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Title: Countess Erika's Apprenticeship
Author: Schubin, Ossip, 1854-1934
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Countess Erika's Apprenticeship" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcriber's Note:
   1. Page scan source:
      http://books.google.com/books?id=1hUtAAAAYAAJ

   2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe].



                          MRS. A. L. WISTER'S

                 Popular Translations from the German.

                   12mo. Attractively Bound in Cloth.

                           *   *   *   *   *

   "O THOU, MY AUSTRIA!" By Ossip Schubin.                   $1.25
   ERLACH COURT. By Ossip Schubin.                            1.25
   THE ALPINE FAY. By E. Werner.                              1.25
   THE OWL'S NEST. By E. Marlitt.                             1.25
   PICKED UP IN THE STREETS. By H. Schobert.                  1.25
   SAINT MICHAEL. By E. Werner.                               1.25
   VIOLETTA. By Ursula Zöge von Manteuffel.                   1.25
   THE LADY WITH THE RUBIES. By E. Marlitt.                   1.25
   VAIN FOREBODINGS. By E. Oswald.                            1.25
   A PENNILESS GIRL. By W. Heimburg.                          1.25
   QUICKSANDS. By Adolph Streckfuss.                          1.50
   BANNED AND BLESSED. By E. Werner.                          1.50
   A NOBLE NAME. By Claire von Glümer                         1.50
   FROM HAND TO HAND. By Golo Raimund                         1.50
   SEVERA. By E. Hartner                                      1.50
   THE EICHHOFS. By Moritz von Reichenbach.                   1.50
   A NEW RACE. By Golo Raimund.                               1.25
   CASTLE HOHENWALD. By Adolph Streckfuss.                    1.50
   MARGARETHE. By E. Juncker.                                 1.50
   TOO RICH. By Adolph Streckfuss.                            1.50
   A FAMILY FEUD. By Ludwig Harder.                           1.25
   THE GREEN GATE. By Ernst Wichert.                          1.50
   ONLY A GIRL. By Wilhelmina von Hillern.                    1.50
   WHY DID HE NOT DIE? By Ad. von Volckhausen.                1.50
   HULDA; or, The Deliverer. By F. Lewald.                    1.50
   THE BAILIFF'S MAID. By E. Marlitt                          1.25
   IN THE SCHILLINGSCOURT. By E. Marlitt.                     1.50
   AT THE COUNCILLOR'S. By E. Marlitt.                        1.50
   THE SECOND WIFE. By E. Marlitt.                            1.50
   THE OLD MAM'SELLE'S SECRET. By E. Marlitt.                 1.50
   GOLD ELSIE. By E. Marlitt.                                 1.50
   COUNTESS GISELA. By E. Marlitt.                            1.50
   THE LITTLE MOORLAND PRINCESS. By E. Marlitt.               1.50

                           *   *   *   *   *

                      _J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY_,
                             _Publishers_,
            _715 and 717 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa_.



                            COUNTESS ERIKA'S

                             APPRENTICESHIP



                       TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN
                                   OF
                             OSSIP SCHUBIN
                  AUTHOR OF "O THOU, MY AUSTRIA!" ETC.



                                   BY
                           MRS. A. L. WISTER



                              PHILADELPHIA
                        J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                                  1891



                           *   *   *   *   *
              Copyright, 1891, by J. B. Lippincott Company
                           *   *   *   *   *
                        _All rights reserved_.



           Printed By J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.



                         PREFACE BY THE AUTHOR.


A friend returning from a stroll round the globe brought back an odd
volume of my work picked up in San Francisco, translated without my
leave, but proving by its very existence that the American reading
world take a certain interest in my show and its puppets.

Though in a certain sense these unauthorized editions are a picking of
the author's pocket, yet I must confess that I felt rather flattered.

Every one possessing any feeling for modernism must highly prize what
American art and American literature have done and are doing for the
directness, vividness, and intensity of presentation to our eyes or our
imagination either of outward objects or the silent workings of
character and inner sensations.

The rapidity and intensity of picturing frequently remind us of an
electric shock.

We Old World folk take life, to a certain degree, more at our leisure,
but nevertheless every real artist follows the great direction that has
seized all our contemporary being.

Directness of truth, vividness and intensity of presentation, exact
rendering of impression, are the means by which we seek to produce
life; life itself is the object, but I am afraid that to the end the
life-giving spark will defy analysis.

Let me hope that the figures whose woes and weal my reader will follow
through these pages may be half as alive to him as they have been to
me; and let me hope, likewise, that when he closes the volume we may
have become fast friends.

I cannot let this opportunity pass without thanking Mrs. Wister most
heartily for her faithful and picturesque rendering of my story.

What a rare delight it is to an author to find himself so admirably
rendered and so perfectly understood only those can feel that have
undergone the acute misery of seeing their every thought mangled, their
every sentence massacred, as common translations will mangle and
massacre word and thought.

Therefore let every writer thank Providence, if he find an artist like
Mrs. Wister willing to put herself to the trouble of following his
intentions, and of clothing his ideas in so brilliant a garb.

It is only natural, therefore, that, having been lucky enough to find
so rare a translator, I should authorize the translation to the
absolute exclusion of any other.

So, hoping it may find favour in the eyes of my transatlantic readers,
I should like to shake hands with them at parting and say good-bye with
the Old World saw, "_Auf Wiedersehen_."

                                              Ossip Schubin.



                            COUNTESS ERIKA'S
                            APPRENTICESHIP.



                               CHAPTER I.


Baron von Strachinsky reclined upon a lounge in his smoking-room,
recovering from the last pecuniary calamity which he had brought upon
himself. The fact was, he had built a sugar-factory in a tract of
country where the nearest approach to a sugar-beet that could be found
was a carrot on a manure-heap, and his enterprise had been followed by
the natural result.

He bore his misfortune with exemplary fortitude, and beguiled the time
with a sentimental novel upon the cover of which was portrayed a lady
wringing her hands in presence of a military man drinking champagne. At
times he wept over this fiction, at others he dozed over it and was at
peace.

This he called submitting with dignity to the mysterious decrees of
destiny, and he looked upon himself as a martyr.

His wife was not at home. Whilst he reposed thus in melancholy
self-admiration, she was devoting herself to the humiliating occupation
of visiting in turn one and another of her wealthy relatives, begging
of them the loan of funds necessary for the furtherance of her
husband's brilliant scheme.

"It is very sad, but 'tis the fault of circumstances," sighed the Baron
when his thoughts wandered from his book to his absent wife, and for a
moment he would cover his eyes with his hand.

It was near the end of August, and the asters were beginning to bloom.
Cheerful industry reigned throughout the village. The Baron indeed
complained of the failure of the harvest, but this he did of every
harvest the proceeds of which were insufficient to cover the interest
of his numerous debts: the peasantry, who by no means exacted so high a
rate of profit from their meadows and pasture-lands, were happy and
content, and the stubble-fields were already dotted with hayricks.

Outside in the garden a little girl in a worn and faded frock was
playing funeral: she was interring her canary, which she had found
dead in its cage. She was very sad: the bird had been her best friend.
No one paid her any attention. Her mother was away, and the
Englishwoman whose duty it was to superintend her education was just
now occupied in company with the bailiff, an ambitious young man
desirous of improving his knowledge of languages, in studying the
working of a new mowing-machine. From time to time the child glanced
through the open door of the principal entrance to the castle into a
rather bare hall, its floor paved with red tiles and its high vaulted
walls whitewashed and adorned with stags' horns of all sizes. The Baron
von Strachinsky had bought these last in one lot at an auction, but he
had long cherished the conviction that they all came from his forest.
He had a decided taste for fine, high-sounding expressions, always
designating his wood as his 'forest,' his estate as his 'domain,' and
his garden as his 'park.'

A charwoman with a flat, red, perspiring face, and a knot of thin
bristling hair at the back of her head, from which her yellow cotton
kerchief had slipped down upon her neck, was shuffling upon hands and
knees, her high kilted skirts leaving her red legs quite bare, over the
tiles of the hall, rubbing away at the dirt and footmarks with a wisp
of straw, while the steam of hot soapy water rose from the wooden
bucket beside her.

The little girl outside had just planted a row of pink asters upon the
grave, which she had dug with a pewter spoon, and had filled up duly,
when the scratching of the wisp of straw suddenly ceased.

A young fellow was standing in the hall,--very young, scarcely sixteen,
and with a portfolio under his arm. His garb was that of a journeyman
mechanic, but his bearing had in it something of distinction, and his
face was delicately modelled, very pale, with large dark eyes, almost
black, gleaming below the brown curls of his hair. The same class of
countenance is frequently seen among the Neapolitan boys who sell
Seville oranges in Rome; but such eyes as this lad had are seen at most
only two or three times in a lifetime.

The child in the garden looked with evident satisfaction at the young
fellow. Apparently he had come into the castle through the back
entrance,--the one used by servants and beggars.

The charwoman wiped her red hands upon her apron and knocked at one of
the doors opening into the hall. She was a new-comer, and did not know
that the Baron von Strachinsky was never disturbed upon any ordinary
pretext.

She knocked several times. At last a sleepy, ill-humoured voice said,
"What is it?"

"Your Grace, a young gentleman: he wants to speak to your Grace."

With eyes but half open, and the pattern of the embroidered cushion
upon which he had been sleeping stamped upon his cheek, the Baron von
Strachinsky came out into the hall.

He was of middle height; his face had once been handsome, but was now
red and bloated with excessive good living; he was slightly bald, and
wore thick brown side-whiskers. His dress was a combination of
slovenliness and foppery. He wore scarlet Turkish slippers, trodden
down at heel, gray trousers, and a soiled dark-blue smoking-jacket with
red facings and buttons.

"What do you want?" he roared, in a rage at being disturbed for so
slight a cause.

The young fellow shrank from him, murmuring in a hoarse, tremulous
voice, the voice of a very young man growing fast and but scantily
nourished, "I am on my way home."

"What's that to me?" Strachinsky thundered, not without some excuse for
his indignation.

The youth flushed scarlet. Shyly and awkwardly he held out his
portfolio to the sleepy Baron. Evidently it contained drawings, which
he would like to sell but had not the courage to show.

"Give him an alms!" Herr von Strachinsky shouted to the cook, who,
hearing the noise, had hurried into the hall; then, turning to the
scrubbing-woman, who was standing beside her steaming bucket, her
toothless jaws wide open in dismay, he went on: "If you ever again dare
for the sake of a wretched vagabond of a house-painter's apprentice to
deprive me of the few moments of repose which I contrive to snatch from
my wretched and tormented existence, I'll dismiss you on the spot!"
With which he retired to his room, banging to the door behind him.

The cook offered the lad two kreutzers. His hand--a long, slender,
boyish hand, almost transparent--shook, as he angrily threw the money
upon the floor and departed.

The little girl in the garden had been watching the scene attentively.
Her delicate frame trembled with indignation, as she rose, and, with
arms hanging at her sides and small fists clinched in a somewhat
dramatic attitude, fixed her eyes upon the door behind which the Baron
had disappeared. She had very bright eyes for a child of nine years,
and a very penetrating glance, a glance by no means friendly to the
Baron. Thus she stood for a minute gazing at the door, then put her
arms akimbo, frowned, and reflected. Before long she shrugged her
shoulders with an air of precocious intelligence, deserted the
newly-made grave, and hurried into the house, and to the pantry.

The door was open. She looked about her. By strict orders of the Baron,
in his wife's absence all remains of provisions were hoarded in the
pantry, although they were seldom of any use. As a consequence of this
sordid housekeeping the child found a great store of dishes and bowls
filled with scraps of meat and fish, stale cakes, and fermenting stewed
apricots. It took her some time to discover what satisfied her,--a cold
roast pheasant, and some pieces of tempting almond-cake left over from
the last meal. These she packed in a basket with a flask of wine that
had been opened, a tumbler, knife and fork, and a clean napkin. She
decorated the basket with pink asters, and hurried out of the back
door, intent upon playing the part of beneficent fairy.

Deep down in her heart there was a vein of romance which contrasted
oddly with the keen good sense already gleaming in her bright childish
eyes.

She ran until she was quite out of breath, searching vainly for her
handsome vagabond. Should she inquire of some one if a young man with a
portfolio under his arm had passed along the road? Her heart beat; she
felt a little shy. From a distance the warm summer breeze wafted
towards her the notes of a foreign air clearly whistled, and she
directed her steps towards the spot whence it seemed to proceed.

There! yes, there----

Beside the road rippled a little brook on its way to the rushing stream
beyond the village, a brook so narrow that a twelve-year-old school-boy
could easily have jumped across it. Nevertheless the Baron von
Strachinsky had thought best to span it with a magnificent three-arched
stone bridge. In the shade thrown by this monumental structure, for the
erection of which the Baron had vainly hoped to be decorated by his
sovereign, the lad was crouching. He was even paler than before, and
there were traces of tears on his cheeks, but all the same he whistled
on with forced gaiety, as one does whistle when one has nothing to eat
and hopes to forget his hunger.

The little girl felt like crying. He looked up and directly at her.
Overcome by sudden shyness, she stood for a moment as if rooted to the
spot; then, awkwardly offering her basket, she stammered, "Will you
have it?" When he did not answer she simply set the basket down before
him, and in her confusion would have avoided all explanations by
running away.

But a warm young hand detained her firmly and kindly. "Did you come
from there?" the lad asked, pointing to the castle. "Who sent you?"

His voice was agreeable, and his address that of a well-born youth.

"No one knows that I came," she answered, in confusion, and seeing that
he frowned discontentedly at this, she added hastily, by way of excuse,
"But if mamma had been at home she certainly would have sent me; she
never lets a beggar leave the house without giving him something to
eat."

At the word 'beggar' he turned away, whereupon she began to cry loudly,
so loudly that he had to laugh. "But what are you crying for?" he
asked; and she replied, in desperation, "I am crying because you will
not eat anything."

"Indeed! is that all you are crying for?"

"Yes. Oh, do eat something,--do!" she sobbed.

"Well, since it is to gratify you so hugely," he replied, in a
bantering tone; "but sit down beside me and help me." He looked full
into her eyes with his careless, merry smile, then took her tiny hand
in his and pressed his full, warm lips upon it twice.

She was greatly pleased by this courteous homage, and perhaps by the
caress, for it was seldom that anything of the kind fell to her share.
She had fully decided that the young fellow was no mechanic, but a
prince in disguise, and in this exhilarating conviction she sat down
upon the grass beside him and unpacked her basket. How he seemed to
enjoy its contents, and how white his teeth were! There were also
various indications of refinement and good breeding about his manner of
eating, which would have given a more experienced observer than the
little enthusiast beside him matter for reflection with regard to his
rank in life. His portfolio lay beside him. She thrust a slender
forefinger between its pasteboard covers tied together with green
cotton strings, and whispered, gravely, "May I look into it?"

"If you would like to," he replied.

With great precision, as if the matter in hand were the unveiling of a
sacred relic, she untied the strings and opened the portfolio. Her eyes
opened wide, and an "Oh!" of enthusiastic admiration escaped her lips.
A wiser critic than the little girl of nine would scarcely have
accorded the sketches so much approval. They were undoubtedly stiff and
unfinished. Nevertheless, no genuine lover of art would have passed
them by without notice, for they indicated a high degree of talent. The
hand was unskilled, but the lad had eyes to see.

The little girl gazed in rapt admiration. After a while she looked
gravely up at her new friend, her compassion converted into awe. "Now I
know what you are,--an artist!"

"Do you think so?" the lad rejoined, flattered by the reverential tone
in which the word was uttered: meanwhile, he had finished the pheasant,
and was considerably less pale than before.

"Can you paint everything you see?" she asked, after a short pause.

"I cannot paint anything," he answered, with a sort of merry discontent
which, now that his hunger was satisfied, characterized his every look
and movement. "I cannot paint anything," he repeated, with a little
nod, "but I try to paint everything that I like."

They looked in each other's eyes, he suppressing a laugh, she in some
distress. At last she blurted out, "Do you not like me at all, then?"

"Shall I paint you?"

She nodded.

"What will you give me for it?"

She put her hand in her pocket, and took out a very shabby
porte-monnaie, a superannuated possession of Herr von Strachinsky's
which he had given her in a moment of unwonted generosity, and in which
were five bright silver guilders. "Is that enough?" she asked.

"I will not take money," he replied.

She had been guilty of another stupidity. She was bitterly conscious of
it, and so, to justify herself, she put on an air of great wisdom. "You
are a very queer artist," she admonished him, "not to take money for
your pictures. No wonder you nearly starve."

He took the hand which held the five despised silver coins, and kissed
it three times.

"I do take money for my pictures," he declared, "but not from you: I
will draw your picture with all my heart."

"For nothing?"

"No: you must give me a kiss for it. Will you?" He watched her without
seeming to look at her. Again the insinuating, roguish smile hovered
upon his lips,--a charming smile, which he must have inherited from
some kind, light-hearted woman.

She was not quite sure of the rectitude of her conduct, her heart
throbbed almost as if she were on the verge of some compact with Satan,
but finally, "If you will not do it without," she said, with a sigh,
plucking at her hands,--very pretty hands, neglected though they were.

He nodded gaily. "All right."

Then he made her sit down on the grass opposite him, unpacked his tin
colour-case, fastened a piece of rough gray paper upon the cover of his
portfolio, and began.

She sat very still, very grave, her feet stretched out straight in
front of her, supporting herself upon both hands. Around them breathed
the soft August air, the glowing summer sunshine sparkled on the
translucent waters of the little brook above which the stone bridge
displayed its pompous proportions, while upon the banks grew hundreds
of blue forget-me-nots, and yellow water-lilies bloomed among the
trunks of the old willows, which here and there showed gaping wounds in
their bark, from which meadow daisies were sprouting and, with the
silvery willow leaves, showing softly gray against the green background
of the gentle ascent of the pasture-land. The brook murmured dreamily,
and from the distance came the rhythmic beat of the threshers' flails.
Steam threshing-machines were not then in general use.

Both were mute,--he in the warmth of his youthful artistic enthusiasm,
she with expectation.

Suddenly the shrill tinkle of a bell broke the quiet. "That is the
dinner-bell!" the little girl exclaimed, springing up with an impatient
shrug. She knew that there could be no more pleasure and liberty for
her; she would be missed, looked for, and found.

"I must go home," she cried. "Have you finished it?"

"Very nearly, yes."

She ran and looked over his shoulder, breathless with astonishment at
what she saw upon the gray paper,--a little girl in a very short, faded
gown, and long red stockings, also much faded, a very slender figure, a
little round face, a delicate little nose, two grave bright eyes that
looked out into the world with a startled expression, a short upper
lip, a round chin, a very fair skin, and shining reddish-brown hair
which waved long and silky about the narrow childish shoulders and was
tied at the back of the head with a blue ribbon.

He had unfastened the sketch from the portfolio, and she held it in her
hands, examining it narrowly. "Is it like?" she asked, and then,
looking down at herself, she added, "The gown is like, and the
stockings are like, but the face,--is that like?" She looked up at him
eagerly.

"I cannot do it any better," he replied, rather ambiguously.

"Oh, you must not be vexed," she made haste to say. "I only wanted to
know if--how can I tell--if--well, it looks too pretty to me, this
picture of yours."

He gave her a comical side-glance. "Every artist must flatter a little
if he wishes to please a lady," was his reply.

"And you give me the picture?" she asked, shyly, after a little pause.

"Why, you ordered it," he replied.

"I--I--thank you," she stammered, then turned away and would have run
off.

But he was by no means inclined to let her off so easily. "And my pay?"
he cried, catching her in his arms and clasping her so tightly that her
little feet were lifted off the daisy-sprinkled turf. "Traitress!" he
exclaimed, reproachfully.

She blushed scarlet, although she was but just nine years old; she put
her arm around his neck and kissed him directly upon the mouth; his
lips were still the lips of a girl. Then she walked away, but she could
not hasten from the spot; something seemed to stay her steps. She
paused and looked back.

The lad was busied with packing up his small belongings: all the gaiety
had vanished from his face, he looked pale and sad again. With her
heart swelling with pity, she ran back to him.

"You come for your basket," he said, good-naturedly, holding it out to
her.

"No, it isn't that," she replied, shaking her head, as she put down the
basket on a willow stump and came close up to him.

In some surprise he smiled down at her. "Something else to ask, my
little princess?"

"No,--that is----" She plucked him by the sleeve. "See here," she
began, confused and yet coaxingly, "do not be vexed,--only--I thought
just now how bad it would be if before you get home you should be
treated by somebody else as that man treated you,"--she pointed to the
castle,--"and then--and then--oh, I know so well how dreadful it is to
have no money. I--please take the guilders: when you are a great artist
you can give them back to me." And before he knew what she was doing
she had slipped the porte-monnaie into his coat-pocket.

The tears stood in his eyes; he put his arm around her, and looked at
her as if to learn her face by heart.

"It might be," he muttered; "perhaps you will bring me luck; I may
still come to be something; and if you then should be as dear and
pretty as you are now----" He kissed her upon both eyes.

"Rika!" a shrill voice called from a distance.

"Is that your name?" he asked.

"Yes."

"And what is your last name?"

"My step-father's is Strachinsky. I do not know mine."

"Rika!" the shrill tones sounded nearer.

"And what is your name?" she asked him.

Before he could reply, the fluttering skirts of the English governess
came in sight: suddenly aroused to a consciousness of her neglected
duties, she was looking along the road for her charge.

The little girl clasped her picture close and fled.


When she reached the house she ran up-stairs to put her precious
portrait safely away, and then she allowed a clean apron to be put on
over her faded frock by the agitated Englishwoman,--whose name was in
fact Sophy Lange, and who had been born in Hamburg of honest German
parents,--after which she presented herself in the dining-room with an
assured air as if unconscious of the slightest wrong-doing.

Her step-father received her with a stern reproof, and instantly
inquired where she had been. She replied, curtly, "To the village;"
upon which he read her a tremendous lecture upon the enormity of idly
wandering about the country, addressing at the same time a few
annihilating remarks to the Englishwoman from Hamburg. He had exchanged
his bright-blue morning coat for a light summer suit, in which he
presented a much better appearance. But he was no more pleasing to his
step-daughter in his light-brown costume than in the blue coat with red
facings. She paid very little attention to his discourse, but quietly
went on eating. Miss Sophy, however, shed tears. The Baron von
Strachinsky impressed her greatly; nay, more, she honoured him as a
being from a higher sphere. He was popular with women of all ranks,
from the lowest to the highest,--why, it would be difficult to tell. He
possessed a certain amount of personal magnetism, but it had no effect
upon his step-daughter.

They were extraordinarily antipathetic, Strachinsky and his clear-eyed
little step-daughter. What she took exception to in him was of so
complex and delicate a nature as to defy explanation in words. What
annoyed him in her was principally the fact that, in spite of her
tender age, she saw through him, was quite free of all illusions with
regard to him.

It always increases our regard for our neighbour if he will but view us
with flattering eyes. Some few illusions in our behalf we require from
those around us; they are absolutely necessary to the pleasure of daily
intercourse. But the demands of Herr von Strachinsky in this respect
were beyond all reason, while his step-daughter's capacity to comply
with them was unusually limited.

Dinner progressed as usual: the gentleman continued to admonish, Miss
Sophy to weep, and little Rika to maintain strict silence, until
dessert, when Herr von Strachinsky, for whom eating was one of the
most important occupations in life, inquired after an almond-cake of
which, as he assured the servant, five pieces had been left from
breakfast,--yes, five pieces and a little broken one: he had counted
them.

The servant repaired to the kitchen for information: the cook could
give none, save that she herself had put the cake away in the pantry,
whence it had vanished, without a trace, since the morning. Herr von
Strachinsky was indignant; he accused every servant in the
establishment of the theft, from the foremost of those employed in the
house to the lowest stable-boy, and talked of having bars put up at the
windows. Little Rika let him give full sweep to his anger; she fairly
gloated over his irritation; at last she remarked, indifferently, "What
would be the use of bars on the windows, when any one can walk in at
the door? It is never locked."

"Silence! what do you know about it?" thundered her step-father.

"Oh, I know all about it," the child quietly replied, "and I know what
became of the cake."

"What?"

"I took it. I carried it out to the painter whom you turned out of the
house."

Herr von Strachinsky's eyebrows were lifted to a startling extent at
this confession. "You--ran--after--that house-painter fellow down the
road?" he asked, with a gasp at each word.

"Yes," the child replied, composedly; "and he was not a house-painter
fellow, but a young artist, although I should have run after him all
the same if he had been a house-painter fellow."

"Indeed! And why?" he asked, with a sneer.

She looked him full in the face. "Why? Because you treated him so
badly, and I was sorry for him."

For a moment he was speechless; then he arose, seized the child by the
arm, and thrust her out of the door. Without making the least
resistance, carelessly humming to herself, she ran up the staircase,--a
staircase that turned an abrupt corner and the worn steps of which
exhaled an odour of damp decay,--whilst Strachinsky turned to the
Englishwoman from Hamburg and groaned, "My step-daughter is a positive
torment. I am firmly persuaded that she will end at the galleys."

The galleys were tolerably far removed from the sphere of the Austrian
penal code, but Herr von Strachinsky had a predilection for what was
foreign, and had recently read a novel in which the galleys played a
prominent part.

Meanwhile, little Erika had betaken herself to the drawing-room, a
spacious but by no means gorgeous apartment, the furniture of which
consisted principally of bookcases and a piano. She seated herself at
this piano, and instantly became absorbed in the study of one of
Mozart's sonatas, with which she intended to celebrate her mother's
return. She had a decided talent for music; her slender little fingers
moved with incredible ease over the keys, and her cheeks, usually
rather pale, flushed with enthusiasm. It was going very well; she
stretched out her foot to touch the pedal,--an act which in her opinion
lent the crowning glory to her musical performance,--when suddenly she
became aware of a kind of uproar that seemed to fill the house. Dogs
barked, servants hurried to and fro, a carriage drove up and stopped
before the castle door. Frau von Strachinsky had returned unexpectedly.

The child hurried down-stairs, just in time to see Strachinsky take his
wife from the carriage. They kissed each other like lovers,--which
seemed to produce a disagreeable impression upon the little girl;
moreover, it occurred to her that she did not know whether she might
venture forward under existing circumstances. Then she heard her mother
say, "And where is Rika?"

Without awaiting her step-father's reply, she rushed into her mother's
arms.

"You look finely, darling," the mother exclaimed, patting her little
daughter's cheeks. "Have you been a good girl?"

Rika made no reply. Frau von Strachinsky's face took on a sad, troubled
expression. Strachinsky frowned, and shrugged his shoulders. His wife
looked from him to the child, who had taken her hand and was about to
kiss it. "What has she been doing now?" she asked, turning to her
husband.

"Not to speak of her behaviour towards myself,--behaviour that
is perfectly unwarrantable,--I repeat, unwarrantable," said
Strachinsky,--"not to speak of that, the girl has again so far
forgotten herself as----well, I will tell you about it by and by."

"Tell now!" the child exclaimed. "I'd rather you would tell now!"

"Hush, Miss Impertinence!" Strachinsky ordered her; then, turning to
his wife, he asked, "Do you bring good news? Is your uncle willing?"

Fran von Strachinsky shook her head sadly. "Unfortunately, no,--not
quite," she murmured; "but he was very kind; he was enchanted with
Bobby." Bobby was Rika's step-brother, whom the poor mother had carried
with her upon her distressing journey, perhaps as some consolation for
herself, perhaps to soften the hearts of her relatives. He did, indeed,
seem admirably adapted to this latter purpose, for he was a charming
little fellow, with a lovely pink-and-white face crowned by brown
curls, and plump bare arms. His hands at present were filled with toys,
which he carried to his sister to console her, since he instantly
perceived that she was in disgrace.

"I cannot understand that," Strachinsky murmured. "I should have
credited Uncle Nick with a more generous spirit." And he looked sternly
at his wife, as if she were responsible for the ill success of her
mission.

She laid her hand gently on his arm and said, "You are an incorrigible
idealist, my poor Nello: you judge all men by yourself."

And Strachinsky passed his hand over his eyes, and sighed forth
sentimentally, "Yes, I am an idealist, an incorrigible idealist, a
perfect Don Quixote."


The rest of the afternoon was passed by the pair in the large
drawing-room, trying to obtain some clear understanding of the state of
Strachinsky's financial affairs,--a very difficult task.

She, pencil in hand, did the reckoning. He paced the room to and fro
with a tragic air, and smoked cigarettes. From time to time he uttered
some effective sentence, such as, "I am unfit for this world!" or, "Of
course a Marquis Posa like myself!"

She sat quietly contemplating the figures with which the sheet before
her was filled. Her face grow sad, while her husband's, on the
contrary, brightened. Since he was succeeding in casting all his cares
upon her shoulders, he felt quite cheerful.

"I never had the least idea of this ten thousand guilders which you
tell me you owe," the tortured woman exclaimed, in a sudden access of
anger.

"No?" her husband rejoined, with easy assurance. "I surely wrote you
about it; or could the trifle have slipped my memory? Yes, now I
remember you were with the children at Johannisbad. Löwy came and
pestered me with its being such a splendid chance,--told me I had no
right to hold back; and so I bought a hundred shares of Schönfeld.'
Good heavens! what do I understand of business?--how is such knowledge
possible for a gentleman? In the army one never learns anything of the
kind, and what can one do save follow advice? I trust others far too
readily,--you have always told me so; it is the natural result of the
magnanimity of my nature. I blame myself for it. I am an Egmont,--a
perfect Egmont. Poor Egmont! There is nothing left for me but to sigh
with him, 'Ah, Orange! Orange!'"

Strachinsky imagined that this confession, uttered with an
indescribably tragic emphasis, would quite reconcile his wife to his
unfortunate speculation. But, to his great surprise, the anticipated
result did not ensue. Frau von Strachinsky pushed her thick dark hair
back from her temples, and exclaimed, "I cannot understand you; you
promised me so faithfully not to speculate in stocks again."

"But, my dear Emma, the opportunity seemed to me so brilliant a one,
that I should have thought myself a very scoundrel not to try at
least----"

"And you see the result."

"When a man acts conscientiously and with the best intentions, he
should not be reproached, even although his efforts result in failure,"
he said, pompously. "No, my dear Emma, not a word; do not speak now:
you will only be sorry for it by and by."

But Emma Strachinsky was not on this occasion to be thus silenced: she
was indignant, and almost in despair. "You have always acted with the
'best intentions'!" she exclaimed, hoarse with agitation, "and the
result of your good intentions will be to beggar my children. Can you
take it ill if I withhold from you my few farthings, that there may be
some provision for the children in the future?"

Jagello von Strachinsky looked her over from head to foot. "_Your_ few
farthings!" he said, with annihilating severity. "What indelicacy!
Well, I shall steer my course accordingly. Do as you choose in future.
I have nothing more to say." And, with head haughtily erect, cavalier
and martyr every inch of him, he stalked from the room.

She looked after him: she had gone too far; again her impulsiveness had
led her astray. Her heart throbbed; she felt sore with agitation,
shame, and remorse.

When Erika, towards evening, was playing hide-and-seek with her little
brother in the garden, she saw her mother and her step-father strolling
affectionately along the gravel path between the hawthorn bushes. He
was already rather bald; his limbs were loosely knit; he wore full
whiskers, and there was a languishing glance in his eyes, but he was
still handsome, in spite of a dissipated air; she was tall, slender,
and erect, with large dark eyes, and a pale, noble countenance, that
could never, however, have been beautiful. They walked close together,
and to a casual observer presented an ideal picture of happy wedded
life. And yet when one observed more narrowly--his arm was thrown
around her shoulder, and he leaned upon her instead of supporting her;
the swing of his heavy frame, the languishing, sentimental expression
of his face, everything about him, bespoke a self-satisfied, luxurious
temperament; while she----in her eyes there was restless anxiety, and
her figure looked as though it were slowly being bowed to the ground by
a burden which she was either unable or afraid to shake off.

She walked with a patiently regular step beneath her heavy load.
Suddenly she seemed uneasy: she shivered.

"What is it, darling?" Strachinsky asked her, clinging still closer to
her.

"Nothing," she murmured, "nothing," and walked on.

They were passing the spot where the little brother and sister were
playing, and in the gathering twilight Emma Strachinsky became aware of
a pair of clear dark-brown childish eyes that seemed to ask, "How can
she love that man?"

Those childish eyes were positively uncanny!


The child's dislike dated from far in the past; it was in fact the
first clearly formulated emotion of her little heart. During the first
years of her second marriage the mother, prompted by an exaggerated
tenderness, had concealed from her little daughter as long as possible
the fact that Strachinsky was not her own father: the child had learned
the truth by accident. When she rushed to her mother to have what she
had heard confirmed, she was received with the tenderest caresses, as
though she were to be consoled for a great grief, while she was
entreated not to be sad, and was told that "'papa' was far too good and
kind to make any difference between herself and his own children, that
he loved her dearly," etc.

The mother's caresses were highly prized by the child, all the more
that they were rather rare, but on this occasion she could not even
seem to enjoy them, since she could not endure to be pitied and soothed
for what brought her in reality intense relief.

Her mother perceived this, and it angered her, although at the same
time the child's evident though silent dislike made a deep impression
upon her. Perhaps the consciousness of its existence in so frank and
childish a mind first gave occasion to distrust of the terrible
infatuation to which the gifted woman's entire existence had fallen a
sacrifice.


Frau von Strachinsky was wont to go herself every evening to see that
all was as it should be in the large airy apartment where both the
children slept. She hovered noiselessly from one bed to the other,
signing the cross upon the brow of each,--an old-fashioned custom to
which she still clung although she had long since adopted very
philosophical views with regard to religion,--and giving each sleeping
child a tender good-night kiss.

The evening after her return she went to the nursery at the usual hour,
but lingered only by the crib of the sleeping boy, passing her
daughter's bed with averted face. Rika sat up and looked after her; her
mother had reached the door without once looking back. This the child
could not endure. She sprang out of bed, ran to her mother, and seized
her by her skirt. "Mother! mother!" she cried, in a frenzy, "you will
not go without bidding me good-night?"

"Let go of my gown," Frau von Strachinsky replied, in a cold voice,
which nevertheless trembled with emotion.

"But what have I done, mother?" the child cried, clinging to her
passionately.

"Can you ask?" her mother rejoined, sternly.

"Why should I not ask? How should I know what he has told you? I was
not by when he accused me."

"Erika! is that the way to speak of your father?" her mother said,
angrily.

The little girl frowned. "He is not my father," she declared,
defiantly.

Frau von Strachinsky sighed. "Your ingratitude is shocking," she
exclaimed, and then, controlling herself with an effort, she added,
"But that I cannot alter: you are an unnatural, hard-hearted, stubborn
child. I cannot soften your heart, but I can insist that you conduct
yourself with propriety, and I forbid you once for all to run after
vagabonds in the street. And now go to bed."

"I will not go to bed until you bid me good-night!" cried the child.
She stood there with naked little feet, in her white night-gown, over
which her long reddish-brown hair hung down. "And I was not so naughty
as you think. You ought not to condemn me without giving me time to
defend myself."

The child was so desperately reasonable, her mother could not think her
wrong, in spite of her momentary anger. She paused. An idea evidently
occurred to the little girl. "Only wait one minute!" she exclaimed, as
she flew across the room to a drawer where she kept her toys, and,
returning with her _protégé's_ water-colour sketch, held it up
triumphantly before her mother's eyes. "Look at that!" she cried.

Involuntarily Emma looked. "Where did that come from?" she exclaimed,
forgetting her vexation in freshly-aroused interest.

"Do you know who it is?" asked Erika, stretching her slender neck out
of the embroidered ruffle of her night-gown.

"Of course; it is your picture. It is charming. Who did it?"

"The vagabond whom I ran after, the house-painter fellow," Erika
replied. "At least you can see he was not _that_, but a young artist."

Her mother was silent.

"Ah, if you had only been at home!" the child's bare feet were growing
colder, and her cheeks hotter with excitement, "you would have done
just as I did. If you had only seen him! He was very handsome, and so
pale and thin and weary with hunger,--why, _I_ could have knocked him
down,--and he never begged,--he was too proud,--only held out the
portfolio to papa, and his hand trembled----" Suddenly the excitable
temperament which the girl had inherited from her mother asserted
itself, and she began to sob, her whole childish frame quivering with
emotion. "And papa turned him out of doors, and told the cook--to
give--to give him two kreutzers. He threw them away--and then--then I
ran after him!"

Frau von Strachinsky had grown very pale; the child's agitated story
had evidently made an impression upon her, but she did her best to
preserve a severe demeanour. "But it is very improper to run after
strangers in the street; you are too old."

Erika hung her head, ashamed. "But I should not have done it if papa
had not abused him," she declared, by way of excuse. "I did it out of
pity for him."

"Pity is a very poor counsellor." Her mother said these words with an
emphasis which Erika never forgot, and which was to echo in her soul
years afterwards. Then she extricated herself from the child's embrace
and left the room, closing the door behind her.

A few minutes afterwards she reopened the door. Little Erika was still
standing where she had left her.

"Go to bed," said her mother, in a far more gentle tone, stooping down
to kiss her, "and be a better girl another time."

The child clasped her slender little arms tightly about her mother's
neck in a strangling embrace, crying, "Oh, mother, mother, you do love
me still?" The pale woman did not answer the question, save by a kiss;
she waited until the little girl had crept back to bed, and then tucked
in the coverlet about her shoulders, and once more left the room.

Erika, precocious child that she was, was a prey to emotions of
a very mingled character. She had won a great victory over her
step-father,--of this she was well aware,--but then she had grieved her
mother sorely. All at once she was seized with profound remorse in
recalling to-day's stroke of genius. Beneath her mother's severity she
had been sure of having right on her side; now a great uncertainty
possessed her. "It is very improper to run after strangers in the
street; you are too old," she repeated, meekly, and she grew hot. "What
would my mother think if she knew that I had kissed him?"

In the midst of her distress she was overpowered by intense fatigue:
her eyelids drooped above her eyes, and with her nightly prayer still
on her lips she fell asleep.


Emma von Strachinsky did not sleep; she sat in the bare room adjoining
the nursery, the room where she taught Erika her lessons. She wrote two
very difficult letters to her husband's creditors, and then proceeded
to sew upon a gown for her daughter. She was proud of the child's
beauty as only the mother can be who has all her life long been
conscious of being obliged to forego the gift of beauty for herself.
She loved her daughter idolatrously,--the daughter whom she often
treated with a severity verging upon injustice, and whom she sometimes
avoided for days because the glance of those clear eyes troubled her.

The windows of the room were open, and looked out upon the road. The
fragrance of ripened grain was wafted in from the earth outside,
resting from its summer fruitfulness and saturated with the August
sunshine. A song floated up through the silent night: the reapers were
working by moonlight. The low murmur of the brook accompanied the song,
and now and then could be heard the soft swish of the grain falling
beneath the scythe. A cricket chirped.

Emma dropped her hands in her lap and gazed into vacancy.

Suddenly she started; a step approached the door of the room, and
Strachinsky, smiling sentimentally, entered. "Emma," he said, tenderly,
"have you written to Franks and Ziegler?"

"Yes," she replied, and her voice sounded hoarse. "There lie the
letters. Read them, and see if they are what you wish."

"Not at all," her husband exclaimed, gaily. "I have implicit confidence
in your tact. H'm! the perusal of such letters is a sorry amusement."

"Do you suppose that it was a pleasure to write them?" Emma asked, with
some bitterness.

Strachinsky immediately assumed an injured air. "You are irritable
again. One cannot venture upon the slightest jest with you. Do you
suppose that I enjoy being forced to ask you to write the letters? Good
heavens! it is hard enough, but--circumstances will have it so." He
passed his hand over his eyes, and stroked his whiskers with an air of
great dignity.

She was silent. He watched her for a while, and then said, "That
eternal sewing is very bad for you. Come to bed."

"I cannot. I am not sleepy," she replied, plying her needle; "and,
moreover, I must finish this frock; let me go on with it." She bent
over her work with the air of one determined to complete a task.

Strachinsky stood beside her for a while longer, hesitating and
uncertain: he picked up each small article upon the table, looked at it
and laid it down again after the fashion of a man who does not know
what to do with himself, then he sighed profoundly, yawned, sighed
again, and without another word left the room with heavy, lagging
footsteps.

When he was gone she laid aside her sewing, and went to the open window
to breathe the fresh air. The bluish moonlight shone full upon the
whitewashed walls of the peasants' cots crowned with their dark clumsy
thatch; in the distance twinkled the little stream winding its plashing
way directly across the village towards the river, its banks bordered
with curiously-distorted willows that looked like crouching lurking
gnomes, and spanned by the huge useless bridge. Bridge, willows, and
cots all threw pitch-black shadows out into the glaring splendour of
the moonlit night, which was absolutely free from mist and damp. Beyond
the village stretched fields of grain and stubble in endless
perspective, a surface of tarnished dull gold.

The song was still informing the silence.

At last it ceased, and shortly afterwards heavy, regular steps were
heard passing along the road. The reapers were going home. They passed
by Emma's windows, a little dark gray crowd of men; the scythes over
their shoulders glimmered in the moonlight; then came a couple of
women, bowed and weary, almost dropping asleep as they walked; and last
of all the overseer, a young fellow whose hand clasped that of a girl
at his side. How he bent over her! A low tender whispering sound
reached Emma's ears through the dry August air which the night had
scarcely cooled. She turned away, frowning. "How happy they look! and
why?" she murmured to herself. Suddenly she smiled bitterly. Had she
any right to sneer thus at others?--she? Surely if ever a woman lived
who had believed in love and had married for love, she was that woman.

And whom had she loved? A poor weakling, who had never been worthy to
unloose the latchet of her shoe!

Not only little precocious Erika, every sensible human being who had
ever come in contact with the married pair had asked how such a union
had been possible. And yet it was so simple a story,--so simple and
commonplace,--the story of a woman lacking beauty, but gifted,
enthusiastic, prone to romantic exaggeration, whose longing for
affection had wrought her ruin.


Her parents belonged to the most ancient if not the most illustrious of
the native Bohemian nobility; he was of doubtful descent. She had
always been wealthy; he possessed nothing save a scheming brain and a
soaring self-conceit that bore him triumphantly aloft through all the
annoyances of life.

He was not entirely without talent, had had a good education, and was,
previous to his marriage with Emma Lenzdorff, neither idle nor
inactive, but possessed of a certain desire for culture, the secret
springs of which, however, were to be found in an eager social
ambition. At eighteen he entered the army: too poor to join the
cavalry, and too arrogant to content himself among the infantry, he
joined a Jäger corps. He had risen to the rank of captain when he was
wounded in the Schleswig-Holstein campaign. He made his wife's
acquaintance in a private hospital in Berlin, which she had arranged in
her own house for the martyrs of the aforesaid campaign.

She was very young, very enthusiastic, and a widow,--widow of a cold,
unloved northern German whom in accordance with family arrangements she
had married while she was yet only a visionary child. The memory of her
formal marriage inspired her with horror.

Before meeting Strachinsky she had given scope to her romantic
tendencies by all sorts of exaggerated charitable schemes, and by a
fanatical devotion to art and poetry. She had long been convinced that
her thirst for affection could never be satisfied. No one had ever
shown her any passionate devotion, and, conscious of her lack of
beauty, she had sadly resigned herself to swell the ranks of those
women whom reason might prompt a suitor to woo, but who could never
hope to be wooed in defiance of reason.

The Pole had an easy task. That he was handsome even his enemies could
not deny. And he knew how to make the most of his personal advantages:
a century earlier he might have been taken for a Poniatowski, with a
direct claim to the throne of Poland. His uniform was very becoming,
and a wounded soldier is always interesting. As soon as he divined the
young widow's weakness he wooed her with verses,--with passionate
declarations of love.

Poor Emma! Her thirsty heart thrilled with the sudden bursting into
bloom of its spring so long delayed! Her parents, who might have warned
her of what she was bringing upon herself, were dead; she paid no heed
to her mother-in-law, who strenuously opposed her second marriage. When
Emma, with burning cheeks, and trembling to her finger-tips with
emotion, repeated to her the Pole's exaggerated expressions of
devotion, the elder woman rejoined, coldly, "And you believe the
coxcomb?"

The words were to Emma like the sting from a whip-lash. "And why should
I not believe him?" she asked, sharply. "Because, perhaps, you think me
incapable of inspiring a man with affection?"

"Nonsense!" replied the sensible mother-in-law. "You could inspire
affection in any honest man with a heart in his bosom, but not in that
shallow Pole, that second-rate dandy."

"Perhaps you think him an adventurer, who wooes me for the sake of my
money?" Emma exclaimed, indignantly.

"No, I think him a superficial man who, flattered by having made an
impression upon a woman of rank, is trying to better his condition.
Adventurer! Nonsense! He has not wit enough. An opportunity offers
itself, and he embraces it: _voilà tout_. He is not to blame, but his
suit is unworthy of you, and a marriage with him would be a misfortune
for you, apart from the fact that you would disgrace your family by
it."

When a patient is to be persuaded to take a dose of medicine it ought
not to be offered him in an unattractive shape.

The old lady's representations were correct, but they were humiliating.
Emma turned away, stubborn and indignant, and a month afterwards
married Strachinsky and parted from her mother-in-law forever.

Eight years had passed since then. First came a few months during
which Emma revelled in the sensation of loving and being loved, and
then--well, the bliss was still there, but a slight shadow had fallen
upon it, dimming it, chilling it, a gnawing uneasiness, in the midst of
which memory would suddenly suggest the sensible mother-in-law's
unsparing predictions.

His marriage put an end to all exertion on Strachinsky's part: it had
at a single stroke, as it were, lifted him so far above all for which
his ambition had thirsted that he had nothing left to desire, save to
enjoy life in distinguished society as far as was possible. With his
wife's money he purchased an estate in Bohemia where the soil was the
poorest, so great in extent that it made a show in the map of the
country, and developed a brilliant talent for hospitality: all the
land-owners in the vicinity, all the cavalry-officers from the nearest
garrison, were habitués of Luzano, as the estate was called. With his
wife's unceasing attentions Strachinsky's self-importance increased,
and his regard for her declined. She existed simply to insure his
comfort,--for nothing else. The household was turned topsy-turvy when
the master's guests appeared, whether invited or unannounced.
Strachinsky entertained them with exquisite suppers, at which champagne
flowed freely, but at which his wife did not appear. After supper cards
were produced, and it was frequently four in the morning before the
gentlemen were heard driving away from the castle; sometimes they
remained until the next night.

But the day came when Luzano ceased to be a branch of the military
casino at K----. The life there suddenly became very quiet, and various
disagreeable facts came to light which had been disregarded in the
whirl of gaiety. Then first little Erika saw her mother, pencil in
hand, patiently adding up her husband's debts, while Strachinsky, his
hands clasped behind him, and a cigarette between his teeth, paced the
room, dictating amounts to her.

In addition to losses at play and in unfortunate speculations, he had
magnanimously put his name to various notes of his distinguished
friends.

Emma did not even frown, but exerted herself in every way,--sold her
trinkets and almost every valuable piece of furniture, that her husband
might meet his liabilities, treating him all the while with the
forbearance traditional in model wives, in order to save him from any
depressing consciousness of his position.

Was he conscious of it? If he were, he was entirely successful in
concealing any consequent depression. The morning after the first
painful revelation of his indebtedness, he skipped with the gayest air
imaginable into the dining-room, where the family were already
assembled at the breakfast-table, and exhorted all present to
economize, and especially not to put too much butter on their bread,
afterwards discoursing wittily upon 'poverty and magnanimity.'

To lighten his burden,--perhaps to disguise his insensibility from her
own heart,--Emma persuaded him that his course had been the result
solely of warm-hearted imprudence and an exaggerated nobility of
character.

This view of the case was eagerly adopted by his vanity. He paraded his
martyr's nimbus, and with a self-satisfied sigh styled himself a Don
Quixote.

Nothing could really be farther from Don Quixote's idealistic and
unselfish craze than his utter egotism, in its thin veil of
sentimentality. And as for his martyrdom, it was easily seen through.
None of the misfortunes brought upon himself by himself did he ever
allow to affect his existence. He possessed a kind of cunning
intelligence that never forsook him, and that enabled him in the midst
of ruin to insure his own personal ease.

But how could Emma have borne at that comparatively early period to see
him as he really was? She seized upon every excuse for him; she patched
up her damaged illusions; she would support, restrain him, develop all
that was really noble in him.

In her jealous ambition to make his home so delightful that he would
never look for entertainment elsewhere, she exerted herself to the
utmost, pandered to his love of eating, even cooked herself when they
were no longer able to bear the expense of such a cook as he had been
accustomed to, tried to conform her intellectual interests to his lack
of any such,--in short, did everything to strengthen the tie between
herself and him. She succeeded completely: she made the tie so strong
that no loosening of it was possible.

She tried to withdraw him from all outside influences, to win him
wholly to herself, and she succeeded; her presence, her tenderness,
became an absolute necessity of existence to him; he had never so
adored her even during their honeymoon.

Good heavens! now she would have given everything in the world for any
breach between them that could be widened beyond all possibility of
healing. It was too late; she must drag on the burden with which she
had laden herself; it was her duty; she could not sink beneath it; she
had no right to.

But in spite of all her efforts her nerves at length gave way. She
became irritable. At times she grieved over the change which she saw in
him; at other times the thought would suggest itself that this change
was merely superficial, that he had never really been any other than at
present. Then her blood would seem to run cold; she could have
screamed. No, no, she would not see!

There is nothing sadder in this world than the dutiful, tortured life
of a woman with a husband whom she has ceased to love.



                              CHAPTER II.


Full four years had passed by since Erika had kissed the young artist.
She recalled the little adventure, which had taken upon itself quite
magnificent dimensions in her lively imagination, with secret delight
and a vague sense of shame.

Emma was bearing her cross as best she might, but at every step she
well-nigh fell exhausted. Her wretchedness not unfrequently found vent
in angry words, for which she was sure to repent and apologize.

Her relation with her daughter, now a tall, slender, and unusually
clever girl of fourteen, suffered from her general wretchedness. She
still loved the child tenderly, but the girl's clear, observant gaze
pained her. It had grown much clearer and more penetrating with years.

A certain weight, an oppression, seemed to brood over Luzano like the
sense of an impending catastrophe.

The only ray of sunshine in the unhappy wife's gloomy lot was her
little son. Out of several children by her second marriage he alone had
survived. He was strong and healthy, the darling of all, his sister's
idol. Then--he had hardly passed his seventh birthday when he too died.

The little fellow had sickened in the midst of his play, had run to his
sister and had fallen asleep with his head in her lap. The girl sat
still, not to disturb him, and enjoined silence upon Miss Sophy, who
was in the room. The twilight stole gray and vague in upon the bare
apartment. The maid-servant--there were no longer any men-servants at
Luzano--brought in a lamp, and a plate of rosy-cheeked apples for the
children's supper. The boy opened his eyes, but closed them again with
a low moan and turned his head away from the light.

His mother appeared, saw at a glance how matters stood, and put the
little fellow to bed. She did not come down to supper, and when Erika
went, as was her wont, to say good-night to her brother, she was not
allowed to enter his room. The next morning the doctor was sent for.

Whilst he was in the sick-room Erika was taking her daily lesson in
English with Miss Sophy, with no thought of any trouble. She was
learning by heart her scene from Shakespeare, when her mother suddenly
put her head in at the door and said, "Diphtheria!" The tone of her
voice and the expression of her face were such as to terrify the girl.
But when Erika, trembling with dread, ran towards her, she waved her
off and vanished.

Miss Sophy was established in the sick-room, which Erika was not
allowed to enter. No one paid her any attention, and she spent hours
forlornly watching at the end of a long gloomy corridor the door behind
which so much that was terrible was going on. If she was seen she was
sent away; but before long the entire household was too anxious to pay
her the slightest heed.

It was about eleven in the forenoon of the fifth day since the first
symptoms of the disease had appeared. Erika stood listening eagerly
near the door, trembling with a sense of something vaguely terrible
going on behind it. Suddenly it opened, and her mother staggered out,
her dress disordered, her face distorted with agony, and supported by
the little boy's nurse. Behind her came Strachinsky, his handkerchief
at his eyes.

In absolute terror Erika looked after her mother, who passed her by,
even brushing her with her skirt, without seeing her. Then she entered
the room which the wretched woman had just left. The bed was covered
with a white sheet, which revealed the outline of the little form
beneath it. The girl's heart throbbed almost to bursting. She lifted a
corner of the sheet: there lay her little brother, dead, so white, and
with his sweet face unchanged by disease. The little hands lay half
open upon the coverlet, as though life had just slipped from them. A
grace born of death hovered above the entire form. His sister gazed in
tearless distress. She could not cry; she felt no definable pain, only
a terrible heaviness in her limbs, and a weight upon her heart that
almost choked her. She bent over the corpse to kiss it, when Miss Sophy
rushed into the room, seized her by the arm, and thrust her out of the
door.

Of course the first thing Erika did was to look for her mother. She
found her in the morning-room, seated in a large arm-chair, quivering
in every limb. Minna, the nurse, was moistening her forehead with
cologne, but she seemed entirely unconscious. Her hands were folded in
her lap, and her gaze was fixed on vacancy. Erika could not summon the
courage to approach her.

Meanwhile, Strachinsky was pacing the room in long strides: his tears
were already dried; every now and then he would pause and heave a
profound sigh. At first Emma seemed not to notice him, but on a sudden
she roused from her apathy, and, passing her hand over her brow, with a
feeble, wailing cry, she said, "For God's sake, stop, Nello!"

He paused, cleared his throat several times, took an English penknife
from his pocket, began to pare his nails, and then went to his wife and
stroked her cheek. She shrank from him involuntarily.

He groaned feelingly, left her, and went to the window: with one hand
he stroked his whiskers, with the other he jingled the keys in his
pocket.

After a while he began in an undertone, probably with the foolish
expectation of distracting the wretched mother's thoughts, to detail
what was going on outside, all in a melancholy, sentimental monotone,
that would have set healthy nerves on edge. "Ah, see that little
sparrow with a straw in its beak! it must be fitting up its winter
nest."

Poor Emma sat bolt upright, except that her head inclined somewhat
forward, and gazed at the man at the window.

Suddenly she uttered a short, shrill scream, and, pressing both hands
to her temples, rushed out of the room.

When she had gone Strachinsky shrugged his shoulders, sighed as if
gross injustice had been done him, and retired to his room to make a
list of the names of all those whom he wished notified of the death.


The funeral took place the third day afterwards.

On that day they assembled at the dinner-table as on other days. The
poor mother ate nothing, and Erika could scarce swallow a morsel. The
tears which had refused to come at first were falling fast upon her new
black gown.

Strachinsky ate, but after a while he too pushed his plate away. For
the first time in her life his stepdaughter was conscious of an emotion
of compassion for him. She thought that his grief had made eating
impossible, when he cleared his throat, and, "This is intolerable," he
whined; "at best I have no appetite, and here is tomato sauce! You know
I never eat tomato sauce."

His wife made no reply: she only looked at him with her strange new
gaze, with eyes from which the last veil had fallen, and which were
pained by the light. The look in those eyes would have made one
shudder.

The clock in the castle tower struck one quarter of an hour after
another, bringing ever nearer the time for the interment. The little
body was already laid in the coffin. The coffin-lid leaned up against
the wall. A fierce restlessness, the strained expectation of a certain
moment which was to be the culmination of an intolerable misery,
possessed Erika: she hurried from place to place, and at last ran after
her mother, who had gone into the garden.

It was cold and stormy. The autumn had come late and suddenly. Some
bushes had kept all their leaves, but they were blackened and
shrivelled; others had retained only a few red and yellow leaflets that
fluttered in the wind. The trees, on the other hand, were almost
entirely bare. The naked boughs showed dark gray or purplish brown
against the cloudy sky: the birches alone could still boast some
golden-coloured foliage. On the moist gravel paths and the sodden
autumn grass lay wet brown leaves mingled with those but lately fallen.
The asters and chrysanthemums, nipped by the first frost, hung their
heads, and among all the autumnal decay the poor mother wandered about,
seeking a few fresh flowers to lay in her dead child's coffin. With
faltering steps, tripping now and then over the skirt of her gown, she
tottered from one ruined flower-bed to another. The sharp autumn wind
fluttered her dress and outlined her emaciated limbs. From her lips
came a low moaning mingled with caressing words. She kissed the few
poor flowers, frost-touched, which she held in her hand. Erika walked
close behind her. Once or twice she stretched out her hand to grasp her
mother's skirt, but withdrew it hastily, as if fearing to hurt her by
even the gentlest touch.

Ten minutes afterwards the sharp strokes of a hammer resounded through
the castle, and the unhappy woman was crouching in the farthest corner
of her room, her hands held tightly to her ears.

In the night following the funeral Erika was waked from sleep by a low
moan. She started up. By the vague light of early dawn, in which the
windows were defined amid the darkness, she saw something dark lying
upon the floor beside her bed. She cried out in terror, and then it
stirred. It was her mother lying there upon the hard floor, where
she must have been for some time, for when Erika touched her she was
icy-cold. The girl took her in her arms and drew her into the soft warm
bed beside her. Neither spoke one word, but their hearts beat in
unison: all discord between them had vanished.


She had thrown off her burden; she breathed anew; she would stand erect
once more. Then she discovered that a heavier burden yet, a fresh tie,
bound her to the husband whom now, stripped of all illusion, she
detested. The consciousness of this misfortune crept over her slowly;
at first she would not believe it, and when she could no longer doubt,
it seemed to her that her reason must give way.

Erika soon perceived that her mother's misery was not due alone to the
loss of her child. No, that pain brought with it a tender and gentle
mood. Another burden oppressed her, something against which her entire
nature angrily rebelled, and under the weight of which she displayed a
gloomy severity from which her daughter alone never suffered. Towards
her since the boy's death Emma had shown inexpressible tenderness, and
the girl, thirsting for affection, was never weary of nestling close in
her mother's arms, receiving her caresses with profound gratitude,
almost with devout adoration. Sometimes the mother would smile in the
midst of her grief as she stroked the gold-gleaming hair back from her
child's pale face with its large dark eyes. "They do not see it," she
would murmur, "but I see how pretty you are growing. Poor little Erika!
you have had a sad youth; but life will atone to you for it when I am
no longer here."

"Do not say that!" cried the girl, clasping her mother in her arms. "As
if I could endure life without you! Mother! mother!"

"You do not dream of what can be endured," her mother said, bitterly.
"One submits. Learn to submit; learn it as soon as may be. Do not ask
too much from life; ask for no complete happiness: it is an illusion.
You, indeed, are justified in claiming more than your poor, ugly mother
had any right to, my beautiful, gifted child!" She uttered the words
almost with solemnity. Something of the romantic strain which had
characterized her through every stage of her prosaic, humiliating
existence came to light now in her worship of her daughter.

She strongly impressed Erika with the idea that she was an exceptional
creature, and, although she was always admonishing her to expect
nothing of life, she nevertheless gave her to understand that life was
sure to offer something extraordinary for her acceptance. On the whole,
in spite of the girl's grief at the loss of her little brother, she
would have been happier than ever before had it not been for a growing
anxiety with regard to her mother, whose health had entirely given way.
Whereas she had been wont from early morning until late at night to
make her presence felt throughout the household and on the estate,
grasping with a firm and skilled hand the reins which her husband had
idly dropped, now she took an interest in nothing.

Erika was tortured by anxiety, an anxiety all the more distressing from
the fact that she could not define her fears.

Towards her husband Emma displayed a daily increasing irritability. But
his easy content was not at all disturbed by it. Thanks to a fancy
which was ever ready to devise means for sparing and nourishing his
self-conceit, he discovered a hundred reasons other than the true one
for his wife's attitude towards him. Her irritability was all due, so
he informed Miss Sophy, to her situation. And in receiving Miss Sophy's
admiring and compassionate homage he found, and had found for some
time, his favourite occupation.

Emma now lived apart in a large room, which, besides her bed and
wash-stand, was furnished only with a couple of book-shelves, two
straight-backed chairs covered with horsehair, and a round tiled stove
decorated with a rude bas-relief of a train of mad Bacchantes and
bearing on its level top a large funeral urn. The boards of the floor
were bare, and in a deep window-recess there was an arm-chair. In this
chair the miserable woman would sit for hours, her elbows resting upon
its arms, her hands clasped, staring into vacancy.

In the garden upon which this window looked the snow lay several feet
deep; upon the meadow beyond, which sloped gently to the broad frozen
river, and upon its icy surface, it was so deep that meadow and river
were undistinguishable from each other; upon the dark pine forest
that bounded the horizon--upon everything--it lay cold and heavy. All
cold!--all white! Huge drifts of snow; no road definable; never a bird
that chirped, never a leaf that stirred; all cold and white, without
pulsation, without breath, dead,--the whole earth a lovely stark
corpse.

And the wretched woman's gaze could fall upon naught outside save this
white monotony.

Spring came. The dignified repose of death dissolved in feverish
activity, in the restless change of seasons, vibrating between fair and
foul, between purity and its opposite.

The earth absorbed the snow, except where in dark hollows it lingered
in patches, to disappear slowly in muddy pools.

Emma still sat for hours daily in her room with hands clasped in her
lap, but her eyes were no longer fixed on vacancy; they had found an
object upon which to rest. Among the tender green of the meadows so
lately stripped of their snowy covering, glided the river, dark and
swollen. How loudly it exulted in its liberation from its icy fetters!
"Freedom!" shouted its surging waves,--"Freedom!"

Upon this river her gaze was now riveted.

Days passed,--weeks; the air was warm and sweet; the window by which
she sat was open, and the voice of the river was clear and loud.

One afternoon at the end of April the ploughs were creaking over the
road, there was an odour of freshly-turned earth in the air, and the
fruit-trees were already enveloped in a white mist.

The sun had set, and in the west the crescent moon hung pale and
shadowy.

Erika was standing at the low garden wall, looking down across the
meadow. Her youthful spirit was oppressed by anxiety so vague that she
could neither define it nor struggle against it: she seemed to be
blindly dragged along to meet the inevitable.

Her mother had to-day been especially tender to her, but sadder than
ever before. She had talked as if her death were nigh at hand, and had
spent a long time in writing letters.

On a sudden the girl perceived a dark object moving rapidly along in
the warm damp evening air,--a tall figure in a black gown which
fluttered in the south wind. It was her mother.

How quickly she strode through the high rank grass! how strange was her
gait! Erika had never before seen any one hasten thus, with long
strides, and yet falteringly as though borne down by weariness, on--on
towards the dark-flowing river.

Suddenly the girl divined what her mother intended to do. She would
have screamed, but for an instant her voice failed her, and in the next
she was silent from presence of mind, the clear-sight of terror.

She clambered over the low wall and flew after her mother, her feet
scarcely touching the ground, her breath coming in painful gasps.

The dark figure had reached its goal, the river-bank; it leaned
forward,--when two nervous, girlish hands clutched the black folds of
her gown. "Mother!" shrieked Erika, in despair.

She turned round. "What do you want?" she said, harshly, almost
cruelly, to her daughter. Then she shuddered violently, and burst into
a convulsive sobbing which it seemed impossible to her to control.

Her daughter put her arm around her, nestled close to her, and kissed
the tears from her cheeks. "Mother," she cried, tenderly, "darling
mother!" and without another word she gently led the wretched woman
away from the water. The mother made no resistance; she was mortally
weary, and leaned heavily upon the slender girl of fourteen.

They slowly returned to the house. A white translucent mist was rising
from the fields, and flying through it with drooping wings, so low that
they almost stirred the grass, a flock of hoarsely-croaking ravens
passed them by.


In the night Erika suddenly aroused from sleep, without knowing what
had wakened her. She rubbed her eyes, and turned to sleep again, when
just outside of her door she heard a voice exclaim, "Ah, God of
heaven!" In an instant, barefooted and in her nightgown, she was in the
corridor, where she saw the cook hurrying in the direction of her
mother's room. "What is the matter?" the girl cried, in terror. The
cook looked round, shrugged her shoulders, and hurried on.

Erika would have followed her, but Strachinsky appeared at the turning
of the corridor where the cook had vanished. He looked as if just
roused from sleep; he had on a flowered dressing-gown, and carried a
lighted candle. Beside him Minna walked, pale as ashes.

Strachinsky set the candlestick down upon a long low table in the
passage. "Have the horses harnessed immediately," he ordered, "and send
the bailiff to K---- for the doctor."

"Will not the Herr Baron go himself? People are not always to be relied
upon," said Minna, with a significant glance at the master of the
house.

"Oh, no; the bailiff will attend to it perfectly, and then--you can
understand that I do not wish to be away at this time from my wife, who
will of course ask for me----" Minna's eyes still being fixed upon him
with a very strange expression in them, he added, snapping out his
words in childish irritation, "And then--then--it is no business of
yours, you stupid fool!" And, turning on his heel, he left her.

Minna shrugged her shoulders, and turned towards the staircase to give
the necessary orders.

Neither she nor Strachinsky had noticed Erika. The girl ran to the
nurse and plucked her by the sleeve. "Minna," she asked, in dread,
"what is the matter? Is my mother ill?"

"Yes."

"What is the matter with her? Tell me, Minna! oh, tell me!"

But the nurse shook off her clasping hands. "Let me alone, child. I am
in a hurry," she murmured.

Erika advanced a step, hesitated, and then returned to her room,
where she found Miss Sophy in great distress, her head crowned with
curl-papers, which she cut out of the _Modern Free Press_ every evening
and which made her look half like Medusa and half like a porcupine.

"Where are you going?" she asked, seeing that Erika began to dress
hurriedly. "To my mother; she is ill."

Miss Sophy gently detained her. "Do not go," she said, softly: "they
would not let you in; you would only be in the way, now. Wait a little.
Your mother does not want you there." And she wagged her porcupine head
with melancholy solemnity as she added, "I believe--I think you will
perhaps have a little brother, or sister."

Erika stared at her. This it was, then!


Among the many sad experiences that were to fall to Erika's lot there
were none to equal the dull restlessness, the mortal dread mingled with
a mysterious, inexpressible emotion, of these hours.

She went on dressing, striving only to be ready quickly, as one dresses
when the next house is on fire. Then she seated herself opposite Miss
Sophy, at a tottering round table upon which stood a guttering candle.

For a while all was silent; then there was a noise outside the door.
The girl sprang up and hurried out, to see a stout, elderly woman in a
tall black cap, with the phlegmatic flabby face of a monk, going
towards her mother's room. Erika recognized her as the needy widow of a
stone-mason; she was wont to doctor both men and cattle in the village.
Her name was Frau Jelinek. The scullery-maid who had brought her was
just behind her.

They passed Erika without heeding her, and the girl looked after them
in a fresh access of dread.

Two hours passed. Miss Sophy was asleep; Erika still waked and watched.
A light rain had begun to fall; the drops pattered against the
window-panes.

Once more Erika arose and crept out into the corridor. Trembling in
every limb, she stood at the door of the room through which her
mother's sleeping-apartment was reached. It was ajar, and light
streamed through the crack. She looked in. Strachinsky was seated at a
table, playing whist with three dummies. It had for some time past been
his favourite occupation. A maid stood in a corner, arranging a pile of
linen. Erika was about to address her, when Frau Jelinek, her black
leathern bag on her arm, came out of her mother's bedroom.

"May I not go to mamma,--just for a moment?" the girl asked, in an
agitated whisper.

The bedroom door opened again, and Minna appeared. "Is it you, child?"

"Yes, yes," Erika made answer.

"Do not disturb your mother. Stay in your room till you are called,"
Minna said, authoritatively.

And from the room came the poor mother's weary, gentle voice: "Go lie
down, my child; don't sit up any longer; go to bed, dear."

For a while Erika stood motionless; then she kissed the hard cold door
that would not open to her, and went back to her room. She lay down on
the bed, dressed as she was, and this time she fell asleep. On a sudden
she sat upright. The candle on the table was still burning, and by its
light she saw that Miss Sophy, who had been sleeping on the sofa, was
sitting up, awake, and listening, with a startled air.

Erika hurried out; Minna met her in the corridor, and at the same
moment a vehicle rattled into the courtyard.

"The doctor!" exclaimed Minna. "Thank God!"

The bailiff appeared on the staircase.

"Where is the doctor?"

"He was not at home," the man made answer.

"Did you not ask where he was and go after him?" Minna asked,
impatiently.

"No," replied the bailiff, twirling his straw hat in his hands. "But I
left word for him to come as soon as he got home."

"Fool!" Strachinsky, who had now come into the corridor, exclaimed,
shaking his fist at the man. "You are dismissed," he added,
grandiloquently. Then, turning to Minna, he said, "Good heavens, if I
had a horse I could ride to K----."

Without heeding him, Minna hurried down the staircase, and a few
moments later a carriage again left the court-yard.

Minna had herself gone for the doctor, before her departure beseeching
Erika to keep quiet: she should be summoned as soon as it would be
right for her to see her mother.

The girl obeyed, and sat in her room, rigid and motionless, at the
table where the candle was burning down into the socket. At first, to
shorten the time, she tried to knit, but the needles dropped from her
fingers.

Miss Sophy sat opposite her, with elbows upon the table, and her head
in her hands, listening.

In the distance there was a sound of wheels; it came nearer and nearer.
Thank God! It was Minna, and she brought the doctor. There was a
hurried running to and fro, and then all was still, still as death.

The dawn crept in at the window. The flame of the candle burned red and
dim. The rain had ceased, and through the misty window-panes could be
seen a glimmer of white blossoms, and behind them a pale-blue sky in
which the last stars were slowly fading.

Then the door opened, and Minna entered. "Come, Erika," she said, in a
low voice.

Erika arose hastily. "Have I really a little brother?" she asked,
anxiously.

Minna shook her head. "It is dead."

"And my mother?"

"Ah, come quickly."

She drew the girl along with her through the long whitewashed corridor.
In the room leading to the dying woman's chamber Strachinsky was
standing with the physician. The latter stood with bowed head;
Strachinsky was weeping.

Erika went directly to her mother's bedside. The dying woman's hair was
brushed back from her temples; her lips were blue. Erika kneeled down
and buried her face in the bedclothes. Her mother laid her hand upon
her head and stroked it--ah, how feebly! But how soothing was the
touch!

In one corner old Minna kneeled, praying.

Outside, the world was brightening; there was a golden splendour over
all the earth. The birds twittered, at first faintly, then loudly and
shrilly. The dying woman stirred among the pillows: Erika was to hear
the dear voice once more.

"My child, my poor, dear child, I have been a poor mother to you----"

"Oh, mother, darling----"

"My death will make it all right. Write to----"

At this moment Strachinsky knocked at the door. "Emma!" he whispered.

The dying woman's face expressed positive horror. "Do not let him come
in!" she exclaimed.

Erika flew to the door and turned the key; when she returned to the
bedside her mother was struggling for breath.

Evidently most anxious to impart some information to her daughter, she
had not the strength to do so. Once more she passed her hand over
Erika's head,--it was for the last time; then the hand grew heavier; it
no longer lavished a caress; it was a mere weight.

Erika moved, and looked at her mother. The tears stood in her eyes
unshed, so wondrous was her mother's face. The battle was won.

All the pain of life--the sweet pain of supreme rapture hinting to us
of that heaven which we cannot attain, and that other bitter pain
pointing to the grave at which we shudder--was for her extinct.


Erika threw herself upon the body and covered it with kisses. With
difficulty could she be induced to leave it; but when they led her from
the room, as soon as the door closed behind her she was docile and
gentle. She seemed bewildered, and walked slowly with bowed head beside
Minna. Once only she looked back when a thin, melancholy wail resounded
through the quiet morning air. It was the bell in the little tower of
the castle, tolling restlessly.


Years afterwards she could not bring herself to recall in memory the
terrible days that followed,--the dreary burden that she dragged about
with her from morning until night, the sleep born of utter exhaustion,
the slow pursuance of daily custom as in a dream, the awakening with
nerves refreshed by forgetfulness, and then the sudden consciousness of
misery, the sensation of soreness in every limb, a sensation
intensified by every motion, by a word spoken in her presence, the
restlessness which drove her hither and thither until in some dim
corner she would crouch down and cry,--cry until the very fount of
tears seemed dry and her burning eyes would close again in the leaden
sleep which still had to yield to the terrible awakening.

She felt the most earnest desire to do something, to perform some
office of love for her mother; but scarcely for one moment was she left
alone with the body.

Strangers prepared the loved one for the tomb, the coachman and the
gardener lifted her into the coffin. Shortly before it was closed,
Strachinsky remembered that his wife had once expressed a wish to be
buried in the dress and veil she had worn at her marriage with him. But
neither could be found. The cabinet where she was wont to hoard her
treasures was empty, except for a lock of hair of her dead boy, and
this they laid beneath her head.

Her husband bestowed but little thought upon the circumstance. He
honestly regretted the dead, and lost his appetite for two days; but as
the time for the funeral drew near, he worked himself into an exalted
frame of mind, which found vent in solemn pomposity.

He had ordered a hearse from the city. Erika was standing at a window
of the corridor when, with nodding plumes, it rattled into the castle
court-yard, and her misery reached the point of despair.

Until then she had not quite comprehended it all. She heard the men
stagger down the stairs beneath the weight of the coffin, heard it
knock against the wall at a sharp turn.

She followed it to the grave. All walked behind the hearse, the shabby
splendour of which suited so ill with the rural landscape.

Most of the gentry of the surrounding country, who had long since
ceased to visit at Luzano, assembled to pay the last honours to the
poor woman, but they were only a speck in the endless funeral train.
Behind the few black coats and high hats following close upon the
hearse came a swarming crowd. All the peasants, day-labourers, and
beggars from Luzano and the surrounding estates paid the last token of
respect to the martyr gone to her eternal rest: she had been good and
kind to all.

It was the first of May. The fields were clothed in a light green, and
the apple-trees showed pink with half-open blossoms. A reddish smoke
curled upward to the skies from the flames of the torches. And there
was a flutter of sighs among the blossoming boughs of the trees and
above the meadows,--the breath of the freshly-born spring.

Through the new life strode death.

Noiselessly the funeral train moved on. Erika walked almost
mechanically, looking neither to the right nor to the left, only moving
forward. On a sudden something attracted her gaze. On a little
elevation by the roadside, between two apple-trees, stood a young
peasant woman with a child in her arms,--a child who stared at the long
procession with large eyes of wonder.



                              CHAPTER III.


The day after the funeral Strachinsky, in melancholy mood, paced to and
fro in the room where his wife had died. From time to time he walked to
the window and looked out,--then he would turn again towards the
interior of the chamber. Suddenly his eyes fell upon a sheet of
blotting-paper left upon the writing-table.

His wife's handwriting had been remarkably large, and the words which
were of course imprinted backwards upon the sheet attracted his notice.
With very little trouble he deciphered them: "My last will."

He frowned. "So she has made a fresh will," he said to himself. In
spite of his enormous self-conceit, he did not doubt that it could
hardly be in his favour. The blood rushed to his head. Where was the
will? Probably in her writing-table. But where were the keys? The
shrewdness which, in spite of his intellectual deterioration, stood him
in stead whenever he feared personal inconvenience came to his aid. He
remembered that his wife had been wont to keep her keys in the drawer
of a small table at her bedside, and he reflected that, in the sad
confusion ensuing upon her death, it was hardly likely that they had as
yet been removed. In fact he found them there, and with them he opened
the middle drawer of her writing-table. It contained a large sealed
envelope inscribed "My last will." Strachinsky slipped the document
into his pocket, and returned the keys to their place.

At that moment the door opened, and Erika entered. She looked
wretchedly pale and wan, with dark rings around her weary eyes. She
wore a black gown which her mother had made hastily for her when her
little brother died, and which she had outgrown during the winter.
Although the day was warm and sunshiny, she looked cold, and in all her
movements there was something of the timorous hesitation that a dog
will display after losing his master, when he seems uncertain where to
creep away and hide himself. The resolute attitude she had been wont to
maintain when with her step-father was all gone; heart, mind, and soul
seemed alike crushed.

"What do you want here?" Strachinsky asked, suspiciously.

She looked at him in what was almost surprise, and a tremor of pain
passed through her. "What should I want?" she murmured, in a hoarse
whisper. "I want to go to my mother!" She said it to herself, not to
him; she seemed to have forgotten his presence. Her chin trembled, her
lips twitched, the tears rushed to her eyes.

No, that pitiable creature never could have come to look for a will.
Strachinsky, always ready to be sentimental, gave a sigh of relief, put
his hand over his eyes, and left the room. Scarcely had he gone when
Erika's sad eye fell upon the bed: it had been stripped of all its
coverings and looked like some couch in a lumber-room that had been
unused for years. With a shudder the girl turned away. Yes, what could
she want here? She asked herself the question now. But on a sudden she
perceived hanging on the wall a black skirt, the hem soiled with mud.
It was the gown her mother had worn when she hurried across the fields,
the day before her death. Erika clutched it as if it had been a living
thing, and with a low wail buried her face in its folds, about which
some aroma of her dead mother seemed to cling.

Meanwhile, Strachinsky had locked himself into his room, where he
walked to and fro, lost in reflection, the portentous will in his
pocket, with the seal as yet unbroken. The only legal document of the
kind, in his opinion, was the will made by his wife eleven years
previously, shortly after their marriage, by which she constituted him
her sole heir and the guardian of her daughter. Any later testamentary
disposition he could not possibly regard otherwise than as the result
of an aberration of mind, of which she had for some time shown
symptoms, and which had, shortly before her death, come to be
distinctly developed.

Poor Emma! There was no doubt that her intellect, once so clear and
strong, had been clouded of late years.

So soon as he had entirely convinced himself of this fact, he broke the
seal of the will.

Even in his rascality he was a thorough sentimentalist. He never could
have committed a crime without first skilfully contriving to exalt in
his own eyes both himself and his motives.

Whilst reading the document he changed colour several times. When he
had finished he sighed thrice consecutively: "Poor Emma!" Then, after
pacing the room thoughtfully, he said to himself, "She would be indeed
distressed if this paper--worthless legally in view of her mental
condition, and throwing so false a light upon our marriage--should ever
be made public; she--to whom the tie between us was so sacred!" A flood
of proofs of his wife's devotion to him, interrupted but temporarily,
overwhelmed Strachinsky's soul. He lit a candle and burned Emma's last
will.

And then, without the slightest pricking of conscience, he betook
himself to his beloved lounge. He had the sensation of having performed
an act of exalted devotion.

"No need, dearest Emma," he said, apostrophizing his wife's portrait
which hung above his couch, "to say that I never shall let your child
want. No legal document is necessary to insure that. Poor Emma!" And,
remembering the extract-books which he had devised at a former period
of his existence, he moaned, drearily, "Oh, what a noble mind was there
o'erthrown!"

When, a few hours afterwards, he encountered his step-daughter, he felt
it incumbent upon him to be especially kind to her. He patted her
shoulder, with the insinuating tenderness people are apt to show
towards those whom they have wronged, and said, solemnly, "Poor little
Rika! Your loss is great. Your mother is gone; but never forget that
you still have a father."


Weeks passed,--months; everything in the house went on as best it
could. Strachinsky lay on the sofa from morning until night, reading
novels most of the time. In the pauses of this edifying occupation he
roused himself to an unedifying activity; that is to say, he scolded
all the servants, without assigning any grounds for his displeasure. No
one minded it much: every one knew that after such an episode he would
betake himself to his sofa again and to his sentimental romances.

With regard to his step-daughter's education, he showed the same
tendency to vehement attacks of zeal. He would suddenly go to the
school-room, inspect her written exercises, question her as to some
historical date which he had quite forgotten himself, and conclude by
asking her to play something upon the piano.

During her performance he would pace the room with a face expressive of
the gravest anxiety.

At first she took pains to play for him, but when she discovered that
he had determined beforehand to find fault, she rattled away upon the
keys of her old instrument like a perfect imp of waywardness, whenever
required to show what progress she had made.

Almost before her fingers had left the key-board the scolding began. "I
see no improvement; no, not the slightest improvement do I perceive!
And to think of all that has been done for your education! I fairly
work my fingers to the bone to give you every advantage that a princess
could claim, while you--you do nothing!" And then would follow a long
dramatic summary of the sacrifices that had been made for her. He
always talked to her like the father addressing a worthless daughter in
some popular melodrama, ending upon every occasion with, "What is to
become of you? Tell me, what--what will become of you?" Then he would
bring down both fists upon the top of the piano, to emphasize the
horror inspired by the thought of her future, shake his head for the
last time, and leave the room with a heavy stride. Afterwards he was
sure to complain of the injury the agitation had caused him, and to
betake himself to his sofa.

The girl was left more and more to herself. About six months after her
mother's death Miss Sophy was dismissed. She was a thoroughly capable
woman, personally much attached to her pupil, trustworthy and practical
as a housekeeper, but prone to fall in love with every man, and to find
a rival and foe in every woman who refused to be the confidante of her
morbid and distorted sentimentality.

During Emma's lifetime she had been able to conceal most of her
eccentricities in this respect, but afterwards she became positively
intolerable,--perhaps because there was no one to restrain or
intimidate her. Without a single personal attraction, she was
inordinately vain, forever striving by her dress and conduct to invite
attention from the other sex. In the forenoons she gave Erika lessons,
in the afternoons she mended and made her clothes,--she was a skilled
needlewoman,--and the evenings she devoted to music.

She sang. Her répertoire was limited, consisting principally of the
soprano part of Mendelssohn's duet "I would that my love could silently
flow in a single word," which she shrieked out as a solo, and in
Schumann's "I'll not complain,"--which last always caused her to shed
copious tears.

At last her love of self-adornment as well as her musical enthusiasm
passed all bounds. She cut off her hair, dressed it in short curls, and
purchased two new silk gowns. She also bought an old zither, and every
evening, with her hair freshly curled, and in a rustling silk robe, she
betook herself to the drawing-room, where Strachinsky, in pursuance of
his boasted activity, was wont to finish the day by endless games of
patience.

Her manner, the languishing looks cast at him over her instrument, left
no doubt as to her sentiments towards him.

At first the master of the house took but little heed of these
demonstrations. Her performance upon the zither he found rather
agreeable: the whining drawl of the tones she evoked from it soothed
his melancholy. But one evening when he had requested her to play for
him "The Tyrolean and his Child," and also to repeat "May Breezes," she
was so carried away by triumphant vanity that she attempted to sing
with her instrument, accompanying her shrill notes with such
languishing glances that their object could no longer ignore their
meaning.

The next morning Strachinsky sent for his stepdaughter. Clad in his
dressing-gown, as he reclined upon his lounge, with all the romantic
drawling indifference in his air and voice which he had learned from
his favourite hero "Pelham," he asked her as she stood before him,--

"The Englishwoman's behaviour must have struck you as extraordinary?"

She nodded.

He passed his hand thoughtfully across his brow. She did not speak, and
he went on playing the English nobleman to his own entire satisfaction.
His left hand, in which he held a French novel, hanging negligently
over the arm of the lounge, he waved his right in the air, and said,
"Of course I pity the poor creature, but she bores me. Rid me of the
fool, I pray,--rid me of her!"

He then inclined his head towards the door, and buried himself in the
perusal of his novel.

From that time Erika ceased to spend the evenings with Miss Sophy in
the drawing-room; she withdrew after supper to the solitude of the old
school-room, which in fact she greatly preferred.

Of course Miss Sophy suspected some plot of Erika's in Strachinsky's
altered demeanour, and lost every remnant of sense still left in her
silly head. She employed all her leisure moments in writing to her hero
letters which she bribed the maid to lay upon the table in his
dressing-room.

This would all have been ridiculous, if the affair had not taken a
tragic turn.

One morning Miss Sophy did not appear at the breakfast-table, and when
Minna went to call her she found the wretched woman in bed, writhing in
agony. In despair at Strachinsky's insensibility she had poisoned
herself with the tips of some old lucifer matches. The physician,
summoned in haste, was barely able to save her life; and of course she
left Luzano as soon as she was able to travel.

Strachinsky was much flattered that the poor woman's love for him had
ended in madness, and he invested her memory with an ideal excellence,
recalling her as brilliantly gifted by nature and endowed with many
personal attractions.


Erika was now left without instruction. Her step-father decided that a
young girl of her age needed no further supervision, and that the
daughter of a poor farmer could lay no claim to any personal luxury.

When he spoke of himself only, it was always as an 'impoverished
cavalier;' when he alluded to himself as her father, he was always
degraded to simply 'a poor farmer.'

All through the summer she was alone, and during a long dreary winter,
followed by another summer and another winter, she was still alone.
Another girl in her place might have fallen into gossip with the
servants to pass the time; another, again, might have married the
bailiff out of sheer ennui: assuredly any one else would have grown
stupid and uncouth. She did nothing of the kind.

She had occupation enough. She learned long pages of Goethe and
Shakespeare by heart, and declaimed them, clad in improvised costumes,
before a tall dim mirror; she played on the piano for hours daily, and
made decided progress, despite certain bad habits unavoidable in the
lack of instruction. The rest of her time was spent in building
numberless castles in the air, and in taking long walks about the
neighboring country.

But when three years had gone by since her mother's death, without the
least alteration in her circumstances, the poor child began to be
impatient and to look eagerly about for some relief from so sordid an
existence. Why could she not be an artist?--an actress, a singer, or a
pianist?

On a cold spring morning towards the end of April she seated herself at
the big table in her former school-room and indited a letter to the
director of the Castle Theatre at Vienna,--a letter in which she
partially explained to him her position and requested him to make a
trial of her dramatic talent, with a view to an engagement at his
theatre. She declared herself ready to go to Vienna if he would promise
her an audience. She had finished the clearly-written document, but
when about to sign her name she hesitated. Erika Lenzdorff she signed
at last. "Lenzdorff," she repeated, thoughtfully,--"Lenzdorff." What
possessed her to write to the director of a theatre--an utter
stranger--explaining her circumstances? Would it not be much better to
turn to her father's relatives? To be sure, she knew nothing about
them,--not even their address; but that, she thought, might be
procured. Her mother had never spoken of them; she had always abruptly
changed the subject when Erika asked about her father and his
relatives. Why?

Strachinsky and his wife had often spoken of the parents of the latter,
but never of those of her first husband.

"Lenzdorff." She wrote the name again and again on a sheet of paper. It
looked distinguished. Perhaps they were wealthy people, who could do
something for her; but----

Emma had told her daughter that her name was Lenzdorff the day after
the adventure with the young painter, when the child, mortified at not
having been able to tell it, had asked what it was. But when she had
precociously repeated, in a questioning tone, "_Von_ Lenzdorff?" her
mother had replied, sternly, "What is that to you? It is of no
consequence whatever."

Erika began to ponder. Her mother's parents had died long since; must
not her father's parents be dead also? If they were still living, it
was difficult to see why Strachinsky had not cast upon them the burden
of her maintenance. Still, there were reasons why he should not have
done so.

If her father's relatives were people of integrity and refinement, any
business discussion or explanation with them would have been most
distressing; no wonder that he avoided it, especially since Erika's
maintenance cost him little or nothing.

Thus far she had arrived in her reflections, when Minna entered and
asked her to go immediately to the drawing-room, where a visitor
awaited her.

A visitor at Luzano? Such an event was unheard of.

In some distress Erika looked down at her shabby gown, made out of an
old dressing-gown of her mother's, black, with a Turkish border. There
was a hole in the elbow of the left sleeve.

"What sort of a gentleman is it, Minna?" she asked, irritably,
suspecting him to be some business acquaintance of Strachinsky's.

"A foreign gentleman."

"Old or young?"

"An elderly gentleman."

"Well, if he is elderly, and has no lady with him," she murmured, "I
can go just as I am." She knew from books, whence she derived all her
worldly wisdom, that ladies were much more critical than gentlemen.

"What in the world can he want of me?"

She went up to the mirror, smoothed her hair, drew together with a
black thread the hole in her sleeve, and hurried down to the
drawing-room. The apartment to which this name was still given was on
the ground-floor, as large as a riding-school, and almost as empty.

Besides the piano it still contained two huge bookcases, a shabby sofa
behind a rickety table, and a round piano-stool. The rest of the
furniture had disappeared. Some chairs had been banished as unsafe; the
other things had been sold piece by piece, under stress of various
pecuniary embarrassments, to the Jew broker of the village.

Strachinsky had several times attempted to dispose thus of the books
also, but Solomon Bondy had no market for them. Once the Pole had tried
to sell the piano. But Solomon had curtly refused to find a purchaser
for it, knowing that with the piano the last remnant of enjoyment would
be snatched from the poor lonely girl vegetating in the castle. The Jew
had shown more mercy than the Christian. And then her dead mother had
been dear to him, as she was to all around her.

She had been dear to Strachinsky also, but he never allowed his
affection to stand in the way of his ease.

In consequence of the total lack of furniture, Strachinsky, when Erika
entered the room, was sitting beside the stranger on the sofa,--which
looked comical.

The stranger, a man of middle age, tall, broad-shouldered, and erect in
bearing, rose to receive her.

"May I beg you to present me to the Countess?" he said, turning to
Strachinsky.

"Countess!" It thrilled her. Had she heard aright?

"Herr Doctor Herbegg--my daughter," with a wave of the hand.

"Your step-daughter," the stranger corrected him, with cool emphasis.

"I have never made any difference between her and my own children, dead
in their early youth," said the other; and he was right, for he had
taken very little interest in his own children. "You know that, my
child," he added, in a caressing tone that in his stepdaughter's ears
was like an echo of his old love-making to his wife, and which offended
her. He would have taken her hand, but she withdrew it hastily from his
flabby warm touch.

Since there was no other scat to be had, she turned to the piano to get
the piano-stool. Doctor Herbegg arose and took it from her.

Then Strachinsky started up with incredible activity, and a positive
struggle for the stool ensued, a mutual "Pray, pray, Herr Baron--Herr
Doctor!"

Erika calmly looked on at their strange behaviour. Had she suddenly
become of such importance that each was striving to show her courtesy?
Through her youthful soul the word 'Countess' echoed again with
thrilling fascination.

Strachinsky finally gained the day: he placed the piano-stool for his
step-daughter, panting as he did so, so unused was he to the slightest
physical exertion.

Erika seated herself upon the stool, although each gentleman offered
her a place on the sofa, assumed a dignified air, or what she supposed
to be such, and calmly surveyed the situation and the stranger.
Something told her that his visit was an important event for her and
hinted at a turning-point in her life. She was not mistaken. Doctor
Herbegg was her grandmother's legal adviser.

He began to converse upon indifferent topics, watching her narrowly the
while.

Her step-father, who had become utterly unaccustomed to the reception
of guests, wriggled about on the sofa as if stung by a tarantula. He
had always been restless in his demeanour when he was not awkwardly
stiff, but formerly his good looks had compensated for his defective
training. They no longer existed: the self-indulgent indolence to which
he had given himself over, so soon as all social contact with the world
was at an end for him, had done its part in effecting their decay.

"A bottle of wine! Bring a bottle of wine!" he ordered the young girl,
forgetting the suavity of speech he had just before adopted, and
falling into his usual tone.

"Pray do not trouble the Countess on my account," Doctor Herbegg
interposed. "I can take nothing. My time is limited, since I must catch
the next train for Berlin."

"Surely, Herr Doctor, you will take a glass of Tokay," Strachinsky
persisted, and, perceiving that his manner of addressing his
step-daughter had offended the lawyer, he was amiable enough to add,
"Do not trouble yourself, my dear Rika; I will attend to it." He arose,
and as he was leaving the room he went on, "The Herr Doctor will inform
you, meanwhile, as to the change in your prospects."

The lawyer made no attempt to detain him. He cared very little about
the glass of Tokay, but very much about an interview with the young
girl. When Strachinsky had left the room he approached Erika, and in a
short time had explained matters to her.

The title of Countess, which her mother had concealed from her,
apparently because in the circumstances in which she was forced to
educate her child it would have been more of a hinderance than a help,
was hers of right. Her mother's first marriage had been with the only
son by a second marriage of Count Lenzdorff: he had held office under
the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and two years after his marriage had
been killed in a railroad accident. By her second marriage Frau von
Strachinsky had alienated her mother-in-law. Meanwhile, the two sons of
Count Lenzdorff's first marriage had died, childless, and finally the
Count himself had died, at a very advanced age,--so old that he had
persuaded himself that he had outlived death, and had therefore never
taken the trouble to make a will; consequently his entire estate
devolved upon his grand-daughter.

The lawyer had just imparted this intelligence to the grand-daughter in
question, when Strachinsky re-entered the room, very much out of breath
and excited, and followed by Minna, tall, gaunt, with the bearing of a
grenadier and the gloomy air of an energetic old maid whom it behooves
to be upon the defensive with the entire male sex. She carried a
waiter, which she placed upon the table before the sofa.

"One little glass, Herr Doctor,--one little glass!" cried Strachinsky.

The Doctor bowed his thanks, and touched the glass distrustfully with
his lips.

"The Tokay is excellent," he remarked, in evident surprise at finding
anything of Strachinsky's genuine.

"Yes, yes," his host declared; "you can't get such a glass of wine as
that everywhere, Herr Doctor. I purchased it in Hungary by favour of an
intimate friend, Prince Liskat,--_les restes des grandeurs passées_, my
dear Doctor."

After a first glass Strachinsky became tenderly condescending: he
patted the lawyer on the shoulder. "Pray don't hurry, my dear Herbegg;
you'll not easily find another glass of such Tokay."

Erika observed that Doctor Herbegg bit his lip and did not touch his
second glass. He looked at his watch and said, "Unfortunately,
Countess, I have but little time left, but I should like to inform
myself upon several points, in accordance with your grandmother's wish.
Where and with whom have you been educated?"

"At home, and with my mother."

"Exclusively with your mother?"

"Yes; she even gave me lessons in French and upon the piano."

She was burning to rehabilitate her mother in his eyes.

"My wife was an admirable performer, an artist, a pupil of Liszt's,"
Strachinsky interposed.--"Play something to the Doctor; be quick!" he
ordered, grandiloquently, dropping again his _rôle_ of tender parent.
His imperious tone provoked Erika unutterably: she would have liked to
rush from the room and fling to the door behind her, but she conquered
herself for her mother's sake and--out of vanity.

She opened the piano, and played the last portion of Beethoven's
Moonlight Sonata,--the last thing that she had studied with her mother.
Her execution was still rude and unequal, like that of an ardent
youthful creature whose musical aspirations have never been toned down
by culture, but an unusual amount of talent was evident in her
performance.

"Magnificent, Countess!" exclaimed the lawyer, rising and going towards
her as she left the piano.

"Very well; but you missed that last chord once," Strachinsky said,
pompously.

Doctor Herbegg paid him not the least attention. "Now I am forced to
go," he said to the young girl; "and you must not smile, Countess, if I
tell you that I leave you with a much lighter heart than the one I
brought with me. Your grandmother sent me here to reconnoitre, as it
were: I find a gifted young lady, where I had feared to encounter an
untrained village girl."

Then suddenly Erika's overstrained nerves gave way. "My grandmother had
no right to allow of such a fear on your part; no one who had ever
known my mother could have supposed anything of the kind."

He looked her full in the face more steadily, more searchingly than
before, and his cold, clear eyes suddenly shone with a genial light.
"Forgive me," he said, kissing the hand she held out to him; then,
turning, he would have left the room with a brief bow to Strachinsky.

His host, however, made haste to disburden himself of a fine speech.
"You will have something to tell in Berlin, will you not? You have at
least seen how a Bohemian gentleman lives. No lounging-chairs in the
drawing-room, but Tokay in the cellar. Original, at all events, eh?"

"Extremely original," the lawyer assented.

On the threshold he paused. "One question more, Herr Baron," he began,
bending upon his condescending host a look of keenest scrutiny. "Did
the late Frau von Strachinsky leave no written document by which she
provided for her daughter's future?"

Strachinsky listened to this question with a scarcely perceptible
degree of embarrassment. "Not that I know of," he said, shifting
uneasily from one foot to the other.

Erika suddenly remembered that her mother had been busily engaged in
writing a few days before her death.

Meanwhile, her step-father, having gained entire control of his
features, continued, "Moreover, in this case any testamentary document
would have been entirely superfluous. My wife knew well that should she
die I should care for her daughter as for my own."

"H'm!" the Doctor ejaculated. "And did Frau von Strachinsky never speak
to you of her Berlin relatives, Countess?"

"No," Erika replied, thoughtfully. "She was very restless for some
weeks before her death, and often told me that as soon as we were quite
sure of being uninterrupted she had an important communication to make
to me. But she never did so: death closed her lips."

The Doctor reflected for a moment, and then said, "I am rather
surprised, Herr von Strachinsky, that you did not advise old Countess
Lenzdorff of your wife's death."

Strachinsky assumed an injured air. "Permit me to ask you, Herr
Doctor," he said, with lofty emphasis, "why I should have informed
Countess Lenzdorff of my adored wife's death? Countess Lenzdorff was my
bitterest enemy. She opposed my wife's union with me not only openly,
but with all sorts of underhand schemes, and when she could not succeed
in severing the tie that united our hearts, she dismissed my wife and
her daughter without one friendly word of farewell. Since she entirely
ignored my wife while she lived, how was I to suppose that she would
take any interest in the death of my idolized Emma?"

"But the announcement of her death would have seriously influenced your
step-daughter's destiny," Doctor Herbegg observed.

"My wife considered me the guardian of her child," Strachinsky
declared, with pathos. "Another man might have refused to accept a
burden entailing upon him sacrifice of every kind. But I am not like
other men. My wife evidently supposed that her child would be best
cared for under my protection; and I was not the man to betray her
confidence. You look surprised, Doctor. Yes, no doubt you think it
strange for a man nowadays to vindicate his chivalry and
disinterestedness, to his own ruin. But such a man am I,--a Marquis
Posa, a Don Quixote, an Egmont----"

"Pardon me, Herr Baron, I shall be late for the train," said the
Doctor, and, with a bow to Erika, he left the room.

Strachinsky ran after him with astonishing celerity, expatiating upon
his chivalrous disinterestedness. Shortly afterwards a carriage was
heard driving out of the courtyard; and Strachinsky returned to the
bare drawing-room, which his step-daughter had not yet left.

His face beamed with satisfaction; rubbing his hands, he cried out,
"Now we shall lack for nothing!" Then, turning to Erika, he continued,
"I shall see to it that your German relatives do not squander your
property. This lawyer-fellow seems to me a schemer, a sly dog. But I
shall do my best to watch over your interests. In fact, it is my duty
as your guardian to administer your affairs. Moreover, in three years
you will be of age, and then we can avail ourselves of your money to
free Luzano from its weight of debt."

This delightful scheme made him extremely cheerful. After pacing the
apartment for a while, lost in contemplation of its feasibility, he
went to the table, and, taking up the Doctor's untouched second glass
of Tokay, he poured its contents back into the bottle. This he called
economy. Then with the bottle in his hand, apparently with a view of
re-sealing it, he went towards the door, saying, "The affair has
greatly agitated me. I am so very sensitive. But when one has had to
wait upon fortune so long---!"

He had settled it with himself that he was the person principally
interested; his step-daughter was quite a secondary consideration, at
most the means to an end. But circumstances shaped themselves after
what was to him a most unexpected and undesirable fashion. Erika
received a brief and rather formal letter from Countess Lenzdorff, in
which the old lady requested her to repair as soon as possible to
Berlin, but upon no account to allow Strachinsky to accompany her; in
short, the old Countess refused to have any personal intercourse with
him whatever.

By the same post came a letter from Doctor Herbegg to Strachinsky,
formally advising him to resign his guardianship voluntarily. Should he
comply, the Countess would refrain from closer examination of his
administration of the property of her daughter-in-law and of her
grandchild. But if, on the other hand, he made the slightest attempt to
interfere in the management of his step-daughter's German estate, she
would, as the guardian appointed by the late Count, resort to legal
means for relieving herself of such interference.

Had Strachinsky's conscience been perfectly clear he would probably
have set himself in opposition, but as it was he contented himself with
gnashing his teeth and raging for two days, indulging freely in
vituperation of old Countess Lenzdorff. Then he made a final tender
attempt to work upon Erika's feelings and to induce her to espouse his
cause with her grandmother. When this failed, he wrapped himself in his
martyr's cloak and submitted with much grumbling. Dulled as his nature
was, he bore his disappointment with comparative ease. At first he
assumed an air of magnanimous renunciation towards his step-daughter,
but after a while he overwhelmed her with good advice, and groaned for
her whenever she lifted any weight or stooped in her packing. Erika
herself, meanwhile, was in a state of tremendous excitement.

On the morning of her departure, when her trunks were all packed she
took a walk. She first visited her mother's grave for the last time,
and then went into the garden, pausing in all her favourite haunts, and
avoiding with a shudder even a glance towards the spot by the low
garden wall whence she had seen her mother hurrying across the fields
towards the river.

Still, in whatever direction she turned she felt the presence of the
stream: she heard its voice loud and wailing as it rushed along swollen
by the winter's snows. A soft breeze swept above the earth, mingling
its sighs with the graver note of the water. Everything trembled and
quivered; every tree, every sprouting plant, throbbed; all nature
thrilled with delicious pain,--the fever of the spring. And on a sudden
she felt herself carried away by a like thrill of excitement; a
nameless yearning, ignorant of aim, possessed her, transporting her to
the skies, and yet binding her to the earth in the fetters of a languor
such as she had never before experienced.

Once more there arose in her memory the figure of the young artist who
had drawn her picture there beside the brook as it rippled dreamily on
its way to the river. She saw him distinctly before her: her heart
began to throb wildly.

She hurried on to the spot where he had sketched her. The swollen brook
murmured far more loudly over the pebbles than it had done on that hot
day in midsummer; the reddish boughs of the willows began to show
silver-gray buds, and on the bank there gleamed something blue,--the
first forget-me-nots. She stooped to pluck them.

At that moment she heard Minna's voice calling, "Rika! where are you?"

She started, and, tripping upon the wet slippery soil, all but fell
into the brook. With difficulty she regained her footing, and without
her flowers; they grew too far below her. She looked at them longingly
and went her way.

When she reached the house she found the carriage already in the
court-yard,--a huge, green, glass coach, that clattered and jingled
at the slightest movement. It was lined with dark-brown striped
awning-stuff,--the shabbiest vehicle that ever ran upon four wheels.

Beside the carriage stood a clumsy cart, in which the luggage was to be
piled. Herr von Strachinsky was ordering about the servants carrying
the trunks. Everything in the house was topsy-turvy. Breakfast had been
hurriedly prepared, and was waiting--a most uninviting repast--upon the
dining-room table. Erika could not eat. She ran to her room and put on
her bonnet.

"Hurry, hurry!" Minna called up from below.

She ran down and crossed the threshold. The air was warm and damp, and
a fine rain was falling. Strachinsky helped her into the carriage with
pompous formality. "I shall not accompany you to the station," he said.
"I do not like driving in a close carriage. Adieu!" He had nothing more
affectionate to say to her, as he shook her hand. The carriage door
clattered to; the horses started. Thus Erika rattled out of the
court-yard, with Minna beside her. The servant looked tired out; her
face was very red, and she had a hand-bag in her lap, and a bandbox and
two bundles of shawls on the seat opposite her. The carriage was very
stuffy, and smelled of old leather. Erika opened one of the windows.
They were driving along the same road by which she had followed her
mother's coffin; there beyond the meadow she could see the wall of the
church-yard. She leaned far out of the window. The driver whipped up
his horses; the church-yard vanished. The young girl suddenly felt as
if the very heart were being torn from her breast, and she burst into
tears, sobbing convulsively, uncontrollably.



                              CHAPTER IV.


On the evening of the same day an old lady was walking to and fro in a
large, tastefully-furnished apartment looking out upon a little front
garden in Bellevue Street, Berlin. Both furniture and hangings in the
room, in contrast with the prevailing fashion, were light and cheerful.
The old lady's forehead wore a slight frown, and her air was somewhat
impatient, as of one awaiting a verdict.

At the first glance it was plain that she was very old, very tall,
broad-shouldered, and straight as a fir. In her bearing there was the
personal dignity of one whose pride has never had to bow, who has never
paid society the tribute of the slightest hypocrisy, who has never had
to lower a glance before mankind or before a memory; but it was at the
same time characterized by the unconscious selfishness, disguised as
love of independence, of one who has never allowed aught to interfere
with personal ease. Upon the broad shoulders, so well fitted to support
with dignity and power the convictions of a lifetime, was set a head of
remarkable beauty,--the head, noble in every line, of an old woman who
has never made the slightest attempt to appear one day younger than her
age. Oddly enough, there looked forth from the face--the face of an
antique statue--a pair of large, modern eyes, philosophic eyes, whose
glance could penetrate to the secret core of a human soul,--eyes which
nothing escaped, in the sight of which there were few things sacred,
and nothing inexcusable, because they perceived human nature as it is,
without requiring from it the impossible.

Such was Erika's grandmother, Countess Anna Lenzdorff.

After she had paced the room to and fro for a long time, she seated
herself, with a short impatient sigh, in an arm-chair that stood
invitingly beside a table covered with books and provided with a
student-lamp. She took up a volume of Maupassant, but a degree of
mental restlessness to which she was entirely unaccustomed tormented
her, and she laid the book aside. Her bright eyes wandered from one
object to another in the room, and were finally arrested by a large
picture hanging on the opposite wall.

It represented an opening in a leafy forest, dewy fresh, and saturated
with depth of sunshine. In the midst of the golden glow was a strange
group,--two nymphs sporting with a shaggy brown faun. The picture was
by Böcklin, and the forest, the faun, and the white limbs of the nymphs
were painted with incomparable skill: nevertheless the picture could
not be pronounced free from the reproach of a certain meretriciousness.

It had never occurred to Countess Lenzdorff to ponder upon the picture;
she had bought it because she thought it beautiful, and certainly an
old woman has a right to hang anything that she chooses upon her walls,
so long as it is a work of art. To-night she suddenly began to attach
all sorts of considerations to the picture.

Meanwhile, an old footman, with a duly-shaven upper lip, and very bushy
whiskers, entered and announced, "Herr von Sydow."

"I am very glad," the old lady rejoined, evidently quite rejoiced,
whereupon there entered a very tall, almost gigantic officer of
dragoons, with short fair hair and a grave handsome face.

"You come just at the right time, Goswyn," she said, cordially,
extending her delicate old hand. He touched it with his lips, and then,
in obedience to her gesture, took a seat near her, within the circle of
light of the lamp.

"How can I serve you, Countess?" he asked.

"You are acquainted with my small gallery," she began, looking around
the large airy room with some pride.

"I have frequently enjoyed your works of art," the young officer
replied. The phrase was rather formal; in fact, he himself was rather
formal, but there was something so genial behind his stiff North-German
formality that one easily forgave him his purely superficial
priggishness,--nay, upon further acquaintance came to like it.

"Rather antiquated in expression, your reply," the old lady rejoined.
"My small collection thanks you for your kindly appreciation; but that
is not the question at present. You know my Böcklin?"

"Yes, Countess."

"What do you think of it?"

He fixed his eyes upon it. "What could I think of it? It is a
masterpiece."

"H'm! that all the world admits," the old lady murmured, impatiently,
as if vexed at the want of originality in his remark; "but is it a
picture that one would leave hanging on the wall of one's boudoir when
one was about to receive into one's house as an inmate a grand-daughter
of sixteen? Give me your opinion as to that, Goswyn."

Again Goswyn von Sydow fixed his eyes upon the picture. "That would
depend very much upon the kind of grand-daughter," he said, frowning
slightly. "If she were a young girl brought up in the world and
accustomed from childhood to works of art, I should say yes. If she
were a young girl educated in a convent or bred in the country, I
should say no."

The old lady sighed. "I knew it!" she said. "My Böcklin is doomed. Ah!"
she exclaimed, wringing her hands in mock despair. "Pray, Goswyn,"--she
treated the young officer with the affectionate familiarity an old lady
would use towards a young fellow whom she has known intimately from
early childhood,--"press that button beside you."

The dragoon, evidently perfectly at home in the house, stretched out a
very long arm and pressed the button.

The footman immediately appeared. "Lüdecke, call Friedrich to help you
take down that picture."

"Friedrich has gone to the station, your Excellency," Lüdecke permitted
himself to remark.

"Yes, of course everything is topsy-turvy; nothing is as it has been
used to be. 'Coming events cast their shadows before.' It will always
be so now," sighed the Countess.

"I will help you take down the picture, Lüdecke," Herr von Sydow said,
quietly, and before the Countess could look around there was nothing
save a broad expanse of light cretonne and two hooks upon the wall
where the Böcklin had hung.

Lüdecke's strength sufficed to carry the picture from the room.

"Bring in tea," the Countess called after him. "You will take a cup of
tea with me, Goswyn?"

"Are you not going to wait for the young Countess?" Sydow asked, rather
timidly.

"Oh, she will not be here before midnight. I don't know why Friedrich
has gone at this hour to the station; probably he is in love with the
young person at the railway restaurant; else I cannot understand his
hurry. However, I thank you for your admonition."

"But, my dear Countess----" exclaimed the young man.

"No need to excuse yourself," she cut short what he was about to say.
"I am not displeased: you have never displeased me, except by not
having arranged matters so as to come into the world as my son.
Moreover, I should seriously regret the loss of your good opinion. Pray
forgive me for not driving myself to the railway station to meet my
grand-daughter and to edify the officials with a touching and effective
scene. Consider, this is my last comfortable evening."

"Your last comfortable evening," Goswyn von Sydow repeated,
thoughtfully.

"Now you disapprove of me again," the old Countess complained,
ironically.

"Disapprove!" he repeated, with an ineffective attempt to laugh at the
word. "Really, Countess, if I did not know how kind-hearted you are, I
should be sorry for your grand-daughter."

Ho cleared his throat several times as he spoke; he always became a
little hoarse when speaking directly from his heart.

"Kind-hearted,--kind-hearted," the old lady murmured, provoked; "pray
don't put me off with compliments. What sort of word is 'kind-hearted'?
One has weak nerves just as one has an aching tooth, and one does all
that one can to spare them; all the little woes one perceives one
relieves, if possible,--of course it is very disagreeable not to
relieve them,--but the intense misery with which the world is filled
one simply forgets, and is none the worse for so doing. You know it is
not my fashion to deceive myself as to the beauty of my own character.
You are sorry for my grand-daughter."

He would have assured her that he spoke conditionally, but she would
not allow him to do so. "Yes, you are sorry for my grand-daughter," she
said, decidedly, "but are you not at all sorry for me?"

"Upon that point you must allow me to express myself when I have made
acquaintance with the young Countess."

"That has very little to do with it," rejoined the old lady. "Let us
take it for granted that she is charming. Doctor Herbegg says she is a
jewel of the purest water, lacking nothing but a little polish;
between ourselves, I do not altogether believe him. He exaggerated my
grand-daughter's attractions a little to make it easy for me to receive
her. He is a good man, but, like two-thirds of the men who are worth
anything,"--with a significant side-glance at Sydow,--"a little of a
prig. But let us take for granted that my grand-daughter is the
ph[oe]nix he describes, it is none the less true that on her account I
must, in my old age, alter my comfortable mode of life, and subject
myself to the thousand petty annoyances which the presence of a young
girl in my house is sure to bring with it. Do you know how I felt when
my indispensable old donkey"--the Countess Lenzdorff was wont
frequently to designate thus her old footman Lüdecke--"carried out my
Böcklin?" She fixed her eyes sadly upon the bare place on the wall. "I
felt as if he were dragging out with it all the comforts of my daily
life! Ah, here is the tea."

"It has been here for some time," Sydow said, smiling. "I was just
about to call your attention to the kettle, which is boiling over."

She made the tea with extreme precision. It was delightful to see the
beautiful old lady presiding over the old-fashioned silver tray with
its contents. She wore on this evening a white tulle cap tied beneath
the chin, and over it an exquisite little black lace scarf. A refined
Epicurean nature revealed itself in her every movement,--in the
delicate grace with which she handled the transparent teacups and
measured the tea from its dainty caddy,--in the gusto with which she
inhaled the aroma of this very choice brand of tea.

"There!" she said, handing the young officer a cup, "you may not agree
with my views of life, but you must praise my tea, which is in fact
much too good for you, who follow the vile German custom of spoiling it
with sugar."

She herself had put in the sugar for him, taking care to give him just
as much as he liked; she handed him a plate, and offered him the
delicate wafers which she knew he preferred. She was excessively kind
to him, and he valued her; he was cordially attached to her; she had
been his mother's oldest friend; she had spoiled him from boyhood, and
had, as she said, "thought the world of him." This could not but please
any man. He appreciated so highly her kindness and thoughtfulness that
until to-night the selfishness of which she boasted, and by which she
had laid down the rules of her life, had seemed to him little more than
amusing eccentricity. But to-night her attitude towards her grandchild
grieved him. Not that he regarded this grandchild from a romantic point
of view. He was no unpractical dreamer, nor even what is usually called
an idealist, which means in German nothing except a muddled brain that
deems it quite improper to hold clear views upon any subject or to look
any reality boldly in the face. On the contrary, he had a very calm and
sensible way of regarding matters. Consequently he thought it probable
that the poor, neglected young girl, left for three years to the care
of a boorish step-father, awkward and tactless as she must be under the
circumstances, would be anything but a suitable addition to the
household of the Countess Lenzdorff; but, good heavens! the girl was
the old lady's flesh and blood, a poor thing who had lost her mother
three years previously and had had no one to speak a kind word to her
since. If the poor creature were ill-bred and neglected, whose fault
was it, in fact? It passed his power of comprehension that the old lady
should feel nothing save the inconvenience and annoyance of the
situation, that she should be stirred by no emotion of pity.

Perhaps she guessed his thoughts,--she was skilled in divining the
thoughts of others,--but she cared nothing about shocking people; on
the contrary, she rather liked to do so.

When he picked up one of the books on her table she said, "None of your
namby-pamby literature, Goswyn, but a bright, witty book. Tell me, do
you think that in my grand-daughter's honour I ought to lock up all my
entertaining books and subscribe to the 'Children's Friend'?"

"Let us take for granted that your grand-daughter has not contracted
the habit of dipping into every book she sees lying about," Goswyn
observed.

"Let us hope so," she said, with a laugh; "but who knows? For three
years she has been without any one to look after her, and probably she
has already devoured her precious step-father's entire library."

"Oh, Countess!"

"What would you have? Such cases do occur. Look at your sister-in-law
Dorothea: she told me, with an air of great satisfaction, that before
her marriage she had read all Belot."

"She avowed the same thing to me just after she came home from her
wedding journey, and she seemed to think it very clever," replied
Goswyn, slowly.

"H'm! the wicked fairy always asserts that you were in love with your
sister-in-law," the old lady said, archly menacing him with her
forefinger.

"Indeed? I should like to know upon what my aunt Brock founds her
assertion," the young man rejoined, coldly.

"Why, upon the intense dislike you always parade for your pretty
sister-in-law," the Countess said, with a laugh.

"I do not parade it at all."

"But you feel it."

Goswyn von Sydow had risen from his chair. "It is very late," he said,
picking up his cap.

"I have not driven you away with my poor jests?" the old lady inquired,
as she also rose.

"No," he replied,--"at least not for long: if you will permit me, my
dear Countess, I will call upon you in the autumn."

"And until then----?"

"I shall not have that pleasure, unfortunately; I leave with the
General to-morrow for Kiel, and came to-night only to bid you good-bye.
When I return I shall hardly find you still in Berlin."

"Indeed? I am sorry," she replied, "first because I really like to see
you from time to time, although you entertain antiquated views of life
and always disapprove of me, and secondly because I had hoped you would
help me a little in my grand-daughter's education. Of course if she has
already perused all Belot----"

"It would suit you precisely, Countess," he said, rallying her, "for
then you could--h'm--hang up your Böcklin in its old place."

"What an idea!" cried the Countess. "But you are quite mistaken: I
should be furious if my grand-daughter should be found to have read all
Belot's works."

"Indeed?"

"Of course; because then there would be absolutely no hope of your
taking the child off my hands."

He frowned.

"Do you understand me?" the old lady asked, gaily.

"Partly."

"Unfortunately, you seem to have very little desire for matrimony."

"I confess that for the present it is but faint."

"Let us hope that this mysterious Erika will be charming enough to----"

Suddenly she turned her head: a carriage was rolling along Bellevue
Street, already deserted at this hour because of the lateness of the
season. It stopped before the house. The old lady started, grew visibly
paler, and compressed her lips.

The hall door opened; the servants ran down the staircase.

"Good night, Countess!" Goswyn touched the delicate old hand with his
lips and hurried away.

On the staircase he encountered a tall slender girl in the most
unbecoming mourning attire that he had ever seen a human being wear,
and with gloves so much too short that they revealed a pair of
slightly-reddened wrists. He touched his cap, and bowed profoundly.

He carried into the street with him an impression in his heart of
something pale, slender, immature, pathetic, concealing the germ of
great beauty.

He could not forget the distress in the eyes that had looked out from
the pale oval face. He recalled the coldly-sneering old woman in the
room he had left, with her disdain of all emotion. He knew how she
would be repelled by the red wrists and the disfiguring gown. "Poor
thing!" he said to himself.

In thoughtful mood he walked along a path in the Thiergarten. All
around reigned silence. The sweet vigour of the spring-time was wafted
from the soil, from the trees, from every tender soft unfolding leaf.
In the gentle light of countless sparkling stars the feathery young
foliage gleamed with a ghostly pallor; here and there a lantern shone,
a spot of yellow light in the dimness, colouring the grass and leaves
about it arsenic-green.

No people were here who had anything to do; only here and there a pair
of lovers were strolling in the warm shade of the spring night.

The insistent rhythm of some popular dance interrupted the yearning
music of spring which was sighing through the half-open leaves and
blossoms. The noise annoyed him, reminding him unpleasantly of the
cynicism with which unsuccessful men are wont to vaunt the bitterness
of their existence.

He had walked far out of his way, into the midst of the Thiergarten.

More lovers; another pair,--and still another.

Except for them the place was deserted, silent: above were the
glimmering stars, and on the earth below them the tall trees full of
life, striving upward to the light; everywhere breathed the fragrance
of fresh young growth, mingled with the aroma of last year's decaying
leaves; the thrill of life around, with the echo in the distance of the
vulgar dance-music.

He could not have told how or why it was, but Sydow was more than ever
conscious to-night of the discord sounding through creation, vainly
seeking, as it has done for centuries, for its solution.

And in the midst of his discontent there arose within him the memory of
the haunting distress in the young girl's large eyes, and he was filled
with warm, eager compassion for the poor, forlorn creature for whom
there was no one to care. He would have liked to take the child in his
arms and soothe her distress as one would have petted a bird fallen
from the nest, or a truant, beaten dog.



                               CHAPTER V.


The Countess Lenzdorff had gone to meet her granddaughter as far as the
vestibule, which was hung with Japanese crape and lighted by red
Venetian lanterns in wrought-iron frames.

She had been convinced from the first that the brilliant description
which Doctor Herbegg had given of her grand-daughter was not to be
trusted, and she had consequently moderated her expectations, but yet
she was startled at what she encountered in the vestibule, the door of
which the ever-ready Lüdecke had left open. At first she thought that
the tall spare girl in that gown was her grand-daughter's attendant;
but since behind the awkward creature whose clothes were all awry
stalked a broad-shouldered female grenadier with a woollen kerchief on
her head and a pasteboard bandbox in her hand, she doubted no longer
which was her grand-daughter: it was not necessary for Doctor Herbegg
to present the girl to her with, "Here is the young Countess, your
Excellency."

She advanced a step and touched the girl's forehead with her lips.

"Welcome to Berlin, dear child," she said, coldly. This, then, was her
grand-daughter,--this angular creature with red wrists and a servant
who wore a woollen kerchief on her head and carried in her hand an
archaic pasteboard bandbox. The Countess shuddered. "Will you have a
cup of tea, my dear Doctor?" she said, turning to her lawyer with the
hope of putting a little life into the situation. Then, seeing him look
at her with something of the dismay in his expression which Goswyn von
Sydow's features had shown when she had complained that this was to be
her last comfortable evening, she added, hastily, "You will not? Well,
you are right; it is late; another time, my dear Herbegg, you will do
me the pleasure; and I--I could hardly remain with you; I am too--too
desirous of making acquaintance with my grand-daughter."

The last words came with something of a stumble, as if the Countess had
been obliged to give them a push before they would leave her lips.

The Doctor took a ceremonious leave. Minna, with her bandbox, which she
refused to allow any one to take from her, was conducted by a footman
to the servants' hall, the Countess Lenzdorff having informed her
that her own maid would attend for this evening to her young
mistress's wants. Erika followed her grandmother through several
brilliantly-lighted apartments, the arrangement of which produced upon
her the impression of a fairy-tale, to an airy little room adjoining
the old Countess's sleeping-apartment.

"This is your room," said Countess Lenzdorff. "I had your bed put for
the present in my dressing-room; it is the best arrangement, and--and
I--I think I would rather have you close at hand. Of course it is all
provisionary: I do not even know yet what is to be done with you,
whether--whether you will stay with me, or go for a while to some
school. At any rate, for the present you must try to feel comfortable
with me."

Comfortable! It was asking much of the girl that she should feel
comfortable under the circumstances! She wanted to say something: it
annoyed her to have to play the part of a dunce,--her poor, youthful
pride rebelled against it,--but she said not a word; she had to summon
up all her resolution to keep back the tears that would well up to her
eyes. With the slow stony gaze of one who is determined not to cry, she
looked about her upon her new surroundings.

How airy and fragrant, how bright and fresh and inviting, it all was!
But in the midst of this Paradise she stood, trembling with fatigue,
sore in soul and body, timid and sad, with but one wish,--that she
might creep away somewhere into the dark.

â?¢ Her grandmother perceived something of the girl's suffering, but
still could not overcome her own distaste. "Will you dress first, or
have some supper immediately?" she asked, with an evident effort to be
kind. As she spoke, her bright eyes scanned the girl from head to foot.
Poor Erika! She understood only too clearly that her grandmother was
disappointed in her, that personally she was in no respect what the old
lady had hoped for.

"I should like to brush off some of this dust," she stammered, meekly.
Her voice was remarkably soft and sweet, and her accent brought a
reminiscence of the Austrian intonation, so much admired in Berlin.

For the first time the Countess's heart was moved in favour of the
young creature; some chord within her vibrated agreeably. "Well, my
child, do just as you like," she said, rather more warmly, as she made
an attempt to unfasten the top button of the ugly black garment that so
disfigured her grand-daughter. With a shy gesture Erika raised her
hands and held her poor gown together over her breast. There was
something in the gesture that touched the old lady. "You may go,"
she said to the maid, who had meanwhile been unpacking Erika's
travelling-bag. "I will ring for you when we want you." Then, turning
to Erika, she added, "I will help you myself to undress."

Erika's sensations can hardly be described. Apart from the fact that in
consequence of her intense shyness, the shyness of a very strong, pure
nature bred in solitude, it was terrible to her even to take off her
gown in the presence of a stranger, it suddenly seemed very hard to her
(she had not thought of it at first) to expose to her grandmother's
penetrating gaze the poverty of her wardrobe. She trembled from head to
foot as her grandmother drew down her gown from her shoulders. But,
strange to say, it almost seemed as if with the ugly dress some sort of
barrier of separation between herself and her grandmother were removed.
The old lady's bright eyes were dimmed by a certain emotion as she
noticed the coarse, ill-made, but daintily white linen shift that left
bare a small portion of the young, half-developed shoulders. "Poor
thing!" she murmured, the words coming for the first time warm from her
heart. Then, stroking the girl's long, slender, nobly-modelled arm, she
said, "How fair you are! I only begin now to see what you look like."
She lifted the heavy knot of shining hair from the back of Erika's
neck, and, in an access of that absence of mind for which she was noted
in the Berlin world of society, exclaimed, "_Mais elle est
magnifique!_--In three years she will be a beauty!--Turn your head a
little to the left."

Her grand-daughter's stare of dismay recalled her. "What would Goswyn
say if he heard me?" she thought, and smiled.

Erika had only bathed her face and hands, and slipped on a long white
dressing-gown of her grandmother's, when the maid brought in a waiter
with her supper. In spite of her continued sense of discomfort, youth
demanded its rights. She was decidedly hungry, and it was long since
she had seen anything so inviting as this dainty repast. She sat down
and began to eat.

The old Countess observed her narrowly, but saw nothing to displease
her. Her grandchild's manner of eating and drinking, of holding her
fork, her glass of water,--all was just as it should be.

The whole thing seemed odd to the Countess Lenzdorff: she delighted in
everything odd.

Not to disturb the girl at her repast, she looked away from her,
glancing at the contents of the shabby old travelling-bag which the
maid had unpacked. How poverty-stricken it all looked, in almost
ridiculous--no, in positively pathetic--contrast with the young
creature who in spite of her awkwardness had a regal air. "_Mais elle
est superbe!_ Where were my eyes?" the Countess thought, as she
casually picked up a book from among Erika's belongings. It was a
volume of Plutarch. "'Tis comical enough," she thought, "if I am to
have a little blue-stocking in the house."

As she turned over the leaves rather absently, she noticed that
passages here and there were encircled by thick pencil-marks: sometimes
an entire page would be thus marked, sometimes only a few lines.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"My mother always used to mark so in my books the parts that I must not
read," Erika said, simply.

The Countess's eyes flashed. How sure a way to lead a child to taste
the forbidden fruit!--or was it possible that girls growing up in the
country under the exclusive influence of a mother might be differently
constituted from girls in cities and boarding-schools?

"And you really did not read those portions?" she asked, half smiling.

The girl's face grew dark. "How could I?" she exclaimed, almost
angrily.

"Brava!" cried her grandmother, patting her grandchild's shoulder. "You
are an honourable little lady,--a very great rarity. We shall get along
very well together."

But, far from the girl's expressing any pleasure at this frank
recognition of her excellence, her face did not relax one whit.


Erika had gone to bed. Countess Lenzdorff was still up and pacing her
chamber to and fro. She thoroughly understood the full significance of
her granddaughter's being with her; she was neither heartless nor
complaining, but, where emotion was concerned, a sensitive old woman
who studiously avoided everything that could agitate her nerves. But at
present she could not control her emotion; feeling awoke within her as
from a long sleep. At first she was conscious only of a vague
discomfort,--a strange sensation which she ascribed to nervousness that
must be controlled; but, far from being controlled, it increased,
growing stronger until it became a positive hunger of the heart.

The self-dissatisfaction which had begun to torment her when she
learned that Erika after her mother's death had been entirely uncared
for, left alone with her step-father, now increased tenfold. It was the
fault of the Pole, who had not notified her of his wife's death. But
this excuse did not content her. How could she blame him? What had he
done save follow her example in caring only for his own personal ease?

The unkindness with which she had treated her daughter-in-law now
troubled her more than her loveless neglect of her grandchild. Had she
any right to despise and cast her off because of her weakness? Good
heavens! she was a rare creature in spite of everything; she had shown
herself so in her child's education. What an influence she must have
exercised over the girl to preserve her from deterioration through
those terrible three years. Poor Emma! The old Countess's heart grew
heavy as she recalled her. Her injustice to the poor woman dated from
years back. She could not deny it.

She had never been fond of her daughter-in-law: each differed too
fundamentally from the other. On the one hand was Anna Lenzdorff, with
her keenly observant mind, self-interested even in her strict morality
which in her arrogance she regarded as the necessity of her nature for
moral purity and independence, something for which she claimed no
merit, since she practised it solely for her private satisfaction;
good-natured, but without enthusiasm, endlessly but lovelessly
indulgent to humanity, and rather of opinion that life is nothing but a
farce with a tragic conclusion, something out of which the most
advantage may be gained by observing it from a safe, comfortable
corner, without ever making an attempt to mingle in its activities,
firmly convinced that the best conduct of life consists in
acknowledging its glaring contradictions, its lack of harmony, in
making use of palliatives where they are of use, and in postponing for
as long as possible the facing of the huge deficit sure to appear
at the close of every human existence. And on the other hand was
Emma,--Emma, who had a positive horror of the philosophy of life,
which her mother-in-law with easy indifference denominated "my
laughing despair,"--Emma, who believed in everything, in God and in
humanity,--yes, even, as her mother-in-law maintained, in the cure
of leprosy and the disinterestedness of English politics,--Emma, for
whom an existence in which she could take no active part was devoid
of interest, and who looked upon a loveless life as worse than
death,--Emma, whose unselfishness bordered upon fanaticism, blinding
her conscience for a moment now and then, when she would have given to
one person what she had no right to take from others,--Emma, utterly
unable to appreciate proportion and moderation, and who, scorning all
the palliatives and make shifts with which one eases existence,
demanded from life absolute happiness, and consequently, dazzled by an
illusion, plunged blindly into an abyss.

Ah, if it had been only an abyss! but no, it was a slough, and Anna
Lenzdorff could not traverse it.

It certainly was strange that she, who found an excuse for every
criminal of whom she read in the papers, had never been able to forgive
her daughter-in-law when, thanks to her inborn thirst for the romantic,
she forgot herself so far as to adore that Polish nonentity. What in
the world could a woman of sense find in romance?

When Anna von Rhödern, at twenty-two, had married Count Ernst
Lenzdorff, her views of life were in great measure the same that she
had since elaborated so perfectly. She was of Courland descent, and the
daughter of a prominent diplomat in the Russian service. Unlike her
daughter-in-law, she had been a courted beauty, but at two-and-twenty
she had turned her back upon all the sentimental possibilities to which
in virtue of her great charm she had a right, and had married Count
Lenzdorff, whose entire part in her existence she afterwards summed up
in declaring that he really had bored her very little. And that, she
maintained, was a great deal in a husband.

She had become acquainted with him in Paris, where he was secretary to
the Prussian legation, and she married him there; afterwards he took up
his abode in Berlin, where he held a distinguished position in the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In moments of insolent frankness she was
wont to describe him as an automaton whose key was in the possession of
whoever might be Minister of Foreign Affairs. Once wound up, he could
perform all the duties of his office during the few hours in which they
were required of him; when they were over he was a lifeless wooden
figure-head--nothing more. A wooden figure-head whom one is obliged to
drag after one in life conduces but little to one's comfort, especially
when the wooden figure-head is of the dimensions of Count Ernst
Lenzdorff, and of this his wife shortly became aware. With great
courtesy and skill she removed him from her life as soon as possible,
placing him somewhere in the background upon a suitable pedestal,--the
best place for wooden figureheads, and one where they can be made to
look very effective.

The Countess's only son was the very image of his father, and quite as
imposingly wooden.

If Emma, following her mother-in-law's example, could have courteously
and respectfully put him upon a pedestal in some corner where he would
not have been in her way, she might have led a very tolerable life with
him. The mistake was that she attempted to make him happy.

Poor Emma! As if one possibly could make a wooden figure-head happy!
Young Count Lenzdorff was extremely uncomfortable in view of his wife's
exertions to make him happy. What ensued was of a very unedifying
character: from being simply a state of contented indifference, the
marriage became a decidedly irksome bond. Nevertheless it was most
unfortunate for Emma when Edmund Lenzdorff, two years after their
marriage, lost his life in a railway accident. Had he lived, her
existence might at least have been a quiet one; in time she would have
relinquished her ill-judged attempts to make him happy, and have found
an object in life in the education of her child; while, as it was, he
was no sooner dead than her existence began to totter uncertainly, like
a ship from which the ballast has been removed.

At first she sickened, as her mother-in-law expressed it, with an
attack of acute philanthropy. She haunted the most disreputable corners
of Berlin in search of cases of misery to be relieved, never allowing a
servant to accompany her, because, as she explained, it might humiliate
the poor. Upon one of her excursions her watch was snatched from her,
and another time she caught spotted fever. This was very annoying to
the Countess Anna, but she forgave her, with--as she was wont to
declare--praiseworthy courage, in view of the terrible disease.

Six months afterwards Emma married Strachinsky; and this her
mother-in-law did not forgive her.

Since then fourteen years had passed, fourteen years during which she
had had nothing whatever to do with poor Emma. And now she was sorry.

Again and again did the Countess Anna revert to the education given to
the young girl asleep in the next room.

A woman who could so educate her child, and who could continue so to
influence her after her death, was no ordinary character.

Of course she had had fine material to work upon. And the old Countess
was conscious of an emotion never awakened within her by her son, yet
now aroused by her grand-daughter,--pride in her own flesh and blood.
"A splendid creature!" she murmured to herself once or twice, then
adding, with a sneer at her own lack of perception, "and I was fool
enough to think her ugly at first. Whom does she resemble? she is not
in the least like her mother,--nor like my son!" Still pondering, she
paused in her monotonous pacing to and fro, strangely thrilled. Going
to an antique buhl cabinet with a multitude of drawers, she opened one
of them,--a secret drawer, which had long been undisturbed,--and began
to look through its contents. At last she found what she sought, a
lithograph representing a young girl, _décolletée_, and with the huge
sleeves in fashion in 1830. A very charming young girl the picture
portrayed,--Countess Lenzdorff when she was still Anna von Rhödern.

The little faded picture trembled in the old lady's hand: it worked
upon her like a spell, carrying her back to a time long forgotten,--a
time when life had been to her something different from a farce with a
tragic ending, by which one might be vastly entertained, but in which
one should scorn to play a part. She was suddenly deeply pained at
sight of the beautiful, grave, proud young face: it suggested to her
something that had begun very finely and ended in unutterable
bitterness, something through which the best and most genial part of
her had been destroyed, or at least paralyzed. Hark! What was that? A
low, suppressed sob! another! They came from the adjoining room. The
old Countess dropped the little picture, and, with a candle in her
hand, went to her grand-daughter's bedside. When she heard her
grandmother coming, Erika closed her eyes, feigning sleep, but she had
not time to wipe away the tears from her cheeks.

Her grandmother set the candle upon the table, and then, bending over
the girl, whispered, softly, "Erika!" Erika did not stir. How pathetic
she looked!--pale and thin, and yet so noble and charming in spite of
the traces of tears.

The Countess sat down upon the edge of the bed and stroked the girl's
wet cheeks. "Erika, my darling, what is the matter? Are you homesick?"

Then Erika opened her large eyes and looked gloomily at her
grandmother. She answered not a word, but compressed her lips. How
could her grandmother ask her if she was homesick, when all that she
had of home was a grave?

For one moment the old Countess hesitated; then, lifting the reluctant
girl from the pillows, she clasped her to her breast, pressing her lips
upon the golden head, and murmuring softly, "Forgive me, my child,
forgive me!" For one moment Erika's obstinate resistance was
maintained; then she began to sob convulsively; and then--then her
grandmother felt the slender form nestle close within her arms, while
the weary young head fell upon her shoulder and a sensation of sweet,
young warmth penetrated to the Countess's very heart, which suddenly
grew quite heavy with tenderness.

Erika was soon sound asleep, but her grandmother still felt no desire
to retire to rest. "I will write to Goswyn," she said to herself. "I
must tell him she is charming, and that I will make her happy."



                              CHAPTER VI.


Nine months had passed since Erika's arrival in Berlin. She had
travelled much with her grandmother, passing the time in Schlangenbad,
Gastein, and the Riviera. As soon as she had become further acquainted
with her, Countess Anna had relinquished all thoughts of sending her
grand-daughter to a boarding-school. "What could you gain from a
boarding-school?" she said. "H'm! Have your corners rubbed off? In my
opinion that would be matter of regret. And as for your education,
there's too much already in that head of yours for a girl of your age;
but that we can't alter, and must make allowance for." And she tapped
Erika on the cheek, and looked at her with eyes beaming with pride.

Erika had come to be the centre of her existence, her idol, the most
entertaining toy she had ever possessed, the most precious jewel she
had ever worn. Moreover, she was the late-awakened poetry of her life,
the transfigured resurrection of her own youth. That was all very
natural: she was not the first grand-mother in the world who had
thought her grand-daughter a phenomenon; and it would have mattered
little in any wise if she had not thought it necessary to impress her
grand-daughter with the high opinion she entertained of her. Everything
that she could do to turn the young girl's head she did, all out of
pure inconsequence and love of talking, because never in her life had
she been able to keep anything to herself. For in fact she was as
unwise as she was clever: her cleverness was an article of luxury,
something with which she entertained herself and others, with which she
theoretically arranged the most complex combination of circumstances,
but which never helped her over the simplest disturbance of her daily
life. She was thoroughly unpractical, and was aware of it, without
understanding why it was so. Since she could not alter it,--indeed, she
never tried to,--she evaded every difficult problem of existence, with
the Epicurean love of ease which was her only enduring rule of conduct.
Her affection for Erika was now part of her egotism. She was never
weary of exulting in the girl's beauty and brilliant qualities; she
felt every annoyance experienced by her grand-daughter as a personal
pang, every triumph as homage paid to herself; but she never thought of
the responsibility she had assumed towards this lovely blossom
unfolding in such luxuriance. She was convinced that Erika's life would
develop of itself just as her own had done, and in this conviction she
felt not the slightest compunction in spoiling the girl from morning
until night, and in absolutely forcing her to consider herself the
centre of the universe.

With almost equal impatience grandmother and grand-daughter awaited the
moment when Erika should enchant the world of Berlin society.

And now it was the beginning of February, and the first
Wednesday-afternoon reception of Countess Anna Lenzdorff after her
return from Italy. She, whose social indolence had long been
proverbial, had sent out numerous cards, many of them to people who had
long since supposed themselves forgotten by her. All this, too, without
any idea of as yet introducing her grand-daughter to society, but
simply that people "might have a glimpse of her."

As a result of the Countess Anna's suddenly developed amiability
towards Berlin society, this reception was largely attended. Erika
presided at the tea-table in a toilette of studied simplicity and with
a regal self-consciousness due to the enthusiasm which her grandmother
displayed for her various charms, but which the girl had the good taste
to conceal beneath an attractive air of modesty. She did not rattle her
teacups awkwardly, she upset no cream, she never pressed a guest to
take what had once been declined; in short, she committed none of the
blunders so frequently the consequence of shyness in young novices; and
she was, as her grandmother expressed it, simply "wonderful." Full
forty times the old lady had presented "my grand-daughter," with the
same proud intonation, observing narrowly the impression produced upon
each guest,--an impression almost sure to be one of pleased surprise;
whereupon Countess Lenzdorff--the same Countess Lenzdorff who had been
always ready to ridicule, and to ridicule nothing more unsparingly than
the mutual admiration characteristic of German families--would begin,
in a loud whisper of which not one word escaped Erika's ears, to
enumerate her grandchild's unusual attractions: "What do you think of
this child who has dropped from the skies into my house to brighten my
old age? 'Tis my usual luck, is it not? A charming creature; and what a
carriage! Just observe her profile,--now, when she turns her head,--and
the line of the cheek and throat. And to think that I was actually
reluctant to receive the child! Oh, I treated her shamefully; but I am
atoning to her for the past. I spoil her a little; but how can I help
it? I thought it would be such a bore to have a young girl in the
house, but, on the contrary, she makes me young again. No need to stoop
to her intellectually: she is interested in everything. At first I was
going to send her to school. H'm! there is more in that golden head of
hers than behind the blue spectacles of all the school-mistresses in
Germany. And that is not what interests me most: she has a certain
frank honesty of nature that enchants me. Oh, she certainly is
remarkable."

There the Countess Lenzdorff was right,--Erika was remarkable,--but she
was wrong in parading the child before her acquaintances: first because
it bored her acquaintances,--when are we ever entertained by listening
to the praises of somebody whom we hardly know?--and again because her
exaggerated laudation of her grandchild excited the antagonism of her
listeners. On this first reception-day she laid the foundation of the
unpopularity from which Erika was to suffer long afterwards.

The afternoon was nearing its close; the lamps were lit; three
or four ladies only, all in black,--the court was in mourning at the
time,--were still sitting in the cosiest corner of the drawing-room.
Close by the hearth sat a tiny old lady, Frau von Norbin, _née_
Princess Nimbsch, with a delicately chiselled face framed in
silver-gray curls, a face the colour of a faded rose-leaf, and with a
thin clear voice that sounded like an antique musical clock and seemed
to come from far away. She was about ten years older than Countess
Anna, but had been one of her most intimate friends from childhood,
belonging also to an old Courland family, which had given the Vienna
Congress a good deal of trouble. She had known Talleyrand in her youth,
and had corresponded with Chateaubriand. Countess Lenzdorff had a
water-colour sketch of her as a young girl with a wreath of vine-leaves
on her head, her hair hanging about her shoulders in Bacchante fashion,
and with very bare arms holding aloft a tambourine. The rococo
sentiment of the faded sketch contrasted strangely with the old lady's
dignified decrepitude and poetically softened charm.

Opposite her, and evidently very desirous to stand well with her, sat a
certain Frau von Geroldstein, wife of a wealthy merchant who had
purchased a patent of nobility in one of the petty German states,
without, as he learned too late, acquiring any court privileges for his
wife. Indignant at the pettiness of the German sovereign in duodecimo,
he had established himself in Berlin, where his wife hoped to find a
suitable stage for her social efforts. She had been there three years
without finding any aristocratic coigne of vantage for her pretensions;
in despair she had fallen back upon celebrities, artists, professors,
politicians (even democrats), to lend a certain splendour to her
_salon_. After at last finding her aristocratic vantage-ground at a
watering-place in the shape of a General's widow, with debts, and a
daughter of forty whom she alleged to be twenty-four, she annoyed her
old acquaintances extremely. It was the business of her life to extort
forgiveness from society for having once invited Eugene Richter to her
house. Society never forgives, but it sometimes forgets if it be
convenient to do so. It began to find it convenient to forget all sorts
of things about Frau von Geroldstein, not only her political
acquaintances, but also that her husband had made his fortune by
furnishing army-supplies of doubtful quality.

Frau von Geroldstein was so available, and was besides so ready to make
any concessions required of her. She threw Eugene Richter overboard,
and developed a touching enthusiasm for the court chaplain Dryander.
She bombarded society with invitations to dinners which were excellent,
and at which one was sure to meet no undesirable individuals. She paid
endless visits, and possessed in fullest measure the article most
indispensable to the career of social aspirants,--a very thick skin.

She was about twenty-five years old, and was gifted by nature with a
very small waist, which she pinched in to the stifling-point, and with
a face which would have been pretty had it not given the impression, as
did everything else about her, of artificiality. Of course her court
mourning was trimmed with three times as much crape as that of any
other lady present; and today she had made it her special business to
win the favour of little Frau von Norbin. She had offered her three
things already,--her riding-horse for Frau von Norbin's daughter, her
lawn-tennis ground (she had a wonderful garden behind her house, which
no one used), and her opera-box; but Frau von Norbin's manner was still
coldly reserved. At last Frau von Geroldstein discovered from a remark
of Countess Lenzdorff's that the old lady's principal interest lay in a
children's hospital of which she was the chief patroness. Frau von
Geroldstein instantly declared that the improvement of the health of
the children of the poor was positively all that she cared for in life:
when might she visit the hospital? Countess Lenzdorff smiled somewhat
maliciously when Frau von Norbin, caught at last by this benevolent
birdlime, plunged into a conversation with Frau von Geroldstein upon
the most practical mode of nursing children.

Meanwhile, Countess Lenzdorff turned for amusement to a young maid of
honour, a charming person, whose delicate sense of humour had been
uninjured by the debilitating atmosphere of the court, and who was now
detailing the latest misfortunes of a certain Countess Ida von Brock.

This Countess Brock was a notorious figure in Berlin society. She was
usually called the twelfth fairy, since she was frequently omitted in
the invitations to some social 'high mass' (the word was of Countess
Lenzdorff's invention) and was then sure to appear uninvited and to do
all kinds of mischief by her malicious gossip. Every winter she looked
out for fresh lions for her menagerie, as her _salon_ was called in
familiar conversation,--for artists sufficiently well bred to consort
with men of fashion, and for men of fashion sufficiently intelligent to
appreciate artists. Since, thanks to her numberless eccentricities and
indiscretions, she had quarrelled with all sorts of people, she was
always obliged to entreat a few influential friends to procure for her
her anthropological curiosities. Some time ago she had applied to
Countess Lenzdorff to provide her with 'twelve witty Counts,'--an order
which Countess Lenzdorff had declined to fill, upon the plea that the
supply was just then exhausted.

During the previous winter the glory of her _salon_ had been a
hypnotizer, a young American for whom the Countess Ida had been wildly
enthusiastic.

Mr. Van Tromp was his name; he had a dome-like forehead, and he cost
nothing; he was quite ready to sacrifice his time without pay for the
pleasure of mingling in good society,--a pleasure more highly prized by
an American, as is well known, than by any European aspirant. At the
close of the season the Countess's footman had unfortunately put
aqua-fortis in the chambermaid's tea, and, as the Countess ascribed the
crime to the influence of Van Tromp, she straightway relinquished her
hypnotic pastime, the more willingly as most of her other guests
considered it a rather dangerous game.

Van Tromp was informed of this when he next visited the Countess. He
acquiesced in her decision, and amiably and unselfishly hoped that
without any further exercise of his peculiar talent she would allow him
to visit her 'as a friend.' Countess Brock, however, wrote him a note
thanking him for his great kindness, but at the same time insisting
that she could not possibly allow him to waste his time at her house;
the people frequenting it were in fact quite too insignificant to
associate with so great a man as himself.

This mode of turning out of doors people whom she could no longer make
use of she called treating them with delicacy and tact. What Mr. Van
Tromp thought of it is not known: he revenged himself, however, by
writing a book upon Berlin society, which, as it was full of scandalous
stories and appeared anonymously, lived through twenty-five editions.

With a view of making her Thursday evenings attractive this year,
Countess Brock had determined to have some one of her favourite modern
dramas read aloud at each of them, and had engaged the services of a
handsome young actor with a broad chest and a strong voice as reader.
The readings had begun the previous week with a German translation of
Dumas' "_Femme de Claude_."

The young maid of honour had been present, and she declared it "comical
beyond description."

There were several young girls among the audience, and scarcely had the
handsome young actor with the powerful voice reached the middle of the
second act when there was a rustling in the assembly, caused by a
mother's conducting her daughter from the room. This went on all
through the evening. Whilst the reader pursued his way with enthusiasm,
each scene frightened away some two or three delicate-minded
individuals, until the hostess found herself left almost entirely alone
with the handsome young actor and a few gentlemen. "I persisted in
remaining," the maid of honour continued, amid the laughter of her
audience, "but I assure you----"

At this moment the servant announced "Frau Countess Brock," and there
entered a woman of medium height, in a large high-shouldered seal-skin
coat, for which departure from the prescribed court mourning a long
crape veil atoned, a wonder of a veil, draped picturesquely over a Mary
Stuart bonnet and hanging down over a slightly-bent back. Her grizzled
hair was arranged above her forehead in curls, and her face, which must
once have been handsome, was disfigured by affected contortions,
sometimes grotesque, sometimes malicious, often both together.

Countess Lenzdorff immediately presented her niece to the new-comer,
but the 'wicked fairy' paid no heed, and Erika made her a graceful
courtesy which she did not see. She gave additional proof of
near-sightedness by almost sitting down upon Frau von Norbin, and by
mistaking Frau von Geroldstein for a distinguished authoress aged
seventy.

Frau von Norbin smiled good-naturedly, and Frau von Geroldstein
declared the blunder delicious. Privately she was furious, not at being
mistaken for an aged woman, but at being supposed to be an authoress.
However, she could endure it, since she had arranged a visit with Frau
von Norbin to the children's hospital for the next afternoon. That was
a triumph, at all events.

"H'm! h'm! what were you all laughing at when I came in?" asked the
'wicked fairy,' taking a seat beside Countess Lenzdorff.

Upon which a rather embarrassed silence ensued, and she went on with a
sigh: "At my disaster, of course. Yes, yes, I know, Clara,"--this to
the maid of honour,--"you will tell the _désastre_ to all Berlin. It
was terrible!--Oh, thanks, no,"--this with a polite grin to Erika, who
offered her a cup of tea. "That frightful actor!" she wailed, raising
her black-gloved hands, palms outward,--a gesture peculiarly her own
and used to express the climax of despair. "I have already denounced
him to our principal managers: he never will get any position in a
Berlin theatre. Think of his insolence in reading my guests out of my
drawing-room and showing me up as a lover of questionable literature."

"Was the drama one of his selection?" asked Countess Lenzdorff.

"No; I chose it myself. But, good heavens! the piece was of no
importance. The mode of delivery was everything. All he had to do was
to skip lightly over the questionable parts; instead of which he fairly
roared them in the faces of my guests."

"Evidently he liked them best," the maid of honour said, with a laugh.

"Of course," the 'wicked fairy' went on, indignantly; "these people
have neither tact nor sense of decency. Well, I have forbidden the man
my house for the future."

"Like Mr. Van Tromp," Countess Lenzdorff interposed.

"Oh, I am too easily imposed upon," Countess Brock sighed. "The worst
of it is that I have nothing now in prospect for my Thursdays."

"I saw in the newspaper that a couple of almehs on their way from Paris
to Petersburg are to appear at Kroll's," Countess Lenzdorff observed,
maliciously: "you might hire them for an evening."

"That would be against the law," remarked Frau von Geroldstein, who
knew about everything and had no sense of humour. Countess Brock, who
had declared that nothing should ever induce her to receive 'the
Archduchess,' as she called Frau von Geroldstein, pretended not to
hear; Frau von Norbin begged to be told what an _almeh_ was. Countess
Lenzdorff laughed, and was just enlightening her in a low tone, out of
regard for her grand-daughter, as to this Oriental specialty, when Herr
von Sydow was announced.

"Goswyn!" exclaimed Countess Anna, evidently delighted. "It is good of
you to come at last, but not good to have let us wait so long for you."

"I came as soon as I heard of your return," Sydow replied.

"And, as usual, you come as late as possible," his old friend remarked,
in an access of absence of mind, "in hopes of finding me alone."

"I call that a skilful method of turning people out of doors,"
exclaimed Frau von Norbin, laughing, and in spite of her hostess's
protestations she arose and took her leave, accompanied by the young
maid of honour.

Whilst Erika, with the modest grace which she had learned so quickly,
conducted the two ladies to the vestibule, where only two or three
remained of the crowd of footmen that had occupied it early in the
afternoon, Goswyn's eyes rested on the wall, where, to his great
surprise, hung the same Böcklin that had been removed upon his former
visit in view of the expected arrival of the Countess's grand-daughter.

"So you sent the young Countess to boarding-school?" he remarked.

"What?" exclaimed the Countess, indignant at such an idea. "You must
see that I am far too old to forego the pleasure of having the child
with me." Then, observing that the young man's eyes were directed
towards her favourite picture, she suddenly remembered the conversation
she had had with him in the spring. "Oh, yes; you are thinking of how
hard it seemed to me to receive the child. It makes me laugh to recall
it. As for the picture, there was no need to hide it from her: she knew
the entire Vatican by heart when she came to me, from photographs. She
looks at everything, and sees beyond it! I am longing to have you know
her: did you not notice her? though this February twilight, to be sure,
is very dim. She has just escorted Hedwig Norton from the room."

"Was that your grand-daughter?" Sydow asked, in surprise. "I thought it
was your niece Odette."

"Where were your eyes?" Countess Lenzdorff asked, in an aggrieved tone.
"Odette is pretty enough, but a grisette,--a mere grisette,--in
comparison with Erika. Erika is a head taller; and then, my dear, _un
port de reine_,--_absolument, un port de reine_. Ah, here she
comes.--Erika, Herr von Sydow wishes to be presented to you: you know
who he is,--a great favourite of mine, and the nicest young fellow in
all Berlin."

Erika inclined her head graciously, and, whilst the young man
blushed at the old lady's exaggerated praise, said, with perfect
self-possession, "Of course my grandmother has enlightened you as to my
perfections. I think we may both be quite content, Herr von Sydow."

He bowed low and took the offered chair beside his hostess. He
knew that Countess Lenzdorff expected him to say something to her
grand-daughter, but he could not; he was mute with astonishment. It was
true that the Countess had written him shortly after the young girl's
arrival that she was charming, but he had regarded this asseveration as
a piece of remorse on her part, knowing that remorse will incline
people to exaggerate, especially kind-hearted, selfish people, for whom
the memory of injustice done by them is among the greatest annoyances
of life.

He could not reconcile his memory of the distressed, pale, shy girl
whom he had seen for an instant with this extremely beautiful and
self-possessed young lady who seemed expressly devised to act as a
cordial for her grandmother's Epicurean selfishness. He did not know
why, but he was half vexed that Erika was so beautiful: the previous
tender compassion with which she had inspired him seemed ridiculous.

The words for which he sought in vain with which to begin a
conversation she soon found. "It is strange that you should not have
recognized me here in my grandmother's drawing-room, where you might
have expected me to be," she said, gaily. "I should have known you in
Africa."

"Where have you seen each other before?" the Countess asked, curiously.

"On the stairs, on the evening of my arrival," Erika explained.
"Evidently you do not recall it, Herr von Sydow: I ought not to have
confessed how perfectly I remember."

"Oh, I remember it very well," said Sydow, and then he paused suddenly
with a faint smile, a smile peculiarly his own, and behind which some
sensitive souls suspected a degree of malice, but which actually
concealed only a certain agitation and embarrassment, a momentary
non-comprehension of the situation. He was not very clever, except in
moments of great danger, when he developed unusual presence of mind.

"After all, 'tis no wonder that you made more impression upon me than I
did upon you," Erika went on, easily and simply. "In the first place,
you were the first Prussian officer I had ever met; I had never seen
anything in Austria so tall and broad: your epaulettes inspired me with
a degree of awe. And then you bowed so respectfully. You can't imagine
how much good it did me. I was half dead with terror: you looked as if
you pitied me."

"I did pity you, Countess," he confessed, frankly. The tone of her
voice, which had first won over her grandmother, was sweet in his ears.
Moreover, she seemed very much of a child, now that she was talking.
The impression of self-possession which she had at first given him was
quite obliterated.

"You knew that my grandmother was not glad to have me?" she asked.

"Yes, I told him so, and he scolded me for it," Countess Lenzdorff
declared, with a nod.

"But, my dear Countess!" Sydow remonstrated.

"Oh, I always speak the truth," the Countess exclaimed,--"always, that
is, if possible, and sometimes even oftener: it is the only virtue upon
which I pride myself. And you were right, Goswyn. But do you know how
you look now? As if you were ashamed of your pity. Aha! I have hit the
nail upon the head, and a very sensitive nail, too. It is human nature.
There is one extravagance which even the most magnanimous never forgive
themselves,--wasted compassion. In fact, you must perceive that the
child has no need of the article."

Goswyn was silent. If at first the Countess had hit the nail upon the
head, he was by no means convinced of the truth of her last remark.
Something in the old Countess's manner to her grand-daughter went
against the grain with him: once while she was talking to him, and
Erika, sitting beside her, nestled close to her with the innocent grace
of a young creature to whom a little tenderness is as necessary as is
sunshine to the opening flower, the grandmother suddenly, with a
significant glance at Sydow, put her finger beneath the girl's chin and
turned her face so that he might observe the particularly lovely
outline of her cheek.

Meanwhile, Countess Brock was defending herself with much ill humour
and many grimaces from the exaggerated amiability of the 'Archduchess,'
which found vent especially in the offer of a specific for the cure of
neuralgia, from which the 'wicked fairy' suffered constantly, and which
partly explained the peculiar twitching of her features. Extricating
herself at last with much bluntness from the snare thus spread to
entrap her favour, Countess Brock turned to the young officer, who,
strange to relate, was her nephew. Strange to relate; for there
certainly could be no greater contrast than that of his characteristic
grave simplicity with her restless affectation.

"My dear Goswyn!" she said, in a honeyed tone, taking a chair beside
him.

"Well, aunt?"

"You scarcely spoke to me when you came in," she continued,
reproachfully, in the same sweet tone.

"You seemed very much occupied."

"Occupied? yes, occupied indeed. For the last quarter of an hour I have
been struggling like a fly in a trap. You come just at the right
moment, dear boy." And she tapped his epaulette with a caressing
forefinger.

"Ah? Do you wish me to audit your accounts?" he asked, dryly: he had
but slight sympathy with her.

"God forbid!" exclaimed the 'wicked fairy,' raising her black-gloved
hands with her characteristic gesture. "Nothing so prosaic as that this
time. It was about----"

"About your Thursdays," her nephew interrupted her.

"Rightly guessed, dear boy. I want a new star; and you can help me a
little. Do you know G----?"

"The pianist?"

"Yes."

"I have practised with him once or twice." Goswyn played the violin in
moments of leisure, a weakness to which he did not like to hear
allusions made.

"There! I thought so. You must bring him to me."

"Pray excuse me," the young man said, decidedly. "I will have nothing
to do with introducing any artist to you. I know too well what will
ensue. You will squeeze him like a lemon, and then show him the door on
the pretence that he outrages your æsthetic sense,--that his manners
are not to your taste. You should inform yourself on that point before
making use of him. We all know that artists are not always well bred."

"Too true!" sighed Frau von Geroldstein, edging her chair nearer to the
speaker.

"All artists are ill-mannered," Countess Lenzdorff maintained, with her
good-humoured insolence.

"Even the greatest?" asked Erika, shyly. She was thinking of the young
painter whom she had met by the monster of a bridge, and she could not
decide whether to resent her grandmother's arrogance or to be ashamed
of the childish admiration in which she had indulged all these years
for the handsome vagabond of whom she had never heard since.

As Frau von Geroldstein was gently sighing, "Ah, yes, even the
greatest," Countess Anna interposed with a laugh, "They are the worst
of all. Artistic mediocrities acquire a certain drawing-room polish far
sooner than do the great geniuses who live in a world of their own.
And, after all, average good manners are only the dress-suit for
average men: they rarely sit well upon a genius. I care very little for
them: a little _naïve_ awkwardness does not displease me at all; on the
contrary, to be quite to my mind an artist must always have something
of the bear about him: I take no interest whatever in those trim
dandies, 'gentlemen artists,' who think more of the polish of their
boots than of their art."

"Nor do I," sighed Frau von Geroldstein.

"H'm! your discourse is always very instructive," the 'wicked fairy'
declared, "but it does not help me in my trouble." She sighed
tragically and arose. As she did so, her fur boa slipped from her
shoulders to the ground. Erika picked it up and handed it to her. The
'wicked fairy' stared at the young girl through her eye-glass, surprise
slowly dawning in her distorted features. "You are the grand-daughter
from Bohemia?" she asked, still with her eye-glass at her eyes.

"Yes, Frau Countess."

"Ah, excuse me: I have been taking you all this time for my dear Anna's
companion. Now I remember she died last year: I sent some flowers to
her funeral. Poor thing! she was desperately tiresome, but an excellent
girl; you must remember her, my dear Goswyn. You used to call her the
Duke of Wellington, because she was a little deaf and used to go on
talking without hearing what was said to her. How could I make such a
mistake! But I am very near-sighted, and very absent-minded." She put
her finger beneath Erika's chin and smiled an indescribable smile. "And
you are very pretty, my dear. What is your name?"

"Erika."

"Erika!--Heather Blossom! And you come from Bohemia. How poetic!--how
poetic! She is positively charming, this grand-daughter of yours, Anna!
Do you not think so, Goswyn?"

Sydow flushed crimson, frowned, and was silent.

"I must go: I seem to be saying the wrong thing," Countess Brock ran
on; then, looking towards the window, "Good heavens!" she exclaimed,
"it is pouring! Pray let them call a droschky."

"Erika, ring the bell," said Countess Lenzdorff.

Before Erika could obey, Frau von Geroldstein extended a detaining arm.

"But, my dear Countess Erika, why send for a droschky, when my carriage
is waiting below, and it will give me the greatest pleasure to drive
Countess Brock home?--Surely you will permit me?"--this last addressed
to the 'wicked fairy.'

"I really cannot. I know you far too slightly to impose such a burden
upon you," Countess Brock replied, crossly.

"Why call it a burden? it is a pleasure," the other insisted.

"There is no pleasure in driving with me: I am forced to have all the
windows closed," said the Countess.

Meanwhile, Erika stood uncertain whether or not to ring the bell, when
suddenly affairs took a turn most favourable for Frau von Geroldstein.

Herr Reichert was announced, and without another word Countess Brock
vanished with Frau von Geroldstein, in whose coupé she was driven home.

She had private reasons for this hurried retreat. Reichert, a special
favourite of Anna Lenzdorff's, an animal painter with a lion face and
an inexhaustible fund of anecdote, was among the '_remords_' of the
'wicked fairy.' She called her '_remords_' the assemblage of men of
talent of whom she had made use only to throw them aside remorselessly
afterwards.

The animal painter's visit was a brief one, and none of the Countess
Lenzdorff's guests remained save Sydow, who stayed in obedience to the
Countess's whispered invitation.

"There! now I have had enough," she exclaimed, as the door closed
behind her beloved animal painter. "Stay and dine, Goswyn: we dine
early--at six--tonight, and then you can go with us to the Academy.
Joachim is to play, and I have a spare ticket for you."



                              CHAPTER VII.


It is later by four-and-twenty hours. Countess Lenzdorff, with her
grand-daughter, has just returned from a drive in a close carriage,--a
drive interrupted by a couple of calls, and by a little shopping in the
interest of the young girl's wardrobe.

She is now sitting near the fire, a teacup in her hand, and saying,
"You cannot go out very much this season, especially since you are not
to be presented until next winter, but you can divert yourself with a
few small entertainments. It was well to order your gown from Petrus in
time: people must open their eyes when they see you first."

Meanwhile, Erika has taken off her seal-skin jacket, and is sitting
beside her grandmother, thinking of the gown that has been ordered for
her to-day,--a white cachemire, so simple,--oh, so simple! "Nobody must
think of your dress when they see you," her grandmother had said:
nevertheless it was a triumph of art, this gown.

"Everything about you must be perfect in style upon your first
appearance in the world," her grandmother now says. "People must find
nothing to criticise about you at first: afterwards we may, perhaps,
allow ourselves a little eccentricity. I have a couple of gowns in my
head for you which Marianne can arrange admirably, but just at first we
must show that you can dress like everybody else,--with a slight
difference. You must produce a certain effect. Give me another cup of
tea, my child."

Erika hands her the cup. The old lady, pats her arm caressingly.
"Petrus is quite proud to assist at your début: at first I thought of
sending to Paris for a dress for you," she adds, and then there is a
silence.

The old lady has lain back in her arm-chair and fallen asleep. She
never lies down to take a nap in the daytime, but she often dozes in
her chair at this hour.

Twilight sets in,--sets in unusually soon and quickly to-night, for the
winter which had seemed to have bidden farewell to Berlin has returned
with cruel intensity. The rain which on the previous day had forced
Countess Brock into Frau von Geroldstein's arms and coupé has to-day
turned to snow: it is lying a foot deep in the gardens in front of the
grand houses in Bellevue Street, and is falling so fast that it has no
chance to grow black: it lies on the trees in the Thiergarten, each
twig bearing its own special weight, and down one side of each trunk is
a broad bluish-white stripe; it lies on the roofs, on the palings of
the little city gardens, yes, even on the telegraph-wires which stretch
in countless lines against the purplish-gray sky above the white city.

For a while Erika gazes out at the noiselessly-falling flakes: the snow
still gleams white through the twilight.

The girl has ceased to think of her gown: her thoughts have carried her
far back,--back to Luzano. That last winter there,--how cold and long
it had been!--snow, snow everywhere; nothing to be seen but a vast
field of snow beneath a gloomy sky, the poor little village, the frozen
brook, the river, the trees, all buried beneath it. The roads were
obliterated; there was some difficulty in procuring the necessaries of
existence. The cold was so great that fuel cost "a fortune," as her
step-father expressed it. Erika was allowed none for the school-room,
where she was wont to sit, nor for the former drawing-room, where was
her piano. The greater part of the day she was forced to spend in the
room, blackened with tobacco-smoke, where Strachinsky had his meals,
played patience, and dozed on the sofa over his novels. What an
atmosphere! The room was never aired, and reeked of stale cigar-smoke,
coal gas, and the odour of ill-cooked food. Once Erika had privately
broken a windowpane to admit some fresh air. But what good had it done?
Since there was no glazier to be had immediately, the hole in the
window had been stuffed up with rags and straw.

Yet the worst of that last winter had been the constant association
with Strachinsky.

One day, in desperation, she had hurried out of doors as if driven by
fiends, and had gone deep into the forest. Around her reigned dead
silence. There was nothing but snow everywhere: she could not have
got through it but that she wore high boots. Here and there the black
bough of a dead fir would protrude against the sky. No life was to be
seen,--not even a bird. The only sounds that at intervals broke the
silence were the creak of some bough bending beneath its weight of
snow, and the dull thud of its burden falling on the snow beneath.

As she was returning to her home she was overcome by a sudden weakness
and a sense of utter discouragement.

Why endure this torture any longer? Who could tell when it would end,
this intense disgust, this gnawing degrading misery, suffering without
dignity,--a martyrdom without faith, without hope?

And there, just at the edge of the forest, close to the meadow that
spread before her like a huge winding-sheet, she lay down in the snow,
to put an end to it: the cold would soon bring her release, she
thought. How long she lay there she could not have told,--the
drowsiness which she had heard was the precursor of the end had begun
to steal over her,--when on the low horizon bounding the plain she saw
the full moon rise, huge, misty, blood-red. The outlying firs of the
forest cast broad dark shadows upon the snow, and upon her rigid form.
The snow began to sparkle; the world suddenly grew beautiful. She
seemed to feel a grasp upon her shoulder, and a voice called to her,
"Stand up: life is not yet finished for you: who knows what the future
may have in store?"

Hope, curiosity, perhaps only the inextinguishable love of life that
belongs to youth and health, appealed to her. She rose to her feet and
forced her stiffened limbs to carry her home.

Good heavens! it was hardly a year since! and now! She looks away from
the large windows, behind the panes of which there is now only a
bluish-white shimmer to be discerned, and gazes around the room. How
cosey and comfortable it is! In the darkening daylight the outlines of
objects show like a half-obliterated drawing. The subjects of the
pictures on the walls cannot be discerned, but their gilt frames gleam
through the all-embracing veil of twilight. There is a ruddy light on
the hearth, partially hidden from the girl's eyes by the figure of the
old Countess in her arm-chair; the air is pure and cool, and there is a
faint agreeable odour of burning wood. From beneath the windows comes
the noise of rolling wheels, deadened by the snow, and there is now and
then a faint crackle from the logs in the chimney, now falling into
embers.

Erika revels in a sense of comfort, as only those can who have known
the reverse in early life. Suddenly she is possessed by a vague
distress, an oppressive melancholy,--the memory of her mother who had
voluntarily left all this pleasant easy-going life--for what? Her
nerves quiver.

Meanwhile, Lüdecke brings in two lamps, which in consequence of their
large coloured shades fail to illumine the corners of the room, and
hardly do more than "teach light to counterfeit a gloom." That grave
dignitary was still occupied in their arrangement, when he turned his
head and paused, listening to an animated colloquy in two voices just
outside the portière which separated the Countess's boudoir from the
reception-rooms. Evidently Friedrich, Lüdecke's young adjutant, who was
not yet thoroughly drilled, was endeavouring to protect his mistress
from a determined intruder.

"If you please, Frau Countess, her Excellency is not at home," he said
for the third time, whereupon an irritated feminine voice made reply,--

"I know that the Countess is at home; and if she is not, I will wait
for her."

"The fairy," said Countess Lenzdorff, awaking. "Poor Friedrich! he is
doing what he can, but there is nothing for it but to put the best face
upon the matter." And, rising, she advanced to meet Countess Brock, who
came through the portière with a very angry face.

"That wretch!" she exclaimed. "I believe he was about to use personal
violence to detain me!" And she sank exhausted into an arm-chair.

"Since I ordered him to deny me to every one, he only did his duty,
although he may have failed in the manner of its performance," Countess
Lenzdorff replied.

"But he ought to have known that I was an exception," the fairy
rejoined, still angrily.

"Yes, he ought to have known. And now tell me what you have on your
mind, for I see by your bonnet's being all awry that you have not
engaged in a duel with that simpleton Friedrich without some special
cause."

"Ah, yes!" Countess Brock groaned. "I have a request--an audacious
request--to make, and you must not refuse me."

"We shall see. Is it fifty yards of red flannel for your association
for the relief of rheumatic old women?"

"Oh, if it were only that I should have no doubt of your assent,--every
one knows how generous you are; but you have certain whims." The wicked
fairy's smile was sourly sweet: "I begged Goswyn to prefer my request,
for I know how much you like him, and that you would not willingly
refuse him anything; but he would not do it. He behaves so queerly to
me."

"Tell me what you mean, without any further preliminaries. I am curious
to know what the matter is with which Goswyn will have nothing to do."

"It is about my next Thursday,--no, not the next, I shall simply skip
that, but the one after the next,--which, under the circumstances,
ought to be particularly brilliant. I want to have tableaux, and two of
the greatest beauties in Berlin have promised to help me,--Dorothea
Sydow and Constance Mühlberg," Countess Brock explained, breathlessly.

"H'm! that is magnificent," her friend interposed.

"Well, yes; but every one knows them by heart, and I want to show the
Berlin folk something new. In short, I have come to the conclusion that
the great attraction for my next evening reception must be your
enchanting grand-daughter," the 'fairy' declared, wriggling herself out
of her seal-skin coat.

Erika, who had hitherto kept modestly in the background, occupying
herself with some embroidery, here paused, her needle suspended in the
air, and looked up curiously.

"My grand-daughter?" her grandmother exclaimed, in surprise.

"Yes, yes; I have fallen in love with your granddaughter,--actually
fallen in love with her. She has a natural air of distinction, with a
certain barbaric charm which is immensely aristocratic: it reminds me
of some noble wild animal: the aristocracy always reminds me of a noble
wild animal, and the bourgeoisie of a well-fed barn-yard fowl,--except
that the former is never hunted and the latter never slaughtered. But,
then, who can tell, _par le temps qui court? Mais je me perds_. The
matter in hand is not socialism nor any other threatening horror, but
my tableaux. There are to be only three,--Senta lost in dreams of the
Flying Dutchman, by Constance Mühlberg, Werther's Charlotte, by Thea
Sydow, and last your grand-daughter as a heather blossom. She will bear
away the palm, of course: the others are not to be compared with her."

Countess Lenzdorff looked at Erika and smiled good-naturedly, as she
saw how the young girl had gone on sewing diligently as if hearing
nothing of this conversation. It never occurred to the old lady that it
might not be advisable thus calmly to extol that young person's beauty
in her presence.

"You will let the child do me this favour, will you not?" the 'fairy'
persisted. "It is all admirably arranged. Riedel is to pose them,--you
know him,--the little painter with such good manners who has his shirts
laundered in Paris."

"Oh, that colour-grinder!" Countess Lenzdorff said, contemptuously.

The 'fairy' shrugged her shoulders impatiently. "Colour-grinder or not,
he is one of the few artists whom one can meet socially."

"Yes, yes; and he will find it much easier to arrange a couple of
pictures than to paint them," Countess Lenzdorff declared.

"Then you consent? I may count upon your grand-daughter?"

"I must first consider the matter," Countess Lenzdorff replied, but in
a tone which plainly showed that she was not averse to granting her
eccentric old friend's request.

"I see that affairs look favourable for me," Countess Brock murmured.
"Thank heaven! I think I should have killed myself if I had met with a
refusal. What o'clock is it?"

"Six o'clock,--a few minutes past. Where are you going?"

"To dine with the Geroldsteins. We are going to the Lessing Theatre
afterwards. There have been no tickets to be had for ten days past."

"You--are going to dine with the Geroldsteins?" The old Countess
clasped her hands in frank, if discourteous, astonishment.

"I am going to dine with the Geroldsteins," the 'wicked fairy'
repeated, with irritated emphasis; "and what of it? You have received
her for more than a year."

"I have no social prejudices. Moreover, I do not receive her: I simply
do not turn her out of doors."

"Well, at present she suits me," Countess Brock declared, her features
working violently. "I have been longing for two months to be present at
this first representation, without being able to get a seat: she offers
me the best seat in a box,--no, she does not offer it to me, she
entreats me to take it as a favour to her. And then think how I begged
Goswyn yesterday to introduce G---- to me. No, he would not do it. She
will see to all that. She is the most obliging woman in all Germany.
And then--this very morning I saw her driving with Hedwig Norbin in the
Thiergarten. Surely any one may know a woman with whom Hedwig Norbin
drives through the Thiergarten."

She ran off, repeating her request as she vanished. "You will let me
know your decision to-morrow, Anna?"

Countess Lenzdorff shook her head as she looked after her,--shook her
head and smiled. She is still smiling as she thoughtfully paces the
room to and fro.

What is she considering? Whether it is fitting thus, in this barefaced
manner, to call the attention of society to a young girl's beauty.
Evidently Goswyn does not think it right; but Goswyn is a prig. The
Countess's delicacy gives way and troubles her no further. Another
consideration occupies her: will her grand-daughter hold her own in
comparison with the acknowledged beauties who are to share with her the
honours of the evening? Her gaze rests upon Erika. "That crackbrained
Elise is right. Erika hold her own beside them! the others cannot
compare with her."

"What do you say, child?" she asked, approaching the girl. "Would you
like to do it?"

"Yes," Erika confesses, frankly.

"It would not be quite undesirable," says her grandmother, whose mind
is entirely made up. "You cannot go out much this year, and it would be
something to appear once to excite attention and then to retire to the
background for the rest of the season. Curiosity would be aroused, and
would prepare a fine triumph for you next year."

The following morning Countess Brock received a note from Anna
Lenzdorff containing a consent to her request.


About ten days afterwards Countess Erika Lenzdorff presented herself
before a select public, chosen from the most exclusive society in
Berlin, as "Heather Blossom," in a ragged petticoat, with her hair
falling about her to her knees.

It was a strange _soirée_, that in which the youthful beauty made her
first appearance in the world.

Countess Brock, the childless widow of a very wealthy man who had
derived much of his social prestige from his wife, had inherited from
the deceased the use during her lifetime of a magnificent mansion,
together with an income the narrowness of which was in striking
contrast with her residence.

The consequence whereof was much shabbiness amid brilliant
surroundings.

The tableaux were given in a spacious ball-room, decorated with white
and gold, at one end of which a small stage had been erected. The
stage-decorations had been painted for nothing, by aspiring young
artists. The curtain consisted of several worn old yellow damask
portières sewed together, upon which the 'wicked fairy' herself had
painted various fantastic flowers to conceal the threadbare spots.

Whatever ridicule might attach to her Thursday evenings generally, on
this one her preparations were crowned with success. The effect of the
whole was greatly heightened by the musical accompaniment, furnished by
G---- at the instigation of the indefatigable Frau von Geroldstein.

For once this talented but shy young virtuoso forgot himself, and
presented his audience with something more than a pattern-card of
conquered technical difficulties.

Whether it were the result of caprice, or of a vivid impression made
upon him by Erika, or of a presumptuous desire to do all that he could
to add to her triumph, thus irritating the acknowledged beauties of the
day, certain it is that he played all his musical trumps in his
accompaniment to the representation of "Heather Blossom."

Old Countess Lenzdorff, who had been wont to compare his clear sharp
performance to a richly-furnished cockney drawing-room far too
brilliantly lighted, and with gas into the bargain, could scarcely
believe her ears when as an introduction to the third picture the low
wailing notes of the familiar but lovely melody "Ah, had I never left
my moor!" rang through the crowded assemblage of fashionable people.
How sweet, how melancholy, were the tones breathed from the instrument!
they seemed to rouse an echo in the soul of Boris Lensky's magic
violin.

The curtain drew up, and revealed a waste, dreary heath, treated with
tolerable conventionality by the amiable Riedel, and in the midst of it
a single figure, tall, slender, in a worn petticoat and coarse white
linen shift that left exposed the nobly-formed neck and the long and as
yet rather thin arms, a pale face framed in heavy gleaming masses of
hair, the features delicate yet strong, and with unfathomable,
indescribable eyes.

The painter Riedel had tried to force the Heather Blossom into the
attitude of Ary Scheffer's Mignon. She had apparently yielded to his
efforts, but at the last moment had posed according to her own wish,
with her head bent slightly forward and her arms hanging straight by
her side.

The audacious simplicity of her pose puzzled the spectators, and those
elegant votaries of fashion, weary of counterfeit presentments of art
and poetry, were in a manner shaken out of the monotonous indifference
of their lives at sight of the blank dumb despair embodied in this
young creature. They seemed suddenly to feel among them the working of
some mysterious force of nature.

The curtain remained lifted for a longer time than usual; the young
girl maintained her motionless attitude with a strength born of vanity;
the wailing, sighing music sounded on.

The curtain fell. The public was wild with enthusiasm. Three times the
curtain rose; but when there was a demand for a fourth glimpse of the
strange, pathetic picture, it remained obstinately down: Erika had
retired.

"Oh, the witch!" murmured old Countess Lenzdorff to Hedwig Norbin, who
sat beside her.

The stupidest and most innocent of country grandmothers could not have
exulted more frankly in her grand-daughter's triumph than did the
clever Countess Lenzdorff. She was never weary of hearing the child
praised: her appetite for compliments was inappeasable.

When Erika, transformed and modestly shy in her new gown from Petrus,
appeared among the guests, she aroused enthusiasm afresh, and was
immediately surrounded. She won the admiration not only of all the men
present, but also of all the old ladies. Of course the younger women
were somewhat envious, as were likewise the mothers with marriageable
daughters. In a word, nothing was lacking to make her appearance a
brilliant success.

Her grandmother presented her right and left, and was unwearied in
describing in whispered confidences to her friends the girl's
extraordinary talents and capacity. Any other grandmother so conducting
herself would have been called ridiculous, but it was not easy so to
stigmatize Anna Lenzdorff; instead there was some irritation excited
against the innocent object of such exaggerated praise, the girl
herself, to whom various disagreeable traits were ascribed. The younger
women pronounced her entirely self-occupied and thoroughly calculating.

She was both in a certain degree, but after a precocious, childish
fashion, that was diverting, rather than reprehensible.

Countess Mühlenberg, the wife of an officer in the guards who did not
appreciate her and with whom she was very unhappy, had appeared as
Senta out of pure good nature, and held herself quite aloof from
Erika's detractors,--in fact, she showed the young _débutante_ much
kindness,--but Dorothea Sydow's dislike was almost ill-bred in its
manifestation.

She was a strangely fascinating and yet repulsive person,--very well
born, even of royal blood, a princess, in fact, but so wretchedly poor
that she had rejoiced when a simple squire laid his heart and his
wealth at her feet. Her family at first cried out against the
misalliance, but finally consented to admit that the young lady had
done very well for herself. Some of her equals in rank came even to
envy her after a while, for all agreed that there was not in the world
another husband who so idolized and spoiled his wife, indulging her in
every whim, as did Otto von Sydow his Princess Dorothea.

He was Goswyn's elder brother, and the heir of the Sydow estates, which
was why there was such a difference in the incomes of the brothers. In
all else the advantage was decidedly on Goswyn's side.

Otto looked like him, but his face lacked the force of Goswyn's; his
features were rounder, his shoulders broader, his hands and feet
larger, and he had a great deal of colour. The 'wicked fairy'
maintained that he showed the blood of his bourgeoise mother.

Countess Lenzdorff, who had been an intimate friend of the late Frau
von Sydow, denied this, insisting that the Sydow mother had enriched
the family not only by her money but also by her pure, strong, red
blood. In fact, Otto was a genuine Sydow: such types are not rare among
the Prussian country gentry.

He was one of the men who always show to most advantage in the country
and out of doors, for whom a drawing-room, even the most spacious, is
too confined. In a brilliant crowd he looked as if he could hardly
catch his breath. With the shyness not unusual in men with much-admired
wives, he was wont to efface himself in a corner, emerging to make
himself useful at supper-time, and never speaking except when he
encountered some one still less at home in society than himself. He was
never weary of watching his wife, devouring her with his eyes, drinking
in her grace and beauty.

Many people declared that she was not beautiful, only distinguished in
appearance. In fact, she was both to an astonishing degree, and
aristocratic to her finger-tips. Tall, slender almost to emaciation,
with long, narrow hands and feet, a head proudly erect, and sharply-cut
features, her carriage was inimitable, her walk grace itself. Wherever
she went she attracted universal attention. She wore her fair hair
short in close curls about her small head, a piece of audacity indeed,
and she talked quickly in a rather high voice, and with a slight defect
in her utterance, characteristic of the royal family to which she was
related, and which made some people nervous, while her countless
adorers declared it enchanting.

However, beautiful or not, she had been a leader in Berlin society for
two years, and would brook no rival near her throne.

The evening ran its course; the servants opened the doors into the
dining-hall; the ladies took their places at small tables, while the
gentlemen served them--the entertainment being but meagre--before
satisfying their own appetites. Some of them performed this duty with
skill and dexterity, while others rattled plates and glasses and
invariably dropped something.

Erika, paler than usual, with sparkling eyes and very red lips, sat at
a table with a charmingly fresh young girl about her own age, but ten
years younger intellectually. Nevertheless the child's development
might almost be said to be finished, while Erika's had scarcely passed
its first stage. She had honestly tried to talk with this companion,
but without success; nor had she much to say to the young men who,
attracted by her beauty, thronged around her. Reaction had set in: her
enjoyment of her triumph had been succeeded by a strange restlessness.

Dorothea von Sydow was sitting near by at a table with one of the most
fashionable women in Berlin, an Austrian diplomat, an officer of
cuirassiers, and one of her cousins, Prince Helmy Nimbsch. All five had
remarkably good appetites and talked incessantly. In their midst sat
Frau von Geroldstein, a vacant place on each side of her,--solemn and
mute. No one knew her, no one spoke to her, but she was sitting among
people of rank and was content. Her only regret was that she had
mistaken the continuance of the court mourning by a day, and had
consequently appeared in a plain black gown in an assemblage of women
in full dress with feathers and diamonds in their hair. To justify her
error she had hastily trumped up a story of the death of a near
relative.

Goswyn's place was with the elder women, a distinction that frequently
fell to his share. He looked grave and anxious, and Countess Lenzdorff,
who had commanded his presence at her table, with her usual
imperiousness, reproached him for being tiresome and bad-tempered. From
time to time he glanced towards Erika, of whom he could see nothing
save a slender neck with a knot of gold-gleaming hair, a little pink
ear, and now and then the outline of a softly-rounded cheek.

Yes, she was bewitching, there was no denying it, but she must be
insufferable, there was no doubt of that either. The idea of thus
making a show of a girl scarcely eighteen! It was in such bad taste: it
was absolutely unprincipled: the old Countess, in her senseless vanity,
was doing the child a positive injury. At times a kind of rage half
choked him: he could have shaken his old friend, to whom he had been as
a son, and who had from his boyhood petted him far more than her own
child. Again he glanced towards Erika. Then his thoughtful gaze
wandered across to the round table where his sister-in-law was sitting.
She looked particularly well in a dress of white velvet with an antique
Spanish necklace of emeralds around her slender neck. It was all very
lovely, but her short hair was not in harmony with it.

Beside her sat her cousin, Prince Helmy Nimbsch, a good-tempered dandy,
scarcely twenty-five years old, with large light-blue eyes and a face
smoothly shaven, except for a moustache. As Goswyn looked at Thea, she
was laughing at her cousin over the champagne-glass which she held to
her lips. Her eyes were her greatest beauty,--large hazel eyes, but
with no soul in them, no expression, not even a bad one. Her charm was
entirely physical, but it was very great. It was a pity that her
manners were so loud. That perpetual giggle of hers rasped Goswyn's
nerves. But he was alone in his dislike: her adorers were legion.

He looked away from her. Where was his brother? Over in a corner, at a
table without ladies, he was sitting with another gentleman.
Fortunately he had found a man who was even more uncomfortable than
himself in this brilliant assemblage.

This was Herr Geroldstein, husband of the ambitious dame, a pale little
man with a bald head and mutton-chop whiskers, who looked for all the
world like a man who had wielded a yard-stick behind a counter all his
life long,--a decent enough little man, with an air of being
perpetually ashamed of himself, who never made use for his own part of
the title which he had purchased as a birthday-present for his wife. He
spoke very softly and ate and drank but little, while Otto von Sydow
did both with great gusto, now and then uttering some oracular remark
as to the best wine-merchant in Rheims. His face was redder than usual,
and produced the impression of rude health beside the pale tradesman
who had passed his life in his office. There was in Goswyn's opinion no
denying that no man in the room was as ill fitted to be the husband of
the slender Princess Dorothea as was his brother Otto.

After supper there was a little music. When Goswyn was relieved from
duty with Countess Lenzdorff, he was about to leave the house
unnoticed, but longed for one more glimpse of Erika, whom he wished to
remember as she looked to-night. "The dew will be brushed off so soon,"
he said to himself, adding, "Oh, the pity of it!" He could not find her
anywhere. "Ah, of course she is surrounded somewhere by a crowd of
detestable admirers!" he said to himself, and turned to go. Why he had
thus decided that all her admirers were detestable we shall not attempt
to explain.

The fourth and last in the suite of the 'wicked fairy's'
reception-rooms was empty and dimly lighted. He suddenly seemed to hear
low suppressed sobs, as he looked in. A red gleam of light played about
the folds of a white gown behind a huge effective artificial palm.
Involuntarily he advanced a step. There sat Erika, the youthful queen
of beauty, whom he had supposed entirely absorbed in receiving the
homage of her vassals, curled up in an arm-chair, her handkerchief to
her eyes, crying like a tired child. Usually deliberate in thought and
action, when once his nerves were irritated he became quick and
impetuous. He did not hesitate a moment, but, bending over the girl,
exclaimed, "Countess Erika! in heaven's name what is the matter? Can
any one have offended you?" His voice grew angry at the bare suspicion.

"Ah, no, no!" she sobbed.

"Shall I go for your grandmother?"

"No--no!"

He paused an instant. Then, in a very low and kindly voice, he asked,
"Do I annoy you? Would you rather be alone? Shall I go?"

She took the handkerchief from her eyes and assured him frankly and
cordially, "Oh, no, certainly not: I am glad to have you stay with me,"
adding, rather shyly, "Pray sit down."

Nothing was left of the self-possessed young lady: here was only a
little girl dissolved in tears and dreading lest she should seem
impolite to a friend of her grandmother's.

"She treats me exactly like an old man," the young captain said to
himself, at once touched and annoyed; nevertheless he accepted her
invitation, and took a seat near her.

"It will soon be over," she said, trying to dry her tears. But they
would not be dried; they welled forth afresh: she was evidently quite
unnerved by the excitement of her _début_, poor thing!

"Oh, heavens," she cried, making a supreme effort to control herself,
"I must stop crying! What a disgrace it would be if any of those people
should see me!"

Apparently there was a great gulf in her mind between Goswyn and "those
people." He was glad of it. For a while he was sympathetically silent,
and then he said, kindly, "Countess Erika, would you rather keep your
sorrow to yourself, or will you confide it to me?"

His mere presence had had a soothing effect; her tears ceased to flow;
she only shivered slightly from time to time.

"Ah, it was not a sorrow," she explained,--"only a distress,--something
like what I felt on the night when I first came to Berlin. It was not
homesickness,--what have I to be homesick for?--but suddenly I felt so
lonely among all those strangers who stared at me curiously but cared
nothing for me. I seemed to feel a great chill around me: it all hurt
me; their way of speaking, their way of looking down upon everything
that was not as fine and proud as themselves, went to my heart.
You--you cannot understand it, for you have grown up in the midst of
it; you have breathed this air from your childhood."

"I think you do me injustice, Countess Erika," he interposed. "I can
understand you perfectly, although I have grown up in the midst of it
all."

"I felt as if I hated the people," she went on, her large melancholy
eyes flashing angrily, "and then--then, amidst all this elegance and
arrogance,"--she named these characteristics in a perfectly frank way,
as if they were elements but lately introduced into her life,--"the
thought came to me of the misery in which I grew up, and of all the
little pleasures and surprises which my mother prepared for me in spite
of our poverty,--ah, such poor little pleasures!--those people would
laugh at the idea of any one's enjoying them,--but they were very much
to me. Oh, if you knew how my mother used to look at me when she had
contrived a new gown for me out of some old rag!--No one will ever look
at me so again. And then"--she clinched the hand that held the poor wet
handkerchief--"to think that my mother belonged of right to all this
bright gay world, and to remember how she died, in what sordid
distress, and that it is past,--that I can give her nothing of all that
I have---- My heart seemed breaking." She paused, breathless.

"Poor Countess Erika!" he murmured, very gently. "It is one of the
miseries of this life to remember our dead and to be powerless to be
kind to them. All that we can do is to bestow as much love as we can
upon the living."

"But whom have I to bestow my love upon?" Erika cried, with such an
innocent insistence that, in spite of his pity, Goswyn could hardly
suppress a smile. "I cannot offer it to my grandmother: she would not
know what I meant, and would simply think me ill."

"But in fact," he said, now openly amused, "it is not to be supposed
that you will all your life have only your grandmother to love."

"You mean that----" She looked at him in sudden dismay.

"I mean that--that----"

The sound of a ritornella drummed upon the piano suddenly fell on their
ears, and then came the notes of a thin, clear, expressionless soprano.

His sister-in-law was singing. He listened breathless.

Just then Countess Lenzdorff with Frau von Norbin appeared. "Ah, here
you are, Erika!" she exclaimed. "This I call pretty conduct. I have
been looking for you everywhere. H'm! to run away from one's admirers,
to be made love to by a young gentleman---- What do you say to it,
Hedwig?" This last to Frau von Norbin.

"It was only Goswyn," the old lady replied, in her musical-box voice.

"Yes, that is an extenuating circumstance," Countess Anna admitted.

"And he did not make love to me," Erika assured them.

"Indeed? That I take ill of him," Countess Lenzdorff said, with a
laugh, while Erika went on with sincere cordiality. "I suddenly felt so
lonely and sad, and he was very, very kind to me!" She raised her eyes
gratefully to his.

"Ah, well----but come now, child; we are going home. I have had quite
enough of this.--Adieu, Goswyn."

"Perhaps you will permit me to take you home," said Goswyn.

"You had much better go in there and put a stop to the mischief which,
if I am not mistaken, is being largely added to to-night." This with a
significant glance towards the music-room.

"I am powerless," Goswyn observed, dryly. He conducted the ladies to
the anteroom, where a regiment of lackeys were in waiting. After
attending to the old ladies, he had the pleasure of helping Erika to
put on her cloak. He had a strange sensation as he wrapped it about the
girl's slender figure. The white fur with which it was trimmed was
wonderfully becoming to her.

"A heather blossom in the snow," the vain grandmother remarked, with a
glance in his direction, whereby she discovered that there was no
necessity for calling his attention to her grand-daughter's charms.
This discovery rejoiced her. She bade him good-night with unusual
cordiality, smiling to herself as she descended the brilliantly-lighted
staircase.

Meanwhile, Goswyn had returned to the music-room. His sister-in-law was
still standing by the piano, singing. G---- was accompanying her,
good-humouredly ready to burden his soul with any musical misdeed that
could give pleasure to his audience, a readiness arising partly from
the prosaic view which he took of his "trade," as he was wont to call
his music. Quite a little throng of ladies had already rustled out of
the room.

Countess Brock was beginning to be uneasy. The effect of the Princess's
performance vividly reminded her of the effect which the young actor's
reading had had upon her guests.

Goswyn glanced at his brother. Otto von Sydow was a picture of
distress: he looked as if threatened with an apoplectic stroke; he
alternately clinched and opened his gloved hands, looked uneasily at
the men whom he saw laughing, and at the women whom he saw leaving the
room; he stood first on one foot and then on the other; but he allowed
his wife to go on singing.

The first verses of the music-hall song she had now selected were
simply coarse. Goswyn comforted himself with thinking that perhaps she
would not sing the last. He had underrated his sister-in-law's
temerity. She went on. Sight and hearing seemed to fail him.

Suddenly there came a loud burst of applause. A few of the men present,
in pity for the unhappy husband, had thus drowned the improprieties of
the last verse.

Princess Dorothea looked round,--saw men laughing significantly and
women hurriedly leaving the room. She grew pale, and there came into
her Spanish face a look of indescribable hardness. She was about to
continue, when her hostess approached her.

"Charming!" exclaimed the 'fairy,'--"charming, my dear Thea, but you
must not exert yourself further: you are a little hoarse."

It was too unequivocal. Princess Dorothea understood. Her assumed
gaiety took another turn. "I have a sudden longing for a dance!" she
exclaimed. "G----, play us a waltz: we will extemporize a ball."

G---- began to play with immense spirit one of Strauss's waltzes, when
a gray-haired old General raised his voice,--a clear, sharp voice,--and
said, "It would be a little difficult to extemporize a ball, for, with
the exception of the hostess, your Excellency is the only lady
present."

Dorothea grew paler still, held herself rather more erect than usual,
threw back her head, and smiled. Just thus, deadly pale, hard, erect
and smiling, Goswyn was to see her once again in his life, a couple of
years later, when all her world was pointing at her the finger of
scorn.


"You will let me drive Helmy home, will you not, Otto?" Dorothea asked
in the hall, where she was holding a kind of little court amid her
admirers, a yellow lace scarf wound around her head, and a black velvet
wrap about her shoulders. "Helmy has such a cold, and there is no
finding a droschky at this hour."

Involuntarily Goswyn, who was just buckling on his sabre, paused to
listen to this little speech of his fascinating sister-in-law's,
uttered in the tenderest tone.

He had no idea that his brother had anything to fear from Prince Helmy:
this was only Dorothea's way of escaping any admonition from her
husband. If Otto did not scold on the spot he never scolded at all.
There really was nothing objectionable in her driving home alone with
her cousin, but then---- She laid her little hand on her husband's
breast as she spoke: the gentlemen around her looked on. Without
waiting to hear his brother's reply, Goswyn left the house. He had gone
but two or three steps in the street when some one joined him: it was
Otto.

"Have you a light?" he asked, in a rather uncertain voice. Goswyn
struck a match for him, and paused in silence while his brother lighted
his cigar with unnecessary effort.

"I am really very glad to walk," said Otto, keeping pace with his
brother. "Thea cannot bear to have me smoke in the coupé."

Goswyn was silent.

"I know Thea through and through," Otto continued: "she is as innocent
as a child, but a little imprudent; and then all those starched,
stiff-necked Berlin women cannot forgive her for being more fascinating
and original than the whole of them together. And, after all, what harm
was there in her singing those songs? It was easy enough to see that
she did not understand what she was singing, or at least did not think.
The purest women are always the most imprudent. These people do not
understand her. They admire her,--no one can help that,--but they do
not appreciate her. When she saw that she was shocking those
Philistines she sang on out of sheer bravado. It was perhaps not wise
to brave public opinion."

Each time that Otto von Sydow had broken the thread of his discourse in
hopes that Goswyn would assent to his view of the situation, he had
been disappointed. His brother was persistently mute.

Otto's footsteps sounded louder, his breath came more heavily; Goswyn,
who knew him thoroughly, saw that he was struggling against an access
of rage. For a while he maintained a silence like his brother's; then,
pausing, he addressed Goswyn directly: "Do you find anything to blame
in my allowing my wife to drive home alone with a cousin who is not
well, and who may thereby be saved a fit of illness,--a cousin, too,
with whom her relations have always been those of a sister?"

Goswyn shrugged his shoulders. "Since you ask me, I must speak the
truth," he replied. "On this particular evening I think it would have
been wiser for you to drive home _tête-à-tête_ with your wife than to
let her go with young Nimbsch."

Otto's breathing became still more audible; he stamped his foot, and,
before Goswyn could look round, had turned off into a side-street with
a sullen "good-night."

He was greatly to be pitied: he had hoped that Goswyn would comfort
him, but Goswyn had not comforted him.

"He never understood her, and therefore never liked her," he muttered
between his teeth. "He is the worst Philistine of all."

And then he recalled Goswyn's persistent opposition to his marriage
with the Princess Dorothea, how passionately--for Goswyn, calm as he
seemed, could be passionate--he had entreated his brother not to
propose to her. "A blind man could see how unfitted you are for each
other: you will be each other's ruin!" he had said. The words rang in
his ears now with vivid distinctness.

It was about two o'clock in the morning: the streets were dim,
deserted. At intervals of a hundred steps the reddish lights of the
street-lamps were reflected from the brown muddy surface of the
asphalt. From time to time a carriage casting two bluish rays of light
before it shot past Otto with an unnaturally loud rattle in the dull
silence. The windows of the houses were all dark and quiet, except
where from one open building came the muffled notes of some light
popular airs: it was a cheap kind of music-hall. Involuntarily Sydow
listened: something in the faint melody commanded his attention. They
were playing the music of the very song his wife had sung but now.

His wretchedness was intolerable; his limbs seemed weighed down with
fatigue. "Pshaw! it is this confounded thaw," he said to himself. In
his ears rang the words, "You are utterly unfitted for each other."
What if Goswyn had been right, after all?

Good God! No one could have resisted her.

They had met first in Florence. The two brothers had made a tour
through Italy just after Otto's attaining his majority. They travelled
together so far as that means having the same starting-point and the
same goal, but each followed his own devices, stopping where he liked,
so that sometimes they did not meet for a long while. While Goswyn
underwent all kinds of inconveniences for the sake of visiting many
interesting little towns in Northern Italy, Otto, whose first
requirement was a good hotel, went directly from Venice to Florence. He
had been there for five days, and was terribly bored; he missed Goswyn.
Although Otto was the elder of the two, he had always been in the habit
of letting Goswyn think for him. Old Countess Lenzdorff maintained that
when they were children she had often heard him ask, "Goswyn, am I
cold?" "Goswyn, am I hungry?"

He had carried with him through life a certain sense of dependence upon
his younger brother, looking to him for help in every difficulty, for
support in every sorrow.

He had no acquaintances in Florence, the food was not to his taste, the
wine was poor, the beds, in which so many had slept before him,
disgusted him, the theatres did not edify him. He took no pleasure in
the opera; he was thoroughly--and for a German remarkably--devoid of a
taste for music; and the Italian drama he did not understand.
Consequently he found his evenings intolerably long: he spoke no
Italian, and very little French. Since there were no Germans in the
hotel save those with whom, in spite of his homesickness, he did not
choose to consort, he led a very lonely life. And, as he took not the
slightest interest in art, it was no wonder that on the fifth day of
his sojourn in Florence he declared such an "Italian course of culture"
the "veriest mockery of pleasure in which a Prussian country nobleman
could indulge."

The queerest thing was that Goswyn seemed to be enjoying himself so
much. He received delighted post-cards from him from all kinds of
little out-of-the-way places of which Otto had never before even heard
the names, not even when he studied geography at school, and he seemed
entirely independent of discomfort as to his lodgings in his enjoyment
of all that "art-stuff," as Otto expressed it to himself.

One afternoon in the cathedral, in an access of most depressing ennui,
he was sauntering from one shrine to another, when he suddenly heard a
sigh. He looked round. A young girl in a large Vandyke hat and a dark
cloth dress trimmed with silver braid had just seated herself in one of
the chairs, and was opening a yellow-covered novel. Everything about
her, her hat, her dress, as well as her own striking figure, gave an
impression of distinction, although of distinction somewhat down in the
world.

She was very young, and yet did not seem at all affected by her
loneliness. Before long she noticed that Otto was observing her, and
she bestowed a scornful glance upon him over the pages of her book.

He instantly flushed crimson, and turned away, feeling very
uncomfortable. Then in the twilight silence of the spacious church,
always deserted at this hour of the day, he heard a delicate
insinuating voice call, "Feistmantel, dear!"

Involuntarily he looked round: it was the slender girl in the chair who
had called.

He then observed hurrying towards her a short, stout individual in a
striped gray-and-black water-proof with an opera-glass in a strap,--a
wonderful creature, whom he had noticed before strolling about the
church, but without an idea that she had anything to do with the
attractive occupant of the chair.

"Feistmantel, dear."

"Princess!"

"I am so hungry. Have you not seen enough of those stupid old relics?"
And the girl yawned, sighed, and rubbed her eyes.

"Oh, pray, Princess!"

Both ladies then walked to the door of exit, where they paused
dismayed.

It was raining in torrents, that steady downpour that gives no hope of
any speedy cessation.

"This is intolerable!" exclaimed the young girl, in her insinuating and
now melancholy voice, and with a slight imperfection of speech which
struck kindly, awkward Sydow as something too charming ever to be
forgotten. "Insufferable! We cannot put our skirts over our heads, like
female pilgrims."

"Pray permit me to call a droschky for you." With these words the young
Prussian approached the pair; then when the girl measured him from head
to foot with a half-merry, half-haughty stare, he added, with a bow, by
way of explanation, "Von Sydow."

The ladies bowed without finding it necessary to mention their names,
and the younger said, with her bewitching voice and imperfection of
speech, "You will greatly oblige us if you will be so kind as to take
the trouble."

And in fact it was a trouble. It is difficult to withstand the
insistence of Italian droschky-drivers in fine weather, when one wishes
to walk, but to find a droschky in bad weather, when one wishes to
drive, is more difficult still.

When he at last succeeded he feared to find that the ladies had left in
despair at the delay; but no, there they were still, the companion in
the striped waterproof with her face shining with the rain which had
drenched it as she stretched her neck to see if he were coming, and her
curls dangling limp in damp disorder; the girl more bewitching than
ever, her cheeks slightly flushed by the fresh damp breeze, and
evidently exhilarated in mind, flattered by her conquest. She had grown
gracious, and she smiled her thanks, as she hurried into the carriage,
lifting her skirts to avoid wetting them, and thereby displaying a pair
of the prettiest little feet imaginable.

"What address shall I give to the coachman?" he asked, after helping
the ladies to ensconce themselves in the vehicle.

"Hôtel Washington."


He had no umbrella; he was wet to the skin, and the day was cold. But
that was of no consequence. Otto von Sydow had never felt so warm since
he had been in Italy.

That very evening he moved to the Hôtel Washington from the Hôtel de la
Paix. Since the entire first floor was occupied by a banker from
Vienna, and the hotel was overcrowded, the room assigned him was far
from comfortable; but he did not mind that.

And that very evening, before the _table-d'hôte_ dinner, he found his
fair one. She was in the reading-room, reading a Paris paper. He also
learned who she was,--Princess Dorothea von Ilm.

She was an orphan, and very poor. The family, originally distinguished,
had degenerated sadly, principally through the dissipated habits of the
Princess's two brothers, notably through the marriage of the elder to a
French circus-rider. Since her installation in Castle Egerstein the
Princess Dorothea had been homeless, and had been wandering about the
world with very little means and a companion who was half instructress,
half maid.

This individual, whom Prince Ilm had hurriedly engaged for his sister
through a newspaper advertisement, was named Alma Feistmantel, and came
from Vienna, where she belonged to those æsthetic circles, the members
of which interest themselves chiefly for artists and the drama. For ten
years she had cherished a hopeless passion for Sonnenthal: her chief
enthusiasms were for broad-shouldered men, Wagner's music, and novels
which exalted "the sacred voice of nature."

Under the protection of this lady the Princess Dorothea had for three
years been completing her education in Vienna, Rome, and Paris
successively.

The Princess enlightened her admirer as to her affairs with the
greatest candour, informing him that her brother had treated her
shamefully, but that it was all the fault of the circus-rider, who
could make him do just as she chose; and in spite of it all Willy was
the most fascinating creature imaginable: he looked like a Spaniard.
Sydow remembered him: he had served a year in the same regiment with
him during his term of compulsory service.

With equal frankness Princess Dorothea explained that she was often
embarrassed pecuniarily; once she had been so pinched that she had sold
her dog to an Englishman for three hundred francs; she had hated to
part with him, for she never had loved any creature as she did that
dog, but she needed a ball-dress to wear at an entertainment in Rome at
the German embassy. Her aunt, Princess Nimbsch, had chaperoned her when
she went into society: sometimes she went, and sometimes she did not;
it depended upon her circumstances. In fact, she did not care much
about going into society, it prevented you from doing so many amusing
things; you could not go to the little theatres, where the funniest
farces were played. Therefore she preferred to be in Paris, where not a
soul knew her, and she and Feistmantel could go everywhere together.

Feistmantel had frequently during these confessions admonished the
Princess to greater discretion by a touch of her foot beneath the
table: of one of these hints Sydow's boot had been the recipient. But
when she found that she could thus make no impression upon her charge
the Viennese interposed with some temper: "Pray, Baron Sydow, discount
all this talk some fifty per cent. You must not believe that I would
take any young girl intrusted to my care where it was not proper that
she should go."

"I know nothing about proper or improper: I only know what is amusing
and what is tiresome," the Princess said, with a laugh, "and we went
everywhere. Feistmantel is putting on airs because of my exalted
family, but do not you believe her, Herr von Sydow. We saw 'Ma
Camarade,' and 'Niniche,' and we even went one evening to the Café des
Ambassadeurs. Eh?" And she pinched her companion's ear.

"But, Baron Sydow, do not allow yourself to be imposed upon,"
Feistmantel exclaimed, almost beside herself. "The Café des
Ambassadeurs,--why, that is a _café chantant_. There is not a word of
truth in all her nonsense."

"Not true? oh, but it is," the Princess retorted, quite at her ease.
"Of course it was a _café chantant_, and the singer sang '_Estelle, où
est ta flanelle?_'--it was too funny; but I can sing it just like her.
I practised it that very evening. I must sing it to you some day, Herr
von Sydow,--that is, when we are better acquainted. Oh, is there no
_café chantant_ in Florence to which you could take us?"

"But, Princess----!" exclaimed Feistmantel.

"Why, a gentleman took us to the Café des Ambassadeurs, a man whose
acquaintance we made in the hotel," Dorothea ran on. "He was an
American,--a Mr. Higgs: he came from Connecticut, and dealt in cheeses.
He was very rich, and he sent us tickets for the theatre. Afterwards he
wanted to marry me: I liked him very well, and would have accepted him,
but my brother said he was no match for me. Well, I did not break my
heart, but I should have liked to marry him for all that. We Princesses
Ilm have the right, it is true, to marry crowned heads, but I never
mean to avail myself of it. If I were an Empress I should always travel
incognito. As soon as I am of age I shall marry a chimney-sweeper--if
he is a millionaire, or if I fall in love with him."

"Both contingencies seem highly probable," Sydow observed, laughing. It
was the only remark he allowed himself during the conversation,--a
conversation which took place in the reading-room of the Washington
Hotel on the first evening of his stay there.

After the Princess had finished her confessions, she went to the
window, and looked out upon the Arno. For a while she was perfectly
silent; but when Alma Feistmantel, recovering from her dismay, began to
invent all sorts of falsehoods with which to impress Sydow, Dorothea
quietly turned to him and said, "Herr von Sydow, will you not take a
walk with us? Florence is so lovely at night!"

The next day he drove with the ladies to Fiesole. He sat on the front
seat of a very uncomfortable droschky and felt as happy as a king.

It was the middle of April, and an upright crest of white and purple
iris crowned the white wall bordering the crooked road leading to the
famous old town. Here and there the rose-bushes trailed their
blossoming branches in the dust. Barefooted Italian children, with
dishevelled hair and glowing eyes tossed nosegays into the carriage and
offered their straw wares to the ladies with persistent entreaties to
buy. How many liri and fifty-centesimi pieces Sydow threw away on that
wonderful day! The more he gave the rein to his liberality the longer
grew the train of children, laughing, gesticulating, all pretty, with
light in their eyes and flowers in their hands. Suddenly the driver
shouted to some one who would not get out of the way. Sydow sprang out
of the droschky and saw creeping along the dusty road a pair of
wretched beggars, old and bent, their weary feet wrapped in rags. The
sight of anything so miserable on the lovely spring day cut him to the
heart. He could do no less than toss them some money.

Alma Feistmantel, as a member of the society for the suppression of
mendicancy, lectured him for his lavish alms, and the Princess laughed
at the beggars, whose misery struck her as comical. She flung a
sneering "Baucis and Philemon!" after them. This shocked Sydow for an
instant; the next he gave her a kindly glance, saying to himself, "Ah,
she is but a child!" He was already incapable of finding any harm in
her.

The next morning the German clerk of the hotel came to him, and, after
some circumlocution, asked him if he were intimately acquainted with
the Princess. Quite confused, and without a suspicion of the clerk's
motive in asking, he explained that his acquaintance with her was of
the most superficial kind. The clerk suppressed a smile beneath his
bearded lip. Sydow was sorely tempted to knock him down, and was
restrained only by regard for the Princess's reputation. It appeared,
however, that the clerk's question was not the result of impertinent
curiosity; he had no interest in the young Prussian's relations to the
fair Princess, he only wished to discover whether Sydow knew anything
of her family,--if she were a genuine Princess, and if they were people
of wealth. She was travelling without a maid, and had not paid her
hotel bill for a month.

Whereupon Sydow snubbed the clerk sharply, informing him that he need
be under no anxiety, the Ilms were among the first families of Germany.
The Princess had simply forgotten to pay, supposing it to be a matter
of small importance. The clerk was profuse in apologies.

Sydow spent three hours considering how he should offer his aid to the
Princess. At last--it was raining, and the ladies were at home--he
knocked at their door.

"Who is it?" Feistmantel's harsh voice inquired.

"Sydow."

"Oh, pray come in," called the high voice of the Princess. He entered.

It was a small room in the third story. Feistmantel was sitting by the
window, mending some article of dress; the Princess was sitting on her
bed, reading "Autour du Mariage," by Gyp.

The Princess moved no farther than to offer him her hand with a
charming smile; Feistmantel cleared off the articles from an arm-chair,
that he might sit down.

"Oh, what a dreary day! I am so glad you are come! We are nearly bored
to death," said Dorothea, rubbing her eyes, and gathering her feet
under her so that she sat cross-legged on the bed. "Can you give me a
cigarette? mine are all gone."

Feistmantel said something in disapproval of a lady's smoking, when
Dorothea remarked, composedly, "Don't listen to her; she is putting on
airs again because of my exalted family, when the fact is that it was
from her that I learned to smoke. Oh, what a wretched world! 'Who but
ducks and pumps can keep out of the dumps, in a world that is never
dry?' Oh, I am so bored,--so bored!" She stretched herself slightly. "I
should like at least to go to Doney's and get an ice, but we cannot; we
have no money."

Then Sydow blurted out the little speech he had composed with infinite
pains, coming to a stand-still three times during the recital.

He had heard that the ladies had been expecting remittances from
Germany. Of course there was some mistake: would they permit him to
relieve them--from--their temporary embarrassment?

He paused in great confusion. Would they turn him out of the room? No!
The Princess simply held out her hands and exclaimed, "You are an
angel! I could really embrace you!" which of course she did not do, but
which she could have done without thinking much of it.

That same evening the Princess's bill was paid.

Two days later Goswyn arrived in Florence. He surprised his brother at
dinner with Dorothea and Feistmantel at a small table at the extreme
end of a long close dining-room, beside a window looking out upon the
Arno.

The Princess was giggling and chatting in her clear high voice, which
could be heard outside of the dining-hall; she wore a white dress, and
a diamond ring sparkled upon her hand. At first Goswyn smiled at his
brother's charming travelling acquaintances, but in a very little while
the state of affairs made him grave. Of course he took his place at the
table with the three. The Princess instantly began to flirt with him.
First she congratulated herself that they were now a _partie carrée_;
it was very jolly; until then Herr von Sydow had cut but a sorry figure
between two ladies, now they could be taken for two couples on a
wedding-tour. Then, planting both elbows upon the table, she leaned
across to Goswyn and asked, "Which of the gentlemen will appropriate
Feistmantel?"

"That is for the ladies to decide," Goswyn replied, laughing.

"Then my guardian spirit shall fall to your lot," said Dorothea, "for I
prefer your brother. I perceived the instant that you appeared that you
are a very disagreeable fellow, Herr Goswyn von Sydow," pronouncing the
name with mock pathos,--"yes, a thoroughly disagreeable fellow. I
could not live with you three days; while I could endure a lifetime
with your brother. He is such an honest, clumsy bear: I have always had
a liking for bears. Look, he gave me this ring as a keepsake: is it not
pretty?"

Otto von Sydow long remembered the look which his brother gave the
ring.

That evening the brothers had a violent dispute.

Goswyn admitted that the Princess was charming in spite of her wretched
training and impossible behaviour; that there could not be a more
amusing transient travelling acquaintance; that, finally, she certainly
did come of very good stock, and was, in spite of her free and easy
style of conversation, a pure-minded woman,--which should make it still
more a matter of conscience with Otto not to compromise her as he was
doing; for a marriage with her, even although her poor but haughty
family could be brought to consent to the misalliance, was out of the
question.

The result of this conversation was that Otto at last hung his head and
admitted that his wiser, stronger brother was right; he promised to
leave Florence with Goswyn the next morning; but when the trunks were
all piled on the coach for their departure he met the Princess Dorothea
on the stairs, and did not leave, but stayed and was betrothed to her.

It would be doing her injustice to say that she married him solely for
his money. No, she really had a decided liking for "bears," and, as far
as she could love any one, she loved her big, clumsy husband, just as
she preferred brown bread and sour milk to all the delicacies of the
table. During the honey-moon, which she spent with Otto upon his estate
in Silesia, she developed an astonishing degree of tenderness, but she
could not love anything for any length of time. Then, too, she was
entirely unused to any regular life, and the dull routine at Kosnitz
soon bored her to death. At first it delighted her to revel in her
husband's wealth, to have dress after dress made, to adorn herself with
all sorts of trinkets; but she soon found it tiresome and monotonous.
Oh for a small room on the third floor of some hotel in Paris with
Feistmantel, and poverty, and liberty, and a fresh conquest every day!
how she longed for it all!

At first in Berlin, in honour of her husband, she had assumed the
conventional air of a great lady; but of that she soon became
desperately tired: it was the most wearisome of all the weariness in
her new life.

In spite of all that evil tongues might say of her, she was as yet
perfectly innocent: of that her husband was convinced.

"She is utterly unsusceptible,--utterly," he said to himself, as he
tramped home through the mud and wet. And with this poor consolation he
was obliged to be content.

But, slow-witted as he was, he was aware that women unsusceptible to
temptation are apt to be equally unsusceptible to the disgrace of a
fall. The matter is simply of no importance to them. Princess Dorothea
would never be led astray through passion; but at the thought of the
devouring, degrading ennui which was continually dragging her downward,
Otto von Sydow shuddered.

Suddenly his cheeks burned; he could have boxed his own ears for such
thoughts with regard to his wife.



                             CHAPTER VIII.


A few days after the wicked fairy's successful Thursday two fresh
pieces of news were circulated in Berlin: one was that Goswyn von Sydow
had fought another duel in his sister-in-law's behalf, and the other
stated that Countess Lenzdorff had given the fashionable artist Riedel
permission to paint her grand-daughter as "Heather Blossom." The truth
as to the duel was never fully discovered. Goswyn von Sydow certainly
appeared for a while with his arm in a sling, but, as he stoutly
maintained that he had sprained his wrist in a fall from his horse,
people were forced to be satisfied with this explanation. If some very
sharp-sighted men added that in certain cases it was a man's duty to
lie, no matter how strict might be his ideas of truth,--why, that was
their affair.

As for the portrait, it was true that the old Countess had acceded to
Riedel's request to be allowed to paint Erika as "Heather Blossom," of
course not in the artist's studio, but in the Countess Lenzdorff's
drawing-room, where Riedel worked away for a week, three hours daily,
seated before a large easel, with colour-boxes beside him.

The result of his well-meant efforts was a commonplace affair,
something between Ary Scheffer's Mignon and Gabriel Max's "Gretchen at
her Wheel."

Naturally the Countess Lenzdorff was in no wise charmed by this
picture, although in view of the ability of the artist in question she
had not expected anything better.

"A 'Book of Beauty' painter, that Riedel," she said of him: "he
flatters every one alike, and is blind to wrinkles, scars, and what he
calls defects of all kinds. Such fellows as he are sure to be a success
in the present day, when truth is at a discount. They never dissipate a
single illusion, and the world--the world of society--delights in
them."

She certainly took no pains not to dissipate illusions for the world to
which she belonged: on the contrary, she delighted to destroy them,
jeering _coram publico_ at the beautifying salve which the model
members of society as well as her favourite artists and literary men
plastered over every peculiarity of humanity, and which in life passes
for 'kindly criticism' and in art for 'idealistic conception.' She
spent her time in tearing down the rose-coloured curtains from the
windows of her acquaintances, and naturally her acquaintances did not
like it; they loved their rose-coloured curtains, which excluded the
pitiless garish daylight, admitting only a becoming twilight in which
all the sharp edges and dark stains of life faded into indistinctness.

The Countess's rage for broad daylight seemed cruel to her
acquaintances, while she in her turn called their love of twilight
cowardly and when she alluded to the fashionable world usually
designated it briefly as "Kapilavastu."

Erika asked her grandmother the meaning of this word. Upon which the
old lady shrugged her shoulders and replied, "Kapilavastu is the name
of the town in which Buddha grew up, the town where his parents hoped
to shield him forever from the sight of old age, death, and disease!"
Then, with a quiet laugh, she added, as if to herself, "Oh, what a
world it is!"

All her life long she had sneered at the 'world of fashion,' which did
not at all interfere with the fact that she would have greatly disliked
being aught but 'a great lady.'


When Riedel had completed his picture of "Heather Blossom" to his own
satisfaction, and enriched it with his valuable signature, he laid it
as a tribute at the feet of the Countess Lenzdorff, begging permission
to exhibit his masterpiece at Schulte's, 'unter den Linden.'

Permission was accorded him,--of course with the proviso that the name
of the model should be strictly concealed.

Whether the picture were the 'sentimental daub' which the old Countess
dubbed it, or the exquisite work of art which Riedel's numerous
admirers pronounced it, certain it is that it attracted a great deal of
attention,--so much, indeed, that the Countess Anna was one day seized
with a desire to witness for herself the effect produced by it upon a
gaping public.

It was a fair, sunshiny day in March when she walked to the end of the
Thiergarten with Erika, slowly followed by her carriage. It was a
pleasure to her to observe the undisguised admiration excited by her
grand-daughter. And the girl was worthy of it. Tall, distinguished in
air and bearing, faultlessly dressed in dark-gray cloth with a long boa
of blue-fox fur and a black hat and feathers, she walked with an air
and a bearing that a young queen might have envied.

"Every one looks after you, as if you were the Empress herself," said
her grandmother, with a laugh, as she espied a young officer of
dragoons, who with his hand at his cap saluted the grandmother but
looked at the grand-daughter.

"Goswyn! this is lucky," she exclaimed, beckoning to him. "We are on
our way to Schulte's to look at Erika's portrait. Will you come with
us?"

"If you will let me," he replied. "But you will probably not see the
portrait," he went on, smiling,--"only a great crowd of people. At
least that was almost all I could see the last time I was there."

"Oh, you have been there?" said the old Countess, with a merry twinkle
of her eye. "Then, of course, you do not care to go again."

"No, certainly not to see the picture; but you cannot get rid of me
now, Countess."

Beneath the lindens on one side of the way stood a crippled boy with a
huge hump, playing the accordion. The squeaking tones of the miserable
instrument were but little in harmony with the splendour of the
Thiergarten at this hour. A lady, as she passed the child, turned away
with a shudder, and tears started in the boy's eyes and rolled down his
pale, precocious face, as he retreated into still deeper shade.

Without interrupting what he was saying to the old Countess, Goswyn
gave the boy some money. On a sudden Countess Lenzdorff noticed that
Erika was not beside her. "Where is the child?" she exclaimed, looking
round. Erika had fallen behind to stroke the little cripple's thin
cheeks.

When she perceived that she was observed, she hastily left the child.
Her own cheeks were flushed, and there were tears in her eyes.

"Why, Erika!" her grandmother cried out, in dismay, "what are you
about?"

"I could not help it," the girl replied: "it was so hateful of that
woman to show the boy her disgust at the sight of him." She could
scarcely restrain her tears.

"But, Erika,"--her grandmother put her hand on the girl's arm, and
spoke very gently,--"you might catch some disease."

"And if I did," Erika murmured, still under the influence of strong
emotion, "I should not be half so wretched as that child. Why should I
have everything and he nothing?"

To this no reply could be made; even the Countess's talent for repartee
failed her, and the three walked on together silently. The Countess
Anna glanced towards Goswyn. Never before had she seen him so gravely
impressed; and on a sudden the despair that had possessed her in view
of the unjust arrangement of human affairs was converted into pride and
joy.

When they reached the picture-dealer's they found the portrait in an
inner room, surrounded, in fact, by quite a crowd of people, although
it was not great enough to satisfy the old Countess's pride: it could
hardly have been that, indeed. Still, she did not express her
disappointment in words, but ridiculed the assemblage.

The words 'Heather Blossom' were carved in the very effective frame of
the portrait, and on one side could be traced a coronet.

"A beggar-girl and a coronet! nothing could appeal more strongly to
these plebeians," the old lady exclaimed; and then she whispered to
Erika, "Thank God, no one could recognize you from that daub, or we
should have the whole rabble around us. What do you think of the
picture, Goswyn?"

"Miserable," Goswyn replied, with a frown. "Between ourselves, I cannot
understand your allowing the fellow to exhibit it."

"What could I do?" said the Countess, shrugging her shoulders: "he
talked of the effect it would produce upon people generally, and in
fact he seems to have been right. The Archduchess Geroldstein has
already ordered her portrait of him. I cannot understand it. To me
Riedel is absolutely uninteresting. If he has a really fine model he
seems to lose even the power to flatter, upon which his reputation is
chiefly based. Erika is ten times more beautiful than that picture."

This was Goswyn's opinion also, but he remained silent, asking himself
whether it could be that the absent old Countess had actually forgotten
her granddaughter's presence. Such, however, was not the case. It
simply had never occurred to her to regard Erika's beauty as a secret
to be confided to all the world except to the girl herself: she would
as soon have thought of concealing from her the amount of her yearly
income.

"I want you to look at a picture which has charmed me," Goswyn said,
after a pause, desirous to change the subject, and as he spoke he
pointed to a picture at sight of which the old lady uttered an
exclamation of admiration, while Erika gazed at it pale and mute.

The picture was called 'The Seeress,' and represented a peasant-girl
standing wan and rapt, her eyes gazing into the unseen, her hand
stretched out as if groping. On the right of the girl were a couple of
willows in the midst of the level landscape, their trunks rugged and
scarred and here and there tufted with wild flowers, while in the
background a little trickling stream was spanned by a huge stone
bridge, through the arches of which could be seen glimpses of a
miserable village half obscured by rising mists.

The Berlin public were too much spoiled by the mediocre artistic
euphemism of the day to have the taste to appreciate this masterpiece.
A couple of art critics passed it by with a shake of the head,
muttering, "Unripe fruit."

Countess Lenzdorff repeated the phrase as the wise-acres disappeared.
"Unripe fruit!--Quite right, but a most noble specimen. I only trust it
may ripen under favourable conditions. The thing is full of talent. 'A
Seeress.' Apparently a Jeanne d'Arc."

"Probably," said Goswyn. "It certainly is original in conception: there
is nothing conventional in it. What inspiration there is in the pale
face! what maidenly grace in the noble and yet almost emaciated figure!
It is a most attractive picture."

"The strange thing about it is that this Seeress in reality looks far
more like Erika than does Riedel's 'Heather Blossom,'" exclaimed the
old lady. "I must have this picture!"

"You are too late, Countess," rejoined Goswyn.

"Is it sold already? What was the price?"

"It was very reasonable,--a beginner's price," Goswyn replied, with a
slight blush.

The old Countess laughed: she had no objection that Goswyn, with his
limited means, should buy a picture just because it resembled her
grand-daughter.

Meanwhile, Erika was trembling in every limb. Who but _he_ could have
painted the picture?--who else had seen Luzano,--Luzano, and herself?
She felt proud of her _protégé_. In the corner of the picture she read
'Lozoncyi.' It pleased her that he had so fine-sounding a foreign name.

"You shall find out for me where the young man lives," Countess
Lenzdorff cried, eagerly: "he must paint Erika for me while his prices
are still reasonable."

Goswyn cleared his throat. "Much as I admire this young artist," he
observed, "if I were you I would not have him paint Countess Erika."

"Why not?"

"Because he has another picture on exhibition here, to see which an
extra price of admission is asked."

"Indeed!" cried the old lady. "Is it so very bad?"

"The worst of it is the curtain that hides it from the public, and the
extra price paid to look at it," Goswyn replied, half laughing. "It
certainly is a powerful thing,--painted later than 'The Seeress,' and
under a different inspiration. If you would like to see it, let me play
the part of Countess Erika's chaperon for a few minutes: you go behind
that curtain."

The Countess Anna could not let such an opportunity slip. She was an
old woman; no one--not even the over-scrupulous Goswyn--could object to
her looking at the picture. So she blithely went her way.

Meanwhile, Erika had grown very pale. She felt as if some dear old
plaything, to which she had attached all sorts of pathetic memories,
had fallen into the mire! It was gone; let it lie there: she would not
stoop to pick it up and wipe it off.

Goswyn, who was observing her narrowly, could not understand the sudden
change in her face. He had often had occasion to notice the
sensitiveness of her moral nature, but to-day the key to the riddle was
lacking. What could it possibly matter to her whether or not an obscure
artist painted an improper picture?

He tried to begin a conversation with her, but had hardly done so when
Countess Lenzdorff returned, walking slowly, with her head held
haughtily erect, a sign with her of extreme indignation.

"You seem more shocked, Countess, than I expected you to be," Goswyn
remarked, as she appeared. "Do you think the picture so very bad?"

"Nonsense!" the old lady replied, impatiently. "It was not painted for
school-girls and boys: it did not shock me. It is not the picture that
has made me angry, but--whom do you think I found in the room with her
cousin Nimbsch and two or three other young men? Your sister-in-law
Dorothea! So young a woman had better not look at a picture before
which it is thought necessary to hang a curtain, but it is beyond a
jest when she takes a train of young men with her to see it. If one is
without principles,--good heavens! it is hard enough to hold on to
principles in this philosophic age, when one is puzzled to know upon
what to base them,--one ought at least to have some feeling of decency,
some æsthetic sentiment."



                              CHAPTER IX.


For some time of late the loungers in Bellevue Street had enjoyed an
interesting morning spectacle. Before the hotel the first story of
which was occupied by Countess Anna Lenzdorff, three beautiful
thoroughbred horses pawed the ground impatiently between the hours of
eight and nine. A stable-boy in velveteens held two of the horses,
while a groom in a tall hat and buckskin breeches reverently held the
bridle of the third steed, which was provided with a lady's saddle. The
groom was bow-legged and red-faced, very English in appearance,--in
fact, an ideal groom.

Before long a young lady would appear at the tall door of the house, a
young lady in a close-fitting dark-blue riding-habit and a tall silk
hat beneath which the knot of her gleaming hair showed in almost too
great luxuriance, and close behind her would come a fair-haired officer
of dragoons. After stroking her steed and feeding it with sugar, the
young lady would place her foot in the willing hand of her tall escort
and lightly leap into the saddle. Then there would be a slight
arrangement of skirt and stirrup, and "Is it all right, Countess
Erika?"

"Yes, Herr von Sydow."

And in an instant the officer and his groom would mount and the little
cavalcade would wend its way with clattering hoofs to the adjacent
Thiergarten.

At the close of the season Countess Lenzdorff had declared that her
grand-daughter looked ill and needed exercise.

At first she prescribed a course of riding-lessons in the Imperial
School; but Erika found this very irksome, and Goswyn was intrusted
with the task of procuring her a riding horse and of teaching her to
ride. Under his guidance she made astonishing progress, and then--she
looked so lovely on horseback. When she began, the Thiergarten was cold
and bare,--it was towards the end of March: now it was the end of
April, and there was spring everywhere.

On the tall old trees the foliage, young and tender, drenched with
sunlight, showed golden green, gleaming brown, and rosy red, shading
off into transparency in the gradations of colour native to early
spring, and in the midst of this harmonious variety here and there a
grave dark fir would show its dark boughs not yet decorated with the
slender green fingers in the gift of May. Among the trees the smooth
surface of a pond would reflect the myriad tones of colour of the
spring; the long shadows of morning stretched dark across the level
sunlit sward of the openings in the woodland. The air was fresh and
filled with the fragrance of cool moist earth and young vegetation, but
mingling with its invigorating breath there was suddenly wafted a
languid odour, intoxicatingly sweet, but with something sickening in
its essence, and as the riders looked for its source they perceived
among the spring greenery, covered to the tip of every bough with
gleaming white blossoms, the luxuriant wild cherry.

Erika inhaled its heavy breath with eager delight, while Goswyn's
dislike of it amounted almost to disgust.

Every day they rode thus together along the avenues of the Thiergarten,
until they became familiar with every pond, every statue,--yes, even
with the appearance of every rider. At times they would meet a couple
of cavalry officers and exchange greetings; or a few infantry officers,
much-enduring warriors, who seemed to find riding the most difficult
duty required of them; or some gentleman in trade testing upon a hired
steed his skill in horsemanship and pale with terror if he happened to
lose a stirrup. Squadrons of young girls under the guardianship of a
riding-master would come cantering along the smooth drive, some
overflowing with youthful vitality, others evidently taking the
exercise by order of a physician.

Of course Countess Lenzdorff had requested Goswyn's supervision for
only the few first efforts in horsemanship made by her grand-daughter,
never dreaming that he would sacrifice two hours of each day in
trotting about the Thiergarten with the young girl. But week followed
week and he was still riding daily with Erika. In themselves there
could have been but little pleasure in these excursions always along
the same familiar avenues,--longer flights into the surrounding country
with only a groom as escort would have been thought indecorous,--and
yet the two morning hours thus passed were more to the young dragoon
than the whole day beside.

The girl was in such harmony with the early, fresh nature about them.
She was still but a child; but just as she was, with her unblunted
sensibilities, her eager warm-heartedness, he would fain have clasped
her in his arms, and have claimed the right to cherish and nurture to
their glorious development all the fine qualities now dormant within
her, before she should be wounded and sore from the thorns that beset
her pathway.

That her sentiments towards him bore no comparison with those he
cherished for her he was perfectly aware; but what of that? Passion too
easily aroused on her part would not have pleased him, and she frankly
showed her preference for him among all the men of her acquaintance.

The old Countess did all that she could to further his wooing: if he
had not been in love he would have thought that she did too much. It
was foolish to delay.

The leaves had lost their first tender beauty and were full-grown,
strong, and shining, as they rode one day along one of the narrowest
bridle-paths in the Thiergarten,--a path where here and there a huge
tree, which those who had laid out the park had not had the heart to
sacrifice, almost obstructed the way. They trotted along briskly, like
all beginners. Erika preferred a very swift pace, at which Goswyn
sometimes demurred. On a sudden the girl's horse shied, violently
startled by a wayfarer who had fallen asleep in the shade by the side
of the path.

Very calmly, with no thought of danger, Erika not only kept her seat in
the saddle, but quickly succeeded in soothing her horse.

All the more was Goswyn terrified, and no sooner was he convinced that
Erika did not need his assistance than he turned angrily and soundly
berated the unfortunate man, who was apparently intoxicated. Then,
somewhat ashamed of his outburst, he rejoined Erika, who awaited him
with a smile of surprise. He frowned; his cheeks were flushed. "Pardon
me, Countess; I am very sorry," he said. "I could think of nothing but
that you might have been thrown,---that tree--if you had lost your
presence of mind----" He shuddered.

She shrugged her shoulders. "And what if I had? You were by."

At these words his face cleared. "Do you really feel such confidence in
me?" he asked.

"I?" She looked at him in utter surprise. Why should he ask a question
to which the reply was so self-evident?

His grave, manly face took on an expression of almost boyish
embarrassment, and suddenly she became aware of his sentiments,--for
the first time. She made a nervous effort to devise something that
should hinder his confession, something that should spare him
humiliation and herself pain: she could invent nothing. In vain did she
search her mind for some, even the smallest, sensible evasive phrase,
and at last she murmured, "The trees are very green for the time of
year. Do you not think so?"

He smiled in spite of his agitation and confusion, and then said, in
the slightly hoarse tone which always with him betokened intense
earnestness, "Countess Erika, beyond a certain point twilight, lovely
as it is, becomes intolerable; one longs for light." He paused, looked
full in her face, and cleared his throat. "You must long have been
aware of how I regard you?"

But she interrupted him hurriedly: "No, no; I have been aware of
nothing,--nothing at all."

She trembled violently, and turned into a broad road, where a gay
cavalcade came cantering towards her,--the Princess Dorothea and her
train of several gentlemen.

"Turn to the right," called Goswyn, and the cavalcade passed, the dust
raised by their horses enveloping everything like a misty cloud.

Erika coughed slightly. "Good heavens! perhaps he understood, and will
save me from replying," she thought.

But no, he did not save her from replying.

"Well, Countess Erika?" he began, after a short pause, gently, but very
firmly.

"Wha--what?" she stammered.

"Will you be my wife?"

She gasped for breath: never could she have believed that she should
find it so hard to refuse an offer. But accept it--no; something within
her rebelled against the thought--she could not.

"N--no. I am very sorry," she stammered, every pulse throbbing wildly.
She was terribly agitated as she glanced timidly up at him. Not a
muscle in his face moved.

"I was prepared for this," he murmured.

"Thank God, he does not care very much!" she thought, taking a long
breath; and the next moment--nay, even that very moment--she was vexed
that he did 'not care very much.'

They had reached the railway bridge, beneath which they were wont to
turn into the grand avenue for a final gallop. For a moment she
contemplated sacrificing to her rejected suitor this gallop, the crown
and glory of their daily ride. She reined in her horse.

"No gallop?" he asked, as if nothing had passed between them, except
that his voice was still a little hoarse.

"Oh, if you will. I only thought----" she stammered.

He replied with the chivalric courtesy with which he always treated
her, "I am entirely at your service."

For a moment she hesitated; then, with a touch of the whip on her
steed's right shoulder, she started.

"Oh, how glorious!" she exclaimed, as they turned just before reaching
the pavement. "Shall we not have one more?"

And so they rode twice up and down the grand avenue. The air was clear
and cool, and there was in it the fragrance of freshly-planed wood,
coming from a large shed that was being erected on one side of the
avenue for an exhibition of horses.

Years afterwards Erika could never recall that ride and her miserable
cruelty without again perceiving that peculiar fragrance.

The young man was in direful plight. Whatever he might say, he had not
been prepared for this. The last few days had been passed by him in a
state of blissful agitation in which, try as he might, he could not
torment himself with doubts. He had fallen from an immense height, and
he was terribly bruised. In spite of all his self-control, he began to
show it. Erika grew more and more depressed, glancing sympathizingly
aside at him from time to time. Now she would far rather that he had
not cared so much. Evidently she did not herself know what she really
wished.

They trotted along side by side; then just as they turned into Bellevue
Street he heard a low distressed voice say,--

"Herr von Sydow--I would not have you think that--that--I--intended to
say that to you. I so value your friendship--I should be so very sorry
to lose it--and--and----" She threw back her head slightly, and,
looking him in the face from beneath the stiff brim of her riding-hat,
she said, with a charming little smile, "Tell me that all shall be just
as it has been between us."

"As you please, Countess Erika," he replied, unable to restrain a smile
at this novel way of treating a rejected suitor.

When he lifted her from her horse shortly afterwards, he just touched
her gray riding-glove with his lips; she looked kindly at him, and as
he gazed after her from the hall as she ascended the staircase she
turned her head to give him a friendly little nod.


His heart grew lighter; he would not take too seriously her rejection
of his suit; it was not final. "After all," he thought, "in spite of
her precocious intelligence she is but a charming, innocent child; and
that is what makes her so bewitching."

The sunlight gleamed on the gilded tops of the iron railings of the
front gardens in Bellevue Street, upon the leaves of the trees, and
upon the long line of red-painted watering-carts stretching away in
perspective like the beads of a huge rosary. The heat was already
rather oppressive in Berlin. But Goswyn was robust, and sensitive
neither to heat nor to cold. His ride with Erika was but the beginning
of his daily exercise, and he trotted off to finish it.

In the Charlottenburg Avenue he encountered the same cavalcade he had
seen before in the Thiergarten in the midst of his declaration to
Erika. Thanks to her agitation, the girl had recognized none of the
party, but he had bowed to his sister-in-law and her esquires. Now she
beckoned to him from a distance, and called, "Goswyn!"

She was considerably taller and more slender than Erika, but she looked
well in the saddle. Her gray-green eyes sparkled with malicious mockery
from beneath the brim of her tall hat. "Goswyn," she cried, speaking
with her accustomed rapidity in her high piercing voice and with her
strange lisp, "you were just now made the subject of a wager."

"But, Thea," Prince Nimbsch interrupted his cousin, "we none of us
agreed to wager with you."

"What was it about?" asked Goswyn, with a most uncomfortable
presentiment that some annoyance threatened him.

The three men with Dorothea looked at one another; Dorothea giggled. At
last Prince Nimbsch said, "My cousin wished to wager that the Countess
Erika would be wooed and won this spring."

"Oh, no," Dorothea interrupted him; "that was not it at all. I wagered
that you had been refused by Erika this morning in the Thiergarten,
Gos. Helmy would not believe me; but I have sharp eyes."

She said it still giggling, with the wayward insolence of a spoiled
child, not consciously cruel, who for very wantonness pulls a beetle to
pieces. "Am I not right?" she persisted.

The men turned away as men of feeling would turn away from beholding an
execution.

There was a red cloud before Goswyn's eyes, but he maintained his
outward composure perfectly. "Yes, Dorothea, I have been rejected," he
said, and the words sounded oddly distinct in the midst of the absolute
silence of the little group, surrounded as it was by the bustle and
noise of the capital. "May I ask what possible interest this can have
for you?"

"Oh," she laughed still more insolently, ready as she always was to
exaggerate her ill-breeding when she was tempted to be ashamed of
it,--"oh, I only wanted to make sure I was right. Helmy contradicted
me so positively, declaring that a man like you never could be
rejected. Aha, Helmy! Well, the other Berlin men will be glad!"

"And why?" Goswyn asked, with the unfortunate persistence in pursuing a
disagreeable subject often shown by strong men who would fain establish
their lack of sensitiveness.

"Why? Because you are a dangerous rival, Goswyn," cried Dorothea. "Do
you suppose that you are the only one to covet the hand of the
heiress?"

For a moment Goswyn felt as if a naming torch had been hurled in his
face. He grew giddy, but, still maintaining his self-control, he simply
rejoined, "Dorothea, there are circumstances in which your sex is an
immense protection," and then, turning with a bow to the three men, he
galloped off in an opposite direction.

Dorothea still giggled, but she turned very pale; her companions, on
the other hand, were scarlet.

"Ride home with whomsoever you please: I am ashamed to be seen with
you!" Prince Nimbsch said, angrily; and he hurried after Sydow. But
when he overtook him the two men looked at each other and were silent.
At last Nimbsch began, "I only wanted to say----"

Goswyn interrupted him: "There is nothing to be said;" and there was a
hoarse tone in his voice that pained the young Austrian. "I know you to
be a gentleman, Prince, and that you consider me one. There is nothing
to be said."

Before the Prince could say another word, Goswyn was well-nigh out of
sight.

Two hours afterwards Goswyn von Sydow might have been seen on a horse
covered with foam galloping over the sandy hilly tracts of land by
which Berlin is surrounded. He had never bestowed a thought upon
Erika's wealth: now he felt that he never could forget it. He had been
robbed of all ease in her society. It was all over.



                               CHAPTER X.


If Erika could have known anything of the unpleasant scene in
Charlottenburg Avenue, her warm-hearted indignation would immediately
have developed into vigour the germ of affection for Goswyn that
already, unknown to herself, slumbered in her heart. She would
certainly have committed some exaggerated, irresponsible act, which
would have overthrown at a blow Goswyn's rudely-aroused, tormenting
pride. She never could have borne to have another inflict upon him pain
or humiliation. The entire disagreeable complication would have come to
a crisis in a most touching scene, and in the end two people absolutely
made for each other would have been sitting hand clasped in hand on the
lounge beneath the fan-palms in Countess Lenzdorff's drawing-room,
conversing in low tones, and Erika would have arrived at the sensible
and agreeable conviction that there could be nothing better in the
world than to share the life of a strong, noble husband to whom she
could implicitly confide her happiness. The problem of her life would
have found its solution, and she would have been spared the perilous
errors and hard trials awaiting her in the future.

But the ugly story never reached her. The three men who had been
auditors of Dorothea's coarse cruelty would have considered as a breach
of honour any report of it, and the Princess Dorothea contented herself
with a giggling declaration to all who chose to listen that her
brother-in-law Goswyn had had the mitten from Erika Lenzdorff, without
referring to the way in which her information had been procured.

Thus Erika passed the rest of the day with a rather sore, compassionate
feeling in her heart, never doubting that she should have her usual
ride with Goswyn the next morning, when she promised herself to be
particularly amiable. All would come right, she said to herself.

But that same evening, when she was taking tea with her grandmother,
old Lüdecke brought his mistress a letter which she read with evident
surprise and then laid down beside her plate. She did not eat another
morsel, and scarcely spoke during the meal. Observing that Erika,
distressed by her silence, had also ceased eating and was anxiously
glancing towards her grandmother from time to time, she asked, "Have
you finished?" Her voice was unusually stern. Erika was startled.
"Yes," she stammered, and, trembling in every limb, she followed her
grandmother out of the dining-room and into the Countess's cheerful,
cosey boudoir. There the old lady began to pace thoughtfully to and
fro: she looked very dignified and awe-inspiring. Erika had never
before seen her thus, walking with short impatient steps, frowning
brow, and a face that seemed hewn out of marble. She began to be
frightfully uncomfortable in the presence of the angry old woman, and
was trying to slip away unobserved, when her grandmother barred her way
and said, harshly, "Stay here: I have something to say to you, Erika."

"Yes, grandmother."

"Sit down."

Erika obeyed.

The room looked very pleasant, with its light furniture revealed in the
shaded brilliancy of coloured hanging lamps. One window was open; a low
rustle of leaves was wafted in through the pale-green silken curtains
upon the warm languorous breath of the spring night. Her grandmother
seated herself in her favourite arm-chair beside her reading-table,
with Erika opposite her on a frail-looking little chair, bolt upright,
with her hands in her lap, and a very distressed expression of
countenance.

"This letter is from Goswyn," the old lady began, tapping the letter in
her lap.

"Yes, grandmother," murmured Erika.

"You guessed it?" the old lady asked, in a hard, unnatural voice, and
with an exaggerated distinctness of utterance, which were very strange
to her granddaughter.

"I know his handwriting."

"H'm! You know what is in the letter?"

"How should I?" Erika's pale cheeks flushed crimson.

"How should you? Well, then, I must tell you"--she smoothed down her
dress with an impatient gesture--"that you refused his offer to-day:
that is what the letter contains. Surely you should know it. Such
things are not done in sleep."

"Ah, yes, I know that," Erika murmured, beginning to be irritated in
her turn; "but how was I to suppose that he would write it to you? I
cannot see what he does it for?"

"What for? He informs me that he must deprive himself of all
intercourse with us for a time, that he has obtained leave of absence
and is going away from Berlin."

"But why?" exclaimed Erika. "This is perfect nonsense! It was settled
that we should ride together to-morrow as usual."

"Indeed! You expected him to ride with you after you had rejected him?"

"He was perfectly agreed," Erika eagerly declared: "we parted the best
of friends. I do not want to marry him, but I prize his friendship
immensely. I told him so. He has surely put that in the letter. He is
never unjust; he must have told you that I was nice to him. How could I
help being so, when I pitied him so much?" The girl's voice trembled.
"You have missed something in the letter; you must have missed
something," she persisted.

Her grandmother opened the letter again, and read, first in an
undertone, then aloud: "Yes, here it is: 'Never was man rejected more
charmingly, with greater sweetness, than I by the Countess Erika; but
it did me no good. I only thought her more bewitching than ever before
in her tender kindliness,--yes, even in all her dear, child-like,
awkward attempts to reconcile what in the very nature of things is
irreconcilable.

"'For a while I shall be very wretched; but you know me well enough to
feel sure that I shall not go through life hanging my head, any more
than I shall now butt that same head against the wall. I trust that the
time will come when I shall be of some use to you, my dear old friend,
and, it may be, to _her_; but at present I am good for nothing.

"'It is best that I should retire into the background. To-morrow I
leave Berlin. Forgive me for finding it impossible to take leave of you
in person, and believe in the faithful devotion of yours always,

                                  "'G. Von Sydow.'"


After the old lady had finished the reading of the letter, not without
a certain pathetic emphasis, she looked up. Erika's face was bathed in
tears. Her grandmother was dismayed, and after a pause began again, but
in a very different and a very gentle tone.

"This affair annoys me excessively, Erika."

The girl nodded.

"The fact is,"--the grandmother laid her hand on Erika's arm,--"you are
very inexperienced in such affairs. Another time you must not let
matters go so far. One must do everything in one's power to spare an
honourable gentleman such a humiliation. Your conduct would have given
the most modest of men reason to suppose you cared for him. You misled
me completely."

"Misled!--cared for him!" Erika repeated, tapping the carpet nervously
with her foot. "But I do like him very much."

Her grandmother all but smiled. "My dear child, I do not quite
understand you. Consider! Shall I write and tell Goswyn that you were a
little unprepared, and that you are sorry,--there's no disgrace in
admitting that,--and--Heaven knows I shall be glad enough to write the
letter!" She rose to go to her writing-table, but Erika detained her,
nervously clutching at her skirts.

"No! no! oh, no, grandmother!" she almost screamed. "I do like him; I
know how good he is; but I do not want to marry him, I am still so
young. For God's sake do not force me to do so!" She had grown deadly
pale, as she clasped her hands in entreaty.

Her grandmother looked at her with a grave shake of the head. "As you
please," she said, no longer stern, but depressed, worried,--a mood
very rare with her. "Now go and lie down: rest will do you good; and I
should like to be alone for a while."

Far into the night did the old Countess pace restlessly to and fro in
her boudoir, amidst all the graceful works of art which she had
collected about her with such satisfaction and which gave her none at
present. At last she seated herself at her writing-table, and before
Goswyn left Berlin the next day he received the following letter:


"My Dear Boy,--

"This matter affects me more than you would think. I was so sure of my
case. At first I was disposed to scold the girl; but there turned out
to be no reason for doing so. Not a trace did she show of vulgar love
of admiration, nor even of heartless thoughtlessness. Everything that
she said to you is true: she likes you very much. I tried to set her
right,--in vain! For the present there is nothing to be done with her.

"In the course of conversation I perceived that there was nothing for
which the child was to blame; the fault was all mine. Can you forgive
me?

"But that is a mere phrase. I know that it never will occur to you to
blame me.

"My words will not come as readily as usual, and I am very
uncomfortable. I am writing to you not only to tell you how much I pity
you, but also to relieve my anxiety somewhat by talking it over with
you.

"I have come to see that my grandchild, whom I so wrongly
neglected--the words are not a mere phrase--for so long, and for whom I
now have an affection such as I have never felt for any one in my life
hitherto, will give me many an unhappy hour.

"Her sad, dreary youth has left its shadow on her soul, and has
exaggerated in her a perilous inborn sensitiveness.

"There are depths in her character which I cannot fathom. She is good,
tender-hearted, noble, beautiful, and rarely gifted; but there is with
her in everything a tendency to exaggeration that frightens me. I
forebode now that my long neglect of the child from mere selfish love
of ease will be bitterly avenged upon me.

"If I had watched her from childhood, I should now know her; but,
fondly as I love her, I cannot but feel that I do not understand her,
and the great difference in our ages makes any perfect intimacy between
us impossible. Moreover, in spite of my trifle of sagacity, of which I
have availed myself for my own pleasure and never for the benefit of
others, I am an unpractical person, and shall make many a stupid
mistake in my treatment of the child. And it is a pity; for I do not
over-estimate her: she is bewitching!

"Yet, withal, I cannot help thinking that you have not acted as wisely
as I should have expected you to,--that with a little more heartfelt
insistence you might have prevailed where my persuasion failed. In
especial your sudden flight is a perfect riddle to me. I looked for
more perseverance from you. But this is your affair.

"I am very sorry not to see you again before your hurried departure. I
shall miss you terribly, my dear boy, I have become so accustomed to
refer to you in all my small perplexities. Still hoping, in spite of
everything, that sooner or later all may be as it should be between
Erika and yourself, I am your affectionate old friend,

                                         "Anna Lenzdorff."


Chafed and sore in heart as Goswyn was at the time, this letter did him
good. After reading it through he murmured, "When she thus reveals her
inmost soul, it is easy to understand how, with all her faults and
follies, one cannot help loving the old Countess."



                              CHAPTER XI.


A Thread in the web of Erika's existence snapped with Goswyn's
departure. The sudden separation from him without even a farewell she
felt to be very sad, and long after he had gone the mere mention of his
name would thrill her with a vague, restless pain, a nervous
dissatisfaction with herself, with the world, with him, a dim sense
that some error had crept into her life's reckoning and that the story
ought to have turned out otherwise. In the depths of her heart she was
bitterly disappointed when after a rather gay summer and autumn she
heard upon her return to Berlin that young Sydow had been transferred
to Breslau.

Soon, indeed, she lacked the time for occupying her thoughts with her
dear good friend but unwelcome suitor. Existence developed brilliantly
for her, and the world's incense mounted to her head, and bewildered
her, as it bewilders all, even the wisest and gravest, if they are
exposed to its influence.

She was presented at court, where she produced the most favourable
impression, and was distinguished by the highest personages in the land
in a manner to excite much envy.

Of course she went out a great deal,--so much that her grandmother, who
had always been characterized by a certain social indolence, grew weary
of accompanying her, and, whenever she could, intrusted her to the
chaperonage of her oldest friend, Frau von Norbin.

But when Erika reached home at midnight or after it she had to recount
her triumphs at her grandmother's bedside. The old Countess would
scrutinize her closely, as she would have done a work of art, and once
she said, "Yes, you are a rare creature, it cannot be denied: you are
more lovely after a ball than before it. How life thrills through you!
But I do not understand you. I know your mind, and your nerves, but I
have never proved the depths of your heart." Then she shook her head,
sighed, kissed the youthful beauty upon her eyelids, and sent her to
bed.

Yes, there was no end to the homage paid her. No young girl had ever
been so admired and caressed as was Erika Lenzdorff in the first two
years after her presentation. It fairly rained adorers and suitors.
Then--not because her beauty began to fade; no, she had never been more
beautiful, she had developed magnificently--her conquests decreased.
Her admirers were capricious, returning to her at times, and then
holding aloof again; and as for suitors, they entirely disappeared.

One fact was too patent not to be acknowledged by even the girl's
adoring grandmother. To the usual society man Erika was duller and more
uninteresting than the rawest pink-and-white village girl whose natural
coquetry taught her how to flatter his vanity and emphasize his
superiority. She did not know how to talk to her admirers, and her
admirers did not know how to talk to her. The men thought her 'queer.'
She passed for a blue-stocking because she read serious books, and for
'highfalutin' because she speculated upon matters quite uninteresting
to young girls in general. Since with all her feminine refinement of
mind she combined not an iota of worldly wisdom, she harboured
the conviction that every one regarded life from her own serious
stand-point, and would fearlessly propound the problems that occupied
her to the most superficial dandy who happened to be her partner in the
german.

Her grandmother once said to her, "You scare away your admirers with
your attempts to teach them to fly. Men do not wish to learn to fly:
you would succeed far better if you should try to teach them to crawl
on all fours. Most of them have a decided predilection for doing so,
and those women who can furnish them with a plausible pretext for
it--for crawling on all fours, I mean--are sure to be the most popular
with them."

In reply to such a declaration Erika would gaze at her grandmother with
an expression 'so pathetically stupid' that the old Countess could not
help drawing the girl towards her and kissing her.

"It is a pity you would not have Goswyn," the old Countess generally
concluded, with a sigh: "you are caviare for people in general, and
Goswyn was the only one who knew how to value you. I cannot comprehend
you, Erika. Goswyn is the very ideal of a husband; warm-hearted, brave,
and true, there is real support in his stout arm, and his broad
shoulders are just fitted to bear a burden that another would find too
heavy. He is no genius, but instead is brimful of the noblest kind of
sense. Understand me, Erika; there is a great difference between the
noblest kind and the inferior article."

But by the time she had reached this point in her eulogy of Goswyn,
Erika was standing with her hand on the latch of the door, stammering,
"Yes, yes, grandmother; but I--I have a letter to write."

She liked to avoid any discussion of Goswyn: a sensation of unrest,
always the same, never developing into any distinct desire, was sure to
assail her heart at the mention of his name.


The girls who had made their _débuts_ with her were now almost all
married. Very commonplace girls, whom she had treated with
condescending kindness, married her own former admirers: she was no
longer wooed. At first she laughed at the airs of superiority which the
young wives took on in her society; but the second winter she was
annoyed by them. Meanwhile, a fresh bevy of beauties made their
appearance, and many a girl was admired and fêted, simply because she
had not been seen as often as the Countess Erika.

In the depths of her heart, she had no desire whatever to marry. In her
thoughts marriage was simply a clumsy, inconvenient requirement of our
social organization, compliance with which she would postpone as long
as possible. Against 'all for love' her inmost being rebelled, and yet
her lack of suitors vexed her.

Then, when the first social feminine authorities of Berlin began to
shake their heads over her as a 'critical case,' she suddenly startled
society by the announcement of her betrothal to a very wealthy English
peer, Percy, Earl of Langley.

She became acquainted with him at Carlsbad, whither her grandmother had
gone for the waters. For several days she noticed that an elderly,
distinguished-looking man followed her with his eyes whenever she
appeared. At last, one morning he approached the old Countess, and with
a smile asked whether she had really forgotten him or whether it was
her deliberate intention persistently to cut him.

She offered him her hand courteously, and replied, "Lord Langley, on
the Continent a gentleman is supposed to speak first to a lady.
Moreover, if I had been willing to comply with your national custom, I
should hardly have known whether it were well to present myself to
you."

He laughed, with half-closed eyes, and rejoined that her remark could
bear reference only to a period of his life long since past; now he was
an old man, etc. "I have sown my wild oats," he declared, adding, "I've
taken a long time to sow them, haven't I? But it's all over now!"
Whereupon he requested an introduction to the Countess's companion.

From that time he devoted himself to the two ladies. Erika was
flattered by his respectful admiration, and liked to talk with him. In
fact, she had never conversed with so much pleasure with any other man.
He had formerly belonged to the diplomatic corps, and had known
personally all the people mentioned by Lord Malmesbury in his
memoirs,--in short, everybody who during the past forty years had been
either famous or notorious, from the Emperor Nicholas, for whom he had
an enthusiasm, to Cora Pearl, concerning whom he whispered anecdotes in
the old Countess's ear, and whose career he declared, with a shrug, was
a riddle to him.

He was the keenest observer and cleverest talker imaginable,
distinguished in appearance, always well dressed, a perfect type of the
Englishman who, casting aside British cant, leads a gay life on the
Continent, without faith, without any moral ideal, saturated through
and through with a refined, cynical, witty Epicureanism, gently
suppressed when in the society of ladies, although from indolence he
did not entirely disguise it.

Two weeks after recalling himself to the Countess Lenzdorff's memory,
he wrote her a letter asking for her grand-daughter's hand. The old
lady, not without embarrassment, informed the young girl of his
proposal. "It certainly is trying," she began. "I cannot see how it
ever entered his head to think of you. A blooming young creature like
you, and his sixty years! What shall I say to him?"

Erika stood speechless for a moment. The old Englishman's proposal was
an utter surprise to her, but, oddly enough, it did not produce so
disagreeable an impression upon her as upon her grandmother. She had
always wished to mingle in English society. Wealthy as she was, she was
aware that her wealth bore no comparison to that of Lord Langley. And
then the position of the wife of an English peer was very different
from that of the wife of any Prussian nobleman. Her fatal inheritance
of romantic enthusiasm had latterly found expression with her in a
certain craving for distinction. What a field opened before her! She
saw herself fêted, admired, besieged with petitions, one of the
political influences of Europe.

"Well?" asked Countess Lenzdorff, who had meanwhile taken her seat at
her writing-table.

"Well?" Erika repeated, in some confusion.

"What shall I say? That you will not have him, of course; but how shall
I courteously give him to understand---- It is intolerable! Do not get
me into such a scrape again. Although, poor child, you cannot help it."

Erika was silent.

Her grandmother had begun to write, when she heard a very low, rather
timid voice just behind her say,--

"Grandmother!"

She turned round. "What is it, child?"

"You see--if I must marry----"

Her grandmother stared, then exclaimed, sharply, "You could be
induced----?"

Erika nodded.

The old lady fairly bounded from her chair, tore up the letter she had
begun, threw the pieces on the floor, and left the room. The door was
closed behind her, when she opened it again to say, curtly, "Write to
him yourself!"


Two days after his betrothal, Lord Langley left Carlsbad to superintend
the preparations at Eyre Castle for the reception of his bride, whom he
hoped to take to England at the end of August.

The lovers shed no tears at parting, and there was no other display of
tenderness than a reverential kiss imprinted by Lord Langley upon his
betrothed's hand. This respectful homage appeared to Erika highly
satisfactory.


After the old Countess had taken the cure at Carlsbad she betook
herself with Erika to Franzensbad to complete it.

At that time a great deal was said, in the sleepy, lounging life of
Franzensbad, of the Bayreuth performances. 'Parsifal' was the topic of
universal interest. The old Countess at first absolutely refused to
listen to Erika's earnest request to go to Bayreuth; in fact, she had
been in a bad humour ever since the betrothal, and her tenderness
towards Erika had ostensibly diminished. She contradicted her
frequently, was quite irritable, and would often reply to some
perfectly innocent proposal of her grand-daughter's, "Wait until you
are married." She would not hear of going to Bayreuth, maintaining that
the bits of 'Parsifal' which she had heard played as duets had been
quite enough for her,--she had no desire to hear the whole performance;
moreover, she had had a headache--ever since Erika's betrothal.

Her opposition lasted a good while, but at last curiosity triumphed,
and she announced herself ready to sacrifice herself and go to Bayreuth
with her granddaughter.

Lord Langley's last letter had come from Munich, where one of his
daughters (he was a widower, and had no son) was married to a young
English diplomat. Grandmother and grand-daughter were to meet him
there, and then all were to proceed to Castle Wetterstein in
Westphalia, the family seat of Count Lenzdorff, a great-uncle of
Erika's, where the marriage was to take place.

Highly delighted at her grandmother's consent to her wishes, Erika
wrote to Lord Langley asking him to meet them at Bayreuth instead of
waiting for them at Munich, although, she added, he was to feel quite
free to do as he pleased.

Lüdecke, the faithful, was sent to Bayreuth to arrange for lodgings and
tickets, and a few days afterwards the old Countess, with Erika and her
maid Marianne, left Franzensbad, with its waving white birches, its
good bread and weak coffee, its symphony concerts, and its languishing,
pale, consumptive beauties. The dew glistened on leaves and flowers as
they drove to the station. After they had reached it, Marianne, the
maid, was sent back to the hotel for a volume of 'Opera and Drama,' and
a pamphlet upon 'the psychological significance of Kundry,' in the
former of which the old Countess was absorbed during the journey to
Bayreuth.

They were received with genial enthusiasm by the fair, fresh wife of
the baker, in whose house Lüdecke had procured them lodgings, and they
followed her up a bare damp staircase to the tile-paved landing upon
which their rooms opened. They consisted of a spacious, low-ceilinged
apartment, with a small island of carpet before the sofa in a sea of
yellow varnished board floor, furnished with red plush chairs, two
india-rubber trees, a bird in a painted cage, and a cupboard with
glass doors, on either side of which were doors opening into the
bedrooms,--everything comfortable, clean, and old-fashioned.

After some refreshment the two ladies drove about the town, and out
into the trim open country through beautiful, shady avenues, avenues
such as usually lead to princely residences, and into the quiet
deserted park, where there were few strangers besides themselves to be
seen. Returning, they dined at 'the Sun,' at the same table with
Austrian aristocrats, Berlin councillors of commerce, and numerous
pilgrims to the festival from known and unknown lands. Then they
sauntered about the dear old town, with its many-gabled architecture,
and visited the Master's grave and the old theatre. The old Countess
lost herself in speculations as to what the Margravine would have
thought of the great German show that now wakes the lethargic old
capital from its repose at least every other year; and Erika, laughing,
called her grandmother's attention to the 'Parsifal slippers' and the
'Nibelungen bonbons' in the unpretentious shop-windows.

The sun was very low, and the shadows were creeping across the broad
squares and down the narrow streets, when the old Countess proposed to
go back to their rooms to refresh herself with a cup of tea. Erika
accompanied her to the door of their lodgings, and then said, "I should
like to look about for a volume of Tauchnitz. May I not go alone? This
seems little more than a village."

"If you choose," her grandmother, already halfway up the staircase,
replied.

With no thought of ill, Erika turned the corner of the nearest street.

She walked slowly, gazing up at the antique house-fronts on either side
of her. Suddenly she heard a voice behind her call "Rika! Rika!"

She turned, and started as if stunned by a flash of lightning. Before
her, his whiskers brushed straight out from his cheeks, rather more
florid than of yore, in a very dandified plaid suit, with an eye-glass
stuck in his eye, stood--Strachinsky.

"Rika, my dear little Rika!" he cried, holding out his hand. "What a
surprise, and what a pleasure, to find you here, and without the
Cerberus who always has barred our meeting! Fate will yet avenge it
upon her."

Erika trembled with indignation, but her tongue clove to the roof of
her mouth. Try as she might, she could not reply. A senseless, childish
panic mastered her, as terrible as it would have been had this man
still had power over her and been able to snatch her from her present
surroundings and carry her back to the dreary life at Luzano.

"You are quite speechless," he went on, having meanwhile seized her
hand and carried it to his lips. "No wonder, it is so long since we
have seen each other. That jealous old drag----"

"I must beg you not to allude to my grandmother in that way!" she
exclaimed, conscious of a benumbing, nervous pain at the remembrance of
her terrible, sordid existence with this man.

"You are under the old woman's influence," Strachinsky declared, "and
nothing else was to be expected; but now all will be different: when
you are once married, more cordial relations will be established
between us. I bear no malice; I forgive everything: I was always too
forgiving,--it was my only fault. My poor wife always called me an
idealist, a Don Quixote,--my poor, idolized Emma,--I never can forget
her." And he passed his hand over his eyes.

"I must go home: my grandmother is expecting me," Erika murmured.

"I should think you could consent to bestow a few minutes upon your old
father, if only out of regard for your mother's memory," Strachinsky
observed, assuming his loftiest expression.

Regard for her mother's memory! Certainly, she would not let him starve
or suffer absolute want. "Do you need anything?" she asked.

"No," he replied, curtly, with a show of wounded feeling.

Then followed a pause. She looked round, ignorant of where she was, for
during this most unwelcome interview she had continued to walk on
without observing whither she was going.

"Will you show me the way to Maximilian Street?" she asked him.

"To the left, here," he replied, laconically; then, with lifted
eyebrows, he observed, "Unpractical idealist that I am, I was disposed
to forget and forgive the outrageous ingratitude with which you have
treated me in these latter years,--nay, always. I had even resolved to
call upon your betrothed; although that would have been to reverse the
order of affairs. But I perceive that your arrogance and pride are
greater than ever. No matter! I only hope you may not be punished for
them too severely!" With these words, he touched his hat with grotesque
dignity and was gone before she could collect herself to reply.



                              CHAPTER XII.


Meanwhile, the sky had become overcast; a keen wind began to blow, and
large drops of rain were falling before Erika reached the door of the
lodgings in Maximilian Street.

As she mounted the staircase she heard her grandmother's voice in the
drawing-room and recognized the cordial tone which she used when
speaking to the few people in the world with whom she was in genuine
sympathy. Nevertheless, agitated by her late interview, Erika inwardly
deplored the arrangement of their apartments which made it impossible
that she should reach her bedroom without passing through the
drawing-room. She opened the door: her grandmother was seated on the
sofa, and near her, in an arm-chair, with his back to the casement
window, was a man in civilian's dress. He arose, looking so tall that
it seemed to Erika he must strike his head against the low ceiling of
the room. She did not instantly recognize him, as he stood with his
back to the light, but before he had advanced a step she exclaimed,
"Goswyn!" and ran to him with both hands extended. When, with rather
formal courtesy, he kissed one of the hands thus held out as if seeking
succour, and then dropped it without any very cordial pressure, she was
assailed by a certain embarrassment: she remembered that she should
have called him Herr von Sydow, and that it became her to receive
her rejected suitor with a more measured dignity. But she was not
self-possessed today. The shock of meeting her step-father had unstrung
her nerves; the numbness which had of late paralyzed sensation began to
depart; her youthful heart throbbed almost as loudly as it had done
when she had first ascended the thickly-carpeted staircase in Bellevue
Street, as strongly as upon that brilliant Thursday at the Countess
Brock's, when, suddenly overcome by the memory of her unhappy mother,
she had fled from the crowd of her admirers to sob out her misery in
some lonely corner.

Lord Langley's worldly-wise, self-possessed betrothed had vanished, and
in her stead was a shy, emotional young person, oppressed by a sense of
her exaggerated cordiality towards the guest. She now seated herself as
far as possible from him in one of the red plush arm-chairs.

"How long have you been in Bayreuth, Herr von Sydow?" she asked, in a
timid little voice, which thrilled the young officer's heart like an
echo of by-gone times.

Erika, whose eyes had become accustomed to the darkened light of the
room, noted that he smiled,--his old kind smile. His features looked
more sharply chiselled than formerly; he had grown very thin, and had
lost every trace of the slight clumsiness which had once characterized
him.

"I came several days ago: my musical feast is already a thing of the
past," he replied.

"Indeed! And what then keeps you in Bayreuth?" Erika asked.

He laughed a little forced laugh, and then blushed after his old
fashion, but replied, very quietly, "I learned from your factotum
Lüdecke, whom I met the day before yesterday, that you were coming, and
so I determined to await your arrival."

She longed to say something cordial and kind to him, but the words
would not come. Instead her grandmother spoke.

"It was kind of you to stay in this tiresome old hole just to see us. I
call it very kind," she assured him, and Erika added, meekly, "So do
I."

A pause ensued, broken finally by Goswyn: "Let me offer you my best
wishes on the occasion of your betrothal, Countess Erika." He uttered
the words very bravely, but Erika could not respond: she suddenly felt
that she had cause to be ashamed of herself, although what that cause
was she did not know.

"Are you acquainted with Lord Langley, Goswyn?" the old Countess asked,
in the icy tone which she always assumed when any allusion was made to
her grand-daughter's engagement.

"No. You can imagine how eager I am to hear about him."

"He is one of the most entertaining Englishmen I have ever met,--a very
clever man," the Countess declared, as if discussing some one in whom
she took no personal interest.

"It was not to be supposed that the Countess Erika would sacrifice
her freedom to any ordinary individual," said Goswyn, with admirable
self-control.

For all reply the Countess raised the clumsy teacup before her to her
lips.

With every word thus spoken Erika's sense of shame deepened, and she
was seized with an intense desire to be frank with Goswyn, and to
dispel any illusion he might entertain as to her betrothal. "Lord
Langley is no longer young," she said, hurriedly. "I will show you his
photograph."

She went into the adjoining room and brought thence the photograph in
its case, which she opened herself before handing it to Goswyn. He
looked at the picture, then at her, and then again at the picture. His
broad shoulders twitched; without a word he closed the case, and put it
upon a table, beside which Erika had taken her seat.

An embarrassing silence ensued. The sound of rolling vehicles was heard
distinctly from below, and one stopped before the dark door-way. Soon
afterwards the staircase creaked beneath a heavy tread. Lüdecke opened
the low door of the old-fashioned apartment, and announced, "Frau
Countess Brock."

The 'wicked fairy' unconsciously had a novel experience: her appearance
was a relief.

As usual, she bowed and nodded on all sides, but, as she was unable for
the moment to find her eye-glass, she saw nobody, and fell into the
error of supposing a tall india-rubber tree in a tub before a window to
be her particular friend the chamberlain Langefeld. Not until Goswyn
discovered the eye-glass hanging by its slender cord among the jet
ornaments and fringes with which her mantle was trimmed and humanely
handed it to her, did she find out her mistake. Goswyn was about to
withdraw after having rendered her this service, but she tapped him
reproachfully on the shoulder and begged him to stay a moment with his
old aunt. He might have resisted her request; but when Countess
Lenzdorff added that he would please her by remaining, he complied, and
seated himself again, although with something of the awkwardness apt to
be shown by an officer when in civilian's dress.

The 'wicked fairy' established herself beside the Countess Anna upon
the sofa behind the round table, and accepted from Erika's hand a cup
of tea, which she drank in affected little sips. She was clad, as
usual, in trailing mourning robes, although no one could have told for
whom she wore them, and the Countess Anna's first question was, "Do you
not dislike wandering about Bayreuth as the Queen of Night?"

"On the contrary," replied the 'wicked fairy,' rubbing her hands,
"I like it. Awhile ago one of my friends declared that I appeared
in Bayreuth as the mourning ghost of classic music. Was it not
charming?--but not at all appropriate, for I adore Wagner!" And she
began to hum the air of the flower-girl scene, "trililili lilili----"

"What do you think of 'Parsifal'?" Countess Anna asked, turning to
Goswyn. "One of the greatest humbugs of the century, eh? They howl as
if possessed by an evil spirit, and call it joy,--call it song!"

"At the risk of falling greatly in your esteem, I must confess that
'Parsifal' made a profound impression upon me, Countess," Goswyn
replied.

"Et tu, Brute!" his old friend exclaimed.

"I do not entirely approve of it, if that is anything in my favour," he
rejoined.

"Ah, there is nothing like Wagner! there is but one God,--and one
Wagner!" The 'wicked fairy' went on humming, closing her eyes, and
waving her hands affectedly in the air.

"The scene containing the air which you are humming is not one of my
favourites," Goswyn remarked.

"Oh, it charmed us most of all,--Dorothea and me," the 'wicked fairy'
declared. "Those hovering little temptresses, so seductive, and
Parsifal, the chaste, in their midst!" She clasped her hands in an
ecstasy. "The other evening at Frau Wagner's we met Van Dyck. He is
rather strong in his mode of speech. Dorothea seemed much entertained
by him, but afterwards she thought him shocking."

"Your niece seems to have a positive mania just now for thinking
everything 'shocking,'" Countess Anna said, dryly. "She sings no more
music-hall ditties, and casts down her eyes modestly when she sees a
French novel in a book-shop. Such a transformation is, to say the
least, startling. Oh, I beg pardon, Goswyn; I always forget that
Dorothea is your sister-in-law."

"No need to remember it while we are among ourselves," Goswyn rejoined.
"_Coram publico_, I would beg you to modify your expressions, for my
poor brother's sake."

"He cannot endure Thea," Countess Brock said, laughing, as she shook
her forefinger at him; "but I know why that is so. Look how he
blushes!" In fact, Goswyn had changed colour. "He fell in love with her
in Florence. She told me all about it--aha!"

"Does she really fancy so, or has she invented the story for her own
amusement?" Goswyn murmured, as if to himself.

The 'fairy' continued to giggle and writhe about in the corner of the
sofa.

"You must have been much with Dorothea of late," the Countess Anna
remarked, quietly: "you have acquired all her airs and graces. Is the
lady in question in Bayreuth at present?"

"No; she left early this morning, for Berlin, where she has various
matters to attend to before she goes to Heiligendamm. But we have been
together for some time. We were in Schlangenbad for six weeks. Oh, we
enjoyed ourselves excessively,--made all sorts of acquaintances whom we
should never have spoken to at home. But--I came to see you, Anna,
for a special purpose,--two purposes, I might say. One concerns
Hedwig Norbin's birthday,--her seventieth,--and the other--yes, the
other--guess whom I met in Schlangenbad?" She threw back her head and
folded her arms across her breast, the very impersonation of
anticipated enjoyment in a disagreeable announcement.

"How can I?"

"Your grand-daughter's step-father: yes," nodding emphatically.

Erika started. Countess Lenzdorff said, calmly, "Indeed! I pity you
from my heart; but, since I had no share in bringing such a misfortune
upon you, I owe you no further reparation."

"H'm! you need not pity me. He interested me extremely. You and your
grand-daughter have seen fit simply to ignore him; but you do not know
what people say."

"Nor does it interest me in the least."

"Well, you may not care about the verdict of society, but it is
comfortable to stand well with one's conscience, as Dorothea said to me
the other day."

"Indeed! did she say that to you?" Countess Anna murmured in an
undertone.

"Yes, and she was indignant at the way in which you have treated the
poor man."

"Is it any affair of hers?" Countess Lenzdorff asked, sharply.

"Oh, she is quite right; I am entirely of her opinion," the 'fairy'
went on; then, turning to Erika, "I cannot help remonstrating with you.
He certainly cared for you like a father until you were seventeen. He
was a man whom your mother loved passionately."

Erika sat as if turned to marble: every word spoken by the old 'fairy'
was like a blow in the face to her.

The Countess Lenzdorff's eyes flashed angrily. "Do not meddle with what
you do not in the least understand, Elise!" she exclaimed. "As for my
daughter-in-law's passion for that stupid weakling, it was made up of
pity on the one hand for a man whom she came to know wounded and ill,
and on the other hand of antagonism towards me. The fact is, I provoked
her; the marriage would never have taken place if I had not most
injudiciously set myself in opposition to Emma's betrothal to the Pole.
Her second marriage was a tragedy, the result of obstinacy, not of
love."

"My dearest Anna, that is entirely your own idea," the Countess Brock
asserted. "Every one knows that you cannot appreciate any tenderness of
affection because your own heart is clad in armour, but you can never
convince me that your daughter-in-law did not love the Pole
passionately. In the first place, her passion for him was the only
possible motive for her marriage; how else could it have occurred to
her?--bah!--nonsense! and in the second place, Strachinsky read me her
letters,--letters written soon after their marriage. He carries these
proofs everywhere with him: his devotion to his dead wife is most
touching. Poor man! he wept when he read the letters to us, and we wept
too. I had invited a few friends, and he spent two evenings in reading
them aloud to us. When he had finished he kissed the letters, and said,
with a deep sigh, 'This is all that is left to me of my poor, adored
Emma,' and then he told us of the tender relations that had existed
between himself and his step-daughter, until she, when a brilliant lot
fell to her share, had cast him aside--like an old shoe-string, as he
expressed it. I do not say that such a connection is the most
desirable, but _on choisit ses amis, on subit ses parents_. Certain
duties must be conscientiously fulfilled, and, my dear Erika, be sure
that I advise you for your good when I beg you to be friends with your
step-father: you owe him a certain amount of filial affection. He is
here in Bayreuth, and has requested me to effect a reconciliation
between you and him."

Erika made no reply. She sat motionless, speechless. The 'fairy' played
her last trump. "People are talking about your unjustifiable treatment
of him," she said; "but that can all be arranged. May I tell him that
you are ready to receive him, Anna?"

The Countess Lenzdorff rose to her feet. "Indeed!" she exclaimed, with
an outburst of indignation; "you wish me to receive a man who, for the
sake of exciting sympathy, reads aloud to your invited guests the
letters of his dead wife? What do you take me for? I will have him
turned out of doors if he dares to show his face here! And I have no
more time at present to listen to you, Elise: I am going to pay a visit
to Hedwig Norbin. Will you come with me?"

"With the greatest pleasure!" cried the 'wicked fairy,' decidedly
cowed.

"Bring me my bonnet and gloves from my room, my child," her grandmother
said to Erika, and when the girl brought them to her she kissed her on
the cheek.

Goswyn had risen to depart with the two ladies. Erika looked after him
dully as, after taking a formal leave of her, he had reached the door
of the room. Then she suddenly followed him. "Goswyn," she murmured,
"stay for one moment!"

He stayed; the door closed after the others, and they were alone.

What did she want of him? He did not know: she herself did not know. He
would advise her, rid her of the weight upon her heart: her old habit
of appealing to him in all difficulties returned to her in full force.
The time was past for her when she could relieve herself in any
distressing agitation by a burst of tears: she sat there white and
silent, plucking at the folds of her black lace dress.

At last, passing her hand across her forehead once or twice, she began
in a forced monotone, "You know that I idolized my mother; I have told
you about her; perhaps you remember----"

"I do not think I have forgotten much that you have ever told me," he
interrupted her.

The words were kind, but something in his tone pained her. Something
interposed between them. It had seemed so natural to turn to him for
sympathy, but she suddenly felt shy. What was her distress to him?

"Forgive me," she murmured. "I longed to pour out my heart to some one.
I have no one to go to, and I suffer so! You cannot imagine what this
last quarter of an hour has been to me. My poor mother's marriage was a
tragedy; my grandmother was right. No one who did not live with her can
dream of all that she suffered for years. Her last request to me when
she was dying was that I would not let him come to her. And now that
wretch is boasting to strangers--oh, I cannot endure it! Can you
understand what it all is to me? Can you understand?"

The question was superfluous. She knew very well that he understood,
but she repeated the words mechanically again and again. Why did he sit
there so straight and silent? She was pouring out her soul to him,
revealing to him all that was most sacred, and he had not one word of
sympathy for her. A kind of anger took possession of her, and, with all
the self-control which she could summon up, she said, more calmly, "I
know I have no right to burden you with my misery----"

"Countess Erika!" he exclaimed, with a sudden unconscious movement of
his hand, which chanced to strike the case containing Lord Langley's
photograph. It fell on the floor; Goswyn picked it up and tossed it
contemptuously upon the table, while his face grew hard and stern.

He was the first to break the silence that followed. "Is this
Strachinsky staying in Bayreuth?"

"Yes. I met him to-day."

"Do you know his address?"

"No. Why do you ask?"

"For the simplest reason in the world: I wish to procure your mother's
letters for you."

"The letters!" she exclaimed. "Oh, if that were possible! But upon what
pretext could you demand them of him? they belong to him; we have no
right to them."

"Might is right with such a fellow as that," Goswyn said, as he rose to
go.

She offered him her hand; he took it courteously, but there was no
cordial pressure on his part, nor did he carry it to his lips.

In a moment he was gone. She stood gazing as if spell-bound at the door
which closed behind him. She did not understand. He was the same, but
in his eyes she was no longer what she had been. This conviction
flashed upon her. He was, as ever, ready to help her, but the tender
warmth of sympathy of former days had gone, as had the reverence with
which the strong man had been wont to regard her weakness: she was
neither so dear nor so sacred to him as she had been.

In the midst of the pain caused her by the 'wicked fairy's' malicious
speeches she was aware of a paralyzing consciousness that she had sunk
in the esteem of the one human being in the world whom she prized most
highly.

When the Countess Lenzdorff returned at the end of an hour, her
grand-daughter was still sitting where she had left her, in the dark.
When Erika heard her grandmother coming, she slipped into her own room.



                             CHAPTER XIII.


The next forenoon Erika was sitting in the low-ceilinged drawing-room.
She was alone in the house. Lord Langley had announced his arrival
during the forenoon, and the Countess Anna had gone out, to avoid being
present at the meeting of the betrothed couple. The young girl's pulses
throbbed to her fingertips; her eyes burned, her whole body felt sore
and bruised, as if she had had a fall. For an hour she sat listening
breathlessly. Would Goswyn come before Lord Langley arrived? Should she
have a moment in which to speak to him? Ah, how she longed for it! She
wanted to explain to him---- At last she heard a step on the stair: of
course it was Lord Langley. No, no! Lord Langley's step was neither so
quick nor so light: it was Goswyn; she could hear him speaking with
Lüdecke, and the old servant, with the garrulous want of tact at which
she had so often laughed, was explaining to him that her Excellency had
gone out, but that the Countess Erika had stayed at home to receive
Lord Langley.

Erika listened, and heard Goswyn say, in a clear, cold tone, "In that
case I will not disturb the Countess. Tell her----"

She could endure it no longer, but, opening the door, called, "Goswyn!"

"Countess!" He bowed formally.

"Come in for one moment, I entreat you," she begged, involuntarily
clasping her hands. Of course he could not but obey.

They confronted each other, she trembling in every limb, he erect and
unbending as she had never before seen him. In his hand he held a small
packet.

"There, Countess," he said, "I am convinced that these are all the
letters which this Herr von Strachinsky ever received from your mother:
some of the epistles with which he edified my amiable aunt and her
guests were the productions of his own pen. But you may rest assured
that while I live he will not be guilty of any further indiscretion in
that direction." There was such a look of determination in his eyes as
he spoke that Erika easily guessed by what means he had contrived to
intimidate Strachinsky.

She was filled with the warmest gratitude towards him, but there was
something so repellent in his air that, instead of any extravagant
expression of it, she stood before him without being able to utter a
word of thanks. Instead, she fingered in an embarrassed way the packet
which he had given her, a very little packet, wrapped in a sheet of
paper and sealed with a huge coat of arms. In her confusion she fixed
her eyes upon this seal.

"The arms of the Barons von Strachinsky," Goswyn explained. "Pray
observe the delicacy with which the very letters read aloud for the
entertainment of Heaven only knows how many gossiping old women are
sealed up carefully lest I should read them."

Erika smiled faintly. "It is hardly necessary that you should be
understood by Strachinsky," she said. "Men always judge from their own
point of view. You judged me by yourself, and consequently estimated me
more highly than I deserved. Sit down for a moment, I pray you."

"I do not wish to intrude," he said, bluntly, almost discourteously.

"How could you intrude? You never can intrude."

"Not even when you are expecting your betrothed?" He looked her full in
the face.

She blushed scarlet; a burning desire to regain his esteem took
possession of her.

"You take an entirely false view of my position," she exclaimed. "Mine
is not the betrothal of a sentimental school-girl. I--I" and she burst
into a short, nervous laugh that shocked even herself--"I do not marry
Lord Langley for love."

There was a pause. Goswyn bowed his head; then, suddenly raising it, he
looked straight into Erika's eyes in a way which made her very
uncomfortable, and said, "I guessed that; but why, then, do you marry
him,--you, a young, pure, gifted girl, and a man with such a past as
Lord Langley's? I know that no man is worthy of such a girl as you are;
but, good God, there is some difference---- Why, why do you marry him?"

"Why? why?" She tried to collect herself and to answer him truly. "I
marry him because the position he offers me suits me,--because one is
condemned to marry at a certain age, if one would not be sneered at and
ridiculed; I marry him because he is an old man and will not require of
me any warmth of affection, and because I have determined that there
shall be nothing romantic in my marriage. Ah," with a glance at the
small packet in her hand, "after all that you know of my wretched
experience, you ought to understand why I do not choose to marry for
love."

A long silence followed. He looked at her as he had never hitherto
done, searchingly, inquiringly. Suddenly his glance grew tender: it
expressed intense pity. "I understand that you talk of love and
marriage as a blind man talks of colours," he said, slowly. "I
understand that you unwittingly contemplate the commission of a crime
against yourself, and that you should be prevented from it."

He ceased speaking on a sudden, and bit his lip. A voice was heard in
the hall,--the characteristic voice of an old English _bon viveur_ with
a Continental training. "Is the Countess at home?"

"What am I doing here?" Goswyn exclaimed, and, without touching the
hand extended to him, he turned on his heel and was gone.

Outside the door stood an old gentleman with a tall white hat and a
dark-blue cravat spotted with white. One glance of rage and curiosity
Goswyn darted at the correct florid profile and white whiskers, and
then he rushed down-stairs like one possessed.

Yes, he had not been mistaken. It was the same Englishman whom he had
once seen at Monaco with a most disreputable train. Then he was
travelling under an assumed name,--Mr. Steyne: his English regard for
appearances forbade him in such society to profane his title and his
social dignity.

Goswyn's blood fairly boiled in his veins.


When, some time afterwards, Countess Lenzdorff entered the
drawing-room, after her walk, Lord Langley, rather redder in the face
than usual, and with a baffled, puzzled expression of countenance, was
sitting in an arm-chair; Erika, very pale, with sparkling eyes and very
red lips, strikingly beautiful, and evidently tingling in every nerve,
was in another on the other side of a table between the pair, upon
which was an open jewel-case containing a diamond necklace. The
Countess suspected that some kind of disagreement had arisen between
the couple, and, as soon as she had returned Lord Langley's greeting,
asked, carelessly, what it had been.

"Oh, nothing to speak of," he replied. "My queen was a little
ungracious; but even that has a charm. A perfectly docile woman is as
tiresome as a quiet horse: there is no pleasure in either unless there
is some caprice to subdue."

Erika's grandmother bestowed a keen, observant glance, first upon the
speaker, and then upon her grand-daughter, after which she remarked,
dryly, "If we wish for any dinner we had better betake ourselves to
'The Sun.'"



                              CHAPTER XIV.


The sleepy afternoon quiet is broken by a sudden stir and excitement.
It is time to go to the theatre, and the Lenzdorffs in a rattling,
clumsy, four-seated hired carriage join the endless train of vehicles
of all descriptions that wind through the narrow street of the little
town and beyond it, until upon an eminence in the midst of a very green
meadow they reach the ugly red structure looking something like a
gasometer with various mysterious protuberances,--the temple of modern
art.

The Lenzdorffs are among the last to arrive, but they are in time:
unpunctuality is not tolerated at Bayreuth.

Summoned by a blast of trumpets, the public ascend a steep short flight
of steps to a large, undecorated auditorium. The Countess Lenzdorff and
her granddaughter have seats on the bench farthest back, just in front
of the royal boxes.

At a given signal all the ladies present take off their hats. It
suddenly grows dark,--so very dark that until the eye becomes
accustomed to it nothing can be discovered in the gloom. Gradually row
upon row of human heads are perceived stretching away in what seems
endless perspective: such is the auditorium of the theatre at Bayreuth.

The most brilliant toilette and the meanest attire are alike
indistinguishable; here is positively no food for idle curiosity,
nothing to distract the attention from the stage.

Agitated as Erika already was, and consequently sensitively alive to
impressions, the first sound of the trumpets thrilled her every nerve,
and before the last note of the prelude had died away she had reached a
condition of ecstasy closely allied to pain, and could with difficulty
restrain her tears.

All the woe of sinning humanity wailed in those tones,--the mortal
anguish of that humanity which in its longings for the imperishable,
the supernatural, beats and bruises itself against the barriers that it
cannot pass,--that humanity which, dragged down by the burden of its
animal nature, grovels on the earth when it would fain soar to the
starry heavens.

Just when the music wailed the loudest, she suddenly started: some one
in a seat in front of her turned round,--a handsome Southern type of
man, with sharply-cut features, short hair, and a pointed beard; in the
gray twilight she encountered his glance, a strange searching look
fixed upon her face, affecting her as did Wagner's music. At the same
time a tall, fair woman at his side also turned her head. "_Voyons,
qu'est-ce qu'il y a?_" she asked, discontentedly. "_Ce n'est rien; une
ressemblance qui me frappe_," he replied, in the weary tone of
annoyance often to be observed in men who are under the domination of
jealous women.

A couple of young Italian musicians blinding their eyes in the darkness
by the study of an open score exclaimed, angrily, "Hush!" and the
stranger riveted his eyes upon the stage, where the curtain was just
rolling up.

Erika shivered slightly: some secret chord of her soul--a chord of
which she had hitherto been unaware--vibrated. Where had she seen those
dark, searching eyes before?

The musical drama pursued its course, and at first it seemed as if the
enthusiasm produced in Erika's mind by the prelude was destined to fade
utterly: the painted scenes were too much like other painted scenes;
she had heard them extolled too highly not to be disappointed in them;
the music, to her ignorant ears, was confused, inconsequent, a tangle
of shrill involved discords, in the midst of which there were now and
then musical phrases of noble and poetic beauty.

The effect was not to be compared with the impression produced upon the
girl by the prelude,--when suddenly she seemed to hear as from another
world a voice calling her, arousing her,--something unearthly,
mystical, interrupted by the same shuddering, alluring wail of anguish,
and when the nerves, strung to the last degree of tension, seemed on
the point of giving way, there came rippling from above like cooling
dew upon sun-parched flowers with promise of redemption the mystic
purity of the boy-chorus,--


                       "Made wise by pity,
                        The pure in heart----"


"No one shall ever induce me to come again. I am fairly consumed with
nervous fever. No one has a right under the pretence of art to stretch
his fellow-creatures thus on the rack! Parsifal is altogether too fat.
Wagner should have cut his Parsifal out of Donatello," exclaims
Countess Lenzdorff, as she leaves the theatre at the close of the first
act.

"I don't quite understand the plot," Lord Langley confesses. "The
leading idea seems to me unpractical. I must say I feel rather
confused." He then speaks of Kundry as 'a very unpleasant young woman,'
and asks Erika if she does not agree with him; but Erika shrugs her
shoulders and makes no reply.

"She is very ungracious to-day," his lordship remarks, with a rather
embarrassed laugh. "Shall I take offence, Countess?" (This to the
Countess Anna.) "No, she is too beautiful ever to give offence. Only
look! She is creating quite a sensation.--Every one is staring after
you, Erika."

The theatre is empty. The audience is streaming across the grass
towards the restaurant to refresh itself.

Close behind the Lenzdorffs walks the Russian Princess B----, who hires
an entire suite of rooms for every season and attends every
representation. She is dressed in embroidered muslin, and from the
broad brim of her white straw hat hangs a Brussels lace veil partially
concealing her face, which was once very handsome.

She addresses the old Countess: "_Êtes-vous touchée de la grâce, ma
chère Anne?_"

Countess Anna shakes her head emphatically: "No; the music is too
highly spiced and peppered for me. It bas made me quite thirsty. I long
for a draught of prosaic beer and some Mozart."

The Russian smiles, and immediately begins to tell of how she had once
reproved Rubinstein when he ventured to say something derogatory with
regard to Wagner.

A stout tradesman, whose poetically-inclined wife has apparently
brought him to Bayreuth against his will, exclaims, "What a humbug it
is!" to which his wife rejoins, "You cannot understand it the first
time: you must hear 'Parsifal' frequently." "Very possibly," he
declares; "but I shall never hear it again."

The Lenzdorffs and Lord Langley take their seats at a table in the airy
balcony of the restaurant, to drink a cup of tea: table and tea have
been reserved for them by Lüdecke's watchful care. The greater part of
the assemblage can scarcely find a chair upon which to sit down, or a
glass of lemonade for refreshment. The consequence is that there is
much unseemly pushing and crowding.

Erika eats nothing. Lord Langley complains, as do all Englishmen, of
the German food, and the old Countess complains of the shrill music.

Meanwhile, a tall, striking woman advances to the table where the three
are sitting, and where there is a fourth chair, unoccupied. "_Vous
pardonnez!_" she exclaims: "_je tombe de fatigue!_"

Erika gazes at her: it is the companion of the man who had turned to
look at her in the theatre during the prelude. A disgust for which she
cannot account possesses her: it is as if she were aware of the
presence of something impure, repulsive; and yet she could not possibly
explain why the stranger should excite such a sensation: she is
undeniably handsome, well formed, with regularly-chiselled features,
and fair hair dressed with great care and knotted behind beneath the
brim of her broad Leghorn hat. A red veil is tied tightly over her
face. There is nothing else to excite disapproval in her dress, and
inexperienced mortals would pronounce her age to be scarcely thirty. It
would require great familiarity with Parisian arts of the toilette to
perceive that her whole face is painted and that she is at least forty
years old. Everything about her is exquisitely fresh and neat, and from
her person is wafted the peculiar aroma of those women whose chief
occupation in life is to take care of their bodies. Her air is
respectable, and somewhat affected.

Lord Langley, to whom her unbidden presence seems especially annoying,
is about to intimate this to her, when her escort approaches, and,
hastily whispering to her, obliges her to leave her place, which she
does unwillingly and even crossly. Courteously lifting his hat, the
young man utters an embarrassed "Excuse me," and retires. She can be
heard reproaching him petulantly as they walk away, and their places in
the theatre remain unoccupied during the other acts of the drama.

"Disgusting!" mutters Lord Langley. "Do you know who it was?" he asks,
turning to the Countess Anna. "Lozoncyi, the young artist who created
such a sensation a couple of years ago. She was his mistress. I
remember her in Rome."

Although upon Erika's account the words are spoken in an undertone, she
hears them, and the blood rushes to her cheeks.

And now 'Parsifal' is over, the second act, with its fluttering
flower-girl scene, in rather frivolous contrast with the serious motive
of the work, its crude inharmonious decorations, and its wonderful
dramatic finale; the third act too is over, with its sadly-sweet
sunrise melody, its Good Friday spell resolving itself into the angelic
music of the spheres.

With the hovering harp-arpeggio of the final scene still thrilling in
their souls, Erika and her grandmother with Lord Langley drive back to
town, leaving behind them the melancholy rustle of the forest, and
hearing around them the rolling of wheels, the cracking of whips, and
the footsteps of hundreds of pedestrians.

Life throbs in Erika's veins more warmly than it is wont to do; she is
filled with a vague foreboding unknown to her hitherto. She seems to
herself to be confronting the solution of a great secret, beside which
she has pursued her thoughtless way, and around which the entire world
circles.


At the door of their lodgings Lord Langley takes his leave of the
ladies: with a lover's tenderness he slips down the glove from his
betrothed's white wrist and imprints upon it two ardent kisses, as he
whispers, "I trust that my charming Erika will be in a more gracious
mood to morrow."

The disagreeable sensation caused by his warm breath upon her cheek was
persistent; she could not rid herself of it.

She sent away her maid, and whilst she was undressing took from her
pocket the packet of letters which Goswyn had left with her. She had
carried it with her all day long, without finding a moment in which to
destroy the papers. Now she removed their outside envelope, merely to
assure herself that they were her mother's letters. Yes, she recognized
the handwriting,--not the strong, almost masculine characters which had
distinguished her mother's writing in the latter years of her life, but
the long, slanting, faded hand which Erika could remember in the old
exercise-books of her school-days. Nothing could have tempted the girl
to read these letters: she kissed the poor yellow sheets twice, sadly
and reverentially, and then she held them one by one in the flame of
her candle.

Her heart was very heavy; a yearning for tenderness, for sympathy,
possessed her, and she felt sore and discouraged. The wailing music,
the shuddering alluring strains of sinful worldly desire, still haunted
her soul with the glance of the stranger who seemed to her no stranger.

She felt a choking sensation at the thought of his companion. Never
before had she come in contact with anything of the kind.

She lay down, but could not sleep. How sultry, even stifling, was the
atmosphere! The windows of the little room were wide open, but the air
that came in from without was heavy and inodorous: it brought no
refreshment.

The tread of a belated pedestrian echoed in the street below, and there
was the sound of laughter and song from some inn in the neighbourhood.
Suddenly the door opened, and the old Countess entered, in a white
dressing-gown and lace night-cap. She had a small lamp in her hand,
which she put down on a table, and then, seating herself on the edge of
the bed, she scanned the young girl with penetrating eyes.

"Is anything troubling you, my child?" she began, after a while.

Erika tried to say no, but the word would not pass her lips. Instead of
replying, she turned away her face.

"What was the difficulty between Lord Langley and yourself to-day?" the
grandmother went on to ask.

Erika was mute.

"Tell me the simple truth," the old Countess insisted. "Did you not
have some dispute this morning?"

"Oh, it was nothing," Erika replied, impatiently; "only--he attempted
to play the lover, and I thought it quite unnecessary. Such folly is
very unbecoming in a man of his age; and, besides, I cannot endure
anything of the kind."

A strange expression appeared upon the grandmother's face,--the same
that Goswyn had worn when his indignation had suddenly been transformed
into pity for the girl. She cleared her throat once or twice, and then
remarked, dryly, "How then do you propose to live with Lord Langley?"

Erika stared at her in dismay. "Good heavens! I have thought very
little about it. You know well that I do not wish to marry for love.
That is why I accepted an old man instead of a young one,--because I
supposed he would refrain from all lover-like folly. You have always
told me that you married my grandfather without love, and that it
turned out very well."

Her grandmother was silent for a while before she rejoined, "In the
first place, constituted as you are, I should wish for you a less
prosaic companion for life than your grandfather; but, at the same
time, the torture which, with your exaggerated sensitiveness, awaits
you in marrying Lord Langley bears no comparison with the simple tedium
of my married life. We married in compliance with a family arrangement;
and if I did so with but a small amount of esteem for him, he for his
part brought to the match no devouring passion for me,--which I should
have found most annoying. But the case is entirely different with Lord
Langley. He is as desperately in love with you as an old fool can be
whose passion is stimulated by the consciousness of his age."

Something in the horrified face of the inexperienced young girl must
have intensified the old Countess's pity for her. "My poor child, I had
no idea of your innocence and inexperience. I have lived on from day to
day without in the least comprehending the young creature beside me."

She kissed the girl with infinite tenderness, put out the light, and
left her alone, her burning face buried in the pillows and sobbing
convulsively, a picture of despair.

The next day Erika broke her engagement to Lord Langley.



                              CHAPTER XV.


Erika's betrothal to Lord Langley had produced a sensation in society,
but it had been regarded as a very sensible arrangement. The girl had
been envied, and all had declared that her ambition had achieved its
aim in a marriage with an English peer. Malice had not been silent: she
had been credited with heartlessness,--but then she had done vastly
well for herself. The announcement that the engagement was dissolved
gave rise to all sorts of reports. No one knew the real reason of the
breach, and had it been known it would not have been credited.

The belief steadily gained ground that Lord Langley had been the first
to withdraw, dismayed by the discovery of Erika's objectionable
relative Strachinsky, and shocked by the girl's heartless treatment of
him.

Countess Brock furnished the material for this report, the Princess
Dorothea detailed it with various additions, and in the eyes of Berlin
society Erika was nothing more than an ambitious blunderer who had
experienced a tremendous rebuff. It was edifying to hear Dorothea
descant upon this theme, winding up her remarks with, "I do not pity
Erika,--I never liked her,--but poor old Countess Lenzdorff. She has
always been one of Aunt Brock's friends."

There had been an apparent change in the Princess Dorothea from the day
when she had publicly insulted Goswyn von Sydow in Charlottenburg
Avenue. The story had been told greatly to her discredit, and not only
had her cousin Prince Helmy forsworn his allegiance to her, but the
other men who had been present at that memorable interview had since
held aloof from her. She found herself compelled to attract a fresh
circle of admirers,--which she did at the sacrifice of every remnant of
good taste which she yet possessed.

After this for a while she pursued her madly gay career; but for a year
past there had been a change. The number of her admirers had greatly
diminished,--was reduced, indeed, to a Prince Orbanoff, who was now her
shadow. She boasted of her good resolutions, went to church every
Sunday, was shocked at the women who read French novels, and was
altogether rather a prudish character.

Society held itself on the defensive, and did not put much faith in her
boasted virtue. But when she calumniated Erika society believed her; at
least this was the case with the society of envious young beauties whom
she met every Friday at the 'wicked fairy's,' where they made clothes
for the poor.


When, late in the autumn, the Lenzdorffs returned to Berlin, supposing
that the little episode of Erika's betrothal was already forgotten by
society, they were met on all sides by a malicious show of sympathy.

Erika regarded all this with utter indifference, and withdrew from all
gaiety as far as she could, but the old Countess fretted and fumed with
indignation.

She could not comprehend why all the world could not view Erika from
her own point of view; and her exaggerated defence of the girl
contributed to make Erika's position still more disagreeable. Moreover,
age was beginning to cast its first shadows over the Countess's clear
mind. She was especially annoyed, also, by Goswyn's holding aloof. He
had replied courteously, but with extreme reserve, to the Countess's
letter informing him, not without exultation, of the breaking of
Erika's engagement. This was as it should be; but when the answer to a
second letter written much later was quite as reserved, the old
Countess was vexed and impatient. Erika insisted upon reading this
second epistle herself. Her hands trembled as she held it, and when she
had finished it she laid it on the table without a word, and left the
room as pale as ashes.

To the grandmother, whose heart was filled with tenderness, all the
more intense because it had been first aroused in her old age, her
grand-daughter's evident pain was intolerable. After a while she went
to her in her room. The girl was sitting at the window, erect and pale.
She had a book in her hand, and the Countess observed that she held it
upside down.

"Erika," she said, tenderly laying her hand on the girl's shoulder, "I
only wanted to tell you----"

Erika arose, cold and courteous. "You wanted to tell me--what?" she
asked, as she laid aside her book.

"That--that----" Erika's dry manner embarrassed her a little, but after
a pause she went on: "I wanted to tell you not to take any fancies into
your head with regard to Goswyn."

"Fancies? Of what kind?" Erika asked, calmly, becoming absorbed in the
contemplation of her almond-shaped nails.

"You would do him great injustice by supposing that his regard for you
is one whit less than it ever was."

"Indeed! I should do him injustice?" Erika questioned in the same
unnaturally quiet tone. "I think not. It is not my fashion to deceive
myself. I know perfectly well that--that I have sunk in Goswyn's
esteem; it is a very unpleasant conviction, I confess; and, to be
frank, I would rather you did not mention the subject again."

"But, Erika, if you would only listen," the old Countess persisted. "He
adores you. His pride alone keeps him from you: you are too wealthy;
your social position is too brilliant."

Erika waved aside this explanation of affairs. "Say no more," she
cried. "I know what I know! But you must not waste your pity upon me:
my vanity is wounded, not my heart. I value Goswyn highly, and it
troubles me that he no longer admires me as he did, but, I assure you,
I have not the slightest desire to marry him. I pray you to believe
this: at least it may prevent you, perhaps, from throwing me at his
head a second time, without my knowledge. If you do it, I declare to
you, I will reject him." As she uttered the last words, the girl's
self-command forsook her, her voice had a hard metallic ring in it, and
her eyes flashed angrily.

Her grandmother turned and left the room with bowed head.

Scarcely had the sound of her footsteps died away when Erika locked her
door, threw herself upon her bed, buried her face in the pillows, and
burst into tears.

What she had declared to her grandmother was in a measure true: she
herself supposed it to be entirely true. She really had no wish to
marry, and there was in her heart no trace of passionate sentiment for
Goswyn, but she was bruised and sore, and she longed for the tender
sympathy he had always shown her. At times she would fain have fled to
him from the cold judgment and scrutiny of the world.

After she had relieved herself by tears, she understood herself more
clearly. Sitting on the edge of her bed, her handkerchief crushed into
a ball in her hand, she said, half aloud, "I have lied to my
grandmother. If he had come I would have married him,--yes, without
loving him; but it would have been wrong: no one has a right to marry
such a man as Goswyn out of sheer despair because one does not know in
what direction to throw away one's life. But why think of it? He does
not care for me. Why, why did my grandmother write to him? I cannot
bear it!"



                              CHAPTER XVI.


A few days afterwards the Lenzdorffs left Berlin, to spend the winter
in Rome, where Erika, incited thereto by her grandmother, went into
society perpetually, without taking the least pleasure in it. And she
made no secret of her indifference, her discontent. The bark of her
existence, once so safe and sure in its course, seemed to have lost its
bearings: she saw no aim in life worthy the effort to pursue it.

She indulged in fits of causeless melancholy; yet all the while her
beauty bloomed out into fuller perfection, and all unconsciously to
herself life throbbed within her and demanded its right. The old
Countess, who did not understand her condition, looked upon it as a
morbid crisis in the girl's life; but she never dreamed how fraught
with danger the crisis was.

Thus she utterly failed to appreciate or to sympathize with her
grand-daughter; and, whether because of her exaggerated admiration for
her, or because her age was beginning to tell upon her powers of
perception, she did not suspect the slow approach of the fever which
had begun to undermine the young creature's existence.


Towards the end of February, just at the close of the Carnival, Erika
told her grandmother that she was heartily tired of Rome, and wished to
see Italy from some other point of view.

After much deliberation, Venice was chosen for their next abode; and
here the old Countess refused to follow the usual custom of foreigners
and rent a palazzo: she declared that in Venice true comfort was to be
found only in a hotel. So a suite of rooms was hired in the Hotel
Britannia,--four airy apartments, in which their predecessor had been a
crowned head, and two of which looked out upon the church of Santa
Maria della Salute, whilst the other two had a view of the small garden
of the hotel, and, across its low wall, of the Grand Canal.

Of course they had a gondola for their own private use; but Erika was
not fond of availing herself of it. The rocking motion, the monotonous
plash of the water, excited still further her irritated nerves; she
preferred taking long walks,--at first, out of deference to her
grandmother's wishes, accompanied by the maid Marianne. She soon tired,
however, of such uncongenial companionship, and induced her grandmother
to allow her to pursue alone her investigations of the corners and
by-ways of Venice. She explored the curiosity-shops, spent whole days
in the galleries, and made wonderful discoveries in the way of bargains
in old stuffs and artistic antiquities, until her little salon became a
museum of such treasures. In one corner stood a grand piano, seated at
which at times she poured out her soul in all that is most beautiful
and most tragic in music.

The old Countess left her to pursue her own path, and occupied herself
very differently.

In spite of her original and independent view of life, and her
readiness to criticise frankly all that was artificial and
conventional, she loved _les chemins battus_. She went the way of the
multitude,--saw nothing of Venetian by-ways, but devoted her time to
museums and works of art, being indefatigable in her daily round of
sight-seeing. And yet, although her health seemed as robust as
ever, and she could apparently endure far more fatigue than her
grand-daughter, she was no longer what she had been.

Her extraordinary memory began to fail, and the interest which formerly
had been excited only by affairs of some moment was now ready to be
aroused in petty concerns. She took pleasure in gossip, allowed
Marianne to detail to her scraps of the Venetian _chronique
scandaleuse_ picked up from the couriers in the hotel, and, worst of
all, the fine edge of her moral sentiment seemed in a degree blunted.

She would repeat to Erika, without the slightest idea of the pain she
was inflicting, stories and reports of a nature to offend the girl's
sense of morality and delicacy.

Nothing any longer shocked her: love and hatred of her kind seemed
blunted under the influence of a low estimate of human nature which she
called a philosophic view of life.

She simply never observed how Erika's cheeks burned when she suddenly
disclosed to her the lapse from virtue, hidden from the superficial
world, of some woman whom they had met in society; she never perceived
the girl's feverish agitation upon hearing her grandmother calmly
advance all sorts of excuses for the so-called indiscretion. She did
not suppose her revelations could affect Erika disagreeably; although
Erika did not always allow her to talk on without interruption; she
would sometimes bluntly declare that she could not believe what her
grandmother thus told her.

Then the old Countess would reply, "I really cannot see what reason you
have to disbelieve it. You cannot alter human nature by shutting your
eyes to its defects."

Whereupon Erika would say, with annihilating emphasis, "If human nature
really is what you describe it, I cannot understand your pleasure in
frequenting society, since you must despise unutterably those who
compose it."

"Despise!" her grandmother repeated, shaking her head. "I despise no
one. Knowing, as I do, how mankind struggles under the burden of animal
instincts, I wonder to see it ever rise above them, and I am forced to
esteem men in spite of everything."

Erika only repeated, angrily, "Esteem! esteem!" Her grandmother's mode
of esteeming mankind was certainly extraordinary.



                             CHAPTER XVII.


The Princess Dorothea was pacing her salon restlessly to and fro. From
time to time she gazed out of the window into the dreary Berlin March
weather, upon the heaps of dirty snow shovelled up on each side of the
street and slowly melting beneath the falling rain.

The Princess was annoyed. She had been left out in the invitation to a
court ball. Usually she would have ascribed the omission to an
oversight of the authorities, but to-day the matter disturbed her:
instead of an oversight she suspected the omission to have been an
intentional slight, and her steps as she walked to and fro were short
and impatient.

Why were they so frightfully moral in Berlin, so aggressively moral?
she asked herself. Everywhere else people might do as they chose, if
only appearances were preserved.

What had she done, after all? Long ago in Florence Feistmantel had
explained to her that marriage, as arranged in civilized countries, was
entirely unnatural. The Princess, still pure, in spite of the
degradation about her, had laughed aloud at the philosophic view thus
advanced by her companion and guide. Years afterwards she had recalled
this theory that it might serve to justify herself to herself; and
lately--only yesterday--Feistmantel, who was established in Berlin and
gave music-lessons in the most aristocratic circles, had enunciated the
same views at a breakfast to which Dorothea had invited her, and the
Princess had contradicted her positively, had been rude to her, had
nearly turned her out of doors, but at the last moment had apologized
almost humbly and had finally dismissed her with a handsome present.

She had suspected behind Feistmantel's assertion of her philosophic
view a mean attempt to ingratiate herself with her hostess. "As if
Feistmantel could suspect anything! No human being can suspect
anything," she repeated several times. "And, after all, there is
scarcely a woman, beautiful and admired, who is not worse than I."

In the midst of all her superficiality and moral recklessness, she had
always been characterized by a certain frankness, which at times had
passed the bounds of decorum; now she writhed under a burden of
hypocrisy which weighed most heavily upon her.

And why was this so?

It had all been the gradual result of the tedium of the life she led. A
man more coarse and rough than any of her other admirers had paid court
to her in a way that flattered her vanity; he amused her, he brought
some variety into her life; his lavishness was astounding. Once when he
had lost a wager to her he brought her a diamond necklace in an Easter
egg.

She knew that this was wrong, but she had been wont as a girl to accept
presents from men, and then she had an almost morbid delight in
diamonds. And what stones these were!--a chain of dew-drops glittering
in the morning sun! And he had so careless a way of throwing the costly
gift into her lap, as if it had been the merest trifle.

She could not resist wearing the necklace once at the next court
ball,--explaining to her husband, who understood nothing of such
things, that she had purchased it for a mere song at a sale of old
jewelry.

She intended to return it; but she did not return it. From that moment
he had her in his power. He lured her on as a serpent lures a bird,
extorting from her one innocent concession after another, until one
day---- Good God! if she could but obliterate the memory of that day!

To call the torment which she suffered from that time stings of
conscience would be to invest it with ideality. No, she felt no stings
of conscience; her moral sense was entirely blunted; but she was
enraged with herself for having fallen into the snare; her pride was
humbled in the dust, and she was in mortal dread of discovery. She was
a coward to the core. What would she not have given to be free? She
would have broken with her lover ten times, but that she feared him
more than she did her husband.

He was a Russian, fabulously wealthy, and notorious in the Parisian
demi-monde which he habitually frequented. Orbanoff was his name, and
outside of his own country he was credited with princely rank to which
he had no title,--a man with no moral sense, brutal on occasion, with
no idea of the laws of honour prevailing in Western Europe, but of an
undoubted physical courage, which helped him to maintain his present
position.

Princess Dorothea was convinced that should she break with him he would
commit some reckless, impossible crime.

Oh, if he would only release her! She began to build castles in the
air. Never, never again would she be concerned in such an adventure.
All the romances that she had read were lies: there was nothing in the
world more hateful than just this. Only once in her life had she been
conscious of any real preference for a man, and that had been for her
cousin Helmy; now of all men her own clumsy, thoroughly honourable and
intensely good-natured husband was the dearest. He was at present on
his estate in Silesia, where he was much happier than in the society of
the capital. Dorothea had made him so uncomfortable in Berlin that he
always stayed as long as possible in Silesia.

To-day she longed for him; she wanted him to take her on his knee and
soothe her like a tired child, and then to have him carry her in his
strong arms down the broad staircase of his old castle in Kossnitz, as
he used to do when they were first married. Yes, she longed for his
strong supporting arm.

Ah, if she were only free! She would turn her back on Berlin and go
with him to Kossnitz. She positively hungered for Kossnitz,--for the
odour of stone and whitewash in the broad corridors, for the airy, bare
rooms, for the farm-yard with the brown farm-buildings. How picturesque
it must all look now in the snow!--for the snow was still deep in
Silesia. They would go sleighing: oh, how delicious it would be to rush
along, warmly wrapped up, with only her face exposed to the fresh
wintry breeze, the sleigh-bells ringing merrily, the horses mad with
their exciting gallop, the snow-clad forest gleaming silvery white
around them!

And how delicious would be the supper when they got home!--she would
have done with all fashionable division of the day: they would dine at
one, and she would have potatoes in their skins at supper-time,--she
had not had them since she was a child,--and black bread, and sour
milk:--how she liked sour milk!

One hope she had. Was it not Orbanoff whom she had seen last night in
the background of the box of a young actress? It was not his habit to
conceal himself on such occasions: probably he had been thus discreet
on her account. An idea suddenly occurred to her. What an opportunity
this might afford her to recover her freedom! All she had to do was to
feign furious jealousy, and break with her dangerous lover without
wounding his vanity.

On the instant she felt relieved, and even gay, in the light of this
hope.

The clock struck five,--the hour of her appointment with Orbanoff.
Without ringing for her maid, she dressed herself in the plainest of
walking-costumes and left the house. She walked for some distance, then
hired a droschky and was driven to a shop in Potsdam Street, where she
dismissed the vehicle, bought some trifle, and walked on still farther
before hiring another conveyance.


At about eight o'clock of the same day, Goswyn von Sydow, who had
lately been transferred to Berlin, where he was acting as adjutant to
an exalted personage, issued from the low door of a small house in a
side-street where he had attended the baptism of the first-born son of
one of his early friends, a young fellow of decided talent, who had
married a girl without a fortune, and who did not at all regret his
choice. The home was modest enough, but was so unmistakably the abode
of the truest happiness that Sydow could not but envy his friend his
lot in life. How pleasant it had all been!

He lighted a cigar, but held it idly between his fingers without
smoking it, and reflected upon his own requirements in a
wife,--requirements which one woman alone could fulfil, and she----

Could he forget his pride, and try his fortune once more? His heart
throbbed. No! under the circumstances, he could not. He never could
forget that he had been taunted with Erika's wealth. Even if he could
win her love, their marriage would begin with a discord.

If she were but poor!

The blood tingled rapturously in his veins at the thought of how, if
trial or misfortune should befall her, he might take her to his arms
and soothe and cheer her, making her rich with his devotion and
tenderness. He suddenly stood still, as if some obstacle lay in his
path. Had he really been capable of selfishly invoking trouble and
trial upon Erika's head? He looked about him like one awaking from a
dream.

Just at his elbow a young woman glided out of a large house with
several doors. He scarcely noticed her at first, but all at once he
drew a long breath. How strange that he should perceive that peculiar
fragrance, the rare perfume used by his sister-in-law, Dorothea! He
could have sworn that Dorothea was near. He looked around: there was no
one to be seen save the girl who had just slipped by him, a poorly-clad
girl carrying a bundle.

He had not fairly looked at her before, but now--it was strange--in the
distance she resembled his sister-in-law: it was certainly she.

He was on the point of hurrying after her to make sure, but second
thoughts told him that it really mattered nothing to him whether it
were she or not: it was not his part to play the spy upon her.

He turned and walked back in the opposite direction, that he might not
see her. As he passed the house whence she had come, a man muffled in
furs issued from the same door-way. The two men looked each other in
the face. Goswyn recognized Orbanoff.

For a moment each maintained what seemed an embarrassed silence. The
Russian was the first to recover himself. "_Mais bon soir_," he
exclaimed, with great cordiality. "_Je ne vous remettais pas_."

Goswyn touched his cap and passed on. He no longer doubted.


The next morning Dorothea von Sydow awaked, after a sound refreshing
sleep, with a very light heart. She was free! All had gone well. She
had first regaled Orbanoff with a frightfully jealous scene to spare
his vanity, but in the end they had resolved upon a separation _à
l'aimable_, and the Princess Dorothea had then made merry, declaring
that their love should have a gay funeral; whereupon she had partaken
of the champagne supper that had been prepared for her, had chatted
gaily with Orbanoff, had listened to his stories, and they had parted
forever with a laugh.

Now she was sitting by the fire in her dressing-room, comfortably
ensconced in an arm-chair, dressed in a gray dressing-gown trimmed with
fur, looking excessively pretty, and sipping chocolate from an
exquisite cup of Berlin porcelain. "Thank God, it is over!" she said to
herself again and again.

But, superficial as she was, she could not quite convince herself that
her relations with Orbanoff were of no more consequence than a bad
dream.

She felt no remorse, but a gnawing discontent: she would have given
much to be able to obliterate her worse than folly. She sighed; then
she yawned.

She still longed for her husband and Kossnitz: she would leave
Berlin this very evening for Silesia and surprise him. How delighted he
would be! She clapped her hands like a child. Suddenly--it was
intolerable--again she was conscious of that gnawing discontent. Could
she never forget? And all for what she had never cared for in the
least. She thrust both her hands among her short curls and began
to sob violently. Just then the door of the room opened; a tall,
broad-shouldered man with a kindly, florid face entered. She looked up,
startled as by a thunderclap. The new arrival gazed at her tearful
face, and, hastening towards her, exclaimed, "My dear little Thea, what
in heaven's name is the matter?"

She clasped her arms about his neck as she had never done before. He
pressed his lips to hers.


Goswyn was sitting at his writing-table,--an enormous piece of
furniture, somewhat in disarray,--trying to read. But it would not do;
and at last he gave it up. He was distressed, disgusted beyond measure,
at his discovery with regard to Dorothea. The Sydows had hitherto
prided themselves upon the purity of their women as upon the honour of
their men. Nothing like that which he had discovered had ever happened
in the family. He had suspected the mischief before; since yesterday he
had been sure.

Must he look calmly on? What else could he do? To open his brother's
eyes, to play the accuser, was impossible. Yes, he must look on calmly.
He clinched his fist. At that moment he heard a familiar deep voice
outside the room, questioning his servant. "Otto! What is he doing in
Berlin?" he asked himself; "and he seems in a merry mood." He sprang
up. The door opened, and Otto rushed in, rough, clumsy as usual, but
beaming with happiness. He laid his broad hand upon his brother's
shoulder, and cried,--

"How are you, old fellow? Why, you look down in the dumps. Anything
gone wrong?"

"Nothing," Goswyn declared, doing his best to look delighted.

"Is everything all right?"

"Everything."

"That's as it should be. I suppose you are surprised to see me drop
down from the skies in this fashion."

"I am indeed."

"'Tis quite a story. But I say, Gos, how comfortable you are here!" and
he began to stride to and fro in the bachelor apartment; "although you
don't waste much time or money in decoration, old fellow: not a pretty
woman on the walls. H'm! my room looked rather different in my bachelor
days. What have you done with your gallery of beauties, Gos?"

"I bequeathed all my youthful follies to my cousin Brock, who got his
lieutenancy six weeks ago," said Goswyn, to whom his brother's chatter
was especially distasteful to-day.

"H'm! h'm! you're right: you're getting quite too old for such
nonsense." And Otto stooped to examine two or three photographs that
adorned his brother's writing-table. "That's a capital picture of old
Countess Lenzdorff," he exclaimed,--"capital! Here is our father when
he was young,--I look like him,--and here is Uncle Goswyn, our famous
hero, killed in a duel at thirty years of age. They say old Countess
Lenzdorff was in love with him. As if she could ever have been in love!
And you look like him: our mother always said so. Oh, here is our
mother!" He took the faded picture, in its old-fashioned frame, to the
window to examine it. "This is the best picture there is of her," he
said. "Think of your ever being that pretty little rogue in a white
frock in her arms, and I that boy in breeches by her side! Comical, but
very attractive, such a picture of a young mother with her children.
How she clasps you in her arms! She always loved you best. Where did
you get this picture?"

"My mother gave it to me when I was quite young. She brought it to me
when she came to see me in my first garrison, shortly before her
death," said Goswyn.

"I remember; you had been wounded in your first duel."

"Yes; she came to nurse me."

"Ah, you've a deal on your conscience. No one would believe you were
worse than I; but"--with a look at the picture--"I'd give a great deal
for such a little fellow as that." And he put the picture back in its
place with a care that was unlike him, and that touched Goswyn.

With his usual want of tact, Otto proceeded to efface the pleasant
impression he had produced. "Have you no picture of the Lenzdorff
girl?" he asked, looking round the room.

"I may have one somewhere," Goswyn replied, evasively. Indeed, he had a
charming picture of her in the first bloom of her maiden loveliness;
but he kept it behind lock and key, that no profane eye might rest upon
his treasure.

"What a tone you take!" Otto rejoined. "Why, she was a flame of yours.
A capital girl, only rather too full of crotchets: she was always a
little too high up in the sky for me, but she would have suited you. I
cannot understand why you did not seize your chance----"

"Now you are going too far," Goswyn said, with some irritation. "Do not
pretend that you do not know that Erika Lenzdorff rejected me."

"What!" exclaimed Otto, in some dismay. "True, I remember hearing
something of the kind; but that was a hundred years ago. Forgive me,
Gos: the 'no' of a girl of eighteen who looks at one as the young
Countess looked at you ought not to be taken seriously. Why don't you
try your luck a second time? You cannot attach any importance to that
intermezzo with the Englishman! Why, you are made for each other; and
she is quite wealthy, too----"

"Otto, for God's sake stop marching up and down the room like a lion in
a cage," cried Goswyn, unable to bear it any longer; "do sit down like
a reasonable creature and tell me how you come to appear so
unexpectedly in Berlin."

Otto lit a cigar and obediently seated himself in an arm-chair opposite
his brother. "'Tis quite a story," he began, just as he had a quarter
of an hour before.

"You've told me that already."

"Now, don't be so impatient. I know I am rather slow at explanations.
You see, Gos, of late matters have not gone quite right between Thea
and myself. There is sure to be fault on both sides in such cases: I
could not be satisfied with the stupid life here in town, and she did
not care for Silesia, so we agreed that I should stay at home, while
she diverted herself for a while in town, and perhaps she would come
back to me and be more contented in the end. I know that certain people
disapproved of my course; but I had my reasons. There's no good in
fretting a nervous horse: better give it the rein. But the time seemed
long to me, she wrote so seldom and her letters were so incoherent. In
short,"--he suddenly began to be embarrassed,--"I got some foolish
notions into my head, and so, without letting her know, I appeared in
Berlin this morning. And how do you think I found poor Thea? Sitting
crying by the fire. Just think of it, Gos! Of course I was frightened,
and did all that I could to comfort her, and when she was calm I asked
her what was the matter. Homesickness, Gos! Yes, a longing for the old
home and for the clumsy bear who is, after all, nearer to her than any
other human being. She reproached me for neglecting her,--said I had
not even expressed a wish in my letters to see her, and she was just on
the point of starting for Kossnitz; and she was jealous too,--poor
little goose! In short, there were all sorts of a misunderstanding, and
the end of it all was that she begged me--begged me like a child--to
carry her back to Kossnitz. I wish you could have heard her describe
our life together there! She would not hear of my going a few days
before to make ready for her, but clung to me as if we had been but
just married. What is the matter with you, Gos?" for his brother had
walked to a window, where he stood with his back turned to Otto,
looking out.

"What could be the matter?" Goswyn forced himself to reply.

"Then why do you stand looking out of the window as if you took not the
least interest in what I am telling you?"

"Forgive me: there is a crowd in the street about a horse that has
fallen down."

"Very well: if every broken-down hack in the street can interest you
more than what is next my heart, there is no use in my talking. But I
know what it is; you were always unjust to Thea; you never understood
her. Adieu!" And Otto took his hat and walked towards the door.

Goswyn conquered himself. What affair was it of his if his brother was
happy in an illusion? he ought to do all that he could to prevent his
eyes from being opened.

He laid his hand upon Otto's arm and said, kindly, "Forgive me, Otto;
you must not take it ill if such a confirmed old bachelor as I does not
share as he should in your happiness; it all seems so foreign to such a
life as mine."

Otto's brow cleared. "I was silly," he confessed. "I ought not to have
been so irritable. Poor Gos! But indeed I should rejoice from my heart
if you could marry. There is nothing like it in the world. You need not
frown: I never will mention the subject to any one else."

"Yes, yes, Otto. And when are you going home?"

"To-morrow. We are going to spend a few weeks at Kossnitz, and then we
are to take a trip together. I came to ask you if you would not lunch
with us to-day, that we might see something of you in comfort. This
room of yours is decidedly cold. Do you never have it any warmer?
Dorothea especially begs you to come,--at one o'clock."

"Indeed! does Dorothea want me?"

"Gos!"

"I will come. I have one or two things to attend to, but I will be with
you in half an hour." And the brothers parted.


A few hours have passed. Goswyn had appeared punctually at lunch, and
had done his best not to be a spoil-sport. They were now sitting by the
fire in the little _salon_ in which they had taken coffee, Goswyn and
his brother. The early twilight began to make itself felt, but no
object was as yet indistinct.

Dorothea had gone out to inform her aunt Brock of her projected
departure and to ask her to make a few farewell calls for her. She had
met Goswyn with such gay indifference that he had been puzzled indeed,
and had finally begun to believe that he had been mistaken,--that the
person whom he had supposed to be Dorothea Sydow was not she at all.

Something had happened in her life, however; of that he was convinced.
Never had Dorothea been so simply charming. She gave him her hand in
token of reconciliation, alluded, not without regret, to her defective
education, told an anecdote or two with much grace and in a softened
tone of voice, and clung to Otto like an ailing child.

"We are going to begin all over again,--all over again," she repeated,
adding, "And when Gos has forgotten what a bad creature I used to be,
and that he could not bear me, he will come and see us at Kossnitz:
won't you, Gos? You shall see how pleasant I will make it for you
there. You have absolutely hated me; or perhaps you thought me not
worth hating,--you only detested me as one detests a caterpillar or a
spider. I confess, I hated you. I always felt as if I ought to be
ashamed in your presence; and that is not a pleasant sensation." She
laughed, the old giggling silvery laugh, but there was a pathetic tone
in it as she brushed away the tears from her eyes, and left the room,
to return in a few moments, fresh and smiling, equipped for her walk.
She kissed her husband by way of farewell, and held out her hand to
Goswyn. "Shall I find you here when I return, Gos?" she asked, just
before the door closed behind her.

"There is no one like her!" murmured Otto. "And to think that I could
ever fancy a bachelor existence a pleasant one! But all is different
now." The good fellow's eyes were moist as he passed his hand over
them.

Shortly afterwards they heard a ring at the outside door. "Some
visitor,--the deuce!" growled Otto. Goswyn looked about for his sabre,
which he had stood in a corner.

But it was no visitor. Dorothea's maid entered. "A package has come for
her Excellency," she announced. "Perhaps the Herr Baron will sign the
receipt."

"Give it to me, Jenny."

Sydow signed it, and then said, "And give me the package. I will hand
it to your mistress."

The maid gave it to him: it was a thick sealed envelope.

A dreadful suspicion flashed upon Goswyn's mind: in an instant he
guessed the truth. What if it should occur to his brother to open the
envelope? Apparently he had no thought of doing so: he simply laid it
upon Dorothea's writing-table, a pretty, useless piece of furniture,
much carved and decorated. Goswyn felt relieved. He suddenly became
garrulous, talked of the latest political complication, told the last
story of the intense piety of the Countess Waldersee, as narrated by
the Prince at a recent supper-party, and described the four magnificent
horses sent by the Sultan to the Emperor.

Otto sat with his back to the ominous packet. It did not escape Goswyn
that he became very monosyllabic and did not show much interest in his
brother's conversation.

"If she would only return!" Goswyn thought to himself. He was convinced
that the packet contained Dorothea's letters to Orbanoff. He had not
been mistaken the previous evening: it had been Dorothea who had passed
him, evidently returning to her home from a last interview. The affair,
odious as it was, was at an end: Dorothea was relieved that it was so.
She was not fitted to engage in a dangerous intrigue.

Suddenly Otto began to sniff, as if perceiving some odour in the air.
"'Tis odd," he said. "Don't you perceive a peculiar fragrance? If it
were not too silly, I should say that it smells like Dorothea."

"That would not be odd," his brother rejoined, "since she left the room
only half an hour ago."

"But I did not perceive it before," Otto said; and then, with sudden
irritability, turning towards the writing-table, he added, "It is that
confounded packet!"

"It probably contains something of Dorothea's which she has
accidentally left at a friend's."

But Otto had taken the packet from the table. He turned it over. "I
know the seal,--a die with the motto _va banque_: it is Orbanoff's
seal!" His breath came quick. "What can Orbanoff have sent her?"

"Probably some political treatise. I do not see how it can interest
you," said Goswyn.

Once more Otto turned the packet over in his hands. He seemed about to
lay it down on the writing-table again; then, at the last moment,
before Goswyn could bethink himself, he opened it hastily. About a
dozen short notes, in Dorothea's childish handwriting, fell out, then a
note of Orbanoff's. Otto's eyes were riveted upon it with a glassy
stare; he could not yet comprehend. Then with a sudden cry he crushed
the note together, tossed it to Goswyn, and buried his face in his
hands.

A dull, brooding silence followed. Goswyn held the note in his hand,
without reading it: it was not for him to pry curiously into his
brother's anguish and disgrace.

After a while Otto raised his head. "What have you to say?" he
exclaimed, bitterly. "That such another idiot as I does not live upon
the earth? Say it! Ah, you have not read the note, Goswyn. Why do you
look at me so? Could you have known---- Oh, my God! my God!" The strong
man buried his face in his hands again, and sobbed hoarsely.

Goswyn was terribly distressed. He had never known his brother to weep
since his childhood. He would far rather have had him fall into a fury.
But no; he was weeping: the sense of disgrace was drowned in agony.

Before long he collected himself, ashamed of his weakness, and there
was the quiet of despair in the face he lifted to Goswyn.

"You knew it--since when?"

"I know nothing," Goswyn replied.

"No, you know nothing,--good God! who ever knows anything in such
affairs?--but you suspected, did you not?"

Goswyn was silent.

"Perhaps you can tell me how many people in Berlin--suspect it?"

Goswyn bit his lip. What reply could he make? after a while he began:
"Otto, I would have given anything in the world to prevent you from
learning it."

"Indeed!" Otto interrupted him. "You would have let me go through life
grinning amiably, ridiculously, with a stain on my name at which people
would point contemptuously, and you never would have told me of that
stain? Goswyn!" He started up; Goswyn also arose, and the brothers
confronted each other beside the hearth, upon which the fire had fallen
into glowing embers and ashes.

"I ought certainly to have given Dorothea opportunity to expiate her
fault. She was in the right path," said Goswyn. "The result of her
frivolity had caused her a panic of terror: the entire affair had been
a burden to her from the beginning, as you can see by her relief that
it is at an end. One must take her as she is. All this has less
significance for Dorothea than for any other woman whom I know. It has
not entered into her soul. It has left nothing behind it but a horror
of it all from beginning to end."

Otto looked suspiciously at his brother. Was this Goswyn who talked
thus?--Goswyn the strict,--Goswyn, so uncompromising where honour was
concerned?

Yes, it was Goswyn; there was no denying it.

"And you think that I should--I should--forgive?" murmured Otto,
hoarsely, as if ashamed to utter the words.

"If you can so far conquer yourself."

Otto stooped and picked up the letters that had fallen upon the floor.
He glanced through one of them. "There is not much tenderness in these
lines, I must say." And he dropped at his side the hand holding the
packet.

"One piece of advice I must give you," said Goswyn, with a coldness in
his tone which he could not quite disguise. "If you forgive, you must
have the strength of soul to forgive absolutely. If you forgive, throw
those letters into the fire: Dorothea must never learn that you know
anything."

"Yes," Otto said, dully. Suddenly he went close to Goswyn, and, looking
him full in the eye, said, between his teeth, "Would you forgive?"

Goswyn started. He had no answer ready. "I--I never should have married
Dorothea," he said, evasively.

"I understand," Otto said, in the same hoarse whisper. "You never would
have forgiven; but it is all right for stupid Otto."

Again there was a distressing pause. Otto had turned away from his
brother, with an inarticulate exclamation of pain. Goswyn gave him some
moments in which to recover himself; then, laying his hand on his
brother's arm, he said, "Do not take it so ill of me, Otto; I have no
doubt I talk foolishly. I cannot decide; I am confused."

"No wonder," groaned Otto. "The position is a novel one for you: there
has never been anything like it in our family. Oh, God!" he struck his
forehead with his clinched fist; "I cannot believe it! I used to be
jealous at times, but of no special person. Never, never could I have
believed,--never!"

"Otto."

"What?"

"Since you cannot bring yourself to forgive----"

"Since I cannot bring myself to forgive----" Otto repeated, with bowed
head.

"You must at least look the matter boldly in the face and decide what
to do."

"Decide--what--to do----"

"Are you going to procure a divorce?"

Otto stood motionless. Goswyn laid his hand upon his shoulder; Otto
shrank from his touch. "Leave me, Gos!" he gasped. "I beg you, go!"

The clock on Dorothea's writing-table struck: the tone was almost like
that of Dorothea's voice. Goswyn looked round. Six o'clock. At seven he
was invited to dine with a great personage,--an invitation tantamount
to a command: he could not be absent. It was high time for him to go
home to dress, but he could not bear to leave Otto alone.

"I must go," he said, "but I entreat you to come with me; you must not
see Dorothea just now, and the fresh air will do you good and clear
your thoughts."

"Why should they be clearer than they are?" Otto said, wearily and with
intense bitterness. "I see more than you think. But go,--go: in a few
minutes she will be here, and it would be more terrible to me than I
can tell you to see her before you. No need to say more: I know that
you will stand by me through thick and thin! There, give me your hand.
I will do nothing unworthy of us, I promise you. Now go!"

Goswyn had gone, but Dorothea had not yet returned. Otto sat alone
beside the dying fire. He could not comprehend what had befallen him.
He must rid himself of this terrible oppression, but how? Some way must
be found,--some solution of the problem: he sought for it in vain.

"Forgive!" The word rang in his ears, and his cheeks burned. How had
Goswyn dared to suggest such a thing? No, it was impossible. Be
divorced,--have her name dragged in the mire, and his shame published
in all the newspapers? He stamped his foot. "No! no!"

What then?

He could challenge Orbanoff, and send Dorothea adrift in the world, a
wife, not divorced, but separated from her husband. This was what the
world would expect of him. He shivered as with fever. Send her adrift
into the world without protection, without support, without moral
strength, beautiful as she was,--expose her to insult from women, to
sneering homage from men: she would sink to the lowest depths, not from
depravity, but from despair. He wiped the moisture from his forehead.
That would be the correct thing to do,--only---- Suddenly a sound that
was half laughter, half sob, burst from his lips: he knew perfectly
well that, while she lived, sooner or later the moment would come when
he could no longer endure life without her; and then--then he should
follow her, Heaven only knew whither, and take her in his arms, even
were she far, far more lost than now.

And again there rang through his soul, "Forgive!" and again his whole
being revolted. The packet of letters which he had thrust into his
breast weighed him down. It was all very well for Goswyn to say that
Dorothea must never know that the packet had fallen into his hands.
Why, she would ask for it. Ah,--he bit his lip,--he could not think of
it! He could not forgive!

His burden grew heavier every moment. On a sudden he felt very
tired,--overcome with drowsiness. What was that? The rustle of a gown.
The door opened. Framed by the folds of the portière, indistinct in the
gathering twilight, appeared Dorothea's tall, lithe figure.

She had come, and he had determined upon nothing,--nothing.

He did not stir.

"Gos not here?" she asked, in her high, twittering voice. He tried to
summon up his anger against her; he told himself that he ought to
strike her,--kill her. But he was as if paralyzed; he could not stir;
he trembled in every limb. She did not perceive it, and she could not
distinguish his features in the darkness.

"So much the better!" she exclaimed. "I am so glad of a quiet cosy
evening with you. Do you want to please me, Otto? Come with me now to
Uhl's and dine, and then let us go to the theatre. Will you?"

She came up to him. He had arisen, and the fresh sweetness of her
feminine nature seemed to envelop him. She put both her hands on his
shoulders and nestled close to him. "Will you?" she murmured again.

He put his arms around her and kissed her twice as he never had kissed
her before, with a tenderness in which there was a mixture of rage and
glowing, frantic passion. Twice he kissed her, and then he suddenly
became aware of what he was doing. He thrust her away.

"What is the matter?" she asked, startled.

"Nothing."

"But something is the matter."

"I tell you no!" He hurled the words in her face as it were, and
stamped his foot. "Go--get ready!"

She lingered for a moment, and then left the room. He looked after her.


Goswyn's state of mind was indescribable. He hastily changed his
uniform and made ready for the dinner. His nerves were quivering with a
dread that he could not explain. "He never can bring himself to get a
divorce," he said to himself; "and if he forgives----"

Disgust seemed fairly to choke him; he took shame to himself for having
suggested such a course to Otto for a moment. He had no right to
despise Otto. The old family affection for his brother revived in him
in full force.

As soon as he was dressed he belied his usual Spartan habits by sending
for a droschky. It would give him time to stop for a moment at
Dorothea's lodgings to see what was going on there. The monotonous
jogging of the vehicle soothed his nerves: his thoughts began to stray.
As it turned into Moltke Street the droschky moderated its speed, and
at the same instant a dull sound as of the excited voices of a crowd
struck upon his ear. He looked out of the carriage window, upon a close
throng of human beings. The vehicle stopped; he sprang out.

There was a crowd before the house occupied by his sister-in-law.
Shoulder to shoulder men were pushing eagerly forward. A smothered
murmur made itself heard; now and then a cynical speech fell distinctly
on the ear, or a burst of laughter that died away without an echo,
mingled with the curses of coachmen who could not make their way
through the mass of humanity crowding there in the pale March twilight,
through which the glare of the lanterns shone yellow and dreary. At
first he could not get to the house; but the crowd soon made way for
his officer's uniform.

He rang the bell loudly. Some time passed before the door was opened
for him. Measures had evidently been taken to baffle the curiosity of
the crowd.

The door of Dorothea's apartments, however, was open. He hurried
onward, finding at first no one to detain him or to give him any
information.

In the cosy little room, now brilliantly lighted, where he had left his
brother, stood Dorothea, evidently dressed to go out, in a gray gown,
and a bonnet trimmed with pale pink roses, her cheeks ashy pale, her
face hard and set in a frightful, unnatural smile.

"What has happened?" cried Goswyn.

She tried to reply, but the words would not come. The smile grew
broader, and her eyes glowed. Her face recalled to him the evening at
the Countess Brock's, when she looked around after her song and found
herself the only woman in the room.

One or two persons had made their way into the room. Goswyn ordered
them out, with an imperious air of command. "Where is he?" he asked,
hoarsely. She pointed mutely to a door. He entered. It was her
sleeping-room, airy, bright, luxurious; and there, at the foot of the
bed, lay a dark figure, face downward, with outstretched arms.

Two officials, one of whom was writing something in a note-book, were
in the room.

The servant told him it had been entirely unexpected. When her
Excellency came home, she had exchanged a few words with the Herr
Baron, and had then gone to dress for the theatre. The Herr Baron had
gone into the other room to write a note, and then--while her
Excellency was in the _salon_ putting on her gloves they had heard--a
shot. Her Excellency had been the first to find him.

On the table lay two notes, one to Goswyn, the other to Dorothea.

The contents of Dorothea's Goswyn never knew: in his own note there was
nothing save


           "Dear Gos,--

                      "I have forgiven.

                                         "Otto."


Yes, he had forgiven, but his life had paid the forfeit.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.


The news of Otto von Sydow's sudden tragic death produced a profound
impression upon old Countess Lenzdorff.

She immediately wrote a long letter to Goswyn,--eight pages of
affectionate and sincere sympathy. Erika said very little about the
matter, but she looked forward eagerly to Goswyn's reply.

When it came it was dry, almost formal,--the reply of a man crushed to
the earth, who is not wont to discourse about his emotions and is shy
of expressing himself with regard to them.

Thus the Countess Lenzdorff understood it. Her sympathy for the young
officer increased after reading his brief note. Erika, on the other
hand, after perusing the epistle, which her grandmother handed to her
with a sigh, showed an unaccountable degree of irritability.

"Surely he might have written you more cordially!" she exclaimed. "Such
a letter as this means nothing! It is simply a receipt for your
sympathy,--nothing more."

Her grandmother shook her head, and tried to set her right. But Erika
would not listen. She had greatly changed of late: her state of mind
was growing more and more distressing. She ate and slept but little.
Her sentiment was searching for a new stay; her life lacked a purpose.
At any risk she would gladly have fled from the chill brilliance which
characterized her grandmother's philosophy of life to take refuge in
some inspiration of the heart, even although it might perhaps lead her
astray. Religion had been taken from her, and even the sacred nimbus of
morality had been frayed by her grandmother's cynicism. When her God
had been taken from her she had at first wept hot, bitter tears, but
she had aroused herself anew, and faith had been born within her in a
transfigured form: it was no longer the conventional belief, expressed
in worn-out formulas, with which the multitude satisfy themselves in
view of the mysteries of creation, but an apprehension, however faulty,
of an order of affairs, incomprehensible to her finite intellect,
lifting her above that part of us which is of the earth, earthy,--a
faith which may bring with it but little consolation, but which is
certainly elevating. When her grandmother first attacked in her
presence what she called the 'by God's grace principle' of morality,
and coldly proved that all morals culminated in a number of laws not
founded in nature,--nay, even at variance with nature,--which had been
illogically framed by society for its preservation, she did not weep,
but her whole being was poisoned by a discontent which she could not
away with. If her grandmother had had the least idea of the effect upon
the girl of her cold reasoning, she would have kept to herself the
aphorisms which she was so fond of handing about like little
delicately-prepared tidbits. Her nature, however, was a thoroughly
sound and rather cold one, which took no pleasure in overwrought
emotion, and which was absolutely free from the devouring thirst which
glowed in Erika's soul. How could she understand the young creature, or
know how to protect her from herself?


But if, on the one hand, the old Countess had but a poor opinion of
mankind, on the other it was impossible for her to forego society.
Although she had promised Erika to resist its temptations in Venice,
she not only yielded to them herself, but did all that she could to
induce the girl to accompany her. Her efforts were, however, of no
avail, in view of Erika's misanthropic and unamiable mood; and thus it
came to pass that society witnessed the unusual spectacle of a
venerable matron of seventy appearing with indefatigable enjoyment
at one afternoon tea after another, while her beautiful young
grand-daughter at home confused her mind with the study of metaphysical
works or visited the poor abroad. This last had of late been her
favourite occupation: she had a long list of beneficiaries, whom she
befriended with enthusiastic zeal, and of whom she had learned from the
kindly hostess at the hotel and from the doctor when he came to visit
his patients there.

It was on a cloudy afternoon towards the end of March, after her
grandmother had parted from her with a sigh of compassion, that Erika
set out on foot, as was her wont, to visit a poor music-teacher.

The way to the modest lodgings where Fräulein Horst resided led Erika
far from the busy Riva by a narrow alley to the quiet Piazza San
Zacharie, where grass was growing between the stones. Thence the road
grew more difficult to find, and it was not without some pride that she
threaded accurately the labyrinth of narrow streets and reached the
small dwelling in question without having been obliged to inquire her
way.

She found the poor woman in bed in a wretchedly-furnished room. A table
beside her served to hold her various bottles of medicine, and a green
screen before the window shut out the light. In the midst of this
poverty the music-teacher lay reading "Consuelo," and--was happy.

A wave of compassion--a compassion that brought the tears to her
eyes--overwhelmed Erika. She leaned over the invalid and kissed her
throbbing temples. Then, with the graceful kindliness which
characterized her in the presence of sickness or misery, she adorned
the room with the flowers she had with her, cleared away the grim
witnesses from the table, had a cup of tea made and brought, and set
out various little dainties from her basket, talking the while so
cheerfully that the invalid forgot her pain. The poor music-teacher
followed her every movement in a kind of ecstasy; at last, taking the
girl's hand and pressing her feverish lips upon it, she exclaimed, "How
could I ever dream that the beautiful Countess Lenzdorff, whom I have
admired at the theatre and at concerts, would ever come to drink a cup
of tea with me! Ah, what a pleasure it is!"

"I am so glad," Erika replied, stroking the thin hand held out to her.
"I will come often, since you really like to have me."

"One never ought to despair, while life lasts," said the sick woman.
"Just now I received a letter from an old school-mate, Sophy Lange.
When she was a poor girl she fell in love with a gentleman. Of course
their union was not to be thought of. Now, after many years, she writes
me that she has reached the goal of her desires: she is married,--she
is his wife,--and she is almost crazy with delight."

"Sophy Lange!" Erika cried, with peculiar interest. "That was the name
of our governess. She must be forty years old."

"About that," the woman replied, smiling to herself. "A truly loving
heart keeps young even at forty years of age."

"And what is her husband's name?" asked Erika, smitten by a strange
suspicion.

"Baron Strachinsky," replied Fräulein Horst. "He is of ancient Polish
lineage, not very wealthy, but dear Sophy does not mind that, for a
rich old gentleman whom she took care of during his ten-years' illness
has left her all his property."

"And she is happy?" Erika asked, in a kind of terror.

"Oh, how happy! I am so glad!--so glad! A little romance is so
refreshing in these prosaic days. They met each other again on the
Rigi, at sunrise,--just think, Countess! and Sophy is not at all
pretty,--only dear and kind. Now they are in Naples; but she tells me
that in the course of the spring she and her husband may come to
Venice. She has had a hard life, but at last--at last--it is good to
hear of so happy an end to her troubles."

At this point an attack of coughing interrupted her. Ah, how terrible
it was! The handkerchief she held to her lips was crimsoned. Erika did
all that she could for her, supported her in her arms, and bade her
take courage. When the invalid was more comfortable, she left her,
promising to come again on the morrow.

"God bless you, Countess!" the poor woman murmured, faintly.

It was late, and it had begun to grow dark. Before leaving the house
Erika had a short interview with the woman who rented the lodgings, and
deposited with her a sum of money, that the poor music-teacher might be
supplied with every comfort possible. Then, with a friendly nod, she
departed.

Her heart felt lighter than it had done for some time, and it was not
until she had started on her homeward way that she noticed the
gathering gloom.

She was half inclined to summon a gondola, but decided that it was not
worth the trouble; and, moreover, she detested the swampy odour of the
lagoons. And just here the air was so sweet: a spring fragrance was
wafted about her from the grassy deserted Campo.

"What mysteries people are!" the girl reflected, her thoughts
reverting to her grandmother's comments upon the late elopement, with a
lover, of the lovely young wife of an old German diplomat. "This is
love,--Countess Ada on the one hand, poor Sophy on the other,--the one
criminal, the other ridiculous. Good heavens!"

Around her breathed the sweet, drowsy air of spring; there was a
distant sound of bells and of plashing water, and over all brooded
something like a dim foreboding, an expectant yearning.

Erika suddenly awoke from her dreamy mood, to find that she had lost
her way. She walked on to the nearest corner in hopes of finding
it,--in vain! Not without a certain tremor, she resolved to go straight
on: she could not but reach some familiar square or canal. She walked
hurriedly, impatiently. The air was no longer fragrant, and she found
herself in a narrow, poverty-stricken alley running between rows of
tall, evil-looking, and ruinous houses, in which the windows showed
like deep, hollow eyes. The gray mist was rising above the roofs, and
the walls of the houses, as well as the stones underfoot, were slimy
with moisture.

Erika had much ado to keep her footing, so slippery was the pathway. If
she walked in the middle of the street she had to wade through mud and
filth; and if she pressed near to the walls the green slime soiled her
dress.

Darker and darker grew the night, when suddenly a rude noise broke the
forlorn silence,--songs issuing from rough throats, mingled with the
shrill, coarse laughter of women.

Poor Erika hastened her pace, but utter weariness so assailed her that
she felt almost unable to stand upright. In an unlucky moment a drunken
sailor staggered out of the wretched drinking-place whence the noise
proceeded. He was a young, stalwart man, and before the girl could pass
him he had stretched out his arms and barred her way.

Beside herself with terror, she screamed,--when, as if rising from the
earth, a man stepped in front of her, seized the sailor by the collar,
and flung him against the wall. She trembled in every limb with disgust
and fear as she looked up at her rescuer, whose features she could
barely distinguish, although she could see his eyes,--dark,
compassionate eyes.

Where had she already seen those eyes? Before she could recall where,
he said, lifting his hat, "You have evidently lost your way: will you
tell me where you live, that I may guide you out of this labyrinth?" He
spoke in English, but with a foreign accent: apparently he took her for
an Englishwoman.

His proposal was an unusual one; and this seemed to strike him, for
before she could reply he added, "Of course it is disagreeable to trust
to a stranger's escort, but under the circumstances it is the only
thing to do. I cannot leave you here without a protector: this is no
place for a lady."

So dismayed was she by this knowledge that she could find no courteous
word of thanks, and all she said in reply was to mention the name of
her hotel.

"To the left," he said, motioning in the given direction. His voice,
too, seemed familiar.

They passed together through the net-work of narrow streets and over a
high arched bridge upon which a red lantern was burning and beneath
which the sluggish water flowed slowly.

"Of whom does he remind me?" thought Erika. Suddenly her heart beat so
as almost to deprive her of breath. Bayreuth--Lozoncyi!

And at the same moment she recalled also his fair companion.

Meanwhile, they had reached a large, airy square.

"Piazza San Zacharie. I know where I am now," she said, very coldly, as
she took leave of him.

He stood still, evidently wounded by her tone, and looked after her
with a frown.

Without thanking him, she hurried on. Suddenly she paused, unable to
resist the impulse to look back. He was still standing looking after
her. She half turned to retrace her steps and thank him, when
indignation seemed to paralyze her. What had she to say to a man who
without the least shame could appear in public with---- Without further
hesitation she returned to the hotel.

She slept badly that night. Her teeth chattered with fear at the
thought of her adventure. And then--then, in spite of herself, she was
vexed that she had said no friendly word to Lozoncyi: he had deserved
some such at her hands. What was his private life to her? She recalled
the handsome half-starved lad whom she had fed beside the gurgling
brook. She longed to see him again. Half asleep, she turned her head
uneasily on her pillow. The plashing of the water beneath her window
sounded like a low, trembling sigh, and the sigh became a song. Nearer
and nearer it sounded, insinuatingly sweet,--a song of Tosti's then in
fashion. She heard only the refrain:


           "Ninon, Ninon, que fais-tu de la vie,
            Toi, qui n'as pas d'amour?"


She sprang out of bed and threw open the window. Along the Grand Canal,
illuminated by gay little lanterns, glided a gondola whence the song
proceeded.

She leaned forward, but almost before she was aware of it the gondola
had passed out of sight: it was nothing more in the distance than a
shadow with a little dash of colour, and the sweet melody only a sigh
slowly absorbed by the rippling waves.

She still stood at the window when all was silent again. All gone! all
silent! Where the gondola had passed there lay a broad moon-glade upon
the black water, and mingling with the swampy odour of the lagoon Erika
could perceive the breath of spring.

She closed the window, and no longer heard even the plash of the water,
or aught save the beating of her own heart.



                              CHAPTER XIX.


The next morning after breakfast Erika stood again at her window,
looking out upon the magnificence of the palaces bordering the Grand
Canal, and upon the dark, sluggish water. She seemed to be looking for
the spot where the gondola the previous night had passed through the
silvery radiance of the moonlight. The burden of the plaintive song
still rang in her ears, in her nerves, in her soul:


           "Ninon, Ninon, que fais-tu de la vie,
            Toi, qui n'as pas d'amour?"


Her grandmother entered, ready to go out, an opera-glass in her hand,
and asked her, "Erika, will you not come with me to the exhibition in
the Circolo artistico? There is a picture there of which all Venice is
talking,--a wonder of a picture, they say."

"Whom is it by?"

"By Lozoncyi."

"Ah!" Erika turned away from her grandmother, and gazed out of the
window into the broad Southern sunlight, until black specks danced
before her eyes.

"What an indignant exclamation!" her grandmother said, with a laugh.
"Your 'Ah!' sounded as if Lozoncyi were your mortal enemy. Perhaps you
resent his being in Bayreuth with--with a companion. You must not be so
strict with an artist: the society which these gentlemen, in pursuance
of their calling, are obliged to frequent, is apt to blunt their
sensibilities in that direction. Besides, he was just from Paris: such
things are usual there. We are rather more strict in our notions. It is
all the same. For my part, it is a matter of entire indifference to me
how this Herr Lozoncyi arranges his domestic affairs. Years ago I
prophesied a brilliant future for him, when our best Berlin critics
condemned his efforts as unripe fruit. Of course I feel flattered at
having been right. The vanity of being in the right is the last to die
in the human breast. At all events, he seems to have painted a really
great picture, and I thought---- But if you do not want to come with
me, you prejudiced young lady, I will go alone. Adieu, my child." She
stroked the cheek of the young girl, who had now turned away from the
window, and went towards the door.

But before she had reached it, Erika called after her: "But,
grandmother, do not be in such haste. I--I should like to take a little
walk with you, and I do not care where we go."

"Very well: I will wait."

Shortly afterwards grandmother and grand-daughter walked across the
little square behind the hotel, decorated in honour of the spring with
orange-trees and laurels in tubs, towards the Piazza San Stefano. The
day was lovely, and the streets were filled with people. Erika wore a
dark-green cloth walking-suit, that became her well. Although she gave
but little thought to her dress, with her good taste was instinctive:
she always looked like a picture, and to-day like an uncommonly
handsome picture.

"Everybody turns to look at you," her grandmother whispered to her;
"and I must confess that it is worth the trouble."

This sounded like old times. The compliment had no effect upon Erika,
but the tenderness that prompted it did the girl good. She smiled
affectionately, but shook her forefinger at the old lady.

"What? I am to take care not to spoil you?" the old Countess said, with
a laugh. "I'll answer for that. If flattered vanity could spoil, you
would be quite ruined by this time. Good heavens! I would rather you
were a little spoiled,--just a little,--and happy, instead of being as
you are, an angel,--sometimes an insufferable one, but still an
angel,--with no sunshine in your heart." She looked askance, almost
timidly, at the young girl, as if to see if she were not a little
merrier to-day than usual. No, Erika did not look merry: she looked
touched, but not merry.

"If I only knew what you want!" the grandmother sighed, half aloud.

Erika moved closer to her side. "I want nothing. I have too much," she
whispered. "You spoil me."

"How can I help it? I am seventy-two years old: how much time is left
me to delight in you? It may be all over for me to-day or to-morrow,
and then----" But when she looked again at Erika the tears were rolling
down the girl's cheeks. "Foolish child!" exclaimed the grandmother. "In
all probability I shall not die so very soon: you need not spoil your
fine eyes with crying, beforehand; but one ought to be prepared for
everything, and of course I should like to see you married to a good
husband."

She had rested her hand on Erika's arm, and hitherto the young girl in
a child-like caressing way had pressed it close to her side, but now
she extricated herself from the old lady's clasp; her lips quivered.
"Whom shall I marry?" she exclaimed, with bitter emphasis.

Then both were silent. The grandmother was conscious of the blunder she
had committed, and was furious with herself; which nevertheless would
not in the least prevent her from making another of the same kind
whenever an opportunity offered.

Erika walked stiff and haughty beside her without looking at her again.

When they reached the Circolo, after a long walk, they wandered through
the splendid, spacious rooms for some time without discovering the
object of their expedition. The spring exhibition at the Circolo was
sparsely attended: strangers had no time for modern art in Venice, and
the natives preferred a walk in such fine weather. Consequently the
pictures signed by famous modern names hung for the most part upon the
walls merely for the satisfaction of their originators. Bezzy's
landscapes the old Countess pronounced to be masterpieces, and she
became so absorbed in a sirocco by that artist that she quite forgot
the purpose for which she had come hither.

It looked almost as if Erika took more interest than her grandmother in
Lozoncyi's picture. She looked about her in search of it. From the next
room came the sound of voices, now suppressed, then loud in talk. Her
heart began to beat fast, and she directed her steps thither.

A group of six or seven men were standing in front of a large picture
which hung alone on one side of the room, probably because no other
artist had ventured to provoke comparison with it. The men standing
before it--Erika suspected, from their remarks, that they were all
artists by profession--spoke of it in low tones, as of something
sacred, which the picture was not,--far from it; but it was a
magnificent revelation of genius, and as such was something divine.

'Francesca da Rimini' was engraved upon the frame. The old subject
was strangely treated. Trees in full leaf were cut short by the
frame so that only their luxuriant foliage and blossom-laden boughs
were visible, and above them against a background of dull, gloomy
storm-clouds floated two forms closely intertwined.

Never had Erika seen two such figures living, as it were, upon canvas;
never had she seen writhing despair so revealed in every limb and
muscle. Her first sensation was one of almost angry repulsion for the
artist.

"What do you say to it?" the old Countess, who had followed Erika,
asked, rather loudly, as was her wont. "A masterpiece, is it not?"

Erika turned away. She was very pale, and she trembled from head to
foot.

"It is wonderfully beautiful," she murmured, in a low voice, "but it is
unpleasant. I feel as if it were a sin to look at it."


As they crossed the Piazza San Stefano on their way home, at the foot
of Manin's statue stood a group of five street-singers, two men and
three women, all over fifty, both men blind, one of the women one-eyed,
another hump-backed, and the third so corpulent that she looked like a
caricature.

These five monsters, the women with guitars, the men with violins, were
accompanying themselves in a love-song, their mouths wide open, and the
drawling notes issuing thence echoed from one end to the other of the
spacious Piazza. The burden of the ditty was,--


           "Tu m'hai bagnato il seno mio di lagrime,
            T'amo d'immenso amor."


The old Countess, with a laugh and the easy grace of a great lady,
tossed the singers a coin half-way across the Piazza. Erika frowned. A
feverish indignation possessed her. Good heavens! did the whole world
circle about one and the same thing? Must she hear it even from the
lips of these wretched cripples? She bit her lip: from the distance
came the drawling wail,--


           "T'amo d'immenso amor."


"Erika, look there!"

The words are spoken by old Countess Lenzdorff in the library
of the monastery of San Lazaro, and as she speaks she plucks her
grand-daughter's sleeve.

The monastery is the same in which Lord Byron, more than half a century
ago, was taught by long-bearded monks; and the Lenzdorffs, taking
advantage of the fine weather, had been rowed over to it on the
afternoon of the day on which they had visited the exhibition at the
Circolo.

The monk who acted as their cicerone had conducted them to the library
to show them Lord Byron's signature and his portrait, a small,
authentic likeness. In addition he showed them many likenesses of his
lordship which were by no means authentic, but which represented him in
various costumes and at various periods of his existence, and which it
was hoped romantic tourists might be tempted to purchase as _souvenirs
de Venise_.

Two gentlemen are standing laughing and criticising one of these
pictures, and it is to these gentlemen that the Countess directs her
grand-daughter's attention. One of them is standing with his back
turned to the ladies, but his faultlessly-fitting English overcoat, his
gray gaiters, his way of balancing himself with legs slightly apart,
the distinction and gray-haired worthlessness that characterize him,
leave Erika in no doubt as to his identity. It is Count Hans
Treurenberg, an old Austrian friend of her grandmother's. The other,
whose profile is turned towards the ladies, is a man of middle height,
delicately built, well dressed, although his clothes have not the
English _cachet_ that distinguishes Count Treurenberg's, and with a
frank, attractive bearing and a clear-cut dark face. Taken all in all,
he might be supposed to be a man of the world,--some young relative of
the Count's,--were it not for his eyes, strange, gleaming eyes,
which after a brief glance at the grandmother are riveted upon the
grand-daughter. No mere man of the world ever had such eyes. Meanwhile,
Count Treurenberg has turned round.

"Ladies, I kiss your hands!" he exclaims. "You too have employed this
fine weather in an excursion: you could not do better."

The old Countess was about to reply, when Treurenberg's companion
whispered a few words to him.

"Permit me to present Herr von Lozoncyi," said the Count,--whereupon
the old Countess, before Lozoncyi had quite finished his formal
obeisance, called out, "I am delighted to know you. I belong among your
oldest admirers. Do not misunderstand me: I do not, of course, refer to
my own age, but to that of my admiration."

"I am immensely flattered, Frau Countess," Lozoncyi replied, in the
gentle, agreeable voice of a Viennese of mixed descent and doubtful
nationality. "Might I ask when first I had the good fortune to arouse
your interest?"

"How long ago is it, Erika?--five or six years?" asked the old lady.
"You will know."

"Six years ago, I think, grandmother."

"Six years ago, then," the Countess went on. "It was in Berlin, where
you were exhibiting two pictures, one before a curtain, the other
behind a curtain. I saw both; and I have believed in your talent ever
since,--which has not, however, prevented me from being surprised by
your last picture in the Circolo artistico."

"You are very kind."

"One thing I should like to know: do you fancy there are trees in full
leaf in hell?"

"What?--in hell?" asked the artist, lifting his eyebrows. "So far as I
can tell, I have never pictured hell to myself; although I have more
than once felt as if I had been there."

"Why, then, did you paint Francesca da Rimini after that fashion?"

"Francesca da Rimini?" Again he looked at her in surprise.

"The picture in the Circolo," the old lady persisted. "But"--and her
tone was much cooler--"perhaps I am mistaken, and the picture is not
yours?"

"No, no," he replied, laughing. "The picture to which you refer is
certainly mine, Countess, but my picture-dealer invented the title for
it. I never for a moment intended to paint that most attractive of all
sinning women."

"What did your picture mean, then?"

"To tell you the truth, I do not know." He said it with an odd smile in
which there was some annoyance. "I want to paint a series of pictures
under the title of 'Mes Cauchemars,'--' Evil Dreams,'--and the thing in
the Circolo was to be number one. If I could have dared to challenge
comparison with Botticelli,--which I could not,--I should perhaps have
called the picture 'Spring.'"

As he spoke, his eyes had continually strayed towards Erika: at last
they rested upon her with so uncivilized a stare that she turned away,
annoyed, and Count Treurenberg held up his hand as a screen, saying,
with a laugh, "Spare your eyes, my dear Lozoncyi: what sort of way is
that to gaze upon the sun?"

"You are right, Count," the painter said, rather bluntly; then, turning
again to the young girl, he said, in a very different tone, "I am not
recalling our meeting in the Calle San Giacomo. If I do not mistake,--I
can hardly believe it, but if I do not,--our acquaintance dates from
much farther back. Have you a step-father called Strachinsky?"

"Unfortunately, yes," her grandmother replied, dolefully.

"Well, then," he said, eagerly, "I----" He made a sudden pause. "How
foolish I am! You must long ago have forgotten what I am remembering."

"No, I have forgotten nothing," Erika replied, lifting her eyes to his
with a strange expression of mingled pride and reproach. "I recognized
you long ago; but it was not for me to tell you so."

"Countess! Allow me to kiss your hand, in memory of the dear little
fairy who brought me good fortune."

"What's all this?" Count Treurenberg asked, inquisitively, and the old
Countess as curiously inquired, "Where did you make each other's
acquaintance?"

Erika hesitates: a sudden shyness makes her uncertain how to begin the
story. Lozoncyi comes to her aid. His narrative is a little masterpiece
of pathos and humour. He tells everything; how the Baron--he describes
him perfectly in a single phrase--sent him off with an alms,--two
kreutzers,--his own indignation, his despair, his hunger, the sudden
appearance of the little girl; he describes her sweet little face, her
faded gown, her long thin legs in their red stockings, and the basket
of food decorated with asters; he describes the landscape, the little
brook creeping shyly beneath the huge bridge,--a bridge about as
suitable, he declares, as the tomb of Cecilia Metella would be as a
monument for a dead dog; he repeats the little fairy's every word, and
tells how, finally, she slipped the five guilders into his pocket,
assuring him that she knew how terrible it was to be without money.

The old lady and Treurenberg laugh; Erika listens eagerly and with
emotion. The story lacks something. Yes, in spite of its minute
details, something is missing. Is he keeping it for the conclusion, or
does he think it necessary to suppress this detail altogether? Erika is
indignant at such discretion. When he has finished, she says, calmly,
"You have forgotten one trifling incident, Herr Lozoncyi: you set a
price upon your picture of me----" She pauses, and then, coolly
surveying her listeners, she goes on, "I had to promise Herr Lozoncyi
to give him a kiss for my portrait."

"And may I ask if you kept your word, Countess?" asks Count
Treurenberg, laughing.

"Yes," Erika replies, curtly.

"Charming!" exclaims Count Treurenberg. "And, between ourselves, I
would not have believed it of you, Countess! You were a lucky fellow,
Lozoncyi."

Erika is visibly embarrassed, but Lozoncyi steps a little nearer to
her, and says, with a very kindly smile, "What a gloomy face! Ah,
Countess, can you regret the alms bestowed upon a poor lad by an infant
nine years old? If you only knew how often the memory of your childish
kindness has strengthened and encouraged me, you would not grudge it."

The matter could not have been adjusted with more amiable tact, and
Erika begins to laugh, and confesses that she has been foolish,--a fact
which her grandmother confirms gaily. The old lady is delighted with
the little story: the part played therein by Strachinsky gives it an
additional relish. She is charmed with Lozoncyi.

They leave the damp, musty library, and go out into the cloisters that
encircle the garden of the monastery. The scent of roses is in the air,
and from the monastery kitchen comes the odour of freshly-roasted
coffee. Count Treurenberg is glad of the opportunity to cover his bald
head with his English gray felt hat, and as he does so anathematizes
the Western idea of courtesy which makes it necessary for a gentleman
to catch cold in his head so frequently. He walks in front with the old
Countess, and Erika and Lozoncyi follow. The two old people talk
incessantly; the younger couple scarcely speak.

Lozoncyi is the first to break the silence. "Strange, that chance
should have brought us together again," he says.

She clears her throat and seems about to speak, but is mute.

"You were saying, Countess----?" he asks, smiling.

"I said nothing."

"You were thinking, then----?"

"Yes, I was thinking, in fact, that it is strange that you should have
left it to chance to bring about our meeting." The words are amiable
enough, but they sound cold and constrained as Erika utters them.

"Do you imagine that I have made no attempt to find you again,
Countess?"

"I imagine that if you had seriously desired to find me it would not
have been difficult."

He does not speak for a moment, and then he begins afresh: "You are
right,--and you do me injustice. When I learned that my dear little
poorly-clad princess had become a great lady, I did, it is true, make
no attempt to approach her; but before then---- Do you care to hear of
my unfortunate pilgrimage?"

"Most assuredly I do."

"Well, eight years after our childish interview I had my first couple
of hundred marks in my pocket. I bought a new suit of clothes--yes,
smile if yon choose,--a new suit, which I admired exceedingly--and
journeyed to Bohemia. I found the village, the brook, and the
bridge, and likewise the castle; but all had gone who had once lived
there,--even the amiable Herr von Strachinsky,--and no one knew
anything of my little princess. I was very sad,--too sad for a fellow
of three-and-twenty."

He pauses.

"And was that the end of your efforts?" asks the old Countess, whose
sharp ears have lost nothing of the story, and who now turns to the
pair with a laugh. "You showed no amount of persistence to boast of."

"When, overtaken by the rain, I took refuge in the parsonage of the
nearest village," he continues, "I made inquiries there for my little
friend. The priest gave me more information than I had been able to
procure elsewhere. He told me that one fine day some one had come from
Berlin to carry little Rika away,--that she was now a very grand
lady----"

"And then----?" the old lady persists.

"I sought no further: the bridge between my sphere in life and that of
my princess was destroyed. I quietly returned to Munich. I was very
unhappy: the goal to which I had looked forward seemed to have been
suddenly snatched from me."

"Oho!" exclaims the old Countess, "you can be sentimental too, then?
You are truly many-sided."

"That was years ago. I have changed very much since then."

After which Count Treurenberg contrives to interest the old lady in the
latest piece of Venetian gossip.

"You understand now why I did not appear before you, Countess Erika?"

But Erika shook her head: "I do not understand at all. I think you were
excessively foolish to avoid me for such a reason."

"Erika is quite right," the grandmother called back over her shoulder
in the midst of one of Count Treurenberg's most interesting anecdotes.
"Your failing to seek us out only proves that you must have thought us
a couple of geese; otherwise you would have been quite sure of a
friendly reception."

"No, it proves only that I had been hardly treated by fate, that I was
a well-whipped young dog," said Lozoncyi. "Now I have no doubt that I
should have been graciously received by both of you; but it would not
have amounted to much. You would soon have tired of me. A very young
artist is sadly out of place in a drawing-room; I was like all the rest
of the race."

"That I find hard to believe," the old Countess said, kindly, still
over her shoulder; then, turning again to Count Treurenberg, "Go on,
Count. You were saying----"

"I shall say nothing more," Treurenberg exclaimed, provoked. "I have
had enough of this: at the most interesting part of my story you turn
and listen to what Lozoncyi is saying to your grand-daughter. The fact
is that when Lozoncyi is present no one else can claim a lady's
attention." The words were spoken half in jest, half in irritation.

"Count Treurenberg is skilled in rendering me obnoxious in society,"
Lozoncyi murmurs.

"Oh, I never pay any attention to him," the old Countess assures him.
"I should like to know what you did after you learned that Erika
had----"

"Had become a grand lady?" Lozoncyi interrupts her. "Oh, I packed up my
belongings and went to Rome."

"And then?"

"There I had an attack of Roman fever," he says, slowly, and his face
grows dark. He looks around for Erika, but she is no longer at his
side: she has lingered behind, and has fallen into conversation with a
tall, dignified monk. She now calls out to the rest, "Has no one any
desire to see the tree beneath which Lord Byron used to write poems?"

They all follow her as the monk leads the way to the very shore of the
island and there with pride points to a table beneath a tree, where he
assures them Lord Byron used often to sit and write.

His hospitality culminates at last in regaling his guests with fragrant
black coffee, after which he leaves them.

They sit and sip their coffee under the famous tree. Lozoncyi expresses
a modest doubt as to the identity of the table. Count Treurenberg
relates an anecdote, at which Erika frowns, and gazes up into the blue
sky showing here and there among the branches of the old tree.

Suddenly an affected voice is heard to say, "_Enfin le voilà_."

They look up, and see two ladies: one is no other than Frau von
Geroldstein, very affected, and looking about, as usual, for fine
acquaintances; the other is very much dressed, rouged, and very pretty.
Frau von Geroldstein is enthusiastically glad to see her Berlin
friends, and presents her companion,--the Princess Gregoriewitsch.

The old Countess, however, is not very amiably disposed towards the
new-comers. "Do not let us keep you from your friends," she says to the
artist: "it is late, and we must go. Adieu. I should be glad if you
could find time to come and see us."

Count Treurenberg conducts the grandmother and grand-daughter to their
gondola. Lozoncyi remains with his two admirers.

"Who was that queer Princess?" Countess Anna asks of Count Treurenberg,
in a rather depreciative tone, just before they reach their gondola.

"Oh, one of Lozoncyi's thousand adorers. She has a huge palace and
entertains a great deal. A pretty woman, but terribly stupid. Lozoncyi
is tied to a different apron-string every day."


The _table-d'hôte_ is long past: the Lenzdorffs are dining in a small
island of light at one end of the large dining-hall.

They are unusually late to-night. After their return from the Armenian
monastery both ladies have dressed for the evening, before coming to
table. At the old Countess's entreaty, Erika has consented to go into
society this evening,--that is, to the Countess Mühlberg, who has been
legally separated from her husband for some time and is living very
quietly at Venice, where she receives a few friends every Wednesday.
The old Countess is unusually gay; Erika scarcely speaks.

The glass door leading from the dining-hall into the garden has been
left open for their special benefit. The warm air brings in an odour of
fresh earth, mossy stones, and the faintly impure breath of the
lagoons, which haunts all the poetic beauty of Venice like an unclean
spirit. The soft plash of the water against the walls of the old
palaces, the creaking of the gondolas tied to their posts, a monotonous
stroke of oars, the distant echo of a street song, are the mingled
sounds that fall upon the ear.

When the meal is ended the old Countess calls for pen and ink, and
writes a note at the table where they have just dined. Erika walks out
into the garden. With head bare and a light wrap about her shoulders,
she strolls along the gravel path, past the monthly roses that have
scarcely ceased to bloom throughout the winter, past the taller
rose-trees in which the life of spring is stirring. From time to time
she turns her head to catch the distant melody more clearly, but it
comes no nearer. Above her arches the sky, no longer pale as it had
been to-day amid the boughs of the historic tree, but dark blue, and
twinkling with countless stars.

She has walked several times up and down the garden as far as the
breast-work that separates it from the Grand Canal. Now as she nears
the dining-room she hears voices: her grandmother is no longer alone;
beside the table at which she is writing stands Count Treurenberg. He
is speaking: "'Tis a pity! he really is a very clever fellow with men,
but the women spoil him. Just now he is the plaything of all the women
who think themselves art-critics in Venice."

Erika pauses to listen. "Indeed! Well, it does not surprise me," her
grandmother rejoins, indifferently, and Treurenberg goes on: "He is the
very deuce of a fellow: with all his fine feeling, he combines just
enough cynicism and honest contempt for women to make him irresistible
to the other sex."

"You are complimentary, Count!" Erika calls into the dining-hall.

He looks up. She is standing in the door-way; the wrap has fallen back
from her shoulders, revealing the dazzling whiteness of her neck and
arms, her left hand rests against the door-post, and she is looking
full at the speaker.

Old Treurenberg, who has just taken a seat beside the Countess, springs
up, gazes admiringly at the girl, bows low, and says, "Pray remember
that any uncomplimentary remarks I may make in your presence with
regard to the weaker sex have no reference to you. When I talk of your
sex in general I never think of you: you are an exception."

"We have both known that for a long while: have we not, Erika?" her
grandmother says, laughing.

"But what is the cause of all this splendour, Countess Erika?" asks
Treurenberg, changing the subject. "It is the first time that I have
had the pleasure of seeing you in full dress."

"Erika is beginning to go out a little to please me," the old Countess
explains. "I told her that, thanks to her passion for retirement, it
would shortly be reported that she was either out of her mind or
suffering from a disappointment in love. As this does not seem to her
desirable, she has consented to go with me to Constance Mühlberg."

"I should have gone to Constance Mühlberg at all events, only I should
not have chosen her reception-day for my visit," Erika declares, taking
a seat beside her grandmother, leaning her white elbows upon the table,
and resting her chin on her clasped hands.

Connoisseur in beauty that he is, the old Count cannot take his eyes
off her. "When a woman is so thoroughly formed for society as you are,
Countess Erika, she has no right to retire from it," he declares.

She makes no reply, and her grandmother asks, "Shall we see you at
Countess Mühlberg's, Count?"

"Not to-night. I must go to-night to the Rambouillet of Venice."

"Oh! to the Neerwinden?"

"Yes. Why do you ladies never go there?"

"To speak frankly, I had no idea that one ought to go," the Countess
says, laughing.

"Why not? Because of the Countess's reputation? Let me assure you that
all ruins are the fashion in Venice. You are quite wrong to stay away
from the Salon Neerwinden: it is an historical curiosity, and, to me,
more interesting than the Doge's palace."

"But even if I should go to the Neerwinden I could not take this child
with me!"

"Why not? The Salon Neerwinden is by no means such a pest-house of
infectious moral disease as you seem to think. And then nothing could
harm the Countess Erika: her life is a charmed one."

At this moment a thick-set, gray-bearded individual enters the
dining-hall, very affected, and very anxious to induce his eye-glass
to fit into the hollow of his right eye. He is a Viennese banker,
Schmidt--he spells it Schmytt--von Werdenthal. Bowing with ease to the
ladies, he approaches Treurenberg. "Do I intrude, Hans?" he asks.

"You always intrude."

The banker smiles at the jest: awkward as he may be, he displays a
certain agility in ignoring a rude remark. "You know, Hans, we must go
first to the Gregoriewitsch; and we shall be late."

"Confound the fellow!" murmurs the Count; nevertheless he rises to
follow Schmytt, and kisses the fingertips of each lady in token of
farewell. "Countess Erika," he says, with a final glance of admiration,
"if I were but thirty years younger!--Ah, you think it would have been
of no use," he adds, turning to the grandmother; "but there's no
knowing. If I am not mistaken, the Countess Erika is zealous in the
conversion of sinners, and I should have been so easily converted in
view of the reward. But do me the favour to leave a card upon the
Neerwinden: you will not repent it. One is never so well entertained as
at her evenings; and if you would like to see Lozoncyi in all his
glory----"

"But, Hans, the Princess will be waiting," Schmytt interposes.

"I am coming." And Count Treurenberg vanishes. The old Countess looks
after him with a smile.

"I cannot help it, but I have a slight weakness for that old sinner,"
she says. "He is so typical,--a genuine Austrian cavalier,--_fin de
siècle_, witty without depth, good-natured with no heart, aristocrat to
his finger-tips, without one single unprejudiced conviction. How you
impressed him to-night! I do not wonder. Lozoncyi ought to see you now:
what a splendid portrait he would make of you! H'm! do you know I
really should like to go to a Neerwinden evening?"

"That you may have the pleasure of seeing Herr von Lozoncyi in all his
glory?" asks Erika.



                              CHAPTER XX.


Curiosity carried the day. The Countess Lenzdorff left her card at the
Palazzo Luzani, and as a consequence the Baroness Neerwinden called
upon both ladies and left a written invitation for them which informed
them that "my dear friend Minona von Rattenfels will delight us by
reading aloud her latest, and unpublished, work."

To her grandmother's surprise, Erika seemed quite willing to go to this
one of the Baroness Neerwinden's entertainments, and Constance Mühlberg
accompanied them. The party was full of laughing expectation, much as
if the pleasure in prospect had been a masquerade.

Expectation on this occasion did not much exceed reality: the old
Countess and Constance Mühlberg were extremely entertained. And
Erika----? Well, they arrived at a tolerably early hour, ten o'clock,
and found the three immense rooms in which the Neerwinden was wont to
receive almost empty.

The lady of the house, when they entered, was seated on a small divan,
beneath a kind of canopy of antique stuffs in the remotest of these
rooms. Her black eyes were still fine; her features were not ignoble,
but were hard and unattractive.

She received the Countess Lenzdorff with effusive cordiality, referred
to several youthful reminiscences which they possessed in common, and
was quite gracious to both the younger ladies. After several
commonplace remarks, she dashed boldly into a discourse upon the final
destiny of the earth and the adjacent stars.

She had just informed her guests that she was privately engaged upon
the improvement of the electric light, and should soon have completed a
system of universal religion, when a sudden influx of guests caused her
to stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving her hearers in doubt as to
whether the catechism of the new faith was to be printed in Volapük or
in French, in which latter language most of the Baroness's intellectual
efforts were given to the world.

Erika was obliged to leave her place beside the hostess and to mingle
in the crowd that now rapidly filled the three reception-rooms.

She found very few acquaintances, and made the rather annoying
discovery that, with the exception of a couple of flat-chested English
girls, she was the only young girl present. If Count Treurenberg had
not made his appearance to play cicerone, she must have utterly failed
to understand what was going on around her.

The masculine element was the more strongly represented, but the
feminine contingent was undoubtedly the more aristocratic. It consisted
chiefly of very beautiful and distinguished women of rank who almost
without exception had by some fatality rendered their reception at
court impossible. Most of them were divorced, although upon what
grounds was not clear.

The strictly orthodox Venetian and Austrian families avoided these
entertainments, not so much upon moral grounds as because it was
embarrassing to meet _déclassées_ of their own rank, and because,
besides, they believed this salon to be a hotbed of the rankest
radicalism, both in morals and in politics.

In this they were not altogether wrong. There was nothing here of the
Kapilavastu system of which the old Countess was wont to complain in
Berlin; no, every imaginable topic was discussed, and after the most
heterogeneous fashion. Consequently the salon was in its way an amusing
one, its tiresome side being the determination on the part of the
hostess not to allow her guests to amuse themselves, but always to
offer them a _plat de résistance_ in some shape or other.

On this evening this _plat_ was Fräulein Minona von Rattenfels; and in
the midst of Count Treurenberg's most amusing witticisms the guests
were all bidden to assemble for the reading in the largest of the three
rooms.

Here she sat, with her manuscript already open, and the conventional
glass of water on a spindle-legged table beside her.

She was about fifty years old, large-boned, stout, and very florid,
dressed in a red gown shot with black, which gave her the appearance of
a half-boiled lobster, and with strings of false coin around her neck
and in her hair.

Before the performance began, the electric lights were turned off, and
the only illumination proceeded from two wax candles with pink shades
on the table beside Minona. The literary essay was preceded by a
musical prologue rendered by the pianist G----, who happened to be in
Venice at the time.

He played a paraphrase of Siegmund's and Sieglinda's love-duet,
gradually gliding into the motive of Isolde's death, all of which
naturally increased the receptive capacity of the audience for the
coming treat. The last tone died away. Minona von Rattenfels cleared
her throat.

"Tombs!" She hurled the word, as it were, in a very deep voice into the
midst of her audience. This was the pleasing title of her latest
collection of love-songs.

It consisted of two parts, 'Love-Life' and 'Love-Death.' In the first
part there was a great deal said about Dawn and Dew-drops, and in the
second part quite as much about Worms and Withered Flowers, while in
both there was such an amount of ardent passion that one could not but
be grateful to the Baroness for her Bayreuth fashion of darkening the
auditorium, thus veiling the blushes of certain sensitive ladies, as
well as the sneering looks of others.

Of course Minona's delivery was highly dramatic. She screamed until her
voice failed her, she rolled her eyes until she fairly squinted, and
Count Treurenberg offered to wager an entire set of her works that one
of her eyes was glass.

In most of her verses the lover was cold, hard, or faithless, but now
and then she revelled in an 'oasis in the desert of life.' Then she
became unutterably grotesque, the only distinguishable word in a
languishing murmur being "L--o--ve!"

Suddenly in the midst of this extraordinary performance was heard the
clicking of a couple of steel knitting needles, and shortly afterwards
the reading came to an end.


Again the room was flooded with light. In the silence that reigned the
clicking needles made the only sound. Erika looked to see whence the
noise proceeded, and perceived an elderly lady with gray hair brushed
smoothly over her temples, and a shrewd--almost masculine--face,
sitting very erect, and dressed in a charming old-fashioned gown. Her
brows were lifted, and her face showed unmistakably her decided
disapproval of the performance. In the midst of the heated atmosphere
she produced the impression of a stainless block of ice.

"Who is that?" Erika asked the Countess Mühlberg, who sat beside her.

"Fräulein Agatha von Horn. Shall I present you?"

Erika assented, and the Countess led her to the lady in question, who,
still knitting, was seated on a sofa with three young, very shy
artists, and overshadowed by a tall fan-palm.

The Countess presented Erika. The artists rose, and the two ladies took
their seats on the sofa beside Fräulein von Horn.

The Fräulein sighed, and conversation began.

"If I am not mistaken, you are a dear friend of the gifted lady whom we
have to thank this evening for so much pleasure," said Constance
Mühlberg.

"We travel together, because it is cheaper," Fräulein von Horn replied,
calmly, "but; as with certain married couples, we have nothing in
common save our means of living."

"Indeed?" said Constance. "I am glad to hear it; for in that case we
can express our sentiments freely with regard to the poetess."

"Quite freely."

Just then Count Treurenberg joined the group, and informed the ladies
that he had been congratulating Minona upon her magnificent success.

"What did you say to her?" the truth-loving Agatha asked, almost
angrily.

"'In you I hail our modern Sappho.' That is what I told her."

"And she replied----?" asked Constance Mühlberg.

The Count fanned himself with his opera-hat with a languishing air, and
lisped, "'_Ah, oui, Sappho; c'est bien Sappho, toujours la même
histoire_, after more than two thousand years.'"

"Poor Minona! and to think that she cudgels it all out of her
imagination!" Fräulein Agatha remarked, ironically. "She has no more
personal experience than--well, than I."

"'Sh!--not so loud," Constance whispered, laughing. "She never would
forgive you for betraying her thus."

"I have known her from a child," Fräulein von Horn continued,
composedly. "She once exchanged love-letters with her brother's tutor,
and since then she has always played the game with a dummy."

The dry way in which she imparted this piece of information was
irresistibly comical, but in the midst of the laughter which it
provoked a loud voice was heard declaiming at the other end of
the room, where, in the midst of a circle of listeners, stood a
black-bearded individual with a Mephistophelian cast of countenance,
holding forth upon some subject.

"Who is that?" asked Countess Mühlberg.

"I do not know the fellow," said the Count. "Not in my line."

"A writer from Vienna," Fräulein von Horn explained. "He was invited
here, that he might write an article upon Minona."

"What is he talking about?" asked the Count.

Countess Mühlberg, who had been stretching her delicate neck to listen,
replied, "About love."

"Indeed!" exclaimed Count Treurenberg, springing up from his seat: "I
must hear what the fellow has to say." And, followed shortly afterwards
by Constance Mühlberg, he joined the circle about the black-bearded
seer.

Erika remained sitting with Fräulein Agatha on the sofa beneath the
palm. They could hear the seer's drawling voice as he announced very
distinctly, "Love is the instinctive desire of an individual for union
with a certain individual of the opposite sex."

Fräulein von Horn meditatively smoothed her gray hair with one of her
long knitting-needles, and said, carelessly, "I know that definition:
it is Max Norden's." Whereupon she left her seat beside Erika to devote
herself to the three artists, her _protégés_.

Erika was left entirely alone under the palm, in a state of angry
discontent. Never before, wherever she had been, had she been so
little regarded. She was of no more importance here than Fräulein
Agatha,--hardly of as much. For the first time it occurred to her that
under certain circumstances it was quite inconvenient to be unmarried.

At the same time she was conscious of a great disappointment: she
had not come hither to study the Baroness Neerwinden's eccentricities,
or to listen to Minona von Rattenfels's love-plaints: she had
come---- What, in fact, had she come for?

From the other end of the room came the seer's voice: "The only
strictly moral union is founded upon elective affinity."

"Very true!" exclaimed Frau von Neerwinden.

A short pause followed. The servants handed about refreshments.
Rosenberg, the black-bearded seer, stood with his left elbow propped
upon the back of his friend Minona's chair; in his right he held his
opera-hat.

A French _littérateur_, who had understood enough of the whole
performance to be jealous of his German colleague, began to proclaim
his view of love: "_L'amour est une illusion, qui--que_----" There he
stuck fast.

Then somebody whom Erika did not know exclaimed, "Where is Lozoncyi? He
knows more of the subject than we do; he ought to be able to help us."

"I think his knowledge is practical rather than theoretical," said
Count Treurenberg.

Not long afterwards a few guests took leave, as it was growing late.
The circle was smaller, and Erika discovered Lozoncyi seated on a
lounge between two ladies, Frau von Geroldstein and the Princess
Gregoriewitsch. The Princess was a beauty in her way, tall, stout, very
_décolletée_, and with long, languishing eyes. Lozoncyi was leaning
towards her, and whispering in her ear.

Erika rose with a sensation of disgust and walked out upon a balcony,
where she had scarcely cast a glance upon the veiled magnificence of
the opposite palaces when Lozoncyi stood beside her. "Good-evening,
Countess. I had no idea that you were here; I discovered you only this
moment."

In her irritated mood she did not offer him her hand. "You are
astonished that my grandmother should have brought me here," she said,
with a shrug.

But, to her surprise, she perceived that nothing of the kind had
occurred to him: his sense of what was going on about him was evidently
blunted.

"Why?" he asked. "Because--because of the antecedents of the hostess?
It is long since people have troubled themselves about those, and it is
the brightest salon in Venice."

"There has certainly been nothing lacking in the way of animation
to-night," Erika observed, coldly.

She was leaning with both hands on the balustrade of the balcony, and
she spoke to him over her shoulder. He cared little for what she said,
but her beauty intoxicated him. Always strongly influenced by his
surroundings, the least noble part of his nature had the upper hand
with him to-night.

"Rosenberg has taken great pains to entertain his audience," he
remarked, carelessly.

"And his efforts have assuredly been crowned with success," Erika
replied, contemptuously. Then, with a shade more of scorn in her voice,
she asked, "Is there always as much--as much talk of love here?"

"It is frequently discussed," he replied. "And why not? It is the most
important thing in the world." Then, with his admiring artist-stare, he
added, in a lower tone, "As you will discover for yourself."

She frowned, turned away, and re-entered the room.

He stayed outside, suddenly conscious of his want of tact, but inclined
to lay the fault of it at her door. "'Tis a pity she is so whimsical a
creature," he muttered between his teeth; "and so gloriously beautiful;
a great pity!" Nevertheless he was vexed with himself, and was firmly
resolved, if chance ever gave him another interview with her, to make
better use of his opportunity.

Shortly afterwards Countess Lenzdorff, with Erika and Constance
Mühlberg, took her leave. She was in a very good humour, and exchanged
all sorts of witticisms with Constance with regard to their evening.

"And how did you enjoy yourself?" she asked Erika, when, after leaving
Constance at home, the two were alone in the gondola on their way to
the 'Britannia.'

"I?" asked Erika, with a contemptuous depression of the corners of her
mouth. "How could I enjoy myself in an assemblage where there was
nothing talked of but love?"

Her grandmother laughed heartily: "Yes, it was rather a silly way to
pass the time, I confess. I cannot conceive why they waste so many
words upon what is perfectly plain to any one with eyes. They grope
about, and no one explains in the least the nature of love." She threw
back her head, and, without for an instant losing the slightly mocking
smile which was so characteristic of her beautiful old face, she said,
"Love is an irritation of the fancy, produced by certain natural
conditions, which expresses itself, so long as it lasts, in the
exclusive glorification of one single individual, and robs the human
being who is its victim of all power of discernment. All things
considered, those people are very lucky who, when the torch of passion
is extinguished, can find anything save humiliation in the memory of
their love."

The old Countess was privately very proud of her definition, and looked
round at Erika with an air of self-satisfaction at having clothed what
was so self-evident, so cheerful a view, in such uncommonly appropriate
words. But Erika's face had assumed a dark, pained expression. Her
grandmother's words had aroused in her the old anguish,--anguish for
her mother. It was not to be denied that in some cases her
grandmother's view was the true one. Was it true always? No! Something
in the girl's nature rebelled against such a thought. No! a thousand
times no!

"But the love of which you speak, grandmother, is only sham love," she
said, in a husky, trembling voice. "There is surely another kind,--a
genuine, sacred, ennobling love!"

"There may be," said her grandmother. "The pity is that one never knows
the true from the false until it is past."

Erika said no more.

The air was mild; the scent of roses was wafted across the sluggish
water of the lagoon; there was a faint sound of distant music. But an
icy chill crept over Erika, and in her heart there was a strange,
aching, yearning pain.



                              CHAPTER XXI.


Three weeks had passed since Minona von Rattenfels had so effectively
given vent to her languishing love-plaints.

A striking change was evident in Erika. She was much more cheerful, or,
at least, more accessible; she no longer withdrew from the world in
morbid misanthropy, but went into society whenever her grandmother
requested her to do so. Wherever she went she was fêted and admired.
Since her first season in Berlin she had never received so much homage.
It seemed to give her pleasure, and, what was still more remarkable,
she seemed to exert herself somewhat--a very little--to obtain it.

Wherever she went she met Lozoncyi,--Lozoncyi, who scarcely took his
eyes off her, but who made no attempt to approach her in any way that
could attract notice. His bearing towards her was not only exemplary,
but touching. Always at hand to render her any little service,--to
procure her an ice, to relieve her of an empty teacup, to find her
missing fan or gloves,--he immediately retired to give place to her
other admirers. Among these Prince Helmy Nimbsch was foremost: the
entire international society of Venice were daily expecting the
announcement of a betrothal, and one afternoon, at a lawn-tennis party
at Lady Stairs's, he had given Erika unmistakable proofs of his
intentions. She was a little startled, and, while she was endeavouring
to lead the conversation with him away from the perilously sentimental
tone it had assumed, her eyes accidentally encountered Lozoncyi's.

Shortly afterwards she managed to get rid of the Prince; and as, after
a last game of lawn-tennis, she was retiring from the field, her cheeks
flushed, her eyes sparkling from the exercise, Lozoncyi came up to her
to relieve her of her racket. "You see how right the poor painter was,
not to venture to approach his little fairy," he murmured. The words,
his tone, aroused her sympathy and compassion, but before she could
reply he had vanished. He did not come near her again that afternoon,
but she could not help perceiving that his looks sought herself and
Prince Nimbsch alternately, at first inquiringly, and afterwards with
an expression of relief.


Dinner has been over for some time. The lamps are gleaming red along
the Grand Canal, and their broken reflections quiver in long streaks
upon the waters of the lagoon. The little drawing-room is but dimly
lighted, and Erika is seated at the piano, playing bits of 'Parsifal,'
her fingers gliding into the motive of sinful, worldly pleasure.

The old Countess enters, and, after wandering aimlessly about the room
for a moment, goes, after her fashion, directly to the point. She
pauses beside Erika, and observes, "Prince Nimbsch is courting you.
People are talking about it."

"Nonsense!" Erika rejoins, running her fingers over the keys. "He is
only amusing himself."

"H'm! he seems to me to be very much in earnest," murmurs the old lady;
"and there is no denying that it would be a brilliant match."

Erika drops her hands in her lap. "Grandmother!" she exclaims, half
laughing, "what are you thinking of? He is a mere boy!"

"A boy? He is full four years older than you; and I need not remind you
that you are no child. At all events, you must consider well----"

"Before I enter into another engagement," Erika interrupts her. "I
promise you I will; nay, more than that, I promise you solemnly that I
will not engage myself to Prince Nimbsch."

"In fact, I must confess that I do not think him your equal." There is
a certain relief in the old lady's tone, although she adds, with some
hesitation, "But the position is tempting, very tempting."

"Ah, grandmother!" Erika exclaims, with reproach in her tone, as,
rising, she puts her arm around the old Countess's shoulder and kisses
her gray head, "do you know me so little?"

Her grandmother returns her caress with emotion, murmuring the while,
as if talking to herself, "As if you knew yourself, my poor, dear
child!"

"I know myself so far," Erika declares, "as to be sure that after my
first unfortunate mistake I am cured of all worldly ambition."

"Oh, that was quite another thing!" her grandmother sighs. "Your
marriage with Lord Langley would have been positively unnatural; but
Prince Helmy Nimbsch is a fine, gallant young fellow."

"It all amounts to the same thing: old or young, he is a man whom I do
not love, and never could love."

The old lady shakes her head impatiently: "Are you beginning upon that?
Love? I thought you had more sense. Love!--love! Heaven preserve you
from that disease! The only sound foundations for a happy marriage are
unbounded esteem and warm sympathy: anything more is an evil."

Erika is silent, and the old Countess continues: "No respectable woman
should indulge in passion. Passion is an intoxication, and nausea is
sure to follow upon intoxication. Therefore a respectable woman, who
can at the most indulge but once in such intoxication, condemns
herself, after a short period of bliss, to nausea for the rest of her
life. Only the unprincipled woman who cures her nausea by a fresh
passion can permit herself such indulgence. It is all nonsense for one
of us."

During this long speech the Countess has seated herself in an arm-chair
with a volume of Taine's 'Les Origines de la France' open in her lap,
and to lend emphasis to her words she taps the book from time to time
with a large Japanese paper-knife.

Erika stands near her, leaning upon the piano, tall and graceful in her
white gown. "And what am I to infer from your preachment? That I must
marry Helmy Nimbsch, even without love?"

"Helmy Nimbsch? Who is talking of him?" The old lady almost starts from
her chair.

"I thought you were, grandmother," Erika says, with a mischievous
smile. "If I am not mistaken, he was the subject of our conversation."

"Nonsense! Helmy Nimbsch! _Ce n'est pas serieux!_"

"Of whom, then, are you talking?" Erika asks, looking her grandmother
full in the face.

"Oh, of no one: I was talking in general," her grandmother replies,
with some irritation, adding, still more petulantly, after a pause, "If
you have unbounded esteem and warm sympathy for young Nimbsch, why,
marry him, by all means."

Instead of replying, Erika begins to arrange the sheets of music on the
piano.

A long pause ensues. From below come the murmur of voices, the ringing
of bells, and the moving of trunks,--in short, all the bustle
consequent upon the arrival of fresh guests at a large hotel. Countess
Lenzdorff takes the opportunity to complain of so much noise, and to
declare, "In fact, I am quite tired of this wandering about from place
to place."

"What, grandmother? Why, you were so delighted here! Only yesterday you
told me how 'refreshing' you considered your Venetian life."

"Yes, yes; but it has lasted too long for me. While you were playing
lawn-tennis this afternoon with Constance Mühlberg, I went to see
Hedwig Norbin. She arrived yesterday, and is at the 'Europe;' but she
is only stopping for a day or so on her way home. 'Tis a pity."

"And she gave you such an alluring description of Berlin that you are
anxious to fold your tent and fly back to Bellevue Street now, in the
midst of this wondrous Southern spring?" Erika asks, coldly.

"Oh, spring is lovely everywhere!--lovelier in Berlin than in Venice:
there is nothing more beautiful than the Thiergarten in May. And then I
find there all my old habits, my old friends."

"I have no friends in Berlin," says Erika, with a strange emphasis,
"and that is why I beg you to stay away from Berlin for a while longer.
Next autumn you may do with me what you please. Have a little patience
with me."

"Patience! patience!" The old Countess taps her book more energetically
than ever.

After a while Erika begins: "Did Frau von Norbin tell you anything
about Dorothea von Sydow? How is her position regarded by society?"

"How?" her grandmother exclaims. "How should society regard the
critical position of a woman who has never shown the slightest
consideration for any one, never conferred a benefit upon any one,
scarcely even treated any one with courtesy, but lived only for her own
frivolous gratification? Society acknowledges a woman in her position
only when it would lose something by dropping her. Who would lose
anything if Dorothea were stricken from its list? A couple of young
men, perhaps; and they would be at liberty to make love to her outside
of the ranks of society. The world has turned its back upon her: Hedwig
tells me that she is positively shunned."

"And how does she accommodate herself to her destiny?" asks Erika.

"As poorly as possible. One would suppose that she would have left
Berlin. For my part, I never imagined that she cared so much for her
social position; but she appears to be clutching it in a kind of
panic."

"How unpleasant for--for the dead man's brother!" says Erika. Several
months have passed since she has spoken Goswyn's name: it would seem as
if her lips refused to utter it.

"For Goswyn!" her grandmother exclaims, in a tone of sincere distress.
"Terrible! They say he is altered almost beyond recognition. I did not
know he was so devoted to Otto. But, to be sure, the circumstances
attendant upon his death were frightful. Goswyn always found fault with
me, but, after all, since his mother's death I have stood nearest to
him in this world. I know he would be glad to pour out his heart to
me."

Erika draws a long breath; her large clear eyes flash. "Ah!"
she exclaims, "this, then, is your reason for wishing to go to
Berlin,--that you may console Herr Goswyn von Sydow? I always knew that
he was dear to you: I learn now for the first time that he is dearer to
you than I am!"

"Oh, Erika!--dearer than you!" The old lady rises and strokes the
girl's arm tenderly. "I am often sorry that I cannot love you both
together!" she adds, half timidly, in an undertone.

But this time Erika repulses almost angrily the caress usually so dear
to her. "I cannot understand you!" she says: "it is a positive mania of
yours. You are always reproaching me for not having married Goswyn, or
hinting that I ought to marry him,--a man who has not wasted a thought
upon me for years!"

"Oh, Erika! how can you talk so? Remember Bayreuth."

"What if I do remember Bayreuth? Yes, he still thought of me then; that
is, he remembered the young girl with whom he had ridden in the
Thiergarten, and he brought her memory with him to Bayreuth; but he
discovered it did not fit with what he found there: that was the end of
it all!" Erika silently paces the room to and fro once or twice, then,
pausing before her grandmother, she continues: "It stings me whenever
you speak of Goswyn and lose yourself in the contemplation of his
measureless magnanimity. Magnanimity! Yes, but it is a cold, sterile,
arrogant magnanimity! He is a thoroughly just man, but he is a man who
never forgives a weakness, because none ever beset him,--none, at
least, of which he is conscious. He---- Oh, yes----,"--the girl's voice
grows hoarse, she catches her breath and goes on with increasing
volubility,--"I have no doubt that he would spring into the water at
any moment to save the life, at the risk of his own, of any worthless
wretch, but as soon as he brought him to land he would turn his back
upon him and march away with his head proudly erect, without even
casting a look upon the man he had rescued, let alone giving him a kind
word. Witness his behaviour towards me. I refer to it expressly that we
may correct once for all your painful and humiliating misapprehension.
He did, as you know, do me a service in Bayreuth which I could not have
expected of any one else. Granted. But he has never forgiven me for
being betrothed for six or eight weeks to Lord Langley. Good heavens!
it was a mistake of mine, a stupidity, the result of vanity and
ambition on my part. But it was nothing more; and yet it was enough to
cause--to cause Herr von Sydow to banish me from grace forever. This is
your wonderful Goswyn. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me: I
take not the slightest interest in him, thank God! If I had been
interested in him I might have fretted myself nearly to death; but, as
it is, I am merely vexed that I should have overrated him,--that is
all."

Her grandmother listened in amazement. She had never before seen Erika
so excited, had never imagined that her voice was capable of such
intonations. At times it was the voice of a stubborn, angry child, and
anon that of a proud, passionate woman.

"Why, Erika!" she exclaimed when the girl paused, "this is all
nonsense,--cleverly-invented nonsense, the worst of all kinds. There is
not one word of truth in it. I know that he adores you just as he
always did."

"You have a lively imagination," Erika said, sarcastically. "It is
remarkable that Goswyn has had nothing to say about his adoration all
this time."

"My dear child," replied her grandmother, "that is quite another thing.
In certain respects Goswyn is petty: I have always told you so. His
poverty and your wealth have always been of too much consequence in his
eyes. It is a folly which may have cost him the happiness of his life.
Say what you will, I am convinced that his poverty alone has prevented
him from renewing his suit."

"Indeed!" said Erika, tossing her head disdainfully. "Well, his poverty
is at an end!"

"Oh, Erika, with your wonderful sensibility you ought to understand
that a man like Goswyn cannot bring himself all in a moment to profit
by his brother's death,--a death, too, so terrible in its attendant
circumstances."

Erika was silent for a minute; her lips quivered; then she said, in a
low tone, "True, grandmother; it would be odious of him to renew his
suit instantly; but, you see, if such a misfortune as has befallen him
had happened to me, I should long to carry my pain to those who were
nearest my heart. You are ready to return to Berlin for his sake. If
all that you fancy were true, he would have come to Venice: he could
easily have obtained a leave. And now we have done with this subject
once for all. Fortunately, I do not care for him in the least,--not in
the least. I tell you all this only that you may not request me to ride
posthaste with you to Berlin, that the world there, already so
predisposed in my favour, may say, 'She is running after Goswyn von
Sydow, now that he has inherited the family estates.'"

The grandmother laid her hands on Erika's shoulders, then drew the
proud young head towards her, and kissed her on the forehead. At
that moment Lüdecke, the indispensable, entered and presented a
visiting-card.

"Paul von Lozoncyi," Countess Lenzdorff read from the card, and then
dropped it upon the salver again. "Are you in the mood to receive
strangers?"

"Yes. Why not?" asked Erika.


Shortly afterwards Lozoncyi entered Erika's pretty little boudoir, now
illuminated by a couple of shaded lamps.

Erika received him most amiably. The old Countess, on the other hand,
was at first rather formal in her manner towards him. She was not
accustomed to have young men delay so long in taking advantage of an
invitation extended by herself to visit her. But before Lozoncyi had
been five minutes in the room her displeasure melted like snow in
sunshine.

Without the slightest attempt to excuse his dilatoriness, the artist
was at pains to impress his hostesses with his delight in having at
last found the way to them. "How charming!" he said, looking around the
room and rubbing his slender hands, after his characteristic fashion.
"One never would dream that this was a hotel."

"This is my grand-daughter's sanctum," said the old Countess. "My own
reception-room is several shades barer."

"Indeed? Ah, I know it does not become me, the first time I am
permitted to enjoy this privilege, to stare about at your treasures
like the private agent of some dealer in antiquities, but we artists
delight in the pride of the eye. It is remarkable how well you have
suited the frame to the picture. Look, your Excellency."

He drew the old lady's attention to the picture formed at that moment
by her grand-daughter, who was sitting in a negligent attitude in a
high-backed antique chair, the gilt leather covering of which made a
charming background for her auburn hair.

"It is enchanting, the white figure against the golden gleam of the
leather, and with that vase of jonquils beside it. If one could only
perpetuate it!" He sighed.

"You will embarrass the child," the grandmother admonished him,
although in her heart she was delighted. "Instead of turning the
Countess Erika's head, tell us why you have been so long finding your
way hither."

He raised his eyes, looked her full in the face, and then dropped them
again, as he said, in a low tone, "Rather ask me why I have come at
all."

"No, I ask you expressly why you did not come before," the old lady
persisted, laughing.

"Why?" He hesitated a moment, and then replied, calmly, "Because I have
no wish to be the last among the Countess Erika's adorers to drag her
triumphal car. Now you know. Such plain questions provoke plain
answers." He looked at the old lady as he spoke, to see if he had gone
too far. No, he was one of those favoured individuals to whom thrice as
much is forgiven as to other men. Something in the intonation of his
gentle, cordial voice, his frank yet melancholy glance, and especially
his smile, his charming insinuating smile, instantly prepossessed
people in his favour. It was the same smile with which as a lad of
seventeen he had beguiled little Erika's tender heart, the merry,
careless smile which he must have inherited from an amiable,
light-hearted mother.

The old lady only laughed at his confession, and then asked, mockingly,
"And now you are content to be the very last, etc., etc.?"

He shook his head: "Now it has occurred to me that perhaps I can offer
the Countess Erika a small pleasure which none other among her adorers
can give her, and I come to ask if she will give me leave to do so."

Erika was silent. Countess Lenzdorff said, "Herr von Lozoncyi, you
speak in riddles."

Lozoncyi turned from one to the other of the ladies with a look
calculated to go directly to their hearts, and then, addressing the
younger one, said, "You perhaps remember that I am in your debt,
Countess Erika?"

"Yes; I once lent you five guilders."

"Five guilders," he repeated. "It seems a trifle; but then it was much
for me. Without those five guilders I should probably never have been
able to reach my aunt Illona in Munich, and I might have starved in a
ditch. You see that I owe you much; and in consideration of this fact I
have come to ask if you will allow me to paint your portrait."

Erika gazed at him blankly.

"For five guilders?" exclaimed the old Countess, with comical emphasis.
Every one knew how difficult it was to persuade Lozoncyi to paint a
portrait, and what a fabulous price he asked when induced to do so.

"I entreat you not to refuse me, Countess Erika," he begged, with
clasped hands.

"I advise you to accept the offer," said her grandmother: "it will
hardly be made a second time."

"You shall not be subjected to the slightest inconvenience," he went on
to Erika, "except that of being bored for a few hours. I know that you
do not, as a rule, like my pictures, and therefore I promise you that I
will burn this one if it does not please you, even though I should
consider it a masterpiece. But should I succeed in pleasing you, the
picture may serve to remind you sometimes of a poor fellow who----"

The sentence was cut short by the entrance of several visitors, and
much talk and laughter ensued.

Lozoncyi stayed until all the rest had gone.

"When shall I have the first sitting?" he asked.

"Whenever you please," Erika made reply.

"To-morrow?"

"To-morrow? No; to-morrow will not do; but the day after to-morrow, in
the forenoon, if you like."

His eyes sparkled. "About eleven?"

She assented.

"There goes another man whose head you have turned, Erika," remarked
the old Countess, as the door closed behind the artist. She laughed as
she said it. Good heavens! what did it matter?


At the appointed time Lüdecke carried down to the gondola the
portmanteau containing the gown in which Lozoncyi had seen Erika at
Frau von Neerwinden's, and in which he had wished to immortalize her.
The two ladies were not accompanied even by a maid, Erika declaring
that she needed no help in arranging her toilette for the portrait.

The sky was cloudless, the air warm but not oppressive. The gondoliers
rowed merrily and quickly.

Lozoncyi's studio was back of the Rialto, on one of the narrower
water-ways to the left of the Grand Canal. In about a quarter of an
hour the gondola stopped before a light-green door with an iron lion's
head in the centre of it. One of the gondoliers knocked with the ring
depending from the lion's mouth.

Lozoncyi himself opened the door. He wore a faded linen blouse, and
appeared greatly elated. "To the very last moment I was afraid of an
excuse, and here you are, only a quarter of an hour late!" he cried, in
a tone of cordial welcome; then, taking the portmanteau from the
attendant gondolier, he called loudly, "Lucrezia! Lucrezia!" "You must
excuse me, ladies," he said: "my house does not boast electric bells."

From a passage at the head of the stone staircase there appeared an old
Venetian woman, with large earrings in her ears, and thick waving gray
hair brushed back from her temples and coiled in a knot at the back of
her head, the antique style of which suited admirably her regular
classic features. She smiled a welcome to the ladies, thereby
displaying a double row of dazzling white teeth, while Lozoncyi in
fluent Italian ordered her to take the portmanteau to the dressing-room
and unpack it.

Along the narrow passage leading directly through the house from the
water, they walked into the garden, a tangle of luxuriant growth. The
bushes were already clothed in tender green, and here and there through
the young leaves could be seen a spray of white hawthorn.

"Oh, how charming!" exclaimed Erika.

"Is it not?" said the painter. "I came here for the sake of the garden.
A spot of earth is so precious in this watery Venice."

"Do not forget your Lucrezia: her beauty exceeds that of your garden,"
the old Countess remarked.

"My old factotum? Yes, she has a fine face, magnificent features. I
cannot endure anything ugly about me. But did you notice how short and
stout she is?" He asked the question with so genuine an air of
annoyance that the old Countess could not help laughing.

"What of that? Is it a crime in your eyes?"

"No," he said, thoughtfully, "but it makes her useless for artistic
purposes. I tried to pose her the other day,--in vain. She might do for
Juliet's nurse, or for a modern fortune-teller, but that is not my
line. I find plenty of handsome faces among these Venetians, and fine
shoulders, too, but nothing more. Their bodies are too long, their
legs too short; there are no sweeping lines, no grace of movement. And
when one finds a model whose limbs are long enough, she is like a
stork. I have a deal of trouble in this respect. When I was painting
'Spring,'--the picture that Countess Erika does not like,--I was in
despair because I could find no model for my female figure. Then one
day on the Rialto I found a person, no longer young, rouged, but
magnificently formed,--as tall as Countess Erika, only not----"

He broke off and grew very red. A moment afterwards, however, he had
forgotten his embarrassment in a new inspiration. At the door of the
studio Erika lifted her arm to pluck a spray of wistaria.

"Stay just as you are, for one instant, Countess!" he cried, and,
rushing into his studio, he returned instantly with a sketch-book and a
basket-chair. The latter he placed in the shade for the old Countess,
and then began to sketch rapidly.

"Only look at that curve!" he exclaimed to the grandmother. "It is
music! And the line of the hips!"

His manner of unceasingly dwelling upon the beauty or ugliness of the
human body, the exact analysis which he was perpetually making of its
structure, in connection with his profession, was at times offensive.
But neither of the ladies took exception to it, Erika partly from
inexperience and partly from flattered vanity, the old Countess because
her sensitiveness in this respect had become dulled of late, and also
because Lozoncyi expressed himself in so naïve a fashion that he seemed
at the worst to be merely guilty of a breach of good taste. One had to
know him very intimately to discover what a profound impression upon
his inmost nature this perpetual study of the human figure had
produced.

"How thoroughly you understand how to dress yourself!" he exclaimed,
continuing to look fixedly at the girl, who wore a gown of some white
woollen stuff, with a large straw hat trimmed with heavy old Venetian
lace.

"I have half a mind to paint you thus, instead of in evening dress," he
murmured. "But no; your portrait should be in full dress. Only, be
generous; we will begin the portrait to-morrow, give me an hour for
myself to-day: I want to make a water-colour sketch of you. Does it
tire you too much to stretch your arm out so far?"

"A woman does not grow tired when she is conscious of being admired,"
the old Countess declared; "but the situation is less entertaining for
me. Have you not some book to give me?"


Erika grew weary at last, in spite of the admiration lavished upon her
by Lozoncyi while he sketched. The painter improvised a lunch for his
guests beneath a mulberry-tree, upon a little rickety table. It was
excellently prepared and delicately served, and he enjoyed seeing the
ladies do ample justice to it. Lucrezia had just served the coffee, and
was standing with a smiling face and arms akimbo, listening to the old
Countess's praise of her skill in cookery, when there came a knock at
the door.

"Confound it!" muttered Lozoncyi, "not a visitor, I trust."

It was no visitor, but a letter brought by Lozoncyi's gondolier, a
handsome dark-skinned lad in a sailor dress, with a red scarf about his
waist. Involuntarily Erika glanced at the letter. The address was in a
feminine hand; the post-mark was Paris.

Lozoncyi gave an impatient shrug at sight of the handwriting; then,
crushing the letter in his hand, he slipped it unopened into his
pocket. "Will you not look into my workshop?" he asked the ladies.

"I was just about to ask you to show us your studio," replied the old
Countess. "I am curious with regard to your 'Bad Dreams.'"

"Yes,"--he shivered,--"'bad dreams,'--that is the word!"

The atelier, which they entered from the garden by a glass door, was an
unusually high and spacious apartment, but very plainly furnished, and
in dusty confusion,--the workshop of a very nervous artist, who can
endure no 'clearing up,' who cannot do without the rubbish of his art.
Erika's gaze was instantly attracted by a remarkable and horrible
picture.

A single figure in a close, clinging garment of undecided hue, the head
thrust forward, the arms stretched out, the whole form expressing
yearning, torturing desire, was groping its way towards a swamp
above which hovered a will-o'-the-wisp. Above in the dark heavens
gleamed the pure light of the stars. It was all a marvel of tone and
expression,--the sad harmony of colour, the star-lit sky, the dreary
swamp, and above all the figure, its every feature, every fingertip,
every fold even of its garment, expressing desire.

"What did you mean it to represent?" asked the old Countess.

"Can you not guess?"

No, she could not guess; but Erika instantly exclaimed, "Blind Love!"

He looked at her more curiously than he had done hitherto, and then
asked, "How did you know?"

"I see how the figure is creeping towards the will-o'-the-wisp, not
heeding the stars sparkling above it. Look how it is sinking into the
swamp, grandmother. It is horrible!"

"Blind Love," her grandmother repeated, thoughtfully. The subject did
not appeal to her.

"Yes," said Lozoncyi, "blind love,--the misery of debasing passion."
With a bitter smile he added, "Well, the only comfort is that one can
sometimes attain to the will-o'-the-wisp, though he can never reach the
stars, however he may gaze up at them."

"No," Erika exclaimed, indignantly, "that is no comfort. Rather--a
thousand times rather--reach up in vain for the stars, and expand and
grow in longing for the unattainable, than stoop to a happiness to be
found only in a swamp!"

He made an inclination towards her, and said, half aloud, "What you say
is very beautiful; but you do not understand."


"Well, you certainly have turned that poor fellow's head," Countess
Lenzdorff remarked, leaning back comfortably among the cushions of the
gondola as she and Erika were being rowed home. "It will do him no
harm: on the contrary, it is good for such young artists, too apt to be
self-indulgent, to reach after the unattainable; it enlarges their
minds." Then after a while she went on: "I wonder whom the letter that
so provoked him was from. Perhaps from that blonde who was with him at
Bayreuth."

Erika did not reply; she looked down at a spray of wistaria he had
plucked for her as she took leave of him. Suddenly she started: a large
black caterpillar crept out from among the fragrant blossoms. With a
little cry of disgust she flung the spray into the water.


At the same time Lozoncyi was standing in his studio, looking at the
water-colour sketch he had made of Erika.

"A glorious creature," he muttered to himself; "glorious! I do not
remember ever to have seen anything more beautiful, and, with all her
distinction, and that pallor too, thoroughly healthy, fully developed,
nothing maimed or deformed about her. She must be at least twenty-four.
How is it that she is not married? Some unhappy love-affair? Hardly.
She seems entirely fancy free, as if she had never in her life cared
for a lover. How proudly she carries her head! Her kind is entirely
unknown to me. Well, there are always women enough to do the dirty work
of life; some there must be to guard the Holy Grail." He turned to the
door of the studio that led out into the garden. A light vapour was
rising from the earth, enveloping the blossoms in mist. He smiled
strangely and not very pleasantly. "The spring cares not a whit for the
Holy Grail. It goes on its way; it goes on its way."


At first she had been repelled by him; then he had flattered her
vanity; by and by he interested her, but from the very beginning he had
excited her imagination as no other man had ever done. And this in
spite of the fact that his views of life, which he scarcely concealed,
aroused within her painful indignation. She was quite aware that there
were dark recesses in his soul which she might not explore, and that,
courteous and faultless as was his behaviour towards women like her
grandmother and herself, he respected them as curious specimens of the
sex, interesting, because not often encountered. Upon all this she
pondered, sick at heart, as she turned her head to and fro upon her
pillow, so many nights, seeking the refreshment of sleep.

The outcome of it was a strange, pathetic, foolishly ambitious project.
She set herself the task of converting him to nobler views of life.

How many unfortunates have been ruined in their zeal for conversion!


That Erika should unconsciously play with fire was not astonishing, but
that her grandmother should look on in smiling indifference while her
grand-daughter was thus occupied was amazing.

There are learned fanatics who in their determination to establish some
theory of their own lavish all their powers in an effort to elaborate
it, shutting their eyes to any light which may steal in upon them,
while thus engaged, from an opposite quarter.


At first the portrait progressed with great rapidity; but now weeks had
gone by, and it seemed as if Lozoncyi were unable to finish it.

It was life-size, a three-fourths figure, and, in order not to fatigue
Erika, she was taken sitting in an antique chair, her lap heaped with
pale-lilac wistaria blossoms. There was no straining for effect, not a
trace of conventionality.

"Take the position that you find most comfortable," he had instructed
his beautiful model. "You can take none that will not be lovely."

The long spring days glided slowly by. When the two ladies first
went to Lozoncyi's studio the gray stone of the garden wall was easily
seen behind the vines and bushes; now the green alone showed
everywhere,--the roses were in bloom, and the hawthorn had nearly
faded.

The studio, too, was changed. When they first came, it had been
absolutely bare of all decoration; now when they came, which was three
or four times a week, it was filled with the loveliest flowers.

When they left he heaped up all of these that had not been touched by
the heat in their gondola, which sometimes returned alone to the Hotel
Britannia, laden with the flowers, while Lozoncyi escorted his guests
to their home by some picturesque roundabout way.

It was a great pleasure to walk with him. No one knew as he did how to
call attention to some artistic effect, some bit of colour that might
have easily escaped one less sensitive to picturesque detail.

"Good heavens!" said the old Countess, "I have been through these
alleys a hundred times, but you make me feel as if I never had been
here before. You have a special gift for teaching one the beauty of
life."

"Indeed? Have I?" he murmured. "It is a gift, then, for teaching what I
cannot learn myself."

By degrees Erika came to see with his eyes, and sometimes more quickly
than he was wont to do. She was especially pleased when she could first
call his attention to some artistic effect that had escaped him, and he
always exaggerated the value of these discoveries of hers, assuring her
that he had never seen a woman with so keen a sense of the beautiful,
and rallying her upon her artistic skill. Once when the old Countess
asked what they were talking about, Lozoncyi replied, "The Countess
Erika and I are teaching each other to find life beautiful." And once
he turned to Erika and said, sadly, "It is a pity that it must all come
to an end so soon."

All the sentences abruptly broken off which just touched the brink of a
declaration of love, but were never really such, Erika naturally
interpreted in one way: "He loves me, but dares not venture to hope for
a return of his affection: he is convinced that I am too far above
him."

At first she was proud of having inspired a man so rare, so gifted, so
flattered, with so profound a sentiment; then----


"To what can this lead?"

For the hundredth time Lozoncyi asked himself this question.

"To what can this lead?"

He was standing in his studio before Erika's unfinished
portrait--unfinished!

"It must be finished at the next sitting. For the last ten days I have
simply put off its completion from one sitting to the next, and all
because I cannot tell how I can endure seeing her no more. And, yet, to
what can it all lead?"

He was very pale, and the moisture stood upon his forehead. He would
have turned away from the portrait, but was drawn towards it as by a
spell. "A glorious creature!" he murmured; "and not only beautiful, but
absolutely unique. It raises a man's moral standard to be with such a
creature. H'm! before I knew her I was not aware that I had a moral
standard." He laughed bitterly, and continued to gaze at the picture.
"She is beautiful!" he muttered between his teeth. "It is folly for a
being like her to be so beautiful,--a waste,--a contradiction of
nature!" He stamped his foot, vexed that any but the purest thoughts
should intrude upon his admiration of Erika. "A strange creature! What
eyes!--so clear, so deep, so penetrating!" He could think of nothing
save of her; his nerves thrilled with passion for her.

Strive as he might, his artist imagination could not force itself from
the contemplation of her beauty.

He loved her; he had known that for some time. But hitherto his love
for her had been a tender, noble sentiment, something of which he had
not supposed himself capable, something that exalted him in his own
estimation. He had been refreshed, revived, by her presence, by
intercourse with her. But that was past.

"The charm of love is the dream that precedes it," he murmured. The
dream was over: what now?

Then an insane idea occurred to him: "She is unlike all others: there
is a magnanimous, exaggerated strain in her composition, which exalts
her above all pettiness. If she loved me, could she ever have been
induced to marry me?"

He shivered. "No! no! it is worse than folly to imagine it. In spite of
all her enthusiasm, in spite of her immense power of compassion, she is
too much the Countess to ever dream of such a possibility."

His lips were dry; an iron hand seemed clutching his throat. He turned
his back to the picture and went out into the garden. The skies were
covered with gray clouds: the flowers drooped; there was a distant
mutter of thunder.

"Yet if it could be!" he murmured.



                             CHAPTER XXII.


Erika was sitting by the window in her boudoir. Although outside the
night had not yet fallen upon the earth, it was too dark to read. Her
window looked out upon the hotel-garden,--which at this season of the
year was like one huge bed of roses intersected by a narrow gravel
path. The sweet breath of the roses was wafted in at the window, but
with it there mingled always the sickening odour of the lagoon.

A couple of distant clocks were striking the hour, and the water was
lapping the feet of the old palaces.

Lost in thought the girl sat there. The mission in life for which she
had so yearned was revealed to her in the noblest, most attractive
form.

She could not doubt that Lozoncyi loved her. Mistrustful as she usually
was concerning the sentiments she was wont to arouse, there could be no
uncertainty in this case.

The future lay before her bright and alluring. How could she have
despaired in this wonderful life of ours? She seemed to have always
known that she was foreordained for some special service.

Why had he never yet made a direct confession of his sentiments? Her
pride replied to this question, "He dare not venture."

It was for her to take one step to meet him. Reserved as she was, the
mere thought of so doing sent the blood to her cheeks, but she took
herself sternly to task, admonishing herself that cowardice on her part
would be paltry in the extreme.

It would surely be possible to allow him to read her heart, without any
indelicate frankness on her part.

Thus far her thoughts had led her, when Marianne brought her a card:
"Herr von Lozoncyi."

"Did you tell him I was at home?"

"No; I said I would see. When her Excellency is away I never say
anything decided," replied the maid.

The old Countess had gone out a little while before, to pay a short
visit in the neighbourhood; Lüdecke had accompanied her.

Erika hesitated a moment, then turned up the electric light and told
Marianne to show in the visitor. Immediately afterwards he entered, and
she arose to receive him. She was startled as she looked at his face,
it was so pale and wan.

"Are you ill?" she exclaimed; "or have you come to tell us of some
misfortune that has befallen you?" The sympathy expressed in her tone
agitated him still further.

"Neither is the case," he replied, trying to assume an easy air. "I
came only to----" There he paused. Why had he come? The thought that
she might entertain a warmer sentiment for him--a thought that had
occurred to him to-day for the first time--would not be banished. He
had dragged the sweet, racking uncertainty about with him for an hour
through the loneliest streets of Venice, without being able to rid
himself of it. He would see her,--would have certainty; and then----

Ah, he could not gain that certainty: he could only long for her.

He had invented some explanation of his visit, but he could not
remember it; instead he said, "You are very kind to receive me in
Countess Lenzdorff's absence, and I will show my appreciation of your
kindness by making my visit a short one."

"On the contrary," she rejoined, "I hope you will spend the evening
with us. My grandmother will be here in a few minutes, and will be very
glad to find you here."

How soft and sweet her voice was! Could it be--could it be----?

His agitation became almost intolerable. He knew that he ought not to
stay, but he could not bring himself to leave.

The evening minstrels of Venice were beginning their rounds, and in the
distance they sang "_Io son felice--t'attendo in ciel!_"

"Bring your present expression to the studio tomorrow!" Lozoncyi said,
hoarsely: "I will transfer it to the canvas as well as I can, in memory
of the noblest creature I have ever met. You are coming to-morrow?"

"Certainly. The portrait is almost finished, is it not?"

"Yes; I think to-morrow will be the last sitting; and then----"

"And then----?" she repeated.

"Then it will all be over!"

There was a pause. He turned his head aside. Suddenly a low sweet
voice, that went directly to his heart, said, softly, "Then you will
wish to know nothing more of me!"

He started as if from an electric shock; the room swam before his eyes,
when----the door opened, the Countess Mühlberg appeared, and Lozoncyi
arose to take leave, thanking Heaven for this unexpected interruption.

"Will you not wait until my grandmother returns?" Erika asked.

"Unfortunately, it is impossible."

"Adieu, then. To-morrow at eleven," she called after him. He made no
reply.


It lightened and thundered all through the night, but scarcely a drop
of rain fell; the air the next morning was as sultry as it had been on
the previous day.

When Erika, with her grandmother, entered Lozoncyi's garden punctually
at eleven o'clock, everything there looked withered and drooping.
Lozoncyi himself was pale; his motions had lost their wonted
elasticity, and his face was grave. When the old Countess asked him if
he were ill, he ascribed his condition to the sirocco.

Erika noticed that there were no fresh flowers in the studio: he had
taken no pains to decorate it for his guests, and she was conscious of
a foreboding of misfortune.

"I must subject you to some fatigue to-day, I fear, that the picture
may at last be finished," he said, speaking very quickly. "You must
have patience this last time. I should not like to give you a picture
that was not as good as I knew how to make it."

"You have already bestowed too much of your valuable time upon the
Countess Erika," the old Countess said, kindly.

"Indeed? do you think so?" he murmured, with a bitterness he had never
displayed before. "Do you think we artists should not be allowed to
devote so much time to enjoyment? 'Tis true," he added, in an
undertone, "that we have to pay for it."

Erika looked at him in startled wonder: his words were perfectly
incomprehensible to her, but the expression of his pale face was one of
such anguish that her compassion, always too easily aroused, increased
momentarily.

As usual, she repaired to the adjoining room to change her dress with
Lucrezia's assistance. When she returned to the studio Lozoncyi was
standing with his back to the chimney-piece, his hands in the pockets
of his jacket, while her grandmother, sitting opposite him in her
favourite chair, was asking him, "What is the matter with you,
Lozoncyi? Have you lost money in the stock market?"

He shook his head. "No," he said, trying to answer the question in the
same jesting tone as that in which it had been asked.

"Then what is wrong? Confide in me."

He cleared his throat. "In fact, I----" he began.

Then, perceiving Erika, "Ah, ready so soon?" he cried. "Let us go to
work."

She could not find the pose immediately: he was obliged to move her
right arm. His hand was as hot as if burning with fever, and he had
scarcely touched the girl's arm with it when he withdrew it hastily.

He went to the easel, gazed long and with half-closed eyes at his
model, then turned and began to paint.

Usually there was a constant flow of conversation between Erika and
himself. To-day he spoke not a word; perfect silence reigned in the
studio; the turning of the leaves of the novel which the old Countess
was reading and the twittering of the birds in the garden outside, were
audible; one could even hear now and then the sweep of the brush upon
the canvas.

Thus an hour passed. Then, stepping back a few paces from the picture,
he fixed his eyes upon Erika, added a few touches with his brush, and
looked from her to the portrait.

"Look at it yourself," he said, with a hard emphasis on each syllable.
"So far as I can finish it, it is done. I cannot improve it!"

Both ladies went and stood before it. "I do not know whether it is
like," said Erika, "but it certainly is a masterpiece."

"It is magnificent!" exclaimed her grandmother. "You have flattered the
child, and have done it most delicately,--_en homme d'esprit_."

"Flattered!" he cried. "Hardly! I have tried to produce the expression
which not every one can see in the face. That is the only merit of my
poor performance: otherwise it is a daub. I have never seemed to myself
so poor a painter as when at work upon this picture." As he spoke he
tossed the entire sheaf of brushes which he held in his hand into the
chimney place.

"What are you about?" exclaimed the old Countess. "You are in a very
odd mood to-day."

"Oh, the brushes were worn out," he replied. "I could not have painted
another picture with them."

The blood mounted to Erika's cheek with gratification. She understood
him. His agitation and sorrow did not disquiet her now, so convinced
was she that it was in her power to dispel them by a single word.

"You must leave the picture with me for a time. When it is dry I will
varnish it and send it to you: I must ask you, however, to what
address?"

"I hope we shall still continue to see you," the old Countess replied.
"I assure you that I entertain a sincere friendship for you. The visits
to your studio, although my part in them has been a secondary one, have
come to be a pleasant habit, which I shall find it hard to discontinue.
We shall always be glad to welcome you wherever we are."

Erika, meanwhile, had approached the painter. "I do not know how to
thank you," she said.

"I have done nothing for which thanks are due," he rejoined. "The
thanks should come from me. All I ask of you is to bestow a thought now
and then upon the poor painter who has enjoyed the sight of you for so
long. No, there is one thing more. You will allow me to make a copy of
the picture for myself?"

The grandmother interposed: "Go change your dress, Erika."

And Lozoncyi asked, "Will you take your portmanteau with you, or shall
I send it to you?"

Erika went into the next room. Hurriedly, impatiently, she took off the
white gown and put on her street dress. "Stuff everything into the
portmanteau," she ordered Lucrezia, slipping a gold coin into the
servant's hand.

She was in a strange mood: she felt her heart throb up in her throat.
"Shall I have one moment in which to speak to him alone?" she asked
herself.

"Ready? You have been quick," her grandmother said when she re-entered
the studio. "Have you summoned our gondola, Lozoncyi?"

"Yes, Countess. I wonder it is not here. Meanwhile, I must cut the
roses in my garden for you. I cannot tell for whom they will bloom when
you come no longer."

He went out into the garden. For one moment Erika hesitated; then she
followed him. The skies were one uniform gray; every branch and blossom
drooped wearily. The roses which Lozoncyi tried to cut for Erika fell
to pieces beneath his touch, strewing the earth with pink and white
petals.

Lozoncyi did not look around, but cut unmercifully, with a large pair
of garden scissors. Before he knew it, Erika stood beside him. "I may
be overbold," she half whispered, lightly touching his arm, "but I
cannot help feeling that I have a right to know your troubles. Is
anything distressing you?"

He looked at her and tried to smile. "To say farewell distresses me,
Countess, as you must be aware."

She was overpowered by timidity, but her compassion gave her courage.
She collected herself: they must understand each other. "If to say
farewell really distresses you, I--I cannot see why it should be said,"
she whispered. The tears stood in her eyes, and he----? He was ashy
pale, and the roses dropped from his hands.

At this moment the bell rang loudly, and a woman's voice asked, in
French with a strong Prussian accent, "Does the artist, Paul Lozoncyi,
live here?"

Erika was startled. Where had she heard that voice before? Out into the
drooping garden came a tall, well-formed woman, with regular features,
fair, slightly rouged, every fold of her dress, every curl of her fair
hair,--yes, even the perfume which breathed about her,--betraying her
cult of physical perfection. A scarlet veil was drawn tightly about her
face: otherwise her dress was simple and becoming.

Erika recognized her instantly, and guessed the truth. For a moment the
garden swam before her eyes: she was afraid she should fall. Meanwhile,
the new-comer laid a very shapely and well-gloved hand upon the
artist's arm, and cried, "_Une surprise--hein, mon bébé! Tu ne t'y
attendais pas--dis?_"

"No," he replied, sharply.

She frowned, and, challenging Erika with a look, she said, "Have the
kindness to introduce me."

He cleared his throat, and then, sharp and hard as the blow of an axe,
the words fell from his lips, "My wife."

Erika had recovered her self-possession. She had advanced sufficiently
in knowledge of the world since Bayreuth to know that no one, not even
Frau Lozoncyi, could expect her to be cordial. She contented herself
with acknowledging Lozoncyi's introduction by a slight inclination.

Meanwhile, the old Countess appeared from the studio to see what was
going on. She took no pains to conceal her astonishment, and when
Lozoncyi presented his wife her inclination was, if possible, colder
and haughtier than Erika's had been, as she scanned the stranger
through her eye-glass. Lozoncyi's servant announced the gondola.

Erika offered her hand to Lozoncyi and had the courage to smile.

The old lady also held out her hand to him, but did not smile. Her
manner was very cool as she said, "Thank you for all the kindness you
have shown us. I had hoped you would dine with us to-night; but you
will not wish this first day to leave--to leave Frau von Lozoncyi."

The gondola pushed off. The water gurgled beneath the first stroke of
the oar, and the wood creaked slightly. For an instant the artist stood
upon his threshold, looking after Erika; then he went into the house,
and the light-green door which she knew so well closed behind him.

How did she feel? She had no time to think of that. All her strength
was expended in concealing her agitation. She arranged her dress, and
remarked that the water was unusually muddy. In fact, it had an opaque
greenish hue. The old Countess did not notice it.

"I never suspected that he was married!" she exclaimed. "He should have
told us. A man has no right to conceal such a fact."

And Erika replied, with an air of easy indifference that surprised even
herself, "I suppose, grandmother, he did not imagine that the
circumstance could possess the slightest interest for us."



                             CHAPTER XXIII.


In addition to many trying and strange characteristics possessed by
Erika, Providence had bestowed upon her one which at this time stood
her in stead. Upon any severe agitating experience a few hours of cool,
hard self-consciousness were sure to ensue,--hours in which she was
perfectly able to appear in the world with dry eyes, and not even the
keenest observer could perceive any change in her, save that her laugh
was perhaps more frequent and more silvery.

This condition of mind was far from being an agreeable one: moreover,
the reaction afterwards was terrible: nevertheless, thanks to this
moral paralysis, Erika was able in critical moments to preserve
appearances.

The day on which, as she supposed, her happiness, her faith, the entire
purpose of her life, lay in ruins about her, was occupied with social
duties of every description. She performed them all,--an afternoon tea,
with lawn-tennis, a dinner, and at last a supper with music at the
Austrian Consul's.

And even when the old Countess on their way home from the Consul's
proposed that they should look in at Frau von Neerwinden's, upon whom
they had not called since the memorable evening when Minona read, Erika
declared herself quite willing to do so. Perhaps this was because she
had a secret hope of meeting Lozoncyi there; for she longed to see him,
to show him how entirely he had been mistaken if he had supposed----

Ah! what pretexts we invent to deceive ourselves as to the cowardly
impulses of our desires!

But he was not at Frau von Neerwinden's, where the old Countess found
herself so well entertained, however, that she passed an hour,
discussing the latest Venetian scandal, in which Erika took no
interest. She strolled away from the group of elderly guests and
through the open glass doors leading out upon a balcony above the
water, where she seemed quite forgotten by those within the apartment.

Beneath her on the dark surface of the lagoon the gondolas were
crowding from all quarters around a bark whence came music and song.
They glided past over the black water, a broad stream of humanity
attracted as by a magnetic needle, lured by a voice. Nearer and nearer
came the song, until it swept past beneath Erika's balcony:


           "Ninon, Ninon, que fais-tu de la vie,
            Toi, qui n'as pas d'amour?"


And above her glimmered the stars, myriads of worlds, sparkling, and
shining down disdainfully upon wretched humanity writhing and striving
in its efforts to attain paltry ends, so vastly important in its own
estimation.


Erika lay awake all night long, oppressed by a terrible burden,--not
grief for a happiness of which she had dreamed and which had proved to
be impossible, but something infinitely harder to be borne by a person
of her temperament, the sense of disgrace.

So long as she had been firmly convinced that he loved her, far from
resenting the unconventional expression of his admiration, she had
taken pleasure in it. But now the whole matter bore another aspect in
her eyes. She remembered with painful distinctness the superficial,
frivolous theories of life which he had advanced upon their first
acquaintance. Love! yes, he might perhaps have experienced what he
designated thus, but at the thought her cheeks burned. She had pleased
him, as hundreds before her had done, and in the full consciousness of
the ties of marriage by which he was bound he had allowed himself to
make love to her as he would have done to any common flirt. When at
last, in entire faith in the sincerity--yes, in the sacredness--of his
feeling for her, she had generously laid bare her heart before him, he
had been simply terrified by the revelation.

"He is probably laughing at me now," she said to herself, trembling in
every limb. Then, with infinite bitterness, she added, "No; he is
probably reproaching himself, and wondering at my folly."

It was enough to drive her insane. She buried her burning face in her
pillow, and groaned aloud.

She shed not a tear throughout the night, and she appeared punctually
as usual at the breakfast-table, but in the midst of the pleasant
little meal, which was always taken in her grandmother's boudoir, she
was overcome by an intense weariness; she longed to flee to some dark
corner where no one could find her and there let the tears flow freely.

The meal was, however, unusually prolonged. The old Countess, who had
quite forgotten her vexation at Lozoncyi's concealment of his marriage,
and who had been vastly entertained the previous evening at Frau von
Neerwinden's, was in an excellent humour, and was full of conversation,
in which she showed herself both amusing and witty.

Erika forced herself to laugh and to seem gay, when, just as she felt
unable to endure the situation for another moment, Lüdecke appeared
with a note for her. It had come, he informed her, the day before,
shortly after the ladies had gone out to dinner, and he begged to be
forgiven for having forgotten to deliver it.

"Old donkey!" the Countess Lenzdorff murmured. Erika opened the
note with trembling hands. It came from Fräulein Horst, the poor
music-teacher. She wrote that she had been worse for a couple of days,
and had made up her mind to go home. With pathetic gratitude and
sincere admiration she desired to take leave of Erika thus in writing,
since her weak condition would not allow her to call upon her.

Really distressed, and a little ashamed of having of late somewhat
neglected the poor creature, Erika had a gondola called, and went
immediately to the Pension Weber. When she asked in the hall of the
establishment for Fräulein Horst, the dismay painted on every face at
once revealed to her the truth: the poor music-teacher had passed away.

She asked to be taken to the room where the dead woman lay; and as
Attilio, the hotel waiter, conducted her thither, he told how there had
been for a long time no hope of the invalid's recovery; the day before
yesterday the last symptom had appeared,--a restless longing for
change,--for travel; her departure had been fixed for this evening;
they had all hoped so that she would get off; but she had died here:
they had found her dead in bed this very morning, her candle burnt down
into the socket, and her open book on her bed. Oh, yes, it was very sad
to die so, away from home, and it was very unpleasant for the
establishment. Eccellenza had no idea of the injury it was to the
Pension! The Signor Baron in the first story had declared that he would
not spend another night there.

As Attilio finished, he unlocked the room where the body lay, and
ushered in Erika. She motioned to him to leave her alone.

The room was darkened. Erika drew aside the curtains a little. There
was a crucifix among the medicine-bottles on the table beside the bed,
and a book, open apparently at the place where the dead woman had been
last reading. It was a German translation of 'Romeo and Juliet:' it
was open at the balcony scene, 'It is the nightingale, and not the
lark----'

Erika kneeled down at the bedside, buried her face in the coverlet, and
wept bitterly. When Attilio came to remind her gently not to stay long,
she arose and followed him with bowed head from the room.

As she was going down the stairs, she heard a harsh grating voice
with a slight Polish accent call, "Sophy, Sophy, are you ready?"
and then from the end of the corridor two figures appeared, one a
short, thick-set woman heavily laden with a bundle of shawls, a
travelling-bag, and several umbrellas, and looking up at a man who
walked beside her, his hands in the pockets of his plaid jacket, his
eye-glass in his eye, allowing himself with much condescension to be
adored. They were Strachinsky and his second wife.

"II signore Barone," murmured Attilio.

Strachinsky glanced towards Erika: he frowned and looked away. She was
glad that he did so, for in her dejected condition she could hardly
have brought herself to speak to the couple. Her whole soul was filled
with a desire to creep away to some quiet spot where she might find
relief in tears.

She sent away her gondola, and hurried through the narrow streets to
the Piazza San Zacharie. There she took refuge in the church of the
same name.

It was empty: not even a tourist was present to gaze upon the beauty of
the famous Gianbellini.

She crouched down in the darkest corner upon the hard stones, and
there, leaning her head upon the rush seat of a church chair, she wept
more uncontrollably than she had done beside the corpse of the poor
music-teacher. All at once she felt that she was no longer alone. She
looked up. Beside her stood Lozoncyi.

She arose, doing what she could to summon her pride to her aid. "What
strange chance brings you here?" she asked him.

"No chance whatever," he replied. "I saw you enter the church, and I
followed you."

"Ah!" By a supreme effort she forced herself to assume an indifferent
tone. "I have just been to the Pension Weber to take leave of my poor
music-teacher. I found her dead. You may imagine----"

He shook his head: "And you would have me believe that the tears you
have just shed are for that poor creature? It is hardly worth the
trouble. Countess Erika, I have followed you to speak with you
undisturbed for the last time, to thank you, and to entreat your
forgiveness. Be frank with me, as I shall be with you. Let us have the
consolation of knowing that, when we parted, the heart of each was laid
bare to the other: it will be but poor comfort, after all."

He uttered the words with so decided a casting aside of all disguise
that Erika's pride availed her nothing. In vain did she seek for words
in which to reply. She looked in his face, and was startled to see it
so wan and haggard.

"You see," he said, perceiving her dismay, "that in this case your
wounded pride may be entirely satisfied; you can easily dispense with
it. Compared with the torture I have endured since the day before
yesterday evening, your pain is mere child's play. Oh, I pray you,"--he
spoke in somewhat of his old impatient tone, the tone of a man whose
wishes are usually complied with gladly,--"sit down for a moment: this
is our last opportunity for speaking with each other. I owe you an
explanation. You have a right to ask me how I came to conceal from you
that I was married. To that I can only reply that I never speak of my
marriage. I am not proud of my wife; I never take her into society with
me; few of the friends whom I have here are aware that I am married,
although I do not intentionally make a secret of it. I frequently
travel alone, and last autumn the relations between my wife and myself,
from causes unnecessary to relate, became of so strained a nature that
we agreed to separate for a time. I avoided, when I could, even the
thought of her. In spite of all this, I ought not to have refrained
from acquainting you with my circumstances; nor should I have done so
if I had dreamed---- You shrink, but we have agreed that for once in
our lives, entirely casting aside pretence, we will tell each other the
truth. In this case there is nothing in it that can offend your pride.
I had conceived an enthusiasm for you when you were a very little girl.
Shall I say that I loved you from the first moment that I saw you? No!
you excited my curiosity, my wonder; I could not help thinking of you.
A veritable angel with wings would not have been more wonderful to me
than such a being as yourself. I did not wish to believe in you. At
times I called you too high-strung, at times I said to myself that
yours was simply a cold nature. You know how I avoided you,--avoided
you when I could not take my eyes off you; and then--then--you have no
idea of how my heart beat when I went to you to beg to be allowed to
paint your portrait. From that time all speculation with regard to you
was at an end: I blissfully and gratefully accepted the miracle
revealed to me; nay, I ceased to regard you as a miracle; you were for
me the key to a pure, noble life, of which I had hitherto never
dreamed. And I began to long for this life: the disgust I had hitherto
felt for the whole world I now felt for myself; and then all was over
with me. I had no longer any thought save of you; my whole soul was
filled with eager anticipation of the short time I could pass with you;
when you were gone I used to sit for hours in my studio, recalling in
memory your every look and word. The budding freshness of your being,
which needed only a little sunshine to blossom forth gloriously, your
profound capacity for enthusiasm, the wealth of affection concealed
beneath a coldness of manner, and withal the proud, unsullied purity of
your heart, mind, and soul--oh, God! how lovely it all was! But you
were so far removed from me; a universe separated us. Never, no, never
for one moment did I dream of your bestowing one thought of love upon
me. Then, when, conscious that the joy which had come to be my life was
so soon to end, I went to you in most melancholy mood, the day before
yesterday evening, your look, the tone of your voice, set my brain on
fire. I left you and wandered about the streets like one possessed.
When at last I went home, I shut myself up in the studio and began to
dream. I pictured what my life might have been had I been free to clasp
in my arms the bliss that might have been mine. I seemed to feel your
presence, so pure, so holy, and yet so tender and loving. The life at
which I had always sneered--a home-life--seemed to me the only one
worth living, if lived with you. I dreamed it in every detail; I
thought how my art could be ennobled and purified through you,--my art,
which until now had been little more than the cry of a tortured soul.
My former life lay far behind me, like some foul swamp from which you
had rescued me. How I adored you! how tenderly and truly I reverenced
you! Then on a sudden I awoke to the consciousness of how impossible it
all was. I crept out into the garden, where in the early dawn all
looked pale and fading like my dying dream. I forced myself to think:
it pained me so to think!--but I forced myself to do so, to draw
conclusions. Whichever way my thoughts turned, they led to despair,--to
separation from you. I could not resist the conviction that it was my
duty to end all intercourse with you as quickly as possible. What next
occurred you know yourself. But you never can dream of what I endured
from the time when you entered my studio yesterday morning until the
moment when you followed me into the garden and there among the roses
held out your hands to me, your eyes filled with light, everything
about you so chaste, so grave, so tender; no, that agony you never can
imagine! Not to be able to fall at your feet, to take you in my arms
and say, 'My heaven, my queen, my every thought, my life, my art, shall
all be one prayer of gratitude to you!' To live a joyless life when joy
is all unknown is nothing,--a matter of course. But when an angel opens
wide the gates of Paradise for one, and one must say, 'No, I dare not!'
it is horrible! one cannot believe it possible to survive it!" He
ceased.

Erika had listened to him with bowed head. Every word that he had
uttered had been balm to her wounded pride, and at the same time had
excited that which was most easily stirred within her, the tenderest,
warmest emotion of her heart,--her compassion. She had, it is true, a
vague consciousness that it was not right that she should listen to
such words from a married man, but she stifled it with the excuse that
it was their last interview.

His eyes sought hers: apparently he expected her to speak; but her lips
refused to frame a sentence, although there was a question which she
longed to ask.

He leaned towards her. "There is something you would fain ask," he
whispered. "Tell me what it is."

"I--I"--at last she managed to say,--"I cannot comprehend what induced
you to marry that woman."

He shrugged his shoulders: "No, nor can I, now, myself. How can I make
you understand that in the world in' which I lived there were no women
who inspired me with respect? it was made up of my fellow-students, and
of women in no wise superior to the one of whom we are speaking. I was
convinced that all her sex were either like her, or were harsh old
maids, like my aunt Illona. Ten years older than I, she controlled my
thoughts and my actions; I could not do without her, and at last I
married her for fear lest some one of my fellow-students should take
her from me." He paused.

Erika drew her breath painfully.

"Shortly afterwards came fame," he began anew, "suddenly,--over-night,
as it were,--and all doors were flung wide for me. I do not want to
represent myself to you as a better man than I am: I do not deny that
all went smoothly in the beginning. I did not suffer from the burden
with which I had laden my life. Dozens of my fellows lived just
as I did. She relieved me of every petty care, she removed every
obstacle from my path, she undertook all my transactions with the
picture-dealers, she was everything that I was not,--practical,
cautious, energetic. I went into society without her,--she was content
that it should be so,--and I enjoyed in intercourse with other women
that charm which was lacking in my home. I felt no disgust then at my
own want of all true perception. The fashionable circles which I
frequented were in no wise in advance, so far as a lofty standard of
morality was concerned, of those in which I had lived hitherto. Whence
does a young artist nowadays derive his knowledge of so-called refined
society? From a few exaggerated women who befriend him half the time
because they are wearying for a new toy. We poor fellows have but
little opportunity to sound the depths of a true, pure womanly nature,
least of all in the beginning of our career. It never occurred to
me to think what my life might have been under other influences,
until---- Oh, Erika, Erika, why did you so transform me? Why did you
drag me from the mire which was my element, to leave me to perish?"

She put both hands to her temples. "What can I do?" she murmured,
hoarsely. "What can I do?"

There she stood, pale and still, trembling with sympathy and
compassion, needing help and helpless, more beautiful than ever, with
cheeks flushed and eyes bright with fever.

On a sudden the cannon from San Giorgio announced the hour of noon, and
instantly all the bells in Venice began to swing their brazen tongues.
Erika awaked as from a dream. "I must go," she said. "My grandmother is
expecting me."

"This is farewell forever," he murmured.

He bowed his head and turned away. She could not endure the sight of
his agony. Approaching him, and laying her hand upon his arm, she
began, "Do you really believe that you owe no duty to your wife?"

"None!" He could not understand why she should ask the question.

"Then--then----" she stammered, "why not obtain a divorce?"

He gazed at her for an instant. "And you could then consent to be my
wife? You, the beautiful, idolized Countess Erika Lenzdorff, the wife
of a poor, divorced artist?"

"Yes," she replied, firmly. Then, offering him her hand, and once more
lifting to his her clear, pure eyes, she left the church. In an
inspired frenzy of self-sacrifice, as it were, she crossed the Piazza,
where the grass grew between the uneven stones of the pavement, and
above which the gray clouds were floating.

She was as if borne aloft by an inspiration that elevated her whole
being. Suddenly she became aware of a discord in her sensations. On her
ear there fell, sung to the tinkling accompaniment of a guitar,--the
words,--


           "Tu m'hai bagnato il seno mio di lagrime,
            T'amo d'immenso amor."


Looking up, she perceived the same repulsive musicians that had so
shocked her awhile ago on the Piazza San Stefano.

She hastened her steps; but the sound long pursued her, 'T'amo
d'immenso amor!' until it died away with a last 'amor.'

She frowned. She was indignant, that the wondrous, sacred word should
be thus profaned.


There was no brightness in the future to which Erika looked forward. Of
this she was fully aware. They must go forth into the world, he and
she, with none to wish them God-speed, none to bless them. And yet the
melancholy which shrouded their love made it doubly dear to her. The
craving for suffering which for some time past had thrilled her excited
nerves now stirred within her. Had she not been seeking it lately
everywhere,--in poetry, in music, in art?

She passed the day in this state of enthusiastic exaltation. At
night she slept better than she had for long, but shortly after she
awaked she was assailed by a distracting, feverish agitation. No
arrangement had been made as to how she should get the intelligence
from Lozoncyi with regard to his wife's consent to a divorce. Would he
bring the information himself? would he send her a note? Ten o'clock
struck,--half-past ten,--eleven,--and no message came. Her hands, her
lips, her brow, burned with fever; she drew her breath with difficulty.

About eleven o'clock the old Countess went to take her forenoon walk.
She had been gone but a short time when Lüdecke announced Herr von
Lozoncyi.

Erika had him shown up, and the first glance which she cast at his face
told her that for him there was no possibility of a release.

Without a word she held out her hand to him. His hand was icy cold and
trembled in her clasp; he looked pale and wretched,--the picture of
misery.

Possessed absolutely by the pity that had filled her soul, she saw in
his face only torturing despair at not being able to rid his life of
what so degraded it. What could she do for him now? What sacrifice
could she make?

"Sit down," she said, awkwardly, after a pause.

"It is not worth while," he rejoined, in the dull tone of a man crushed
to the earth beneath a heavy burden. "I have been waiting for an hour
to see you alone, that I might tell you that which must be told. I have
spoken with--my wife. She will not consent to a divorce, and without
her consent no divorce is possible. She has never given me any legal
cause for a separation,--no, never, strange as it may seem in a woman
of her class. Yesterday evening I spoke to her, and there was a
terrible scene; and now,"--his voice grew fainter,--"now all is over."
He laid his hand upon the back of a chair, as if to support himself,
and paused for a moment, then resumed: "I ought to have written to
you,--it would have been far better,--far,--but I could not deny myself
one more sight of you. Farewell. Now all is over."

She stood as if rooted to the spot, pale, mute, searching feverishly
for some consolation for him. What more could she offer him? There was
a gulf as of death between them. She sought some path that would lead
across it,--in vain. She felt faint and giddy.

"Farewell," he murmured. "Thanks--thanks for all--the joy--for all the
sorrow---- Good God! how dear it has been!" His voice broke; he turned
away, holding out to her, for the last time, a slender, trembling hand.

Why at sight of that hand did memory recall so vividly the half-starved
artist lad after whom as a tiny girl she had run to relieve his misery?
And now she could do nothing for him,--nothing! Really nothing?
Suddenly it flashed upon her.

She had but to hold out her arms, to forget herself, and his anguish
would be transformed to bliss. Compassion grew within her and took
possession of her like insanity; her soul was shaken as by an
earthquake; what had been above was now beneath, and from the chaos one
thought emerged, at first formless as a dream, then waxing clearer,
until it took shape as a command, gradually obtaining absolute
mastership of her.

She raised her head, proud, resolved. "Have you the courage to break
with all your present life, and to begin a new one with me?" she asked.

"A new life?" he murmured, and, vaguely, uncertainly, as if unable to
trust his senses and fearing to lend words to what was monstrous and
impossible, he added, "With you?"

"Yes."

He recoiled a step, and looked her full in the face, speechless,
breathless.

A burning blush rose to her cheeks. "You have not the courage," she
said, sternly. "Well, then----" With an imperious gesture she turned
away.

But he detained her. "Not the courage?" he cried, seizing her hand and
carrying it to his lips. "Offer a cup of pure water to a man perishing
of thirst, and ask him if he has the courage to drink! The question is
not of me, but of you. Have you the faintest idea of the meaning of
what you have said?"

She shook her head: "I have learned to look life in the face; I know
what I am doing. I know what the consequences of my act will be; I know
that I resign all intercourse with my fellow-beings, saving only with
yourself; that my only refuge on earth will be at your side; I know
that I shall be a lost creature in the eyes of the world; and yet, if I
may cherish the conviction that thereby I can redeem your shattered
existence, that I can purify and ennoble your life, I am ready."

Her voice, always soft and full of that quality which goes straight to
the heart, was veiled and vibrating; her hands were clasped upon her
breast, her head was proudly erect, and her eyes seemed larger than
usual from the ecstasy that shone in them. She was supernaturally
lovely, and never had the chaste purity peculiar to her beauty
been more distinctly stamped upon her face than at this moment when
she--she, Erika Lenzdorff--was voluntarily proposing to follow a
married man through the world as his mistress.

"Erika!" There was boundless exultation in his voice; he took one step
towards her to clasp her in his arms and to press the first kiss upon
her lips. But she repulsed him, overcome, it seemed, by sudden distress
and dread, and when he repeated, in a tone of dismay and reproach,
"Erika!" she passed her hand across her brow, and murmured, "My entire
life belongs to you. Do not grudge me a few hours of reflection and
preparation."

He smiled at her reserve, and contented himself with pressing his lips
tenderly again and again upon her hand, as he said, caressingly,
"Preparation? Oh, my darling, my darling! Meet me to-night at the
railway-station at ten, and we will start for Florence. Leave all the
rest to me."

"To-night it would be impossible," she said: "it is our reception
evening. I could not leave without giving rise to a search for me."

"Then to-morrow?" he persisted, speaking very quickly in his beguiling,
irresistible voice. Everything about him betrayed the feverish
insistence of a man who suddenly gives free rein to a passion which he
has hitherto with difficulty held in check.

"To-morrow," she repeated, anxiously,--"to-morrow----"

"Do not delay, Erika, if you are really resolved."

"To-morrow be it, then!" The words came syllable by syllable from her
lips in a kind of dull staccato.

"Erika!" His eyes shone, his whole being seemed transfigured.

"Yes," she went on, "Constance Mühlberg has arranged an excursion to
Chioggia to-morrow in a steamer she has chartered. My grandmother is to
chaperon the party. At the last moment I will refuse to accompany her,
and I shall then be free. When shall I come?"

They decided upon taking the train leaving between eight and nine in
the evening for Vienna. Then other necessary details were arranged, a
process unutterably distasteful to Erika, to whom it seemed like making
the business arrangements for a funeral. She suffered intensely in thus
descending to blank, prosaic reality from the visionary heights to
which she had soared.

At last everything had been discussed: there was nothing more to be
said. A great dread then stole over her: she grew very silent.

"I cannot believe in my bliss," he murmured. "You stand there in your
white robes so chaste and grave, with that holy light in your eyes,
more like a martyr awaiting death than a loving woman ready to break
through all barriers to----"

There was something in this description of the situation that offended
her,--offended her so deeply that with what was almost harshness she
interrupted him, saying, "And now, I pray you, go!"

He looked at her in some dismay. She cast down her eyes, and with
flaming cheeks stammered, "My grandmother will return in a few moments:
I should not like to see you in her presence."

"You are right," he said, changing colour. "Your grandmother has always
been so kind to me, and now----"

"Ah, go!"

"May I not come to see you at some time during the day to-morrow?"

"No."

"In the evening, then,--at eight?"

She looked him full in the face, stern resolve in her eyes. "I shall be
punctual," she said.

"To-morrow at eight," he whispered.

"To-morrow at eight," she repeated.

A minute afterwards he stood alone in the sunlit space behind the
hotel.

He rubbed his eyes, seeming to waken slowly from a lovely and most
improbable dream.


At first he felt only exhilaration, the joy of a near approach to a
long-desired but unhoped-for goal.

"To-morrow at eight," he whispered to himself several times. Then on a
sudden the keen edge of his delight was blunted; his joy seemed to slip
through his fingers; he could not retain it.

He recalled the entire scene through which he had just passed. He saw
the girl's expression of face, he heard the sound of her voice. It was
all lovely, exquisitely lovely, but, after all, there was something
inharmonious, unnatural in it. This very girl who had of her own free
impulse proposed to fly with him had never, during their long
consultation, been impelled to utter one word of affection for him, and
he himself was conscious that he could not have demanded it of her. She
had been gentle, enthusiastic, self-sacrificing,--yes, self-sacrificing
even to fanaticism. Self-sacrificing! he repeated the word to himself
in an undertone: it had seized hold of his imagination as portraying
precisely her attitude and bearing. Self-sacrificing,--yes, but not the
slightest evidence had she given him of warm, passionate affection. He
frowned, as he walked on thoughtfully.

"How does she picture to herself the future, I wonder?" Distinctly in
his memory rang her words, "I know that I resign all intercourse with
my fellow-beings, saving with yourself; that my only refuge on earth
will be at your side; I know that I shall be a lost creature in the
eyes of the world; and yet, if I can only cherish the conviction that I
can thereby redeem your shattered existence, that I can purify and
ennoble your life, I am ready."

How ravishing she had been whilst uttering these words! and beautiful,
pathetic words they were; but----

He shivered, in spite of the Venetian May sunshine. Some chord of
overwrought feeling suddenly snapped; a stifling sensation of
ungrateful and almost angry rebellion against an undeserved happiness
assailed him. How could this be? He was paralyzed by a cowardly dread.

He was ashamed of this revulsion of feeling, and struggled against it
with angry self-contempt, but he could not shake it off. He had a vague
consciousness that he must always be thus shamed in Erika's presence.
To avoid being so he should have to incite himself to a degree of
high-souled enthusiasm which was unnatural and inconvenient. "Purify
and ennoble his life!" What did that mean? "Purify? ennoble?"



                             CHAPTER XXIV.


When by a long and roundabout way he at last reached his home on foot,
and walked through the stone-paved, whitewashed corridor, looking
absently before him, he perceived sitting beneath a mulberry-tree, the
lower boughs of which were covered with the blossoms of a climbing
rose, an attractive female figure, whose golden hair gleamed in the
sunlight. She was sitting in a basket chair, and was engaged upon a
piece of delicate crochet-work. She wore a gown of some white woollen
stuff, very simply made, and confined at the waist by a belt of russet
leather; the sleeves, which were rather short, left exposed not only
the wrists, but part of a plump arm, white and smooth as polished
marble, and the finely-formed throat rose as white and polished from
the turn-down sailor collar, beneath which a dark-blue cravat was
loosely knotted. How deft and skilful, as she worked, was every
movement of her rather large but faultlessly-shaped hands!

She was somewhat stout, but there was a certain charm in that. The
broad full shoulders gave an impression of vigour that nothing could
subdue. Lozoncyi could not but admire them. He was amazed. Yesterday
there had been shrieks and screams, torn clothes and broken furniture,
while to-day, after a scene that would have made any other woman ill,
there was not a trace of fatigue, no dark shade beneath the steel-blue
eyes, not a wrinkle about the rather large mouth. What a fund of
inexhaustible vitality the woman possessed! what triumphant, healthy
vigour! Not a sign of nervousness, of useless agitation; no breath of
exaggeration.

Ah, she had her good side,--there was no denying it. He sighed, and,
hearing himself sigh, was startled by the turn his thoughts were
taking. Was it possible that after a forced companionship of scarcely
two days--a companionship of which, when he could not avoid it, he had
taken advantage to hurl in the woman's face his hatred and contempt for
her--old habits were asserting their rights?

She went on crocheting. The sunlight crept down from among the climbing
roses and glittered upon her crochet-needle. At last it shone in her
eyes: she moved her chair to avoid the dazzling glare, and, looking up,
saw him. Instead of the dark looks she had given him yesterday, she
smiled slowly, blinking her strange cat-like eyes in the sunshine, and
by her smile disclosing a row of pearly teeth. He passed her sullenly,
as if she had taken an unjustifiable liberty with him, and went into
the studio, wishing to persuade himself that he had a horror of her,
that she repelled him. He hoped to feel that disgust for her with which
the thought of her had inspired him since love for Erika had filled his
heart; but he did not feel the disgust.


He lingered for less time than usual before Erika's portrait, which
occupied a large easel in the most conspicuous place in the studio, and
went to his writing-table. Several business letters awaited him there;
he opened them with an impatient sigh. They were for the most part
requests for answers to letters received by him weeks previously. Since
he had been in Venice his business correspondence--in fact, his
business affairs generally--had fallen into terrible disorder.

He opened the latest letter: it contained columns of figures. It was
the account from his picture-dealer. He snapped his fingers, and,
sitting down, tried to comprehend it. In vain! The figures danced
before his eyes. Involuntarily he looked up. Through the glass door of
the studio a pair of greenish eyes were gazing at him with an
expression of good-humoured raillery. His heart began to beat fast.
Formerly she had conducted his entire correspondence for him,--with
what perfect regularity and skill! Before she had taken up the trade of
model in consequence of a love-affair with an artist, she had been a
_dame de comptoir_; she was as skilled in accounts as a bank-clerk. He
needed but to speak the word, and she would reduce all these provoking
affairs to perfect order; but he would ask no favour of her. Then she
opened the studio door, and, entering softly, laid a warm strong hand
upon his shoulder. He tried to persuade himself that he disliked the
touch of this hand. But he did not dislike it: it had a soothing effect
upon his excited nerves. Nevertheless he forced himself to shake it
off.

The woman laughed, a low, gentle laugh,--the laugh of a cynic. She
lighted a cigarette and handed it to him, saying, "_Pauvre bébé_, try
to rest instead of settling those accounts: I will do it all for you in
the twinkling of an eye, while it would take you until next week."

This time she did not lay her hand upon his shoulder, but stroked his
head gently. "_Voyons, Séraphine!_" he said, crossly, shaking her off.

She laughed again, good-humouredly, carelessly, with unconscious
cynicism. Before three minutes had passed, she was seated in his stead
at the writing-table, and he, with the cigarette which she had offered
him between his lips, was standing lost in thought before Erika's
portrait.

How long he had been standing thus he could not have told, when he
heard a deep voice beside him say, "_C'est rudement fort, tu sais.
Sapristi!_ Shall you exhibit it?"

"I have not made up my mind," he replied, absently, and then he was
vexed with himself for answering her.

"She is pretty, there's no denying it," Seraphine confessed. "I am
really sorry to have interfered with your amusement, but nothing could
have come of it. If I am not mistaken, you had gone as far as was
possible. She is one of those who give nothing for nothing, and who
never invest their capital except in good securities. I am sorry I
cannot resign these securities to her; _je suis bon garçon, moi_, but,
_mon Dieu, lorsqu'il y a un homme dans la question--sapristi, chaque
femme pour elle!_"

Here Lucrezia opened the door, and announced that lunch was served in
the garden. Lozoncyi had firmly resolved never again to sit down to a
meal with this woman. But, before he could say so, she began, "It would
be well if you could give them something to talk of again in Paris.
When did you leave in the autumn? In October? You have no idea what a
relief your departure was to the artists there. You ought to see the
crazy carnival of colour held in this year's Salon! Bouchard exhibited
a nymph with a faun, quite in your style, only yours is flesh and his
is putty,--a poor thing; but the critics exalted it, and gave it a
_médaille d'honneur_. You had begun to make the artists very
uncomfortable: they are praising up mere daubers, to belittle you,
doing what they can to knock away the floor from under you. But you
need only show yourself to recover your ground. Becard told me lately
that he had got hold of quite a new way of looking at things: his
picture in the Salon----"

Talking thus, she had gone slowly towards the door; now she was
outside. Unconsciously he had followed her.

"What has Becard in the Salon?"

"A woman on a balcony, after dinner, between two different lights,--on
one side candle-light, and on the other moonlight; half of her is
sulphur-yellow, the other half sea-green; _c'est d'un dróle!_"

"I saw the sketch for that monstrosity in his atelier," cried Lozoncyi,
excited. "Did they accept it?"

She had taken her seat at the tempting table, upon which smoked a
golden omelette; she did not answer instantly.

"Did they accept it?" Lozoncyi repeated.

"Accept it----! Why, my dear, they laud him to the skies: they hail him
as _le Messie_!"

Lozoncyi had now seated himself opposite her. He brought his fist down
upon the table. "Confound it!" he muttered between his teeth.

"You are wrong to be vexed," she said: "he is a good fellow, and your
friend. He told me awhile ago with reference to his success, 'It is
envy of Lozoncyi that is now standing me in stead.' Let me give you
some omelette: it is growing cold."

He allowed her to fill his plate.


Two hours later he was pacing his atelier to and fro in gloomy mood.

He had enjoyed his breakfast, and had been entertained by his wife's
chatter. With infinite skill she lured his fancy back to the old,
careless, good-humoured Bohemian life in Paris. He questioned her with
increasing curiosity as to the works of his fellows there, and she told
him stories,--highly spiced but very amusing stories; she peeled his
orange for him, and when the sun began to shine full upon the table at
which they were sitting they drank their coffee in the studio. A
sensation of intense comfort stole over him; but in the midst of it he
was conscious of physical uneasiness. She looked at him, and
disappeared with a laugh, returning with a pair of easy slippers. It
was warm; his boots were tight; he took them off and slipped his feet
into the easy shoes she had brought him. He felt as if relieved for the
first time for a long while of a certain restraint. He yawned and
stretched himself. Suddenly he shivered.

The question suggested itself, Could he ever allow himself such license
in Erika's presence?

He started up. The momentarily-restored harmony between himself and his
wife was interrupted. In the sudden change of mood to which in the
course of years she had become accustomed, he repulsed her,--actually
turned her out of the room, rudely, angrily.

Again his every pulse throbbed. He felt as if he should go mad. His
revulsion of feeling with regard to Erika clothed itself in a new
dress. It was odious, unprincipled, criminal, to take advantage of the
enthusiasm of this inexperienced young creature, to drag her down to
probable--nay, to certain--misery. He went to his writing-table; he
would write to her that for her sake he withdrew from their agreement.
But scarcely had he written the first word when a wave of passion swept
over his soul, benumbing his energies: he knew that he was as powerless
to renounce her as he was to carry out any other resolve. What did he
really want? He sprang up, crushed in his hand the sheet of paper which
his pen had scarcely touched, and threw it away. Once again he stood
before the portrait.

At last, with bowed head, he went into the next room. Erika had left
there by accident one or two articles belonging to her,--a lace
handkerchief, a glove. He pressed them to his lips.



                              CHAPTER XXV.


"Erika! Erika!" old Countess Lenzdorff calls in a joyful voice across
the garden of the Hôtel Britannia. "Erika!"

The old lady is sitting by the breast-work bordering on the Canal
Grande. Erika is coming out of a side-door of the hotel. Her
grandmother had sent her upstairs for her parasol. How strange the girl
looks, with cheeks so white and lips so feverishly red! But that is a
secondary matter: what must strike every one who looks at her to-day is
the transfigured light in her eyes,--a light shining as through tears.

"Come quickly!" her grandmother calls. "I have a surprise for you." But
Erika does not come quickly: she walks slowly through the blooming
garden to her grandmother, who has an open letter in her hand.

The little garden is basking in the sunshine; the heavens are
cloudless; the lagoon looks as if it were sprinkled with diamonds, as
the black gondolas glide past, the sinewy brown throats of the
gondoliers shining like bronze. In the fragrant garden can be heard,
now loud, now faint, the sound of gay voices on the water mingled with
the constant lapping of the waves and the jangle of church-bells.

"From whom does this letter come?" her grandmother asks Erika, with a
smile.

"I--I cannot imagine," the girl murmurs. Her pale cheeks grow paler,
and a fixed look comes into her shining eyes.

"Indeed? From whom should a letter come which I am so glad to receive?"

Erika starts.

"From Goswyn!" says her grandmother. "But what a face is that!"

"Am I to be as glad as you are because Goswyn at last condescends to
take some notice of the kind sympathy you have shown him?" says Erika.
But the old hard intonation of her voice is gone: it sounds weary and
dull.

"Never mind!" her grandmother rejoins, triumphantly. "First read the
letter, and then tell me if you still have the faintest disposition to
be vexed with him. Whether you have any regard for him or not, the
letter will please you. He asks, among other things, whether we shall
be in Venice next week, and if he may come to us here."

Erika holds the letter in her hands, but when she fixes her eyes upon
it the bold distinct characters swim before them. She looks away into
the dazzling sunlight above the lagoon.

Among the black gondolas with white lanterns she now perceives Prince
Helmy in his yellow cutter, which usually lies at anchor in front of
the Hôtel Britannia. Espying the two ladies, the Prince clambers up to
them over one or two gondolas, and asks, "Can you ladies not be induced
to intrust yourselves to me? It would be far pleasanter to go to
Chioggia in my cutter than in the steamer."

"It certainly would," the old Countess replies, with more amiability
than she is wont to display towards Prince Helmy. "But," she adds,
"unfortunately I cannot have that pleasure. I have promised to act as
chaperon to Constance Mühlberg's party, and I cannot disappoint her."

"I'm sorry."

At this moment a merry old voice cries, "Your obedient servant,
ladies!" It is Count Treurenberg, dressed in a light summer suit, all
ready for the excursion to Chioggia. "You are going to Chioggia too?"

"We are."

"'Tis a pity you cannot go with us."

"I have just been telling them," observes Prince Helmy.

"Do you know whether Lozoncyi is to be of the party?" asks Treurenberg.

"I have no idea," Countess Lenzdorff replies, rather coldly.

"What do you think of the wife who has made her appearance so suddenly?
Something of a surprise, eh?"

"A surprise which does not interest me much," the Countess replies,
haughtily.

"Of course not. But there are some of our Venetian beauties who could
hardly say as much. 'Tis odd that the fellow should have been so
close-mouthed concerning his 'indissoluble tie.' I saw him once in
Paris with the individual in question, but I never dreamed that that
yellow-haired dame had any legitimate claim upon him. Probably a
youthful folly."

"A millstone that he has hung about his neck," Prince Helmy says,
feelingly,--"a burden that will weigh him down to the earth. I am very
sorry for him."

"H'm!" Count Treurenberg drawls, "my pity is not so easily excited.
Such women make an artist's life very comfortable; and she certainly
has interfered but little with him hitherto." He rubs his hands with a
significant glance.

"Are you ready, Count?" Prince Helmy asks, after the pause that follows
Treurenberg's words.

The Count is ready, and takes leave of the ladies. Shortly afterwards
they see him in the cutter with the Prince, who is helping his two
sailors to hoist the tiny sail. The gentlemen wave a respectful
farewell to the Lenzdorffs; the cutter glides off, at first slowly from
among the gondolas, then more and more swiftly, skimming the water like
a bird in the direction of the line of foam which marks the boundary of
the open sea.

It is a trifle which has made the weight upon Erika's heart heavier in
the last minute. She has said to herself that never again after
to-morrow will a man accord her the respectful courtesy just shown her
by the two gentlemen in the cutter.

Her attack of cowardice is a short one, however. Immediately afterwards
she feels the joy of a fanatic who delights in suffering one pang more
for his convictions.

"I cannot see why we have not been called to lunch," Countess Lenzdorff
remarks, consulting her watch; then, observing Erika, she is startled
by the girl's looks. "What is the matter with you?" she asks, and when
the girl's only answer is a rapid change of colour, the thought occurs
to her for the first time, "Is it possible that she cares for
Lozoncyi?--my proud Erika?" She observes her grand-daughter narrowly,
and an ugly suspicion invades her heart. "What reply shall I make to
Goswyn?" she thinks. "Good heavens! I had no idea! Perhaps it is only
fancy. But if---- It would be my fault. And people call me shrewd! Poor
child!"

Meanwhile, Fritz announces that lunch is served.


"My child, you are eating nothing," the old Countess says anxiously to
her grand-daughter, who is doing her best to swallow a morsel of food.

"I am not very well," Erika replies, in a faint, weary voice. How often
those tones will ring through the old Countess's soul! "I have a slight
headache," and she puts her hand to her head; "I feel as if a storm
were coming; but there is not a cloud in the sky."

"So, there is not a cloud to be seen. The sunshine is so powerful in
the dining-hall that the shades have to be drawn down, thus diffusing a
gray twilight through the room.

"Let us go to our rooms," says the old Countess, with a sigh of
discouragement. They go, and Erika seems to be making ready for the
proposed expedition. But when her grandmother, fully arrayed, enters
the girl's room half an hour afterwards, she finds her in a long white
dressing-gown with loosened hair, leaning back in an easy-chair.

"My child, my child! what is the matter with you?" the old lady
exclaims, in terror.

"Nothing," the girl replies, without lifting her downcast eyes. "A
headache. You can see I meant to go, but I cannot: you must go without
me. Give all kinds of affectionate messages to Constance, and tell her
how sorry I am."

"My dear child, I cannot go with those people if you are not well," the
old lady says, beginning to take off her gloves. "No human being could
expect me to do that."

Erika is trembling violently. "But, grandmother," she replies, "it is
only a headache. You can do me no good by staying at home, and you know
I cannot bear to make a disturbance."

"Yes, yes," says the grandmother. "But lie down, at least, my darling."

"You could not disappoint Constance Mühlberg: you know she depends upon
you, she needs your support," Erika goes on, persuasively.

"Yes, that is true," the Countess admits.

She notices that Erika has hastily brushed away tears from her eyes,
and the suspicion which had assailed her below in the garden is
strengthened. Perhaps it would be better to leave the girl in peace for
a while, she says to herself.

Meanwhile, Marianne appears, to say that the Countess Mühlberg is
awaiting the ladies below in her gondola.

"Go, grandmother dear," Erika says, faintly; "go!"

"Yes, I will go; but first let me see you lie down, my child." She
conducts Erika to the bed. "How you tremble! You can hardly stand." She
arranges her long dressing-gown, strokes the girl's cheek, and kisses
her forehead. She has reached the door, when she hears a low voice
behind her say, "Grandmother!"

She turns. Erika is half sitting up in bed, looking after her. "What is
it, my child?"

"Nothing, only I was thinking just now that I have not treated you as I
ought, sometimes lately. Forgive me, grandmother!"

The old lady clasps the trembling girl in her arms. "Little goose!"
she says. "As if that were of any consequence, my darling! Only go
quietly to sleep, that I may find you well when I return. Where is my
pocket-handkerchief? Oh, there is Goswyn's letter: when you are a
little better you can read it. You need not be afraid that I shall try
to persuade you; that time has gone by; but I think the letter ought to
please you. At all events, it is something to have inspired so
thoroughly excellent a man with so deep and true an affection; and you
will see, too, that you have been unjust to him. Good-bye, my darling,
good-bye."

For the last time Erika presses the delicate old hand to her lips. The
Countess has gone. Erika is alone. She has locked her door, and is
sitting on her bed with Goswyn's letter open on her lap. Her tears are
falling thick and fast upon it. It reads as follows:


"My very dear old Friend,--

"Shall you be in Venice next week, and may I come to you there? I do
not want you to tell me if I have any chance: I shall come at all
events, unless Countess Erika is actually betrothed. This is plain
speaking, is it not?

"Have you known, or have you not known, that through all these years
since my rejection by the Countess Erika not a day has passed for me
that has not been filled with thoughts of her? In any case my conduct
must have seemed inexplicable to you: probably you have thought me
ridiculously sensitive. It is true, ridiculous sensitiveness, as I now
see, has been the true cause of my foolish, unjustifiable behaviour,
but it has not been the sensitiveness of a rejected suitor. God forbid!

"I should never have been provoked by the Countess Erika's rejection of
me,--no, never,--even if it had not been conveyed in so bewitching a
way that one ought to have kneeled down and adored her for it. There
was another reason for my sensitiveness. A certain person, whose name
there is no need to mention, hinted that I was in pursuit of Countess
Erika's money. From that moment my peace of mind was at an end. I could
not go near her again, because, to speak plainly, I was conscious that
I was not a suitable match for her.

"You think this petty. I think it is petty myself,--so petty that I
despise myself, and simply ask, am I any more worthy of so glorious a
creature, now that I have a few more marks a year to spend?

"I dread being punished for my obstinate stupidity. Perhaps there was
no possibility of my winning her heart, but it was worth a trial, and
she has a right to reproach me for never in all these years making that
trial. Inconceivable as my long delay must appear to you, I am sure you
can understand why I have not thus appealed to you lately, so soon
after the terrible misfortune that has befallen me.

"It was too horrible!

"In addition to my sincere sorrow for my brother's death, I am
tormented by the sensation that I never sufficiently prized the
nobility of character which his last moments revealed. To turn so
terrible a catastrophe to my advantage would have been to me
impossible. I could not have done it, even although I had not been so
crushed by the manner of his death that all desire, all love of life,
has for some weeks seemed dead within me.

"Yesterday I met Frau von Norbin, who has lately returned from her
Italian tour. She informed me that Prince Nimbsch is paying devoted
attention to Countess Erika, although at present with small
encouragement.

"Jealousy has roused me from my lethargy. And now I ask you once more,
may I come to Venice? Unless something unforeseen should occur, I could
obtain a leave without much trouble. Again I repeat, I do not ask you
what chance I have,--I know that I have none at present,--but I only
ask you, may I come?

"Impatiently awaiting your answer, I am faithfully yours,

                                   "G. v. Sydow."


She read the letter to the last word, her tears flowing faster and
faster. Then she threw herself on the bed, and buried her face among
the pillows. A yearning desire assailed her heart, and thrilled through
her every nerve, calling aloud, "Turn back! turn back!" But it was too
late; she would not turn back. She was entirely possessed by the
illusion that she was about to do something grand and elevating.

A low knock at the door recalled her to herself. It was Marianne, who,
instructed by the old Countess, came to see if she would not have a cup
of tea.

"By and by, Marianne," she called, without opening the door. "I want
nothing at present. I am better."

Marianne left, and Erika looked at her watch. Four o'clock! It was time
to begin her final preparations.

She gathered together all her trinkets,--an unusually large and
valuable collection for a girl. She had been fond of jewelry, and her
grandmother had denied her nothing. Without one longing thought of
them, she selected all that were of special value, running through her
fingers five strings of beautiful pearls, and calculating as she did so
their probable worth. These she added to the heap, and then wrapped all
together in a package, upon which she wrote "For the Poor." Then she
sat down at her writing-table and explained her last wishes, arranging
everything as one would who contemplated suicide. Not one of her
numerous _protégées_ did she forget, commending them all to her
grandmother's care.

After everything in this respect that was necessary, or at least that
she considered necessary, was arranged, she reflected that she must
write a farewell to her grandmother.

It was a terribly hard task, but after she had begun her letter there
seemed to be no end to it. She covered three sheets, and there were yet
many loving things to say. Now first she comprehended all that her
grandmother had been to her of late years. She forgot how often the old
Countess's philosophy had grated upon her, how often she had rebelled
against it. How hard it was to leave her! But retreat was not to be
thought of.

And she wrote on.

At last she concluded with, "Every one else will point the finger of
scorn at me; you will bewail my course, but you will not call it evil,
only foolish. Poor, dear grandmother! And you will mourn over the
misery which I have voluntarily brought upon myself. It is terrible
that I cannot fulfil the mission in life which lies so clearly before
me without giving you pain. But I cannot help it! One thing consoles
me. I know how large-minded you are: you will have to choose between
the world and me, and you will be strong enough to resign the world and
to turn to me, and then nothing will be wanting to me in my new life,
let people slander me as they will!"

Three times did Erika fold up the letter, and three times did she open
it again to add something to it.

At last it was finished. She put with it into the envelope the draft of
her wishes as to the disposal of the effects she left behind her, and
then asked herself where she should put the letter so that her
grandmother might find it instantly upon her return. At first she took
it to the Countess's room, but then, reflecting that the old lady would
come at once to her bedside to see how she was, she laid it, with eyes
streaming with tears, upon the table beside her bed. "Poor
grandmother!" She kissed the letter tenderly as she left it.

Now everything was finished: she had only to dress herself. But she was
not content. Once more she sat down at her writing-table and wrote.
This time the words came slowly and with difficulty from her pen, as if
each one were torn singly from her bleeding heart.


"My dear, faithful Friend,"--she began,--"Do not come to Venice. When
this letter reaches you I shall have vanished from the world in which
you live. I could not endure to have you hear from strangers of the
step I am about to take, and so I write to you myself. Yes, when you
read this letter I shall have broken with all that has constituted my
life hitherto, and shall have fled with--with a married man. How
grieved you will be when you read this! My whole soul cries out with
pain as I think of it.

"You will not understand it. 'Erika Lenzdorff fled with a married man!'
It sounds incredible, does it not?

"You know that I am not light-minded, nor corrupt, and so you will
believe me when I tell you that the reasons which have induced me to
take so terrible a step are unanswerable in my mind.

"I can redeem the life of a noble and gifted man. His moral nature is
deteriorating, he suffers frightfully, and I cannot avoid the
conviction that without me he must go to destruction.

"He hoped to be able to procure a divorce from his wife. It was
impossible. Without hesitation I resolved of my own accord to follow
him. In the midst of the agony which it has cost me to break with all
my former associations, I am sustained by a sense of right.

"It is grand and beautiful to suffer for a noble and highly-gifted
fellow-being,--beautiful to be able to say, 'Providence has chosen me
to shed light into his darkened soul.' I do not waste a thought upon
what I resign in thus fulfilling my mission, but the consciousness of
the pain I shall cause my dear grandmother and you weighs me to the
earth. She will forgive me, and you, my poor friend, you will forget
me. I would gladly find consolation in this conviction; but no, it does
not comfort me. Of all that I must give up with my old life, your
friendship is what I shall lack most painfully.

"Goswyn! for God's sake do not judge me falsely and harshly! What I do,
I do in the absolute conviction that it is right. If this conviction
should ever fail me, then---- But I cannot harbour that idea!--it would
be too terrible. I cannot be mistaken!

"I have a fearful attack of cowardice as I write to you, and a sudden
dread takes possession of me. Am I equal to the task I have undertaken?
Will he always be content to live apart from the world with me alone?

"I am prepared for that also. If his feeling for me should wane, my
task will be done, he will need me no longer. Then I will vanish from
his life, and from life itself, like a poor taper that is extinguished
when the sun rises. I shall have the courage to extinguish it; it will
be a trifle in comparison with what I am now doing. Oh, God! how hard
it is! Goswyn, adieu! One thing more, and this I tell you because this
is my farewell to you. Whether it will console you, or add one more
pang to your sorrow, I cannot tell, but I am constrained to lay bare my
heart before you: these are as it were the words of a dying woman. If
last autumn you had said one kind word to me, I should now have been
your wife, and you should not have repented it! All that is over. Fate
had another destiny in store for me.

"Once more, farewell!

"Forgive me for causing you pain, and sometimes think of your poor
friend,

                                   "Erika Lenzdorff."


Now all was done. She put on her travelling-dress, a plain dark suit in
which she was wont to pay visits to the poor.

She looked at the clock--seven! One half-hour more, and she must go;
and she could not go without something to lend her physical strength.
She rang for a cup of tea, swallowed it hastily, and for the last time
walked through the four rooms occupied by her grandmother and herself.
Then she took her travelling-bag, which she had packed with a few
necessaries, put on her straw hat, and went.

It was half-past seven: the servants were at their evening meal. No one
noticed her departure at so unusual an hour. How often she had been
seen leaving the hotel in the same dress to visit her poor people!

She walked for some distance, and dropped her letter to Goswyn into the
nearest post-box, feeling as she did so that she was casting her whole
life thus far into a dark gulf whence it could never be recovered. Then
she hired a gondola, an open one,--she could find no other,--and it
pushed off with her.

She was very weary; with her eyes fixed on vacancy, she leaned back
among the black cushions.

The tragic wretchedness of the situation no longer impressed her. She
only felt that she was about to undertake a journey. If it were but
over! Sssh--sssh--the strokes of the oars sounded monotonously in her
ears: the gondola glided rapidly over the water.

The garish daylight had faded; the spring twilight, with its
incomparably poetic charm, was casting its transparent veil over
Venice. The gondola glided on.

Erika's battle was fought. She leaned back, pale and still, with
gleaming eyes. The sound of the church-bells droned in her ears. Dulled
to all that lay behind her, she was conscious of nothing save of the
enthusiasm of a young hero ready to brave death for a sacred cause.

Around her was the breath of the waning spring, and beneath her was the
sobbing of the waves.


It was later by about an hour and a half. The old Countess, who had
felt it her duty to be present at the fête, had not thought herself
obliged to remain until its close. She was very uneasy about Erika, and
had gratefully accepted Prince Nimbsch's offer to take her home in his
cutter, leaving Constance Mühlberg and her guests, with the Hungarian
band that had been telegraphed for from Vienna for their amusement, to
return to Venice in the steamer.

With the velocity of a skimming swallow the little vessel shot through
the water. Prince Nimbsch, leaving the management of the sail entirely
to his sailors, leaned back beside the old lady among his very new
velvet cushions, and made good-humoured, although futile, efforts to
entertain her. She was absent: her thoughts were occupied with Erika's
altered appearance.

"Poor child!" she thought, "I was foolish. It was my fault; but how
could I suspect it? She seemed so strong, so unsusceptible. It is the
same folly, the same disease that attacks us all once in a lifetime. I
had it myself: I can hardly remember it now. It hurts,--it hurts very
much. But she has a strong character and a clear head. I am very sorry;
I might have prevented it, if I had only known. My poor, proud Erika!
What shall I write to Goswyn? Of course that he must come. I think she
will be glad to see him: this cannot go very deep; but I am very
sorry."

Venice lay before them, gray and shadowy, a reflection of the pale
summer sky, whence the sun had long disappeared, and where the stars
were not yet visible.

They reached the hotel, and the old Countess looked up at Erika's
windows. "She is not in her boudoir," she said to herself. "Perhaps she
is asleep."

"Tell Countess Erika how stupid the _fête_ was, thanks to her absence,"
the young Austrian said as he took his leave, "and how we all
anathematized that headache for depriving us of her society. I shall
call to-morrow, and hope to find her quite well again."

He kissed the old lady's hand, and she hurried upstairs to her rooms.
She softly entered Erika's apartments. The boudoir was dark, as she had
seen from below. She gently opened the door of the bedroom; that was
dark also. Had the poor child gone to bed? She approached the bed very
softly, not to disturb her, and stooped above it. There was no one
there.

A foreboding of something terrible instantly took possession of her.
For a moment she lost her head: she grew dizzy, and would have screamed
and alarmed the house, but her voice died in her throat. Suddenly
something fluttered down from the table upon which she leaned to
support herself. She stooped to pick it up: it was a letter. She turned
on the electric light and read it through. After the first few lines,
half blind with grief, she would have tossed it aside,--what could it
contain that she did not now know?--but at last she read it through,
read every word to the very end, feeding her pain with each tender,
loving expression of the unhappy, mistaken girl.

Not for one moment did she blame Erika for what had happened: she
blamed herself alone. She accused herself of plunging Erika into
wretchedness, as years before she had done with her daughter-in-law.
She had required of both of them that they should accede to her
materialistic views. She had never allowed them to entertain any
idealistic conception of life. She had never understood that such
idealism was a necessity of their existence, and that if deprived of it
in one shape they would take refuge in some exaggeration which
might shield them from a life of coldly-calculating egotism. Her
daughter-in-law's unhappiness had not affected her much; her
grand-daughter's misery would blot the sun from her sky.

She was so clear-sighted: ah, why was she so, when she could see
nothing but what agonized her?

For a creature like Erika it was as impossible to disregard the
dictates of morality as it would be to breathe in the moon with lungs
constructed for the atmosphere of the earth.

There were women capable of braving the opinions of the world and of
quietly going on their way, women for whom the pillory was converted
into a pedestal as soon as they stood in it. But Erika was not one of
these. Before the stars in their courses had twice appeared in the
heavens she would writhe in misery. She had none of that self-exalting
quality which must veil the moral lack of which she would surely be
made conscious. Yes, she would then find no other name for the
sacrifice she had made to the wretch who had been willing to receive it
at her hands than the one which the world has given to it for centuries
when it has been made to men by worthless women, inspired by no lofty
desire. In her own eyes she would be a fallen woman.

The moisture stood upon the old Countess's forehead. "My Erika! my
proud, glorious Erika!" she murmured. She knew that the peril of a
woman's fall must be measured by the moral height from which she falls.
And Erika had fallen from a very lofty height. Her life was ruined.

Once more she opened Erika's letter and read the line, "You will have
to choose between the world and me." Choose! As if there could be any
question of choice. Of course she was ready to open her arms to her and
do for her what she alone could; but what could she do?

Suddenly a picture arose in her memory,--a terrible picture.

In the waiting-room of a railway-station she had once seen among some
emigrants a poor woman with a child, a boy about six or seven years
old. His face was frightfully disfigured by scars. All the passers-by
stared at him, and some nudged one another and whispered together. The
child first grew scarlet, then very restless, and finally burst into a
passion of tears; whereupon the mother sat down upon a bench and hid
the poor face in her lap.

A quarter of an hour later, when the Countess passed the same spot the
woman was still there with the child's face in her lap. She sat stiffly
erect, glaring at the unfeeling crowd whose cruel curiosity had so hurt
the boy, and with her rough hand she gently stroked his short light
hair. The sight had made a profound impression upon the Countess. "She
cannot sit there always, concealing in her lap her child's deformity,"
she said to herself: "sooner or later she must again expose the poor
creature to the gaze of the crowd."

What now recalled this poor, powerless mother to her mind?

She could do no more for Erika than hide her head in her lap from the
contemptuous curiosity of the world. So entirely did this thought take
possession of her imagination that she seemed to feel the warm weight
of the poor humiliated head upon her knee; she raised her hand to
stroke it, when with a start she awoke to consciousness. "Ah, even that
will be denied me," she thought. "As soon as Erika comes to herself,
she will cast away her life. Yes, all is over,--all,--all!"

Marianne came into the room. She waved her away without a word. She
never thought of inventing a reason to the maid for Erika's absence.
She sat there mute and motionless, looking into the future. A vast
misfortune seemed to have engulfed the world, and she alone was left to
suffer, she alone was to blame.



                             CHAPTER XXVI.


Lozoncyi had gone to the station. He had delayed until the latest
minute, intimidated by the difficulties of his undertaking, swayed by
intense agitation. At last, passion for Erika had gained the mastery,
although it had shrunk to very small dimensions. All the poetry had
faded out of it. The lofty conception of life and its duties which had
lately raised him above himself had vanished like a fit of intoxication
of which nothing is left save a torturing thirst. Will she come? he had
asked himself, with quivering nerves, as he sprang from the gondola,
and, after purchasing the tickets, looked around him anxiously.

He had in fact expected that she would be there before him: he was
disappointed at not finding her. He went out upon the steps leading
from the railway-station to the Canal, and looked abroad over the
shining green water. As each gondola approached he said to himself,
"Here she comes." But no; she did not come.

The first bell rang. He went on the platform, his pulses throbbing
feverishly. While he had been sure that she would come he had been
comparatively calm; now his longing for her knew no bounds. He eagerly
scanned every woman whom he saw in the distance.

Fortunately, he saw no one whom he knew: the train was not very full.

The second bell rang; the passengers hurried into their several
compartments, porters ran to and fro with travelling-bags and trunks,
farewells were waved from the windows of the train. The third bell
rang, and the train steamed noisily out of the station. She had not
come.

His disappointment was largely mingled with anger, and was so intense
that it amounted to physical nervous pain. "At the last moment her
courage has failed her," he told himself. But then her pale beautiful
face, lit up with enthusiasm, arose before his mind's eye, and in the
midst of his frenzy of passion he was conscious of the yearning
tenderness which had been a chief element in his feeling for her. "No,"
he said to himself, "even if her courage has failed her, she is not one
to break her word. She must have been prevented at the last moment."

A burning desire for certainty in the matter mastered him. He went to
the Hôtel Britannia, under the pretext of calling upon the Lenzdorffs.
He was told that her Excellency had gone out early in the afternoon and
had not yet returned. He hesitated for a moment, and then, in a tone
the indifference of which surprised himself, he asked if he could see
the Countess Erika, as he had a message for her. The porter, a
presuming fellow who meddled in everybody's affairs, informed him that
the young Countess had just gone out, but would probably return
shortly.

"Why do you think so?" asked Lozoncyi.

"Because she was not in evening dress. She went out in a street suit,
and carried a leather bag in her hand: that always means 'charity' with
the young Countess. I know the bag: I have often carried it for her to
the gondola. This time she walked, and carried it herself. She is a
little----" he touched his forehead with his forefinger, "but a good
lady: she is always giving."

Lozoncyi stayed no longer. He got into his gondola again, uncertain
what to do. What could have kept her? After some reflection, he went
again to the railway-station. "She has been detained by some
acquaintance; she will be here for the next train," he thought. He
waited until the next train left,--in vain. Then a fierce anger against
her arose within him and transcended all bounds. He forgot that he
himself had delayed for a moment. He could not find words bitter enough
to express his contempt for her. He never should have taken such a step
of his own accord: he had simply acquiesced in the inevitable. She had
carried him away by her enthusiasm, which had levelled all barriers
between them, and now--now her cowardice had left him in the lurch. It
was hardly worth while to devise so fine a drama, when it was never to
be played out! How stupid he had been ever to believe that it could
possibly be played out! he ought to have known that at the last moment
the censor would prohibit it. In the midst of his anger he experienced
a sensation of dull indifference. What did anything matter? everything
of importance in his life was at an end: what became of the rest he did
not care. He had been lured on by a Fata Morgana; he laughed at the
thought that he had taken it for reality,--a dull, joyless laugh,--and
then--he could not spend the night at the station--he resolved to go
home.

It was about ten o'clock when he passed through the green door of his
house and along the narrow corridor into the garden. The moon was high
in the sky, and the trees and bushes cast pitchy shadows upon the
bluish light lying upon the grass and gravel paths. The air was warm;
rose-leaves lay scattered everywhere; Spring was laying aside her
garments, and there was a dull weariness in the atmosphere.

Lozoncyi, with bowed head, walked towards the atelier, where was the
portrait. On a sudden he heard a light foot-fall behind him. He turned,
and stood as if rooted to the earth.

"Erika!"

She came towards him lovely as an angel. Her head was bare, and her
golden hair gleamed in the moonlight.

"Erika!" he exclaimed, hoarsely, without advancing a step towards her.
He took her for an illusion conjured up by his fancy. But as she drew
near he felt the reality of her young life beside him. "Then it is
really you?" he murmured. "I thought it a phantom to deceive me. Why
are you here?"

"No wonder you ask," she said, and her voice expressed unutterable
compassion. "I come to bid you farewell."

"Farewell!" he gasped. "Then I was right to doubt you. And yet how
bitterly I have reproached myself because----"

"Because----?" she asked, sadly.

"Because I ventured to suppose you had lost courage. What could I
think? I waited for you at the station from one train to the next: you
did not come. Then I told myself that you had simply treated me to a
farce. But I cannot believe that now: as I look into your dear face I
can find there no cowardice, nothing paltry. You have been detained
against your will, and you are here yourself to tell me so. It is noble
of you, Erika! my Erika!"

He drew closer to her, and extended his arms towards her: she evaded
them.

"All is over between us," she said, wearily. "It cannot be."

She saw him turn ashy pale in the moonlight.

"Over? It cannot be? Erika! What does this mean? Have you robbed me of
all self-control only to desert me thus at the last moment? I cannot
believe it of you, Erika!" There was passionate entreaty in his voice.
Again he stretched out his arms towards her: gently, but firmly, she
repulsed him.

"Do not touch me," she begged. "I can scarcely stand. Something
horrible has happened; I must tell you of it as quickly as possible,
but I cannot stand upright." She grasped the bough of the mulberry-tree
around which the climbing roses were wreathed, and as she did so the
bough shook, and a cloud of white rose-leaves fluttered to the ground.
All about her was fading! How sultry the night was!

She sat down on the bench beneath the mulberry, above her the moonlit
sky with its hosts of stars, at her feet the fading garment of the
spring.

Then she began her story: "I was on my way to the station. I should
have been punctual: perhaps I should have been there before you. I was
convinced that I was doing right, and so long as that was so I could
not delay. The way to the station leads past this house. My gondola had
not yet reached the bridge that spans this canal when I heard a loud
splash in the water. A woman had thrown herself from the bridge. You
can imagine my horror. In an instant the suspicion darted into my mind
that it might be your wife. I implored my gondolier to save her, and he
plunged into the water just in time. It was indeed your wife, whom I
could not but feel I had thus hunted to death. She lay in the bottom of
the gondola, covered with sea-weed and slime--oh, horrible! I brought
her home. We carried her up-stairs, with Lucrezia's help, and then
recalled her to life. That was comparatively easy; but scarcely had she
opened her eyes when she was seized with frightful spasms of the chest,
and I feared she would die."

Lozoncyi had listened breathlessly; now he nodded slowly. "I know she
suffers from such attacks frequently," he said, bitterly, "but they are
not dangerous: they are usually the result of a fit of fury."

"That I did not know," Erika murmured, in the same weary, self-accusing
voice,--the voice of a criminal arraigning herself. "Her condition made
a terrible impression upon me. We put her to bed, and I stayed with her
while Lucrezia went for a physician. She returned without him, but the
unfortunate woman seemed better and calmer, and I was about to leave
her, when I heard your step in the corridor. I came hither to take
leave of you. Forgive me, and farewell!" She had risen from the bench,
and held out her hand to him; her eyes were full of tears.

He did not take her hand. "And for this you would desert me?" he
exclaimed, angrily. "You have given me no reason,--not the slightest.
That devil up-stairs has simply played you a trick,--nothing more. Can
you not see it? She knew what we were about to do, and watched for you:
she had not the least idea of taking her own life."

"I do not know," replied Erika, passing her hand across her brow: "it
may be that she meant only to prevent me from arriving in time at the
station. But it was frightful: the canal is very deep there; she would
surely have been drowned; and how could I have lived after witnessing
her death? No! as I sat beside her bed a veil seemed to fall from my
eyes,--a veil which had blinded me to what I was doing. I saw that,
with the best will in the world, I could do only harm. I was ready to
give my life for you,--I am always ready for that,--but I must not
sacrifice the lives of others who stand in close relation to you and to
me; I cannot!--I cannot! I ought not to have robbed you of your peace,
to have taken from you the power of self-renunciation; I acknowledge
it. If you could but know how bitterly I reproach myself, how fearful
it is for me to see you suffer! My poor friend, I entreat your
forgiveness from my very soul!" She took his hand and humbly touched it
with her lips.

The night grew more sultry and oppressive. A bewildering fragrance
exhaled from the earth, from the plants, from the faded blossoms on the
ground, and from the fresh buds opening to life. The moonlight fell
full upon the statue of a dancing faun beneath an acacia-tree, and upon
the scattered rose-leaves around it.

Hitherto Lozoncyi had stood still, with bowed head. But at the touch of
her lips upon his hand he looked up. His veins ran fire.

"Farewell!" she murmured, gently.

He repeated "Farewell!" and then suddenly added, "Will you not take one
more look at the studio before you go?"

She found nothing unusual in this request. He led the way; she followed
him, her whole being filled with compassion: she would have been nailed
to the cross to relieve his pain,--the pain for which she was to blame.

The moonlight flooded the studio, lending an unreal appearance to the
room, and in the magic light stood forth the figure of 'Blind Love,'
athirst to reach its goal, staggering in the mire.

From the garden breathed a benumbing odour, and from the far distance
floated towards the pair, like a yearning sigh, the song of the
Venetian night-minstrels.

Erika looked about her sadly. "It was fair!" she murmured. "I thank you
for it all. Adieu!"

She held out both her hands to him; she had wellnigh offered him her
lips, in the desperation of her compassion.

He took her hands in his and bent over them. "It is, perhaps, better
so," he said, and his voice had never been so tremulous and yet so
tenderly beguiling. "The sacrifice you would have made for me was too
great: I ought not to have accepted it at your hands. And you are
right, we must spare those who are near to us; it must be. But for
God's sake do not desert me quite! do not consign me to utter misery!"

She looked at him with eyes of wonder. She could not comprehend. What
was there left for her to do for him?--what?

He kissed her hands alternately: she did not notice how he drew her
towards him until she felt his hot breath upon her cheek. Then he said,
softly, very softly, "You must return to your grandmother tonight, I
know; you cannot devote your life to me; but--oh, Erika! our existence
is made up of moments--grant me a moment's bliss now and then! you will
not be the poorer, and I--I shall be richer than a king! The world
shall never know; no shadow shall fall upon you, be sure----"

At last she understood. She tore her hands from his grasp; a hoarse
sobbing cry escaped her lips, and without a word she turned and fled
past the faun gleaming in the moonlight, past the fading blossoms,
across the garden, through the long cold corridor, without once taking
breath until the green door with the lion's head had closed behind her.
A despairing cry pursued her: "Erika! Erika!" It was the voice of the
man who had been suddenly aroused to the consciousness of what he had
done.

But she never heeded it: she had a horror of him.

For a moment she stood uncertain on the border of the canal. Her
gondolier had departed, having judged it best to be rid as soon as
possible of his wet clothes. It was late, and she was alone.

Around her was the ghostly moonlight, before her the dark lapping
water. She was not afraid: what was there to fear? But, with the world
in ruins as it were about her, what should she do? What, except return
to the Hôtel Britannia?

She threaded her way through the zigzag narrow streets, across bridges
and along the shores of the canals, her eyes bent on the ground. It
never occurred to her that any one whom she knew could meet her
wandering thus late at night with uncovered head; for she had left her
hat in the sick woman's room. All through these last terrible hours she
had had no thought for her reputation. She walked on and on. Suddenly
there fell upon her ear,--


           "Ninon, Ninon, que fais-tu de la vie,
            Toi, qui n'as pas d'amour?
            Comment vis-tu----"


As she crossed a narrow canal by a small bridge, the singers' gondola
came directly towards her. She saw it close at hand. The soprano was a
faded, hollow-cheeked woman, the men were quite ragged.

Was that the phantom that had lured her on all through the spring?

The guttering candles in the gondola were burned almost into the
sockets. One of the paper lanterns took fire. The boat glided beneath
the bridge. When it emerged on the other side the lights were
extinguished, the singers silent. The gondola floated drearily on, a
black formless spot in the moonlight.

Shortly afterwards Erika found a gondola in which she reached the
hotel.


In consequence of the arrival of a large number of fresh guests, the
hotel was brilliantly lighted, all the doors were open, and Erika went
up the staircase to her room without attracting special notice.

"Perhaps," she thought, "my grandmother has not yet returned: I may be
able to recover my letter before she has read it." She went instantly
to her bedroom. Light issued from the chink of the door: she was too
late. She opened the door. There, beside her bed, sat her grandmother
in an arm-chair, erect and stiff, her eyes looking unnaturally large in
her ashy-pale face, where the last few hours had graven deeper furrows
than had been made by all the other experiences of her seventy years.

A strange cry escaped the old Countess's lips when she perceived the
wan, sad apparition in the door-way. Half rising from her seat, her
hands grasping the arms of the chair, she gazed at the girl as if she
had been a corpse newly risen from the tomb. Trembling in every limb,
"Erika!" she stammered. She tried to walk towards her grandchild, and
could not. Erika's strength barely sufficed to carry her to the
bedside, where she sank at her grandmother's feet and laid her head in
her lap.

Neither could speak for a while. The old lady only stroked the girl's
hair with her delicate hand, which grew warmer every minute. The girl
sobbed. After some minutes the grandmother bent over her and murmured,
"Erika, tell me how you have been rescued at the eleventh hour. Where
have you been?"

Erika lifted her head, and in a faint voice told all that had occurred
until the moment when she had gone down into the garden to take leave
of Lozoncyi. There she hesitated.

Her grandmother listened breathlessly, and in an instant the girl began
afresh: "I had forgotten myself. I would have done more for him than
was ever done for man before; I would have borne him aloft to the
stars. And he--the way was too hard; he had no heart for it; he would
have dragged me down into the mire from which I would fain have rescued
him. And when at last I understood, I fled----" A fit of convulsive
sobbing interrupted her: she could not go on.

Her grandmother understood it all. She said not a word, only gently
stroked the poor head in her lap. After a while she persuaded Erika to
lie down, helped her to undress, and smoothed the pillow in which the
poor child hid her tear-stained face.

She sat at the bedside until the dull weariness sure to follow upon
intense nervous agitation produced its effect and the girl slept. The
grandmother still sat there, motionless, until far into the morning.

About nine o'clock Marianne softly opened the door of the room. Erika
awoke. She had forgotten everything,--when her glance fell upon a small
black travelling-bag in the maid's hand.

"Please, your Excellency, a gondolier has just brought this bag,"
Marianne explained. "He says the Countess Erika left it in the gondola
yesterday after the accident,--after the fright, I mean: he told me all
about it. Poor Countess Erika! what a terrible thing for her! But it
was fortunate, too, because she was able to save the poor woman. The
gondolier has come for the hundred lire which the Countess promised him
for getting the woman out of the water."

The old Countess drew a deep breath. Everything was turning out more
favourably for Erika than she had dared to hope. The adventure, which
would of course be discussed freely by all the hotel servants, would
explain Erika's long absence and strange return.

"Is the Countess Erika ill?" asked the faithful Marianne, with an
anxious glance at the young girl, whose cheeks were flushed with fever.

"Only suffering from the effects of agitation," said Countess
Lenzdorff, who had meanwhile brought the money and given it to the
maid.

"No wonder! Poor Countess Erika!" the servant murmured as she withdrew.

Weary and wretched, Erika again closed her eyes. When she opened them
she saw her grandmother at the writing-table, her head resting on her
hand, and a blank sheet of paper before her.

"To whom are you writing, grandmother?"

"I want to write to Goswyn," the old Countess replied, in a low tone.
"I must answer his letter; and--I am not sure----" She hesitated.

Upon Erika's mind flashed the remembrance of the letter she had written
the previous day to Goswyn. She had forgotten it.

"Of course I must tell him not to come," said her grandmother.

Erika sighed. Must she give her grandmother that pain too? At last she
managed to say, in a voice that was scarce audible, "He will not come:
he----"

Startled by a terrible suspicion, her grandmother looked at her in
dismay. Erika's face was turned away from her.

"Well?" asked the old Countess.

"I wrote to him yesterday," poor Erika stammered, "telling him what I
was about to do. I thought he must hear of it sooner or later, and I
wished that he should hear it in a way that would give him least pain."

"Oh, Erika! Erika!"

But Erika lay still, her head turned away from her grandmother. After a
while she said, almost in a whisper, "Grandmother, please write to him
that"--she buried her face in the pillow--"that---- Oh, grandmother,
tell him--that--he need not despise me!"

Her grandmother made no reply. For a while absolute silence reigned in
the room. Then Erika suddenly heard a low sob. She looked round. The
Countess had covered her face with her hands, and was weeping.

It was the first time since Erika had known her that she had seen her
shed tears.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.


No trace of spring can be seen. The garden of the Hôtel Britannia
is a sunburned desert, where the rose-bushes show withered leaves
and not a single bud. The breath of the yellowish-gray lagoons is
stifling. All is limp and faded,--both vegetation and human beings. The
hotels are emptying: the season here is over, and the season for the
watering-places not yet begun. Moreover, there is in Venice an epidemic
of typhus fever.

Scarcely half a dozen people assemble every evening at the
_table-d'hôte_ of the Hôtel Britannia, and the small table appropriated
to the Lenzdorffs in the far corner of the dining-hall is deserted.

Nevertheless the Lenzdorffs have not left the hotel; but Erika is ill,
stricken down by malarial fever, and the old Countess does not leave
her bedside.

The attack was sudden,--sudden so far as could be seen by those in
daily intercourse with her, but pronounced very gradual by the
physician, who maintained that the disease had long been latent in the
girl's system.

In the afternoon of the day after that upon which Erika had, as by a
miracle, escaped the most terrible peril of her life, she had, by her
grandmother's desire, donned a charming gown and had gone with the old
Countess to pay a round of farewell visits. She had gone patiently in
the gondola from one palazzo to another, and with a pale, calm face had
answered question after question as to the terrible catastrophe which
her timely presence had been the means of preventing.

There were various versions concerning the reasons for Frau Lozoncyi's
attempt at suicide: thanks to the jealousy of Lozoncyi's numerous
feminine adorers, none of these versions approached even distantly the
truth, for none of his adorers would have admitted that the artist had
ever bestowed a serious thought upon Erika.

In the evening she had dressed for dinner, and then, overcome by
fatigue, she had lain down upon her bed to rest for a quarter of an
hour. She did not rise from it for weeks.

Now the disease has left her. The physician has not only allowed but
advised her to leave her bed. Every forenoon at eleven o'clock Marianne
and the old Countess dress her,--ah, how tenderly and carefully!--and
then, leaning heavily upon her grandmother's arm, she walks slowly
about the room.

It is nearly six o'clock. The intense heat has somewhat abated, and
Erika is sitting in the most comfortable arm-chair to be had in the
hotel, her head resting upon a pillow, her hands in her lap. And what
hands they are!--so slender, so white and helpless! To please her
grandmother, she has swallowed a few spoonfuls of soup,--without the
slightest desire to eat,--as if it had been medicine.

"Are you comfortable, my darling? Shall I not get you another pillow?"
her grandmother asks. The old Countess is hardly to be recognized, her
treatment of her grand-daughter is so humbly tender, so pathetically
anxious. Her force and rigour have vanished: she can only pet and spoil
Erika; she cannot incite her to any interest in life.

"Ah, grandmother dear, everything is most comfortable," Erika replies.
As if a pillow more or less could procure her ease!

"Shall I read aloud to you, my child?"

"If you will be so kind."

Her grandmother makes choice of a new novel of Norris's. As she reads,
she looks across the book at Erika: the girl is not listening. The old
Countess stops, and drops the book in her lap. Erika is not aware that
she has ceased to read.

After a while she looks up. "Grandmother," she asks, gently, "did no
letters come while I was ill?"

"Of course," her grandmother replies. "I had letters every day from
various friends and acquaintances, asking how you were. Hedwig Norbin
is with her married daughter in Via Reggia, and I had to send her
bulletins reporting your condition three times a week."

Erika's thin cheeks flush slightly. "And--did no letters come from
Berlin?" she asks, with averted face.

Her grandmother hesitates for a moment, and then says, "I do not
correspond with any one in Berlin. I have written as few letters as
possible during your illness."

Erika's head droops. "How ashamed my grandmother must be for me, if she
has not even told Goswyn that I am ill!" she thinks.

For a while there is silence; then Erika whispers, "Grandmother, I am
very tired. I should like to lie down."

Her grandmother leads her to a lounge, where she lies down, with her
face turned to the wall. She is very quiet. Is she sleeping?

The old Countess softly leaves the room.

In Erika's boudoir she walks to and fro a couple of times, then sits
down and takes up a book, but it soon drops in her lap unread. For
weeks she has felt no interest in the comfortless philosophy of the
books which were formerly her favourites. The book slips to the floor;
she does not stoop to pick it up; with hands clasped in her lap
she ponders upon many things that had not been wont to occupy her
thoughts. She never notices a bustle in the hotel most unusual at this,
the dull season, until Lüdecke opens the door and announces, "Your
Excellency, Herr von Sydow wishes to know if he may come up, or if your
Excellency----"

She starts. "Herr von Sydow!" she repeats. "Show him up,--very softly,
of course: Countess Erika is asleep."

A moment afterwards he enters the room.

At first she hardly recognizes him. His features are sharper; the hair
about his temples is gray.

"My dear child, you here?" she says, cordially, rising and advancing a
few steps to meet him.

He kisses her hand. "I learned only three days ago that she is ill. How
is she?"

"Erika?"

"Who else could it be?" he replies, impatiently.

"The disease is cured; but she does not get well. She gains no
strength. She has not improved in the last ten days; she has no
appetite, takes no interest in anything. She is always weary."

"What does her physician say?" Goswyn is sitting beside his old friend,
leaning forward and listening eagerly to every word that falls from her
lips. Both speak very softly.

"The physician begins to be anxious; there is not much to say. Entire
relaxation of the nervous system,--want of vitality,--no love of
life----"

"No love of life! Nonsense!" exclaims Goswyn. "Life must be made dear
again for her."

Suddenly they hear a low rustle. The door leading into Erika's bedroom
opens; on the threshold stands a slender figure in a long white
dressing-gown, her hair loosely knotted at the back of her head.

What is there in the poor thin face, in the large melancholy eyes, that
suddenly reminds Goswyn of the unformed, timid child whom he met on the
staircase in Bellevue Street on the evening of Erika's arrival in
Berlin?

"Goswyn," she stammers, gazing at him, "you here? What are you doing
here?"

He goes to her and takes her hand. "I heard that you were ill, and I
came to help your grandmother to carry you back to your home."

Her pale lips quiver, and her weak slender form sways uncertainly, and
then--before he is conscious of it himself--he does what he ought to
have done years before: he takes her in his arms and kisses her
forehead.

A wondrous sensation of perfect content, of blissful freedom from all
desire, overcomes her; she clasps her emaciated arms about his neck,
and murmurs, "Goswyn, do you really want me now,--now, after all the
pain I have given you?"

He only clasps her closer to his heart. He, who for years has been
dallying with opportunity because his courage failed him in view of
little obstacles which would never have daunted another man, now leaps
at a bound over the first real obstacle in his way. "What!" he cries,
"do you suppose I blame you for that folly, Erika? No; for me your
illness began weeks before it did for the physicians."

Meanwhile, he has tenderly conducted her to a lounge, upon which,
exhausted as she is, she sinks down.

"I must make one confession to you, Erika," he whispers. "I was
almost out of my senses in that terrible twenty-four hours after I
received your letter and before I received your grandmother's; my gray
temples bear witness to that; but then--then I took delight in your
letter,--yes, in that terrible letter. For I learned from it what I had
never ventured to hope,--that you cared for me a little, Erika."

"Ah, Goswyn, you always were, of all men in this world, the most
indispensable one to me!"

How fair life can be! For a while the lovers, hand clasped in hand,
talk blissfully; then Erika looks round for her grandmother. But the
old Countess has vanished: they do not need her at this moment. She is
sitting in her own room, delighting in her two young people, recalling
her far-distant past, as she says to herself that under certain
circumstances love may be a beautiful thing, and when it is
beautiful----



                                THE END.





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