forcibly, and unconsciously she opened her heart to the man who had shielded her so bravely. He listened in astonishment to her sad words, but instead of showing any pity, his face and eyes fairly beamed with happiness and joy at her sad admission. He asked abruptly, almost roughly:
"You long to get away from here? You will leave the stage?"
Despite her troubles, Marietta laughed out at this question.
"No, indeed, I have no such thought. What would I turn to then? My dear grandfather has scraped and saved for years in order that I might receive a musical education, and it would be but a poor return for me to go back to him now, a burden for his few remaining years. He shall never know that his 'singing bird' longs for her woodland nest, or that she has hardships and insults to encounter here. I have more courage than that. I mean to fight it out, no matter how heavy the odds. So do not let them hear anything about my murmurings at Fuerstenstein. How soon are you going there?"
A shadow fell across the young heir's happy face, and his eyes sank to the floor.
"I am going at two this afternoon," he answered in a strange, depressed tone.
"O, then grant me one favor. Tell Toni everything—everything—you hear? She has cause to blame us both. I shall write to her to-day, at once, and tell her about this unfortunate affair, and you will explain just how it happened, too, will you not?"
Willibald raised his eyes slowly from the ground and looked at the speaker.
"You are right, Fraeulein, Toni must hear all, the whole truth. I had decided on that before I came here—but it will be a trying hour for me."
"Oh, no indeed, it will not," Marietta said hastily. "Toni is good and full of confidence; she will know that what we tell her is the exact truth, and that we were both quite guiltless in the matter."
"But I am not guiltless, at least toward Toni," said Willibald very earnestly. "Do not look so frightened, you would hear all later, so it is, perhaps, as well to hear it from my lips. I am going to Fuerstenstein to ask Toni"—he hesitated and sighed deeply—"to give me back my freedom."
"Heaven help us! and why?" cried the young maiden, seriously alarmed at this declaration.
"Why? Because, feeling as I do, knowing that Toni has no place in my heart, it would be wrong to lead her to the altar. Because I know now what is the one thing needful to make a happy marriage, because," he stopped and looked at Marietta so steadily and so expressively that she could not fail to understand him. Her face flushed painfully; she drew back and made a hasty motion as if to prevent further speech.
"Herr von Eschenhagen, tell me no more."
"I cannot help it," Willibald continued, almost defiantly. "I fought it over and over in my own mind when I was alone at Burgsdorf, and honestly tried to keep my word. I thought it might be possible; then I came here and saw you again—the other evening in 'Arivana'—and then I realized that all my struggling had been in vain. I had not forgotten you, Fraeulein Marietta, no, not for an hour, even while I was trying to persuade myself you must be forgotten, and I should not have forgotten you my whole life long. I will tell Toni all this frankly, and my mother, too, when I see her again."
It was all out at last. The man who could not stand alone at Fuerstenstein, and for whom his mother had done all the talking and planning, spoke now, warmly and earnestly, from his very heart, as only a man can speak in such an hour. He had learned what liberty meant when his affections were aroused, and with this knowledge he had forever cast aside the dependence of habit and indifference.
He crossed the room to Marietta, who had gone back to the window.
"And now one question. You were very pale when you opened the door for me, and had been crying. Of course this affair was very painful to you. I can understand that, but—but were you the least bit anxious—on my account?"
He received no answer. There was only a low, stifled sob.
"Were you anxious about me? Only a little 'yes;' you cannot know, Marietta, how happy it will make me."
He bent over the maiden whose head had sunk so low, but he could not see the gleam of happiness which lighted up her face as she said softly: "I have been so anxious that life has hardly been endurable the past two days."
Willibald gave a laugh of exultation, and tried to draw her into his arms; she gave him one long look, and then released herself.
"No, no, not now. Go—I beg you."
He stepped back at once.
"You are right, Marietta. Not now; but when I am free, I shall come to you and beg for another 'yes.' Good-bye. God bless you!"
He was gone in an instant, before Marietta could collect her thoughts; and now the voice of her old kinswoman, who had entered the room a moment before, unperceived by its occupants, recalled her to herself.
"My child, what is this, what does it mean? Have you both forgotten—"
The excited girl did not let her finish; she flung her arms around her neck, and cried out, passionately:
"Ah, now I know why I was so angry when he allowed his mother to insult me and did not take my part. It grieved me so to think he was weak and cowardly, for I have loved him from the very first."
Extensive preparations for the approaching social season were being made at the house of the Prussian ambassador. Wallmoden had entered upon the duties of his present official position early in the past spring, but his father-in-law's death following immediately after, and the summer coming on, he had as yet done nothing to discharge the social obligations incumbent upon him as the representative of a great government. The magnificent house which he had taken was furnished with great splendor. His marriage to an heiress made many pleasant things possible to him now, and his great desire was to make his residence one of mark in the southern capital. The following week he was to give his first reception, and in the meantime, numerous visits had to be made.
The ambassador was busily engaged, also, in attending to certain official matters of more than usual importance. With all his other cares he was secretly annoyed at the result of the production of "Arivana." If he had had any thought before of openly denouncing Hartmut Rojanow, such denunciation was now almost impossible.
This adventurer had been so praised and so lauded and admired for his poetical genius and talents, that just at present it was a matter of doubt whether any statement which Wallmoden could make would have much effect on the society and the court where the newly risen star was the hero of the hour. Hartmut had risked much against Wallmoden's threats—and won. The one thing which completed the ambassador's discomfiture, and made his position extremely painful, was the coming of Falkenried. It would be impossible to conceal his son's whereabouts and doings from the father, and Wallmoden dare not let him learn them from strangers. When they had met in Berlin, for a brief hour, neither knew of the journey to the South which the Colonel would have to take almost immediately. He was to be the guest of his old friend, for he also knew Adelheid very well; she and her brother had grown up under his eyes.
When Major Falkenried had taken command of a distant garrison ten years before, the little city where he was stationed had been very near the principal Stahlberg factories. The new major's reputation had preceded him; he was said to be a valiant soldier, devoted to the service, who, when not on duty, gave all his time to the study of military tactics and discipline, but who held all mankind, soldiers excepted, in abhorrence. He had a house and lived among men, but for the rest, he turned his back upon society and every one connected with it.
But the head of the house of Stahlberg took little heed of the gossip or of the major's attitude toward his fellow-men, and approached him without hesitation. The bitter, disappointed man, who shunned all the world, could not fail to admire in the manufacturer much that was akin to his own nature, and while their acquaintance never ripened into friendship, Falkenried understood and appreciated Stahlberg's rugged character, and in the years in which they lived near one another the Stahlberg house was the only one which he ever entered willingly. So he grew to know the children of the house intimately, and kept up his intercourse with the family after his return to Berlin. When Wallmoden married he felt that both he and Adelheid had been hardly treated by the Colonel, when the latter sent some plausible excuse for not attending the wedding. Adelheid knew little or nothing of the Colonel's fateful history. She supposed him to be childless, and had only recently learned from her husband that he had married very young, been divorced from his wife for many years, and was now a widower.
Eight days after the return of the Wallmodens, as Adelheid was sitting at her writing table late one afternoon, Colonel Falkenried was announced. She rose at once, threw down her pen and hastened to greet her old friend.
"How glad I am to see you, dear Colonel. We received your telegram, and Herbert was just about to start to the station to meet you himself, when he received a summons from the duke and had to go at once to the castle, so we could only send the carriage for you." Her greeting was warm and cordial, such as an old friend of her father might have expected, but Falkenried, while not exactly distant, was certainly not hearty. He took the extended hand, but his manner was cold and earnest, and he said indifferently, as he took the chair offered him: "Well, we can talk to one another until his return."
The colonel had changed, changed so greatly as to be past recognition. Were it not for the tall and erect bearing he would be taken for an old man. The hair of this man in his fifty-second year was snow white, his forehead was deeply ploughed with furrows, and the deep lines in his face told of sorrow beyond all hope of cure. The countenance, which had once been so full of expression, had a staring, uncomfortable look now, and his manner bespoke a reserve and repression which could not be penetrated. Regine's expression, "The man seems turned to stone," was only too true.
One could not help forming the impression that the good or ill of his fellow creatures were both matters of supreme indifference to him; he lived only in the fulfillment of the duties of his profession.
"I have disturbed you, Ada," he said, using the old name which he had always heard in her father's house, as he threw a glance at the half-finished letter on the writing table.
"Oh, there's plenty of time," his hostess answered carelessly. "I was only writing to Eugen."
"Ah, yes; I saw him day before yesterday, and he sent his love to you."
"I knew he would go to Berlin on purpose to see you. He has not seen you for over two years, and neither have I, except for the moment, as we passed through Berlin. We did hope you would come out to Burgsdorf while we were there, and Regine felt sorely vexed that you did not accept her invitation."
The colonel looked at her gloomily. He knew, too well, the bitter memories associated with the place. He had only been there a couple of times since his return to Berlin.
"Regine understands how much my time is occupied," he answered evasively. "But to return to your brother, I want to speak to you about something, Ada, and I am not sorry we are alone. What is the matter between Eugen and his brother-in-law? What has happened?"
A shade of embarrassment crossed Adelheid's face at this question, but she answered carelessly: "Nothing especial, only they don't exactly understand each other."
"Not understand one another! Wallmoden is almost forty years your brother's senior, and he's the lad's guardian, too, for two years more, until Eugen attains his majority. So the boy had nothing to do but obey orders for that brief space."
"Of course, but Eugen, while warm-hearted, is impetuous and inconsiderate, as he has always been from a small boy."
"That's a pity! He'll have to change all that when he assumes the responsible position which is awaiting him, if he expects to follow in his father's footsteps. But there seems something more than that the matter here. I made a passing allusion to your marriage, Ada—that it had surprised me a little, more especially as I had known your husband so well, and had not imagined you were so ambitious. Whereupon Eugen turned on me and defended you in the warmest manner. Said you had been sacrificed for him, and left me quite bewildered by his passionate words and insinuations."
"You should not have paid any attention to him," said Adelheid, with noticeable uneasiness. "Such a young hothead sees the tragical side of everything. What was it he did say?"
"Really nothing. He said you had made him promise to say nothing without your permission, but that he hated his brother-in-law. What does it all mean?"
The young wife was silent; this talk was anything but pleasant to her. The colonel looked at her searchingly, while he continued:
"You know it is not my habit to force myself into others' secrets. I take little interest, now-a-days, in the doings of my neighbors, but the honor of my oldest friend is called into question by the insinuation of a boy. I had no patience with Eugen, and told him to go to Wallmoden and threaten him if he had anything to say. His answer was: 'O, Herr von Wallmoden would explain the thing by calling it diplomatic; he has shown himself a great diplomat. Ask Ada, let her tell you her experience.' So I did as he bade me, I asked you, but as you will say nothing, I have no alternative but to speak to your husband. For I cannot keep silence concerning such insulting remarks."
He spoke without excitement, in a measured, cold tone, as if, while a matter of no moment to himself, he felt it his duty to interrogate his friend's wife.
"Pray don't mention it to Herbert, I beg of you," Adelheid said, hastily. "I will tell you myself. Eugen has been carried away by his temper; he has taken the affair too much to heart from the beginning. There was nothing dishonorable in it."
"I supposed that when Wallmoden had to do with it," the colonel interrupted with marked emphasis.
Adelheid lowered her voice, but she avoided the colonel's eye as she continued:
"You know that I was not engaged to Herbert until after our year's residence in Florence. My father was very ill and his physicians ordered him to Italy for the winter. We went to Florence for a couple of months; our farther movements were to depend upon my father's condition. My brother accompanied, us and when the winter set in he was to return home. After a few weeks we took a villa just outside the city, and lived, of course, a very retired life. Eugen saw Italy for the first time under very sad and depressing circumstances; it was very trying for him, a mere boy, to sit day after day in a sick room, so I seconded his request to be allowed to go to Rome for a few weeks, and obtained the desired permission for him. I ought never to have done so. But I did not know how great was his inexperience or into what it would lead him."
"Which means that he plunged into frivolous pleasure or dissipation while his father lay on his death-bed," the Colonel interposed harshly.
"Do not be hard on him. My brother was scarcely twenty years old, and while he had a loving father, he had a severe one, who had brought him up with such strictness that this little breath of freedom proved too much for him. The young German, with no worldly experience whatever, was enticed into a circle where play ran high, and where, as was afterwards proven, cheats and gamblers plied their vocation. Eugen in his ignorance saw nothing of all this; he lost considerable sums, and at last one night the club was raided by the police. The Italians resisted them and a scuffle ensued, into which Eugen was drawn. He only defended himself, but in so doing severely wounded one of the police, and he was arrested with the others."
The Colonel had listened in silence to Adelheid's agitated recital, but he showed neither interest nor emotion as he said severely: "And poor Stahlberg had to live to see his son, whom he imagined a model, come to this!"
"He never knew it. It was only a momentary seduction, a boy's misstep through ignorance, which will never be repeated; Eugen has given me his word of honor for that."
Falkenried laughed out suddenly, such a bitter, mocking laugh, that the young wife looked at him in alarm.
"His word of honor. Certainly, why not? It is as easy given as broken. Are you really so credulous that you would take the word of such a boy?"
"Yes, I am, indeed," Adelheid answered earnestly, as she looked reprovingly into the face of the man whose bitterness she could not understand. "I know my brother; he is his father's son in spite of everything and will not break his word."
"It is well for you you can still trust and believe; for me such days were over long ago," said Falkenried, scowling, but in a milder tone. "And what happened then?"
"My brother had word sent to me at once. 'Do not tell father, it would kill him,' he wrote. I knew better than he that it would do so; my father was far too ill then to bear any excitement. It was hard for the moment to know what to do, for we were strangers in a strange land. Then I thought of Herbert, who was at that time ambassador to Florence. We knew him slightly at home, and he had called upon us in Florence, and offered his services or those of his attaches if we should desire anything. Since we had taken a house he had been to see father frequently, and came now immediately in answer to my request. I had reliance in him, and told him all, asking for advice and help, and he gave me both."
"At what price?" asked the Colonel, suddenly, with darkening face.
"No, no; it is not as you think, or as Eugen will persist in believing. I have not been forced. Herbert gave me my free choice. He explained to me that the matter was much more serious than I had thought, that all sums lost at play must be paid, and that the affair might yet assume serious proportions on account of the wounding of the policeman. He explained that it would be very embarrassing for him in his position, to be personally mixed up in such an affair. 'You desire me to save your brother," he said. "Perhaps I can do it, but I place my present position, and my whole future at stake by so doing, and one hardly cares to do that for any one less than a brother, or brother-in-law!"
Falkenried rose with a start and paced the room once, then he stood before his friend's wife, and said in an angry tone:
"And in your deadly anxiety, naturally you believed him?"
"Do you mean that it was not so?" questioned Adelheid.
He shrugged his shoulders as he answered:
"Possibly. I understand little of diplomatic considerations, but I know that Wallmoden showed himself a greater diplomat than ever in this hour. What answer did you give him?"
"I begged for time, it had all come on me so suddenly. But I knew not a moment was to be lost, so the same evening I gave Herbert the right to rescue his brother-in-law."
"Naturally," muttered Falkenried with keen contempt. "Wise Herbert."
"He left for Rome at once," continued Baroness von Wallmoden, "and returned eight days later with my brother. He had succeeded in getting Eugen off without making him conspicuous; his name was not even mentioned in the papers as connected with the affair. How Herbert did it I never knew. He spent money like water, and he told me later that he pledged half his fortune to cover the gambling debts."
"That was very magnanimous, when he was about to gain a million by the sacrifice. And what did Eugen say to this—transaction?"
"He did not know of it at the time, for he returned at once to Germany, as had been arranged before. Herbert came to the house now, daily, and my father grew to like him, and when Herbert finally proposed to him for my hand, I was thankful that the affair had taken the turn it had, and my father imagined he had been paying court to me all this time. But Eugen was not to be deceived. As soon as he heard of our betrothal, his suspicions were aroused, and he wrung the truth from me. Since then he has reproached himself continually, and has a hatred for Herbert, notwithstanding my repeated assurances that I was not coerced, and have had no cause to regret my marriage, and that I find in Herbert an attentive, considerate husband."
Falkenried looked searchingly in her face as if he would read her inmost thoughts.
"Are you happy?" he asked at last, slowly.
"I am contented."
"That is much in this life; we are not born to be happy. I have done you an injustice, Ada. I thought that the glitter of court life, the opportunity to marry a baron and an ambassador had tempted you to become Frau von Wallmoden, but I find instead—I am sorry, Ada, that I did you an injustice."
He extended his hand as he spoke, and in the motion there was a plea for pardon.
"Now you know all," said Adelheid with a deep sigh, "and I beg you not to discuss the subject with Herbert. You see for yourself he did nothing dishonorable. I repeat to you he used no force, my love for my brother was the only force. I could not have expected Herbert to exert himself as he had to do in Rome—for a stranger."
"If a woman had come to me under such circumstances, I should have saved her brother—without stipulations," Falkenried exclaimed.
"Ah, you—I would have followed you with a light heart."
These words disclosed unconsciously how hard had been the struggle within this girl's breast. If a sacrifice had to be made, far easier to make it to the dark, gloomy, rigid man who, notwithstanding all his bitterness and hardness, she could trust implicitly, than to the polite and attentive husband who had taken advantage of her inexperience and fear.
"You'd have had a sad lot in that case, Ada," the colonel answered with a shake of the head. "I am one of those human beings who can give or receive nothing more in this world; life was over for me long ago. But you are right, it is better for me not to discuss this matter with Wallmoden, for if I gave him my opinion—but he is and ever will be a diplomat."
The conversation was over and Adelheid rose and said in her usual quiet tone:
"And now shall I show you to your room? You must be fatigued after your long journey."
"No indeed, I'd be a poor soldier to be worn out by a night's travel. In the service something else is expected from us."
He bore no marks of fatigue; as he stood, broad and tall before her, his muscles and sinews seemed made of steel, it was only the face which was old and haggard. The eyes of the young wife followed him thoughtfully as he again paced the room. She noted the furrowed forehead, so high and broad under the white hair. It seemed to her she had seen it somewhere else, only the locks were dark and curly, and beneath the brow were strange, large eyes, which illumined a face of southern beauty. But surely the forehead on which she gazed was strangely like that across which the sudden wave of passion had passed on that memorable day of the hunt, even to the deep-set blue veins which stood out so prominently in the temples. It was a strange, unaccountable, fascinating resemblance.
A few hours later the two old friends were seated together in Wallmoden's private study. The host had dreaded this hour, but now the tale was told and the impression which it made on the Colonel anything but what his host had expected. He had told of Rojanow's sudden appearance at Fuerstenstein, of the sensation which his drama had created in the city, of his wandering life with his mother during past years, and of Zalika's death. Falkenried had leaned back in the chair, his arm resting on the window sill, and listened to the whole long story without movement of form or feature, without a question, without a comment; he hardly seemed to hear, he was indeed made of stone.
"I believe it is right to tell you all this now," concluded the ambassador. "Hitherto I have not troubled you with the knowledge which has come to me from time to time, but now you must learn all I have to tell and how the land lies."
The Colonel did not change his position, and his voice betrayed no emotion as he replied: "I thank you for your good intentions, but you could have spared yourself the trouble. What do I care for this adventurer?"
Wallmoden had not expected such an answer, and looked keenly at his friend as he continued:
"I deemed it necessary to tell you because of the possibility of a meeting. Rojanow plays a conspicuous part here and is to be met with everywhere. The duke is greatly taken with him; you will be very apt to come across him at the castle."
"And what then? I know no one who bears the name of Rojanow, and he will not dare to know me. We will pass one another as strangers."
Wallmoden watched his friend's face closely while he was speaking; he wondered if all feeling was dead, or if this intense coldness and indifference were assumed.
"I believed you would have taken the news of your son's re-appearance differently," he said, half aloud. It was the only time he used the word "son;" he had called him Rojanow in telling the story, and he did it with a purpose now. For the first time there was a movement from the window, but it was a movement of anger.
"I have no son, bear that in mind, Wallmoden. He died that last night at Burgsdorf, and the dead return no more."
Wallmoden was silent, but the colonel stepped up to him and laid his hand heavily on his arm.
"You mentioned just now that you felt it your duty to tell the duke, but consideration for me had kept you silent so far. I have but one thing left to guard in the wide world, the honor of my name, and such an explanation on your part would stain it forever. Do what you think is best. I shall not prevent you, but—I must then do what I think best."
His voice sounded hard as ever, but there was a tone underlying his words which fairly frightened the ambassador.
"For God's sake, Falkenried, what do you mean?"
"Do as you choose. You diplomats have peculiar ideas of honor at times, with which ordinary mortals may not agree—I leave it to you."
"I shall be silent, I give you my word," answered Wallmoden, to whom Falkenried's words were enigmatical, for Adelheid's confession was unknown to him. "I had really decided on that before you came. The name of Falkenried shall not be exposed to scorn or derision through me."
"Well and good, then we need not discuss the subject farther," said Falkenried. Then, after a short pause, he began on quite a different subject. "You have prepared the duke for what I bring him? What does he say about it?"
Here was again the old, iron impenetrability which closed the door against all inquiry. The change was a welcome one to the ambassador, who was here, as elsewhere, the diplomat, and disliked nothing more than unnecessary candor and straightforwardness, and who would never have thought of giving all this information to Falkenried, had not the danger of his friend learning it elsewhere been very great. Now no matter what happened, he could say to the father, "I told you. I warned you." Even the duke could not find fault with a man for sparing an old friend. "Wise Herbert" understood how to answer them all.
Colonel Falkenried's stay was limited, and there was so much to be done that he had scarcely time to breathe.
Audiences with the duke, consultations with prominent military officials, hours spent with certain members of foreign embassies, all these had to be crowded into a few days. Wallmoden was scarcely less in demand until everything was arranged. The ambassador, and more especially Colonel von Falkenried, had reason to be contented with the result, for they had acquired everything which they demanded for their government, and could count with full reliance on the duke. It was whispered that some matter of more than ordinary import was on the tapis, but none of the gossipers knew what, and the few who did know kept their own counsel.
The author of "Arivana" was the favorite of the day, and people began to discuss his very erratic behavior. Almost immediately after his glittering triumph he had turned his back upon all who had done him homage, friends and sycophants alike, and gone to the "wilderness," as Prince Adelsberg explained to every one; where that wilderness lay, no one knew, for Egon had given his word to his friend that he would not reveal his retreat, and Hartmut had promised in return that as soon as he had had a little quiet and rest he would come back. So no one knew that Herr Rojanow was at Rodeck.
Baron von Wallmoden's carriage was drawn up on a cold, dark morning before the door of the Prussian ambassador's residence.
This time the drive was to be a long one, for servants brought out furs and robes and piled them on the seats. The ambassador, who had just risen from his breakfast, was taking leave of the Colonel.
"Well, good-bye until to-morrow night," he said, holding out his hand. "We'll be back by that time, anyway, and you'll remain for several days yet."
"Yes, as the duke has requested it," answered the Colonel. "I sent my report off at once to Berlin; so a few days either way doesn't matter now."
"Of course not. And they'll certainly be well satisfied with your reports, too. But we've had a few hot days with little time for rest. Thank God, everything is arranged and we can breathe again! I feel that I am free to leave the city now for twenty-four hours, so Adelheid and I will go to Ostwalden."
"Ostwalden is the name of your new country seat? I remember, you mentioned it yesterday, but I did not understand just where it was situated."
"It lies about ten miles from Fuerstenstein. When we were there in September, Schoenau called my attention to it. It is situated in the most beautiful part of the celebrated forest, and suits me exactly. They asked a ridiculous price for it, but since my return I've decided to take it and am going there now to make some final arrangements."
"Ada does not appear too well pleased with your choice. She seems to dislike the neighborhood of Fuerstenstein," said the Colonel. But Wallmoden shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
"Just a whim, nothing more. In the beginning Adelheid was in raptures over Ostwalden, and then later she raised every possible objection to the place; but I had gone too far to retreat. I shall in all probability remain some time at my present post, and want to avoid long journeys in the summer. So that a country seat which can be reached in four hours from town possesses great attractions in my eyes. The castle has been sadly neglected of late years, and I'll have to make many altertions. But I have my plans for rebuilding and altering all arranged, and am going to make it one of the finest places in the country."
He talked with great satisfaction over all he was to accomplish at Ostwalden. Herbert von Wallmoden had possessed but a small fortune of his own, and had been forced to live very circumspectly all his life long, in consequence. But now he could give free rein to his desire for splendor and display, and could talk of fine homes in city and country without thought of the outlay, or any consideration either for the whims of the young wife whose fortune he was spending with so lavish a hand.
Perhaps Falkenried thought of all this as he listened to his friend grown almost enthusiastic on the subject, but he said nothing. He had grown more silent and stonier than ever, if that were possible, during the last few days. And when he did ask a question concerning the every-day affairs of life, one felt it was merely mechanical, and that he scarcely cared whether he received an answer or not.
Now as Adelheid entered the room, fully equipped for her journey, he turned to her and offered his arm to escort her to the carriage. After he had helped her in it, Wallmoden entered, and as the coachman cracked his whip, said:
"We'll be back to-morrow without fail—good-bye."
Falkenried bowed and stepped back. It mattered little to him whether they came back to-morrow or not, all friendships were over for him. But as he entered the house again, he said:
"Poor Ada, she deserved a better fate."
Everything was going on in the usual quiet fashion at Fuerstenstein. Willibald had been there for a week. He was two days later than he had expected to be; but he had met with a slight accident, and his hand was hurt, so he told his uncle; and this was perfectly satisfactory, and not at all alarming, as the hand was nearly healed now. The head forester found his son-in-law changed since his last visit, and changed for the better, too. He had become much more earnest and decided than formerly, and seemed so well satisfied with his daughter, von Schoenau thought.
"I believe Will will turn out to be a man, yet. How much he improves without his mother to stand by to command and dictate."
As for the rest, Herr von Schoenau had no time to trouble himself with the lovers. The duke, during his stay at Fuerstenstein, had made many changes and innovations upon the established order of things in the forestry, and it required both zeal and watchfulness on the part of the head forester to set things straight again, and bring his subordinates back to the old regime. He saw Antonie and Willibald daily, and noticed that they were much together and seemed to understand one another perfectly, so he did not concern himself much about them.
In the meantime there had been much anxiety and alarm in the house of Dr. Volkmar.
The doctor's sickness, which had not at first been regarded as serious, had suddenly taken an alarming turn, and owing to his age the worst was feared. His granddaughter was telegraphed for in hot haste, and she, after obtaining permission from her manager, who gave her part in "Arivana" to an understudy, hurried home at once.
It was at this time that Antonie showed her sincere, unobtrusive attachment to her childhood's friend. Day after day she went to the Volkmar cottage, to comfort and cheer Marietta, who hung in an agony of anguish and suspense over her grandfather's bed. Willibald found it necessary to go with his cousin and do what he could. All this seemed natural enough to the head forester, who was sincerely attached to the Volkmars, and felt a great desire to show more than an ordinary amount of attention to "the poor little thing" who had been so cruelly insulted in his house. He had it in for his sister-in-law when he should see her again.
At the end of three dreadful days the doctor's strong constitution asserted itself, and hopes of his recovery were entertained. Herr von Schoenau was as rejoiced as any of the family, and rubbed his hands with a satisfied air when Toni, on the fourth day, reported a marked amendment in the doctor's condition.
But a thunder-storm from the north was descending upon them all. Suddenly, without any announcement, Frau von Eschenhagen appeared in their midst. She had wasted no time in the city with her brother, but came on directly from Burgsdorf, and descended like a veritable thunder-storm upon her brother-in-law, who was in his own room reading the papers.
"Bless us—is it you, Regine?" he cried, really alarmed. "This is a surprise. Why didn't you send word you were coming?"
"Where is Willibald?" was her only response in an incensed tone. "Is he at Fuerstenstein?"
"Of course, where else would he be? He wrote you of his arrival, that much I know."
"Let him be called—now, this minute."
"What's the matter with you, Regine?" asked the head forester, noticing for the first time her intense excitement. "Is Burgsdorf burned to the ground? I can't bring your Will to you now, this minute, for he's not here just now, he's over at Waldhofen—"
"Probably, at Dr. Volkmar's. In that case she's there too."
"What 'she?' Toni has gone over as usual to be with Marietta; that poor little girl has been in despair for the past few days. And I want to have a word with you, Frau sister-in-law, while we are on this subject. How could you have spoken so cruelly to Marietta, in my house, too. I didn't hear of it for some time after, but I can tell you I—"
A loud, angry laugh interrupted him.
Frau von Eschenhagen had thrown aside her bonnet and cloak, and she now strode angrily to her brother-in-law's chair.
"Do you still reprove me because I did my best to put an unclean thing out of your house? You have always been blind. You would not listen to me—and now it is too late."
"I believe you're gone clean mad, Regine," said Herr von Schoenau solemnly. He didn't really know what to think. "Control yourself long enough to tell me what the trouble is."
For reply Regine unfolded a newspaper and pointing to a certain paragraph said tragically:
The head forester began to read, and he, too, soon became excited, and grew red and angry as he read on. The paper was a weekly, published in the South-German capital, and the article which excited their joint wrath read as follows:
"We have just learned that a duel with pistols was fought early last Monday morning, in one of the unfrequented suburbs of our city. The opponents were the well-known society gentleman, Count W., and a young North German landlord, W.v.E., who is the nephew and has been for the past few days the guest of a very prominent member of the diplomatic circle. The cause of the quarrel which resulted in the duel was a member of the court theatre company, a young singer who has, until now, enjoyed a good reputation. Count W. was wounded in the shoulder, and Herr v.E., who has left the city since, received a trifling wound in the hand."
"That goes beyond anything I ever heard," cried the head forester, in a towering rage. "My future son-in-law fights a duel on Marietta's account. What was the quarrel about? What do you know about it, Regine? My papers don't mention it."
"But mine do. You'll find it in yours if you look them over well. I caught sight of the article yesterday, and started at once, without even staying over to see Herbert. Evidently he knows nothing about it yet, or he'd have sent me word."
"Herbert'll be here to-day; in an hour or two now," said von Schoenau, while glancing hastily over the papers. "He was going to Ostwalden with Adelheid, he wrote me, and would return to town by way of Fuerstenstein and spend an hour with me. Perhaps he is coming to tell me about it, but that doesn't change anything. What's the matter with Will, has he gone mad?"
"Yes, that he has," answered Regine, all excitement again. "You sneered at me, Moritz, when I warned you your child would suffer from association with an actress. That such a thing as this could happen never entered my head until the moment when I discovered that Willibald, my own, only son, was in love with this Marietta Volkmar. I tore him from the danger and returned at once to Burgsdorf. That was the reason of our sudden flight. I did not tell you for I thought Will was only dazed for the moment, and would soon recover his reason again. The boy seemed to have done so, or I would never have trusted him to come here without me. I put him in Herbert's charge and felt perfectly sure that all would be well. He could only have been in the city three or four days at most, and well must he have spent his time."
She threw herself back in an easy chair, worn out and anxious as well as angry, while the head forester walked up and down the room angrier than ever now.
"And that's not the worst of it," he cried. "The worst is the game which the rascal has been playing with me and my poor daughter since he came here. My poor child has been running to Waldhofen day after day to give what comfort and aid she could, and Willibald has always accompanied her to comfort Marietta too—oh, its atrocious! Your model son has turned out well, I must say, Regine."
"Perhaps you think I intend to shield him!" Regine answered spitefully. "He shall stand before me, shall stand before us both, and speak. That's what I have come for. He shall learn to know me!"
She rose as though ready now for the attack, and her hearer, who was muttering angrily to himself, said aloud:
"He shall learn to know us both!"
Just then, in the middle of their excitement, the door opened, and the poor, ill-treated fiance, Antonie von Schoenau entered the room quiet and composed as ever, and said as she went toward her aunt:
"I heard from the servants of your unexpected arrival, dear aunt—I am so glad to see you."
Instead of any answer or word of greeting from her aunt the same question from both sides sounded in her ears.
"Where is Willibald?"
"He'll be here in a few minutes, he waited to give some direction to the castle gardener; he does not know his mother is here."
"To the castle-gardener! Doubtless he wants some more roses," Frau von Eschenhagen broke out afresh, while the father held out both his arms to Toni and said, in a trembling voice:
"My child, my poor, deceived child, come to me. Come to your father's arms."
He would have drawn his daughter into his arms, but Regine stepped before him and said in a husky voice:
"Be composed, Toni, you will have a fearful blow from your false lover; you will despise him and his deceptions from your very soul."
This sudden sympathy had in it something alarming, but fortunately Toni had never been troubled with weak nerves; she released herself now from this double embrace, and drew back from them both as she said, with quiet decision:
"I could not do that, for Will is beginning to please me better now than he has ever pleased me before in his life."
"So much the worse," interrupted her father. "Poor child, you know nothing, suspect nothing. Your lover has fought a duel, and for a woman, too."
"I know it, papa."
"For Marietta," screamed her aunt.
"I know it, dear aunt."
"But he loves Marietta," they both cried out with one voice.
"I know it all," declared Toni in her quiet, drawling tone. "Have known it for a week."
The effect of this declaration was so depressing that the two angry parents were dumb, and looked at one another stupefied. In the meantime Toni continued with the utmost composure:
"Will told me all about it just as soon as he got here; and he spoke so simply and with such true heartedness that he made me weep from very sympathy; then a letter came from Marietta begging my pardon, and it was so loving and penitent in its tone that I was deeply moved. There was nothing for me to do but to give back my lover his freedom."
"Without asking us?" interposed her aunt.
"No questions were necessary in this case," Antonie answered, quietly. "I cannot marry a man who declares to me that he loves another woman. So we dissolved our engagement without any further discussion."
"Indeed, and I learn it now for the first time. You two have become very independent, all at once," cried the head forester, enraged.
"Will meant to explain to you the next day, papa, but after such an explanation he felt he could not remain here longer, and just then Marietta was called home by her grandfather's illness. She was nearly broken hearted when she thought he would die, and Will felt he could not leave her until he knew what would be the result of the illness. So I said to keep silence until the danger was over, and then speak. We have both gone daily to the cottage to cheer poor Marietta. They are so grateful to me and call me the guardian angel of their love."
The young girl seemed quite affected by this thought, and took her handkerchief to wipe the tears which were welling up in her eyes.
Frau von Eschenhagen stood stark and stiff as a statue.
Schoenau had folded his arms, and said with a deep sigh:
"Well, God bless you for your magnanimity, my dear child. So everything is as if it had never been. But you have been very generous in your statements, one must acknowledge that. You have taken it very quietly, and seen your betrothed make love to another girl before your very eyes."
Antonie nodded her head. She was greatly pleased to play the role of guardian angel, and she found no difficulty in so doing for her affection for Willibald had been very mild from the beginning.
"There was no talk of love making, papa. Dr. Volkmar was far too ill," she explained. "We had all we could do to comfort poor Marietta, who was dreadfully alarmed. You can see for yourself now that I have not been deceived and that Will has been outspoken and honorable throughout. It was I who advised him to be silent for a few days, particularly as it was a matter which only concerned us two, and—"
"Oh, that is what you thought. Then it does not concern us at all?" the head forester interrupted angrily.
"No papa, and Will thought with me that in such a case there was no use in troubling the parents—"
"What did Will think ?" asked Frau Regine, who at this unheard of assertion thought it was time to take part in the conversation again.
"That one should love before one marries, and Will is right," Toni declared with unwonted vivacity. "When he and I were engaged, there was no talk of love. It was all settled for us, but that'll never happen to me a second time. I see now for myself what it means when two people love one another with their whole hearts, and how greatly it has changed and improved Will. Now when I marry I must be loved as Will loves Marietta, and if I can't find a man who will love me devotedly, I'll remain single all my life."
And with this declaration and with a decisiveness in which nothing was lacking, Fraeulein Antonie von Schoenau tossed her head back, and walked out of the room leaving her father and aunt in anything but an enviable state.
Herr von Schoenau turned to his sister-in-law and said in a subdued but angry tone:
"Your son has been going ahead beautifully, Regine. Now Toni declares she will be loved devotedly, too; this is the beginning of fine, romantic ideas in her head, and Will seems to have them all down fine by this time. I verily believe he has done his own proposing this time."
Frau von Eschenhagen did not heed his ironical remarks; she sat gazing vacantly into space, but the look on her face was not pleasant to see.
"I'm glad you can see the comical side," she said after a pause. "I confess I look another way."
"That won't help you much," Herr von Schoenau answered. "When a model son begins to rebel, that's the end of it. It's hopeless trying to change him, particularly when he's in love. But I am very curious to see Will genuinely in love, and to hear what this paragon has to say for himself."
His curiosity was to be gratified at once, for just at that moment Willibald put in an appearance.
It could be seen at a glance that he had heard of his mother's arrival and was prepared to face her. The young heir did not hang back diffidently this time, as he had done when he hid the roses in his pocket two months before. There was something in his bearing which told he was prepared for combat.
"There is your mother, Will," began the head forester. "You must be greatly surprised to see her."
"No, uncle, I am not," the young man answered, but he made no attempt to approach his mother, who stood like a threatening cloud, and whose voice was an angry growl as she asked:
"Perhaps you know, then, why I came?"
"I imagine why, mother, even though I do not know where you obtained your information."
"The newspapers keep us advised—there, read that," and his mother handed him the newspaper from the table. "But Toni has been here and told us all—do you hear—all!"
She spoke the last words in a tone of annihilation, but Willibald did not seem at all disturbed by them, and answered very quietly:
"Well, then, in that case, there's no need for my saying anything. Otherwise I should have spoken to my uncle this afternoon."
That was too much. Now the cloud broke with thunder and lightning, and the storm descended with such violence upon the head of the sinning son that there seemed nothing less for him to do than to sink into the ground as a creature too debased to live; but he did not sink; he bent his head before the driving tempest, and when his mother stopped a moment—she had to take breath—he looked up quietly and said:
"Mother—will you allow me to speak now?"
"Oh, you are ready to speak? That is really remarkable," Schoenau interrupted with a sneer. He felt he had not been kindly used by his daughter and her lover. Willibald began to speak, at first hesitatingly and slowly, but, as he went on, his voice strengthened, and his courage returned.
"I am very sorry to have grieved you, but I could do nothing else this time. I was as innocent of any desire to fight a duel as was Marietta. She was followed in the park by an impertinent fellow who insisted upon pressing his attentions upon her; she was alone, unprotected. I saw what happened and knocked the fellow down for his pains. He sent me a challenge which I would not, and dare not decline. I have only Toni's pardon to beg for loving Marietta, and that I did immediately upon my arrival. She knows all, and has given me back my freedom. We understand and respect one another much more since our betrothal is at an end, than ever we did before."
"Well, this almost passes belief," exclaimed the head forester angrily. "We did not force you; you could have said no, either of you, if you had desired."
"Well, we do it now," Willibald answered, so decidedly and quickly that his uncle looked at him quite bluffed. "Toni sees as well as I that a mere marriage by arrangement is not right, and when one has felt the bliss of loving he must marry the object of that love and no other."
Frau von Eschenhagen, who had recovered her breath by this time, felt the sting of these last words. It had not entered her thoughts that one betrothal had been broken in order that another might be arranged, but now the fearful possibility struck her.
"Marry;" she repeated, "who would you marry? Would you marry that Marietta, that creature—"
"Mother, you must learn to speak of my future wife in a different tone—" said her son, in so earnest and decided a manner that the enraged woman was dumbfounded. "As Toni has released me, I am at liberty to love Marietta, and Marietta's character is blameless, of that I have had proof. Who vexes or insults her must answer to me—even if it be my own mother."
"See, see, the boy's getting on bravely," cried the head forester, whose sense of justice overcame for the moment his anger. But Frau von Eschenhagen was far removed from any instinct of justice. She had believed that her mere presence would have subdued her son, and now he defied her in this manner. His very appearance was different, and this enraged her the more for she realized how deep and strong was the feeling which could thus have changed him.
"I will spare you the trouble of calling your own mother to account," she said with intense bitterness. "You are of age and are the heir of Burgsdorf, and I cannot prevent you doing as you choose. But on the day when you bring Marietta Volkmar to Burgsdorf—I leave it."
The threat had its effect; Willibald moved back a step as he said excitedly:
"Mother, you are speaking in anger."
"I speak in full earnest. As soon as an actress enters that house as mistress, where I have lived and ruled in honor for thirty years, and where I had hoped to lay my head down for my last, long sleep, I leave it forever. So take her to Burgsdorf if you wish—you have your choice between your mother and the actress."
"But Regine, don't be so unreasonable," remonstrated Schoenau. "You should give the poor fellow some chance and not leave him such a hard choice."
Regine did not heed his remonstrance, she stood there, white to the very lips, her eyes fixed upon her son. She repeated impressively:
"Decide which it shall be—she or I."
Willibald had grown pale, too, and an expression of deep pain lay on his face as he said gently: "That is hard, mother. You know how dearly I love you, and what a grief it will be to me if you should leave me. But if you are so cruel as to leave me no option, then," he straightened himself and finished with great decision, "then I choose Marietta."
"Bravo!" cried the head forester, who quite forgot that he was a sufferer also. "Will, I can echo what Toni said, you please me better now than you have ever done in your life. I really feel very sorry you are not going to be my son-in-law."
Frau von Eschenhagen had not been prepared for such an answer. She had built upon her old power and strength, and now it lay at her feet a wreck.
She was not the woman to yield, however; had it cost her her life she would not have bent her stubborn will then.
"Very well, then, we are done with one another," she said shortly, and turned to leave the room without heeding her brother's whispered words, as he rose to follow her. But before they had reached the door, it was opened hastily by a servant, who said excitedly:
"The steward from Rodeck is here and wishes—"
"I have no time to be bothered now," interrupted Schoenau sharply. "Tell old Stadinger I am engaged upon important family matters and—"
He did not finish, for Stadinger, who had followed the servant stood in the doorway, and said in a suppressed tone:
"I come upon a family matter, Herr von Schoenau, but it is a sad one. I cannot wait, but must speak with you at once."
"What is it? speak out!" said the head forester. "Has any misfortune happened to the prince? He's not at Rodeck?"