"Very well, then," she said at last, "I will go."
It appeared that any civil person might go to the reunion who chose to pay two florins and a half. There must have been some sort of restriction, and the ladies of Burnamy's party went with a good deal of amused curiosity to see what the distinctions were; but they saw none unless it was the advantages which the military had. The long hall over the bathrooms shaped itself into a space for the dancing at one end, and all the rest of it was filled with tables, which at half past eight were crowded with people, eating, drinking, and smoking. The military enjoyed the monopoly of a table next the rail dividing the dancing from the dining space. There the tight-laced Herr Hauptmanns and Herr Lieutenants sat at their sausage and beer and cigars in the intervals of the waltzes, and strengthened themselves for a foray among the gracious Fraus and Frauleins on the benches lining three sides of the dancing-space. From the gallery above many civilian spectators looked down upon the gayety, and the dress-coats of a few citizens figured among the uniforms.
As the evening wore on some ladies of greater fashion found their way to the dancing-floor, and toward ten o'clock it became rather crowded. A party of American girls showed their Paris dresses in the transatlantic versions of the waltz. At first they danced with the young men who came with them; but after a while they yielded to the custom of the place, and danced with any of the officers who asked them.
"I know it's the custom," said Mrs. March to Miss Triscoe, who was at her side in one of the waltzes she had decided to sit out, so as not to be dancing all the time with Burnamy, "but I never can like it without an introduction."
"No," said the girl, with the air of putting temptation decidedly away, "I don't believe papa would, either."
A young officer came up, and drooped in mute supplication before her. She glanced at Mrs. March, who turned her face away; and she excused herself with the pretence that she had promised the dance, and by good fortune, Burnamy, who had been unscrupulously waltzing with a lady he did not know, came up at the moment. She rose and put her hand on his arm, and they both bowed to the officer before they whirled away. The officer looked after them with amiable admiration; then he turned to Mrs. March with a light of banter in his friendly eyes, and was unmistakably asking her to dance. She liked his ironical daring, she liked it so much that she forgot her objection to partners without introductions; she forgot her fifty-odd years; she forgot that she was a mother of grown children and even a mother-in-law; she remembered only the step of her out-dated waltz.
It seemed to be modern enough for the cheerful young officer, and they were suddenly revolving with the rest. . . A tide of long-forgotten girlhood welled up in her heart, and she laughed as she floated off on it past the astonished eyes of Miss Triscoe and Burnamy. She saw them falter, as if they had lost their step in their astonishment; then they seemed both to vanish, and her partner had released her, and was helping Miss Triscoe up from the floor; Burnamy was brushing the dust from his knees, and the citizen who had bowled them over was boisterously apologizing and incessantly bowing.
"Oh, are you hurt?" Mrs. March implored. "I'm sure you must be killed; and I did it! I don't know, what I was thinking of!"
The girl laughed. "I'm not hurt a bit!"
They had one impulse to escape from the place, and from the sympathy and congratulation. In the dressing-room she declared again that she was all right. "How beautifully you waltz, Mrs. March!" she said, and she laughed again, and would not agree with her that she had been ridiculous. "But I'm glad those American girls didn't see me. And I can't be too thankful papa didn't come!"
Mrs. March's heart sank at the thought of what General Triscoe would think of her. "You must tell him I did it. I can never lift up my head!"
"No, I shall not. No one did it," said the girl, magnanimously. She looked down sidelong at her draperies. "I was so afraid I had torn my dress! I certainly heard something rip."
It was one of the skirts of Burnamy's coat, which he had caught into his hand and held in place till he could escape to the men's dressing-room, where he had it pinned up so skillfully that the damage was not suspected by the ladies. He had banged his knee abominably too; but they did not suspect that either, as he limped home on the air beside them, first to Miss Triscoe's pension, and then to Mrs. March's hotel.
It was quite eleven o'clock, which at Carlsbad is as late as three in the morning anywhere else, when she let herself into her room. She decided not to tell her husband, then; and even at breakfast, which they had at the Posthof, she had not got to her confession, though she had told him everything else about the ball, when the young officer with whom she had danced passed between the tables near her. He caught her eye and bowed with a smile of so much meaning that March asked, "Who's your pretty young friend?"
"Oh, that!" she answered carelessly. "That was one of the officers at the ball," and she laughed.
"You seem to be in the joke, too," he said. "What is it?"
"Oh, something. I'll tell you some time. Or perhaps you'll find out."
"I'm afraid you won't let me wait."
"No, I won't," and now she told him. She had expected teasing, ridicule, sarcasm, anything but the psychological interest mixed with a sort of retrospective tenderness which he showed. "I wish I could have seen you; I always thought you danced well." He added: "It seems that you need a chaperon too."
The next morning, after March and General Triscoe had started off upon one of the hill climbs, the young people made her go with them for a walk up the Tepl, as far as the cafe of the Freundschaftsaal. In the grounds an artist in silhouettes was cutting out the likenesses of people who supposed themselves to have profiles, and they begged Mrs. March to sit for hers. It was so good that she insisted on Miss Triscoe's sitting in turn, and then Burnamy. Then he had the inspiration to propose that they should all three sit together, and it appeared that such a group was within the scope of the silhouettist's art; he posed them in his little bower, and while he was mounting the picture they took turns, at five kreutzers each, in listening to American tunes played by his Edison phonograph.
Mrs. March felt that all this was weakening her moral fibre; but she tried to draw the line at letting Burnamy keep the group. "Why not?" he pleaded.
"You oughtn't to ask," she returned. "You've no business to have Miss Triscoe's picture, if you must know."
"But you're there to chaperon us!" he persisted.
He began to laugh, and they all laughed when she said, "You need a chaperon who doesn't lose her head, in a silhouette." But it seemed useless to hold out after that, and she heard herself asking, "Shall we let him keep it, Miss Triscoe?"
Burnamy went off to his work with Stoller, carrying the silhouette with him, and she kept on with Miss Triscoe to her hotel. In turning from the gate after she parted with the girl she found herself confronted with Mrs. Adding and Rose. The ladies exclaimed at each other in an astonishment from which they had to recover before they could begin to talk, but from the first moment Mrs. March perceived that Mrs. Adding had something to say. The more freely to say it she asked Mrs. March into her hotel, which was in the same street with the pension of the Triscoes, and she let her boy go off about the exploration of Carlsbad; he promised to be back in an hour.
"Well, now what scrape are you in?" March asked when his wife came home, and began to put off her things, with signs of excitement which he could not fail to note. He was lying down after a long tramp, and he seemed very comfortable.
His question suggested something of anterior import, and she told him about the silhouettes, and the advantage the young people had taken of their power over her through their knowledge of her foolish behavior at the ball.
He said, lazily: "They seem to be working you for all you're worth. Is that it?"
"No; there is something worse. Something's happened which throws all that quite in the shade. Mrs. Adding is here."
"Mrs. Adding?" he repeated, with a dimness for names which she would not allow was growing on him.
"Don't be stupid, dear! Mrs. Adding, who sat opposite Mr. Kenby on the Norumbia. The mother of the nice boy."
"Oh, yes! Well, that's good!"
"No, it isn't! Don't say such a thing—till you know!" she cried, with a certain shrillness which warned him of an unfathomed seriousness in the fact. He sat up as if better to confront the mystery. "I have been at her hotel, and she has been telling me that she's just come from Berlin, and that Mr. Kenby's been there, and—Now I won't have you making a joke of it, or breaking out about it, as if it were not a thing to be looked for; though of course with the others on our hands you're not to blame for not thinking of it. But you can see yourself that she's young and good-looking. She did speak beautifully of her son, and if it were not for him, I don't believe she would hesitate—"
"For heaven's sake, what are you driving at?" March broke in, and she answered him as vehemently:
"He's asked her to marry him!"
"Kenby? Mrs. Adding?"
"Well, now, Isabel, this won't do! They ought to be ashamed of themselves. With that morbid, sensitive boy! It's shocking—"
"Will you listen? Or do you want me to stop?" He arrested himself at her threat, and she resumed, after giving her contempt of his turbulence time to sink in, "She refused him, of course!"
"Oh, all right, then!"
"You take it in such a way that I've a great mind not to tell you anything more about it."
"I know you have," he said, stretching himself out again; "but you'll do it, all the same. You'd have been awfully disappointed if I had been calm and collected."
"She refused him," she began again, "although she respects him, because she feels that she ought to devote herself to her son. Of course she's very young, still; she was married when she was only nineteen to a man twice her age, and she's not thirty-five yet. I don't think she ever cared much for her husband; and she wants you to find out something about him."
"I never heard of him. I—"
Mrs. March made a "tchck!" that would have recalled the most consequent of men from the most logical and coherent interpretation to the true intent of her words. He perceived his mistake, and said, resolutely: "Well, I won't do it. If she's refused him, that's the end of it; she needn't know anything about him, and she has no right to."
"Now I think differently," said Mrs. March, with an inductive air. "Of course she has to know about him, now." She stopped, and March turned his head and looked expectantly at her. "He said he would not consider her answer final, but would hope to see her again and—She's afraid he may follow her—What are you looking at me so for?"
"Is he coming here?"
"Am I to blame if he is? He said he was going to write to her."
March burst into a laugh. "Well, they haven't been beating about the bush! When I think how Miss Triscoe has been pursuing Burnamy from the first moment she set eyes on him, with the settled belief that she was running from him, and he imagines that he has been boldly following her, without the least hope from her, I can't help admiring the simple directness of these elders."
"And if Kenby wants to talk with you, what will you say?" she cut in eagerly.
"I'll say I don't like the subject. What am I in Carlsbad for? I came for the cure, and I'm spending time and money on it. I might as well go and take my three cups of Felsenquelle on a full stomach as to listen to Kenby."
"I know it's bad for you, and I wish we had never seen those people," said Mrs. March. "I don't believe he'll want to talk with you; but if—"
"Is Mrs. Adding in this hotel? I'm not going to have them round in my bread-trough!"
"She isn't. She's at one of the hotels on the hill."
"Very well, let her stay there, then. They can manage their love-affairs in their own way. The only one I care the least for is the boy."
"Yes, it is forlorn for him. But he likes Mr. Kenby, and—No, it's horrid, and you can't make it anything else!"
"Well, I'm not trying to." He turned his face away. "I must get my nap, now." After she thought he must have fallen asleep, he said, "The first thing you know, those old Eltwins will be coming round and telling us that they're going to get divorced." Then he really slept.
The mid-day dinner at Pupp's was the time to see the Carlsbad world, and the Marches had the habit of sitting long at table to watch it.
There was one family in whom they fancied a sort of literary quality, as if they had come out of some pleasant German story, but they never knew anything about them. The father by his dress must have been a Protestant clergyman; the mother had been a beauty and was still very handsome; the daughter was good-looking, and of a good-breeding which was both girlish and ladylike. They commended themselves by always taking the table d'hote dinner, as the Marches did, and eating through from the soup and the rank fresh-water fish to the sweet, upon the same principle: the husband ate all the compote and gave the others his dessert, which was not good for him. A young girl of a different fascination remained as much a mystery. She was small and of an extreme tenuity, which became more bewildering as she advanced through her meal, especially at supper, which she made of a long cucumber pickle, a Frankfort sausage of twice the pickle's length, and a towering goblet of beer; in her lap she held a shivering little hound; she was in the decorous keeping of an elderly maid, and had every effect of being a gracious Fraulein. A curious contrast to her Teutonic voracity was the temperance of a young Latin swell, imaginably from Trieste, who sat long over his small coffee and cigarette, and tranquilly mused upon the pages of an Italian newspaper. At another table there was a very noisy lady, short and fat, in flowing draperies of white, who commanded a sallow family of South-Americans, and loudly harangued them in South-American Spanish; she flared out in a picture which nowhere lacked strong effects; and in her background lurked a mysterious black face and figure, ironically subservient to the old man, the mild boy, and the pretty young girl in the middle distance of the family group.
Amidst the shows of a hardened worldliness there were touching glimpses of domesticity and heart: a young bride fed her husband soup from her own plate with her spoon, unabashed by the publicity; a mother and her two pretty daughters hung about a handsome officer, who must have been newly betrothed to one of the girls; and, the whole family showed a helpless fondness for him, which he did not despise, though he held it in check; the girls dressed alike, and seemed to have for their whole change of costume a difference from time to time in the color of their sleeves. The Marches believed they had seen the growth of the romance which had eventuated so happily; and they saw other romances which did not in any wise eventuate. Carlsbad was evidently one of the great marriage marts of middle Europe, where mothers brought their daughters to be admired, and everywhere the flower of life was blooming for the hand of love. It blew by on all the promenades in dresses and hats as pretty as they could be bought or imagined; but it was chiefly at Pupp's that it flourished. For the most part it seemed to flourish in vain, and to be destined to be put by for another season to dream, bulblike, of the coming summer in the quiet of Moldavian and Transylvanian homes.
Perhaps it was oftener of fortunate effect than the spectators knew; but for their own pleasure they would not have had their pang for it less; and March objected to having a more explicit demand upon his sympathy. "We could have managed," he said, at the close of their dinner, as he looked compassionately round upon the parterre of young girls, "we could have managed with Burnamy and Miss Triscoe; but to have Mrs. Adding and Kenby launched upon us is too much. Of course I like Kenby, and if the widow alone were concerned I would give him my blessing: a wife more or a widow less is not going to disturb the equilibrium of the universe; but—" He stopped, and then he went on: "Men and women are well enough. They complement each other very agreeably, and they have very good times together. But why should they get in love?—It is sure to make them uncomfortable to themselves and annoying to others." He broke off, and stared about him. "My dear, this is really charming—almost as charming as the Posthof." The crowd spread from the open vestibule of the hotel and the shelter of its branching pavilion roofs until it was dimmed in the obscurity of the low grove across the way in an ultimate depth where the musicians were giving the afternoon concert. Between its two stationary divisions moved a current of promenaders, with some such effect as if the colors of a lovely garden should have liquefied and flowed in mingled rose and lilac, pink and yellow, and white and orange, and all the middle tints of modern millinery. Above on one side were the agreeable bulks of architecture, in the buff and gray of Carlsbad; and far beyond on the other were the upland slopes, with villas and long curves of country roads, belted in with miles of wall. "It would be about as offensive to have a love-interest that one personally knew about intruded here," he said, "as to have a two-spanner carriage driven through this crowd. It ought to be forbidden by the municipality."
Mrs. March listened with her ears, but not with her eyes, and she answered: "See that handsome young Greek priest! Isn't he an archimandrite? The portier said he was."
"Then let him pass for an archimandrite. Now," he recurred to his grievance again, dreamily, "I have got to take Papa Triscoe in hand, and poison his mind against Burnamy, and I shall have to instil a few drops of venomous suspicion against Kenby into the heart of poor little Rose Adding. Oh;" he broke out, "they will spoil everything. They'll be with us morning, noon, and night," and he went on to work the joke of repining at his lot. The worst thing, he said, would be the lovers' pretence of being interested in something besides themselves, which they were no more capable of than so many lunatics. How could they care for pretty girls playing tennis on an upland level, in the waning afternoon? Or a cartful of peasant women stopping to cross themselves at a way-side shrine? Or a whistling boy with holes in his trousers pausing from some wayside raspberries to touch his hat and say good-morning? Or those preposterous maidens sprinkling linen on the grass from watering-pots while the skies were full of rain? Or that blacksmith shop where Peter the Great made a horseshoe. Or the monument of the young warrior-poet Koerner, with a gentle-looking girl and her mother reading and knitting on a bench before it? These simple pleasures sufficed them, but what could lovers really care for them? A peasant girl flung down on the grassy road-side, fast asleep, while her yoke-fellow, the gray old dog, lay in his harness near her with one drowsy eye half open for her and the other for the contents of their cart; a boy chasing a red squirrel in the old upper town beyond the Tepl, and enlisting the interest of all the neighbors; the negro door-keeper at the Golden Shield who ought to have spoken our Southern English, but who spoke bad German and was from Cairo; the sweet afternoon stillness in the woods; the good German mothers crocheting at the Posthof concerts. Burnamy as a young poet might hate felt the precious quality of these things, if his senses had not been holden by Miss Triscoe; and she might have felt it if only he had done so. But as it was it would be lost upon their preoccupation; with Mrs. Adding and Kenby it would be hopeless.
A day or two after Mrs: March had met Mrs. Adding, she went with her husband to revere a certain magnificent blackamoor whom be had discovered at the entrance of one of the aristocratic hotels on the Schlossberg, where he performed the function of a kind of caryatid, and looked, in the black of his skin and the white of his flowing costume, like a colossal figure carved in ebony and ivory. They took a roundabout way through a street entirely of villa-pensions; every house in Carlsbad but one is a pension if it is not n hotel; but these were of a sort of sentimental prettiness; with each a little garden before it, and a bower with an iron table in it for breakfasting and supping out-doors; and he said that they would be the very places for bridal couples who wished to spend the honey-moon in getting well of the wedding surfeit. She denounced him for saying such a thing as that, and for his inconsistency in complaining of lovers while he was willing to think of young married people. He contended that there was a great difference in the sort of demand that young married people made upon the interest of witnesses, and that they were at least on their way to sanity; and before they agreed, they had come to the hotel with the blackamoor at the door. While they lingered, sharing the splendid creature's hospitable pleasure in the spectacle he formed, they were aware of a carriage with liveried coachman and footman at the steps of the hotel; the liveries were very quiet and distinguished, and they learned that the equipage was waiting for the Prince of Coburg, or the Princess of Montenegro, or Prince Henry of Prussia; there were differing opinions among the twenty or thirty bystanders. Mrs. March said she did not care which it was; and she was patient of the denouement, which began to postpone itself with delicate delays. After repeated agitations at the door among portiers, proprietors, and waiters, whose fluttered spirits imparted their thrill to the spectators, while the coachman and footman remained sculpturesquely impassive in their places, the carriage moved aside and let an energetic American lady and her family drive up to the steps. The hotel people paid her a tempered devotion, but she marred the effect by rushing out and sitting on a balcony to wait for the delaying royalties. There began to be more promises of their early appearance; a footman got down and placed himself at the carriage door; the coachman stiffened himself on his box; then he relaxed; the footman drooped, and even wandered aside. There came a moment when at some signal the carriage drove quite away from the portal and waited near the gate of the stableyard; it drove back, and the spectators redoubled their attention. Nothing happened, and some of them dropped off. At last an indescribable significance expressed itself in the official group at the door; a man in a high hat and dresscoat hurried out; a footman hurried to meet him; they spoke inaudibly together. The footman mounted to his place; the coachman gathered up his reins and drove rapidly out of the hotel-yard, down the street, round the corner, out of sight. The man in the tall hat and dress-coat went in; the official group at the threshold dissolved; the statue in ivory and ebony resumed its place; evidently the Hoheit of Coburg, or Montenegro, or Prussia, was not going to take the air.
"My dear, this is humiliating."
"Not at all! I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Think how near we came to seeing them!"
"I shouldn't feel so shabby if we had seen them. But to hang round here in this plebeian abeyance, and then to be defeated and defrauded at last! I wonder how long this sort of thing is going on?"
"This base subjection of the imagination to the Tom Foolery of the Ages."
"I don't know what you mean. I'm sure it's very natural to want to see a Prince."
"Only too natural. It's so deeply founded in nature that after denying royalty by word and deed for a hundred years, we Americans are hungrier for it than anybody else. Perhaps we may come back to it!"
They looked up at the Austrian flag on the tower of the hotel, languidly curling and uncurling in the bland evening air, as it had over a thousand years of stupid and selfish monarchy, while all the generous republics of the Middle Ages had perished, and the commonwealths of later times had passed like fever dreams. That dull, inglorious empire had antedated or outlived Venice and Genoa, Florence and Siena, the England of Cromwell, the Holland of the Stadtholders, and the France of many revolutions, and all the fleeting democracies which sprang from these.
March began to ask himself how his curiosity differed from that of the Europeans about him; then he became aware that these had detached themselves, and left him exposed to the presence of a fellow countryman. It was Otterson, with Mrs. Otterson; he turned upon March with hilarious recognition. "Hello! Most of the Americans in Carlsbad seem to be hanging round here for a sight of these kings. Well, we don't have a great many of 'em, and it's natural we shouldn't want to miss any. But now, you Eastern fellows, you go to Europe every summer, and yet you don't seem to get enough of 'em. Think it's human nature, or did it get so ground into us in the old times that we can't get it out, no difference what we say?"
"That's very much what I've been asking myself," said March. "Perhaps it's any kind of show. We'd wait nearly as long for the President to come out, wouldn't we?"
"I reckon we would. But we wouldn't for his nephew, or his second cousin."
"Well, they wouldn't be in the way of the succession."
"I guess you're right." The Iowan seemed better satisfied with March's philosophy than March felt himself, and he could not forbear adding:
"But I don't, deny that we should wait for the President because he's a kind of king too. I don't know that we shall ever get over wanting to see kings of some kind. Or at least my wife won't. May I present you to Mrs. March?"
"Happy to meet you, Mrs. March," said the Iowan. "Introduce you to Mrs. Otterson. I'm the fool in my family, and I know just how you feel about a chance like this. I don't mean that you're—"
They all laughed at the hopeless case, and Mrs. March said, with one of her unexpected likings: "I understand, Mr. Otterson. And I would rather be our kind of fool than the kind that pretends not to care for the sight of a king."
"Like you and me, Mrs. Otterson," said March.
"Indeed, indeed," said the lady, "I'd like to see a king too, if it didn't take all night. Good-evening," she said, turning her husband about with her, as if she suspected a purpose of patronage in Mrs. March, and was not going to have it.
Otterson looked over his shoulder to explain, despairingly: "The trouble with me is that when I do get a chance to talk English, there's such a flow of language it carries me away, and I don't know just where I'm landing."
There were several kings and their kindred at Carlsbad that summer. One day the Duchess of Orleans drove over from Marienbad, attended by the Duke on his bicycle. After luncheon, they reappeared for a moment before mounting to her carriage with their Secretaries: two young French gentlemen whose dress and bearing better satisfied Mrs. March's exacting passion for an aristocratic air in their order. The Duke was fat and fair, as a Bourbon should be, and the Duchess fatter, though not so fair, as became a Hapsburg, but they were both more plebeian-looking than their retainers, who were slender as well as young, and as perfectly appointed as English tailors could imagine them.
"It wouldn't do for the very highest sort of Highhotes," March declared, "to look their own consequence personally; they have to leave that, like everything else, to their inferiors."
By a happy heterophemy of Mrs. March's the German Hoheit had now become Highhote, which was so much more descriptive that they had permanently adopted it, and found comfort to their republican pride in the mockery which it poured upon the feudal structure of society. They applied it with a certain compunction, however, to the King of Servia, who came a few days after the Duke and Duchess: he was such a young King, and of such a little country. They watched for him from the windows of the reading-room, while the crowd outside stood six deep on the three sides of the square before the hotel, and the two plain public carriages which brought the King and his suite drew tamely up at the portal, where the proprietor and some civic dignitaries received him. His moderated approach, so little like that of royalty on the stage, to which Americans are used, allowed Mrs. March to make sure of the pale, slight, insignificant, amiable-looking youth in spectacles as the sovereign she was ambuscading. Then no appeal to her principles could keep her from peeping through the reading-room door into the rotunda, where the King graciously but speedily dismissed the civic gentlemen and the proprietor, and vanished into the elevator. She was destined to see him so often afterwards that she scarcely took the trouble to time her dining and supping by that of the simple potentate, who had his meals in one of the public rooms, with three gentlemen of his suite, in sack-coats like himself, after the informal manner of the place.
Still another potentate, who happened that summer to be sojourning abroad, in the interval of a successful rebellion, was at the opera one night with some of his faithful followers. Burnamy had offered Mrs. March, who supposed that he merely wanted her and her husband with him, places in a box; but after she eagerly accepted, it seemed that he wished her to advise him whether it would do to ask Miss Triscoe and her father to join them.
"Why not?" she returned, with an arching of the eyebrows.
"Why," he said, "perhaps I had better make a clean breast of it."
"Perhaps you had," she said, and they both laughed, though he laughed with a knot between his eyes.
"The fact is, you know, this isn't my treat, exactly. It's Mr. Stoller's." At the surprise in her face he hurried on. "He's got back his first letter in the paper, and he's so much pleased with the way he reads in print, that he wants to celebrate."
"Yes," said Mrs. March, non-committally.
Burnamy laughed again. "But he's bashful, and he isn't sure that you would all take it in the right way. He wants you as friends of mine; and he hasn't quite the courage to ask you himself."
This seemed to Mrs. March so far from bad that she said: "That's very nice of him. Then he's satisfied with—with your help? I'm glad of that."
"Thank you. He's met the Triscoes, and he thought it would be pleasant to you if they went, too."
"He thought," Burnamy went on, with the air of feeling his way, "that we might all go to the opera, and then—then go for a little supper afterwards at Schwarzkopf's."
He named the only place in Carlsbad where yon can sup so late as ten o'clock; as the opera begins at six, and is over at half past eight, none but the wildest roisterers frequent the place.
"Oh!" said Mrs. March. "I don't know how a late supper would agree with my husband's cure. I should have to ask him."
"We could make it very hygienic," Burnamy explained.
In repeating his invitation she blamed Burnamy's uncandor so much that March took his part, as perhaps she intended, and said, "Oh, nonsense," and that he should like to go in for the whole thing; and General Triscoe accepted as promptly for himself and his daughter. That made six people, Burnamy counted up, and he feigned a decent regret that there was not room for Mrs. Adding and her son; he would have liked to ask them.
Mrs. March did not enjoy it so much as coming with her husband alone when they took two florin seats in the orchestra for the comedy. The comedy always began half an hour earlier than the opera, and they had a five- o'clock supper at the Theatre-Cafe before they went, and they got to sleep by nine o'clock; now they would be up till half past ten at least, and that orgy at Schwarzkopf's might not be at all good for him. But still she liked being there; and Miss Triscoe made her take the best seat; Burnamy and Stoller made the older men take the other seats beside the ladies, while they sat behind, or stood up, when they, wished to see, as people do in the back of a box. Stoller was not much at ease in evening dress, but he bore himself with a dignity which was not perhaps so gloomy as it looked; Mrs. March thought him handsome in his way, and required Miss Triscoe to admire him. As for Burnamy's beauty it was not necessary to insist upon that; he had the distinction of slender youth; and she liked to think that no Highhote there was of a more patrician presence than this yet unprinted contributor to 'Every Other Week'. He and Stoller seemed on perfect terms; or else in his joy he was able to hide the uneasiness which she had fancied in him from the first time she saw them together, and which had never been quite absent from his manner in Stoller's presence. Her husband always denied that it existed, or if it did that it was anything but Burnamy's effort to get on common ground with an inferior whom fortune had put over him.
The young fellow talked with Stoller, and tried to bring him into the range of the general conversation. He leaned over the ladies, from time to time, and pointed out the notables whom he saw in the house; she was glad, for his sake, that he did not lean less over her than over Miss Triscoe. He explained certain military figures in the boxes opposite, and certain ladies of rank who did not look their rank; Miss Triscoe, to Mrs. March's thinking, looked their united ranks, and more; her dress was very simple, but of a touch which saved it from being insipidly girlish; her beauty was dazzling.
"Do you see that old fellow in the corner chair just behind the orchestra?" asked Burnamy. "He's ninety-six years old, and he comes to the theatre every night, and falls asleep as soon as the curtain rises, and sleeps through till the end of the act."
"How dear!" said the girl, leaning forward to fix the nonagenarian with her glasses, while many other glasses converged upon her. "Oh, wouldn't you like to know him, Mr. March?"
"I should consider it a liberal education. They have brought these things to a perfect system in Europe. There is nothing to make life pass smoothly like inflexible constancy to an entirely simple custom. My dear," he added to his wife, "I wish we'd seen this sage before. He'd have helped us through a good many hours of unintelligible comedy. I'm always coming as Burnamy's guest, after this."
The young fellow swelled with pleasure in his triumph, and casting an eye about the theatre to cap it, he caught sight of that other potentate. He whispered joyfully, "Ah! We've got two kings here to-night," and he indicated in a box of their tier just across from that where the King of Servia sat, the well-known face of the King of New York.
"He isn't bad-looking," said March, handing his glass to General Triscoe. "I've not seen many kings in exile; a matter of a few Carlist princes and ex-sovereign dukes, and the good Henry V. of France, once, when I was staying a month in Venice; but I don't think they any of them looked the part better. I suppose he has his dream of recurring power like the rest."
"Dream!" said General Triscoe with the glass at his eyes. "He's dead sure of it."
"Oh, you don't really mean that!"
"I don't know why I should have changed my mind."
"Then it's as if we were in the presence of Charles II. just before he was called back to England, or Napoleon in the last moments of Elba. It's better than that. The thing is almost unique; it's a new situation in history. Here's a sovereign who has no recognized function, no legal status, no objective existence. He has no sort of public being, except in the affection of his subjects. It took an upheaval little short of an earthquake to unseat him. His rule, as we understand it, was bad for all classes; the poor suffered more than the rich; the people have now had three years of self-government; and yet this wonderful man has such a hold upon the masses that he is going home to win the cause of oppression at the head of the oppressed. When he's in power again, he will be as subjective as ever, with the power of civic life and death, and an idolatrous following perfectly ruthless in the execution of his will."
"We've only begun," said the general. "This kind of king is municipal, now; but he's going to be national. And then, good-by, Republic!"
"The only thing like it," March resumed, too incredulous of the evil future to deny himself the aesthetic pleasure of the parallel, "is the rise of the Medici in Florence, but even the Medici were not mere manipulators of pulls; they had some sort of public office, with some sort of legislated tenure of it. The King of New York is sovereign by force of will alone, and he will reign in the voluntary submission of the majority. Is our national dictator to be of the same nature and quality?"
"It would be the scientific evolution, wouldn't it?"
The ladies listened with the perfunctory attention which women pay to any sort of inquiry which is not personal. Stoller had scarcely spoken yet; he now startled them all by demanding, with a sort of vindictive force, "Why shouldn't he have the power, if they're willing to let him?"
"Yes," said General Triscoe, with a tilt of his head towards March. "That's what we must ask ourselves more and more."
March leaned back in his chair, and looked up over his shoulder at Stoller. "Well, I don't know. Do you think it's quite right for a man to use an unjust power, even if others are willing that he should?"
Stoller stopped with an air of bewilderment as if surprised on the point of saying that he thought just this. He asked instead, "What's wrong about it?"
"Well, that's one of those things that have to be felt, I suppose. But if a man came to you, and offered to be your slave for a certain consideration—say a comfortable house, and a steady job, that wasn't too hard—should you feel it morally right to accept the offer? I don't say think it right, for there might be a kind of logic for it."
Stoller seemed about to answer; he hesitated; and before he had made any response, the curtain rose.
There are few prettier things than Carlsbad by night from one of the many bridges which span the Tepl in its course through the town. If it is a starry night, the torrent glides swiftly away with an inverted firmament in its bosom, to which the lamps along its shores and in the houses on either side contribute a planetary splendor of their own. By nine o'clock everything is hushed; not a wheel is heard at that dead hour; the few feet shuffling stealthily through the Alte Wiese whisper a caution of silence to those issuing with a less guarded tread from the opera; the little bowers that overhang the stream are as dark and mute as the restaurants across the way which serve meals in them by day; the whole place is as forsaken as other cities at midnight. People get quickly home to bed, or if they have a mind to snatch a belated joy, they slip into the Theater-Cafe, where the sleepy Frauleins serve them, in an exemplary drowse, with plates of cold ham and bottles of the gently gaseous waters of Giesshubl. Few are of the bold badness which delights in a supper at Schwarzkopf's, and even these are glad of the drawn curtains which hide their orgy from the chance passer.
The invalids of Burnamy's party kept together, strengthening themselves in a mutual purpose not to be tempted to eat anything which was not strictly 'kurgemass'. Mrs. March played upon the interest which each of them felt in his own case so artfully that she kept them talking of their cure, and left Burnamy and Miss Triscoe to a moment on the bridge, by which they profited, while the others strolled on, to lean against the parapet and watch the lights in the skies and the water, and be alone together. The stream shone above and below, and found its way out of and into the darkness under the successive bridges; the town climbed into the night with lamp-lit windows here and there, till the woods of the hill- sides darkened down to meet it, and fold it in an embrace from which some white edifice showed palely in the farthest gloom.
He tried to make her think they could see that great iron crucifix which watches over it day and night from its piny cliff. He had a fancy for a poem, very impressionistic, which should convey the notion of the crucifix's vigil. He submitted it to her; and they remained talking till the others had got out of sight and hearing; and she was letting him keep the hand on her arm which he had put there to hold her from falling over the parapet, when they were both startled by approaching steps, and a voice calling, "Look here! Who's running this supper party, anyway?"
His wife had detached March from her group for the mission, as soon as she felt that the young people were abusing her kindness. They answered him with hysterical laughter, and Burnamy said, "Why, it's Mr. Stoller's treat, you know."
At the restaurant, where the proprietor obsequiously met the party on the threshold and bowed them into a pretty inner room, with a table set for their supper, Stoller had gained courage to play the host openly. He appointed General Triscoe to the chief seat; he would have put his daughter next to him, if the girl had not insisted upon Mrs. March's having the place, and going herself to sit next to March, whom she said she had not been able to speak a word to the whole evening. But she did not talk a great deal to him; he smiled to find how soon he dropped out of the conversation, and Burnamy, from his greater remoteness across the table, dropped into it. He really preferred the study of Stoller, whose instinct of a greater worldly quality in the Triscoes interested him; he could see him listening now to what General Triscoe was saying to Mrs. March, and now to what Burnamy was saying to Miss Triscoe; his strong, selfish face, as he turned it on the young people, expressed a mingled grudge and greed that was very curious.
Stoller's courage, which had come and gone at moments throughout, rose at the end, and while they lingered at the table well on to the hour of ten, he said, in the sort of helpless offence he had with Burnamy, "What's the reason we can't all go out tomorrow to that old castle you was talking about?"
"To Engelhaus? I don't know any reason, as far as I'm concerned," answered Burnamy; but he refused the initiative offered him, and Stoller was obliged to ask March:
"You heard about it?"
"Yes." General Triscoe was listening, and March added for him, "It was the hold of an old robber baron; Gustavus Adolphus knocked it down, and it's very picturesque, I believe."
"It sounds promising," said the general. "Where is it?"
"Isn't to-morrow our mineral bath?" Mrs. March interposed between her husband and temptation.
"No; the day after. Why, it's about ten or twelve miles out on the old postroad that Napoleon took for Prague."
"Napoleon knew a good road when he saw it," said the general, and he alone of the company lighted a cigar. He was decidedly in favor of the excursion, and he arranged for it with Stoller, whom he had the effect of using for his pleasure as if he were doing him a favor. They were six, and two carriages would take them: a two-spanner for four, and a one- spanner for two; they could start directly after dinners and get home in time for supper.
Stoller asserted himself to say: "That's all right, then. I want you to be my guests, and I'll see about the carriages." He turned to Burnamy: "Will you order them?"
"Oh," said the young fellow, with a sort of dryness, "the portier will get them."
"I don't understand why General Triscoe was so willing to accept. Surely, he can't like that man!" said Mrs. March to her husband in their own room.
"Oh, I fancy that wouldn't be essential. The general seems to me, capable of letting even an enemy serve his turn. Why didn't you speak, if you didn't want to go?"
"Why didn't you?"
"I wanted to go."
"And I knew it wouldn't do to let Miss Triscoe go alone; I could see that she wished to go."
"Do you think Burnamy did?"
"He seemed rather indifferent. And yet he must have realized that he would be with Miss Triscoe the whole afternoon."
If Burnamy and Miss Triscoe took the lead in the one-spanner, and the others followed in the two-spanner, it was not from want of politeness on the part of the young people in offering to give up their places to each of their elders in turn. It would have been grotesque for either March or Stoller to drive with the girl; for her father it was apparently no question, after a glance at the more rigid uprightness of the seat in the one-spanner; and he accepted the place beside Mrs. March on the back seat of the two-spanner without demur. He asked her leave to smoke, and then he scarcely spoke to her. But he talked to the two men in front of him almost incessantly, haranguing them upon the inferiority of our conditions and the futility of our hopes as a people, with the effect of bewildering the cruder arrogance of Stoller, who could have got on with Triscoe's contempt for the worthlessness of our working-classes, but did not know what to do with his scorn of the vulgarity and venality of their employers. He accused some of Stoller's most honored and envied capitalists of being the source of our worst corruptions, and guiltier than the voting-cattle whom they bought and sold.
"I think we can get rid of the whole trouble if we go at it the right way," Stoller said, diverging for the sake of the point he wished to bring in. "I believe in having the government run on business principles. They've got it here in Carlsbad, already, just the right sort of thing, and it works. I been lookin' into it, and I got this young man, yonder"—he twisted his hand in the direction of the one- spanner! "to help me put it in shape. I believe it's going to make our folks think, the best ones among them. Here!" He drew a newspaper out of his pocket, folded to show two columns in their full length, and handed it to Triscoe, who took it with no great eagerness, and began to run his eye over it. "You tell me what you think of that. I've put it out for a kind of a feeler. I got some money in that paper, and I just thought I'd let our people see how a city can be managed on business principles."
He kept his eye eagerly upon Triscoe, as if to follow his thought while he read, and keep him up to the work, and he ignored the Marches so entirely that they began in self-defence to talk with each other.
Their carriage had climbed from Carlsbad in long irregular curves to the breezy upland where the great highroad to Prague ran through fields of harvest. They had come by heights and slopes of forest, where the serried stems of the tall firs showed brown and whitish-blue and grew straight as stalks of grain; and now on either side the farms opened under a sky of unwonted cloudlessness. Narrow strips of wheat and rye, which the men were cutting with sickles, and the women in red bodices were binding, alternated with ribands of yellowing oats and grass, and breadths of beets and turnips, with now and then lengths of ploughed land. In the meadows the peasants were piling their carts with heavy rowen, the girls lifting the hay on the forks, and the men giving themselves the lighter labor of ordering the load. From the upturned earth, where there ought to have been troops of strutting crows, a few sombre ravens rose. But they could not rob the scene of its gayety; it smiled in the sunshine with colors which vividly followed the slope of the land till they were dimmed in the forests on the far-off mountains. Nearer and farther, the cottages and villages shone in the valleys, or glimmered through the veils of the distant haze. Over all breathed the keen pure air of the hills, with a sentiment of changeless eld, which charmed March, back to his boyhood, where he lost the sense of his wife's presence, and answered her vaguely. She talked contentedly on in the monologue to which the wives of absent-minded men learn to resign themselves. They were both roused from their vagary by the voice of General Triscoe. He was handing back the folded newspaper to Stoller, and saying, with a queer look at him over his glasses, "I should like to see what your contemporaries have to say to all that."
"Well, sir," Stoller returned, "maybe I'll have the chance to show you. They got my instructions over there to send everything to me."
Burnamy and Miss Triscoe gave little heed to the landscape as landscape. They agreed that the human interest was the great thing on a landscape, after all; but they ignored the peasants in the fields and meadows, who were no more to them than the driver on the box, or the people in the two-spanner behind. They were talking of the hero and heroine of a novel they had both read, and he was saying, "I suppose you think he was justly punished."
"Punished?" she repeated. "Why, they got married, after all!"
"Yes, but you could see that they were not going to be happy."
"Then it seems to me that she was punished; too."
"Well, yes; you might say that. The author couldn't help that."
Miss Triscoe was silent a moment before she said:
"I always thought the author was rather hard on the hero. The girl was very exacting."
"Why," said Burnamy, "I supposed that women hated anything like deception in men too much to tolerate it at all. Of course, in this case, he didn't deceive her; he let her deceive herself; but wasn't that worse?"
"Yes, that was worse. She could have forgiven him for deceiving her."
"He might have had to do that. She wouldn't have minded his fibbing outright, so much, for then it wouldn't have seemed to come from his nature. But if he just let her believe what wasn't true, and didn't say a word to prevent her, of course it was worse. It showed something weak, something cowardly in him."
Burnamy gave a little cynical laugh. "I suppose it did. But don't you think it's rather rough, expecting us to have all the kinds of courage?"
"Yes, it is," she assented. "That is why I say she was too exacting. But a man oughn't to defend him."
Burnamy's laugh had more pleasure in it, now. "Another woman might?"
"No. She might excuse him."
He turned to look back at the two-spanner; it was rather far behind, and he spoke to their driver bidding him go slowly till it caught up with them. By the time it did so, they were so close to it that they could distinguish the lines of its wandering and broken walls. Ever since they had climbed from the wooded depths of the hills above Carlsbad to the open plateau, it had shown itself in greater and greater detail. The detached mound of rock on which it stood rose like an island in the midst of the plain, and commanded the highways in every direction.
"I believe," Burnamy broke out, with a bitterness apparently relevant to the ruin alone, "that if you hadn't required any quarterings of nobility from him, Stoller would have made a good sort of robber baron. He's a robber baron by nature, now, and he wouldn't have any scruple in levying tribute on us here in our one-spanner, if his castle was in good repair and his crossbowmen were not on a strike. But they would be on a strike, probably, and then he would lock them out, and employ none but non-union crossbowmen."
If Miss Triscoe understood that he arraigned the morality as well as the civility of his employer, she did not take him more seriously than he meant, apparently, for she smiled as she said, "I don't see how you can have anything to do with him, if you feel so about him."
"Oh," Burnamy replied in kind, "he buys my poverty and not my will. And perhaps if I thought better of myself, I should respect him more."
"Have you been doing something very wicked?"
"What should you have to say to me, if I had?" he bantered.
"Oh, I should have nothing at all to say to you," she mocked back.
They turned a corner of the highway, and drove rattling through a village street up a long slope to the rounded hill which it crowned. A church at its base looked out upon an irregular square.
A gaunt figure of a man, with a staring mask, which seemed to hide a darkling mind within, came out of the church, and locked it behind him. He proved to be the sacristan, and the keeper of all the village's claims upon the visitors' interest; he mastered, after a moment, their wishes in respect to the castle, and showed the path that led to it; at the top, he said, they would find a custodian of the ruins who would admit them.
The, path to the castle slanted upward across the shoulder of the hill, to a certain point, and there some rude stone steps mounted more directly. Wilding lilac-bushes, as if from some forgotten garden, bordered the ascent; the chickory opened its blue flower; the clean bitter odor of vermouth rose from the trodden turf; but Nature spreads no such lavish feast in wood or field in the Old World as she spoils us with in the New; a few kinds, repeated again and again, seem to be all her store, and man must make the most of them. Miss Triscoe seemed to find flowers enough in the simple bouquet which Burnamy put together for her. She took it, and then gave it back to him, that she might have both hands for her skirt, and so did him two favors.
A superannuated forester of the nobleman who owns the ruin opened a gate for the party at the top, and levied a tax of thirty kreutzers each upon them, for its maintenance. The castle, by his story, had descended from robber sire to robber son, till Gustavus knocked it to pieces in the sixteenth century; three hundred years later, the present owner restored it; and now its broken walls and arches, built of rubble mixed with brick, and neatly pointed up with cement, form a ruin satisfyingly permanent. The walls were not of great extent, but such as they were they enclosed several dungeons and a chapel, all underground, and a cistern which once enabled the barons and their retainers to water their wine in time of siege.
From that height they could overlook the neighboring highways in every direction, and could bring a merchant train to, with a shaft from a crossbow, or a shot from an arquebuse, at pleasure. With General Triscoe's leave, March praised the strategic strength of the unique position, which he found expressive of the past, and yet suggestive of the present. It was more a difference in method than anything else that distinguished the levy of customs by the authorities then and now. What was the essential difference, between taking tribute of travellers passing on horseback, and collecting dues from travellers arriving by steamer? They did not pay voluntarily in either case; but it might be proof of progress that they no longer fought the customs officials.
"Then you believe in free trade," said Stoller, severely.
"No. I am just inquiring which is the best way of enforcing the tariff laws."
"I saw in the Paris Chronicle, last night," said Miss Triscoe, "that people are kept on the docks now for hours, and ladies cry at the way their things are tumbled over by the inspectors."
"It's shocking," said Mrs. March, magisterially.
"It seems to be a return to the scenes of feudal times," her husband resumed. "But I'm glad the travellers make no resistance. I'm opposed to private war as much as I am to free trade."
"It all comes round to the same thing at last," said General Triscoe. "Your precious humanity—"
"Oh, I don't claim it exclusively," March protested.
"Well, then, our precious humanity is like a man that has lost his road. He thinks he is finding his way out, but he is merely rounding on his course, and coming back to where he started."
Stoller said, "I think we ought to make it so rough for them, over here, that they will come to America and set up, if they can't stand the duties."
"Oh, we ought to make it rough for them anyway," March consented.
If Stoller felt his irony, he did not know what to answer. He followed with his eyes the manoeuvre by which Burnamy and Miss Triscoe eliminated themselves from the discussion, and strayed off to another corner of the ruin, where they sat down on the turf in the shadow of the wall; a thin, upland breeze drew across them, but the sun was hot. The land fell away from the height, and then rose again on every side in carpetlike fields and in long curving bands, whose parallel colors passed unblended into the distance. "I don't suppose," Burnamy said, "that life ever does much better than this, do you? I feel like knocking on a piece of wood and saying 'Unberufen.' I might knock on your bouquet; that's wood."
"It would spoil the flowers," she said, looking down at them in her belt. She looked up and their eyes met.
"I wonder," he said, presently, "what makes us always have a feeling of dread when we are happy?"
"Do you have that, too?" she asked.
"Yes. Perhaps it's because we know that change must come, and it must be for the worse."
"That must be it. I never thought of it before, though."
"If we had got so far in science that we could predict psychological weather, and could know twenty-four hours ahead when a warm wave of bliss or a cold wave of misery was coming, and prepare for smiles and tears beforehand—it may come to that."
"I hope it won't. I'd rather not know when I was to be happy; it would spoil the pleasure; and wouldn't be any compensation when it was the other way."
A shadow fell across them, and Burnamy glanced round to see Stoller looking down at them, with a slant of the face that brought his aquiline profile into relief. "Oh! Have a turf, Mr. Stoller?" he called gayly up to him.
"I guess we've seen about all there is," he answered. "Hadn't we better be going?" He probably did not mean to be mandatory.
"All right," said Burnamy, and he turned to speak to Miss Triscoe again without further notice of him.
They all descended to the church at the foot of the hill where the weird sacristan was waiting to show them the cold, bare interior, and to account for its newness with the fact that the old church had been burnt, and this one built only a few years before. Then he locked the doors after them, and ran forward to open against their coming the chapel of the village cemetery, which they were to visit after they had fortified themselves for it at the village cafe.
They were served by a little hunch-back maid; and she told them who lived in the chief house of the village. It was uncommonly pretty; where all the houses were picturesque, and she spoke of it with respect as the dwelling of a rich magistrate who was clearly the great man of the place. March admired the cat which rubbed against her skirt while she stood and talked, and she took his praises modestly for the cat; but they wrought upon the envy, of her brother so that he ran off to the garden, and came back with two fat, sleepy-eyed puppies which he held up, with an arm across each of their stomachs, for the acclaim of the spectators.
"Oh, give him something! "Mrs. March entreated. "He's such a dear."
"No, no! I am not going to have my little hunchback and her cat outdone," he refused; and then he was about to yield.
"Hold on!" said Stoller, assuming the host. "I got the change."
He gave the boy a few kreutzers, when Mrs. March had meant her husband to reward his naivete with half a florin at least; but he seemed to feel that he had now ingratiated himself with the ladies, and he put himself in charge of them for the walk to the cemetery chapel; he made Miss Triscoe let him carry her jacket when she found it warm.
The chapel is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and the Jesuit brother who designed it, two or three centuries ago, indulged a devotional fancy in the triangular form of the structure and the decorative details. Everything is three-cornered; the whole chapel, to begin with, and then the ark of the high altar in the middle of it, and each of the three side-altars. The clumsy baroque taste of the architecture is a German version of the impulse that was making Italy fantastic at the time; the carving is coarse, and the color harsh and unsoftened by years, though it is broken and obliterated in places.
The sacristan said that the chapel was never used for anything but funeral services, and he led the way out into the cemetery, where he wished to display the sepultural devices. The graves here were planted with flowers, and some were in a mourning of black pansies; but a space fenced apart from the rest held a few neglected mounds, overgrown with weeds and brambles: This space, he said, was for suicides; but to March it was not so ghastly as the dapper grief of certain tombs in consecrated ground where the stones had photographs of the dead on porcelain let into them. One was the picture of a beautiful young woman, who had been the wife of the local magnate; an eternal love was vowed to her in the inscription, but now, the sacristan said, with nothing of irony, the magnate was married again, and lived in that prettiest house of the village. He seemed proud of the monument, as the thing worthiest the attention of the strangers, and be led them with less apparent hopefulness to the unfinished chapel representing a Gethsemane, with the figure of Christ praying and his apostles sleeping. It is a subject much celebrated in terra-cotta about Carlsbad, and it was not a novelty to his party; still, from its surroundings, it had a fresh pathos, and March tried to make him understand that they appreciated it. He knew that his wife wished the poor man to think he had done them a great favor in showing it; he had been touched with all the vain shows of grief in the poor, ugly little place; most of all he had felt the exile of those who had taken their own lives and were parted in death from the more patient sufferers who had waited for God to take them. With a curious, unpainful self-analysis he noted that the older members of the party, who in the course of nature were so much nearer death, did not shrink from its shows; but the young girl and the young man had not borne to look on them, and had quickly escaped from the place, somewhere outside the gate. Was it the beginning, the promise of that reconciliation with death which nature brings to life at last, or was it merely the effect, or defect, of ossified sensibilities, of toughened nerves?
"That is all?" he asked of the spectral sacristan.
"That is all," the man said, and March felt in his pocket for a coin commensurate to the service he had done them; it ought to be something handsome.
"No, no," said Stoller, detecting his gesture. "Your money a'n't good."
He put twenty or thirty kreutzers into the hand of the man, who regarded them with a disappointment none the less cruel because it was so patient. In France, he would have been insolent; in Italy, he would have frankly said it was too little; here, he merely looked at the money and whispered a sad "Danke."
Burnamy and Miss Triscoe rose from the grassy bank outside where they were sitting, and waited for the elders to get into their two-spanner.
"Oh, have I lost my glove in there?" said Mrs. March, looking at her hands and such parts of her dress as a glove might cling to.
"Let me go and find it for you," Burnamy entreated.
"Well," she consented, and she added, "If the sacristan has found it, give him something for me something really handsome, poor fellow."
As Burnamy passed her, she let him see that she had both her gloves, and her heart yearned upon him for his instant smile of intelligence: some men would have blundered out that she had the lost glove in her hand. He came back directly, saying, "No, he didn't find it."
She laughed, and held both gloves up. "No wonder! I had it all the time. Thank you ever so much."
"How are we going to ride back?" asked Stoller.
Burnamy almost turned pale; Miss Triscoe smiled impenetrably. No one else spoke, and Mrs. March said, with placid authority, "Oh, I think the way we came, is best."
"Did that absurd creature," she apostrophized her husband as soon as she got him alone after their arrival at Pupp's, "think I was going to let him drive back with Agatha?"
"I wonder," said March, "if that's what Burnamy calls her now?"
"I shall despise him if it isn't."
Burnamy took up his mail to Stoller after the supper which they had eaten in a silence natural with two men who have been off on a picnic together. He did not rise from his writing-desk when Burnamy came in, and the young man did not sit down after putting his letters before him. He said, with an effort of forcing himself to speak at once, "I have looked through the papers, and there is something that I think you ought to see."
"What do you mean?" said Stoller.
Burnamy laid down three or four papers opened to pages where certain articles were strongly circumscribed in ink. The papers varied, but their editorials did not, in purport at least. Some were grave and some were gay; one indignantly denounced; another affected an ironical bewilderment; the third simply had fun with the Hon. Jacob Stoller. They all, however, treated his letter on the city government of Carlsbad as the praise of municipal socialism, and the paper which had fun with him gleefully congratulated the dangerous classes on the accession of the Honorable Jacob to their ranks.
Stoller read the articles, one after another, with parted lips and gathering drops of perspiration on his upper lip, while Burnamy waited on foot. He flung the papers all down at last. "Why, they're a pack of fools! They don't know what they're talking about! I want city government carried on on business principles, by the people, for the people. I don't care what they say! I know I'm right, and I'm going ahead on this line if it takes all—" The note of defiance died out of his voice at the sight of Burnamy's pale face. "What's the matter with you?"
"There's nothing the matter with me."
"Do you mean to tell me it is"—he could not bring himself to use the word—"what they say?"
"I suppose," said Burnamy, with a dry mouth, "it's what you may call municipal socialism."
Stoller jumped from his seat. "And you knew it when you let me do it?"
"I supposed you knew what you were about."
"It's a lie!" Stoller advanced upon him, wildly, and Burnamy took a step backward.
"Look out!" shouted Burnamy. "You never asked me anything about it. You told me what you wanted done, and I did it. How could I believe you were such an ignoramus as not to know the a b c of the thing you were talking about?" He added, in cynical contempt, "But you needn't worry. You can make it right with the managers by spending a little more money than you expected to spend."
Stoller started as if the word money reminded him of something. "I can take care of myself, young man. How much do I owe you?"
"Nothing!" said Burnamy, with an effort for grandeur which failed him.
The next morning as the Marches sat over their coffee at the Posthof, he came dragging himself toward them with such a haggard air that Mrs. March called, before he reached their table, "Why, Mr. Burnamy, what's the matter?"
He smiled miserably. "Oh, I haven't slept very well. May I have my coffee with you? I want to tell you something; I want you to make me. But I can't speak till the coffee comes. Fraulein!" he besought a waitress going off with a tray near them. "Tell Lili, please, to bring me some coffee—only coffee."
He tried to make some talk about the weather, which was rainy, and the Marches helped him, but the poor endeavor lagged wretchedly in the interval between the ordering and the coming of the coffee. "Ah, thank you, Lili," he said, with a humility which confirmed Mrs. March in her instant belief that he had been offering himself to Miss Triscoe and been rejected. After gulping his coffee, he turned to her: "I want to say good-by. I'm going away."
"From Carlsbad?" asked Mrs. March with a keen distress.
The water came into his eyes. "Don't, don't be good to me, Mrs. March! I can't stand it. But you won't, when you know."
He began to speak of Stoller, first to her, but addressing himself more and more to the intelligence of March, who let him go on without question, and laid a restraining hand upon his wife when he saw her about to prompt him. At the end, "That's all," he said, huskily, and then he seemed to be waiting for March's comment. He made none, and the young fellow was forced to ask, "Well, what do you think, Mr. March?"
"What do you think yourself?"
"I think, I behaved badly," said Burnamy, and a movement of protest from Mrs. March nerved him to add: "I could make out that it was not my business to tell him what he was doing; but I guess it was; I guess I ought to have stopped him, or given him a chance to stop himself. I suppose I might have done it, if he had treated me decently when I turned up a day late, here; or hadn't acted toward me as if I were a hand in his buggy-works that had come in an hour after the whistle sounded."
He set his teeth, and an indignant sympathy shone in Mrs. March's eyes; but her husband only looked the more serious.
He asked gently, "Do you offer that fact as an explanation, or as a justification."
Burnamy laughed forlornly. "It certainly wouldn't justify me. You might say that it made the case all the worse for me." March forbore to say, and Burnamy went on. "But I didn't suppose they would be onto him so quick, or perhaps at all. I thought—if I thought anything—that it would amuse some of the fellows in the office, who know about those things." He paused, and in March's continued silence he went on. "The chance was one in a hundred that anybody else would know where he had brought up."
"But you let him take that chance," March suggested.
"Yes, I let him take it. Oh, you know how mixed all these things are!"
Of course I didn't think it out at the time. But I don't deny that I had a satisfaction in the notion of the hornets' nest he was poking his thick head into. It makes me sick, now, to think I had. I oughtn't to have let him; he was perfectly innocent in it. After the letter went, I wanted to tell him, but I couldn't; and then I took the chances too. I don't believe be could have ever got forward in politics; he's too honest—or he isn't dishonest in the right way. But that doesn't let me out. I don't defend myself! I did wrong; I behaved badly. But I've suffered for it.
I've had a foreboding all the time that it would come to the worst, and felt like a murderer with his victim when I've been alone with Stoller. When I could get away from him I could shake it off, and even believe that it hadn't happened. You can't think what a nightmare it's been! Well, I've ruined Stoller politically, but I've ruined myself, too. I've spoiled my own life; I've done what I can never explain to—to the people I want to have believe in me; I've got to steal away like the thief I am. Good-by!" He jumped to his feet, and put out his hand to March, and then to Mrs. March.
"Why, you're not going away now!" she cried, in a daze.
"Yes, I am. I shall leave Carlsbad on the eleven-o'clock train. I don't think I shall see you again." He clung to her hand. "If you see General Triscoe—I wish you'd tell them I couldn't—that I had to—that I was called away suddenly—Good-by!" He pressed her hand and dropped it, and mixed with the crowd. Then he came suddenly back, with a final appeal to March: "Should you—do you think I ought to see Stoller, and—and tell him I don't think I used him fairly?"
"You ought to know—" March began.
But before he could say more, Burnamy said, "You're right," and was off again.
"Oh, how hard you were with him, my dear!" Mrs. March lamented.
"I wish," he said, "if our boy ever went wrong that some one would be as true to him as I was to that poor fellow. He condemned himself; and he was right; he has behaved very badly."
"You always overdo things so, when you act righteously!"
"Oh, yes, I know what you will say. But I should have tempered justice with mercy."
Her nerves tingled with pity for Burnamy, but in her heart she was glad that her husband had had strength to side with him against himself, and she was proud of the forbearance with which he had done it. In their earlier married life she would have confidently taken the initiative on all moral questions. She still believed that she was better fitted for their decision by her Puritan tradition and her New England birth, but once in a great crisis when it seemed a question of their living, she had weakened before it, and he, with no such advantages, had somehow met the issue with courage and conscience. She could not believe he did so by inspiration, but she had since let him take the brunt of all such issues and the responsibility. He made no reply, and she said: "I suppose you'll admit now there was always something peculiar in the poor boy's manner to Stoller."
He would confess no more than that there ought to have been. "I don't see how he could stagger through with that load on his conscience. I'm not sure I like his being able to do so."
She was silent in the misgiving which she shared with him, but she said: "I wonder how far it has gone with him and Miss Triscoe?"
"Well, from his wanting you to give his message to the general in the plural—"
"Don't laugh! It's wicked to laugh! It's heartless!" she cried, hysterically. "What will he do, poor fellow?"
"I've an idea that he will light on his feet, somehow. But, at any rate, he's doing the right thing in going to own up to Stoller."
"Oh, Stoller! I care nothing for Stoller! Don't speak to me of Stoller!"
Burnamy fond the Bird of Prey, as he no longer had the heart to call him, walking up and down in his room like an eagle caught in a trap. He erected his crest fiercely enough, though, when the young fellow came in at his loudly shouted, "Herein!"
"What do you want?" he demanded, brutally.
This simplified Burnamy's task, while it made it more loathsome. He answered not much less brutally, "I want to tell you that I think I used you badly, that I let you betray yourself, that I feel myself to blame." He could have added, "Curse you!" without change of tone.
Stoller sneered in a derision that showed his lower teeth like a dog's when he snarls. "You want to get back!"
"No," said Burnamy, mildly, and with increasing sadness as he spoke. "I don't want to get back. Nothing would induce me. I'm going away on the first train."
"Well, you're not!" shouted Stoller. "You've lied me into this—"
"Look out!" Burnamy turned white.
"Didn't you lie me into it, if you let me fool myself, as you say?" Stoller pursued, and Burnamy felt himself weaken through his wrath. "Well, then, you got to lie me out of it. I been going over the damn thing, all night—and you can do it for me. I know you can do it," he gave way in a plea that was almost a whimper. "Look here! You see if you can't. I'll make it all right with you. I'll pay you whatever you think is right—whatever you say."
"Oh!" said Burnamy, in otherwise unutterable disgust.
"You kin," Stoller went on, breaking down more and more into his adopted Hoosier, in the stress of his anxiety. "I know you kin, Mr. Burnamy." He pushed the paper containing his letter into Burnamy's hands, and pointed out a succession of marked passages. "There! And here! And this place! Don't you see how you could make out that it meant something else, or was just ironical?" He went on to prove how the text might be given the complexion he wished, and Burnamy saw that he had really thought it not impossibly out. "I can't put it in writing as well as you; but I've done all the work, and all you've got to do is to give it some of them turns of yours. I'll cable the fellows in our office to say I've been misrepresented, and that my correction is coming. We'll get it into shape here together, and then I'll cable that. I don't care for the money. And I'll get our counting-room to see this scoundrel"—he picked up the paper that had had fun with him—"and fix him all right, so that he'll ask for a suspension of public opinion, and—You see, don't you?"
The thing did appeal to Burnamy. If it could be done, it would enable him to make Stoller the reparation he longed to make him more than anything else in the world. But he heard himself saying, very gently, almost tenderly, "It might be done, Mr. Stoller. But I couldn't do it. It wouldn't be honest—for me."
"Yah!" yelled Stoller, and he crushed the paper into a wad and flung it into Burnamy's face. "Honest, you damn humbug! You let me in for this, when you knew I didn't mean it, and now you won't help me out because it a'n't honest! Get out of my room, and get out quick before I—"
He hurled himself toward Burnamy, who straightened himself, with "If you dare! "He knew that he was right in refusing; but he knew that Stoller was right, too, and that he had not meant the logic of what he had said in his letter, and of what Burnamy had let him imply. He braved Stoller's onset, and he left his presence untouched, but feeling as little a moral hero as he well could.
General Triscoe woke in the bad humor of an elderly man after a day's pleasure, and in the self-reproach of a pessimist who has lost his point of view for a time, and has to work back to it. He began at the belated breakfast with his daughter when she said, after kissing him gayly, in the small two-seated bower where they breakfasted at their hotel when they did not go to the Posthof, "Didn't you have a nice time, yesterday, papa?"
She sank into the chair opposite, and beamed at him across the little iron table, as she lifted the pot to pour out his coffee.
"What do you call a nice time?" he temporized, not quite able to resist her gayety.
"Well, the kind of time I had."
"Did you get rheumatism from sitting on the grass? I took cold in that old church, and the tea at that restaurant must have been brewed in a brass kettle. I suffered all night from it. And that ass from Illinois—"
"Oh, poor papa! I couldn't go with Mr. Stoller alone, but I might have gone in the two-spanner with him and let you have Mr. or Mrs. March in the one-spanner."
"I don't know. Their interest in each other isn't so interesting to other people as they seem to think."
"Do you feel that way really, papa? Don't you like their being so much in love still?"
"At their time of life? Thank you it's bad enough in young people."
The girl did not answer; she appeared altogether occupied in pouring out her father's coffee.
He tasted it, and then he drank pretty well all of it; but he said, as he put his cup down, "I don't know what they make this stuff of. I wish I had a cup of good, honest American coffee."
"Oh, there's nothing like American food!" said his daughter, with so much conciliation that he looked up sharply.
But whatever he might have been going to say was at least postponed by the approach of a serving-maid, who brought a note to his daughter. She blushed a little at sight of it, and then tore it open and read:
"I am going away from Carlsbad, for a fault of my own which forbids me to look you in the face. If you wish to know the worst of me, ask Mrs. March. I have no heart to tell you."
Agatha read these mystifying words of Burnamy's several times over in a silent absorption with them which left her father to look after himself, and he had poured out a second cup of coffee with his own hand, and was reaching for the bread beside her before she came slowly back to a sense of his presence.
"Oh, excuse me, papa," she said, and she gave him the butter. "Here's a very strange letter from Mr. Burnamy, which I think you'd better see." She held the note across the table to him, and watched his face as he read it.
After he had read it twice, he turned the sheet over, as people do with letters that puzzle them, in the vain hope of something explanatory on the back. Then he looked up and asked: "What do you suppose he's been doing?"
"I don't believe he's been doing anything. It's something that Mr. Stoller's been doing to him."
"I shouldn't infer that from his own words. What makes you think the trouble is with Stoller?"
"He said—he said yesterday—something about being glad to be through with him, because he disliked him so much he was always afraid of wronging him. And that proves that now Mr. Stoller has made him believe that he's done wrong, and has worked upon him till he does believe it."
"It proves nothing of the kind," said the general, recurring to the note. After reading it again, he looked keenly at her: "Am I to understand that you have given him the right to suppose you would want to know the worst —or the best of him?"
The girl's eyes fell, and she pushed her knife against her plate. She began: "No—"
"Then confound his impudence!" the general broke out. "What business has he to write to you at all about this?"
"Because he couldn't go away without it!" she returned; and she met her father's eye courageously. "He had a right to think we were his friends; and if he has done wrong, or is in disgrace any way, isn't it manly of him to wish to tell us first himself?"
Her father could not say that it was not. But he could and did say, very sceptically: "Stuff! Now, see here, Agatha: what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to see Mrs. March, and then—"
"You mustn't do anything of the kind, my dear," said her father, gently. "You've no right to give yourself away to that romantic old goose." He put up his hand to interrupt her protest. "This thing has got to be gone to the bottom of. But you're not to do it. I will see March myself. We must consider your dignity in this matter—and mine. And you may as well understand that I'm not going to have any nonsense. It's got to be managed so that it can't be supposed we're anxious about it, one way or the other, or that he was authorized to write to you in this way—"
"No, no! He oughtn't to have done so. He was to blame. He couldn't have written to you, though, papa—"
"Well, I don't know why. But that's no reason why we should let it be understood that he has written to you. I will see March; and I will manage to see his wife, too. I shall probably find them in the reading- room at Pupp's, and—"
The Marches were in fact just coming in from their breakfast at the Posthof, and he met them at the door of Pupp's, where they all sat down on one of the iron settees of the piazza, and began to ask one another questions of their minds about the pleasure of the day before, and to beat about the bush where Burnamy lurked in their common consciousness.
Mrs. March was not able to keep long from starting him. "You knew," she said, "that Mr. Burnamy had left us?"
"Left! Why?" asked the general.
She was a woman of resource, but in a case like this she found it best to trust her husband's poverty of invention. She looked at him, and he answered for her with a promptness that made her quake at first, but finally seemed the only thing, if not the best thing: "He's had some trouble with Stoller." He went on to tell the general just what the trouble was.
At the end the general grunted as from an uncertain mind. "You think he's behaved badly."
"I think he's behaved foolishly—youthfully. But I can understand how strongly he was tempted. He could say that he was not authorized to stop Stoller in his mad career."
At this Mrs. March put her hand through her husband's arm.
"I'm not so sure about that," said the general.
March added: "Since I saw him this morning, I've heard something that disposes me to look at his performance in a friendlier light. It's something that Stoller told me himself; to heighten my sense of Burnamy's wickedness. He seems to have felt that I ought to know what a serpent I was cherishing in my bosom," and he gave Triscoe the facts of Burnamy's injurious refusal to help Stoller put a false complexion on the opinions he had allowed him ignorantly to express.
The general grunted again. "Of course he had to refuse, and he has behaved like a gentleman so far. But that doesn't justify him in having let Stoller get himself into the scrape."
"No," said March. "It's a tough nut for the casuist to try his tooth on. And I must say I feel sorry for Stoller."
Mrs. March plucked her hand from his arm. "I don't, one bit. He was thoroughly selfish from first to last. He has got just what he deserved."
"Ah, very likely," said her husband. "The question is about Burnamy's part in giving him his deserts; he had to leave him to them, of course."
The general fixed her with the impenetrable glitter of his eye-glasses, and left the subject as of no concern to him. "I believe," he said, rising, "I'll have a look at some of your papers," and he went into the reading-room.
"Now," said Mrs. March, "he will go home and poison that poor girl's mind. And, you will have yourself to thank for prejudicing him against Burnamy."
"Then why didn't you do it yourself, my dear?" he teased; but he was really too sorry for the whole affair, which he nevertheless enjoyed as an ethical problem.
The general looked so little at the papers that before March went off for his morning walk he saw him come out of the reading-room and take his way down the Alte Wiese. He went directly back to his daughter, and reported Burnamy's behavior with entire exactness. He dwelt upon his making the best of a bad business in refusing to help Stoller out of it, dishonorably and mendaciously; but he did not conceal that it was a bad business.
"Now, you know all about it," he said at the end, "and I leave the whole thing to you. If you prefer, you can see Mrs. March. I don't know but I'd rather you'd satisfy yourself—"
"I will not see Mrs. March. Do you think I would go back of you in that way? I am satisfied now."
Instead of Burnamy, Mrs. Adding and her son now breakfasted with the Marches at the Posthof, and the boy was with March throughout the day a good deal. He rectified his impressions of life in Carlsbad by March's greater wisdom and experience, and did his best to anticipate his opinions and conform to his conclusions. This was not easy, for sometimes he could not conceal from himself, that March's opinions were whimsical, and his conclusions fantastic; and he could not always conceal from March that he was matching them with Kenby's on some points, and suffering from their divergence. He came to join the sage in his early visit to the springs, and they walked up and down talking; and they went off together on long strolls in which Rose was proud to bear him company. He was patient of the absences from which he was often answered, and he learned to distinguish between the earnest and the irony of which March's replies seemed to be mixed. He examined him upon many features of German civilization, but chiefly upon the treatment of women in it; and upon this his philosopher was less satisfactory than he could have wished him to be. He tried to excuse his trifling as an escape from the painful stress of questions which he found so afflicting himself; but in the matter of the woman-and-dog teams, this was not easy. March owned that the notion of their being yokemates was shocking; but he urged that it was a stage of evolution, and a distinct advance upon the time when women dragged the carts without the help of the dogs; and that the time might not be far distant when the dogs would drag the carts without the help of the women.
Rose surmised a joke, and he tried to enjoy it, but inwardly he was troubled by his friend's apparent acceptance of unjust things on their picturesque side. Once as they were sauntering homeward by the brink of the turbid Eger, they came to a man lying on the grass with a pipe in his mouth, and lazily watching from under his fallen lids the cows grazing by the river-side, while in a field of scraggy wheat a file of women were reaping a belated harvest with sickles, bending wearily over to clutch the stems together and cut them with their hooked blades. "Ah, delightful!" March took off his hat as if to salute the pleasant sight.
"But don't you think, Mr. March," the boy ventured, "that the man had better be cutting the wheat, and letting the women watch the cows?"
"Well, I don't know. There are more of them; and he wouldn't be half so graceful as they are, with that flow of their garments, and the sway of their aching backs." The boy smiled sadly, and March put his hand on his shoulder as they walked on. "You find a lot of things in Europe that need putting right, don't you, Rose?"
"Yes; I know it's silly."
"Well, I'm not sure. But I'm afraid it's useless. You see, these old customs go such a way back, and are so grounded in conditions. We think they might be changed, if those who rule could be got to see how cruel and ugly they are; but probably they couldn't. I'm afraid that the Emperor of Austria himself couldn't change them, in his sovereign plenitude of power. The Emperor is only an old custom too, and he's as much grounded in the conditions as any." This was the serious way Rose felt that March ought always to talk; and he was too much grieved to laugh when he went on. "The women have so much of the hard work to do, over here, because the emperors need the men for their armies. They couldn't let their men cut wheat unless it was for their officers' horses, in the field of some peasant whom it would ruin."
If Mrs. March was by she would not allow him to work these paradoxes for the boy's confusion. She said the child adored him, and it was a sacrilege to play with his veneration. She always interfered to save him, but with so little logic though so much justice that Rose suffered a humiliation from her championship, and was obliged from a sense of self- respect to side with the mocker. She understood this, and magnanimously urged it as another reason why her husband should not trifle with Rose's ideal of him; to make his mother laugh at him was wicked.