« AnteriorContinuar »
such a liberty could not be allowed a stranger. The most violent among them ran with sticks towards the spot, where he had been last seen.
Although they traversed half the hill of the chateau like bloodhounds, their expedition was fruitless. When they at length returned, they had met nobody, except some girls, who were going to gather wood, and Prince Leopold, who was taking his customary walk with his two wolf dogs along the brow of the hill to the Swiss chalet.
Anger, which has no object, does not endure long : in half an hour afterwards there was no one on the whole meadow who thought seriously of the matter, except myself, for the clergyman's rage had rendered him blind. I took care not to breathe a syllable, although I had clearly seen that the masquer whispered a word to the girl and placed a hand round her waist, which was very white and thin. Besides, she had kissed him heartily in return, which she would not have done to a perfect stranger.
It seemed to me that there was some love affair in progress, and as I liked the girl, I wished to know whether there were anything reasonable in it.
The pastor was thundering away, for he considered it a mere excuse on the part of the lads, that they tried to throw the blame on a stranger. He had at last found the bailiff in the crowd, and while telling his wrongs, sawed his hands about, so that he was forced to let go of the girl.
I therefore walked up to her and looked sharply at her. She did not, however, let her eyes fall, but only smiled, and carelessly plucked a wreath of Aowers, which the peasant girls had hung over her arm.
“Take care of your wreath, Sophie, lest it fade,” I said, half seriously, half laughingly.
“ Flowers are made to fade,” she replied.
“Yes, yes ; but at the right season and in the right place," I said. “I saw it all, and do not think much good will come of it.”
She turned pale and red, looked timidly round to her father, and made me a sign with her hand, as if she begged me in Heaven's name to be silent.
If she had had a sensible father, I should not have been silent. But there is no talking to a fool, who, through his vanity, will not listen to the truth ; consequently I let matters rest, and only whispered in her ear :
“ Take good advice from an old friend, and let it drop.”
These were the last words I spoke with her alone. It is true she helped my wife in packing; but then there were always others about, and I am not one of those who like to say too much in such love affairs. For through such behaviour, a poor creature, when her heart is once gone, only becomes more confused, and throws herself head foremost into the danger, be it only to know at least what it is, for which she is so constantly chided and upbraided.
The following summer and winter I sat in clover at the pheasantry, for my income was greatly improved, and I had very little to do. The reigning prince was too lazy to shoot much, and Prince Leopold, who usually kept all the foresters on the trot, had been away since the previous October with the army, and afterwards, when the troops were recalled,
had visited several courts in a diplomatic capacity. The real reason for his absence, however, was that he did not care to be with his evil genius, our gracious princess, as long as he had a valid excuse. Yes, it was even said that he did not intend to return at all, and desired a separation ; but those at all versed in court matters did not believe it, more especially as the princess was again in the expectation of becoming a mother.
The winter had therefore seemed very long to me, the more so, as we did not have any real winter weather. Warm and cold, rain and snow, varied every hour, and at last, in March, an after winter fell upon us, which caused great injury to the woods and the crops.
Thus it came that I sat a good deal at home, and made up my books, or studied the paper, which several of us took in together. I was pleased with myself, for by degrees I became a decent politician, and could form my own ideas, and even explain how affairs would end.
Saturday was always the principal day in the week, for, in the evening, the woman brought the papers, and my wife would then come into the room with the packet and the light at the same time.
The last day of March, 1793, was also a Saturday. I had got my pipe all in readiness, the light was placed in the room, but no messenger arrived. In truth there was such a storm without, that I would not have driven a dog out into it; and though I longed for the newspaper, I was reasonable enough to content myself with spelling over the old ones.
My wife was in the back buildings, attending to a sick child of the keeper, and I had already sleep in my eyes, when the dogs began barking, and the newspaper woman, as I thought, knocked at the door. I sprang up, seized the light, and hurried down stairs to draw back the bolt.
“ Make haste and come in out of the witches' weather," I cried to the woman, as she seemed to hesitate ; “the dogs are chained up, and will not hurt you when I am by, stupid thing!” I stretched my hand out into the darkness, and drew her in by the arns, while closing the door with my foot.
An angler, however, would not be more terrified if he were to pull out a snake when fishing for a carp than I was when, instead of the messenger, I saw Sophie before me, though hardly to be recognised, for her hair and clothes were dripping wet, and she trembled from cold and terror.
Oh, Herr Dietrich, do not spurn me. I will tell you all. I am not wicked!” she exclaimed, and tried to throw herself at my feet.
I raised her, however, and soon perceived what was the matter. The affair did not appear to me quite right; for I do not like to enter a stream without first knowing how deep it is; and though I had served great gentlemen faithfully all my life, yet I never had voluntarily plucked cherries with them, or known any of their secrets.
Yet what could I do, when the unhappy creature was already standing on my threshold? I said, therefore, as I raised her on her feet again, “ You must first get calm and dry, Sophie, and do not play any stage tricks; they will be of no use here."
I took her by the arm, led her into the room, and after drawing my arm-chair to the stove, placed her in it. Her eyes were almost closed, although she did her utmost to look me in the face, and read my thoughts.
She looked so unhappy that the tears even filled my eyes ; I felt so sorry for the bundle of misery before me. I therefore consoled her a little, and looked her kindly in the face. « Only keep your head above water. Many a thing seems worse than it really is, and you know that I am your friend, and one of those who say the best of past matters, as that is the only way of deriving any benefit from them. Only calm yourself first."
She tried to smile, but, instead of it, broke out again into a torrent of tears. I am no great hand at such things, so I said, “ Yes, have your cry out first; in the mean while I will fetch my wife, that she may get you a basin of soup and a bed ready.”
With these words I quitted the room, and did not let myself be seen again all that night. For in such a case two women will sooner come to an understanding when the husband is away; and I was well aware what a kind, compassionate heart your mother possessed.
We gave the poor girl the upper room, and let her rest for a couple of days; for when a horse is determined to bolt, whistling and flogging are of no avail ; afterwards they are of service.
In this we were both agreed; but I should not like to have to pass such a time again, for your mother's eyes were red with crying the whole day, and she complained bitterly of the misfortune that Sophie should be so handsome.
At length, however, a bright spring day arrived : there was plenty of snow still lying, it is true, in the drains and among the rocks ; but the sun shone, and the birds were tuning their throats on the bare branches, all along the sandy road which passes by the pheasantry.
I called the girl and requested her to take a walk with me : she was soon ready, although at first frightened, for she knew the time was come for her to confess.
I did not beat about the bush long : but when we had walked some distance up the allée, I said :
“We should not fancy, on looking at the leafless trees all round, that within a few weeks they will be green once more! In the same way, you now imagine that you are the most unhappy being in the world ; yet, within a year and a day you will laugh and be merry again. Be only sincere, that I may know how to help you, and tell me, before all, who your lover is.”
She seized me impetuously by the hand, then stopped, and said :
“My misfortune is that I cannot forget, either in evil or good estate. Yes, if you had been still living in Wurzach, I should perhaps have been able to speak, and things might have been different; but now it is all over. I know that I cannot die immediately; but my heart does not beat for any one, save him; and the light of my life is extinguished.”
“ You must not evade my question, Sophie, but tell me who your lover is, for that is the main thing," I said.
“ You must not be angry, Herr Dietrich, because this name cannot pass my lips. If I had wished to betray him three months back, they had not dared to trample on me. But my secret has now been dearly bought with suffering. I dare only reveal it to you, if you will give me
a sacred promise not to speak with any one about it, not even with my dear husband. He has enough to endure already; and my sufferings would not be alleviated were I to throw half the burden upon him."
The girl's determination for silence was, however, more powerful than her good-will, to speak candidly with me. She ceased, and then said, 6 I cannot !"
“ Well, then, I will help you," I replied, “for the ice must be broken sooner or later. Your lover is the illustrious prince. And now tell me how he formed your acquaintance.”
She looked at me again and again with astonishment. Then she began, hurriedly and monotonously, like a child repeating its hymn when the teacher has helped it to remember the first word:
6 When I was at my sister's, at the Sharffeneck farm. Our kitchengarden joined the park, and when I walked up and down there last year, in the first spring sunshine, with my knitting in my hands, I saw him wandering about mournfully in the park. My brother-in-law had told me how unhappy their life was in the chateau, and I could not understand it. He could not have had a single friend, except his great dogs, which gambolled about him with such glee, that, at times, he raised his weary eyes and looked at them.
“I was so sorry for him, that tears filled my eyes the first time he spoke to me over the wall, about indifferent matters. He asked me why I was crying, and I told him, "for his sake.' And when he came again and again, and at last confessed to me that I could render him happy, I believed him. Then I heard all his sufferings, and I saw nothing wrong in my conduct, for I am free and he is free, while such a wife has no claim upon him in the sight of God.”
“H’m, h’m !" I said, but she would not be disturbed.
“It was he, too, who kissed me at the festival, and he met me each evening in the wood till he was obliged to go to the wars.
“Then I was all alone, and I became frightened. I told my mother my fears just before Christmas, but did not say a word about my dear husband, and my mother told father, and father my brothers-in-law, and they held a council.
The next evening, when it had grown dark, my father took me by the hand and led me into his study. He wished to know for the last time who my lover was, but I was silent. Then he gave me my bundle, and two crowns wrapped up in paper, opened the house door, and thrust me out, saying, I have no daughter, remember that, and if you are not quite lost to shame, you will change your name and bury your disgrace in obscurity.'”
“ The barbarian !" I exclaimed.
“Oh! I did not cry," she continued, “and went down the village into the fields. When I came to the trough my brother suddenly stood before me, and fell upon my neck.
"I will remain by you,' he consoled me, “if the others are unmerciful, and will take care that you do not starve.""
« What ?" I cried, in amazement. "Stupid Fritz-if I had known that he had such a heart in his body I would not have refused to take him as apprentice when your father asked me—now I am really sorry for it."
“I had the same opinion as yourself of the boy, for he was reckoned the fool of the family, because nothing could be made of him, for he can do nothing but write well and play the piano, and no two ideas fitted together in his head, although they were all excellent separately. But on this night I believed all he said, and found it perfectly correct.
“He must have been thinking about it a long while, for he brought me father's fur gloves, a lantern, and a shawl from my mother, and said, when I began weeping bitterly and wished to send him back : • You need only be calm; if we go along the footpath, over the Landenberg, we shall cross the frontier in three hours. There is a post-house close by, where we will pass the night, and to-morrow we will go to Hohenburg. That is a large town, where no one will notice us; and besides, our organist, who taught me the piano, is much respected there, and first teacher at the girls' school. He will procure me pupils and papers to copy, for he is the only person who loves me. You can sew and knit, and so we shall manage. I am tired of our family, and will not be looked upon always as a useless bread-eater. When a fellow is seventeen years old, like me, he is no longer a child.
“ I derived hope when I heard him speak thus ; and all turned out as he anticipated. After the first few weeks we had no occasion to starve in Hohenburg ; day after day passed away; the prince would soon return to help us.
“My father, however, must have been making inquiries about us. Two days before I came to you the police entered our room and dragged my brother off, to send him home as a runaway apprentice; but they told me that I must leave the town within twelve hours, or I should be sent to the house of correction.” “Cross and lightning !" I exclaimed, “could your father be such
m an? But so it is, the pietists behave the worst, for they are barbarous for the sake of Heaven!”
“ Then I did not know," Sophie said, as she began to weep, “ what I should do, except come to you, Herr Dietrich, for you told me formerly that you were my sincere friend."
“Yes! and your family shall not torment you any more," I answered, and passed my hand over her black, glossy locks. “I have, God be thanked, food enough in the house, and courage enough beneath my coat. I only beg you, when the prince returns, to leave me alto. gether out of the affair. It cannot be long first, for I read in the paper that he would reach the Residence by the 1st of May. You must mind and not go too far away from the house ; and it will be better for you to live in the pavilion. Besides, when I go to town to-day to deliver the game, I will buy you a thick veil, so that no one can recognise you, if they meet you by accident.”
Her face grew quite bright when she heard of the prince's speedy arrival, and from that time she employed herself all through April diligently in sewing and reading, did not weep so much, and her cheeks again became smooth and blooming. The only thing I had to complain about was, that busy with her thoughts, she would wander further into the wood than I liked, for the devil might play some trick. There was something on her mind which drove her out, although she wished to obey me; and at last I said no more about it, for in other respects she was