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Title: At the Ghost Hour - The House of the Unbelieving Thomas
Author: Heyse, Paul, 1830-1914
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Notes:
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      are not indicated in this text version.



                           At the Ghost Hour

                            The House of the
                              UNBELIEVING
                                 THOMAS


                     TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN OF
                               PAUL HEYSE
                                   BY
                        FRANCIS A. VAN SANTFORD


                          WITH DECORATIONS BY
                             ALICE C. MORSE



                                NEW YORK
                          DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
                               MDCCCXCIV



                          Copyright, 1894, by
                         DODD, MEAD & COMPANY.



                  THE HOUSE OF THE UNBELIEVING THOMAS


In a provincial town of northern Germany there is a street in which the
ancient, high-gabled houses bear, inscribed in Gothic letters, upon the
lintels of their doors or upon little sandstone tablets, such honorable
or fanciful names as "The Good Shepherd," "Noah's Dove," "The Palms of
Peace," "The Rose of Sharon," and underneath, the date of their
erection.

In former days this street had been one of the main arteries of the
city, whose staid, orthodox inhabitants coveted inward spiritual
illumination rather than the light and air which penetrate from
without. Since then new generations had arisen, fired with the spirit
of aggressive enlightenment, and the importance of these old families,
content with the stray sunbeams that made their way over the tall
roofs, had declined perceptibly. One by one, they had died off behind
their "Palms of Peace" and their "Roses of Sharon," and had made way
for the bustling children of the new era, whose light and cheerful
dwellings sprang up around the dingy old street.

From one of the houses, which had grown almost black under the storms
of three centuries, the street had received its name. Upon a block
of stone above the wide entrance there were cut, in letters so
weather-worn as to be scarcely legible, these words: "The Unbelieving
Thomas, 1534." From this, the street had been christened Thomas Lane--a
title which it still bears, though, only in official documents and on
the map of the city. In common parlance it had been known for more than
fifty years as "Ghosts' Lane"--again because of that same ancient
building which was responsible for its correct name. For every one knew
that the house of "The Unbelieving Thomas" was haunted; and even the
most cold-blooded free-thinkers of the town could not escape a slight
shiver when business forced them to tread the neglected pavement of
this street.

Why this old three-storied structure, so firm despite its great age,
had been inhabited all these years only by poor unabsolved souls, no
one could tell. With one man who had had the hardihood to purchase the
house, things had turned out badly enough. A Jew, to whom the great,
empty rooms seemed suitable for a warehouse, had been established there
less than two years, when one morning he was found with a bit of silk
stuff twisted about his neck, hanging from the crosspiece of a window
in the largest room. And it subsequently became evident that Fortune
had turned her back upon this man, once prosperous and well-to-do, and
there was nothing for him but to steal out of the world and leave his
accumulation of debts behind him.

Nothing save the house itself and its dusty furnishings remained to the
creditors; and as no purchaser appeared, they were forced to vent their
chagrin in fierce glances at the gray, weather-beaten sign over the
door, upon which, in huge black lettering, was the name of the firm:
"Commission and Dispatch House of Moritz Feigenbaum."

Now, although the whole house was so securely bolted and barred that it
would have been impossible for a thief to carry anything out of it, the
court deemed it necessary to provide for some oversight of the place,
so that no lovers of darkness, counterfeiters or bands of dynamiters
should take refuge there. Fortunately, there happened to be a poor
cobbler, whose little house had been destroyed by a flood, and who
declared himself willing to undertake the duties of janitor. This
valiant person--Wenzel Kospoth by name, an emigrant from Bohemia--took
possession of the porter's room by the entrance without further delay,
regarding this free shelter as a sufficient recompense for his
services, which were simple enough. He had to open the great, black,
outer door each morning, and to close it again at night; and now and
then he took a survey of the three stories to see that no bulging wall
threatened the downfall of the whole. The entire day he was free to
devote to his small custom, which remained true to him, even in the
haunted house; although certain anxious good wives had scruples about
venturing across the threshold to get a pair of defective boots mended
in this unwholesome atmosphere.

For, in fact, honest Wenzel Kospoth, with his bony, grizzled face and
small, black eyes, deep-set under their bushy brows, did not seem quite
canny to his new neighbors, hardened though they were to the traditions
of the street.

As he took but little sleep, they could often see him, through the
window of the ground floor, squatted on his low stool, his lank arms,
in their shirt-sleeves, braced upon his knees, and lying open on his
leather apron a large, old-time book, in which he would read
industriously until long after midnight, by the light of his little
lamp. It was only an old Bohemian Bible, which he could now understand
with difficulty, for he had crossed the German border when only a lad.
Those who spied upon him, however, regarded the copper-bound volume as
a book of magic, and believed nothing less than that this singular
stranger with the foreign name had taken the post of janitor in the
haunted house that he might conduct there, undisturbed, his magical
intercourse with evil spirits.

Wenzel Kospoth, when told of this report, laughed in his gray beard,
and muttered something in Bohemian, which might have meant either yes
or no. In his inmost soul he had a contempt for the stupid Germans, and
fancied that this very Bible reading made him greatly their superior;
so that, far from dispelling their superstitions, he seized upon an
accidental opportunity to strengthen them.

An old acquaintance of his whom he had met in his Sunday walks to a
neighboring village had come to want through no fault of her own. She
was a little woman of about forty, who, though brought up in town, had,
when quite young, married a peasant's son--a drunkard, as it proved. He
had squandered all her small savings, and dying suddenly, had left her
with a six-year-old child. As she was clever at sewing, the young widow
earned many a pretty groschen as village tailoress. But, unfortunately,
her good heart led her to apply her skill not only to the needs of the
outer, but to those of the inner man as well, and to dispose of her
little store of recipes for all possible ailments in return for a
trifling compensation. In this way she soon gained considerable
patronage and, at the same time, with several of the more narrow-minded
villagers, the reputation of being mistress of the black art. And when
her little daughter had blossomed into a trim young maiden, with
sparkling black eyes and waving yellow braids, who turned the heads of
the village lads as she walked with her mother to church, on Sundays
and feast days, the two came to be looked upon as a pair of
unmistakable witches by the spiteful old women of the village, and by
the younger ones whose sweethearts had become a trifle less devoted.

The two innocent souls endured all this patiently until one day an
influential peasant in whose stalls several cows had suddenly died, at
the instigation of his wicked wife, burst into Frau Cordula's house,
and hurling a volley of reproaches upon her as the author of his
misfortune, delivered her such a heavy blow with his fist that from
that day she was a cripple and could only move about with difficulty
upon tottering feet.

The base miscreant departed triumphant; but his deed was the beginning
of a series of tribulations--the fruit of woman's hate and envy--until
the poor woman realized that she must seek safety behind the walls of a
town if she would not endanger her own life and that of her child among
these superstitious people.

She had only one acquaintance in the town, Wenzel Kospoth; and to him
she sent letter asking whether he knew of some small lodging where she
and her daughter could find a refuge and earn their bite of bread
hidden from curious eyes.

Now, behind the haunted house was a gloomy little court in which stood
a low stable, unused since the horses of Moritz Feigenbaum were sold.
Above the stable the coachman and errand boy had lived in two large,
low rooms, with a windowless loft adjoining, where hay and oats had
been stored. A coach-house shut in the remainder of the court, in the
centre of which a chestnut-tree, long dead, lifted its dark, leafless
branches, where a flock of tumultuous sparrows bustled noisily all the
day long.

These quarters were not calculated to allure tenants who were partial
to light and air; and even the poor and unhoused would not risk an
encounter with the ghost of the last inmate. So the mice held their
revels undisturbed and feasted royally upon the oats in the granary.

But the cobbler when he had received Frau Cordula's message thought at
once how excellently these lodgings were adapted for his friend. His
request to the authorities that two shelterless women, for whose
character he could vouch, be allowed to occupy the lodgings in the
court at a trifling rental was granted; and one morning he set out for
the village to assist the mother and daughter in their removal.

The two poor persecuted souls were glad to avail themselves of the
refuge under Wenzel Kospoth's roof, despite its unsavory reputation. A
wagon was loaded with their bedding and furniture. Upon a chest sat
Frau Cordula, Gundula hovered near her, while the dark-looking
Bohemian, who drove the horses himself, cracked his whip so vigorously
that the assembled village population, which would have accompanied the
exodus of the witch by caterwaulings, dared give rent to no more
disrespectful noises than a few whistles.

Their entry into Thomas Lane was made quietly, though the report had
spread in the neighborhood that a witch from the country was about to
move into the haunted house. A crowd had assembled before the closed
entrance; but a look somewhat like disappointment passed over their
gaping faces when the young girl sprang down from the wagon and the
older woman, with Kospoth's help, descended carefully from her high
seat. They fancied the witch would have been older and more gruesome;
and Gundelchen, with her laughing eyes and yellow braids, under the
peasant's head-dress, excited almost a feeling of regret that the
peaceful sleep of these two women was to be disturbed by nocturnal
apparitions.

The girl's smile faded when she mounted the narrow stairs and cast her
first look around. Their cottage had been no fairy bower, it is true;
but the sunlight had shone into it, and green gardens and fields lay
all about it. When, however, she saw her little mother sink down with a
heavy sigh upon the dusty floor, she quickly recovered herself,
threw her arms about the poor woman and carried her to a bench near
the window where she could watch the sparrows in the top of the
chestnut-tree. Then she began to talk so cheerfully that the mother
took heart at last and only sighed softly now and then, as with tender
eyes she watched the child busied in arranging the furniture in their
new home.

By the next day the two rooms looked quite habitable. The young girl
had gone early to the market and bought two cheap pots of flowers; she
had brushed away the dust, had scrubbed the floors, and hung fresh
curtains at the square windows before it was time to make the soup upon
the little stove in the corner. When Wenzel Kospoth came in at noon to
ask how it fared with his fellow-tenants, his eyes opened wide with
astonishment to find everything so neat and comfortable. He must needs
stop for dinner, and found the frugal meal far more toothsome than the
food which a neighbor had been wont to serve him in his shop. So it
came about that the cobbler dined with them regularly, and the small
sum which he paid helped them with the rent.

That she could not hope for much custom in her new home, the sensible
woman knew well enough. She understood only peasant fashions; and for
her medicinal skill there was no demand. In her despondency, she almost
regretted that she had availed herself of Master Kospoth's offer. But
here Gundula came to her mother's rescue. She had inherited her
cleverness in womanly handiwork; and she soon apprenticed herself to a
dressmaker, under whom she took great pains to learn the city fashions.
She showed herself so quick and skillful that after a few months she
was employed in the houses of well-to-do families.

In time, many a piece of work was entrusted to her to finish. These she
took home to her mother, who became once more cheerful, now that her
hands were no longer idle; and when, at the end of the year, she could
count a pretty little sum laid by in her stocking, she forgave the
stupid peasants whose persecutions had made her life so wretched.

Yet even here, in the city, the reputation of holding converse with
evil spirits clung to her; and inquisitive school-boys, who had once,
goaded by insatiable curiosity, ventured through the doorway as far as
the entrance to the court, pointed to the four small windows above the
stable, with childish awe, and whispered in each other's ears all
manner of goblin-tales of the Blockenberg and the Devil's dances. The
most impudent among them finally took courage, called with a loud, but
trembling voice: "Old witch! Old witch!" in the quiet court, and threw
a stone against the stable-door; whereupon the whole troop scattered in
a hasty flight, while even the sparrows, terrified by the unwonted
clamor, flew out from the dry branches of the chestnut with shrill
cries.

That the witch remained invisible, added not a little to the
superstitious dread in which she was held. Her child, however, was
regarded by the neighbors with mingled sympathy and admiration. They
could not understand how she kept her red cheeks and laughing eyes amid
such depressing surroundings; they must say, that any one who had at
his baptism renounced the devil and all his works, could hardly bring
himself to marry a girl out of this haunted house. Yet they watched the
graceful little figure as long as they could see her hat-ribbon wave in
the wind, and her short skirt blow about her trim ankles.

So far, all seemed orderly and natural in the house of "The Unbelieving
Thomas," and the report of ghostly rendezvous there seemed ill-founded.
But the narrator of this true story is now, at last, forced to the
confession that, in the closest proximity to these two innocent beings,
there was installed a ghost, pure and simple, of whose presence neither
the occupants of the house nor the dwellers in that street had the
slightest intimation.

It is averred that the souls of the dead, when they leave their bodies,
do not pass directly to heaven or hell; but, according to the Romish
belief, into purgatory, there to await the day of judgment and the
resurrection of the body; or, according to the Protestant confession,
into an intermediate state, where they bide in a condition of uncertain
expectancy, like that of earthly travelers in a way station. In this
supernal region there prevails a certain monotony of existence
unrelieved even by the arrival of newly-released souls who, for the
most part, bear upon their pallid features the sorrowful trace of a
reluctant parting.

It is true that spirits of the higher order, those who while yet upon
earth were raised above the sordid misery of life, and who viewed all
occurrences in the light of eternity, soon find their way about in the
gray twilight of this aerial realm, and enjoy meeting a kindred soul
now and then among the noiseless throng of disembodied spirits, and
holding converse with those whom they had come to revere for their
virtuous deeds during their earthly life. So that here, where perfect
equality and universal brotherhood are generally supposed to hold sway,
there is a line of distinction between the great and small, to which no
one offers the least objection. For, as no outward advantage is
attached to the greater prestige which the nobler souls enjoy, no one
finds cause for envy in the exalted intercourse with which, their hours
are filled; while the great majority long ardently for the coarser
pleasures of their past life.

In this painless intermediate state, the more worthy or distinguished
souls are pursued by only one annoyance, namely, the ever-increasing
curiosity of those yet living upon earth, who delight to summon the
spirits of great kings, sages and artists to compulsory interviews.
This disgraceful amusement has been the fashion at intervals from time
immemorial, as when, for example, the Witch of Endor summoned the
spirit of the high priest Samuel to appear before Saul. But, in our own
day, the inquisitive practice of drawing the veil from the mysteries of
the other world has spread through a very wide circle, and no name,
sounded down from past centuries, is too venerable for its owner to be
assailed with questions through the medium of some tipping-table or
hysterical young woman; or even to be constrained to appear personally
in the transparent guise of his so-called astral body.

The aristocracy of the intermediate kingdom, after they had borne with
this presumption for some time, at last bethought themselves of an
innocent expedient which would secure them from further intrusion. They
made inquiry among the ghostly masses whether there were any who would
be willing to serve as their representatives in case of such demands,
and to answer impertinent questions as seemed to them proper.

Now, as many of those who in life had known only selfish pleasures were
already so wearied of this spiritual existence that they were ready to
jump out of their skin (if they had had a skin), nothing could be more
welcome than this proposition to mingle once more in mundane affairs,
and to amuse themselves for a few hours with the fashionable play of
question and answer.

That they had scant knowledge of the affairs of their famous associates
disturbed them as little as it did those whom they were to represent.
For it soon became evident that the questioners at tapping-tables and
dark seances were in nowise offended by foolish answers, and received
the most palpable nonsense which was whispered to them in the
communications of spirits as profound, superhuman wisdom, which they
interpreted according to their wishes. It is easy to pipe for him who
loves to dance; and he who is determined to hold converse with Julius
Cæsar, Plato or Beethoven, will hear, in the stammering utterances of
some cartman with whom he has in some mysterious way put himself _en
rapport_, words of the sublimest import.

Several years ago, the town in which the scene of this story is laid
was attacked with the fever of spiritualism. At first, people were
content to move tables and produce rappings, but by degrees they grew
ambitious for a more exalted mode of spiritual intercourse; and two
mediums, with their hypnotic subjects, made their entry into town, so
that hardly a night passed without some ghostly doings--and that, too,
in the homes of the best and most cultured families.

To satisfy the increasing demand, it was decided to establish two of
the more robust spirits permanently in town, that they might be ready
at the lightest summons. Two candidates offered themselves at once for
the post--one, the spirit of a traveling wine-seller, the other, the
soul of a house-servant, who, it chanced, had been employed by the
burgomaster of the town, and thus was especially conversant with the
affairs of the inhabitants.

This somewhat dissimilar pair seemed qualified to meet all
requirements, and one fine evening they sallied forth. Johann Gruber,
the servant, proposed that they take up their quarters in the house of
"The Unbelieving Thomas;" for even spirits of coarser mould, becoming
accustomed to the stillness of the other world, avoid noisy districts
in this.

No more quiet sleeping-place for two sensitive shadows could be found
than the lofty, dark coach-house adjoining the stable. The door opening
on the court was always ajar, but the dusty floor was never trodden by
human foot. An ancient calash stood in the farthest corner, its
leathern portions so gnawed away by the rats that it had wasted into
the mere skeleton of a carriage.

As soon as Heinrich Müller, the quondam mercantile traveler, beheld
this ruin, he declared his wish to become its exclusive possessor. With
a soft sigh, evoked by the recollection of his former merry
journeyings, he stretched his ethereal form comfortably upon the
cushions, from which the leather covering and horsehair had been eaten
away, leaving the quills of the feathers sticking through--a
circumstance which, unpleasant as it might have proved to an occupant
with flesh and bones, in nowise impaired the comfort of this spiritual
essence.

Johann Gruber, who in his lifetime had traveled much with his master,
found a large chest in another corner, the like of those he had so
often packed, and made himself comfortable therein; for upon this first
night no seance was in progress.

They soon found that their post was far from easy. Each had his
hands full of work. Here, he had to slip into some table and answer
the oddest questions; there, he must respond to some crafty or
self-deceived medium, or if it were desired, materialize--as the
technical term is--and personate this or that well-known individual to
gratify the pious curiosity of his surviving friends.

These nightly labors were so fatiguing to both that when they returned
to their quarters, and without waiting even to exchange "good-night,"
slipped into their corners to sleep, they wished themselves back in the
state they had left. Indeed, they would probably have renounced the
service after a few weeks, had not the arrival of Frau Cordula and her
daughter altered the condition of affairs.

From the first, the wine-seller conceived so violent an attachment for
the fair, slender girl, that the thought of leaving her for the
loveless world of spirit was not to be tolerated. In his lifetime he
had been known as a ladies' man; and although he had exchanged his
carnal nature for a spiritual existence, he, like all poor souls who
hover over the spot where in life they have buried their treasure,
could not leave this child of earth, unresponsive though she must ever
be to his affection.

It happened, too, that Johann Gruber, passing one day by accident
through a retired street, met an old flame, in the person of the cook
who had served in the house of his master. As comely as ever, she
formed a new bond to connect him with this earthly sphere. From that
day he ceased to chaff his infatuated colleague. Instead of ridicule, a
fine ear could now have heard for many a night a duet of tender sighs
resounding from the walls of the dark coach-house, and accompanied by
the rustling and scrambling of the little mice.

This state of affairs had continued for nearly a year when, one
moonlight night, the spirit of Johann Gruber turned homeward from a
tiresome day's work. Sleepy though he was, he took a roundabout way,
past a certain house, on the ground floor of which his early love had
opened a tap-room. Possibly he was further attracted by the winey
fragrance which had, in his lifetime exerted a powerful influence over
him. He raised himself to a level with the window, the upper sash of
which was open, and perching himself upon the crosspiece, took a survey
of the room. A stout woman sat behind the bar, and nodded over her
knitting, from which she occasionally drew a needle and scratched her
frowsy head, yawning the while and rubbing her small, watery eyes.

A little girl was sleeping upon a stool by the stove. Several workmen
in their shirt-sleeves sat at a table playing cards. When any of them
trumped an ace, they rapped with their knuckles and the little one
sighed in her sleep.

The gallant ghost could not suppress a sigh as he reflected how fine it
would be if he were still living, and as landlord and husband could
scold the stout woman, and send the little Lisa early to bed. But fate
had decreed otherwise, and he descended from his lofty seat and flitted
homeward through the deserted streets to the haunted house.

Arrived at the gateway he peeped in a moment through the window of the
porter's room. There sat Wenzel Kospoth, still bending over his folio.
The glow from the lamp silvered his gray head; but his small eyes were
closed, so that it was uncertain whether he were napping, or sunk in
deep thought. Johann Gruber shrugged his shoulders. He could not endure
the valiant old man, because other people regarded him as a magician,
and he calmly acquiesced; whereas Johann knew that this attributed
power over the spirits of hell was clearly a swindle. His colleague,
too, disliked the cobbler, and sometimes threatened to do him harm,
indebted though they were to him for their unlighted quarters.

The night wanderer now sought the crevice in the old house-door through
which he was accustomed to slip in. But to-night, finding an obstacle,
he noticed, for the first, that he was still in the materialized
condition in which he had been forced to show himself at the medium's
command. Instantly he stripped the garment from his shoulders, like a
paletot, saw it dissolve in thin air, and glided unimpeded through the
door and across the court.

"Good evening, Herr Müller!" said he, in a whisper. "Have you turned in
already? Much work to-day?"

Out of the calash in the corner came back a faint echo, which trembled
as from inward vexation.

"How often must I tell you, stupid, to go to bed quietly and not
disturb well-bred people in their first sleep? You smell of bad liquor
again. Have the goodness to keep away from me and creep into your
chest!"

"Oho!" snarled the other, approaching his irate companion and settling
himself upon a shaft of the carriage. "The deuce take your fine
manners! You are no better than I--Spirit is Spirit, and you are on the
wrong track when you accuse me of drinking. You know very well we can
no longer pour down a draught behind our cravats, for we have no
cravats. No, Herr Müller, what you smell is the pure, soul fragrance.
Your own is not exactly like violets, either. Why should it be, if it
savors of the deeds done in your lifetime? You understand? Take care
you don't go too far; for if it should come to blows--I have been a
match for more than one when I was at service at the inn of The Three
Lilies, and with such a fellow as you--"

"Be still, will you!" commanded the voice from the calash, rather
faintly. "You know I meant no harm; it is only because I am so wretched
in this dog's life of a professional ghost, and besides that, this
confounded love affair, and no rest at night--"

"Yes, indeed, I can well believe it!" sighed the other, easily
pacified. "You are even worse off than I, and not so much as a kiss
will all this bring you. It would be a good thing if you would put the
girl out of your mind. It's all nonsense, anyway."

A heavy sigh came from the black depths of the wagon frame.

"That you don't understand, I observe. When this maiden, decked with
all heavenly charms, crosses my path, I am like a poor moth that cannot
keep away from the lamp, although it does not go near it with the exact
intention of burning its wings. I often think the priests' invention is
not the real hell--as indeed we know; the true one is the suffering
which we incur by our earthly sins. More than one little goose of a
girl has cried her eyes out over me; a confoundedly handsome fellow I
was, with a pocketful of money. Then, out of sight was out of mind with
me; but now I am in for it. What I endure is heart-breaking. There is
no drinking to the oblivion of this soul-suffering."

He was silent, exhausted by this passionate outburst; and only a slight
whimper was audible from the corner. His sympathetic comrade had in the
meantime withdrawn to his chest. After a little, he said: "How
beautifully you express it all, Herr Müller! Just so it goes with my
Rieka. In my lifetime I laughed when I heard them talk of everlasting
love. But there is something in it, after all. Now, if your Gundelchen
and my Rieka should come to us up yonder, perhaps we might continue our
courting. Perhaps, upon the last day--well, we must wait. In the
meantime, good-night! pleasant dreams!"

From the carriage in the corner came no answer--only a soft, ghost-like
snore. Grief seemed at last to have left the poor sinners to their
rest.

But the sleep of the two much-enduring ghosts was to be broken in upon
in a strange way that night.

In a little cafe by the market place two good friends and
school-fellows were celebrating their _Wiedersehen_ with several
bottles of Rhine wine. The one, a dignified young man of
four-and-twenty, had just returned from a neighboring university, with
the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Before accepting the proffered
position of assistant in the office of a distinguished physician, he
contemplated a year of travel. Following the promptings of his heart,
he visited first his native town; though all ties of kindred there had
been broken by the death of his parents.

A youthful attachment, formed in his gymnasium days and continued
through his student years, despite many breaks and reconciliations, was
rumored to be on the point of becoming an engagement. But as yet no
word had been spoken; and, indeed, even an exchange of letters had been
interdicted by the stern father. The young man had thought of her less
than usual this past year, but had excused himself on the ground of
absorbing study. Of his old companions, only one, a civil engineer, had
settled in the town. This good comrade insisted upon sharing his
bachelor quarters with his friend during his stay. They met at the
station, the newly-fledged doctor arriving by an evening train; and
midnight found them still exchanging experiences at the café whither
they had gone for supper.

"You are awaited with impatience, Philip," said the engineer. "Papa
Stadtrath asked me yesterday whether you did not intend to display
yourself in the full splendor of your new honors to your native town. I
answered evasively. You ought not to accept engagements at once, but
devote the first two or three days to rest. For, listen! You are
looking pale and nervous; the fatigues of your examination show plainly
upon your face."

That he had judged correctly of his friend's condition became evident
as soon as they left the café. They had drank but lightly; yet,
directly the young doctor found himself in the open air, his head swam,
he grew unsteady on his feet and began to talk so boisterously,
swinging his walking-stick against the windows as they went along, that
his friend, fearing that Philip might meet some acquaintance and
introduce himself anew in this disgraceful fashion, took a roundabout
way home, through Ghost Lane, where they were sure of being unobserved.
Locking his arm in that of his friend, he piloted him along, keeping in
the shadow of the aristocratic houses, past the "Good Shepherd,"
"Noah's Dove," and the "Rose of Sharon," in which no sound was heard
and from whose grated windows no light shone forth.

They had just reached the house of "The Unbelieving Thomas," when the
riotous young man stood suddenly still, shook himself loose from his
friend by a violent gesture, and declared that he was ready to
challenge all the spooky spirits of the lane--which he now, for the
first time, recognized. He proposed to thrust them through with the
weapons of science till they were frightened back into the nebulous
nothingness whence only the baldest superstition had suffered them to
creep forth. This should be his first service to his native town,
which, to its own shame, had tolerated this relic of Egyptian darkness,
or worse, of Medievalism, here in its midst, at the end of the
nineteenth century.

He struck a defiant attitude on the sidewalk, while with one arm he
brandished his stick against possible ghostly opponents and with the
other he warded off his friend. In this way he lost his balance and
fell against the house, striking his head so forcibly upon the sharp
edge of the door-post that a large jet of blood spurted instantly from
the wounded temple.

In great consternation his friend attempted to raise him and staunch
the wound with his handkerchief, while he called loudly for help. In
this last effort he was finally successful, for the narrow window of
the porter's room, directly over their heads, was flung open. In a few
words the engineer explained to Wenzel Kospoth what had happened. When
the trusty Bohemian opened the door and saw the wound by the light of
his candle, he shook his head. It would be impossible to convey the
young man, bleeding thus profusely, to his home, without giving
occasion for much talk. There was no comfortable place for him in his
stuffy shop; but it happened that in the rear court lived a friend of
his who was skilled in such matters, and they would carry the gentleman
to her without arousing the neighborhood.

No sooner said than done. As they crossed the court with their heavy
burden, they saw a light shining out of Frau Cordula's windows, one of
which was opened in answer to the cobbler's call. But the voice which
inquired what was the matter was that of Gundula, who was still awake
and busied in finishing off some work for the morrow. Learning what
Samaritan service was required of them, she quickly appeared at the
door below, clasping her hands in terror as she saw the blood streaming
from the young man's forehead. The older woman, too, was not a little
disturbed when they laid her patient down before her; but retaining her
presence of mind, she directed her daughter to fetch her box of
remedies. Out of this she took the necessary articles; then, with fresh
water she cleansed the wound, which, fortunately, had not penetrated
the bone, pressed the jagged edges firmly together, and closed them
with a needle and thread, finishing by binding a soft bandage over the
forehead.

During these proceedings the patient had not once regained
consciousness, but lay bolstered up with two pillows on an old sofa in
the living-room. The woman hobbled about on her two crutches, and from
time to time applied cooling bandages to the heated brow.

She assured the two men there was no danger,--the wound would heal in a
few days. The friend saw that he was in fact superfluous; and
recognizing the skill of the good woman, he renounced his intention of
watching during the night, and with heartfelt thanks, withdrew with
Wenzel Kospoth.

Noiselessly as all this had taken place, yet the whispers and hurried
movements in the coachman's lodgings had not failed to reach the fine
ear of Herr Heinrich Müller, and to awaken him. In his dreams his
thoughts had been continually with Gundula, and he could not rest in
his calash, but must needs peep through the window and witness the
assiduity with which she attended the wounded man.

Johann Gruber, in his chest in the corner, would have had no inkling
of the adventure had not his ghostly companion returned to the
coach-house, when all was again still, and vented his jealous rage in
imprecations upon all the living. The hated Bohemian swindler he
accused of basely conniving to provide a settlement for the daughter of
his friend; and of tripping up the young man in front of his door that
the old witch might cure him, and her patient in turn, out of
gratitude, pay his court to the girl.

Johann Gruber listened to all this with the utmost tranquility, and
yawned so loudly that his colleague turned upon him, and after they had
quarreled and hurled bitter words at each other for a time, they fell
asleep again from sheer exhaustion.

Late in the morning the doctor awoke. When he unclosed his heavy
eyelids and found himself lying upon a strange, poor sort of couch, in
an unfamiliar room, he at first believed himself to be still dreaming.
How came he in this large, low room, so poorly furnished? On the wall
were two oil-chromos--a portrait of the Emperor and a spinach-green
landscape,--upon the corner closet stood a wig-block with flaming red
cheeks, and not far off was a peasant's chest, painted blue, with white
tulips! This surely could not be the bachelor lodgings of his friend!
And where was his friend? While he was puzzling himself about the
matter, he felt a dull heaviness in his head, and pain in his temples.
Mechanically he raised his hand to touch the aching spot, and to his
astonishment felt a bandage--at the same instant he heard a halting
step and the tapping of two crutches upon the bare, scoured floor, and
saw before him the little woman who, while he had slept, had been
sitting noiselessly at her work by the window. Now his eyes opened in
wonder and his full consciousness returned, while she told him how it
was he had claimed their hospitality on the preceding night.

He listened attentively to the good woman, but made no reply, passively
allowing her to remove the bandage and inspect the wound, which she
found satisfactory; whereupon he declared that he felt quite well, save
a slight dizziness and a great emptiness of the stomach, which would be
relieved by a proper breakfast. Mother Cordula brought him a glass of
water and hastened to her little stove to make him as good a cup of
coffee as she was able.

Meanwhile Philip sat upright among his pillows and asked all manner of
questions. A great sense of comfort stole over him in this poor room
behind the well-mended but snowy curtains, in the company of this
simple, sensible woman, whose features were shadowed by a gentle
seriousness.

And now the door opened and a young creature came in, stepping lightly
on her tiptoes, nodding to the older woman and throwing a passing
glance at the stranger.

"My daughter," said the mother, "the gentleman has just waked and would
like his breakfast. He is doing well, thank God! Have you brought
everything with you?"

The girl, still quite out of breath, assented, and put down her basket
upon a chair. Philip saw that it contained various market purchases
much more abundant than they would have provided for their own dinner
table. His attention, however, was soon diverted by the young girl, who
pleased him uncommonly well. She wore a plain brown dress that must
have seen long service; and, as its wearer had not yet done growing, it
had been pieced down, quite regardless of the fashion, though even now
the slender ankles showed beneath it. She had taken off her hat, a
black straw, trimmed with a knot of red, and her pretty face was framed
by an abundance of thick, brown braids, out of which a little forest of
curling locks had escaped over her neck. As she moved noiselessly to
and fro, assisting her mother, she avoided meeting the young man's
glance, and spoke softly, as though in the presence of a very sick
person, when she answered her mother's questions about her work.

But the most charming thing of all was the way the black eyes, always a
trifle downcast, would open suddenly, dart a swift glance around, which
seemed to break into lightning-like sparks and then suddenly drop their
long lashes again.

Twice only, when Philip directed some playful remark to her, did her
red lips break into a smile and a dimple appear in her cheek, showing
that behind that modest, almost childlike brow, was a roguish spirit
which was only repressed by the consciousness of her lowly position and
by considerations of good breeding.

When the mother and daughter sat down to their midday meal other
company appeared--first, Master Kospoth, their daily guest, then the
young engineer. Both were rejoiced to see such an improvement in the
patient; and the friend wished to procure a carriage and convey Philip
at once to his own lodgings.

Frau Cordula, however, insisted upon keeping him until the following
day. The wound, it is true, had begun to heal; but she herself must
renew the bandage several times, and she could not leave her room to
visit the patient.

No one was better pleased with this plan than the invalid himself. He
maintained that he had never slept better, nor drank better coffee.
When the men had gone, and Gundula also, he seated himself upon a
little stool by the window where her sewing machine stood, took up her
scissors, stuck her little thimble upon his finger, and plunged into a
cosy chat with the mother as she sat at the other window with her
sewing. He drew from her the story of her life; and the calm way in
which she spoke of her sad lot, the cruelty of her neighbors, and
recompense for those trials which she had found in her child, touched
the heart of her young listener, and awoke in him a feeling akin to
veneration. When at length Gundula came home in the evening, she
appeared less constrained, and ventured to ask if his wound hurt him,
or should she get some ice to cool the wrappings. To this he would not
consent, and his gallant protest evoked a slight flush upon her cheek.
When she wished to move her machine into the adjoining room lest its
noise disturb him, he would not allow this either, but moved a chair
near her, and watched her taper fingers and the delicate contour of her
face as she bent over her work. The mother, however, remarked that her
patient needed to go to sleep early, sent out the child, dressed the
wound freshly with salve, and withdrew to the back room.

Outside, in the court, a light shadow had been spying in at the window
for an hour past--the poor soul of Heinrich Müller, which was racked by
the torments of jealousy, and would not retreat until the young pair,
who evidently enjoyed themselves together, were parted once more.
That upon this evening, one of the best mediums pursued his vocation
without result and failed to call up a single spirit, had its
natural explanation in the infatuation which kept this self-declared
lady-killer of old a watcher at the window of our simple peasant maid.

The melancholy ghost felt no slight relief when upon the following
afternoon his lively rival took leave of his excellent nurse and her
daughter and departed for the home of his friend. But the joy was of
short duration; for the next evening, as soon as the darkness would
allow him to take his way unobserved to Ghost Lane, the young doctor
appeared at Frau Cordula's house to have his wound dressed. This time
the stitches were removed, and a plaster was applied over the cloth
with the healing balsam. He had brought a large cornucopia containing a
variety of fruits and confections, at which Gundelchen consented to
nibble, after much persuasion. She had now thawed completely, and
Philip thought he had never heard a prettier laugh from girlish lips
than that which greeted the recital of his student pranks. When, at
times, the conversation took a more serious turn, Gundelchen took part
shyly, asking any number of sensible questions.

And so it went on the following evenings. Sometimes the engineer came,
too, and in the lowly apartment there was such good cheer that they all
forgot the hour and had to be reminded by Master Kospoth that they must
not overstep the time for closing the great door.

It was not the young people alone who found these evening chats
enjoyable; it was good for Frau Cordula as well, to see a bit of life
around her once more, and to be able to converse with intelligent
people. Still, she could not disguise the fact that a strange
alteration had come upon her child; she went about abstractedly all
day, and only regained her old-time merriment in the evening to fall
again into a reverie when she was alone with her mother.

The wise woman was accordingly glad when one evening she could inform
her patient that the wound was almost healed, and that even the scar
would soon disappear if he continued to apply the ointment which she
gave him in a little jar. She would now take leave of him, as his
visits could hardly be concealed if continued much longer, and she
herself wished to avoid all gossip among her uncharitable neighbors.

The young man started, and Gundelchen grew as pale as death; but her
mother had such a decided way, that there was nothing for them but to
part sadly, after Philip had consumed a good five minutes in thanking
anew his deliverer, pressing her hand the while. The daughter lighted
him out to the head of the steep stairs. As he stood there a minute or
two in evident perplexity, wishing to say something, yet still silent,
he cast one quick glance at her standing beside him in all her charming
confusion, seized her hand and kissed it; then, as she drew back,
blushing deeply, and murmured, "But, Herr Doctor!" he threw his arm
hastily around her and printed a swift kiss upon her hot cheek,
whereupon he rushed down the narrow stairs, and, with a fast-beating
heart, strode homeward through the sultry night. Heinrich Müller had
fortunately been engaged at a _séance_ and had not witnessed this
scene. When, a couple of hours later, he looked in at Gundelchen's
window, he saw her with wide-open eyes, and a smile on her face,
dreaming--but of what he had no suspicion.

On the following day, a servant brought a large, firmly-locked box up
the stairs to the little house in the rear court. Gundula had just come
in to dinner, and Wenzel Kospoth, too, happened to be present when the
box was opened. Within it lay all manner of pretty finery for a young
girl, and a warm dress-pattern for an older woman. With it came a note
containing the request that they would kindly accept these trifles and
thus relieve the sender, in some slight degree, of the weight of
obligation which lay upon his heart.

In the lid lay a very modest little brooch. The girl had once
complained that she lost all her pins; now the hope was expressed that
this little clasp would hold more firmly, and that, at the same time,
it would secure the recollection of a true friend.

Wenzel Kospoth shook his gray head and muttered something about a
gallant young man who would do the generous thing. But Frau Cordula
directed the child to get pen and paper at once, and write down what
she should dictate, which was as follows:

She thanked the Herr Doctor many times for his kind intention to give
them pleasure; but she could on no account accept these costly
presents, as she must of necessity perform her medical services without
compensation, if she would not render herself liable to punishment on
the charge of unlawful practice. She would therefore return everything
at once, and remain the Herr Doctor's

            Respectful and devoted servant,

                       Cordula Ehrenberg.

When Philip received this message, which was brought him together with
the box by a boy from Ghost Lane, he was greatly crestfallen. He knew
the simple woman so well that he suffered himself to be deluded by no
doubts of her entire sincerity in thus declining all further
intercourse. And as he had to confess to himself that he could not
seriously think of making her child his wife, and was still less
inclined to play with her feelings, he finally concluded, with a deep
sigh, to lock fast the chamber of his heart, which was haunted by the
image of the witch's child, and to draw a cross over the whole
adventure.

At the same time he recalled to himself, for the first time, that he
was already half-engaged to another; and he took pains to fan anew the
flame of his youthful love, which, in this last week, had died down to
an almost imperceptible little spark.

The surest means to this end would be a visit to the house of the
Stadtraths. Yet, although he could now, with his scar concealed by a
narrow strip of plaster, appear once more as a smart young suitor, he
put off the once longed-for interview from day to day, stayed quietly
in the house and whiled away the lonely hours when his host was away at
business, in a depressing idleness, in desultory reading, smoking and
lying on the sofa, in a sort of dream, wherein he could not prevent a
certain slender, girlish figure from hovering before his mental eye.
Sometimes the long lashes would be raised, and swift little flashes
would shoot out from a pair of black, star-like eyes.

But one evening this kind of fireworks grew so uncanny that he sprang
up, dressed himself carefully and started for the house of his youthful
sweetheart.

On the way, his heart throbbed violently and he with difficulty
restrained himself from turning down a side street in the direction of
Ghost Lane. But the nearer he drew to his destination the calmer he
grew. His fate lay still in his own hands; nothing compelled him to say
the decisive word that night--especially as he had his long-intended
journey before him. So he mounted the steps of the house with
indifference, and with a firm hand pulled the well-known bell.

The daughter of the house opened the door herself, but greeted him with
a cool, well-feigned surprise, as one might a visitor whom he had
believed to be a hundred miles away, and ushered him at once into the
parlor, where a little circle of family friends was assembled. The
father was still at his office, but the mother, who had always petted
the young man as if he were the legacy of her deceased friend,
exhibited this evening a stiff, reserved manner, congratulated him upon
successfully passing his last examination, inquired how long he
expected to remain in the city, and addressed him once and again as
Herr Doctor. He noticed at once that the conversation which he had
interrupted had been concerned with himself, but he maintained his
composure and excused his deferred visit on the ground of an accident
which had befallen him--he had made a false step and had fallen,
striking his head against a stone; on which account he had been for
several days under a physician's care.

No one expressed, save for mere politeness' sake, any regret at this,
and the conversation dragged itself wearily along.

Philip had leisure to observe the daughter of the house, as she sat
near him, her little nose tilted high in the air, and her lips pursed
up ironically. She had been so frequently told that she was the
prettiest girl in town, she had been so unquestionably the queen of the
ballroom for three winters, that it seemed a mere matter of course that
everyone should pay homage to her youthful highness; and especially did
she expect it of her old playmate who had been used to bring her the
most bouquets at every cotillon. Moreover, in spite of his disfigured
forehead, he pleased her better than all her other society slaves, and
she had in secret decided that if he should prove himself worthy of the
honor, she would make him overwhelmingly happy by the bestowal of her
favor upon him. And now to have him sit there by her side, as impassive
as a block of wood, was unpardonable; and she resolved within her cold
little heart that he should feel her righteous anger.

The changed deportment of her prospective son-in-law was still more
annoying to the high-spirited Frau Stadtrath, who had fancied that the
long-awaited betrothal, for which she already had in readiness a
touching and impressive speech, would take place at the earliest
opportunity. The presence of the other ladies at this time seemed to
her most undesirable; and as she continued to hope that Philip's
evidently adverse humor proceeded from the fact that he could not meet
Rosa alone, she made several awkward attempts to get rid of the
company. As these were thwarted by the general curiosity to see more of
the young doctor, she broke in at last with the words: "You never would
have guessed, my dear Doctor, that during this last year, while you
have been away, we could make such progress in all kinds of occult
science and maintain such a lively intercourse with the world of
spirit. Instead of the regular evening card-playing, we now question
this round table about many things we wish to know; and even I, who at
the beginning was quite incredulous, have been gradually converted. I
see you shrug your shoulders; of course, modern natural science regards
all spiritualistic experiments as so many humbugs, and as it is quite
true that much deception does creep in, I will not allow any medium or
hypnotist to cross my threshold. But a wooden table--what interest
could that have in leading us astray, especially as we are able to
control its oracles?"

"And have these ghostly revelations always been found reliable and
correct by you?" inquired Philip--careful lest his words betray the
scorn he felt.

"Not always; of course, sometimes the answers sound ambiguous,
sometimes they are wide of the mark, and then again they hit it so
exactly that no one could doubt their supernatural origin. Heaven
knows, one cannot expect a departed spirit to be omniscient; and you
know well that a fool--I beg the company's pardon--a fool can ask more
questions than ten of the wisest tables can answer. But you shall judge
for yourself, my dear Doctor. Rosa has already enjoyed anticipating the
kind of face you would make if you were once to attend such a sitting."

"I beg you will leave me out of the game, Frau Stadtrath," said Philip,
evasively. "I fear the tips of my fingers lack the necessary fluid, and
I should only frustrate your design if I were to form one of the
chain."

"No, no!" put in the daughter, hastily. "You must take part; otherwise
you will think the thing is not done honestly and that each of us finds
his sport in deceiving the rest. Come, now, and try for yourself to
thwart the thing. You will see that the table will always have the last
word."

The tea service and cloth were accordingly removed forthwith, and the
seven or eight persons who sat around the circular table closed the
magic chain with their outstretched hands, and waited with suppressed
impatience the things which should come to pass.

Philip's little finger rested with a light pressure upon that of his
fair young neighbor; but though, formerly, such a tender proximity
would have sent a glow of warmth through his veins, to-day he remained
quite cool as though he were merely waiting until the reputed magic
fluid should stream from the slender hand near his own and animate the
lifeless wood.

Now, it happened that on this evening our old acquaintance, Heinrich
Müller, had undertaken the spiritualistic duties in this house,
although he usually reserved himself for commissions of a higher order.
But upon the preceding evening his more ignorant colleague had been put
to rout so ignominiously that he would not expose himself soon again to
a like experience. At the request of the assembled company, the medium
had called up the spirit of Napoleon, and had propounded to it all
kinds of historical questions. Now, as Johann Gruber, in his former
capacity of house-servant, had known nothing of the great Corsican,
and, indeed, had only heard his name when the talk had turned upon
Napoleon-players--of whom he had had occasion to eject several from the
inn when in the service of its landlord--he gave such startling and
distorted answers that the leading spiritualist was overcome with
embarrassment, and finally bade him go to the devil, while he explained
to the questioners that the spirit had played one of his scornful jokes
upon them because he was very angry at being dragged down to earth
again from his heavenly exaltation.

Heinrich Müller, on the contrary, who had more culture and was never at
a loss to furnish some ambiguous solution for difficult questions,
responded to the summons from the Stadtrath's house the more willingly
in that he had seen his rival enter it, and burned to play him a trick.

For this an opportunity was soon afforded. For, when he had slipped
into the table and had announced his presence by raising one foot and
stamping softly, the Fräulein Rosa, after some inconsequential
skirmishing, asked directly whether he knew that a strange guest had
inserted himself into the chain.

"Yes," answered the table, to the great satisfaction of the believing.

Did he know his name?

"Philip," rapped the table foot.

Did he know where this Philip had been staying since he came to town?

"Ghost Lane," spelled the table, without reflecting that this would be
a surprise to the company; for what should a young physician just
returned home have to call him to that ill-omened street?

And so the Fräulein, for she alone had noticed the strange flush mount
to her neighbor's face, inquired promptly what had taken him thither;
and forthwith the table-spirit stamping the foot by a violent motion,
rapped out:

"A love affair!"

The impression which this word made was so strong that the chain at
once parted, and all eyes were turned toward the young man, who
concealed his embarrassment by a scornful laugh and remarked that such
scandalous jokes proved to him plainly that they were bent upon teasing
him, and the innocent table had been forced into the plot.

However, Fräulein Rosa, who had kept a sharp eye upon him, grew
crimson, not from shame, but from righteous indignation, that her
heretofore obedient and submissive subject had allowed himself to be
led into such a course of treachery. Accordingly she commanded the
circle to form again instantly, and while her trembling little finger
betrayed all her emotion to her neighbor at the table, she put the
decided question: "For whom in Ghost Lane has Dr. Philip conceived a
tender feeling?" The table answered immediately: "G-u-n-d-e-l-chen!"

"Gundelchen!" said the questioner, spelling the word after it, and she
drew back her hand as though she had touched a wet frog. "Well, Herr
Doctor, do you require any further evidence? And so it is really
that frivolous little person, the daughter of that disreputable old
woman!--you remember, mamma, don't you? our seamstress brought the
little country girl to our house with her once to help with the
sewing--a creature entirely without culture. And to her you have
actually paid court, Herr Doctor, and have found her society so
interesting that you have neglected your oldest friends for it?"

With flaming eyes she hurled these reproaches at him, in her rash
excitement never stopping to consider that she thus disclosed the deep,
hidden wound in her own heart. But the others divined it, and her
mother made her a sign with her eyes that she should control herself.
To Philip it was a matter of indifference whether his young friend,
whose face at this moment appeared to him distorted by passion and
almost hateful, thus laid bare her feelings in her jealous anger. His
only concern was to refute the unfounded and malignant suspicions which
had attached to the good woman in Ghost Lane.

He therefore exclaimed with quiet firmness that he would hear nothing
against the mother and daughter. It was with gross injustice they had
been termed "disreputable;" and whoever called the young girl
"frivolous," clearly could not know her. Here he related with frank
ingenuousness how he had made their acquaintance and come to be under
obligations of gratitude to these good Samaritans.

When he had finished his recital, Fräulein Rosa stood up and said with
a trembling voice: "There is no disputing about tastes. I understand
now that for this whole fortnight you had no wish to look up your
nearest friends, because you were lost in admiration of these two
pearls. As people of our own station can bear no comparison with them,
I would prefer to withdraw, that you need not be too long detained from
your evening visit to Ghost Lane."

Whereat, she curtesied with a very grand air to the young man, bowed to
the others, and withdrew to the adjoining room.

The rest of the company sat, as if turned to stone, in the stillness
which ensued. Finally, the Frau Stadtrath, in her dire dismay, said:
"You must excuse this little burst of temper, my dear Doctor. She at
one time conceived an antipathy for the little sewing-girl, and cannot
understand how one of the dearest friends of her youth can feel
otherwise. And besides, you, with your chivalric notions, put too much
warmth into your defense. If you will go after our Rosa and say that
you did not really mean--"

"I regret, gracious lady," interrupted Philip, rising, "that it is
impossible for me to take back a word of what I have said in favor of
the two so misunderstood. If your daughter cannot tolerate the society
of a man who interests himself in two people, unjustly accused, I must
renounce all further intercourse with this friendly household, from
whom I was formerly the recipient of so much kindness. I have the honor
to wish the ladies and gentlemen Good-evening."

With that he took his hat, bowed, and left the room.

When he found himself in the open air, such a feeling of relief came
over him at his escape from the stifling atmosphere of this respectable
Philistine house, that, forgetting his new professional dignity, he
waved his hat, made a leap into the air, and hummed a student song to
himself. A couple of the neighbors who knew him, and his status with
the fair daughter of the Stadtraths, smiled, as he passed by them
unheeding, and whispered to each other that it had probably just been
settled between the young pair, and the gentleman was a trifle
exhilarated by the betrothal wine. But Philip was eager to get out of
the dark streets into open space, and drew a deep breath when he
reached the shaded park which lay along the river, and was peopled in
the daytime by the children of the town and their nurses. At this late
hour, however, only solitary pairs of lovers walked here, and their
shadows, as they glided past, moved the lonely wanderer to melancholy
reflections. He seated himself on a bench and for a long time gazed
upward through the gently swaying branches at the stars, from which a
soft coolness flowed down upon him. With a hushed sound, the river
rolled along at his feet. Philip could not but think how delightful it
would be to let himself be carried away by the current, in a boat, with
a certain being at his side, all through the night, only to land at the
first flush of morning near some secluded little house, and there to
set up his own hearthstone. The image of little Gundula came before him
so lifelike, she appeared with all her gifts and graces in so bright a
light, that he could not conquer his longing to take the fair form in
his arms; and springing up, he set out in a straight line for the town
again, resolved to make his way that very evening into the haunted
house, cost what it might, and have a serious talk with Frau Cordula
concerning the present and the future.

But when he had passed the outlying districts of the town, and was
nearing his goal, he noticed an unwonted commotion in the streets--a
running and shouting of men who at the hour of ten are usually sitting
at home, or over their beer. He made inquiry and heard with alarm that
a fire had broken out in Ghost Lane. And now he rushed on ahead of all
the others, and as he reached the street and saw the glow of the fire
lighting up the black houses, he made a way for himself by elbowing and
pushing through the dense crowd that blocked the entrance. But the
people stood idly by gaping at the spot whence the red blaze shot
upwards, so that Philip had no difficulty in fighting his way through
them to the seat of the mischief. His fearful surmise had not led him
astray--the house of "The Unbelieving Thomas" was really on fire, and
the flames, which until now had issued only from the porter's room,
were just beginning to encircle the old entrance gate. The men who
stood in front of it, in a half circle, pointed to the fiery spectacle
with stupid indifference, or even with malicious grins. A few even gave
vent to jeers: it was time that Satan at last laid hold of the old
witchmonger by the collar; perhaps he had been trying to make gold, and
a flame from hell had shot up out of the crucible and singed his head.
It could not be expected that any good Christian would put out such a
fire, and thus arrest the judgment of Heaven.

As soon as Philip reached the house, and took in the situation, he
shouted to the bystanders to get axes and break in the door and rescue
those who lived back in the court. Not a foot stirred; only a pair of
saucy tongues gave it as their opinion that it would be no harm if the
whole pack of witches were burned, too,--they had deserved a funeral
pile this long time;--a sentiment which was greeted with general
laughter. The young man heard this with a throb of rage; and casting
about him for some implement with which he could burst open the door,
he seized a beam which the pavers had left lying at the edge of the
sidewalk, and with superhuman exertion dragged the burden to the
entrance that with it he might batter in the woodwork of the door,
which was already ignited; when the rotten lock, as of a miracle,
yielded of itself in the sockets, and the door swung slowly inward on
its hinges. In the dark opening appeared a strange pair of human
figures. Gundelchen was carrying her mother pick-a-pack through the
smoke and showering sparks out into the open air.

The child had gone to bed earlier than usual that night, weary with her
day's work, and was awakened by a cry of terror from her mother, who
had not yet fallen asleep. When she perceived the light from the fire,
she put on a skirt, threw a shawl around her shoulders, and without
stopping for shoes or stockings, with swift decision she lifted her
mother, who could move but slowly, to her back and bore her down the
little stairs and across the court, there to stand a few agonizing
moments in the dark hallway until her guardian angel opened the house
door.

As she stood now outside, bent under her living burden and looking
around at the crowd as it fell back, she espied their young friend and
guest, who, with a cry of joy, dropped the beam and sprang toward her.
A happy smile crossed her flushed face and the fresh lips faltered:
"Good evening; Herr Doctor"--simple words enough, but they sounded to
him like sweetest music. He could only say: "Thank God! O Gundelchen!
To think that you are alive!" and would have caught them both in his
arms but for the eyes which were turned upon them.

She had not yet put down her burden, and seemed uncertain whither to
turn with it. In vain did Philip conjure the people to fetch a
wheelbarrow, or even a push-cart. They turned away, shrugged their
shoulders and murmured imprecations.

"Well, we must get one ourselves, Gundelchen, since these pious
Christians cannot summon this much of neighborly kindness," said the
young man, as he set the woman gently down upon the pavement, and,
crossing his hands with those of the girl, raised the mother again on
this swinging litter, bidding her put her arms around their necks. So
they carried her submissively obedient, through the parting throng,
which fell back at their approach, down the street as far as the
marketplace. There, as by accident, an empty cab came rattling sleepily
along. Philip hailed it, put the two women into it, and swung himself
up on the seat behind, telling the coachman to drive to a little inn by
the river, a half mile distant, which served as the terminus for the
summer evening walks of the better class families.

From Ghost Lane, which grew even ruddier with the glare of the fire,
sounded a duller hum and tumult; and now they heard the roll of the
hose-cart, which was at last on its way to the scene of the fire. From
all sides, great and small were flocking to the ill-omened street; but
soon they had left the last houses behind them and were driving along
at a slow trot, through the star-lit night.


And now, for the first, the young doctor had time to regard the rescued
pair more closely. The older woman, with closed eyes, lay back in one
corner of the carriage as though she would collect her thoughts, and
thank Heaven for the miracle of her deliverance. Her child sat beside
her, a little ashamed of her own scanty attire, holding the shawl
tightly about her shoulders and saying no word to the young man
opposite. But the black eyes met his steadily, and only once, when the
bare feet came into view beneath the short skirt, did the long lashes
droop hastily. Philip asked if she were cold. She shook her head, but
he drew his handkerchief from his pocket and wound it about her slender
ankles. Then he stretched out his hand and she laid her own in it, with
a charming look of confidence, and so they held each other's hands in a
mute pledge until the carriage drew up before the little hostelry.

Here first the mother opened her eyes, but spoke no word and suffered
Philip to lift her out and carry her into the house. Host and hostess
were not a little astonished when they saw their singular guests, for
whom the young man engaged a room in the upper story. He gave the
landlord a gold piece and told him it would be to his advantage to
attend carefully to the ladies, whom he had rescued from great peril by
fire in the city.

The Frau Wirthin would help the Fräulein out with her wardrobe. Then he
himself mounted to the room where Frau Cordula sat in an arm-chair,
looking dreamily before her. He went up to her and said gravely: "Dear
mother, I must leave you now and go back to the city. But first I want
to clear up an important matter. Your daughter and I have silently
plighted our troth during the journey hither. I beg now that you will
give us your blessing. I promise to be a faithful husband to your child
and a loving son to you."

The mother had listened to him with no change of manner, quite as if
she had been prepared for something similar. Now she shook her head
gently and said: "Dear Herr Doctor, you are very good, and I believe
that you are sincere in your request. Still, I am an old woman, and
must keep a cool head when the fire of enthusiasm has so heated your
young one that you regard as proper and practical what is, and must
remain, an impossibility. You are a young man of education and wealth,
and we are poor people. How could you answer your friends if they
should ask you why you had played the fool over the daughter of a poor
tailoress who is denounced as a witch?"

"That is _my_ affair," returned Philip with emphasis; "and I shall take
care to express myself quite clearly and plainly on the subject.
Moreover, I take delight in setting all my acquaintances to wondering
and shaking their heads in a knowing way; indeed, I shall enjoy all the
talk and sensation which will be created in the church when the
announcement of our betrothal is made from the chancel. In three weeks,
therefore, so it please you, the wedding will take place. I propose
then to take the young Frau Doctor upon a tour, and we shall spend a
whole year in travel. She will thus have time to become somewhat
accustomed to society, and to receive that polish which even the
costliest jewels must have in order that they may be estimated at their
true value. In the meantime, our dear mother will remain quietly in the
apartments which will be provided for her in my new home; and her
daughter, let us hope, will keep her informed, by frequent letters,
that she was not deceived when she thought proper to try her arts of
witchery upon a certain Doctor Philip."

He bent down and kissed the mother upon both cheeks, down which two
tears trickled silently. Then, drawing the radiant girl to his breast,
he kissed her upon lips and eyes; and before either of them could
breathe a word, he rushed downstairs, flung himself into the carriage
and drove back to town.

The house of "The Unbelieving Thomas" was burned out so completely
during the night that when morning dawned only the four black walls,
like the sides of some deep shaft or well, remained standing; while the
chestnut-tree lay, a heap of ashes, in the court, and only a few
smoking ruins covered the site of the coach-house. In the porter's room
were found a pile of blackened human bones, and among them four bits of
copper which had bound the corners of the large Bohemian Bible, and had
not been melted, despite the intense heat.

High above, on the pointed ridge of one of the neighboring houses, sat,
in the early gray of the morning, the two former occupants of the
coach-house, both in the worst possible humor.

Heinrich Müller cast a savage glance at the wet debris of the charred
timbers, from which rose an ill-smelling vapor.

"Well, the comedy is ended!" he said, shaking himself. "I am glad that
no one suspected who was the author."

"Not you, after all, Herr Heinrich?" inquired his comrade, who was
looking away over the roofs into one of the side streets.

"To be sure; I myself, and no other," returned the illustrious
wine-seller. "You must know, Johann, that after I had played that base
fellow, the Doctor, a trick, and had separated him and the well-bred
daughter of, the Stadtrath, I flew towards home. There I saw the other
one, who is like poison to me, the Bohemian, bending as usual over his
book of magic; I slipped in, and then it occurred to me that I would
spoil his broth for him. I overturned his lamp, the oil ran out over
the table, there was an explosion, and as the old fool did not know how
to save himself at once, the whole affair went up in smoke. So I have
wreaked my vengeance on the wretched cobbler, and now I shall sail back
to our upper world straightway. Of hell upon earth, I've had my fill.
It may be confoundedly tedious, up there; but what of that? Doomsday
cannot be far distant, if one may judge by the mad goings-on down
here."

He raised himself a little, as though about to take flight.

"Do take me with you, Herr Heinrich!" said the poor soul of Johann
Gruber. "I, too, am out of conceit with everything down here. I'm ready
to give up the seance. For yesterday, when I went to look after my
Rieka, I found her in--well, I will not say what company. It's
accursedly mean business--playing this sort of a spirit--and I thought
it would be such capital fun! Some one else can take his turn at it
now, when stupid people are bent upon having communications. Look, Herr
Heinrich, the sun is just flashing up from behind the mountain yonder.
We must make haste and begone before it grows hot. When I was in the
service of my former master I was always in the harness before
daybreak. Hoop-la!" and he was off without waiting for his companion,
who rose slowly after him, casting one more look of malicious
satisfaction upon the smoking ruins, beneath which lay buried the poor
victim of his revenge.





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