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Title: The Alpine Fay - A Romance
Author: Werner, E., 1838-1918
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Note:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/alpinefayromance00wern

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



                             The Alpine Fay


                               A ROMANCE



                            FROM THE GERMAN
                                   OF
                               E. WERNER



                                   BY
                           MRS. A. L. WISTER



                              PHILADELPHIA
                        J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
                                 1908.



                           *   *   *   *   *
             Copyright, 1889, by J. B. Lippincott Company.
                           *   *   *   *   *



                               CONTENTS.


                               CHAPTER

       I.--A Mountain Home

      II.--A Morning Call

     III.--Explanatory

      IV.--The Last Thurgau

       V.--The Lover and the Suitor

      VI.--At President Nordheim's

     VII.--A New Scheme

    VIII.--Another Clime

      IX.--The Herr President Speaks

       X.--A Professional Visit

      XI.--On the Alm

     XII.--The Bale-Fire

    XIII.--An Outraged Wife

     XIV.--Midsummer Blessing

      XV.--A Betrothal

     XVI.--Suspicions

    XVII.--Unforeseen Obstacles

   XVIII.--A Mountain Ramble

     XIX.--Nemesis

      XX.--Blasts and Counterblasts

     XXI.--A Challenge

    XXII.--An Unexpected Visit

   XXIII.--A Jealous Lover

    XXIV.--The Avalanche

     XXV.--Not all Despair

    XXVI.--The Kiss of the Alpine Fay

   XXVII.--Midsummer-Eve again



                            .



                               CHAPTER I.

                            A MOUNTAIN-HOME.


High above the snow-crowned summits of the mountains gleamed a rainbow.
The storm had passed; there was still a low mutter of thunder in the
ravines, and masses of clouds lay encamped about the mountainsides, but
the skies were once more clear, the loftiest peaks were unveiling, and
dark forests and green slopes were beginning slowly to emerge from the
sea of cloud and mist.

The extensive Alpine valley through which rushed a considerable stream
lay far in the depths of the mountain-range, so secluded and lonely
that it might have been entirely shut off from the world and its
turmoil; and yet the world had found the way to it. The quiet
mountain-road, usually deserted save for an occasional wagon or a
strolling pedestrian, was all astir with bustle and life. Everywhere
were to be seen groups of engineers and labourers; everywhere
measuring, surveying, and planning were going on; the railway, in a
couple of years, was to stretch its iron arms forth into this mountain
seclusion, and preparations were already making for its course.

Some way up the mountain-road, on the brink of a hollow whose rocky
sides fell away in a steep descent, lay a dwelling-house, which at
first sight did not appear to differ much from others scattered here
and there among the mountains; a near view, however, soon made plain
that it was no peasant's abode situated thus on the spacious green
slope. The house had firmly-cemented walls of blocks of stone, and low
but broad doors and windows; two semicircular projections, the pointed
roofs of which gave them the air of small towers, lent it a stately
appearance, and above the entrance there was artistically carved in the
stone a scutcheon.

It was one of those old baronial mansions, yet to be found here and
there among the mountains, simple and rude, half suggesting a peasant
abode, gray and weather-worn, but stoutly resisting the decay to which
many a proud castle had fallen a victim. The ascending slope of the
mountain formed a picturesque background, and high above a huge peak
reared its rocky crest, crowned with snow, lonely and proud.

The interior of the house accorded with its outside. Through a vaulted
hall, with a stone floor, a low spacious room was reached which
occupied nearly the entire width of the building. The wainscot, brown
with age, the gigantic tiled stove, the high-backed chairs, and the
heavily-carved oaken cupboards were all plain and simple and showed
marks of long years of use. The windows were wide open, affording a
magnificent view of the mountains, but the two gentlemen sitting at the
table were too earnestly engaged in conversation to pay any heed to the
beauties which each moment revealed more fully.

One of them, a man fifty years of age, was a giant in stature, with a
broad chest and powerful limbs. Not a thread of silver as yet streaked
his thick hair and fair, full beard; his tanned face beamed with the
life and health that characterized his entire figure. His companion was
of perhaps the same age, but his spare figure, his sharp features, and
his gray hair made him appear much older. His face and the high
forehead, already deeply lined, spoke of restless striving and
scheming, as well as of the energy necessary for them; there was in his
expression a degree of arrogance which was far from prepossessing, and
his air and speech conveyed an impression of self-confidence, as of a
man accustomed to rule those about him.

"So pray listen to reason, Thurgau," he said, in a tone in which
impatience was audible. "Your opposition will do you no good. In any
case you will be forced to relinquish your estate."

"I, forced!" exclaimed Thurgau, angrily. "We'll see about that. While I
live, not a stone of Wolkenstein shall be touched."

"But it is directly in the way. The big bridge starts from here, and
the line of railway goes directly through your property."

"Then alter your cursed line of railway! Carry it where you choose,
over the top of the Wolkenstein, for all I care, but let my house
alone. No need to talk, Nordheim; I persist in my 'no.'"

Nordheim smiled, half compassionately, half sarcastically: "You seem to
have entirely forgotten in your seclusion how to deal with the world
and its requirements. Do you actually imagine that an undertaking like
ours can be put a stop to, just because the Freiherr von Thurgau
chooses to refuse us a few square rods of his land? If you persist,
nothing is left us save to have recourse to our right of compulsion.
You know that we have long been empowered to use it."

"Oho, I have rights too!" exclaimed the Freiherr, bringing his fist
down heavily upon the table. "I have protested, and shall continue to
protest, while I live. Wolkenstein Court shall be left untouched,
though the entire railway company with the Herr President Nordheim at
their head should band themselves against me."

"But if you are offered double its value----"

"If I were offered a hundred times its value, it would be all the same.
I do not bargain for the last of my inheritance. Wolkenstein Court
shall not be touched, and there's an end of it!"

"This is your old obstinacy which has so often stood in your way in
life," said the president with irritation. "I might have foreseen it;
it is far from agreeable to have my own brother-in-law force to extreme
measures the company of which I am president."

"That is why you condescended to come up here yourself, for the first
time for years," Thurgau said, with a sneer.

"I wanted to try to talk you into a reasonable state of mind, since my
letters were of no avail. You surely know how entirely my time is taken
up."

"Yes, yes, heaven knows it is! Nothing would induce me to run the
perpetual race which you call life. What good do you get out of your
millions and your incredible successes? Now here, now there, you are
always on the wing, always burdened down with business and
responsibility. There's where you get the wrinkles on your forehead and
your gray hair. Look at me!" He sat upright and stretched his huge
limbs. "I am a full year older than you!"

"Very true; but then it is not given to every man to live up here with
the marmots and shoot chamois. You resigned from the army ten years
ago, although your ancient name would have insured you a brilliant
career."

"Because the service did not suit me. It never did suit the Thurgaus.
You think that is what has brought them down in the world? I can see
you do by your sneer. Well, there is not, it is true, much of the old
splendour left, but I have at least a roof over my head, and the soil
beneath my feet is my own; here no one has a right to order me
about and control me, least of all your cursed railway. No offence,
brother-in-law, we will not quarrel over the matter, and neither has a
right to reproach the other, for if I am obstinate you are domineering.
You hector your precious company until they are almost blind and deaf,
and if one of them dares to contradict you he is simply tossed aside
neck and crop."

"What do you know about it?" asked Nordheim, piqued by the last words.
"As a rule, you trouble yourself very little about our affairs."

"True, but I was talking awhile ago with a couple of engineers who were
up here surveying, and who, of course, had no idea of the relationship
between us; they scolded away at a great rate about you and your
tyranny, and favouritism. Oh, I heard a deal that was extremely
interesting."

The president shrugged his shoulders with an air of indifference: "My
appointment of the superintendent for this district was probably
distasteful to the gentlemen. They certainly threatened an open revolt
because I advanced to be their superior officer a young man of
seven-and-twenty who has more in his head than all the rest of them put
together."

"But they maintain that he is a fellow who would shun no means, so it
might promote his advancement," Thurgau said, bluntly. "You, as
president of the company, had nothing to do with the appointment,--the
engineer-in-chief alone has the right to appoint his staff."

"Officially it is so, and I do not often bring my influence to bear in
his department; when I do so I expect due deference to be paid to my
wishes. Enough, Elmhorst is superintendent and will remain so. If it
does not suit the gentlemen they can resign their posts; their opinion
is of very little consequence."

In his words there was all the arrogant self-assertion of a man
accustomed to have his own way, regardless of consequences. Thurgau was
about to reply, but at the moment the door opened, or rather was flung
wide, and a something made up of drenched clothes and floating curls
flew past the president and eagerly embraced the Freiherr; a second
something, equally wet and very shaggy, followed, and also rushed
towards the master of the house, springing upon him with loud and
joyful barks of recognition. The noisy and unexpected intrusion was
almost an attack, but Thurgau must have been used to such onslaughts,
for he showed no impatience at the damp caresses thus bestowed upon
him.

"Here I am, papa!" cried a clear girlish voice, "wet as a nixie; we
were up on the Wolkenstein all through the storm; just see how we look,
Griff and I!"

"Yes, it is plain that you come directly from the clouds," Thurgau
said, laughing. "But do you not see, Erna, that we have a visitor? Do
you recognize him?"

Erna turned about; she had not perceived the president, who had risen
and stepped aside upon her entrance, and for a few seconds she seemed
uncertain as to his identity, but she finally exclaimed, delightedly,
"Uncle Nordheim!" and hurried towards him. He, however, put out his
hands and stood on the defensive.

"Pray, pray, my child; you are dripping at every step. You are a
veritable water-witch. For heaven's sake do not let the dog come near
me! Would you expose me to a rain-storm here in the room?"

Erna laughed, and, taking the dog by the collar, drew him away. Griff
showed a decided desire to cultivate an acquaintance with the visitor,
which in his dripping condition would hardly have been agreeable. In
fact, his young mistress did not look much better; the mountain-shoes
which shod her little feet very clumsily, her skirt of some dark
woollen stuff, kilted high, and her little black beaver hat, were all
dripping wet. She seemed to care very little about it, however, as she
tossed her hat upon a chair and stroked back her damp curls.

The girl resembled her father very slightly; her blue eyes and fair
hair she had inherited from him, but otherwise there existed not the
smallest likeness between the Freiherr's giant proportions and
good-humoured but rather expressionless features and the girl of
sixteen, who, lithe and slender as a gazelle, revealed, in spite of her
stormy entrance, an unconscious grace in every movement. Her face was
rosy with the freshness of youth; it could not be called beautiful, at
least not yet: the features were still too childish and undeveloped,
and there was an expression bordering on waywardness about the small
mouth. Her eyes, it is true, were beautiful, reminding one in their
blue depths of the colour of the mountain-lakes. Her hair, confined
neither by ribbon nor by net, and dishevelled by the wind, hung about
her shoulders in thick masses of curls. She certainly did not look as
if she belonged in a drawing-room, she was rather the personification
of a fresh spring rain.

"Are you afraid of a few rain-drops, Uncle Nordheim?" she asked. "What
would have become of you in the rain-spout to which we were exposed
just now? I did not mind it much, but my companion----"

"Why, I should have thought Griff's shaggy hide accustomed to such
drenchings," the Freiherr interposed.

"Griff? Oh, I had left him as usual at the sennerin's hut; he cannot
climb, and from there one must rival the chamois. I mean the stranger
whom I met on the way. He had strayed from the path, and could not find
his way down in the mist; if I had not met him, he would be on the
Wolkenstein at this moment."

"Yes, these city men," said Thurgau,--"they come up here with huge
mountain-staffs, and in brand-new travelling-suits, and behave as if
our Alpine peaks were mere child's play; but at the first shower they
creep into a rift in the rocks and catch cold. I suppose the fine
fellow was in a terrible fright when the storm came up?"

Erna shook her head, but a frown appeared on her forehead.

"No, he was not afraid; he stayed beside me with entire composure while
the lightning and rain were at their worst, and in our descent he
showed himself courageous, although it was evident he was quite unused
to that sort of thing. But he is an odious creature. He laughed when I
told him of the mountain-sprite who sends the avalanches down into the
valley every winter, and when I grew angry he observed, with much
condescension, 'True, this is the atmosphere for superstition; I had
forgotten that.' I wished the mountain-sprite would roll an avalanche
down upon his head on the spot, and I told him so."

"You said that to a stranger whom you had met for the first time?"
asked the president, who had hitherto listened in silence, with an air
of surprise.

Erna tossed her head: "Of course I did! We could not endure him, could
we, Griff? You growled at him when he reached the sennerin's hut with
me, and you were right,--good dog! But now I really must change my wet
clothes; Uncle Nordheim will else catch cold from merely having me near
him."

She hurried off as quickly as she had come; Griff tried to follow her,
but the door was shut in his face, and so he decided upon another
course. He shook from his shaggy hide a shower of drops in every
direction, and lay down at his master's feet.

Nordheim took out his pocket-handkerchief and ostentatiously brushed
with it his black coat, although not a drop had reached it.

"Forgive me, brother-in-law; I must say that the way in which you allow
your daughter to grow up is inexcusable."

"What?" asked Thurgau, apparently extremely surprised that any one
could possibly find anything to object to in his child. "What is the
matter with the girl?"

"Everything, I should say, that could be the matter with a Fräulein von
Thurgau. What a scene we have just witnessed! And you allow her to
wander about the mountains alone for hours, making acquaintance with
any tourist she may chance to meet."

"Pshaw! she is but a child!"

"At sixteen? It was a great misfortune for her to lose her mother so
early, and since then you have positively let her run wild. Of course
when a young girl grows up under such circumstances, without
instruction, without education----"

"You are mistaken," the Freiherr interrupted him. "When I removed to
Wolkenstein Court, after the death of my wife, I brought with me a
tutor, the old magister, who died last spring. Erna had instruction
from him, and _I_ have brought her up. She is just what I wished her to
be; we have no use up here for such a delicate hot-house plant as your
Alice. My girl is healthy in body and mind; she has grown up free as a
bird of the air, and she shall stay so. If you call that running wild,
so be it, for aught I care! My child suits me."

"Perhaps so, but you will not always be the sole ruling force in her
life. If Erna should marry----"

"Mar--ry?" Thurgau repeated in dismay.

"Certainly, you must expect her to have lovers, sooner or later."

"The fellow who dares to present himself as such shall have a lesson
from me that he'll remember!" roared the Freiherr in a rage.

"You bid fair to be an amiable father-in-law," said Nordheim, dryly. "I
should suppose it was a girl's destiny to marry. Do you imagine I shall
require my Alice to remain unmarried because she is my only daughter?"

"That is very different," said Thurgau, slowly, "a very different
thing. You may love your daughter,--you probably do love her,--but you
could give her to some one else with a light heart. I have nothing on
God's earth save my child; she is all that is left to me, and I will
not give her up at any price. Only let the gentlemen to whom you allude
come here as suitors; I will send them home again after a fashion that
shall make them forget the way hither."

The president's smile was that of the cold compassion bestowed upon the
folly of a child.

"If you continue faithful to your educational theories you will have no
cause to fear," he said, rising. "One thing more: Alice arrives at
Heilborn to-morrow morning, where I shall await her; the physician has
ordered her the baths there, and the mountain-air."

"No human being could ever get well and strong in that elegant and
tiresome haunt of fashion," Thurgau declared, contemptuously. "You
ought to send the girl up here, where she would have the mountain-air
at first hand."

Nordheim's glance wandered about the apartment, and rested with an
unmistakable expression upon the sleeping Griff; finally he looked at
his brother-in-law: "You are very kind, but we must adhere to the
physician's prescriptions. Shall we not see you in the course of a day
or two?"

"Of course; Heilborn is hardly two miles away," said the Freiherr, who
failed to perceive the cold, forced nature of his brother-in-law's
invitation. "I shall certainly come over and bring Erna."

He rose to conduct his guest to his conveyance; the difference of
opinion to which he had just given such striking expression was in his
eyes no obstacle to their friendly relations as kinsmen, and he bade
his brother-in-law farewell with all the frank cordiality native to
him. Erna too came fluttering down-stairs like a bird, and all three
went out of the house together.

The mountain-wagon which had brought the president to Wolkenstein Court
a couple of hours previously--not without some difficulty in the
absence of any good road--drove into the court-yard, and at the same
moment a young man made his appearance beneath the gate-way and
approached the master of the house.

"Good-day, doctor," cried the Freiherr in his jovial tones, whilst
Erna, with the ease and freedom of a child, offered the new-comer her
hand. Turning to his brother-in-law, Thurgau added: "This is our
Æsculapius and physician-in-ordinary. You ought to put your Alice under
his care; the man understands his business."

Nordheim, who had observed with evident displeasure his niece's
familiar greeting of the young doctor, touched his hat carelessly, and
scarcely honoured the stranger, whose bow was somewhat awkward, with a
glance. He shook hands with his brother-in-law, kissed Erna on the
forehead, and got into the vehicle, which immediately rolled away.

"Now come in, Dr. Reinsfeld," said the Freiherr, who did not apparently
regret this departure. "But it occurs to me that you do not know my
brother-in-law,--the gentleman who has just driven off."

"President Nordheim,--I am aware," replied Reinsfeld, looking after the
vehicle, which was vanishing at a turn in the road.

"Extraordinary," muttered Thurgau. "Everybody knows him, and yet he has
not been here for years. It is exactly as if some potentate were
driving through the mountains."

He went into the house; the young physician hesitated a moment before
following him, and looked round for Erna; but she was standing on the
low wall that encircled the court-yard, looking after the conveyance as
with some difficulty it drove down the mountain.

Dr. Reinsfeld was about twenty-seven years old; he did not possess the
Freiherr's gigantic proportions, but his figure was fine, and
powerfully knit. He certainly was not handsome, rather the contrary,
but there was an undeniable charm in the honest, trustful gaze of his
blue eyes and in his face, which carried written on its brow kindness
of heart. The young man's manners and bearing, it is true, betrayed
entire unfamiliarity with the forms of society, and there was much
to be desired in his attire. His gray mountain-jacket and his old
beaver hat had seen many a day of tempest and rain, and his heavy
mountain-shoes, their soles well studded with nails, showed abundant
traces of the muddy mountain-paths. They bore testimony to the fact
that the doctor did not possess even a mountain-pony for his visits to
his patients,--he went on foot wherever duty called him.

"Well, how are you, Herr Baron?" he asked when the two men were seated
opposite each other in the room. "All right again? No recurrence of the
last attack?"

"All right," said Thurgau, with a laugh. "I cannot understand why you
should make so much of a little dizzy turn. Such a constitution as mine
does not give gentlemen of your profession much to do."

"We must not make too light of the matter. At your years you must be
prudent," said the young physician. "I hope nothing will come of it, if
you only follow my advice,--avoid all excitement, and diet yourself to
a degree. I wrote it all down for you."

"Yes, you did, but I shall not pay it any attention," the Freiherr
said, pleasantly, leaning back in his arm-chair.

"But, Herr von Thurgau----"

"Let me alone, doctor! The life that you prescribe for me would be no
life at all. I take care of myself! I, accustomed as I am to follow a
chamois to the topmost peak of our mountains without any heed of the
sun's heat or the winter's snow,--always the first if there is any
peril to be encountered,--I give up hunting, drink water, and avoid all
agitation like a nervous old maid! Nonsense! I've no idea of anything
of the kind."

"I did not conceal from you the grave nature of your attack, nor that
it might have dangerous consequences."

"I don't care! Man cannot balk his destiny, and I never was made for
such a pitiable existence as you would have me lead. I prefer a quick,
happy death."

Reinsfeld looked thoughtful, and said, in an undertone, "In fact, you
are right. Baron, but----" He got no further, for Thurgau burst into a
loud laugh.

"Now, that's what I call a conscientious physician! When his patient
declares that he cares not a snap for his prescriptions, he says 'you
are right!' Yes, I am right; you see it yourself."

The doctor would have protested against this interpretation of his
words, but Thurgau only laughed more loudly, and Erna made her
appearance with Griff, her inseparable companion.

"Uncle Nordheim is safe across the bridge, although it was half
flooded," she said. "The engineers all rushed to his assistance and
helped to draw the carriage across, after which they drew up in line on
each side and bowed profoundly."

She mimicked comically the reverential demeanour of the officials, but
the Freiherr shrugged his shoulders impatiently.

"Fine fellows those! They abuse my brother-in-law in every way behind
his back, but as soon as he comes in sight they bow down to the ground.
No wonder the man is arrogant."

"Papa," said Erna, who had been standing beside her father's chair, and
who now put her arm around his neck, "I do not think Uncle Nordheim
likes me: he was so cold and formal."

"That is his way," said Thurgau, drawing her towards him. "But he has a
great deal of fault to find with you, you romp."

"With Fräulein Erna?" asked Reinsfeld, with as much astonishment and
indignation in look and tone as if the matter in question had been high
treason.

"Yes; she ought to conduct herself like a Fräulein von Thurgau. Oh,
yes, child, awhile ago he offered to have you come to him to be trained
for society with his Alice by all sorts of governesses! What do you say
to such an arrangement?"

"I do not want to go to my uncle, papa. I will never go away from you.
I mean to stay at Wolkenstein Court as long as I live."

"I knew it!" said the Freiherr, triumphantly. "And they insist that you
will marry some day,--go off with a perfect stranger and leave your
father alone in his old age! We know better, eh, Erna? We two belong
together and we will stay together."

He stroked his child's curls with a tenderness pathetic in the bluff,
stalwart man, and Erna nestled close to him with passionate ardour. It
was plain to see that they belonged together; each was devoted to the
other, heart and soul.



                              CHAPTER II.

                            A MORNING CALL.


"Well, Herr Superintendent, you are at your post already? It is one of
difficulty and responsibility, especially for a man of your years, but
I hope nevertheless that you are quite competent to fulfil its duties."

The young man to whom President Nordheim addressed these words bowed
respectfully, but in no wise humbly, as he replied, "I am perfectly
aware that I must show myself worthy of the distinction which I owe
principally to your influence in my behalf, Herr President."

"Yes, there was much against you," said Nordheim. "First of all, your
youth, which was regarded as an obstacle by those in authority, the
rather that older and more experienced applicants look upon their
rejection as an offence, and finally there was a decided opposition to
my interference in your favour. I need not tell you that you must take
all these things into account; they will make your position far from an
easy one."

"I am prepared for that," Elmhorst replied, quietly, "and I shall not
yield a jot to the hostility of my fellow-workers. I have hitherto,
Herr President, had no opportunity to express my gratitude to you save
by words; I trust I shall be able to show it by deeds at some future
time."

His answer seemed to please the president, and, far more graciously
than was his wont, he signed to his favourite to sit down,--for such
Elmhorst was already considered in circles that were quite conscious of
the value of the president's preference.

The young superintendent-engineer, who, upon this official visit, wore,
of course, the livery of the company, was extremely attractive in
appearance, tall and slender, with regular, decided features, to which
a complexion browned by the sun, and a dark beard and moustache, lent a
manly air. Thick brown hair was parted above a broad brow which
betokened keen intelligence, and the eyes would have been extremely
fine had they not been so cold and grave in expression. They might
observe keenly, and perhaps flash with pride and energy, but they could
hardly light up with enthusiasm, or glow with the warmer impulses of
the heart; there was no youthful fire in their dark depths. The man's
manner was simple and calm, perfectly respectful to his superior, but
without a shadow of servility.

"I am not quite satisfied with what I see here," Nordheim began again.
"The men are taking a great deal of time for the preliminary work, and
I doubt if we can begin the construction next year; there is no display
of eagerness or energy. I begin to fear that we have made a mistake in
putting ourselves into the hands of this engineer-in-chief."

"He is considered a first-class authority," Elmhorst interposed.

"True, but he has grown old, physically and mentally, and such a work
as this demands the full vigor of manhood,--a famous name is not all
that is required. The undertaking depends greatly upon the conductors
of the individual sections, and your section is one of the most
important on the entire line."

"The most important, I think. We have every possible natural obstacle
to overcome here; I am afraid we shall not always succeed, even with
the most exact calculations."

"My opinion precisely; the post requires a man capable of calculating
upon the unforeseen, and ready in an emergency to lend a hand himself.
I therefore nominated you, and carried through your appointment, in
spite of all opposition; it is for you to justify my confidence in
you."

"I will justify it," was the decided reply. "You shall not find
yourself mistaken in me, Herr President."

"I am seldom deceived in men," said Nordheim, with a searching glance
at the young man's countenance, "and of your technical capacity you
have given proof sufficient. Your plan for bridging over the
Wolkenstein chasm shows genius."

"Herr President----"

"No need to disclaim my praise, I am usually very chary of it; as a
former engineer I can judge of such matters, and I repeat, your plan
shows genius."

"And yet for a long time it was not only not accepted, it was entirely
disregarded," said Elmhorst, with some bitterness. "Had I not conceived
the happy idea of requesting a personal interview with you, at which I
explained my plans to you, they never would have been accorded the
slightest notice."

"Possibly not; talent out at elbows, with difficulty finds a hearing;
'tis the way of the world, and one from which I, myself, suffered in my
youth. But one conquers in the end, and you come off conqueror with
your present position. I shall know how to maintain you in it if you do
your duty. The rest is your own affair."

He rose, and waved his hand in token of dismissal. Elmhorst also rose,
but lingered a moment; "May I make a request?"

"Certainly; what is it?"

"A few weeks ago I had the honour in the city of seeing Fräulein Alice
Nordheim, and of being hastily presented to her as she was getting into
the carriage with you. She is now, I hear, in Heilborn,--may I be
permitted to inquire personally after her health?"

Nordheim was startled, and scanned the bold petitioner keenly. He was
wont to have none save business relations with his officials, and was
considered very exclusive in his choice of associates, and here was
this young man, only a simple engineer a short time previously, asking
a favour which signified neither more nor less than the _entrée_ of the
house of the all-powerful president. It seemed to him a little strong;
he frowned and said in a very cold tone, "Your request is a rather bold
one, Herr--Elmhorst."

"I know it, but Fortune favours the bold."

The words might have offended another patron, but not the man to whom
they were spoken. Influential millionaire as he was, Nordheim had
enough of flattery and servility, and despised both from the bottom of
his soul. This quiet self-possession, not a whit destroyed by his
presence, impressed him; he felt it was something akin to his own
nature. 'Fortune favours the bold!' It had been his own maxim by which
he had mounted the social ladder, and this Elmhorst looked as if he
never would be content with remaining on its lower rounds. The frown
vanished from his brow, but his eyes remained fixed upon the young
engineer's face as if to read his very soul,--his most secret thoughts.
After a pause of a few seconds he said, slowly, "We will admit the
proverb to be right this time. Come!"

In Elmhorst's eyes there was a flash of triumph; he bowed low, and
followed Nordheim through several rooms to the other wing of the house.

Nordheim was occupying one of the most beautiful and elegant villas in
the fashionable spa. Half hidden by the green shade of the shrubberies,
it enjoyed a charming prospect of the mountain-range, and its interior
was wanting in none of the luxuries to which spoiled and wealthy guests
are accustomed. In the drawing-room the glass door alone was open, the
jalousies were closed to keep out the glare of sunlight, and in the
cool, darkened room sat two ladies.

The elder, who held a book, and was apparently reading, was no longer
young. Her dress, from the lace cap covering her gray hair to the hem
of her dark silk gown, was scrupulously neat, and she sat up stiff and
cool and elegant, an embodiment of the rules of etiquette. The younger,
a girl of sixteen at most, a delicate, pale, frail creature, was
sitting, or rather reclining, in a large arm-chair. Her head was
supported by a silken cushion, and her hands were crossed idly and
languidly in the lap of her white, lace-trimmed morning-gown. Her face,
although hardly beautiful, was pleasing, but it wore a weary, apathetic
expression which made it lifeless when, as at present, the eyes were
half closed and the young lady seemed to be dozing.

"Herr Wolfgang Elmhorst," said the president, introducing his
companion. "I believe he is not quite a stranger to you, Alice. Frau
Baroness Lasberg."

Alice slowly opened her eyes, large brown eyes, which, however, shared
the apathetic expression of her other features. There was not the
slightest interest in her glance, and she seemed to remember neither
the name nor the person of the young man. Frau von Lasberg, on the
other hand, looked surprised. Only Wolfgang Elmhorst and nothing more?
Gentlemen without rank or title were not wont to be admitted to the
Nordheim circle; there surely must be something extraordinary about
this young man, since the president himself introduced him.
Nevertheless his courteous bow was acknowledged with frigid formality.

"I cannot expect Fräulein Nordheim to remember me," said Wolfgang,
advancing. "Our meeting was a very transient one; I am all the more
grateful to the Herr President for his introduction to-day. But I fear
Fräulein Nordheim is ill?"

"Only rather fatigued from her journey," the president made answer in
his daughter's stead. "How are you to-day, Alice?"

"I feel wretched, papa," the young lady replied in a gentle voice, but
one quite devoid of expression.

"The heat of the sun in the narrow valley is insufferable," Frau von
Lasberg observed. "This sultry atmosphere always has an unfavourable
effect upon Alice; I fear she will not be able to bear it."

"The physicians have ordered her to Heilborn, and we must await the
result," said Nordheim, in a tone that was impatient rather than
tender. Alice said not a word; her strength seemed exhausted by her
short reply to her father's inquiry, and she left it to Frau von
Lasberg and her father to continue the conversation.

Elmhorst's share in it was at first a very modest one, but gradually
and almost imperceptibly he took the lead, and he certainly understood
the art of conversation. His remarks were not commonplaces about the
weather and every-day occurrences; he talked of things which might have
been thought foreign to the interest of the ladies,--things which had
to do with the railway enterprise among the mountains. He described the
Wolkenstein, its stupendous proportions, its heights which dominated
the entire mountain-range, the yawning abyss which the bridge was to
span, the rushing mountain-stream, and the iron road which was to wind
through cliffs and forests above streams and chasms. His were no dry
descriptions, no technical explanations,--he unrolled a brilliant
picture of the gigantic undertaking before his listeners, and he
succeeded in enthralling them. Frau von Lasberg became some degrees
less cool and formal; she even asked a few questions, expressing her
interest in the matter, and Alice, although she persisted in her
silence, evidently listened, and sometimes bestowed a half-surprised
glance upon the speaker.

The president seemed equally surprised by the conversational talent of
his _protégé_, with whom, hitherto, he had talked about official and
technical matters only. He knew that the young man had been bred in
moderate circumstances, and that he was unused to 'society' so called,
and here he was in this drawing-room conversing with these ladies as if
he had been accustomed to such intercourse all his life. And there was
an entire absence in his manner of anything like forwardness; he knew
perfectly well how to keep within the bounds assigned by good breeding
for a first visit.

In the midst of their conversation a servant appeared, and with a
rather embarrassed air announced, "A gentleman calling himself Baron
Thurgau wishes----"

"Yes, wishes to speak to his illustrious brother-in-law," a loud, angry
voice interrupted him, as he was thrust aside by a powerful arm.
"Thunder and lightning, what sort of a household have you got here,
Nordheim? I believe the Emperor of China is more easy of access than
you are! We had to break through three outposts, and even then the
betagged and betasselled pack would have denied us admittance. You have
brought an entire suite with you."

Alice had started in terror at the sound of the stentorian voice, and
Frau von Lasberg rose slowly and solemnly in mute indignation, seeming
to ask by her looks the meaning of this intrusion. The president too
did not appear to approve of this mode of announcement; but he
collected himself immediately and advanced to meet his brother-in-law,
who was followed by his daughter.

"Probably you did not at first mention your name," he said, "or such a
mistake could not have occurred. The servants do not yet know you."

"Well, there would have been no harm in admitting any simple, honest
man to your presence," Thurgau growled, still red with irritation. "But
that is not the fashion here, apparently; it was only when I added the
'Baron' that they condescended to admit us."

The servant's error was undeniably excusable, for the Freiherr wore his
usual mountaineer's garb, and Erna hardly looked like a young Baroness,
although she had not donned her storm-costume to-day. She wore a simple
gown of some dark stuff, rather more suitable for a mountain ramble
than for paying visits, and as simple a straw hat tied over her curls,
which were, however, confined to-day in a silken net, against which
they evidently rebelled. She seemed to resent their reception even more
than did her father, for she stood beside him with a frown and a
haughty curl of the lip, gloomily scanning those present. Behind the
pair appeared the inevitable Griff, who had shown his teeth angrily
when the servant attempted to shut him out of the room, and who
maintained his place in the unshaken conviction that he belonged
wherever his mistress was.

The president would have tried to smooth matters, but Thurgau, whose
wrath was wont to evaporate as quickly as it was aroused, did not allow
him to speak. "There is Alice!" he exclaimed. "God bless you, child,
I'm glad to see you again! But, my poor girl, how you look! not a drop
of blood in your cheeks. Why, this is pitiful!"

Amid such flattering remarks he approached the young lady to bestow
upon her what he considered a tender embrace; but Frau von Lasberg
interposed between Alice and himself with, "I beg of you!" uttered in a
sharp tone, as if to shield the girl from an assault.

"Come, come, I shall do my niece no harm," Thurgau said, with renewed
vexation. "You need not protect her from me as you would a lamb from a
wolf. Whom have I the honour of addressing?"

"I am the Baroness Lasberg!" the lady explained, with due emphasis upon
the title. Her whole manner expressed frigid reserve, but it availed
her nothing here. The Freiherr cordially clasped one of the hands she
had extended to ward him off, and shook it until it ached again.

"Extremely happy, madame, extremely so. My name you have heard, and
this is my daughter. Come, Erna, why do you stand there so silent? Are
you not going to speak to Alice?"

Erna approached slowly, a frown still on her brow, but it vanished
entirely at sight of her young cousin lying so weary and pale among her
cushions; suddenly with all her wonted eagerness she threw her arms
round Alice's neck and cried out, "Poor Alice, I am so sorry you are
ill!"

Alice accepted the caress without returning it; but when the blooming,
rosy face nestled close to her colourless cheek, when a pair of fresh
lips pressed her own, and the warm, tender tones fell on her ear,
something akin to a smile appeared upon her apathetic features and she
replied, softly, "I am not ill, only tired."

"Pray, Baroness, be less demonstrative," Frau von Lasberg said, coldly.
"Alice must be very gently treated; her nerves are extremely
sensitive."

"What? Nerves?" said Thurgau. "That's a complaint of the city folks.
With us at Wolkenstein Court there are no such things. You ought to
come with Alice to us, madame; I'll promise you that in three weeks
neither of you will have a single nerve."

"I can readily believe it," the lady replied, with an indignant glance.

"Come, Thurgau, let us leave the children to make acquaintance with
each other; they have not seen each other for years," said Nordheim,
who, although quite used to his brother-in-law's rough manner, was
annoyed by it in the present company. He would have led the way to the
next room, but Elmhorst, who during this domestic scene had
considerately withdrawn to the recess of a window, now advanced, as if
about to take his leave, whereupon the president, of course, presented
him to his relative.

Thurgau immediately remembered the name which he had heard mentioned in
no flattering fashion by the comrades of the young superintendent,
whose attractive exterior seemed only to confirm the Freiherr in his
mistrust of him. Erna too had turned towards the stranger; she suddenly
started and retreated a step.

"This is not the first time that I have had the honour of meeting the
Baroness Thurgau," said Elmhorst, bowing courteously. "She was kind
enough to act as my guide when I had lost my way among the cliffs of
the Wolkenstein. Her name, indeed, I hear to-day for the first time."

"Ah, indeed. So this was the stranger whom you met?" growled Thurgau,
not greatly edified, it would seem, by this encounter.

"I trust the Baroness was not alone?" Frau von Lasberg inquired, in a
tone which betrayed her horror at such a possibility.

"Of course I was alone!" Erna exclaimed, perceiving the reproach in the
lady's words, and flaming up indignantly. "I always walk alone in the
mountains, with only Griff for a companion. Be quiet, Griff! Lie down!"

Elmhorst had tried to stroke the beautiful animal, but his advances had
been met with an angry growl. At the sound of his mistress's voice,
however, the dog was instantly silent and lay down obediently at her
feet.

"The dog is not cross, I hope?" Nordheim asked, with evident annoyance.
"If he is, I must really entreat----"

"Griff is never cross," Erna interposed almost angrily. "He never hurts
any one, and always lets strangers pat him, but he does not like this
gentleman at all, and----"

"Baroness--I beg of you!" murmured Frau von Lasberg, with difficulty
maintaining her formal demeanour. Elmhorst, however, acknowledged
Erna's words with a low bow.

"I am excessively mortified to have fallen into disgrace with Herr
Griff, and, as I fear, with his mistress also," he declared, "but it
really is not my fault. Allow me, ladies, to bid you good-morning."

He approached Alice, beside whom Frau von Lasberg was standing guard,
as if to protect her from all contact with these savages who had
suddenly burst into the drawing-room, and who could not, unfortunately,
be turned out, because, setting aside the relationship, they were Baron
and Baroness born.

On the other hand, this young man with the bourgeois name conducted
himself like a gentleman. His voice was gentle and sympathetic as he
expressed the hope that Fräulein Nordheim would recover her health in
the air of Heilborn; he courteously kissed the hand of the elder lady
when she graciously extended it to him, and then he turned to the
president to take leave of him also, when a most unexpected
interruption occurred.

Outside on the balcony, which overhung the garden and was half filled
with blossoming shrubs, appeared a kitten, which had probably found its
way thither from the garden. It approached the open glass door with
innocent curiosity, and, unfortunately, came within the range of
Griff's vision. The dog, in his hereditary hostility to the tribe of
cats, started up, barking violently, almost overturned Frau von
Lasberg, shot past Alice, frightening her terribly, and out upon the
balcony, where a wild chase began. The terrified kitten tore hither and
thither with lightning-like rapidity without finding any outlet of
escape and with its persecutor in close pursuit; the glass panes of the
door rattled, the flower-pots were overturned and smashed, and amidst
the confusion were heard the Freiherr's shrill whistle and Erna's voice
of command. The dog, young, not fully broken, and eager for the chase,
did not obey,--the hurly-burly was frightful.

At last the kitten succeeded in jumping upon the balustrade of the
balcony and thence down into the garden. But Griff would not let his
prey escape him thus; he leaped after it, overturning as he did so the
only flower-pot as yet uninjured, and immediately afterwards there was
a terrific barking in the garden, mingled with a child's scream of
terror.

All this happened in less than two minutes, and when Thurgau
hurried out on the balcony to establish peace it was already too
late. Meanwhile, the drawing-room was a scene of indescribable
confusion,--Alice had a nervous attack, and lay with her eyes closed in
Frau von Lasberg's arms; Elmhorst, with quick presence of mind, had
picked up a cologne-bottle and was sprinkling with its contents the
fainting girl's temples and forehead, while the president, scowling,
pulled the bell to summon the servants. In the midst of all this the
two gentlemen and Frau von Lasberg witnessed a spectacle which almost
took away their breath. The young Baroness, the Freifräulein von
Thurgau, suddenly stood upon the balustrade of the balcony, but only
for an instant, before she sprang down into the garden.

This was too much! Frau von Lasberg dropped Alice out of her arms and
sank into the nearest armchair. Elmhorst found himself necessitated to
come to her relief also with cologne, which he sprinkled impartially to
the right and to the left.

Below in the garden Erna's interference was very necessary. The child
whose screams had caused her to spring from the balcony was a little
boy, and he held his kitten clasped in his arms, while before him stood
the huge dog, barking loudly, without, however, touching the little
fellow. The child was in extreme terror, and went on screaming until
Erna seized the dog by the collar and dragged him away.

Baron Thurgau, meanwhile, stood quietly on the balcony observing the
course of affairs. He knew that the child would not be hurt, for Griff
was not at all vicious. When Erna returned to the house with the
culprit, now completely subdued, while the child unharmed ran off with
his kitten, the Freiherr turned and called out in stentorian tones to
his brother-in-law in the drawing-room, "There! did I not tell you,
Nordheim, that my Erna was a grand girl?"



                              CHAPTER III.

                              EXPLANATORY.


President Nordheim belonged to the class of men who owe their success
to themselves. The son of a petty official, with no means of his own,
he had educated himself as an engineer, and had lived in very narrow
circumstances until he suddenly appeared before the public with a
technical invention which attracted the attention of the entire
profession. The first mountain-railway had just been projected, and the
young, obscure engineer had devised a locomotive which could drag the
trains up the heights. The invention was as clever as it was practical;
it instantly distanced all competing devices, and was adopted by the
company, which finally purchased the patent from the inventor at a
price which then seemed a fortune to him, and which certainly laid the
foundation of his future wealth, for he took rank immediately among men
of enterprise.

Contrary to expectation, however, Nordheim did not pursue the path in
which he had made so brilliant a _début_; strangely enough, he seemed
to lose interest in it, and adopted another, although kindred, career.
He undertook the formation and the financial conduct of a large
building association, of which in a few years he made an enormous
success, meanwhile increasing his own property tenfold.

Other projects were the consequence of this first undertaking, and with
the increase of his means the magnitude of his schemes increased, and
it became clear that this was the field for the exercise of his
talents. He was not a man to ponder and pore for years over technical
details,--he needed to plunge into the life of the age, to venture and
contrive, making all possible interests subservient to his success, and
developing in all directions his great talent for organization.

In his restless activity he never failed to select the right man for
the right place; he overcame all obstacles, sought and found sources of
help everywhere, and fortune stood his energy in stead. The enterprises
of which Nordheim was the head were sure to succeed, and while he
himself became a millionaire, his influence in all circles with which
he had any connection was incalculable.

The president's wife had died a few years since,--a loss which was not
especially felt by him, for his marriage had not been a very happy one.
He had married when he was a simple engineer, and his quiet,
unpretending wife had not known how to accommodate herself to his
growing fortunes and to play the part of _grande dame_ to her husband's
satisfaction. Then too the son which she bore him, and whom he had
hoped to make the heir of his schemes, died when an infant. Alice was
born some years afterwards, a delicate, sickly child, for whose life
the greatest anxiety was always felt, and whose phlegmatic temperament
was antagonistic to the vivid energy of her father's nature. She was
his only daughter, his future heiress, and as such he surrounded her
with every luxury that wealth could procure, but she made no part of
his life, and he was glad to intrust her education and herself to the
Baroness Lasberg.

Nordheim's only sister, who had lived beneath his roof, had bestowed
her hand upon the Freiherr von Thurgau, then a captain in the army. Her
brother, who had just achieved his first successes, would have
preferred another suitor to the last scion of an impoverished noble
family, who possessed nothing save his sword and a small estate high up
among the mountains, but, since the couple loved each other tenderly
and there was no objection to be made to Thurgau personally, the
brother's consent was not withheld.

The young people lived very modestly, but in the enjoyment of a
domestic happiness quite lacking in Nordheim's wealthy household, and
their only child, the little Erna, grew up in the broad sunshine of
love and content. Unfortunately, Thurgau lost his wife after six years
of married life, and, sensitive as he was, the unexpected blow so
crushed him that he determined to leave the army, and to retire from
the world entirely. Nordheim, whose restless ambition could not
comprehend such a resolve, combated it most earnestly, but in vain; his
brother-in-law resisted him with all the obstinacy of his nature. He
quitted the service in which he had attained the rank of major, and
retired with his daughter to Wolkenstein Court, the modest income from
which, joined to his pension, sufficing for his simple needs.

Since then there had been a certain amount of estrangement between the
brothers-in-law; the mediating influence of the wife and sister was
lacking, and in addition their homes were very wide apart. They saw
each other rarely, and letters were interchanged still more rarely
until the construction of the mountain-railway and the necessity for
purchasing Thurgau's estate brought about a meeting.



                              CHAPTER IV.

                           THE LAST THURGAU.


About a week had passed since the visit to Heilborn, when Dr. Reinsfeld
again took his way to Wolkenstein Court, but on this occasion he was
not alone, for beside him walked Superintendent Elmhorst.

"I never should have dreamed, Wolfgang, that fate would bring us
together again here," said the young physician, gaily. "When we parted
two years ago, you jeered at me for going into 'the wilderness,' as you
were pleased to express yourself, and now you have sought it yourself."

"To bring cultivation to this wilderness," Wolfgang continued the
sentence. "You indeed seem very comfortable here; you have fairly taken
root in the miserable mountain-village where I discovered you, Benno; I
am working here for my future."

"I should think you might be contented with your present." Benno
observed. "A superintendent-engineer at twenty-seven,--it would be hard
to surpass that. Between ourselves, your comrades are furious at
your appointment. Take care, Wolf, or you will find yourself in a
wasps'-nest."

"Do you imagine I fear to be stung? I know all you say is true, and I
have already given the gentlemen to understand that I am not inclined
to tolerate obstacles thrown in my way, and that they must pay me the
respect due to a superior. If they want war, they shall have it!"

"Yes, you were always pugnacious; I never could endure to be
perpetually upon a war-footing with those about me."

"I know it; you are the same peace-loving old Benno that you always
were, who never could say a cross word to anyone, and who consequently
was maltreated by his beloved fellow-beings whenever an opportunity
offered. How often have I told you that you never could get on in the
world so! and to get on in the world is what we all desire."

"You certainly are striding on in seven-league boots," said Reinsfeld,
dryly. "You are the acknowledged favourite, they say, of the omnipotent
President Nordheim. I saw him again lately at Wolkenstein Court."

"Saw him again? Did you know him before?"

"Certainly, in my boyhood. He and my father were friends and
fellow-students; Nordheim used to come to our house daily; I have sat
upon his knee often enough when he spent the evening with us."

"Indeed? Well, I hope you reminded him of it when you met him."

"No; Baron Thurgau did not mention my name----"

"And of course you did not do so either," said Wolfgang, laughing.
"Just like you! Chance brings you into contact with an influential man
whose mere word would procure you an advantageous position, and you
never even tell him your name! I shall repair your omission; the first
time I see the president I shall tell him----"

"Pray do no such thing. Wolf," Benno interrupted him. "You had better
say nothing about it."

"And why not?"

"Because--the man has risen to such a height in life that he might not
like to be reminded of the time when he was a simple engineer."

"You do him injustice. He is proud of his humble origin, as all clever
men are, and he could not fail to be pleased to be reminded of an early
friend."

Reinsfeld gently shook his head. "I am afraid the memory would be a
painful one. Something happened later,--I never knew what,--I was a boy
at the time; but I know that the breach was complete. Nordheim never
came again to our house, and my father avoided even the mention of his
name; they were entirely estranged."

"Then of course you could not reckon upon his favour," said Elmhorst,
in a disappointed tone. "The president seems to me to be one who never
forgives a supposed offence."

"Yes, they say he has grown extremely haughty and domineering. I wonder
that you can get along with him. You are not a man to cringe."

"That is precisely why he likes me. I leave cringing and fawning to
servile souls who may perhaps thus procure some subordinate position.
Whoever wishes really to rise must hold his head erect and keep his
eyes fixed upon the goal above him, or he will continue to crawl on the
ground."

"I suppose your goal is a couple of millions," Benno said, ironically.
"You never were very modest in your plans for the future. What do you
wish to be? The president of your company?"

"Perhaps so at some future time; for the present only his son-in-law."

"I thought there was something of the kind in your mind!" exclaimed
Benno, bursting into a laugh. "Of course you are sure to be right,
Wolf; but why not rather pluck down yonder sun from the sky? It would
be quite as easy."

"Do you fancy I am in jest?" asked Wolfgang, coolly.

"Yes, I do take that liberty, for you cannot be serious in aspiring to
the daughter of a man whose wealth and consequence are almost
proverbial. Nordheim's heiress may choose among any number of Freiherrs
and Counts, if indeed she does not prefer a millionaire."

"Then all the Freiherrs and Counts must be outdone," said the young
engineer, calmly, "and that is what I propose to do."

Dr. Reinsfeld suddenly paused and looked at his friend with some
anxiety; he even made a slight movement as if to feel his pulse.

"Then you are either a little off your head or in love," he remarked,
with decision. "For a lover nothing is impossible, and this visit to
Heilborn seems to be fraught with destiny for you. My poor boy, this is
very sad."

"In love?" Wolfgang repeated, a smile of ineffable contempt curling his
lip. "No, Benno, you know I never have either time or inclination to
think of love, and now less than ever. But do not look so shocked, as
if I were talking high treason. I give you my word that Alice Nordheim,
if she marries me, shall never repent it. She shall have the most
attentive and considerate of husbands."

"Indeed you must forgive me for finding all this calculation most
sordid," the young physician burst forth indignantly. "You are young
and gifted; you have attained a position for which hundreds would envy
you, and which relieves you from all care; the future lies open before
you, and all you think of is the pursuit of a wealthy wife. For shame,
Wolfgang!"

"My dear Benno, you do not understand," Wolfgang declared, enduring his
friend's reproof with great serenity. "You idealists never comprehend
that we must take into account human nature and the world. You will, of
course, marry for love, spend your life slaving laboriously in some
obscure country town to procure bread for your wife and children, and
at last sink noiselessly into the grave with the edifying consciousness
that you have been true to your ideal. I am of another stripe,--I
demand of life everything or nothing."

"Well, then, in heaven's name win it by your own exertions!" exclaimed
Benno, growing every moment more and more indignant. "Your grand model,
President Nordheim, did it."

"He certainly did, but it took him more than twenty years. We are now
slowly and laboriously plodding up this mountain-road in the sweat of
our brows. Look at that winged fellow there!" He pointed to a huge bird
of prey circling above the abyss. "His wings will carry him in a few
minutes to the summit of the Wolkenstein. Yes, it must be fine to stand
up there and see the whole world at his feet, and to be near the sun. I
do not choose to wait for it until I am old and gray. I wish to mount
_now_ and, rely upon it, I shall dare the flight sooner or later."

He drew himself up to his full height; his dark eyes flashed, his fine
features were instinct with energy and ambition. The man impressed you
as capable of venturing a flight of which others would not even dream.

There was a sudden rustling among the larches on the side of the road,
and Griff came bounding down from above, and leaped about the young
physician in expectation of the wonted caress. His mistress also
appeared on the height, following the course which the dog had taken,
springing down over stones and roots of trees, directly through the
underbrush, until at last, with glowing cheeks, she reached the road.

Frau von Lasberg would certainly have found some satisfaction in the
manner in which the greeting of the Herr Superintendent was returned,
with all the cool dignity becoming a Baroness Thurgau, while a
contemptuous glance was cast at the elegance of the young man's
costume.

Elmhorst wore to-day an easy, loose suit bearing some similitude to the
dress of a mountaineer, and very like that of his friend, but it became
him admirably; he looked like some distinguished tourist making an
expedition with his guide. Dr. Reinsfeld with his negligent carriage
certainly showed to disadvantage beside that tall, slender figure; his
gray jacket and his hat were decidedly weather-worn, but that evidently
gave him no concern. His eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of the
young girl, who greeted him with her wonted cordial familiarity.

"You are coming to us, Herr Doctor, are you not?" she asked.

"Of course, Fräulein Erna; are you all well?"

"Papa was not well this morning, but he has nevertheless gone shooting.
I have been to meet him with Griff, but we could not find him; he must
have taken another way home."

She joined the two gentlemen, who now left the mountain-road and took
the somewhat steep path leading to Wolkenstein Court. Griff seemed
scarcely reconciled to the presence of the young engineer: he greeted
him with a growl and showed his teeth.

"What is the matter with Griff?" Reinsfeld asked. "He is usually kindly
and good-humoured with everybody."

"He does not seem to include me in his universal philanthropy," said
Elmhorst, with a shrug. "He has made me several such declarations of
war, and his good humour cannot always be depended upon; bestirred up a
terrible uproar in Heilborn, in the Herr President's drawing-room,
where Fräulein von Thurgau achieved a deed of positive heroism in
comforting a little child whom the dog had nearly frightened to death."

"And, meanwhile, Herr Elmhorst applied himself to the succour of the
fainting ladies," Erna said, ironically. "Upon my return to the
drawing-room I observed his courteous attentions to both Alice and Frau
von Lasberg,--how impartially he deluged both with cologne. Oh, it was
diverting in the extreme!"

She laughed merrily. For an instant Elmhorst compressed his lips with
an angry glance at the girl, but the next he rejoined politely: "You
took such instant possession of the heroic part in the drama, Fräulein
von Thurgau, that nothing was left for me but my insignificant _rôle_.
You cannot accuse me of timidity after meeting me upon the Wolkenstein,
although in my entire ignorance of the locality I did not reach the
summit."

"And you never will reach it," Reinsfeld interposed. "The summit is
inaccessible; even the boldest mountaineers are checked by those
perpendicular walls, and more than one foolhardy climber has forfeited
his life in the attempt to ascend them."

"Does the mountain-sprite guard her throne so jealously?" Elmhorst
asked, laughing. "She seems to be a most energetic lady, tossing about
avalanches as if they were snowballs, and requiring as many human
sacrifices yearly as any heathen goddess."

He looked up to the Wolkenstein,[1] which justified its title: while
all the other mountain-summits were defined clearly against the sky,
its top was hidden in white mists.

"You ought not to jest about it, Wolfgang," said the young physician,
with some irritation. "You have never yet spent an autumn and winter
here, and you do not know her, our wild mountain-sprite, the fearful
elemental force of the Alps, which only too frequently menaces the
lives and the dwellings of the poor mountaineers. She is feared, not
without reason, here in her realm; but you seem to have become quite
familiar with the legend."

"Fräulein von Thurgau had the kindness to make me acquainted with the
stern dame," said Wolfgang. "She did indeed receive us very
ungraciously on the threshold of her palace, with a furious storm, and
I was not allowed the privilege of a personal introduction."

"Take care,--you might have to pay dearly for the favour!" exclaimed
Erna, irritated by his sarcasm. Elmhorst's mocking smile was certainly
provoking.

"Fräulein von Thurgau, you must not expect from me any consideration
for mountain-sprites. I am here for the express purpose of waging war
against them. The industries of the nineteenth century have nothing in
common with the fear of ghosts. Pray do not look so indignant. Our
railway is not going over the Wolkenstein, and your mountain-sprite
will remain seated upon her throne undisturbed. Of course she cannot
but behold thence how we take possession of her realm and girdle it
with our chains. But I have not the remotest intention of interfering
with your faith. At _your_ age it is quite comprehensible."

He could not have irritated his youthful antagonist more deeply than by
these words, which so distinctly assigned her a place among children.
They were the most insulting that could be addressed to the girl of
sixteen, and they had their effect. Erna stood erect, as angry and
determined as if she herself had been threatened with fetters; her eyes
flashed as she exclaimed, with all the wayward defiance of a child, "I
wish the mountain-sprite would descend upon her wings of storm from the
Wolkenstein and show you her face,--you would not ask to see it again!"

With this she turned and flew, rather than ran, across the meadow, with
Griff after her. The slender figure, its curls unbound again to-day,
vanished in a few minutes within the house. Wolfgang paused and looked
after her; the sarcastic smile still hovered upon his lips, but there
was a sharp tone in his voice.

"What is Baron Thurgau thinking of, to let his daughter grow up so? She
would be quite impossible in civilized surroundings; she is barely
tolerable in this mountain wilderness."

"Yes, she has grown up wild and free as an Alpine rose," said Benno,
whose eyes were still fixed upon the door behind which Erna had
disappeared. Elmhorst turned suddenly and looked keenly at his friend.

"You are actually poetical! Are you touched there?"

"I?" asked Benno, surprised, almost dismayed. "What are you thinking
of?"

"I only thought it strange to have you season your speech with
imagery,--it is not your way. Moreover, your 'Alpine rose' is an
extremely wayward, spoiled child; you will have to educate her first."

The words were not uttered as an innocent jest; they had a harsh,
sarcastic flavour, and apparently offended the young physician, who
replied, irritably, "No more of this, Wolf! Rather tell me what takes
you to Wolkenstein Court. You wish to speak with the Freiherr?"

"Yes; but our interview can hardly be an agreeable one. You know that
we need the estate for our line of railway; it was refused us, and we
had to fall back upon our right of compulsion. The obstinate old Baron
was not content: he protested again and again, and refused to allow a
survey to be made upon his soil. The man positively fancies that his
'no' will avail him. Of course his protest was laid upon the table, and
since the time of probation granted him has expired and we are in
possession, I am to inform him that the preliminary work is about to
begin."

Reinsfeld had listened in silence with an extremely grave expression,
and his voice showed some anxiety as he said, "Wolf, let me beg you not
to go about this business with your usual luck of consideration. The
Freiherr is really not responsible on this head. I have taken pains
again and again to explain to him that his opposition must be
fruitless, but he is thoroughly convinced that no one either can or
will take from him his inheritance. He is attached to it with every
fibre of his heart, and if he really must relinquish it, I am afraid it
will go nigh to kill him."

"Not at all! He will yield like a reasonable man as soon as he sees the
unavoidable necessity. I certainly shall be duly considerate, since he
is the president's brother-in-law; otherwise I should not have come
hither to-day, but have set the engineers to work. Nordheim wishes that
everything should be done to spare the old man's feelings, and so I
have undertaken the affair myself."

"There will be a scene," said Benno, "Baron Thurgau is the best man in
the world, but incredibly passionate and violent when he thinks his
rights infringed upon. You do not know him yet."

"You mistake; I have the honour of knowing him, and his primitive
characteristics. He gave me an opportunity of observing them at
Heilborn, and I am prepared to-day to meet with the roughest usage. But
you are right; the man is irresponsible in matters of grave importance,
and I shall treat him accordingly."

They had now reached the house, which they entered. Thurgau had just
come in; his gun still lay on the table, and beside it a couple of
moor-fowl, the result of his morning's sport. Erna had probably advised
him of the coming visitors, for he showed no surprise at sight of the
young superintendent.

"Well, doctor," he called out to Reinsfeld, with a laugh, "you are just
in time to see how disobedient I have been. There lie my betrayers!" He
pointed to his gun and the trophies of his chase.

"Your looks would have informed me," Reinsfeld replied, with a glance
at the Freiherr's crimson, heated face. "Moreover, you were not well
this morning, I hear."

He would have felt Thurgau's pulse, but the hand was withdrawn: "Time
enough for that after a while; you bring me a guest."

"I have taken the liberty of calling upon you, Herr von Thurgau," said
Wolfgang, approaching; "and if I am not unwelcome----"

"As a man you are certainly welcome, as a superintendent-engineer you
are not," the Freiherr declared, after his blunt fashion. "I am glad to
see you, but not a word of your cursed railway, I entreat, or, in spite
of the duties of hospitality, I shall turn you out of doors."

He placed a chair for his guest and took his own accustomed seat.
Elmhorst saw at a glance how difficult his errand would be; he felt as
a tiresome burden the consideration he was compelled by circumstances
to pay, but the burden must be shouldered, and so he began at first in
a jesting tone.

"I am aware of what a fierce foe you are to our enterprise. My office
is the worst of recommendations in your eyes; therefore I did not
venture to come alone, but brought my friend with me as a protection."

"Dr. Reinsfeld is a friend of yours?" asked Thurgau, in whose
estimation the young official seemed suddenly to rise.

"A friend of my boyhood; we were at the same school, and afterwards
studied at the same university, although our professions differed. I
hunted up Benno as soon as I came here, and I trust we shall always be
good comrades."

"Yes, we all lived here very pleasantly so long as we were by
ourselves," the Freiherr said, aggressively. "When you came here with
your cursed railway the worry began, and when the shrieking and
whistling begin there will be an end of comfort and quiet."

"Now, papa, you are transgressing your own rule and talking of the
railway," Erna cried, laughing. "But you must come with me, Herr
Doctor. I want to show you what my cousin Alice has sent me from
Heilborn; it is charming."

With the eager impatience of a child, who cannot wait to display its
treasures, she carried off the young physician into the next room, thus
giving the Herr Superintendent fresh occasion to disapprove of her
education, or rather of the want of it. On this point he quite agreed
with Frau Lasberg. What sort of way was this to behave towards a young
man, were he even ten times a physician and the friend of the family!

Benno as he followed her glanced anxiously at the two left behind; he
knew what topic would now be discussed, but he relied upon his friend's
talent for diplomacy, and, moreover, the door was left open. If the
tempest raged too fiercely, he might interfere.

"Yes, yes, the matter cannot be avoided," the Freiherr growled, and
Elmhorst, glad to come to business, took up his words.

"You are quite right, Herr Baron, it will not be ignored, and on peril
of your fulfilling your threat and really turning me out of doors, I
must present myself to you as the agent of the railway company
intrusted with imparting to you certain information. The measurements
and surveys upon the Wolkenstein estate cannot possibly be delayed any
longer, and the engineers will go to work here in the course of a few
days."

"They will do no such thing!" Thurgau exclaimed, angrily. "How often
must I repeat that I will not allow anything of the kind upon my
property!"

"Upon your property? The estate is no longer your property," said
Elmhorst, calmly. "The company bought it months ago, and the
purchase-money has been lying ready ever since. That business was
finished long ago."

"Nothing has been finished!" shouted the Freiherr, his irritation
increasing. "Do you imagine I care a button for judgments that outrage
all justice, and which your company procured God only knows by what
rascality? Do you suppose I am going to leave my house and home to make
way for your locomotives? Not one step will I stir, and if----"

"Pray do not excite yourself thus, Herr von Thurgau," Wolfgang
interrupted him. "At present there is no idea of driving you away,--it
is only that the preliminary surveys must be begun; the house itself
will remain entirely at your disposal until next spring."

"Very kind of you!" Thurgau laughed, bitterly. "Till next spring! And
what then?"

"Then, of course, it must go."

The Freiherr was about to burst forth again, but there was something in
the young man's cool composure that forced him to control himself. He
made an effort to do so, but his colour deepened and his breath was
short and laboured, as he said, roughly,--

"Does that seem to you a matter 'of course'? But what can you know of
the devotion a man feels for his inheritance? You belong, like my
brother-in-law, to the century of steam. He builds himself three--four
palaces, each more gorgeous than its predecessor, and in none of them
is he at home. He lives in them one day and sells them the next, as the
whim takes him. Wolkenstein Court has been the home of the Thurgaus for
two centuries, and shall remain so until the last Thurgau closes his
eyes, rely----"

He broke off in the midst of his sentence, and, as if suddenly attacked
by vertigo, grasped the table, but it was only for a few seconds;
angry, as it were, at the unwonted weakness, he stood erect again and
went on with ever-increasing bitterness: "We have lost all else; we did
not understand how to bargain and to hoard, and gradually all has
vanished save the old nest where stood the cradle of our line; to that
we have held fast through ruin and disaster. We would sooner have
starved than have relinquished it. And now comes your railway, and
threatens to raze my house to the ground, to trample upon rights
hundreds of years old, and to take from me what is mine by the law of
justice and of God! Only try it! I say no,--and again no. It is my last
word."

He did indeed look ready to make good his refusal with his life, and
another man might either have been silent or have postponed further
discussion. But Wolfgang had no idea of anything of the kind; he had
undertaken to bring the matter to a conclusion, and he persisted.

"Those mountains outside," he said, gravely, "have been standing longer
than Wolkenstein Court, and the forests are more firmly rooted in the
soil than are you in your home, and yet they must yield. I am afraid
Herr von Thurgau, that you have no conception of the gigantic nature of
our undertaking, of the means at its disposal, and of the obstacles it
must overcome. We penetrate rocks and forests, divert rivers from their
course, and bridge across abysses. Whatever is in our path must give
way. We come off victorious in our battle with the elements. Ask
yourself if the will of one man can bar our progress."

A pause of a few seconds ensued. Thurgau made no reply; his furious
anger seemed dissipated by the invincible composure of his opponent,
who confronted him with perfect respect and an entire adherence to
courtesy. But his clear voice had an inexorable tone, and the look
which encountered that of the Freiherr with such cold resolve seemed to
cast a spell upon Thurgau. He had hitherto shown himself entirely
impervious to all persuasion, all explanation; he had, with all the
obstinacy of his character, intrenched himself behind his rights, as
impregnable, in his estimation, as the mountains themselves. To-day for
the first time it occurred to him that his antagonism might be
shattered, that he might be forced to succumb to a power that had laid
its iron grasp thus upon the mountains. He leaned heavily upon the
table again and struggled for breath, while speech seemed denied him.

"You may rest assured that we shall proceed with all possible regard
for you," Wolfgang began again. "The preliminary work which we are
about to undertake will scarcely disturb you, and during the winter you
will be entirely unmolested; the construction of the road will not
begin until the spring, and then, of course----"

"I must yield, you think," Thurgau interposed, hoarsely.

"Yes, you _must_, Herr Baron," said Elmhorst, coldly.

The fateful word, the truth of which instantly sank into his
consciousness, robbed the Freiherr of the last remnant of composure; he
rebelled against it with a violence that was almost terrifying, and
that might well have caused a doubt as to his mental balance.

"But I will not,--will not, I tell you!" he gasped, almost beside
himself "Let rocks and mountains make way before you, _I_ will not
yield. Have a care of our mountains, lest, when you are so arrogantly
interfering with them, they rush down upon you and shatter all your
bridges and structures like reeds. I should like to stand by and see
the accursed work a heap of ruins; I should like----"

He did not finish his sentence, but convulsively clutched at his
breast; his last word died away in a kind of groan, and on the instant
the mighty frame fell prostrate as if struck by lightning.

"Good God!" exclaimed Dr. Reinsfeld, who had appeared at the door of
the next room just as the last sentences were being uttered, and who
now hurried in. But Erna was before him; she first reached her father,
and threw herself down beside him with a cry of terror.

"Do not be distressed, Fräulein Erna," said the young physician, gently
pushing her aside, while with Elmhorst's help he raised the unconscious
man and laid him on the sofa. "It is a fainting-fit,--an attack of
vertigo such as the Herr Baron had a few weeks ago. He will recover
from this too."

The young girl had followed him, and stood beside him with her hands
convulsively clasped and her eyes riveted upon the face of the speaker.
Perhaps she saw there something that contradicted the consoling words.

"No, no!" she gasped. "You are deceiving me; this is something else!
Papa! papa! it is I. Do you not know your Erna?"

Benno made no rejoinder, but tore open Thurgau's coat; Elmhorst would
have helped him, but Erna thrust away his hand with violence.

"Do not touch him!" she exclaimed, in half-stifled accents. "You have
killed him, you have brought ruin to our household. Leave him! I will
not let you even touch his hand!"

Wolfgang involuntarily recoiled and looked in dismay that was almost
terror at the girl, who at this moment was no longer a child. She had
thrown herself before her father with outspread arms as if to shield
and defend him, and her eyes flashed with savage hatred as though she
were confronting a mortal foe.

"Go, Wolfgang," Reinsfeld said in a low tone, as he led him away. "The
poor child in her anguish is unjust, and, moreover, you must not stay.
The Baron may possibly recover consciousness, and if so he must not see
you."

"May recover?" Elmhorst repeated. "Do you fear----"

"The worst! Go, and send old Vroni here; she must be somewhere in the
house. Wait outside, and I will bring you tidings as soon as possible."

With these whispered words he conducted his friend to the door.
Wolfgang silently obeyed; he sent into the room the old maid-servant,
whom he found in the hall, and then went out into the open air, but
there was a dark cloud on his brow. Who could have foreseen such an
issue!

A quarter of an hour might have elapsed, when Benno Reinsfeld again
made his appearance. He was very pale, and his eyes, usually so clear,
were suffused.

"Well?" Wolfgang asked, quickly.

"It is all over!" the young physician replied in an undertone. "A
stroke of apoplexy, undoubtedly mortal. I saw that at once."

Wolfgang was apparently unprepared for this reply; his lips quivered as
he said in a strained voice, "The affair is intensely painful, Benno,
although I am not in the least to blame. I went to work with the
greatest caution. The president must be informed."

"Certainly; he is the only near relative, so far as I know. I shall
stay with the poor child, who is suffering intensely. Will you
undertake to send a messenger to Heilborn?"

"I will drive over myself to inform Nordheim. Farewell."

"Farewell," said Benno, as he returned to the house.

Wolfgang turned to go, but suddenly paused and walked slowly to the
window, which was half open.

Within the room Erna was on her knees, with her hands clasped about her
father's body. The passionate man who had been standing here but one
short quarter of an hour ago in full vigour, obstinately resisting a
necessity, now lay motionless, all unconscious of the despairing tears
of his orphan child. Fate had decreed that his words should be true;
Wolkenstein Court had remained in the possession of the ancient race
whose cradle it had been until the last Thurgau had closed his eyes
forever.



                               CHAPTER V.

                       THE LOVER AND THE SUITOR.


The house which President Nordheim occupied in the capital bore
abundant testimony in its princely magnificence to the wealth of its
possessor. It reared its palatial proportions in the most fashionable
quarter of the city, and had been built by one of the first architects
of the day; there was lavish splendour in its interior arrangements,
and a throng of obsequious lackeys was always at hand; in short,
nothing was wanting that could minister to the luxurious life of its
inmates.

At the head of the household the Baroness Lasberg had held sway for
years. Widowed and without means, she had been quite willing to accept
such a position in the establishment of the wealthy parvenu to whom she
had been recommended by some one of her highborn relatives. Here she
was perfectly free to rule as she pleased, for Nordheim, with all his
strength of will, could not but regard it as a great convenience to
have a lady of undoubted birth and breeding control his servants,
receive his guests, and supply the place of mother to his daughter and
niece. For three years Erna von Thurgau had now been living beneath the
roof of her uncle, who was also her guardian, and who had taken her to
his home immediately after the death of her father.

The president was in his study, talking with a gentleman seated
opposite him, one of the first lawyers in the city and the legal
adviser of the railway company of which Nordheim was president. He
seemed also to belong among the intimates of the household, for the
conversation was conducted upon a footing of familiarity, although it
concerned chiefly business matters.

"You ought to discuss this with Elmhorst personally," said the
president. "He can give you every information upon the subject."

"Is he here?" asked the lawyer, in some surprise.

"He has been here since yesterday, and will probably stay for a week."

"I am glad to hear it; our city seems to possess special attractions
for the Herr Superintendent; he is often here, it seems to me."

"He certainly is, and in accordance with my wishes. I desire to be more
exactly informed with regard to certain matters than is possible by
letter. Moreover, Elmhorst never leaves his post unless he is certain
that he can be spared; of that you may be sure, Herr Gersdorf."

Herr Gersdorf, a man of about forty, very fine-looking, with a grave,
intellectual face, seemed to think his words had been misunderstood,
for he smiled rather ironically as he rejoined, "I certainly do not
doubt Herr Elmhorst's zeal in the performance of duty. We all know he
would be more apt to do too much than too little. The company may
congratulate itself upon having secured in its service so much energy
and ability."

"It certainly is not owing to the company that it is so," said
Nordheim, with a shrug. "I had to contest the matter with energy when I
insisted upon his nomination, and his position was at first made so
difficult for him, that any other man would have resigned it. He met
with determined hostility on all sides."

"But he very soon overcame it," said Gersdorf, dryly. "I remember the
storm that raged among his fellow-officials when he assumed authority
over them, but they gradually quieted down. The Herr Superintendent is
a man of unusual force of character, and has contrived to gather all
the reins into his own hand in the course of the last three years. It
is pretty well known now that he will tolerate no one as his superior
or even equal in authority, save only the engineer-in-chief, who is now
entirely upon his side."

"I do not blame him for his ambition," the president said, coolly.
"Whoever wishes to rise must force his way. My judgment did not play me
false when it induced me to confirm in so important an office, in spite
of all opposition, a man so young. The engineer-in-chief was prejudiced
against him, and only yielded reluctantly. Now he is glad to have so
capable a support; and as for the Wolkenstein bridge,--Elmhorst's own
work,--he may well take first rank upon its merits."

"The bridge promises to be a masterpiece indeed," Gersdorf assented. "A
magnificently bold structure; it will doubtless be the finest thing in
the entire line of railway. So you wish me to speak with the
superintendent himself; shall I find him at his usual hotel?"

"No, at present you will find him here. I have invited him to stay with
us this time."

"Ah, indeed?" Gersdorf smiled. He knew that officials of Elmhorst's
rank were sometimes obliged to await Nordheim's pleasure for hours in
his antechamber; this young man had been invited to be a guest beneath
his roof. Still more wonderful stories were told of his liking for
Elmhorst, who had been his favourite from the first.

For the present, however, the lawyer let the matter drop, contenting
himself with remarking that he would see Herr Elmhorst shortly. He had
other and more important affairs in his head apparently, for he took
his leave of the president rather absently, and seemed in no hurry to
seek out the young engineer; the card which he gave to the servant in
the hall was for the ladies of the house, whom he asked to see.

The reception-rooms were in the second story, where Frau von Lasberg
was enthroned in the drawing-room in all her wonted state. Alice was
seated near her, very little changed by the past three years. She was
still the same frail, pale creature, with a weary, listless expression
on her regular features,--a hot-house plant to be guarded closely from
every draught of air, an object of unceasing care and solicitude for
all around her. Her health seemed to be more firmly established, but
there was not a gleam of the freshness or enthusiasm of youth in her
colourless face.

There was no want of them, however, to be detected in the young lady
seated beside the Baroness Lasberg, a graceful little figure in a most
becoming walking-suit of dark blue trimmed with fur. A charming, rosy
face looked out from beneath her blue velvet hat; the eyes were dark,
and sparkling with mischief, and a profusion of little black curls
showed above them. She laughed and talked incessantly with all the
vivacity of her eighteen years.

"Such a pity that Erna is out!" she exclaimed. "I had something very
important to discuss with her. Not a syllable of it shall you hear,
Alice; it is to be a surprise for your birthday. I hope we are to have
dancing at your ball?"

"I hardly think so," said Alice, indifferently. "This is March, you
know."

"But the middle of winter, nevertheless. It snowed only this morning,
and dancing is always delightful." As she spoke, her little feet moved
as if ready for an instant proof of her preference. Frau von Lasberg
looked at them with disapprobation, and remarked, coldly,--

"I believe you have danced a great deal this winter, Baroness Molly."

"Not nearly enough," the little Baroness declared. "How I pity poor
Alice for being forbidden to dance! It is good to enjoy one's youth;
when you're married there's an end of it. 'Marry and worry,' our old
nurse used to say, and then burst into tears and talk of her dear
departed. A mournful maxim. Do you believe in it, Alice?"

"Alice bestows no thought upon such matters," the old lady observed,
severely. "I must frankly confess to you, my dear Molly, that this
topic seems to me quite unbecoming."

"Oh!" exclaimed Molly "do you consider marriage unbecoming, then,
madame?"

"With consent and approval of parents, and a due regard for every
consideration,--no."

"But it is just then that it is most tiresome!" the young lady
asserted, rousing even Alice from her indifference.

"But, Molly!" she said, reproachfully.

"Baroness Ernsthausen is jesting, of course," said Frau von Lasberg,
with an annihilating glance. "But even in jest such talk is extremely
reprehensible. A young lady cannot be too guarded in her expressions
and conduct. Society is, unfortunately, too ready to gossip."

Her words had, perhaps, some concealed significance, for Molly's lips
quivered as if longing to laugh, but she replied with the most innocent
air in the world,--

"You are perfectly right, madame. Just think, last summer everybody at
Heilborn was gossiping about the frequent visits of Superintendent
Elmhorst. He came almost every week----"

"To see the Herr President," the old lady interposed. "Herr Elmhorst
had made the plans and drawings for the new villa in the mountains and
was himself superintending its construction; frequent consultations
were unavoidable."

"Yes, everybody knew that, but still they gossiped. They talked about
Herr Elmhorst's baskets of flowers and other attentions, and they
said----"

"I must really beg you, Baroness, to spare us further details," Frau
von Lasberg interposed, rising in indignant majesty. The inconsiderate
young lady would probably have received a much longer reprimand had not
a servant announced that the carriage was waiting. Frau von Lasberg
turned to Alice: "I must go to the meeting of the Ladies' Union, my
child, and of course you cannot drive out in this rough weather.
Moreover, you seem to be rather out of sorts; I fear----"

A very significant glance completed her sentence, and testified to her
earnest desire for the visitor's speedy departure, but quite in vain.

"I will stay with Alice and amuse her," Molly declared, with amiable
readiness. "You can go without any anxiety, madame."

Madame compressed her lips in mild despair, but she knew from
experience that there was no getting rid of this _enfant terrible_ if
she had taken it into her head to stay; therefore she kissed Alice's
forehead, inclined her head to her young friend, and made a dignified
exit.

Scarcely had the door closed after her when Molly danced about like an
india-rubber ball with, "Thank God, she has gone, high and mighty old
duenna that she is! I have something to tell you, Alice, something
immensely important,--that is, I wanted to confide it to Erna, but,
unfortunately, she is not here, and so you must help me,--you must! or
you will blast forever the happiness of two human beings!"

"Who? I?" asked Alice, who at such a tremendous appeal could not but
open her eyes.

"Yes, you; but you know nothing yet. I must explain everything
to you, and there goes twelve o'clock, and Albert will be here in a
moment,--Herr Gersdorf, I mean. The fact is, he loves me, and I love
him, and of course we want to marry each other, but my father and
mother will not consent because he is not noble. Good heavens, Alice,
do not look so surprised! I learned to know him in your house, and it
was in your conservatory that he proposed to me a week ago, when that
famous violinist was playing in the music-room and all the other people
were listening."

"But----" Alice tried to interpose, but without avail; the little
Baroness went on, pouring out the story of her love and her woes.

"Do not interrupt me; I have told you nothing yet. When we went home
that evening I told my father and mother that I was betrothed, and that
Albert was coming the next day to ask their consent. Oh, what a row
there was! Papa was indignant, mamma was outraged, and my granduncle
fairly snorted with rage. He is a hugely-important person, my
granduncle, because he is so very rich, and we shall have his money.
But he must die first, and he has no idea of dying, which is very bad
for us, papa says, for we have nothing; papa never makes out with his
salary, and my granduncle, while he lives, never will give us a penny.
There, now you understand!"

"No, I do not understand at all," said Alice, fairly stupefied by this
overwhelming stream of confidence. "What has your granduncle to do with
it?"

Molly wrung her hands in despair at this lack of comprehension: "Alice,
I entreat you not to be so stupid! I tell you they actually passed
sentence upon me. Mamma said she was threatened with spasms at the mere
thought of my ever being called Frau Gersdorf; papa insisted that I
must not throw myself away, because at some future time I should be a
great match, at which my granduncle made a wry face, not much edified
by this reference to the heirship, and then he went on to make a
greater row than any one else about the _mésalliance_. He enumerated
all our ancestors, who would one and all turn in their graves. What do
I care for that? let the old fellows turn as much as they like; it will
be a change for them in their tiresome old ancestral vault.
Unfortunately, I took the liberty of saying so, and then the storm
burst upon me from all three sides at once. My granduncle raised his
hand and made a vow, and then I made one too. I stood up before him,
so,"--she stamped her foot on the carpet,--"and vowed that never, never
would I forsake my Albert!"

The little Baroness was forced to stop for a moment to take breath, and
she availed herself of this involuntary pause to run to the window,
whence came the sound of a carriage rolling away; then flying back
again, she exclaimed, "She has gone,--the duenna. Thank God, we are rid
of her! She suspects something; I knew it by the remarks with which she
favoured me this morning! But she has gone for the present; her meeting
will last for at least two hours. I reckoned upon that when I laid my
plans. You must know, Alice, that I have been strictly forbidden either
to speak or to write to Albert; of course I wrote to him immediately,
and I must speak with him besides. So I made an appointment with him
here in your drawing-room, and you must be the guardian angel of our
love."

Alice did not appear greatly charmed by the part thus assigned her. She
had listened to the entire story in a way which positively outraged the
eager Molly, without any 'ah's' or 'oh's,' and in mute astonishment
that such things could be. A betrothal without, and even against, the
consent of parents was something quite outside of the young lady's
power of comprehension. Frau von Lasberg's training did not admit of
such ideas. So she sat upright, and said, with a degree of decision,
"No, that would not be proper."

"What would not be proper? your being a guardian angel?" Molly
exclaimed, indignantly. "Are you going to betray my confidence? Do you
wish to drive us to despair and death? For we shall die, both of us, if
we are parted. Can you answer it to your conscience?"

Fortunately, there was no time to settle this question of conscience,
for Herr Gersdorf was announced, and there was a distressing moment of
hesitation. Alice really seemed inclined to declare that she was ill
and could not receive the visitor, but Molly, in dread of some such
disaster, advanced and said aloud and quite dictatorially, "Show Herr
Gersdorf in."

The servant vanished, and with a sigh Alice sank back again in her
arm-chair. She had done her best, and had tried to resist, but since
the words were thus taken out of her mouth she was not called upon for
further effort, but must let the affair take its course.

Herr Gersdorf entered, and Molly flew to meet him, ready to be clasped
in his arms, instead of which he kissed her hand respectfully, and,
still retaining it in his clasp, approached the young mistress of the
house.

"First of all, Fräulein Nordheim, I must ask your forgiveness for the
extraordinary demands which my betrothed has made upon your friendship.
You probably know that, after her consent to be my wife, I wished
immediately to procure that of her parents, but Baron Ernsthausen has
refused to see me."

"And he locked _me_ up," Molly interpolated, "for the entire forenoon."

"I then wrote to the Baron," Gersdorf continued, "and made my proposal
in due form, but received in return a cold refusal without any
statement of his reasons therefor. Baron Ernsthausen wrote me----"

"A perfectly odious letter," Molly again interposed, "but my granduncle
dictated it. I know he did, for I listened at the keyhole!"

"At all events it was a refusal; but, since Molly has freely accorded
me her heart and hand, I shall assuredly assert my rights, and
therefore I believed myself justified in availing myself of this
opportunity of seeing my betrothed, although without the knowledge of
her parents. Once more I entreat your forgiveness, Fräulein Nordheim.
Be sure that we shall not abuse your kindness."

It all sounded so frank, so cordial and manly, that Alice began to find
the matter far more natural, and in a few words signified her
acquiescence. She could not indeed comprehend how this grave, reserved
man, who seemed absorbed in the duties of his profession, had fallen in
love with Molly, who was like nothing but quicksilver, nor that his
love was returned, but there was no longer any doubt of the fact.

"You need not listen, Alice," Molly said, consolingly. "Take a book and
read, or if you really do not feel quite well, lay your head back and
go to sleep. We shall not mind it in the least, only do not let us be
interrupted."

With which she led the way to the recess of a window half shut off from
the room by Turkish curtains looped aside. Here the conversation of the
lovers was at first carried on in whispers, but the vivacious little
Baroness soon manifested her eagerness by louder tones, so that at last
Alice could not choose but hear. She had taken up a book, but it
dropped in her lap as the terrible word 'elopement' fell on her ear.

"There is no other way," Molly said, as dictatorially as when she had
ordered the servant to admit her lover. "You must carry me off, and it
must be the day after to-morrow at half-past twelve. My granduncle
leaves for his castle at that time, and my father and mother go with
him to the railway-station; they always make so much of him. Meanwhile,
we can slip off conveniently. We'll travel as far as Gretna Green,
wherever that is,--I have read that there are no tiresome preliminaries
to be gone through with there,--and we can return as man and wife. Then
all my dead ancestors may stand on their heads, and so may my
granduncle, for that matter, if I may only belong to you."

This entire scheme was advanced in a tone of assured conviction, but it
did not meet with the expected approval; Gersdorf said, gravely and
decidedly,--

"No, Molly, that will not do."

"Not? Why not?"

"Because there are laws and injunctions which expressly forbid such
romantic excursions. Your fanciful little brain has no conception as
yet of life and its duties; but I know them, and it would ill become
me, whose vocation it is to defend the law, to trample it underfoot."

"What do I care for laws and injunctions?" said Molly, deeply offended
by this cool rejection of her romantic scheme. "How can you talk of
such prosaic things when our love is at stake? What are we to do if
papa and mamma persist in saying no?"

"First of all we must wait until your granduncle has really gone home.
There is nothing to be done with that stiff old aristocrat; in his eyes
I, as a man without a title, am perfectly unfitted to woo a Baroness
Ernsthausen. As soon as his influence is no longer present in your
household I shall surely have an interview with your father, and shall
try to overcome his prejudice; it will be no easy task, but we must
have patience and wait."

The little Baroness was thunderstruck at this declaration, this utter
ruin of all her air-built castles. Instead of the romantic flight and
secret marriage of which she had dreamed, here was her lover
counselling patience and prudence; instead of bearing her off in his
arms, he talked as if he were ready to institute legal proceedings for
her possession. It was altogether too much, and she burst out angrily,
"You had better declare at once that you do not care for me, after all;
that you have not the courage to win me. You talked very differently
before we were betrothed. But I give you back your troth; I will part
from you forever; I----" Here she began to sob. "I will marry some man
with no end of ancestors whom my granduncle approves of, but I shall
die of grief, and before the year is out I shall be in my grave."

"Molly!"

"Let go my hand!" But he held it fast.

"Molly, look at me! Do you seriously doubt my love?"

This was the tender tone which Molly remembered only too well,--the
tone in which the words had been spoken that evening in the fragrant,
dim conservatory, to which she had listened with a throbbing heart and
glowing cheeks. She stopped sobbing and looked up through her tears at
her lover as he bent above her.

"Darling Molly, have you no confidence in me? You have given yourself
to me, and I shall keep you for my own in spite of all opposition. Be
sure I shall not let my happiness be snatched from me, although some
time may pass before I can carry home my little wife."

It sounded so fervent, so faithful, that Molly's tears ceased to flow;
her head leaned gently on her lover's shoulder, and a smile played
about her lips, as she asked, half archly, half distrustfully, "But,
Albert, we surely shall not have to wait until you are as old as my
granduncle?"

"No, not nearly so long, my darling," Albert replied, kissing away a
tear from the long lashes, "for then, wayward child that you are, ready
to fly off if I do not obey your will on the instant, you would have
nothing to say to me."

"Oh, yes, I should, however old you were!" exclaimed Molly. "I love you
so dearly, Albert!"

Again the voices sank to whispers, and the close of the conversation
was inaudible. In about five minutes the lovers advanced again into the
drawing-room, just in time to meet the Herr Superintendent Elmhorst,
who, as the guest of the house, entered unannounced.

Wolfgang had gained much in personal appearance during the last three
years; his features had grown more decided and manly, his bearing was
prouder and more resolute. The young man who when we saw him last had
but just placed his foot on the first round of the ladder, which he was
determined to ascend, had now learned to mount and to command, but in
spite of the consciousness of power, which was revealed in his entire
air, there was nothing the least offensive in his demeanour; he seemed
to be one whose superiority of nature had involuntarily asserted
itself.

He had brought with him a bunch of lovely flowers, which he presented
with a few courteous words to the young mistress of the house. There
was no need of an introduction to Gersdorf, who had often seen him, and
Molly had made his acquaintance at Heilborn, where she had passed the
preceding summer. There was some general conversation, but Gersdorf
took his leave shortly, and ten minutes afterwards Molly too departed.
She would have been glad to stay, to pour out her heart to Alice, but
this Herr Elmhorst did not seem at all inclined to go; indeed, in spite
of all his courtesy the little Baroness could not help feeling that he
considered her presence here superfluous; she took her leave, but said
to herself as she passed down the staircase, "There's something going
on there."

She was perhaps right, but the 'something' did not make very rapid
progress. Alice smelled at her bouquet of camellias and violets, but
looked very listless the while. The wealthy heiress, who had always
been the object of devoted attention on all sides, had been loaded with
flowers, and took no special pleasure in them. Wolfgang sat opposite
her and entertained her after his usual interesting fashion; he talked
of the new villa which Nordheim had had built in the mountains and
which the family were to occupy for the first time the coming summer.

"The interior arrangements will all be complete before you arrive," he
said. "The house itself was finished in the autumn, and the vicinity of
the line of railway made it possible for me to superintend everything
personally. You will soon feel at home among the mountains, Fräulein
Nordheim."

"I know them already," said Alice, still trifling with her flowers. "We
go to Heilborn regularly every summer."

"Merely a summer promenade, with the mountains for a background,"
Elmhorst said. "Those are not the mountains which you will learn to
know in your new home; the situation is magnificent, and I flatter
myself that you will be pleased with the home itself. It is indeed only
a simple mountain-villa, but as such I was expressly ordered to
construct it."

"Papa says it is a little masterpiece of architecture," Alice remarked,
quietly.

Wolfgang smiled and, as if accidentally, moved his chair a little
nearer: "I should be very glad to acquit myself well as an architect.
It is not exactly my _métier_, but _you_ were to occupy the villa,
Fräulein Alice, and I could not leave it to other hands. I obtained
permission from the president to build the little mountain-home, which
he tells me he intends shall be your special property."

The significance of his words was sufficiently plain, as was also his
intimation of her father's approval, but the young lady neither blushed
nor seemed confused; she merely said, with her usual indifferent
lassitude,--

"Yes, papa means the villa shall be a present to me; therefore he did
not wish me to see it until it was entirely finished. It was very kind
of you, Herr Elmhorst, to undertake its construction."

"Pray do not praise me," Wolfgang hastily interposed. "On the contrary,
it was rank selfishness that caused me to thrust myself forward in the
matter. Every architect asks to be paid, and the recompense for which I
sue may well seem to you presumptuous. Nevertheless may I speak--may I
ask of you what it has long been in my heart to entreat?"

Alice slowly raised her large brown eyes to his with an inquiring
expression that was almost melancholy and that seemed fain to read the
truth in the young man's resolute face. She read there eager
expectation, but nothing more, and the questioning eyes were again
veiled beneath their long lashes. She made no reply.

Wolfgang seemed to consider her silence as an encouragement; he
arose and approached her chair, as he went on: "My request is a bold
one, I know it, but 'Fortune favours the bold.' So I told the Herr
President when I first besought of him the honour of an introduction to
you. It has always been my motto, and I cling to it to-day. Will you
listen to me, Alice?"

She slightly inclined her head, and made no resistance when he took her
hand and carried it to his lips. He went on, making a formal proposal
for her hand in well-chosen, courteous terms, his melodious voice
adding greatly to the eloquence of his words. All that was lacking was
ardour; this was a suit for her hand, not a declaration of love.

Alice listened mutely in no surprise; it had long been an open secret
to her that Elmhorst was her suitor, and she knew, too, that her
father, discouraging as he had shown himself hitherto to the advances
of other men, favoured Elmhorst's suit. He permitted the young man a
freedom of intercourse in his house accorded to no other, and he had
frequently expressly declared in his daughter's presence that Wolfgang
Elmhorst had a brilliant career before him, worth in his eyes
incalculably more than the scutcheons of men of rank, who were fain to
rehabilitate the faded splendour of their names with a wife's money.
Alice herself was too docile to have any will in the matter; it had
been impressed upon her from earliest childhood that a well-bred young
lady should marry in accordance with her parents' wishes, and she
might have found nothing wanting in this extremely correct proposal
had not Molly hit upon the idea of making her the guardian angel of a
love-affair.

That scene in the window-recess had been so very different; those
whispered tones, caressing, cajoling the wayward girl, whose whole
heart seemed, nevertheless, devoted to the grave man so much her
senior! With what tenderness he had treated her! This suitor
respectfully requested the hand of the wealthy heiress,--her hand:
there had been no mention whatever made of her heart.

Wolfgang finished and waited for a reply, then stooped and, looking in
her face, said, reproachfully, "Alice, have you nothing to say to me?"

Alice saw clearly that something must be said, but she was unaccustomed
to decide for herself, and she made answer, as was befitting a pupil of
Frau von Lasberg's,--

"I must first speak with papa; his wishes----"

"I have just left him," Elmhorst interposed, "and I come with his
permission and entire approval. May I tell him that my suit has found
favour in your eyes? May I present my betrothed to him?"

Alice looked up with the same anxious inquiry in her eyes as before,
and replied, softly, "You must have great consideration for me. I have
been so ill and wretched all through my childhood that I am still
oppressed with a sense of my weakness. You will suffer from it, and I
am afraid----"

She broke off, but there was a childlike pathos in her tone, in the
entreaty for forbearance from the young heiress, who, with her hand,
bestowed a princely fortune. Wolfgang, perhaps, felt this, for for the
first time there was something like ardour in his, manner as he
declared,--

"Do not speak thus, Alice! I know that yours is a delicate temperament
needing to be guarded and protected, and I will shield you from every
rude contact in life. Trust me, confide your future to me, and I
promise you by my----" "love" he was going to say, but his lips refused to
utter the falsehood. The man was proud, he might coolly calculate, but
he could not feign, and he completed his sentence more slowly,--"by my
honour you never shall repent it!"

The words sounded resolute and manly, and he was in earnest. Alice felt
this; she laid her hand willingly in his, and submitted to be clasped
in his arms. Her suitor's lips touched her own, he expressed his
gratitude, his joy, called her his beloved; in short, they were duly
betrothed. A trifle only was lacking,--the exultant confession made
just before by little Molly amid tears and laughter, 'I love you so
dearly, so very dearly!'



                              CHAPTER VI.

                        AT PRESIDENT NORDHEIM'S.


The reception-rooms of the Nordheim mansion were brilliantly lighted
for the celebration not only of the birthday of the daughter of the
house, but also of her betrothal. It was a surprising piece of news for
society, which, in spite of all reports and gossip, had never seriously
believed in the possibility of an alliance so unheard-of. It was
incredible that a man, notoriously one of the wealthiest in the
country, should bestow his only child upon a young engineer without
rank, of unpretending origin, and possessing nothing save distinguished
ability, which, to be sure, was warrant for his future.

That it was scarcely an affair of the heart every one knew; Alice had
the reputation of great coldness of nature; she was probably incapable
of very deep sentiment. Nevertheless she was a most enviable prize, and
the announcement of her betrothal caused many a bitter disappointment
in aristocratic circles where the heiress had been coveted. This
Nordheim, it was clear, did not understand how to prize the privileges
which his wealth bestowed upon him. With it he might have purchased a
coronet for his daughter, instead of which he had chosen a son-in-law
from among the officials of his railway. There was much indignation
expressed, nevertheless every one who was invited came to this
entertainment. People were curious to see the lucky man who had
distanced all titled competitors, and whom fate had so suddenly placed
on life's pinnacle, in that he had been chosen as the future lord of
millions.

It was just before the beginning of the entertainment when the
president with Elmhorst entered the first of the large reception-rooms.
He was apparently in the best of humours and upon excellent terms with
his future son-in-law.

"You have your first introduction to the society of the capital this
evening, Wolfgang," said he. "In your brief visits you have seen only
our family. It is time for you to establish relations here, since it
will be your future place of residence. Alice is accustomed to the
society life of a great city, and you can have no objection to it."

"Of course not, sir," Wolfgang replied. "I like to be at the centre of
life and activity, but hitherto it has been incompatible with the
duties of my profession. That it will not be so in the future I see
from your example. You conduct from here all your various
undertakings."

"This activity, however, is beginning to oppress me," said Nordheim. "I
have latterly felt the need of a support, and I depend upon your
partially relieving me. For the present you are indispensable in the
completion of the railway line; the engineer-in-chief, in his present
state of feeble health, is the head of the work only in name."

"Yes, it is in fact entirely in my hands, and if he retires,--I know he
is thinking seriously of doing so,--I have your promise, sir, that I
shall succeed him?"

"Assuredly, and this time I am not afraid of meeting with any
opposition. It is, to be sure, the first time that so young a man has
been placed at the head of such an undertaking, but you have shown your
ability in the Wolkenstein bridge, and the position can scarcely be
refused to my future son-in-law."

"In admitting me to your family, Herr Nordheim, you give me much.--I
know it," said Elmhorst, gravely; "in return I can give you only a
son."

The president's eyes rested thoughtfully upon the face of the speaker,
and with an access of warmth extremely rare in the man of business, he
replied, "I had an only son, in whom all my hopes were centred; he died
in early childhood, and I have often reflected bitterly that some
spendthrift idler would probably scatter abroad what I had taken such
pains to accumulate. I think better of you; you will continue and
preserve what I have begun, complete what I leave unfinished. I am glad
to make you my intellectual as well as my material heir."

"I will not disappoint you," Wolfgang said, pressing the hand extended
to him.

Here were two kindred natures, but surely the conversation was a
strange one for the evening of a betrothal and while awaiting a
promised bride. Both men had spoken of their schemes and undertakings;
Alice had not been mentioned. The father had demanded of his future
son-in-law much, but there had been no allusion to his daughter's
happiness; and the lover, who seemed entirely sensible of the
advantages of the family connection in prospect, never mentioned the
name of his betrothed. They talked of construction and bridges, of the
engineer-in-chief and the railway company, as coolly and in as
business-like a fashion as if the matter in question were a partnership
to be formed between them; and in fact it was nothing else,--either
could easily have foregone the additional relationship. They were
interrupted, however: a servant entered to ask for orders from the
president with relation to the arrangement of the table, and Nordheim
thought best to betake himself to the dining-hall to decide the matter.
It was still too early for the arrival of the guests, and the ladies of
the house had not yet made their appearance. The servants were all at
their posts, and for the moment Wolfgang was left alone in the
reception-rooms, which occupied the entire upper story of the mansion.

From the large apartment where he was, with its rich crimson rugs and
velvet hangings, and its profusion of gilding, he could look through
the entire suite of rooms, the splendour of which was most striking in
their present deserted, empty condition. Everywhere there was a lavish
wealth of costly objects, everywhere pictures, statues, and other works
of art, each one worth a small fortune, and the long suite ended, as in
some fairy realm, in a dimly-lit conservatory filled with exotic plants
of rare magnificence. In an hour these brilliant, fragrant apartments
would be crowded with the most distinguished society of the capital,
all ready to accept the hospitality of the railway king.

Wolfgang stood still and looked slowly about him. It was indeed a
bewildering sensation, that of knowing himself a son of this house, the
future heir of all this magnificence. No one could blame the young man
if at the thought he stood proudly erect, while his eyes gleamed
exultantly. He had kept the vow made to himself,--he had executed the
bold scheme which he had once confided to his friend,--he had dared the
flight and had reached the summit. At an age when others are beginning
to shape their future he had clutched success in a firm grasp. He was
now standing upon the height of which he had dreamed, and the world lay
fair indeed at his feet.

The drawing-room door opened; Elmhorst turned and advanced a few steps
towards it, then paused suddenly, for instead of his expected betrothed
Erna von Thurgau entered. She was much changed since she had been met
by the strayed young superintendent among the cliffs of the
Wolkenstein. The wayward child who had grown up free and untrammelled
among her mountains had not without result passed three years in her
uncle's luxurious home, under the training of Frau von Lasberg. The
little Alpine rose had been transformed to a young lady, who with
perfect grace but also with entire formality returned Wolfgang's
salutation. This was a beautiful woman, a gloriously beautiful woman.

Her childish features had become perfectly regular, and although the
rich bloom of health still coloured her cheek, her face expressed a
degree of cool gravity unknown to the joyous daughter of the Freiherr
von Thurgau. Her eyes no longer laughed as of old; there lay hidden in
their depths a mystery akin to that of the mountain-lakes of her home,
whose colour they had borrowed,--a mystery as powerfully attractive as
that of the lakes themselves. She looked singularly lovely as she stood
in the full light of the chandelier, dressed in pure mist-like white,
her only ornaments single water-lilies scattered here and there among
its whiteness. Her hair no longer fell in masses about her shoulders,
but fashion permitted its full luxuriance to be appreciated, and pale
lily-buds gleamed amid its waves.

"Alice and Frau von Lasberg will be here presently," she said, as she
entered. "I thought my uncle was here."

"He has gone for a moment to the dining-hall," Elmhorst replied, after
a salutation quite as formal as her own.

For an instant Erna seemed about to follow her uncle, but, apparently
recollecting that this might be discourteous towards a future relative,
she paused and let her gaze wander through the long suite of rooms.

"I think you see these rooms fully lighted to-night for the first time,
Herr Elmhorst? They are very fine, are they not?"

"Very fine; and upon one coming, as I do, from the winter solitude of
the mountains, they produce a dazzling impression."

"They dazzled me too when I first came here," the young lady said,
indifferently; "but one easily becomes accustomed to such surroundings,
as you will find by experience when you take up your residence here. It
is settled that you are to be married in a year, is it not?"

"It is,--next spring."

"Rather a long time to wait. Have you really consented to such a period
of probation?"

The lover seemed, oddly enough, to be rather averse to this allusion to
his marriage. He examined with apparent interest a huge porcelain vase
which stood near him, and replied, evidently desirous of changing the
subject, "I cannot but consent, since for the present I am master
neither of my time nor of my movements. The first thing to be attended
to is the completion of the railway, of the construction of which I am
superintendent."

"Are you, then, so fettered?" Erna asked, with gentle irony. "I should
have thought you would find it easy to liberate yourself?"

"Liberate myself,--from what?"

"From a profession which you must certainly resign in the future."

"Do you consider that as a matter of course, Fräulein von Thurgau?"
Wolfgang asked, nettled by her tone. "I cannot see what should induce
such a course on my part."

"Why, your future position as the husband of Alice Nordheim."

The young engineer flushed crimson; he glanced angrily at the girl who
ventured to remind him that he was marrying money. She was smiling, and
her remark sounded like a jest, but her eyes spoke a different
language, the language of contempt, which he understood but too well.
He was not a man, however, to rest quietly under the scorn which
pursues a fortune-hunter; he too smiled, and rejoined, with cool
courtesy, "Pardon me, Fräulein von Thurgau, you are mistaken. My
profession, my work, are necessities of existence for me. I was not
made for an idle, inactive enjoyment of life. This seems
incomprehensible to you----"

"Not at all," Erna interposed. "I perfectly understand how a true man
must depend solely upon his own exertions."

Wolfgang bit his lip, but he parried this thrust too: "That I may
accept as a compliment, for I certainly depended entirely upon my own
exertions when I planned the Wolkenstein bridge, and I trust my work
will bring me credit, even as 'the husband of Alice Nordheim.' But
excuse me; these are matters which cannot interest a lady."

"They interest me," Erna said, bluntly. "My home was destroyed by the
Wolkenstein bridge, and your work demanded yet another and far dearer
sacrifice of me."

"Which you never can forgive me, I know," Wolfgang went on. "You
reproach me for an unhappy accident, although your sense of justice
must tell you that I am not to blame, that I do not deserve it."

"I do not blame you, Herr Elmhorst."

"You did in that most wretched hour, and you do it still."

Erna did not reply, but her silence was eloquent enough. Elmhorst
appeared to have expected a denial, if only a formal one, for there was
an added bitterness in his tone as he continued: "I regret infinitely
that I should have been the one chosen to conduct the last business
arrangements with Baron Thurgau. They had to be made, and their tragic
conclusion lay beyond human foresight. It was not I, Fräulein Thurgau,
but iron necessity that required of you the sacrifice of your home; the
Wolkenstein bridge is not less guilty than I am."

"I know it," Erna observed, coldly; "but there are cases in which one
finds it impossible to be just,--you should see that, Herr Elmhorst.
You are now a member of our family, and may rest assured that I shall
show you all the consideration due to a relative; for my feelings I
cannot be called to account."

Wolfgang looked her full and darkly in the face: "In other words, you
detest my work and--myself?"

Erna was silent: she had long outgrown the childish waywardness that
had once prompted her to tell the stranger to his face that she could
not endure him or his sneers at her mountain-legends. The young lady
never dreamed of conduct so unbecoming, and she confronted him now in
entire self-possession. But her eyes had not forgotten their language,
and at this moment they declared that the girlish nature was quelled
only in appearance,--it still slumbered untamed in the depths of her
soul. There was a lightning-flash in them which uttered a quick,
vehement 'yes' in answer to Wolfgang's last question, although the lips
were mute.

It was impossible for Elmhorst to misunderstand it, and yet he gazed
into the blue depths of those hostile eyes as if they had the power to
hold him spell-bound; only for a few seconds, however, for Erna turned
away, saying, lightly, "We certainly are having a very odd
conversation, talking of sacrifice, blame, and hatred, and all on the
day of your betrothal."

"You are right, Fräulein Thurgau; let us talk of something else,"
Wolfgang rejoined.

But they did not talk of anything else; on the contrary, an oppressive
silence ensued. Erna seated herself and became apparently absorbed in
an examination of the pictures on her fan, while her companion walked
to the door of the next room as if to admire its magnificence. His
face, however, no longer showed the proud satisfaction which had
informed it a quarter of an hour before: he looked irritated and ill at
ease.

Again the drawing-room door opened and Alice and Frau von Lasberg
entered, the latter with a certain air of resignation; a darling wish
of hers was to be frustrated to-night. She had looked forward to seeing
Alice, whom she had trained entirely according to her own ideas,
enrolled in the ranks of the aristocracy, and one of the young girl's
distinguished suitors, the scion of an ancient noble line, had enjoyed
the Baroness's special favour, and now Wolfgang Elmhorst was carrying
off the prize! He was indeed the only man without a title whom Frau von
Lasberg could have forgiven for so doing,--he had long since succeeded
in winning her regard,--but it was nevertheless a painful fact that a
man so perfectly well-bred, so agreeable to the strict old lady,
possessed not the ghost of a title.

Alice, in a pale-blue satin gown rather overtrimmed with costly lace,
and with a long train, did not look particularly well. The heavy folds
of the rich material seemed to weigh down her delicate figure, and the
diamonds sparkling on her neck and arms--her father's birthday gift to
her--did not avail to relieve her want of colour. Such a frame did not
suit her; an airy flower-trimmed ball-dress would have been much more
becoming.

Wolfgang hastened to meet his betrothed, and carried her hand to his
lips. He was full of tender consideration for her, and he was courtesy
itself to the Baroness Lasberg, but the cloud did not vanish from his
brow until the president returned and the guests began to arrive.
Gradually the rooms were filled with a brilliant assemblage. Those
present were indeed the foremost in the capital, the aristocracy by
birth and by talent, those distinguished both in the world of finance
and in the domain of art, the best names in military and diplomatic
circles. Splendid uniforms alternated with costly toilets, and the
throng glittered and rustled as only such an assemblage can,--an
assemblage thoroughly in keeping with the magnificence of the Nordheim
establishment.

The centre of attraction was found in the betrothed pair, or rather in
the lover, who, an entire stranger to most of those present, was doubly
an object of interest. He certainly was an extremely handsome man, this
Wolfgang Elmhorst, no one could deny that, and there was no doubt of
his capacity and his talent, but these gifts alone hardly entitled him
to the hand of a wealthy heiress, who might well look for something
more. And then, too, the young man appeared to take his good fortune,
which would have fairly intoxicated any one else, quite as a matter of
course. Not the slightest embarrassment betrayed that this was
the first time he had been thus surrounded. With his betrothed's
hand resting on his arm he stood proudly calm beside his future
father-in-law, was presented to every one, received and acknowledged
with easy grace all congratulations, and played admirably the principal
part thus assigned him. He was entirely the son of the house, accepting
his position as such as a foregone conclusion, and even at times
seeming to dominate the entire assembly.

Among the guests was the Court-Councillor von Ernsthausen, a stiff,
formal bureaucrat, who in the absence of his wife had his daughter on
his arm. The little Baroness was charming in her pink tulle ball-dress,
with a wreath of snow-drops on her black curls, and she was beaming
with delight and exultation in having, after a hard combat, succeeded
in being present at the entertainment. Her parents had at first refused
to allow her to come, because Herr Gersdorf was also invited, and they
dreaded the renewal of his attentions. The Herr Papa was armed to the
teeth against attack from the hostile force; he kept guard like a
sentinel over his daughter, and seemed resolved that she should not
leave his side during the entire evening.

But the lover showed no inclination to expose himself to the danger of
another repulse; he contented himself with a courteous salutation from
a distance, which Baron Ernsthausen returned very stiffly. Molly
inclined her head gravely and decorously, as if quite agreed with her
paternal escort; of course she had devised the plan of her campaign,
and she proceeded to carry it out with an energy that left nothing to
be desired.

She embraced and congratulated Alice, which necessitated her leaving
her father's arm; then she greeted Frau von Lasberg with the greatest
amiability in return for a very cool recognition on that lady's part,
and finally she overwhelmed Erna with demonstrations of affection,
drawing her aside to the recess of a window. The councillor looked
after her with a discontented air, but, as Gersdorf remained quietly at
the other end of the room, he was reassured, and apparently conceived
that his office of guardian was perfectly discharged by keeping the
enemy constantly in sight. He never suspected the cunning schemes that
were being contrived and carried out behind his back.

The whispered interview in the window-recess did not last long, and at
its close Fräulein von Thurgau vanished from the room, while Molly
returned to her father and entered into conversation with various
friends. She managed, however, to perceive that Erna returned after a
few minutes, and, approaching Herr Gersdorf, addressed him. He looked
rather surprised, but bowed in assent, and the little Baroness
triumphantly unfurled her fan. The action had begun, and the guardian
was checkmated for the rest of the evening.

Meanwhile, the president had missed his niece and was looking about for
her rather impatiently, while talking with a gentleman who had just
arrived, and who was not one of the _habitués_ of the house. He was
undoubtedly a person of distinction, for Nordheim treated him with a
consideration which he accorded to but few individuals. Erna no sooner
made her appearance again than her uncle approached her and presented
the stranger.

"Herr Ernst Waltenberg, of whom you have heard me speak."

"I was so unfortunate as to miss the ladies when I called yesterday,
and so am an entire stranger to Fräulein von Thurgau," said Waltenberg.

"Not quite: I talked much of you at dinner," Nordheim interposed. "A
cosmopolitan like yourself, who after the tour of the world comes to us
directly from Persia, cannot fail to interest, and I am sure you will
find an eager listener to your experiences of travel in my niece. Her
taste is decidedly for the strange and unusual."

"Indeed, Fräulein von Thurgau?" asked Waltenberg, gazing in evident
admiration at Erna's lovely face.

Nordheim perceived this and smiled, while, without giving his niece a
chance to reply, he continued:

"You may rely upon it. But we must first of all try to make you more at
home in Europe, where you are positively a stranger. I shall be glad if
my house can in any wise contribute to your pleasure; I pray you to
believe that you will always be welcome here."

He shook his guest's hand with great cordiality and retired. There was
a degree of intention in the way in which he had brought the pair
together and then left them to themselves, but Erna did not perceive
it. She had been in no wise interested in the presentation of the
new-comer,--strangers from beyond the seas were no rarity in her
uncle's house,--but her first glance at the guest's unusual type of
countenance aroused her attention.

Ernst Waltenberg was no longer young,--he had passed forty, and
although not very tall his frame was muscular and well-knit, showing
traces, however, of a life of exposure and exertion. His face, tanned
dark brown by his sojourn for years in tropical countries, was not
handsome, but full of expression and of those lines graven not by
years, but by experience of life. His broad brow was crowned by close
black curls, and his steel-gray eyes beneath their black brows could
evidently flash on occasion. There was something strangely foreign
about him that set him quite apart from the brilliant but mostly
uninteresting personages that crowded Nordheim's rooms. His voice too
had a peculiar intonation,--it was deep, but sounded slightly foreign,
possibly from years of speaking other tongues than his own. Evidently
he was perfectly versed in the forms of society; the manner in which he
took his seat beside Fräulein von Thurgau was entirely that of a man of
the world.

"You have but lately come from Persia?" Erna asked, referring to what
her uncle had said.

"Yes, I was there last; for ten years I have not seen Europe before."

"And yet you are a German? Probably your profession kept you away thus
long?"

"My profession?" Waltenberg repeated, with a fleeting smile. "No; I
merely yielded to my inclination. I am not of those steadfast natures
which become rooted in house and home. I was always longing to be out
in the world, and I gratified my desire absolutely in this respect."

"And in all these ten years have you never been homesick?"

"To tell the truth, no! One gradually becomes weaned from one's home,
and at last feels like a stranger there. I am here now only to arrange
various business affairs and personal matters, and do not propose to
stay long. I have no family to keep me here; I am quite alone."

"But your country should have a claim upon you," Erna interposed.

"Perhaps so; but I am modest enough to imagine that it does not need
me. There are so many better men than I here."

"And do you not need your country?"

The remark was rather an odd one from a young lady, and Waltenberg
looked surprised, especially when the glance that met his own
emphasized the reproach in the girl's words.

"You are indignant at my admission, Fräulein Thurgau, but nevertheless
I must plead guilty," he said, gravely. "Believe me, a life such as
mine has been for years, free of all fetters, surrounded by a nature
lavish in beauty and luxuriance, while our own is meagre enough, has
the effect of a magic draught. Those who have once tasted it can never
again forego it. Were I really obliged to return to this world of
unrealities, this formal existence in what we call society, beneath
these gray wintry skies, I think I----but this is rank heresy in the
eyes of one who is an admired centre of this same society."

"And yet she can perhaps understand you," Erna said, with a sudden
access of bitterness. "I grew up among the mountains, in the
magnificent solitude of the highlands, far from the world and its ways,
and it is hard, very hard, to forego the sunny, golden liberty of my
childhood!"

"Even here?" Waltenberg asked, with a glance about him at the brilliant
rooms, now crowded with guests.

"Most of all here."

The answer was low, scarcely audible, and the look that accompanied it
was strangely sad and weary, but the next moment the young girl seemed
to repent the half-involuntary confession; she smiled and said,
jestingly,--

"You are right, this is heresy, and my uncle would disapprove; he
evidently hopes to make you really at home among us. Let me make you
acquainted with the gentleman now approaching us; he is one of our
celebrities and will surely interest you."

Her intention of breaking off a conversation that had become unusually
grave was evident, and Waltenberg bowed silently, but with an
expression of annoyance. He was presented to the 'celebrity,' with whom
he conversed but for a few moments, however, before seeking out Herr
Gersdorf, whom he had long known; they had been college-friends.

"Well, Ernst, are you beginning to be at home among us?" the lawyer
asked. "You seemed much interested in your talk with Fräulein Thurgau.
A handsome girl, is she not?"

"Yes, and really worth the trouble of talking to," Ernst replied,
retiring somewhat from the throng with his friend, who laughed, as he
said in an undertone,--

"Extremely complimentary to all the other ladies. I suppose it is not
worth the trouble to talk with them?"

"No, it is not," Waltenberg coolly replied, in a still lower tone. "I
really cannot bring myself to take part in their vapid talk through an
entire evening. It is particularly tiresome around the betrothed
couple,--a perfect chorus of utterly senseless remarks. Moreover, the
lady looks very insignificant, and is very uninteresting."

Gersdorf shrugged his shoulders: "Nevertheless her name is Alice
Nordheim, and that was quite enough for her lover. There is many a one
here who would gladly stand in his shoes, but he had the wit to gain
her father's favour, and so won the prize."

"Marrying for money, then? A fortune-hunter?"

"If you choose to call him so,--yes; but very talented, very
energetic,--sure to succeed. He already rules the various officials of
his railway as absolutely as his future father-in-law does the
directors, and when you see his _chef-d'[oe]uvre_, the Wolkenstein
bridge, you will admit that his talent is of no common order."

"No matter for that, I detest fortune-hunting from my very soul. One
might forgive it in a poor devil with no other chance to rise in the
world, but this Elmhorst seems to have force of character, and yet
sells himself and his liberty for money. Contemptible!"

"My dear Ernst, you are evidently just from the wilds," Gersdorf
rejoined. "Such things are very usual in our much-lauded 'society,' and
among very respectable people. Of course money is no consideration to
you, with your hundreds of thousands. Are you never going to cease
wandering to and fro on the earth and try sitting beside your own
hearthstone?"

"No, Albert, I never was made for that. Liberty is my bride, and I
shall be faithful to her."

"I said the same thing," the lawyer rejoined, with a laugh; "but time
brings one experience of this same bride's rather chilly nature, and if
in addition one meets with the misfortune of falling in love, liberty
loses all attraction and the whilom bachelor is glad enough to turn
into an honest married man. I am just about to undergo this
transformation."

"I condole with you."

"No need; it suits me extremely well. But you know all the story of my
love and woe; what do you think of the future Frau Gersdorf?"

"I think her so charming that she excuses in a measure your desertion
of your colours. She is lovely, with that rosy, laughing little face."

"Yes, my little Molly is an embodiment of sunshine," Albert said,
heartily, his glance seeking out the young girl. "The barometer at her
home points to 'stormy' at present; but although the court-councillor
and his entire family, with the famous granduncle,--who, by the bye, is
the worst of all,--should take the field against me, I am resolved to
come off victorious."

"Herr Waltenberg, may I request you to escort my niece to supper?" said
the president as he passed the young men.

"With pleasure," Waltenberg assented, hurrying away, with such sincere
satisfaction expressed in his face, that Gersdorf could not help
looking after him with a mocking smile.

"I doubt whether I shall long be the only one of us two to desert his
colours," he said to himself as his friend joined Fräulein von Thurgau,
looking like anything rather than a misogynist.



                              CHAPTER VII.

                             A NEW SCHEME.


The doors of the supper-room were opened and the assemblage began to
enter it by couples. Baron Ernsthausen offered his arm to the Baroness
Lasberg, having been assigned her as his neighbour at table, and having
learned from her with much satisfaction that Lieutenant von Alven was
to be his daughter's escort, and that Herr Gersdorf's place was at the
opposite end of the table. The distinguished couple slowly advanced
followed by a crowd of others, but, strangely enough, Lieutenant von
Alven offered his arm to another young girl, and Herr Gersdorf
approached the Baroness Ernsthausen.

"What does this mean, Molly?" he asked, in a low tone. "Am I to take
you to supper, as Fräulein von Thurgau tells me? Did you prevail on
Frau von Lasberg----?"

"Oh, she is a firm ally of my father and mother," Molly whispered,
taking his arm. "Only fancy, she had the entire length of the table
between us! Mamma is at home with a headache, but she enjoined it upon
papa not to let me out of his sight, and Frau von Lasberg was to be
guard number two. But they have no idea with whom they have to deal; I
have outwitted them all."

"What is it that you have done?" Gersdorf asked, rather uneasily.

"Changed the table-cards!" Molly declared, exultantly, "or rather
persuaded Erna to change them. She did not want to at first, but when I
asked her whether she could answer it to her conscience to plunge us
both into fathomless despair, she really could not, and so she
consented."

The phrases which the little Baroness used to beguile the guardian
angels of her love came trippingly from her tongue; her lover, however,
did not seem greatly edified by her stroke of policy; he shook his
head, and said, reproachfully, "But, my dear Molly, it cannot possibly
be concealed, and when your father sees us----"

"He'll be furious!" Molly completed the sentence very placidly. "But
you know, Albert, he always is that, and a little more or a little less
really makes no difference. And now do not look so frightfully grave. I
believe you would actually like to scold me for my brilliant idea."

"I ought to," said Albert, smiling in spite of himself; "but who could
find fault with you, you wayward little sprite?"

In the buzz of conversation the lovers' whispered tones were unheard as
they entered the supper-room, where the councillor was already seated
beside his companion. The pleasures of the table were dear to his
heart, and the prospect of a good supper attuned his soul to
benevolence. But suddenly his face grew rigid as if from a sight of the
Gorgon, although it was only upon perceiving the extremely happy face
of his little daughter as she appeared upon Herr Gersdorf's arm.

"Madame, for heaven's sake, look there!" he whispered. "You told me
that Lieutenant von Alven----"

"Was to take Molly to supper; and in accordance with your express wish
Herr Gersdorf----"

Frau von Lasberg stopped in the middle of her sentence and also became
petrified as she perceived the couple just taking their seats near the
other end of the table.

"Beside him!" The councillor darted an annihilating glance down the
long table, past thirty seated guests, at the lawyer.

"I cannot understand this; I arranged the places at table myself."

"Perhaps some mistake of the servants----"

"No, it is a plot of the Baroness's," Frau von Lasberg interposed,
indignantly. "But pray let us have no scene. When supper is over----"

"I shall take Molly directly home!" Ernsthausen concluded the sentence,
opening his napkin with an energy that boded no good to his disobedient
daughter.

The supper began and followed its course with all the splendour to be
expected from an entertainment in the Nordheim mansion. The tables were
almost overloaded with heavy silver and glittering glass, among which
bloomed the rarest flowers. There was an endless variety of food, with
the finest kinds of wine. The usual toasts to the betrothed couple were
offered, the usual speeches made, and over it all brooded the weariness
inseparable from such displays of princely wealth.

Nevertheless certain of the younger folk enjoyed themselves
excessively; notably Baroness Molly, who, quite unaffected by her
approaching doom, laughed and talked with her neighbour at table, while
Gersdorf would have been no lover had he not forgotten all else and
quaffed full draughts of the unexpected happiness of this interview.

Not less eager, if graver and of more significance, was the
conversation carried on at the upper end of the table between Fräulein
von Thurgau, who as the nearest relative of the family had her place
opposite the betrothed couple, and Ernst Waltenberg, who was a
distinguished guest. Hitherto he had seemed to take but little interest
in the assemblage and had been rather silent, but now he made it plain
that where it pleased him to charm by his conversation he was fully
able to do so.

He did indeed tell of distant lands and peoples, but he described them
so vividly that his hearer seemed to see them. As he spoke of the charm
of the southern seas, the splendour of the tropical landscape, Erna,
listening with sparkling eyes, seemed carried away. Now and then
Wolfgang, beside Alice on the opposite side of the table, scanned the
pair with an oddly searching glance; his conversation with his
betrothed did not seem to be of a particularly lively nature, master of
the art though he were.

At last supper was over, and all returned to the reception-rooms. The
universal mood seemed less constrained, laughter and talk were louder,
and so general was the mingling of various groups that it was difficult
to single out any particular individual, as Baron Ernsthausen found to
his vexation, for his young daughter had disappeared for the time.

Ernst Waltenberg had conducted Erna to the conservatory, and was seated
beside her, deep in the conversation begun at supper, when the
betrothed couple entered. Wolfgang started as he perceived the pair, he
bowed coldly to Waltenberg, who sprang up to offer his place to
Fräulein Nordheim, and said, "Alice complains of weariness and thinks
it will be quieter here. We are not intruding?"

"Upon whom?" Erna asked, quietly.

"Upon yourself and Herr Waltenberg. You were in such earnest
conversation, and we should be very sorry----"

Instead of replying, Erna took her cousin's hand and drew her down
beside her: "You are right, Alice, you need rest. It is a hard task
even for those stronger than you to be the centre of such an
entertainment."

"I only wanted to withdraw for a few moments," said Alice, who really
did look fatigued. "But we seem to have disturbed you; Herr Waltenberg
was in the midst of a most interesting description, which he broke off
when we entered."

"I was telling of my last visit to India," Waltenberg explained, "and I
took the opportunity to make a request of Baroness Thurgau, which I
should like to make of you also, Fräulein Nordheim. In the course of my
ten years of absence from Europe I have collected a quantity of foreign
curiosities. They were all sent home, and form a veritable museum which
I am just having arranged by an experienced hand. May I entreat the
ladies to honour me with a visit,--with yourself, of course, Herr
Elmhorst? I think I can show you much that will interest you."

"I fear my engagements will not allow me to accept your kind
invitation," Elmhorst replied, with rather cool courtesy. "I must leave
town in a couple of days."

"So shortly after your betrothal?"

"I must. In the present condition of our work I cannot allow myself a
longer leave of absence."

"Do you agree to this, Fräulein Nordheim?" Waltenberg appealed to
Alice. "I should think under present circumstances you would have the
first claim."

"Duty has the first claim upon me, Herr Waltenberg,--in my opinion, at
least."

"Must you take it so seriously,--even now?"

"Wolfgang's eyes flashed. He understood this 'even now?' and understood
also the look which he encountered; he had seen the same expression on
another face a few hours ago. He bit his lip; for the second time he
was reminded that he was considered in society only as 'Alice
Nordheim's future husband,'--one who could with her fortune in prospect
purchase immunity from duties which he had undertaken to fulfil.

"To fulfil a duty is with me a point of honour," he replied, coldly.

"Yes, we Germans are fanatics for duty," Waltenberg said, negligently.
"I have lost somewhat of this national characteristic in foreign
countries. Oh, Fräulein von Thurgau, not that disapproving look, I
entreat. My unfortunate frankness will ruin me in your estimation, but
remember I come from quite another world, and am absolutely uncivilized
according to European ideas."

"You certainly seem so with respect to some of your views," Erna said,
lightly, but withal with a shade of severity.

He smiled, and, leaning over the back of her chair, said, in a lower
tone, "Yes, I need to be harmonized with mankind, and with our worthy
Germans. Perhaps some one will have pity upon me and undertake the
task. Do you think it would be worth the trouble?"

"Can you really endure this close, stifling temperature, Alice?"
Wolfgang asked, with ill-concealed impatience. "I fear it is worse for
you than the heat of the rooms."

"But there is such a crowd of people there. Pray let us stay here,
Wolfgang."

He bit his lip, but naturally yielded to a wish of his betrothed's so
distinctly expressed.

"The air here is tropical," said Waltenberg.

"It is indeed. Oppressive, and debilitating for any one accustomed to
breathe freely."

The words sounded almost rude, but he to whom they were addressed took
no heed; he was still gazing at Erna as he went on: "These palms and
orchids require it. Look, Fräulein von Thurgau, they enchant the eye
even here in captivity. In the tropics, where they climb and twine in
liberty, they are wonderful indeed."

"Yes, that world must be beautiful," Erna said, softly, while her eyes
wandered dreamily over the foreign splendour of the blossoms gleaming
among the green on every side and filling the conservatory with their
sweet but enervating fragrance.

"Was your stay in the East a long one, Herr Waltenberg?" Alice asked,
in her cool, uninterested way.

"I passed some years there, but I am at home all over the world, and
can even boast having penetrated far into Africa."

Wolfgang's attention was roused by these last words: "Probably as a
member of some scientific expedition?" he observed.

"No, that would have had no charm for me. I detest nothing so much as
constraint, and it is impossible in such expeditions to preserve one's
personal freedom. One is bound by the rules of the expedition, by the
wishes of one's companions, by all sorts of things, and I am wont to
follow my own will only."

"Ah, indeed?" A half-contemptuous smile played about Wolfgang's lips.
"I beg pardon; I really thought you had gone to Africa as a scientific
pioneer."

"Good heavens, how in earnest you are about everything, Herr Elmhorst!"
Waltenberg said, with a scarcely perceptible sneer. "Must life perforce
be labour? I never coveted fame as an explorer; I have enjoyed the
freedom and beauty of the world, and have renewed my youth and strength
in quaffing long draughts of such enjoyment. To put it to positive use
would destroy its romance for me."

Elmhorst shrugged his shoulders, and remarked, with apparent
indifference, in which there was nevertheless a spice of insolence,
"Certainly a most convenient way of arranging one's existence. And yet
hardly to my taste, and quite impossible for most people. So to live
one should be born to great wealth."

"No, not of necessity," Waltenberg retorted, in the same tone. "Some
lucky chance may endow one with wealth."

Wolfgang looked annoyed, and he was evidently about to make a sharp
reply, when Erna, perceiving this, hastened to give the conversation
another turn.

"I fear my uncle must resign all hope of making you at home among us,"
said she. "You are so entirely under the spell of your tropical world,
that everything here will seem petty and meagre to you. I hardly think
that even our mountains could move you to admiration, but there you
will find me a determined antagonist."

Waltenberg turned towards her,--perhaps he saw in her face, or was
conscious himself, that he had gone too far. "You do me injustice,
Fräulein Thurgau," he replied. "I have never forgotten the Alpine
world of my native country,--its lofty summits, its deep-blue
lakes, and the lovely creations of its legends by which it is
peopled,--creatures"--his voice sounded veiled--"compounded as it were
of air and Alpine snow, with the white fairy-like flowers of its waters
crowning their fair hair."

The compliment was too bold, but the manner in which it was uttered
took from it all presumption, as the speaker's eyes rested in
admiration upon the beautiful girl before him in her white, misty
ball-dress.

"Alice, are you rested?" Wolfgang asked, aloud. "We really ought not to
remain away from the other room so long. Let us go back."

His words sounded almost like a command. Alice arose, put her hand
within his arm, and they left the conservatory together.

"Herr Elmhorst seems to have a decided predilection for command,"
Waltenberg said, ironically, looking after them. "His tone was
decidedly that of the future lord and master, and upon the very day of
his betrothal. Fräulein Nordheim's choice seems surprising to me in
more than one sense."

"Alice's is a very gentle, docile nature," Erna observed.

"So much the worse. Her lover seems to have no conception that it is
this connection alone that raises him to a position to which he could
not personally lay any claim."

The young girl had risen and approached a group of plants, whose heavy
crimson blossoms hung amid dark green leaves. After a moment's pause
she rejoined, "I do not think Wolfgang Elmhorst a man to allow himself
to be 'raised.'"

"Why, then, should her---- Pardon me, I ought not to say one word in
disapproval of your future relative."

Erna did not reply, and he seemed to take her silence as a permission
to proceed, for he continued, very gravely: "Do you think inclination
plays any part in his suit?"

"No."

The word was uttered with a certain harshness, as the girl's face
leaned half hidden among the crimson flowers.

"Nor do I, and my opinion of Herr Elmhorst is based upon that
conviction. Pray, Fräulein Thurgau, do not inhale the fragrance of
those blossoms so closely; I know the plant,--its odour is delicious
but mischievous, and will give you headache. Be careful."

"You are right," she said, with a deep breath, passing her hand across
her forehead and standing erect. "It is, besides, time that we returned
to the other rooms. May I trouble you, Herr Waltenberg?"

He seemed hardly to agree with this, but nevertheless instantly offered
his arm and conducted her to the ball-room, which was still full.

The court-councillor was sitting in a corner nursing his wrath with
Fran von Lasberg, who seemed inclined to fan the flame. She had
ascertained by questioning the servants that the cards on the table had
really been changed, and her indignation was extreme. She harangued the
unfortunate father of such a daughter in low but expressive tones, and
concluded her discourse with the annihilating declaration, "In short,
the conduct of Herr Gersdorf seems to me outrageous!"

"Yes, it is outrageous!" Ernsthausen murmured in a fury. "And,
moreover, I have been looking for Molly for half an hour to take her
home, and I cannot find her. She is a terrible child!"

"Under no circumstances should I have allowed her to attend this
entertainment," the old lady began again. "When the Frau Baroness
opened her heart to me about the affair, I urged it upon her to have
recourse to vigorous measures."

"And so we have," Ernsthausen declared; "but it is of no use. My wife
is ill with all this worry and vexation, and her indisposition may,
probably will, last for days. I am occupied with my official duties.
Who is to stand guard over the girl meanwhile and frustrate all her
insane schemes?"

"Send Molly to the country to her granduncle," was Frau von Lasberg's
advice. "There no personal intercourse with Gersdorf will be possible,
and if I know the old Baron he will find a means of preventing any
exchange of letters."

The councillor looked as if a ray of light had suddenly invaded the
darkness of his soul; he adopted the suggestion with enthusiasm.

"That is an idea!" he cried. "You are right, madame, perfectly right!
Molly shall go to my uncle immediately,--the day after to-morrow. He
was beside himself at learning of the affair, and will certainly be the
best of guardians. I will write to him early to-morrow morning."

He was so possessed with this thought that he hastily arose, and made a
fresh attempt to find his daughter, but it was a difficult undertaking.
He might as well have given chase to a butterfly, for Molly possessed a
wonderful talent for disappearing just as her father was about to
confront her. Ernst Waltenberg, who had been taken into council by the
lovers twice, acted as a lightning-conductor on this occasion, in view
of the approaching storm, which he diverted by his conversation.
Meanwhile, the little Baroness would disappear among a crowd of her
friends, to come to light again in an entirely different place. She
seemed to regard the company as an assemblage of guardian-angels, to be
used according to her good pleasure, and even the minister, her
father's illustrious chief, who was present, was obliged to serve her
purpose, for she finally took refuge with His Excellency, and
complained in the most moving terms that her father was insisting upon
driving home, when she wanted to stay so much. The old gentleman
instantly espoused the cause of the charming child, and when the
councillor appeared with a stern "Molly, the carriage is waiting," he
kindly interposed with, "Let it wait, my dear councillor. Youth claims
its rights, and I promised the Baroness to intercede for her. You will
stay, will you not?"

Ernsthausen was inwardly raging, while his outward man bowed in polite
assent, in recognition of which his chief engaged him in conversation,
and did not release him until a quarter of an hour had passed. Then,
however, the Baron was determined; he invaded the hostile camp, where
his daughter was seated in great content between Waltenberg and
Gersdorf. The latter approached him with extreme courtesy.

"Herr Councillor, will you kindly appoint an hour when I can call upon
you, either to-morrow or the day after?"

Ernsthausen gave him an annihilating glance: "I regret extremely, Herr
Gersdorf, that pressing business----"

"Quite right, it is that about which I wish to consult with you,"
Gersdorf interposed. "The matter concerns the railway company, whose
legal representative I am, as you know, and His Excellency the minister
has referred me to you. Permit me, however, to visit you at your home
instead of at your office, since I have a private matter also to
discuss with you."

The Baron was unfortunately in no uncertainty as to what this private
matter was, but since he could not refuse to receive the lawyer in his
legal capacity, he stood erect with much dignity and answered, coolly,
"The day after to-morrow, at five in the afternoon, I shall be at your
service."

"I shall be punctual," said Gersdorf, bowing as he took leave of Molly,
who thought best at last to comply with the paternal command and to
allow herself to be taken home. On the staircase, however, she
declared, resolutely, "Papa, the day after to-morrow I will not be
locked up again. I mean to be there when my lover presents himself."

"The day after to-morrow you will be in the country," Ernsthausen
asserted, with emphasis. "You will depart by the early train; I shall
myself see you safely to the railway-carriage, and when you arrive your
grand uncle will receive you, and will keep you with him for the
present."

Molly's curly head emerged from her white hood in speechless horror.
But only for a moment was she silent; then she assumed a warlike
attitude: "I will not go, papa. I will not stay with my granduncle; I
will run away and come back to town on foot."

"You will hardly do that," said the councillor. "I should think you
knew the old gentleman and his principles better. After his death you
will be a most distinguished match,--remember that!"

"I wish my granduncle would go to Monaco and gamble away all his
money," Molly retorted, sobbing angrily, "or that he would adopt some
orphan and leave her every penny he possesses!"

"Good heavens, child, you are mad, absolutely mad!" Ernsthausen
exclaimed in desperation, but the little Baroness went on excitedly:

"Then I should be no match at all, and could marry Albert. I mean to
pray fervently that my granduncle may commit some such folly, in spite
of his seventy years!"

Still sobbing, she sprang into the carriage and buried her face in the
cushions. Her father followed her, muttering, "A terrible child!"

The brilliant rooms gradually became more empty and more quiet. One
after another the guests took their leave, until finally the president,
having bidden farewell to the last, was left alone with Wolfgang in the
spacious reception-room.

"Waltenberg bus invited us to inspect his collection of curios," he
said. "I shall hardly have time to go, but you----"

"I shall have still less," Elmhorst interposed. "The three days at my
disposal are already fully occupied."

"I know, I know, but nevertheless you must escort Alice; she and Erna
have accepted Waltenberg's invitation, and I wish them to go."

Wolfgang was surprised; he looked keenly at his future father-in-law
for an instant, and then asked, hastily, "Who and what is this
Waltenberg, sir? You treat him with extraordinary consideration, and
yet he appeared in your house to-night for the first time. Have you
known him long?"

"Certainly. His father took part in several of my schemes. A capital,
prudent man of business, who would have amassed millions had he lived
longer. Unfortunately, the son has inherited none of his practical
ability. He prefers to travel all over the earth and to consort with
all kinds of savage nations. Well, his property permits him to pursue
such follies, and it has just been nearly doubled. His aunt, his
father's only unmarried sister, died a few months ago, leaving him her
heir. He came home, indeed, only to arrange his affairs, and is already
talking of going away again. An incomprehensible man!"

The tone in which Nordheim spoke of the man for whom he had shown
such consideration betrayed his entire want of sympathy with him
personally, and Elmhorst seemed to be of the same mind, for he
instantly observed,--

"I think him insufferable! At table he talked exclusively of his
travels, and precisely as if he were delivering a lecture. All you
heard was of 'blue depths of water,' 'waving palms,' and 'dreamy
lotus-blossoms.' It was intolerable! Fräulein von Thurgau, however,
seemed quite carried away by it. I must confess, sir, I thought all
this poetic Oriental talk far too confidential for a first interview."

The words were meant to be ironical, but they hardly concealed the
speaker's irritation. The president, however, did not observe it, but
replied, quietly, "In this case I have no objection to such
confidences; quite the contrary."

"That means--you have intentionally brought them together."

"Certainly," Nordheim replied, in some surprise at the eager haste with
which the question was put. "Erna is nineteen; it is time to think
seriously of her settlement in life, and as her relative and guardian
it is my duty to provide for it. The girl is greatly admired in
society, but no one has as yet presented himself as her suitor. She has
no money."

"No, she has no money," Wolfgang repeated as if mechanically, and his
look sought the adjoining room, where the ladies still lingered. Alice
was sitting on the sofa, and Erna stood before her, her slender white
figure framed in by the door-way.

"I cannot blame the men," the president continued. "Erna's only
inheritance is the couple of thousand marks paid for Wolkenstein Court;
and although I shall of course furnish my niece with a trousseau, that
would be nothing for a man whose demands upon life are at all great.
Waltenberg has no need of money,--he is wealthy himself, and of
excellent family; in short, a brilliant match. I planned it immediately
upon his return, and I think it will succeed."

He explained everything in a cool, business-like fashion, as if the
matter under discussion were some new speculation. In fact, the
'settlement' of his niece was for him an affair of business, as had
been his daughter's betrothal. In the one case money was necessary in
exchange for a bride, in the other intelligence and ability, and
Nordheim could express himself with perfect freedom to his future
son-in-law, who occupied the same point of view and had acted upon
principles similar to his own. But just now the young man's face was
strangely pale, and there was an odd expression in the eyes fixed upon
the picture framed in by the arched door-way and brilliantly
illuminated in the candle-light.

"And you think Fräulein von Thurgau is agreed?" he asked, slowly, at
last, without averting his gaze.

"She will not be such a fool as to reject such good fortune. The girl
is, to be sure, possessed by unaccountable fancies, obstinate as her
father, and on certain points not to be controlled. We scarcely
harmonize in our views, any one can see that, but this time I think we
shall agree. Such a man as Waltenberg with his eccentricities is
precisely after Erna's taste. I think her quite capable of accompanying
him in his wanderings, if he cannot make up his mind to relinquish
them."

"And why not?" Wolfgang said, harshly. "It is so uncommonly romantic
and interesting, life in foreign lands with no occupation and no
country. With no duties to exercise any controlling influence, life can
be dreamed away beneath the palms in inactive enjoyment. To me such an
existence, however, seems pitiable; it would be impossible for me."

"You are really indignant," said Nordheim, amazed at this sudden
outburst. "You forget that Waltenberg has always been wealthy. You and
I must work to attain eminence; no such necessity exists for him,--he
has always occupied the height towards which we must climb. Such men
are rarely fit for serious exertion."

He turned to a passing servant and gave him an order. But Wolfgang
stood motionless and gloomy, his gaze still fixed upon the white figure
'compounded as it were of air and Alpine snow, with the white fairylike
flower of its waters crowning its fair hair,' and inaudibly but with
intense bitterness he muttered, "Yes, he is rich, and so he has a right
to be happy."



                             CHAPTER VIII.

                             ANOTHER CLIME.


Waltenberg's dwelling was somewhat remote from the central portion of
the city; it was a fine, spacious villa, surrounded by a garden which
was almost a park. It had been built by the father of the present
possessor, and had been occupied by him until his death. Since then it
had been empty, for the son, always travelling in distant lands, was
far too wealthy to think of renting it. He left it in charge of a
trustworthy person, whose duty it had been to receive, to unpack, and
to arrange the various chests and packages sent home by his master from
time to time, until now, after the lapse of a decade, the closed doors
and windows were again opened, and the desolate rooms showed signs of
occupation.

The large balconied apartment in the middle of the house was still
furnished precisely as it had been in the lifetime of its former
master. There was no magnificence here as in the Nordheim mansion, but
on every hand was to be observed the solid comfort of a well-to-do
burgher. The persons present at this time in the room, however, looked
strangely foreign. A negro black as night, with woolly hair, and a
slender, brown Malay lad, both in fantastic Oriental costume, were busy
arranging a table with flowers and all kinds of fruits, while a third
individual stood in the middle of the room giving the necessary
directions.

The dress of this last was European in cut, and seemed to be something
between the garb of a sailor and that of a farmer. Its wearer was an
elderly man, very tall and thin, but at the same time most powerfully
built. His close-cut hair was grizzled here and there, and his
furrowed, sunburned face was scarcely less brown than that of the
Malay. But from the brown face looked forth a pair of genuine German,
blue eyes, and the words that issued from the man's lips were such
pure, unadulterated German as is spoken only by those to whom it is the
mother-tongue.

"The flowers in the centre!" he ordered. "Herr Waltenberg wishes it to
be romantic; he must have his way. Said, boy, don't stand the silver
épergnes close together like a pair of grenadiers; put them at either
end of the table, and the glasses on the side-table where the wine is to
be served. Do you understand?"

"Oh, yes, master," the negro replied, in English.

"And speak German. Do you not know that we are in Germany, on this
God-forsaken soil where you freeze stiff in March, and where the sun
appears once a month, and then only at the command of the authorities?
I detest it, as does Herr Waltenberg. But you must learn German, or,
true as my name is Veit Gronau, you'll repent it. You're still half a
heathen, and Djelma there is a whole one. See how he stares! Do you
understand a word I say, boy?"

The Malay shook his head. Evidently his progress in the German tongue
was slow, and the negro, who was much farther advanced, was obliged to
come to his assistance frequently.

"It is the master's fault; he talks your gibberish to you too often,"
Veit Gronau grumbled. "If I did not insist upon your speaking German
neither of you would understand a syllable of it. There! now the table
is ready. All fruit and flowers, and nothing really fit to eat and
drink. That, I suppose, is romantic; I think it crazy, which is very
much the same thing, after all."

"Are there ladies coming?" Said asked, inquisitively.

"Unfortunately, yes. It is no pleasure, but an honour, for in this
country they are treated with immense respect, very differently from
your black and brown women; so behave yourselves!"

He would probably have continued his admonitions, but at this moment
the door opened and the master of the house entered. He glanced at the
table loaded with flowers and fruit, signed to Said to retire to the
antechamber, spoke a few words in some Indian tongue to Djelma, who
straightway disappeared, and then turning to Veit Gronau, said,
"President Nordheim has sent an excuse, but the rest are coming; Herr
Gersdorf has also accepted. You will escape for this time the encounter
you have so dreaded, Gronau."

"Dreaded?" the other repeated. "Hardly that! It certainly would have
given me no great pleasure to meet an old playmate with whom I was once
on most familiar terms, and to be honoured by him with a condescending
nod when I was presented to him as a kind of servant."

"As my secretary?" Waltenberg said, with emphasis. "I should not
suppose such a position could be in any wise humiliating."

Gronau shrugged his shoulders: "Secretary, steward, travelling
companion, all in one. True, you have always treated me like a
fellow-countryman, and not as an inferior, Herr Waltenberg. When you
picked me up in Melbourne I was very near starvation, and I should have
starved but for you. God requite you!"

"Nonsense!" said Ernst, repudiating his gratitude almost harshly. "You
were a priceless discovery for me, with your knowledge of languages and
your practical experience, and I think we have been well content with
each other for these six years. So the president was one of your
playmates?"

"Yes, we were the children of neighbours, and grew up together until
life parted us, sending one hither and the other thither. He always
prophesied to me, and to Benno Reinsfeld, who was one of us, that I
should be a poor devil."

Waltenberg had gone to the window, and was looking out with some
impatience while nevertheless listening attentively. The youth of the
man whom he had known only in the midst of wealth and luxury seemed to
interest him.

"Of course all three of us entertained vast schemes for the future,"
Veit continued, with good-humoured self-ridicule. "I was to go abroad
and return a wealthy nabob, Reinsfeld was to astound the world with
some wonderful invention; we were boys who imagined that the universe
belonged to us. But Nordheim, the wise, poured cold water upon our
heated brains. 'Neither of you will ever achieve anything,' said he,
'for you do not understand expediency.' We jeered at the calculator of
twenty with his wonderful sagacity, but he was right. I have wandered
about the world, and have tried my hand at everything, but I have
always been poor as a church mouse, and Reinsfeld with all his talent
was left in the lurch as a paltry engineer, while our comrade Nordheim
is a millionaire and a railway king,--because he understood
expediency."

"He certainly has always understood that," Waltenberg said, coolly. "He
occupies an extremely influential position---- But there come our
guests."

He hastily left the window and went to receive his friends. A carriage
had drawn up before the door, bringing Frau von Lasberg and Alice,
escorted by Elmhorst. Wolfgang had not succeeded in evading the duty of
accompanying his betrothed, and he had no excuse for refusing an
invitation which his future father-in law regarded with such favour. He
therefore submitted to necessity, but any one who knew him could see
that, in spite of the extreme courtesy with which he greeted his host,
he was making a great sacrifice. The two men, who had instinctively
disliked each other from the first, hid their antipathy under a
strictly courteous demeanour.

"Fräulein von Thurgau is late; she drove to the court-councillor's to
call for Baroness Ernsthausen." Frau von Lasberg, who gave this
information, was rather surprised by it herself. She had supposed that
Molly was in the country under the secure guardianship of her
granduncle; instead of which a note had arrived in the morning for Erna
begging her to call for her on her way to Herr Waltenberg's. Her
journey must have been postponed, probably for several days. But the
old lady's surprise was transformed to indignation upon the entrance of
Herr Gersdorf. Actually a rendezvous! And the ladies of Nordheim's
family were made accomplices as it were, since Molly was under their
protection. This must not be concealed from the girl's parents: they
should hear of it this very day; and Frau von Lasberg, who was not at
all inclined to play the part of a guardian-angel, received Herr
Gersdorf with icy coldness. Unfortunately, it did not produce the
slightest impression upon him; there was an expression of great content
upon his grave features, and he took part in the conversation with
unusual readiness.

Meanwhile, Erna had called at the court-councillor's, where she had
waited in the carriage for five minutes before the little Baroness
appeared in a state of great agitation, quite startling her friend by
the stormy embrace with which she greeted her.

"What is the matter, Molly?" she asked. "You seem quite beside
yourself."

"I am betrothed!--betrothed to Albert," the girl exclaimed, "and we are
to be married in three months! Oh, my granduncle is the dearest, most
delightful of men! I could kiss him if he were not so very ugly!"

Erna's composure was not so easily shaken as Molly's, but, knowing as
she did the views of the entire Ernsthausen family, this news was
certainly surprising.

"Your parents have given their consent?" she asked. "And so suddenly?
It seemed quite impossible a few days ago."

"Nothing is impossible!" Molly cried, in a rapture. "Oh, I prayed so
fervently that my granduncle would commit some folly! But I never
dreamed of this; and you will hardly believe it, Erna,--you cannot!"

"Do talk sensibly. Pray explain yourself," said Erna.

"He has married! Seventy, and married! He is a bridegroom. Oh, I shall
die of laughter!" And she did laugh until the tears came.

"The old Baron--married?" Erna repeated, incredulously.

"Yes, to an old maid of irreproachable descent. The affair was arranged
long ago; but it was kept secret, because he was afraid of a scene with
my father and mother. He came to town simply and solely to alter his
will, which was left with his attorney, and immediately after his
return he had the knot tied fast by church and state, and papa says he
has left all his money to his bride, and we shall not have a penny, so
I am no match at all. Think what good luck!"

The young girl ran on without pausing for an instant, so that it was
impossible to interpose a word. She scarcely gave herself time to
take breath before she began again: "They had actually formed a
conspiracy,--papa and your wise old duenna, to whom I owe something for
her conduct as long as I live. I was to be tied up like a parcel and
sent to my granduncle's address. My prayers and tears were of no
avail,--my trunks were packed. Suddenly my granduncle's letter
announcing his marriage fell into the midst of us like a bombshell.
Papa looked ready to have a stroke, mamma went into violent hysterics,
and I danced about my room tossing the things out of my trunks, for of
course the journey was out of the question. The next morning was like
the calm after ten thunder-storms; my granduncle was excommunicated
with bell, book, and candle. There was a secret conference between my
parents, and when Albert came in the afternoon, he was accepted without
a word."

"And you were absolutely happy, I am sure," Erna at last contrived to
interpose.

"No; at first I was angry," Molly declared, with a little grimace,
"Albert behaved so prosaically. Instead of talking of our eternal love
and our half-broken hearts, he told my father the exact amount of his
income, and explained his prospects. Of course I was listening in the
next room, and I was outraged; but papa and mamma seemed really quite
gentle and amiable. At last they called me in, and there was general
embracing and emotion. Of course I cried too, although I would far
rather have danced, and I was provoked with Albert for not shedding a
single tear! A telegram was despatched to my granduncle,--it will
embitter his honeymoon,--and to-morrow the announcements of the
betrothal are to be sent out, and in three months we are to be
married."

In the excess of her happiness the little Baroness threw her arms
around her friend and embraced her afresh. The carriage, however, now
reached its destination, and Molly's supreme moment of triumph was at
hand. While the master of the house was receiving Fräulein von Thurgau,
Gersdorf, secure in his lately-acquired right, hastened towards his
betrothed, thus provoking an indignant glance from Frau von Lasberg. "I
supposed you had already left town, Baroness," she remarked, in her
sharpest tone.

"Oh, no, madame," Molly replied, with the most innocent air. "I did, it
is true, propose to pay my granduncle a visit, but as he is just
married----"

"What?" asked the old lady, imagining she had not heard correctly.

"The marriage of my granduncle, Baron Ernsthausen of Frankenstein, and
my betrothal took place at the same time. Allow me, madame, to present
my betrothed to you."

The smile on Waltenberg's face at these words showed that he was in the
secret, but Frau von Lasberg sat quite dumfounded, and it was not until
all the rest had eagerly pressed around Molly with their wishes for her
happiness that she made up her mind to utter a few formal,
congratulatory words, which the girl received with a smile that was not
without malice. But Molly was too happy to-day to have refused
forgiveness to her worst enemy, and her brilliant gaiety was
contagious. All present seemed greatly to enjoy the occasion, although,
as Gronau expressed it, 'there was nothing fit to eat.' He required
some refreshment more solid than fruit, rare as such exquisite fruit
was at this season of the year, and something better to drink than the
heavy, fragrant cordial, which could be but sparingly sipped. The
ladies, however, did not seem to share his opinion, and all left the
table in a most cheerful mood to inspect the host's collection, which
occupied the entire upper story.

Waltenberg conducted his guests up the staircase, and when the tall
folding-doors opened into the suite of rooms, the entire party seemed
suddenly transported as by magic from the gray wintry atmosphere of
this northern March day to the sunny, glowing East.

Foreign treasures from every zone were here heaped up in such lavish
profusion as only years spent abroad, and abundant means, could make
possible; but the arrangement of this almost priceless collection would
have driven a man of science to despair. There was not the faintest
attempt at order of a scientific kind,--picturesque effect alone was
aimed at, and this was achieved; groups of exotic plants placed here
and there combined to present a picture before which all preconceived
ideas of a genuine 'collection' vanished.

Rugs of the richest Oriental fabrics and colours covered the walls and
draped the windows and tables; gorgeously ornamented weapons were hung
against these tapestries; cabinets contained specimens of glass and
porcelain exquisite in hue and shape; skins of tigers and lions were
spread upon the floor; and Said and Djelma in their fantastic costume
added to the foreign effect, which was heightened by the yellow light
which penetrated the coloured glass of the windows and bathed the whole
in what seemed a magical southern sunshine.

Waltenberg was a delightful cicerone. He led his guests from one room
to another, explaining and pointing out rare objects of art, and
enjoying to the full their appreciation of his treasures. As he told of
how and where this and that article had been obtained, his hearers were
impressed with the strange, unreal character of the life the man had
led. It was natural that he should address himself especially to Erna,
for the girl's remarks showed intense interest in the fantastic
character of her surroundings. Elmhorst preserved a courteous but cold
reserve in his expressions of admiration, and Alice and Frau von
Lasberg were soon wearied.

Gersdorf, who was familiar with his friend's collection, played the
part of guide to his betrothed; by no means an easy task, for while
Molly desired to see and to admire everything, her chief object of
interest was her Albert. She fluttered about like some gay butterfly
just escaped from the chrysalis, and was so like a joyous child at
sight of each new and rare object, that Frau von Lasberg felt it her
duty to interfere, although she knew well how little such interference
would avail. She actually barred the young girl's way while Gersdorf
was talking with Alice.

"My dear Baroness, I really must remind you that there are proprieties
which a young girl must observe when she is betrothed. She should
preserve her feminine dignity, and not proclaim to all the world that
she is quite beside herself with delight. A betrothal is----"

"Something heavenly!" Molly interrupted her. "I should like to know how
my granduncle behaved; if he longed to dance all day long as I do?"

"One would suppose you still a child, Molly," the old lady said,
indignantly. "Look at Alice; she too is betrothed, and has been so for
only a few days."

Molly clasped her hands with an expression of mock horror: "Oh, yes,
but heaven defend me from a lover like hers!"

"Baroness, you forget yourself!"

"Indeed I cannot help it, madame; but Alice is quite content, and Herr
Elmhorst is the pink of courtesy. All that one hears is, 'Does this
please you, my dear Alice?' and, 'Just as you choose, my dear Alice.'
Always polite, always considerate. But if Albert should treat me with
such cool deference, his manner always at the freezing-point, I should
straightway send him back his ring."

Frau von Lasberg heaved a long sigh. It was plainly impossible to
impress Molly with a sense of decorum, and she held her peace,
whereupon the girl, forgetting all the old Baroness's admonitions, shot
off like an arrow to rejoin her lover.

Meanwhile, Elmhorst had entered into conversation with Veit Gronau, who
had been presented to him as to the rest as Waltenberg's private
secretary, and who, true to his expressed opinion that the presence of
ladies was an honour but not a pleasure, held himself aloof from them.
Of course they talked of the objects about them, and Wolfgang said,
pointing to the negro and the Malay, who were busy in bringing forward
for closer inspection various articles indicated by their master, "Herr
Waltenberg seems to prefer foreigners for servants; and you too, Herr
Secretary, in spite of your name and your German tongue, appear to me
more than half a foreigner."

"You are right," Gronau assented. "I have been away from Germany for
twenty-five years, and never thought to see old Europe again. I met
Herr Waltenberg in Australia; that black fellow there, Said, we brought
back from an African tour, and we picked up Djelma only the year before
last, in Ceylon, which is why he is still so stupid. We lack only a
pig-tailed Chinaman and a cannibal from the South Seas to make our
menagerie complete."

"There is no disputing about tastes," Elmhorst said, with a shrug; "but
I am afraid that Herr Waltenberg has become so entirely estranged from
his native land in all his habits of life that he will find it
impossible to live here."

"We have no idea of doing so," Veit replied, with blunt frankness. "How
under heaven could we ever reconcile ourselves to the dull existence
led here? We shall leave Germany as soon as possible."

Involuntarily Wolfgang breathed a sigh of relief. "You appear to have
no special love for your native land," he observed.

"None at all. As Herr Waltenberg says, one must outgrow all national
prejudices. He delivered me a long sermon upon that text when on the
ship coming home a bragging American undertook to revile Germany."

"What! you quarrelled with him for so speaking?"

"Not exactly. I only knocked him down," Veit said, coolly. "It did not
come to a quarrel; he picked himself up and ran to the captain, who
made himself rather disagreeable, but Herr Waltenberg finally
interfered, and paid the man for his outraged dignity, and I was quite
a distinguished person thereafter. Not another word was uttered in
dispraise of Germany."

"I had a deal of trouble, however, in arranging the affair," said
Waltenberg, who overheard the last words. "If the man had refused to be
appeased, we should have had no end of annoyance. You behaved like an
irritable game-cock, Gronau, and the provocation was not worth it."

"Why, what would you have had me do?" growled Gronau.

"Shrug your shoulders and keep silent. Of what importance is the
opinion of a stranger? The man had a right to his views, as you had to
yours."

"You seem indeed to have outgrown all 'national prejudice,' Herr
Waltenberg," Wolfgang said, with evident irony.

"I certainly consider it an honourable distinction to be as free from
prejudice as possible."

"But under certain circumstances one neither could nor should be thus
free. Doubtless you are right, but I should have been in the wrong with
Herr Gronau; I should have acted as he did."

"Indeed, Herr Elmhorst? Such sentiments from you surprise me."

"Why from _me_?" The tone in which the question was put was sharp and
cold.

"Because you seem to me perfectly capable of preserving your
self-control. Your entire personality is indicative of such decision,
such perfect command of circumstances, that I am convinced you always
know what you are about. Unfortunately, that is not so with us
idealists; we ought to learn of you."

The words sounded courteous, but the sting in them made itself felt,
and Elmhorst was not a man to allow them to pass unresented. His look
grew dark: "Ah, indeed? You consider yourself an idealist, Herr
Waltenberg?"

"I do,--or do you count yourself among them?"

"No," Wolfgang said, coldly; "but among those quick to resent an
insult."

His attitude and manner were so provoking that Waltenberg perceived the
necessity for moderation, although his nature rebelled against yielding
to the 'fortune-hunter' who confronted him so proudly. What turn the
conversation might have taken, however, it is impossible to say, for
Herr Gersdorf here interrupted it. He had no suspicion of what was
going on, and turned to Wolfgang with, "I have just heard, Herr
Elmhorst, that you leave town to-morrow. May I beg you to carry my warm
remembrances to my cousin Reinsfeld?"

"I will do so with pleasure, Herr Gersdorf. I may tell him of your
betrothal?"

"Certainly. I shall write to him shortly, and trust we may see him upon
our wedding-tour."

Waltenberg had turned away, quite conscious that he could not possibly
provoke a quarrel with his guest, and well pleased that Gersdorf had
intervened. Veit Gronau, however, seemed suddenly interested.

"Pardon me, gentlemen," said he: "you mentioned a name which I remember
from the time of my boyhood. Are you speaking of the engineer Benno
Reinsfeld?"

"No, but of his son," Gersdorf said, in some surprise,--"a young
physician, and a friend of Herr Elmhorst's."

"And the father?"

"Dead, more than twenty years ago."

Gronau's rugged features worked strangely, and he hastily passed his
hand across his eyes:

"Ah, yes, I might have known it. When one inquires after twenty-five
years he finds death has been busy among his friends and comrades. And
so Benno Reinsfeld is gone! He was the best of us all, and the most
talented. I suppose his inventive genius never brought him wealth?"

"Had he a gift that way?" asked Gersdorf. "I never heard of it, and it
was never recognized, for he died a simple engineer. His son has had to
make his own way in the world, and has become a very clever physician,
as Herr Elmhorst will tell you."

"An extremely skilful physician," Elmhorst declared; "only too modest.
He has no capacity for bringing himself and his talent into notice."

"Just like his father," said Gronau. "He always allowed himself to be
thrust aside and made use of by any one who knew how to do so. God rest
his soul! he was the kindest, most faithful comrade man ever had!"

Meanwhile, Waltenberg had joined Erna von Thurgau at the other end of
the room. He had just shown her a rarely beautiful specimen of coral,
and as he replaced it he said, "Have you been at all interested? I
should be so glad if my 'treasures,' as you call them, could arouse
more than a fleeting interest with you; I might then look for some
indulgence in those grave eyes, in which I seem always to read
reproach. Confess, Fräulein von Thurgau, that you cannot forgive the
cosmopolite for becoming so entirely estranged from his home."

"At least I can now make excuses for him," said Erna, smiling. "This
enchanted domain is fascinatingly bewildering; it is difficult, nay,
almost impossible, to withstand its spell."

"And yet these are only the mute, dead witnesses of a life
inexhaustible in beauty and charm. If you could see it all in its home
where it belongs, you would understand why I cannot exist beneath these
cold northern skies, why I am so powerfully attracted to lands of
sunshine. You too would find their charm irresistible."

"Perhaps so. And still I might be possessed in your lands of sunshine
by intense yearning for the cool mountains of my home. But we will not
dispute about a question that only a trial could decide, a trial that I
shall hardly make."

"Why should you not make it?"

"Because such an amount of freedom is not accorded to my sex. We cannot
wander about the world alone at will as you do."

"Alone!" Ernst repeated, in a low tone. "But you might trust yourself
to a protector, a guide who would reveal this new world to you, whose
delight it would be to unlock its pleasures for you. You may visit it
some day with such a one beside you."

His last words were spoken so as to be audible to Erna alone. She
looked up at him in surprise, and encountered a glance of such
unmistakable passion that she changed colour and involuntarily turned
aside.

"It is very improbable," she said, coldly. "One must have a natural
inclination for such a life, and I----"

"You are made for it," he eagerly interrupted her,--"you alone among
hundreds of women. I am sure of it."

"Are you so wonderfully gifted with insight, Herr Waltenberg?" the girl
asked, calmly. "We meet today for the second time,--surely your
estimate of the character of a stranger is overbold."

The rebuff was evident; Waltenberg bit his lip. "You are right,
Fräulein von Thurgau," he replied, "perfectly right. In this world of
forms and unrealities one may easily be mistaken in an estimate of
character. There is no intensity of feeling here, and an ardent word
that rises involuntarily to the lips may well be accounted overbold.
All here must conform to times and rules. I beg pardon for my
inadvertence."

He bowed and joined the other ladies. Erna felt relieved by his
absence; she had received his evident attentions without attaching any
importance to them, without a suspicion of her uncle's plans. It
certainly was bold to address her thus in a second interview, but it
was not offensive, and she--she liked what was bold and unusual,
inconsistent with form and rule. Why did she so shrink from his
half-concealed declaration? Why did a kind of terror possess her at the
thought of ever being obliged to face the question at which he had
hinted? She could not answer.

Frau von Lasberg now rose to go. In truth, the visit had been greatly
prolonged, and all took leave. Farewells and courteous expressions of
pleasure were interchanged, and Ernst Waltenberg took pains to show
himself to the last the amiable, courteous host. But he hardly
succeeded in controlling the mood which his conversation with Erna had
induced. There was a degree of constraint in his manner of taking leave
of his guests, and he was relieved by their departure. He stood looking
gloomily after the carriages as they rolled away, and then turned back
to the deserted rooms.

He was deeply wounded and vexed by the rebuff he had met with. It
grated upon his impassioned nature like a breath from the icy north
which he so detested; he retired to his beloved Orient, which here
surrounded him with its lights and colour. But something of the chill
seemed to linger here,--everything looked dreary and colourless,--it
was, after all, but a lifeless image of the reality.

"Mister Gronau, what ails the master?" asked Said, who appeared after a
while with Djelma in the balconied room to clear away the table. "He
wants to be alone; he's in a very bad humour."

"Yes, very bad," Djelma added, quick to use the few German words he
knew.

Veit Gronau had also observed the master's change of mood, but could
find no explanation for it. However, in his reply to the servants he
unconsciously hit the nail upon the head. He said, briefly, "It is all
because he invited ladies. Wherever there are ladies there is always
sure to be trouble."

"What, always?" asked Said, who seemed hardly to understand.

"Always!" Gronau declared, impressively. "No matter whether they are
white or brown or black, they always make trouble. And so the only
thing to do is to keep out of their way. Remember that, you
scoundrels."



                              CHAPTER IX.

                       THE HERR PRESIDENT SPEAKS.


Summer had come; it was only early summer still however, in the
mountains, for it was the middle of June; but the woods and meadows
were clothed in fresh green, and only the loftiest peaks wore the
mantle of snow which was never laid aside. Up there neither spring,
summer, nor autumn had any existence: winter reigned in eternal, icy
splendour.

The extensive Alpine valley which three years ago lay undisturbed in
its solemn, dreary solitude, now showed all the traces of the human
intellect which was then just invading it with its host of obedient
forces. Dark openings yawned in the walls of rock, and from the depths
a narrow path wound upward in serpentine lines,--the iron road to which
forest and rock had been forced to yield,--while across the Wolkenstein
chasm the masterpiece of the whole gigantic undertaking, the bridge,
now wellnigh completed, seemed to hover in air above the dizzy depths.

It had been no easy task to build this railway, and the Wolkenstein
domain had presented the greatest obstacles to its completion. They
seemed actually to spring out of the ground at every step; the
most careful calculations continually turned out to be imperfect,
well-devised schemes proved ineffectual, unforeseen catastrophes
occurred, and more than once imperilled the success of the undertaking.

But the man who conducted the road through the Wolkenstein section was
equal to every difficulty, was daunted by no obstacle, discouraged by
no catastrophe. He proceeded on his way with his myrmidons, step by
step subjecting to his sway the rugged and hitherto unquelled nature of
the Alpine fastnesses.

The railway company was well aware of the force it possessed in its
superintending engineer, and now extolled the wisdom of its president
in the choice it had at first opposed. Gradually a power to act almost
without limits was placed in the hands of the young man, and he knew
well how to keep and to use it. The engineer-in-chief had long given
nothing save his name to the undertaking; every project, every
decision, was the work of his energetic and talented chief of staff,
and when the young man was betrothed to Nordheim's daughter and became
the probable heir to millions, all opposition was mute,--everything
bowed before him.

Every trace of Wolkenstein Court had vanished; it was levelled to the
ground the year in which its master closed his eyes forever. There was
no longer any need to regard the feelings of the eccentric old man
whose heart had been broken by the invasion of his home. On the spot
where the ancestral abode of the Thurgaus had once stood there was now
a stately structure, the future railway-station, built just at the
entrance of the huge bridge. Until the line of railway should be opened
in the coming spring, the building was occupied by various offices, and
Superintendent Elmhorst had his rooms in the upper story. It formed, so
to speak, the head-quarters of the Wolkenstein section, and the centre
of gravitation of the entire railway.

Wolfgang had established himself here after the manner which had become
a necessity to him since his salary had been increased. The bright,
spacious apartments had a most comfortable aspect, the pleasantest
being his office, with its dark hangings and rugs, its carved oaken
furniture, and its well-filled bookshelves. The corner window before
which the writing-table was placed commanded the entire view of the
great bridge. The bold structure was always before the eyes of its
architect.

Elmhorst sat at his writing-table talking with Benno Reinsfeld, who had
just appeared. The young physician was unchanged in person and manner,
except that he had become rather more unconventional and awkward. Long
years passed in a retired mountain-village, the laborious nature of the
practice of a country doctor, and constant intercourse with men for
whom the forms of society did not exist, had produced their effect.

At present, indeed, the Herr Doctor was in full dress; he wore a black
coat, which saw the light only on state occasions; unfortunately, its
cut was that of ten years previous. He certainly did not show in it to
advantage, it pinched him too much; his gray jacket and felt hat were
infinitely more comfortable. There was no denying that Reinsfeld looked
a good deal like a peasant, and he was probably conscious of it
himself, for he was enduring with a very meek air the reproaches of his
friend, who shook his head as he looked at him.

"Do you want me to present you to the ladies in that coat?" he said,
irritably. "Why did you not put on your dress-coat, at least?"

"I have no dress-coat," Benno said, by way of excuse. "There is no use
for one here, and it would have been a needless expense; but I have had
my old hat ironed out, and I bought myself a pair of gloves in
Heilborn."

He produced from his pocket as he spoke a huge pair of gloves,
intensely yellow of hue, and displayed them with much self-satisfaction
to his friend, who looked at them in dismay.

"But, good heavens, you are not going to wear those monsters!" he
cried. "They are a great deal too big for you."

"But they are quite new, and such a fine yellow," Benno rejoined,
disappointed, for he had reckoned upon some expression of approval of
his unwonted outlay in the interest of his toilet, having made up his
mind to such expense only after due consideration.

"You will cut a pretty figure at the Nordheims'," said Elmhorst,
shrugging his shoulders. "There is positively nothing to be done with
you."

"Wolf, must I pay this visit?" the doctor asked, in a tone of piteous
entreaty.

"Yes, Benno, you must. I want you to treat Alice while she is here, for
her wretched health makes me very anxious. She has had all sorts of
physicians in town and at Heilborn, but each one's diagnosis is
different from all the rest, and not one of them has done her any good.
You know how highly I rate your medical skill, and you will not refuse
to do me this favour."

"Certainly not, if you desire it; but you know my reasons for wishing
to avoid any personal intercourse with the president."

"What! that old difference with your father? After all these years, who
remembers it? Hitherto, in accordance with your wishes, I have not
mentioned your name, but now when I ask your help for my betrothed
I am forced to introduce you. Besides, you will not meet my future
father-in-law, for he was going back to town this morning. Confess,
Benno, your true reason is that you are so used to practising among
your peasants that you would if you could avoid intercourse with
ladies."

Perhaps he was right in this conjecture, for Reinsfeld did not
contradict him, he only sighed profoundly.

"You will absolutely degenerate in the life you lead," Wolfgang went
on, impatiently. "Here you have been planted for five years in this
wretched little mountain-nest with a practice which makes the most
tremendous demands upon you, and brings you but the poorest
remuneration, and here you will perhaps stay all your life, only
because you have not the courage to grasp anything else that offers.
How can you endure such an existence?"

"My home certainly does present an aspect unlike that of your rooms,"
said Benno, good-humouredly, as he looked around him. "But you always
had the tastes of a millionaire, and years ago you determined to be
one, and you understand how to grasp fortune boldly; no one can deny
that."

Elmhorst frowned, and replied, in an irritated tone, "What! you too?
Must I always be assailed by these hints as to Nordheim's wealth, as if
my importance were entirely due to my betrothal? Am I nothing of myself
any longer?"

Reinsfeld looked at him in surprise: "What do you mean, Wolf? You know
that I enjoy your good fortune with all my heart, but you are strangely
sensitive whenever I allude to it, although you certainly have every
reason to be proud, for if ever a man achieved a speedy and brilliant
success, you are that man."

Upon Wolfgang's writing-table stood a photograph of Alice in a
richly-carved frame. It was a likeness, but a very unflattering one;
there was little justice done to the delicacy of her features, and the
eyes were entirely without expression. That slender, overdressed girl
produced the impression of one of those nervous, superficial creatures
who are so frequently to be met with in the fashionable world. This
seemed to be Dr. Reinsfeld's opinion; he looked at his friend and then
at the picture, remarking, drily, "Your attainment of your goal,
however, has not made you happy."

Wolfgang turned upon him: "Why not? What do you mean?"

"Come, come, do not be angry again. I cannot help it, you are much
changed from the Wolfgang of a few months ago. I hear of your
betrothal, and expect you to return to me beaming with the triumphant
consciousness of the realization of all your plans, instead of which
you are now always grave, not to say out of humour, and irritable to a
degree,--you who used to be so even-tempered. What is the matter with
you, Wolf? tell me."

"Nothing. Let me alone," was the rather peevish reply; but Benno went
up to him and laid his hand upon his shoulder:

"If your betrothal had been an affair of the heart I should think
something there had gone wrong, but----"

"I have no heart; you have told me so often enough," Wolfgang
interposed, bitterly.

"No, you have nothing but ambition,--absolutely nothing," Reinsfeld
rejoined, seriously.

Elmhorst made an impatient gesture: "Don't lecture me again, Benno! You
know we never shall understand each other on that point. You are, and
always will be----"

"An overstrained idealist who would rather eat dry bread with the
darling of his heart than drive about in a gorgeous equipage beside a
grand wife whom he did not love. Yes, I am unpractical in the extreme,
and since at present I have not bread enough for two, it is fortunate
that there is no darling of my heart."

"We must go," said Wolfgang, rising; "Alice expects me at twelve
o'clock. And now do me the favour to look your best. I do not believe
you know even how to make a bow."

"My patients are glad enough to be cured without one," said Benno,
defiantly. "And if I do you no credit in your betrothed's society, it
is your own fault: why do you take me there like a lamb led to the
slaughter? I suppose Fräulein von Thurgau is there too?"

"She is."

"And has she grown to be a grand lady too?"

"I suppose you would call her so."

These answers were not very reassuring to the poor doctor, who looked
forward to this visit with positive dread. He did not rebel, however,
for he was accustomed to yield to his friend. So he took from the table
his hat, which, in spite of its late ironing, did not belie its years,
and prepared to draw on the yellow gloves, saying, submissively, "Well,
then, what must be, must."

Beyond the line of railway, about half a mile from the future station,
lay the president's new villa. The house, built after the fashion
common in the mountains, with an overhanging roof and graceful
galleries, accorded well with its surroundings, while everything within
was arranged to suit the grand scale upon which Nordheim's mode of life
was conducted. The views of the finest portions of the mountain-range
were magnificent, the meadows about the villa had been laid out in
gardens, and the adjoining forest so cleared as to form a natural park.
There had been an immense outlay of money that the place might serve
for a six-weeks' residence in the summer, but Nordheim never took the
expense into account when he laid his plans, and had given his
architect _carte blanche_. Elmhorst had, in fact, created a masterpiece
of beauty in this mountain-retreat, and it was to be his wife's
property.

Within, all appearance of simplicity vanished. The sunlight came
through costly coloured glass to fall upon brilliant rugs and hangings,
while carpeted stairs and corridors led to suites of apartments which,
if not so splendid as those in the city, quite equalled them in luxury,
and from every room there was an exquisite distant view.

Hither the president had now brought his family, and Alice was to pass
the summer months here for the sake of the mountain-air which had been
prescribed for her. As usual, Nordheim himself had no time to spend in
relaxation; he stayed only long enough to oversee the work on the
railway before he was recalled to town by business. He had intended to
take his departure in the early morning, but several letters had
arrived to which he was obliged to attend, and this had delayed him for
a few hours. His carriage was waiting while he himself sought out his
niece, with whom he wished to speak before leaving for town.

Erna's room was in the upper story; the glass door leading out upon the
balcony was open, and outside lay Griff comfortably stretched out in
the sunshine.

The dog was almost the only relic left the girl of her home; but Griff
she had insisted upon taking with her when she left Wolkenstein Court,
in spite of the opposition of her uncle and of Frau von Lasberg, who
could not endure 'the creature.' At the suggestion of leaving it behind
there had been a scene; Erna had positively refused to go from the
house unless Griff accompanied her, and Nordheim had yielded at
last upon condition that the dog was never to be admitted to the
drawing-room.

This condition had been fulfilled; and, moreover. Griff had grown
extremely well behaved, and it would now never have occurred to him to
raise a riot in any room. He was no longer a puppy, but had developed
into a magnificent animal. There was something lionlike in his
appearance as he lay with huge, tawny paws stretched out, his large
black eyes following every movement of his young mistress.

Something special must have occurred to bring the president thus to
Erna. He was wont to have neither time nor inclination for the joys of
domesticity; he was absent from his home for weeks and months at a
time, and when there, was seen by his family only at meal-times. Even
his relations with his daughter were far from intimate, and with his
niece he stood on a very formal footing. He lived and moved in the
world of affairs; everything else was subordinate to his business
interests.

He entered Erna's room in his travelling-suit, and said, without
sitting down and as if by the way, "I wanted to tell you that an hour
ago I had a letter from Waltenberg. He came to Heilborn yesterday,
intending to spend some weeks there, and will probably pay you a visit
to-morrow."

The words seemed to be carelessly spoken, but they were accompanied by
a keen glance at Erna, who received the intelligence with indifference,
and replied, "Indeed? I will let Alice and Frau von Lasberg know."

"Frau von Lasberg knows it already, and will pay him all requisite
attention; but I should wish a certain regard accorded him
from--another quarter. Do you hear, Erna?"

"I was not aware, uncle, that I had seemed regardless of your guest."

"My guest? As if you did not know as well as I what attracts him to
this house, and what has brought him to Heilborn. He wishes to know his
fate with certainty, and I cannot blame him for wearying, after being
trifled with all these months."

"I have never trifled with Herr von Waltenberg," Erna rejoined, coolly.
"I merely thought it best to maintain a degree of reserve with him,
since he seems to imagine that he has only to stretch out his hand to
obtain whatever he may desire."

"Well, we will not dispute about that, for you seem to have pursued
precisely the right course, with your cool reserve. Men like
Waltenberg, who make a positive cult of their liberty, and regard all
family ties as so many fetters, need to be dealt with very carefully.
Too ready a welcome might have made him shy. What is withheld attracts
him."

The girl's eyes flashed indignantly: "Such calculation is yours, uncle,
not mine!"

"No matter, if it is correct," said Nordheim, paying no heed to the
reproach contained in her words. "I have refrained from interfering
hitherto because I saw that the affair was progressing as I would have
it, but now I desire you no longer to avoid a declaration on
Waltenberg's part. I have no doubt that he will shortly propose to you,
and your answer----"

"May, perhaps, not accord with his wishes," Erna completed the
sentence.

The president turned and looked searchingly at his niece: "What does
that mean? You would not be insane enough to reject him?"

She was silent, but the same obstinacy was legible in her face that had
characterized the girl of sixteen. Nordheim probably recognized the
look and what it foreboded, for he frowned darkly.

"Erna, I confidently expect to find no obstacles in the way of my
serious and well-considered plans. The matter in question is your
marriage with a man----"

"Whom I do not love," she interrupted him.

Nordheim smiled, half contemptuously, half compassionately: "I supposed
there was some exaggerated nonsense in the background. Love! What are
called love-matches always end in disappointment. A marriage should be
contracted upon a more sensible basis, and Alice sets you an example.
Do you suppose that she was influenced by any romantic ideas in her
betrothal, or that they have any weight with Wolfgang?"

"Oh, no; least of all with _him_," Erna said, with evident contempt.

"Which, of course, amounts to a crime in your eyes! Nevertheless I
confide to him my daughter's future in the conviction that he will be
to her an excellent husband. I certainly should not have chosen an
enthusiast for my son-in-law. Waltenberg indeed can allow himself any
luxury in the way of romance,--his means are ample. He is as eccentric
as yourself; in fact, you are extremely alike, and I cannot understand
what objection you can have to him."

"His egotism! He lives only for himself and for what he considers the
enjoyment of life. He knows neither country nor profession, neither
duty nor ambition, nor does he choose to know them, because they might
disturb his enjoyment. Such a man can never live a life of earnest
endeavour; he has no future, nor can he love a wife, for he loves
himself alone."

"He offers you his hand, however, and that is the matter to be
considered at present. If you require in your future husband only
ambition and energy, you should have married Wolfgang. He _has_ a
future,--for that I'll go warrant."

Erna shrank from him, and her tone was almost sharp as she exclaimed,
"Spare me such jests, uncle, I pray you."

"I am not given to jesting; but, by the way, Erna, your relations with
Wolfgang are very unpleasant, and the manner in which you conduct
yourselves towards each other is most disagreeable for those about you.
Let me seriously request you to modify the extreme coldness of your
manner to him. But to return to the subject of our talk. You seem to
think that you have but to make your choice among a crowd of suitors of
one who shall conform to your ideal. I regret being obliged to show you
your mistake, but the truth is, you have no choice. A girl without
means will certainly be admired and flattered if she is beautiful, but
married she will not be, for men are very calculating. This offer is
the first you have had, and will probably be the only one; moreover, it
is a more brilliant one than you had any right to expect. There is
every reason why you should accept it."

His words were not uttered in a tone of well-meant admonition; there
was something indescribably heartless and offensive in the way in which
President Nordheim explained to his niece that in spite of her beauty
she had no claim to be loved and wooed, since she was poor. Erna turned
pale, and her lip quivered, but her face was by no means expressive of
docility.

"And if, notwithstanding all this, I do not accept it?" she asked,
slowly.

"Then you must abide by the consequences. Your position will hardly be
an enviable one if you remain unmarried. Alice is to be married next
year, as you know."

"And in the same year I shall be of age--and free!"

"Free!" sneered Nordheim. "How grand it sounds! Have you, then, been
fettered in chains in my house, where you were received as a daughter?
or are you longing for your patrimony? It is the merest pittance, and
you are accustomed to the requirements of a lady."

"I lived with my father in the simplest way," said Erna, bitterly, "and
we were happy. I have never been so in your house."

The president shrugged his shoulders: "Yes, you are emphatically your
father's daughter. He too preferred to live in a peasant's hut rather
than, with his ancient name, to have a career in the world. Well,
Waltenberg offers you the freedom for which you pine. As his wife you
can have wealth and position; he will fulfil your every wish, gratify
your every whim, if you but understand how to manage him. For the last
time I entreat you to take a rational view of the matter. If you refuse
to do so, you and I have done with each other. I have no toleration for
exaggerations, which appear to be hereditary in the Thurgau family."

Erna made no reply, and her uncle seemed to expect none, for he turned
to go, pausing, however, on the threshold of the door to say, with
frigid emphasis, "I confidently hope to find you betrothed when I
return. Farewell!"

He left the room, and a few minutes afterwards his carriage rolled down
the road.

Erna threw herself into an arm-chair, more agitated than she had cared
to show to a man so cold,--a man who regarded her marriage as solely a
business arrangement.

Betrothed! She had a dread of the word, so apt to beguile a maiden's
ear; and yet she was beloved by this man: the only one who never
questioned whether she were rich or poor, but asked only to carry her
from this house, where money was all in all, far away into a world of
freedom and beauty! Perhaps she might learn to love him, perhaps, in
spite of all, he was worthy to be loved. Could she not overcome
herself?

She covered her face with her hands. Suddenly she was aware of a gentle
touch. Griff had approached unperceived, and was close beside her. He
laid his huge head in her lap, and looked at her inquiringly out of his
beautiful, large eyes as if he felt his young mistress's grief. She
looked up; the dog was the only thing preserved to her from the time of
her sunny, happy youth among the mountains with her father, whose
idolized darling she had been. He had long been at peace in the grave,
his dear old home had vanished from the face of the earth, and his only
child lived among those who were strangers to her in spite of the ties
of kinship.

Suddenly the girl sobbed aloud, and as she threw her arms about the
dog's neck she whispered, "Oh, Griff, if we were only in Wolkenstein
Court once more! if these strangers had only never come! They brought
death to your master, and to me what was far worse!"



                               CHAPTER X.

                         A PROFESSIONAL VISIT.


The president's carriage was rolling along the mountain-road, the only
one available until the railway should be opened, when Elmhorst and
Reinsfeld left the former's rooms and took their way to the villa.
Elmhorst of course did not wait to be announced,--the servants bowed
low before the future son-in-law of the house, and he conducted his
friend to the drawing-room. If the doctor had dreaded the visit
beforehand, he was now completely crushed by his unaccustomed
surroundings.

The room, with its luxurious carpets, its curtains admitting only a
half light, its pale-blue hangings and furniture, seemed to him like
some fairy realm. There were a few pictures on the walls, and a
statuette of white marble peeped forth from a group of flowering plants
that perfumed the air. All here was as fresh and delicate as though it
had been Elf-land.

Unfortunately, Benno was not accustomed to the society of elves. He
stumbled over the carpet, dropped his hat, and in stooping to pick it
up wellnigh overturned a little table, which nothing but Wolfgang's
dexterity preserved from a fall. He mutely endured the unavoidable
introduction, made an awkward bow, and when Frau von Lasberg's cold,
stern face arose upon his vision scanning 'this strange person' with
evident surprise, he lost all self-possession.

Elmhorst frowned: he had not fancied it would be quite so bad as this;
still, there was no retreat: the interview had to be gone through with,
although, to poor Benno's great relief, he made it as short as
possible. The embarrassed visitor held the recovered hat tightly in the
hands adorned with the yellow gloves which were far too large, while
his friend presented him to his betrothed.

"You have promised me, dear Alice, to consult Dr. Reinsfeld, and this
is he. You know how anxious I am about your health."

The tone in which the words were spoken was anxious and considerate,
but there was no tenderness in it. Reinsfeld, who had been quite
crushed by the magnificence of the Baroness, scarcely dared to lift his
eyes to the young heiress, who, he was sure, must be infinitely
haughtier and more magnificent. He stood like a victim at the altar,
when suddenly the gentlest voice in the world addressed him: "I am so
very glad to see you, Herr Doctor; Wolfgang has told me so much about
you."

He looked up amazed into a pair of large brown eyes in which there was
certainly no disdain. His head had been filled with the satin-clad and
lace-shrouded lady of the photograph, but in her stead he saw a
delicate little figure in a thin, white morning-gown, her light-brown
hair twisted in a loose knot, her lovely face pale and weary, but the
reverse of haughty. He was positively startled, and stammered something
about 'exceeding pleasure,' and 'great honour,' soon, however, coming
to a stand-still.

Wolfgang came to his aid with some remark as to the purpose of the
visit, wishing to afford his friend an opportunity to show himself at
his best as the skilful physician. But to-day Benno belied his entire
nature. He asked several questions, but his manner was that of one
suing for mercy; he stammered, he blushed like a girl, and, worse than
all, he was conscious of how unbecoming was his behaviour. This robbed
him of the last remnant of self-possession; he sat gazing at the young
lady imploringly, as if entreating her forgiveness for annoying her by
his presence.

Whether it were this same imploring expression or the childlike
sincerity and gentleness, which, in spite of the young man's
embarrassment, were evident in the dark-blue eyes lifted to her own,
that touched Alice, she suddenly felt moved to say, with extreme
kindness, "You will hardly be able to judge of my health in this first
visit, Herr Doctor, but be sure that I shall place implicit confidence
in Wolfgang's friend."

And she held out to him a transparent little hand, which lay like a
rose-leaf in his own as he said, with far more earnestness than the
occasion warranted, "Oh, thank you, thank you, Fräulein Nordheim!"

Frau von Lasberg's face plainly showed her doubt of the capacity of a
physician whose first visit to a patient so overwhelmed him with
stammering confusion, and who was so profusely grateful for nothing.
And this man was Elmhorst's friend, and Alice seemed quite content. The
old lady shook her head, and said, with much reserve, "You are wont to
be very chary of your confidence, my dear Alice."

"I am all the more pleased that she should make an exception in my
friend's favour," Wolfgang interposed. "You will not regret it, Alice.
I assure you, Benno's acquirements and skill will bear comparison with
those of his most distinguished fellows. I am always remonstrating with
him for not exercising them in a wider field. He is sacrificing his
life here in a subordinate position, and only last year he refused a
most advantageous offer."

"But you know, Wolf----" Reinsfeld attempted to interrupt this praise.

"Yes, I know that a couple of little peasants who were ill so absorbed
you that you let the opportunity slip."

"Ah, was that the reason?" Alice asked, in an undertone, glancing again
at the young man, who looked as if he were being accused of some crime.

"The Herr Doctor practises among the peasantry, if I understand
aright?" said Frau von Lasberg. "Do you really drive up the mountains
to the secluded cottages scattered here and there?"

"No, madame, I walk," Reinsfeld explained, simply. "I have, it is true,
been obliged of late years to buy a mountain-pony for extreme
distances, but I usually walk."

The lady cleared her throat and looked significantly at the engineer,
who was intrusting his betrothed's health to a doctor of peasants.
Benno was now entirely out of her good graces. Wolfgang understood her
look, and smiled rather contemptuously as he said, "Yes, madame, he
walks; and when he reaches his home after an expedition through snow
and ice, he works away at a scientific treatise that will one day make
him famous. But no one must know anything about that. I discovered it
only by chance."

"Pray, pray, Wolf!" Benno protested, in such embarrassment that
Elmhorst could not but release him. He observed that his friend had a
medical visit to pay, and thus allowed him to take his leave. How this
leave was taken the poor doctor never quite understood; he only knew
that the delicate white hand was held out to him in token of farewell,
and that the kindly brown eyes were lifted half compassionately to his
own. Then Elmhorst took his arm, piloted him past all the flowers and
statuettes, and then the door was closed between him and the fairy
realm.

In the antechamber he asked, timidly, "Wolf--did it go off so very
badly?"

"God knows, it could hardly have been worse," was Elmhorst's irritated
reply.

"I told you before, I am unused to society," Benno said, piteously.

"But you are a man nearly thirty, and can be resolute enough by the
bedside of a patient; while to-day you behaved like a school-boy who
has not learned his task."

Thus he hectored his friend after his usual fashion, and Benno meekly
submitted. Only when he was entreated earnestly to collect himself and
be more sensible the next time, did he ask, in a half-frightened,
half-pleased tone, "May I come again, then?"

Elmhorst fairly lost patience: "Benno, I really do not know what to
think of you. Have I not begged you to take charge of my betrothed's
health?"

"But the old lady was much displeased,--I could see that," Reinsfeld
observed, dejectedly, "and I am afraid that Fräulein Nordheim too
thinks----" He paused and looked down.

"I do not ask the Baroness Lasberg's permission in my plans for my
betrothed," Wolfgang said, haughtily. "And my influence with Alice is
supreme. Since it is my wish, she has accepted you for her physician."

The doctor eyed him askance: "Wolf, you really do not deserve your good
fortune."

"Why not? Because I take the helm into my own hands thus early? You do
not understand, Benno. When a man without means, like myself, enters a
family like Nordheim's, he must choose whether to rule, or to occupy a
very subordinate position. I prefer to rule."

"You are a monster to talk of ruling that delicate creature!" Benno
broke out, angrily.

"Of course I did not mean Alice," Wolfgang rejoined, coolly; "her
nature is extremely gentle, and she is used to yield to the will of
another. I merely take care that this other shall be myself. You need
not look at me so angrily; my wife will never find me a tyrant. I know
she needs the greatest forbearance and care, and she shall always find
them at my hands."

"Yes, because she brings you a million," Benno muttered, as he turned
to go. Elmhorst detained him.

"You have not told me your opinion of Alice?"

"At present I have formed none. She seems to be in an extremely nervous
condition, but I must have more opportunity of observation."

"As much as you please. _Au revoir_."

"Adieu."

They parted, and while Wolfgang returned to his betrothed the doctor
left the villa. He seemed in haste, for he strode quickly up a
mountain-path, and did not stay his steps or look back until he had
reached a distant point.

There, behind those windows with white lace curtains, lay the fairy
realm, where they were now ridiculing and laughing at the awkward
fellow who had so plainly, in every word and gesture, shown his
unfitness for the Nordheim drawing-room. Involuntarily he glanced at
his gloves, which had seemed to him so extremely elegant an hour
before, and in a sudden fit of impatience he tore them off and tossed
the innocent yellow things into the thicket of pines. One fell on the
ground, but the other was caught upon a bough, where it dangled and
nodded like a huge sunflower. This irritated its owner still more, and
he was half minded to send his hat after it, when he bethought himself
in time that he really could not dispose of his entire wardrobe thus.

"You cannot help it, old fellow!" he said, sadly, looking at his
venerable beaver. "I am not used to polite society. I wonder whether
_she_ is laughing too?"

There was no explanation as to whom the 'she' referred to, but
certainly for a time Dr. Reinsfeld was as miserable a man as could be
found among the mountains. The consciousness of his want of society
tact oppressed him terribly.



                              CHAPTER XI.

                              ON THE ALM.



Saint John's day!--the people's holiday from legendary times, preceding
Midsummer day, all redolent with mystery, when hidden treasures rise
from the depths and allure wondrously, when the slumbering forces of
magic awaken, and the entire elfin world of the mountains reveals
itself in its wonder-working power. The people have not forgotten the
ancient festival of the sun's turning, and legend still throws its veil
about the sacred midsummer-time, when the sun mounts highest, when the
earth shows fairest, and warm, fresh life courses throughout nature.

In the country about Wolkenstein this day was one of the grand yearly
festivals. The inhabitants of the lonely, secluded Alpine valley which
the railway was to open to the world the ensuing year were devoted to
their customs and habits, and clung closely to their superstitions.
Here the Mountain-Sprite still held undisputed sway, and not merely as
a devastating force of nature with snow-storm and avalanche; for most
of the people she was enthroned bodily on the veiled summit of the
Wolkenstein, and the beacon-fires which flamed up everywhere on St.
John's evening had some hidden connection with the dreaded Spirit of
the Mountain. Nothing was known here of the pagan significance of the
bale-fire, nor of Christian legend gathered about it; the people in
their superstition clung directly to their own mountain-legends, which
they credited fully.

The clear, mild, June day was near its close; the sun had set; a
crimson glow still lingered about the loftiest mountain-tops. All the
other heights were lightly veiled in blue mists, while the valleys lay
in deep shadow.

High above the forests which clothed the foot of the Wolkenstein, where
the projecting cliff's of the huge mountain began their rise, there was
a smooth, green meadow, whereon stood a low hut. It was usually very
lonely up here, and seldom visited by strangers, since the ascent of
the Wolkenstein was deemed impossible, but to-day it was enlivened by
an unwonted stir and bustle. A huge wood-pile had been built upon the
spacious meadow, many an ancient pine and hemlock having contributed to
its erection. Gigantic logs of wood, dry branches, old roots, towered
high in air. The bale-fire on the Wolkenstein was always one of the
largest, and gleamed far and wide abroad over the country, for was it
not lighted upon the legendary throne of the entire range, at the very
feet of the Mountain-Sprite?

Around the pile was assembled a circle of mountaineers, mostly
shepherds and woodsmen, with girls among them from the neighbouring
alms, all powerful, sunburned figures, who lived up on the heights in
sunshine and storm all through the summer, descending into the valley
only when autumn reigned there. All were in merry mood: there were
endless shouts and laughter; for people who worked hard day after day,
and whose monotonous existence was rarely interrupted by any
relaxation, the old popular festival was a joyous one.

To-day, however, they were not entirely left to themselves; there was a
little group of spectators who had taken up a position on one side upon
a low eminence. This was an unaccustomed sight for the mountaineers,
and under other circumstances would have been an unwelcome one, for on
such occasions they liked to feel themselves undisputed lords of their
domain. But the young lady sitting on the mossy stone was no stranger
among them, nor was the huge lion-like dog at her feet. The two had
lived among these mountains for years, in old Wolkenstein Court, not a
stone of which was now standing. True, the wild, joyous child of those
days had grown to be a grand young lady and lived in the fine Nordheim
villa, which was nothing short of a fairy castle in their eyes, but the
Fräulein came among them just as she used to do, and talked with them
in their patois as of old; no one dreamed of thinking her a stranger.

Moreover, Sepp was with her; he had been ten years in the service of
Baron Thurgau, and had superintended the affairs of the little estate,
and the two strangers who had accompanied her did not look at all, with
their brown faces, like city people. One of them had made Sepp bring
him directly into the circle of mountaineers, where he was found to
speak the patois perfectly, and was not one whit behind the rest in
enjoyment of the fun. The other, who looked a far finer gentleman, with
black hair and thick black eyebrows, stayed close beside the young
lady, and had just leaned over her to ask rather anxiously, "Are you
tired, Fräulein Thurgau? We never stopped once to rest as we came up."

Erna shook her head, smiling: "Oh, no, I have not yet forgotten how to
climb. I used to go much higher, greatly to Griff's disgust; he
regularly made a halt here when I clambered up the rocks, and he still
remembers the place."

"Yes, I saw with admiration how lightly and easily you walked up. I
fancy you would find the difficulties of travel mere child's play where
other women could not possibly confront them. I am very proud of being
your escort upon this bale-fire expedition."

"I should else hardly have been permitted to come. Frau von Lasberg was
horrified at the idea of a nightly expedition among the mountains, and
Alice is not strong enough to undertake anything of the kind. Sepp
indeed long ago offered to accompany me, but he was not thought
sufficiently trustworthy, although he lived with us for ten years."

There was a shade of bitterness in the words, which did not escape the
hearer.

"You would not have been permitted?" he asked, surprised. "Do you
really allow yourself to be governed by others in such matters?"

Erna was silent, knowing well what a scene there had been when she
expressed a desire to make this expedition. Frau von Lasberg had been
almost beside herself at so eccentric and unbecoming an idea,--wishing
to mingle among peasants after nightfall, and to witness their rude
festivities. But it chanced that Ernst Waltenberg and his secretary
arrived from Heilborn in the afternoon. He immediately offered to
escort the young girl, and, as he was already regarded in the Nordheim
household as Erna's future husband, the privilege was accorded him
which had been denied to faithful old Sepp. Ernst was about to pursue
his inquiries, when a stranger approached and said, half shyly, half
familiarly,--

"Welcome home, Fräulein von Thurgau!"

"Dr. Reinsfeld!" exclaimed Erna, in delighted surprise, offering him
her hand with the same confidence with which as a child she had treated
him upon his visits to her father. He seemed at first amazed, but his
face instantly lit up with pleasure as he grasped the offered hand with
answering cordiality. In a moment Griff had recognized his old friend,
and was leaping about him with every mark of delight.

"I did not have a glimpse of you yesterday when you were at our house,"
said Erna. "I did not know of your visit until you had gone."

"And I did not venture to ask for you; I did not know whether you would
like to have me claim acquaintance with you."

"Could you entertain such a doubt?"

There was reproach in her tone, but Reinsfeld evidently was not
depressed by it, and he looked at the girl with sparkling eyes. He
could see how much more beautiful, how much graver, she had become, but
she was the same to him as of old, nor did he in her presence feel any
of the timidity and embarrassment which had made him so awkward on the
previous day.

"I had such a dread of seeing you a fine lady," he said, simply. "But,
thank God, you are not that!"

The ejaculation seemed to come so directly from his heart that Erna
laughed,--the same merry, childlike laugh to which she had for years
been a stranger.

Waltenberg had at first observed with evident dismay the familiar
greetings thus exchanged, and the look with which he had scanned
Reinsfeld was darkly suspicious. Its result, however, could not but be
satisfactory. This Herr Doctor in jacket and felt hat could hardly be a
dangerous rival; the very ease and familiarity of his intercourse with
Erna was the best of warrants that he was merely a friend of her
childhood. Ernst Waltenberg was quite capable of perceiving this, and
his manner when Reinsfeld was presented to him was extremely cordial.

"We are but just arrived," said the doctor, after the introduction had
taken place, "and in all this merry turmoil we did not at first
perceive you. But where has Wolfgang gone? I brought your future
relative with me, Fräulein Thurgau. Wolf, where are you?"

His call was quite unnecessary, for Elmhorst was standing fifty paces
off, looking fixedly at the group. Apparently he had not intended to
join it; he now slowly approached, and Benno could not but be surprised
at the formality of the greetings interchanged between the 'future
relatives.' Wolfgang bowed formally, and Erna's manner seemed to
indicate that this meeting was anything but agreeable to her.

"I thought you were to be in Oberstein this evening, Herr Elmhorst?"
said she. "You spoke yesterday of going there."

"I did, and I have been there with Benno, but he persuaded me to come
up to the alm with him."

"That he may see a veritable bale-fire," Benno interposed. "There is
one kindled in Oberstein too, but there the entire village, all the
labourers on the railway, the engineers, and a crowd of guests from
Heilborn are assembled, and so the fine old custom comes to be only a
noisy spectacle for strangers. Up here we have the genuine
unadulterated mountain-life. And there is Sepp! How are you, old
fellow? Yes, we are here. You would rather we were not to-night, I
know, and therefore I said not one word in Oberstein of our expedition.
You must put up with us,--that is, with the Herr Superintendent and the
stranger gentleman there,--for Fräulein von Thurgau and I belong here."

"Yes, you belong here," said Sepp, solemnly. "You surely ought not to
be absent."

"I should like to protest against being treated as an entire stranger,"
said Wolfgang. "I have been living for three years in the mountains."

"But in constant war with them," Waltenberg interposed, half
ironically. "That would hardly establish your right to feel at home
among them, it seems to me."

"At most only the right of the conqueror;" Erna said, coldly. "Herr
Elmhorst upon his arrival here was wont to boast that he would take
possession of the realm of the Mountain-Sprite and bind it in chains."

"You see, however, Fräulein Thurgau," Wolfgang replied, in the same
tone, "that it was no empty boast. We _have_ brought her under
subjection, the haughty ruler of the mountains. She made it difficult
enough for us, so intrenching herself in her forests and fields that we
were obliged to contend for every step of our way; but she was
conquered at last. By the end of autumn the last structures will be
completed, and next spring our trains will thunder through this entire
Wolkenstein domain."

"I am sorry for the magnificent valley," said Waltenberg. "All its
beauty will be lost when steam once takes possession of it and the
shrill whistle of the locomotive invades the sublime repose of the
mountains."

Wolfgang shrugged his shoulders: "I am sorry, but such romantic
considerations cannot have any weight where the question is one of
furnishing the world with roads for travel."

"The world which belongs to you! Here in Europe you have mastered it
with steam and iron. We who would find some quiet valley wherein to
dream undisturbed shall finally be obliged to seek it in some distant
island in the ocean."

"Assuredly, Herr Waltenberg, if such dreaming seem to you the sole aim
of existence. For us it is action."

Ernst bit his lip: he saw that Erna was listening, and to be thus
reproved in her presence was more than he could bear; adopting,
therefore, the same indifferent, high-bred tone with which he had tried
to humiliate the 'fortune-hunter' at their first interview, he said,
"The old dispute, begun in the Herr President's conservatory! I never
doubted your activity, Herr Elmhorst; you have certainly by its aid
achieved brilliant results."

Wolfgang involuntarily held himself more erect; he knew what result was
meant, but he merely smiled contemptuously. Here he was not merely 'the
future husband of Alice Nordheim' as in society in the capital; here he
was in his own domain, and with all the proud self-consciousness of a
man perfectly aware of his talent and of his achievements, he replied,
"You allude to my work as an engineer? The Wolkenstein bridge is
indeed my first work, but it will hardly be my last."

Waltenberg was silenced. He had seen the gigantic structure spanning
the yawning abyss, and he felt that he must give up treating as an
adventurer the man who had devised it. Though he should aspire ten
times over to the hand of the millionaire's daughter, there was stuff
in this Elmhorst, even his antagonist must admit, however unwillingly.

"I have indeed admired the engineer of that magnificent work," he
replied, after a pause.

"I am greatly flattered by your saying so,--you have seen all the
finest bridges in the world."

The words sounded courteous, but the glances which the men exchanged
were like rapiers. Each felt at this moment that something more than
dislike--that positive hatred divided them.

Hitherto Erna had taken no part in the conversation; she probably
perceived with whom the victory lay, for her voice betrayed annoyance
as she interposed at last: "You had better give up contending with Herr
Elmhorst. He is of iron, like his work, and there is no place in his
world for romance. You and I belong to quite another one, and the abyss
between his and ours no bridge can span."

"You and I,--yes!" Ernst repeated quickly, turning to her. All strife
was forgotten and all hatred dissolved in the joy that sparkled in his
eyes as he said, almost triumphantly, 'you and I!'

Wolfgang retired so suddenly that Benno looked amazed. The doctor was
talking with Veit Gronau, who had approached when he heard from Sepp
the name Reinsfeld, and had introduced himself.

"You cannot possibly remember me," he was saying, "You were a very
little fellow when I went abroad, so you must believe upon the evidence
of my face that I was a friend of your father's when he was young. He
died long ago, I know, but his son will not refuse me the hand which my
old Benno cannot give me."

"Most certainly not," Benno assured him, pressing the offered hand
cordially. "And now let me hear how it happens that you have returned
to Europe."



                              CHAPTER XII.

                             THE BALE-FIRE.


The last crimson reflection of sunset had long vanished, field and
forest were covered with dew, and the darkness was softly creeping up
from the valleys to the heights, while above the snow-peaks began to
gleam with a silvery lustre,--the herald of the rising moon, which was
not yet visible.

Then flames began to dart forth from the heaped-up wood on the
Wolkenstein; at first only fitfully, crackling and smoking, until the
fire caught the giant logs, and then it leapt aloft wildly with a
magnificent ruddy glare, hailed by cheers from the circle of men around
it,--the ancient bale-fire of the mountains.

It was wonderfully picturesque,--the scene to which the growing
darkness added much in effect,--the flaming altar sending its
sparks towards heaven, and around it in the red light the crowd of
brown-visaged mountaineers in joyous motion. They chased and chaffed
one another, and leaped around the fire, snatching and waving aloft the
burning brands in unrestrained delight, to which the crackling and
roaring of the flames added intensity, while above it all the smoke
rolled and floated in thick clouds, now half veiling and anon revealing
the scene below.

Erna and Waltenberg had not left their place,--probably preferring to
keep somewhat aloof from the noisy crowd. At a little distance stood
Wolfgang with folded arms, apparently lost in contemplation of the
fantastic spectacle. Probably by chance, he had taken up a position
where he was almost entirely in the shadow; all the more brilliant did
the light seem which was thrown upon the little group on the hillock,
the slender, graceful figure of the girl, the tall, dark form beside
her, and the shaggy dog lying motionless at their feet, his head
resting upon his huge paws.

Benno, standing near the fire with Gronau, now and then glanced towards
them, but that other pair of eyes watched them intently from the gloom,
and if sometimes their owner resolutely looked away towards the busy,
happy throng, some mysterious force seemed to compel his gaze to rest
again upon the pair, who looked as if they already belonged to each
other.

Erna, who had grown warm from climbing, had taken off her hat and laid
it upon the mossy stone that served her for a seat, while Waltenberg
leaned above her, conversing in a low tone. What he said had, perhaps,
no special significance, but his look sought hers with a passionate
eagerness which he took no pains to conceal. His eyes could well
express the emotion which thrilled his whole being. The man whose
thirst for freedom had so long defied the fetters of love was now
hopelessly enthralled.

The conversation was carried on in an undertone, but Wolfgang
distinguished every word; through all the shouting and laughter,
through all the crackling and hissing of the flames, every syllable
distinctly fell on his ear, for every nerve was strung in the effort to
listen, as if for him life and death depended upon what was said.

"Inaccessible do you call the Wolkenstein?" asked Waltenberg. "That
only means that no one has yet ascended it. It can be subdued, that
haughty peak."

"Hitherto no one has subdued it, however," Erna replied. "Several have
ventured up through the rocks to the foot of the topmost cliff, but
there every one has been stayed; even my father, who was not easily
daunted by any ascent and pursued the chamois to the highest summits,
often declared, 'The Wolkenstein peak is inaccessible.'"

Ernst looked up at the peak, now only partially visible, and smiled:
"Do you know, Fräulein Thurgau, your description tempts me to venture
the ascent?"

She looked up at him in dismay: "Herr Waltenberg, you would not----?"

"Climb the Wolkenstein peak? At least I shall attempt it."

"Impossible! You are jesting."

"Do you think so? I hope to prove to you that I am in earnest."

"But why? What for?"

"Why does one undertake any adventure? Because the danger excites;
because it is a victory, a triumph, to achieve the apparently
impossible."

"And if this triumph should cost you your life? You would not be the
first victim of the peak. Ask Sepp; he can tell you a sad story."

"Bah! I am no novice in such attempts. I have climbed higher mountains
than your dreaded Wolkenstein."

His tone betrayed the defiant persistence of a man accustomed to
danger, apt indeed to seek it. Nordheim was right: he longed only for
what was withheld from him, and life had thus far withheld from him
little enough. To climb a mountain-summit which no human foot had
ever before trod, or to win a beautiful, proud woman who met his
advances with coy reserve,--either attempt attracted him. He must win,
subdue,--nothing was impossible.

The wind, which was rising, blew the flames to one side; they flickered
and leaped, and a shower of sparks fell upon Wolfgang, who hardly
noticed it. He remained motionless in the ruddy glare, which did not
reveal his extreme pallor. The entire pile was now one mountain of
flame, whence huge tongues soared aloft, higher and higher, invading
the night with a fiery breath. The cool, dewy meadow, the dark forests,
the steep declivities of the Wolkenstein,--all looked strangely
transformed in the red, darting light beneath the clouds of smoke
rolling overhead.

And there was a reflection of the glowing fire in the face of the man
who endured mutely, with compressed lips, the torture that he would not
flee. He felt the hot breath of the flames, but he could not tear
himself from the spot where those low, half-whispered words reached his
ear.

"Take care. It is the legendary stronghold of our mountains; there is a
spell upon it. Its ruler permits no human foot to press her throne."

"Until he comes who subdues her. The German legends all end thus. He
whose courage wins the summit clasps the enchantress in his arms."

"And dies beneath the Mountain-Sprite's icy kiss. Yes, so runs the
legend."

Waltenberg laughed contemptuously: "Yes, the tale may terrify children
and simple peasants. Thence comes the inaccessibility of the
Wolkenstein,--not from the danger, but from superstition! Nevertheless
I hope to make it mine, that mysterious kiss."

"You will not persist?" Erna interposed, between entreaty and command.
"Give up so foolhardy an idea!"

"No, no, Fräulein von Thurgau, not even at your command."

"But if I entreat?"

There was an instant's pause; in the brilliant light Wolfgang could
distinguish every feature in the girl's face turned upward in genuine
entreaty, and in that of the man who bent over her so close that he
wellnigh touched her curls. The daring, reckless tone had vanished from
his voice; it sounded low, but infinitely tender, as he rejoined,
"_You_ entreat me?"

"Yes--from my heart! Do not persist in such folly. It troubles me."

Ernst smiled, and replied, in a voice strangely gentle for one so
impatient of control,--

"You shall be obeyed. Sweet as it would be to know, were I in any
danger, that one human being was anxious on my account, I relinquish my
project."

The sharp needles of the pine bough about which Wolfgang had clasped
his hand in a nervous grasp pierced his flesh, but he did not feel
them. The hill of fire, which was still glowing erect, tottered, some
of the logs gave way, and the burning pile fell into ruins, crashing
and crackling, while from the dazzling heap a thousand tongues of flame
curled along the ground, illuminating now only a comparatively narrow
circle, while the meadow and the hillock vanished in darkness.

"It was a magnificent sight, was it not?" Benno asked gaily,
approaching his friend and laying his hand upon the one clasping the
pine. "But, Wolf, what is the matter with you? You have an attack of
fever,--you are trembling, and your hand is icy cold."

"There is nothing the matter," said Wolfgang. "I may have taken a
little cold here in the damp."

"Taken cold on this summer evening? a fellow of your iron constitution?
You are ill."

But Elmhorst withdrew the hand the doctor would have taken: "Pray do
not make so much of a slight indisposition; such attacks go as quickly
as they come. I felt it as we were walking up here."

Benno shook his head; he had not before perceived any symptoms of
indisposition. "We had better set out upon our way back," he said. "The
fire is going out, and we have a good mile to walk down the mountain."

"You are right; we are going too," said Waltenberg, approaching. "Sepp
proposes to take us down by the Vulture Cliff, but that shorter way
seems slightly perilous."

"It certainly is by moonlight."

"Then we will give it up. I promised Frau von Lasberg to return
early, and I must keep my word. Gronau can descend with the guide by
the cliff, since he seems to want to do so. He can meet us on the
high-road."

The little party set out together, Gronau and Sepp agreeing to meet it
at an appointed spot in the road below. The meadow with the flickering
flames soon vanished, and the silence of the mountain-forest replaced
the shouting and laughter on the height. Silence also fell upon the
descending group; they were obliged to walk heedfully, for the path,
although neither steep nor perilous, lay in the shadow of the dense
pine forest, which hid the moonlight except for a brilliant ray here
and there. Waltenberg walked close beside Erna; the other two followed.
Thus descending, they reached the edge of the forest in about half an
hour and emerged upon the cleared mountainside.

"The heights all around are still flaming," said Waltenberg, pointing
upward, where, upon the other summits, the fires were yet blazing. "The
Wolkensteiners lit their pile early. Her Majesty the Mountain-Sprite
takes precedence, and she seems actually to mean to unveil in honour of
the night."

He was right. The clouds that during the entire evening had hovered
about the summit of the Wolkenstein and had veiled its peak were
beginning to float away.

"I wonder that Gronau and Sepp are not here," Erna remarked. "They
ought to have been here before us, since they took the shorter path."

"Perhaps they have met with some ghostly hinderance," said Benno,
laughing. "It is Midsummer Eve, and the mountains are alive with
fairies and spirits. I'll wager either that they have encountered some
phantom, or that they are now searching for the treasures which rise
from hidden depths to the surface on this night in the year. Ah, there
they are!"

In fact, Sepp made his appearance on the other side of the road, but he
was alone, and the haste of his approach boded ill.

"What is the matter?" said Waltenberg, going to meet him. "Has anything
happened? Where is Herr Gronau?"

Sepp pointed in the direction of the Vulture Cliff: "Up there! We have
had an accident. The gentle man slipped on the rocks, and his foot----"

"There are no bones broken?"

"No, 'tis not so bad as that, for we got down to even ground, but he
could not go any farther. The gentleman is up there in the forest, and
cannot move his foot, and I came to ask the Herr Doctor to look after
him."

"Of course I must look after him," said Reinsfeld, instantly turning to
go. "Where did you leave him? Far from here?"

"No; only a short quarter of a mile up."

"I will go with you," said Waltenberg, hastily. "I must see after
Gronau. Pray stay here, Fräulein von Thurgau; you hear it is not far,
and we shall return immediately."

"Would it not be better that we should all go up together?" asked
Elmhorst. "My aid might be necessary."

"Oh, a sprained ankle, or even a broken limb, is not dangerous," said
Benno. "We three can do all that is necessary, even although we should
be obliged to carry Herr Gronau; and Fräulein von Thurgau cannot be
left here alone."

"Certainly not; Herr Elmhorst must stay with her," Ernst said,
decidedly. "We will be as quick as possible, rely upon it, Fräulein von
Thurgau."

The arrangement was a very natural one; fearless as the young lady
might be, she could not be left here in the night alone, and Wolfgang,
almost a member of her family, was, of course, the one to be left to
take care of her. Nevertheless neither of them seemed pleased. Erna
objected, and thought it would be better to accompany the doctor. But
Waltenberg would not hear of it; he hurried away with Reinsfeld and
Sepp over the meadow, and then all three vanished in the opposite wood.

Those left behind were obliged to accommodate themselves to
circumstances. They exchanged a few remarks about the accident and its
possible consequences, and then there was a long silence.

The midsummer night with its deep, mysterious stillness brooded above
the mountains, but without the darkness of night. The full moon, now
high in the heavens, bathed everything in its dreamy radiance. In its
light the fires upon the mountains gleamed but dimly. They no longer
flamed aloft, but looked like glowing stars fallen from the firmament
and shining on the heights in clear, quiet beauty. By day there was a
distant view from this meadow, now the mountain world was veiled in a
delicate mist that left only certain detached features distinctly
visible. The rigid lines of the tall summits were softened, the thick
forests were massed in bluish shadow; below, where yawned the
Wolkenstein abyss, darkness still reigned, although the moonlight
already silvered the bridge. It reached from rock to rock, like a
narrow, shining plank, discernible by keen eyes even at this height.

The Wolkenstein summit alone, close at hand, was defined sharply
against the clear sky of night. The forests at its feet, the jagged
outlines of the billowy sea of rocks, and the gigantic proportions of
the steep wall rising from them,--all were flooded with snowy lustre.
Around its head there was still a fleecy vapour, which seemed slowly
melting away in the moonbeams; at times each icy peak would be revealed
clearly, to half vanish again in a semi-transparent veil. Erna had
seated herself on the stump of a felled tree on the border of the
forest. The scene fascinated her, as it did her companion, who was,
nevertheless, the first to break the long silence.

"Herr Waltenberg could hardly achieve that ascent," he said. "It was
scarcely necessary to warn him off so seriously; he certainly would
have turned back at the foot of the rocky wall."

"You heard what we said?" the girl asked, without looking away from the
Wolkenstein.

"I did. I was standing very near you."

"Then you heard that the attempt was relinquished."

"At _your_ request."

"I was interested that it should be so; there is something distressing
to me in all aimless foolhardiness."

"In _all_? I think Herr Waltenberg attached another significance to
your words; and was he not justified in so doing?"

Erna turned and bestowed upon him a glance of disapproval: "Herr
Elmhorst, you evidently consider yourself as already belonging to our
family, but I cannot, nevertheless, accord you the right to ask such
questions."

The rebuff was sufficiently plain. Wolfgang bit his lip.

"Pardon me, Fräulein von Thurgau, if I was indiscreet; but, from the
remarks of my future father-in-law, I judged the matter to be no longer
a secret."

"My uncle spoke of it to you? And before his departure?"

"Assuredly. And he also did so three weeks ago, when I was in the
city."

A dark flush mounted to the girl's cheek. So the president had even
then confided to his prospective son-in-law his plans for disposing of
his niece, probably before her personal acquaintance with Waltenberg.
All the pride of her nature was in revolt as she replied, "I know my
uncle puts a price upon everything, and why not upon my hand? But in
this case the decisive word is mine, as both he and you seem to have
forgotten."

"I?" said Wolfgang, indignantly. "Can you suppose me to have any share
in his plan?"

She looked at him, with a strange expression which he could not
unriddle, and there was a shade of scorn in her voice as she replied,
"No, certainly not in this plan."

"You would do me gross injustice by such a suspicion. Moreover, I have
no liking for Herr Waltenberg, and I feel sure that, despite all his
brilliant qualities, he is not fitted to make another human being
happy."

"That is your opinion," Erna said, coldly. "In such a case all that a
woman takes into consideration is whether she is beloved without
calculation or reserve."

"Ought that alone to be decisive? I should suppose there might be a
question as to whether she herself loves."

The words came slowly and almost with hesitation from his lips, and
yet his eyes were riveted in breathless eagerness upon the face so
clearly revealed in the bright moonlight. There was no reply; Erna's
glance avoided his: her eyes were fixed upon the distant scene. The
mountain-fires were growing fainter; the largest, upon the Wolkenstein,
still gleamed with starlike radiance.

Above these the wreathing mist was still floating, and the moonbeams
called forth from it strange shapes, which, when the eye would have
seized and held them fast, eluded it and melted away. Slowly, however,
from among them the topmost peak emerged white and gleaming, the
inaccessible throne of the Alpine Fay in her garment of eternal ice and
snow.

Wolfgang approached the young girl and stood close beside her as
he continued, in an undertone: "I have no right, I know, to ask
this question, but doubtless you have put it to yourself, and the
answer----"

A low, angry growl interrupted him. Griff had not forgotten his early
antipathy for the superintendent; he could not endure to have him
approach his mistress, and, as if to defend her, thrust himself between
them. Erna laid her hand caressingly upon the dog's head, and he was
instantly silent; then she asked, "Why do you hate Ernst Waltenberg?"

"I?" Elmhorst was apparently amazed by this counter-question, which
found him entirely unprepared to reply.

"Yes. Can you deny that it is so?"

"No," said Wolfgang, with defiant frankness. "I confess it. I hate
him!"

"You must have some reason for so doing."

"I have a reason. But you must allow me to follow your example and
withhold the answer to your question."

"I will answer it myself. Because in Ernst Waltenberg you see my future
husband."

Elmhorst started and looked at her with an expression of dismay,--nay,
of positive terror: "You--know?"

"Do you suppose a woman cannot feel when she is loved, even though
every means be resorted to to conceal it from her?" Erna asked, with
extreme bitterness.

A long, oppressive pause ensued; Wolfgang's eyes were downcast; at last
he said, in a low, dull voice, "Yes, Erna, I have loved you--for
years!"

"And you wooed--Alice!"

There was harsh condemnation in her words; he stood silent with bent
head.

"Because she is rich; because her hand can confer the wealth which I do
not possess. Nevertheless Alice will not be unhappy; she neither knows
nor demands happiness in the higher sense of the word, while I should
be unutterably wretched bound to a man whom I despised."

"Erna!" he exclaimed, in torture.

"Herr Elmhorst?" she rejoined, haughtily.

He accepted the rebuff, and controlled himself by an effort: "Fräulein
von Thurgau, you have felt yourself obliged to hate me since the hour
of your father's death, and you have avenged yourself richly for a
supposed injury. Well, then, I will endure your hate if so it must be,
but _not_ your contempt. I will not suffer any longer from the cold
scorn which I always see in your eyes. You well know how to wound with
it, but I pray you--do not drive me to extremes."

He really looked as if the farthest limit of his self-control were
reached. The man usually so cool and calculating, of such iron
resolution, absolutely trembled in the fever of his agitation.

Griff was still pugnacious, following with an angry eye every movement
of him whom he considered a foe, and who seemed to be threatening his
young mistress, who, however, took the dog by the collar and held him
fast.

"Can you compel my esteem?" she asked.

"Yes, by heaven I can and will!" he broke forth. "I compelled respect
but now from that insolent egotist, who despises money merely because
he possesses it in abundance, and who parades as romanticism his dreamy
idle existence. You heard how he was silenced by my reference to my
work. He does not know what it is to be poor, and to have bare, hard
reality staring him in the face. But I drained that cup to the dregs in
my needy youth; life for me possessed no poetry, no ideals. I felt
within me the power to excel in my profession, and was tied down by
hard mechanical labour. I had to submit to men my inferiors in
intellect, and to obey where now I command. The plan of the Wolkenstein
bridge, now regarded as such a wonder, was rejected again and again
because I had no patronage, because a poor, unknown man is sure to be
despised. But, in spite of it all, I determined to rise; not for the
money's sake, not that I might revel in idle luxury, but that I might
work with freedom, undeterred by all the petty hinderances, to soar
above which wealth gives wings. There stands my work!" He pointed to
the narrow road, which gleamed like silver above the abyss. "Whether
you hate its designer or not, it must force even you to respect him!"

With like proud, bold self-assertion Wolfgang Elmhorst was wont to
silence his opponents and to win the victory, but it stood him in no
stead here. Erna had risen and stood confronting him, the scorn which
he would not brook still looking from her eyes.

"No!" she said, decidedly. "That work of yours condemns you. The man
capable of achieving that should have had the courage to depend upon
himself, and to go forward alone, for he carried his future within him.
My uncle recognized your talent long before you wooed his daughter; he
had opened the way for you, and you could have attained your goal even
without him. But that indeed would have cost time and trouble, and you
wanted to take fortune by storm."

Wolfgang gazed sadly at the girl's agitated face. "Yes," he said, "I
did. And I have paid a high price for it; perhaps--too high."

"The price now is your freedom; in future it may possibly be your
honour."

"Erna! Have a care! Do not insult me!"

"I do not insult you. I only give utterance to what you do not yet
choose to confess to yourself. Do you imagine that you can with
impunity pledge yourself to a man like my uncle? You still have
ambition; he has long been done with it, and now cares only for gain.
He has, it is true, won millions, and gold flows into his coffers from
every quarter, but he is not content. The magnitude of his undertakings
does not affect him, except as it brings him money, and once completely
in his power he will require you to be the same. You will no longer
create, you will only accumulate."

Wolfgang looked down gloomily; he knew that she spoke the truth; he had
long known this side of the president's character, but his pride
rebelled against the part thus assigned him.

"Do you think me so wanting in energy as to be unable to preserve my
independence?" he asked. "I have a will, and if necessary can assert
it, even in my present position."

"Then you will be given an alternative, and you will be obliged to
submit. You have not chosen the hard, lonely path trodden by so many
great men who could call nothing their own save their talent and their
faith in themselves. For me,"--there was a kind of passionate
inspiration in the girl's eyes,--"I have always imagined that in the
striving and struggling there must be happiness perhaps even greater
than that of attainment. To ascend thus from the depths, to be
conscious that one's power increases with every step forward, with
every obstacle overcome, and then at last to stand on the free heights
in the joy of victory won by one's own exertions,--I have had some
sensation akin to it when I have been climbing a difficult Alpine
ascent, and not for worlds would I have accepted another's aid."

Carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, she was again the free,
unconventional child of the mountains, whom Wolfgang had once found
amidst the abysses of the Wolkenstein, her curls waving, and quick
to love as to hate. Together they had then bidden defiance to the
tempest; in fancy he again heard her joyous, reckless laughter amid the
hurly-burly, and it seemed to him that he had then been happy,
supremely happy, as never again since then.

"And could you have loved a man who had risen thus?" he asked at last,
with suppressed suffering in his tone. "Could you have stood beside him
in toil and danger, perhaps in defeat? Answer me, Erna,--I entreat
you!"

Erna shivered; the light in her eyes faded, as she replied, coldly,
"What need to ask? The question comes too late! One thing I know: the
man who denied and crushed out his love for the sake of the gold which
another hand could bestow, who bought his future because he lacked
courage to create it, I never could have loved,--never!"

She took a long breath, as if with the words she cast aside a burden,
and turned her back to him. Griff suddenly became restless; he
perceived the approach of the rest although their advance was as yet
inaudible; his mistress understood him.

"Are they coming?" she asked, in an undertone. "Let us go to meet them,
Griff."

She slowly crossed the meadow, where the dew lay heavy and glistening.
Wolfgang made no attempt to detain her: he stood motionless. The last
of the mountain-fires had just sunk to ashes; it glimmered aloft for a
few moments like a faint and fading star and then vanished.

The peak of the Wolkenstein, on the contrary, was plainly visible; the
mists that had been hovering around it seemed to melt in the moonlight,
and the ice-crowned summit stood forth distinct and glistening. She had
unveiled herself, the haughty sovereign of the mountain-range, and sat
enthroned aloft in her phantom-like beauty, while above her realm
brooded the silent mystery of the midsummer night, with its ghostly
hint of buried treasures ascending from hidden depths and awaiting
discovery,--the ancient, solemn midsummer-eve of St. John.



                             CHAPTER XIII.

                           AN OUTRAGED WIFE.


The Sunday following St. John's day had always been a great holiday in
Oberstein. The little mountain-village where Dr. Reinsfeld lived had,
it is true, lost somewhat of its secluded character by the invasion of
the railway in the vicinity. The labourers on the road frequented it,
and some of the young engineers had their quarters in the little inn,
but the place was still very humble in appearance.

The doctor's house was in no contrast to its surroundings; it was a
small cottage, scantily furnished,--indeed barely provided with the
necessities of life. The sexton's widow acted as the young physician's
housekeeper, and her ideas of the duties of her position were primitive
in the extreme. Only a nature as content and unassuming as Benno's
could have long endured existence here. His predecessors had never
remained long, while this was the fifth year that he had passed in this
place, undaunted by its hardships, and with no present prospect of
leaving it.

His study was indeed a contrast to the charming, comfortable apartments
inhabited by Superintendent Elmhorst. The whitewashed walls were
destitute of decoration save for a couple of portraits of Reinsfeld's
parents. An old worm-eaten writing-table, with an arm-chair covered
with leather which had once been black, a very hard sofa with a coarse
linen cover, and a table and chairs of equal antiquity,--such was the
furniture, all purchased from the former occupant, of the room in which
the doctor lived, and laboured, and gave advice, and even, as on the
present occasion, received visits. His cousin Albert Gersdorf was with
him.

The lawyer had come from Heilborn the day before, and had found a guest
already installed here, Veit Gronau, whom he also knew, and who was
recovering here from the effects of his disaster on the Vulture Cliff.
The painful sprain from which he was suffering was not serious, but
prevented his walking. He had been with some difficulty brought as far
down the mountain as Oberstein, and here Reinsfeld had offered to take
charge of the patient until the sprain was cured; an offer which had
been gratefully accepted.

The two cousins had not met for years, and their interchange of letters
had been infrequent, so that Benno's joyful surprise was natural when
Gersdorf made his unexpected appearance. He had just persuaded him to
protract his stay somewhat, and said, delightedly, "So, then, that is
all arranged: you will stay until the day after to-morrow; that's
right; and your young wife will have no objection to being left so long
with her parents in Heilborn."

"Oh, she is extremely content there," Gersdorf explained; but there was
an unusual gravity in his voice and manner.

The doctor gave him a keen glance: "See here, Albert: when you arrived
yesterday it struck me that something was wrong. I thought you would
bring your wife. Surely you have not quarrelled?"

"No, Benno, 'tis not so bad as that. I have simply been forced to make
my father- and mother-in-law understand that their untitled son-in-law
is perfectly capable of maintaining his position."

"Aha! 'sits the wind in that corner?' What has happened?"

"Not much. As I told you, we promised to finish our wedding-tour by a
visit to my wife's parents in Heilborn, where my mother-in-law is
taking the waters. We found her there in a very exclusive circle,
which graciously admitted me, although it made me quite sensible that I
owed the honour to my having married a Baroness Ernsthausen. I showed
but little appreciation of the amiable reception accorded me, inasmuch
as I declined joining a picnic arranged for yesterday. Of course this
provoked much aristocratic indignation; my respected mother-in-law
declared me a tyrant, maintaining that her friends alone were fit
associates for her daughter, and at last inducing Molly to be
obstinate. I told her she was perfectly free to accept the invitation
for herself, and she did so."

"And went without you?"

"Without me. An hour afterwards I was on my way to see you,--I meant at
all events to see you before I went back to the city,--leaving behind
me a brief note explaining my absence."

"It was a great piece of audacity on your part to marry into so
aristocratic a family," said Benno, shaking his head. "You see marriage
by no means puts an end to your troubles."

"No, but I was perfectly well aware that I should have to fight my way
to independence."

"Can you be quite sure of your wife?"

Gersdorf smiled, both at the words and at the grave tone in which they
were uttered: "Indeed I can. Molly is still a child, it is true,--a
spoiled child who has never been trained,--but her heart is true as
steel. Do you suppose I enjoyed leaving the wayward little creature?
She must learn that a husband's rights are to be respected; if I had
yielded to my mother-in-law on this occasion there would have been no
end to her interference, and that I will not tolerate."

It was plain to see that it had not been easy for the young fellow to
keep his resolution; his eyes turned longingly to the window that
looked out on the road to Heilborn, while Benno sat lost in admiration
of his cousin's strength of character. He himself would have made any
sacrifice to a tyrannical mother-in-law rather than grieve a woman whom
he loved.

They were interrupted by the entrance of Veit Gronau. He still limped,
but otherwise seemed quite well, as he deposited a large package on the
table.

"What have you there?" asked Gersdorf.

"Genuine Turkish tobacco," Gronau replied; "and Herr Waltenberg sends
his regards and he will come over this afternoon with the ladies from
Wolkenstein, who wish to see the holiday dance. Said brought the
message and this tobacco, which I asked Herr Waltenberg to send in pity
for the doctor, who smokes wretched stuff, begging his pardon. Let me
fill the pipes; I understand that business."

"That's true," said Benno, laughing. "You and Herr Waltenberg would
smoke up my entire income in a year. I cannot afford to be fastidious."

Veit, who was entirely at home here, hobbled to a little cupboard,
whence he took three pipes, which he proceeded to prepare, and the
three men were soon filling the room with clouds of fragrant smoke.

Suddenly the door opened, and a most unexpected apparition appeared
upon the threshold, in the person of a young lady in a very elegant
travelling-dress, a veil wound about her hat, and a handsome
travelling-bag in her hand. She was about to enter hastily, but paused
as if petrified by the scene which was presented to her gaze. Gronau in
all his length of limb lay stretched out on the sofa; the doctor, in
his shirt-sleeves, was comfortably established in his arm-chair;
Gersdorf sat near him astride of a chair, while the room was filled
with a thick but unfortunately transparent cloud of blue tobacco-smoke.

"Herr Doctor," the voice of the old housekeeper was heard to say
from the corridor behind the stranger, "a young lady has arrived, and
wants----"

"I want my husband," the young lady interposed, in a resolute tone,
advancing into the room, where she created a sensation indeed.

Gronau sprang up from the sofa, uttering a cry of pain as he did so,
for his ankle resented the sudden motion; Benno started up in dismay
and began looking for his coat, which it seemed impossible to find; and
Gersdorf emerged from the cloud of smoke, exclaiming, in a tone of
delighted surprise, "Molly I--is it you?"

"Yes,--it is I!" Frau Gersdorf declared in accents so annihilating that
one might have supposed her husband had just been detected in the
commission of a crime, and as she spoke she advanced with extreme
dignity into the middle of the room, where, unfortunately, the smoke
interfered with the solemnity of the occasion, for she began to cough
and seemed almost ready to choke.

Poor Benno was crushed. He had privately exulted when he had learned
that there was no danger of a visit from his new distinguished
relative, of whom he stood in such awe that for her reception he would
have donned his grandest attire, and now here she was, and he in his
shirt-sleeves! In his confusion he took his pocket-handkerchief and
tried to flap away the smoke, but, unfortunately, he flapped it
directly into the young lady's face, at the same time sweeping his
clay pipe off the table where he had laid it, and overthrowing his
arm-chair, the leg of which was broken in the fall. At last Gersdorf
seized him by the arm: "Pray stop, Benno, or you will make things
worse," he said, kindly. "First of all let me present you to my wife.
My cousin, Benno Reinsfeld, Molly dear."

Molly bestowed a most ungracious glance upon this man in his
shirt-sleeves who was presented to her as a relative,--really it was
exceedingly provoking.

"I regret extremely having disturbed the gentlemen," she said, with a
withering look at her husband. "My husband informed me that he should
pay you a visit. Dr. Reinsfeld, but no time was appointed for his
return."

"Madame," stammered Benno, in great confusion, "it is a great
honour--and certainly----"

"I am glad to hear it," the lady interrupted him without more ado. "My
luggage is outside; pray have it brought in. I shall stay here for a
while."

This was too much; the doctor was in despair. He thought of the bare
little garret room which was all he had had to offer to his cousin, and
now here was a Baroness Ernsthausen about to occupy it also! Suddenly
his wild, wandering glances fell upon the jacket he had been looking
for so anxiously: it lay on the floor beside him; he snatched it up,
and vanished into the next room. Gronau, whose distaste for 'the
ladies' was as decided as it was respectful, hobbled after him, closing
the door, as he left the room, with a crash that shook the house.

"Have I fallen among savages?" Molly asked, indignant at this
reception. "One shrieks, another runs away, and the third----!" She
fairly shuddered at the thought that this third was her husband.

But Gersdorf cared not a whit for the frown upon her pretty face. Now
that they were alone, he hurried towards her with outstretched arms:
"And you really came, Molly?"

Molly withdrew from his embrace, retreated a step, and declared
solemnly, "Albert,--you are a monster!"

"But, Molly----!"

"A monster!" she repeated, with emphasis. "Mamma says so, and she
thinks I ought to requite you with scorn. That is why I came."

"Ah, indeed, is that why?" said Albert, relieving her of her
travelling-bag. She allowed this attention, but maintained her
dignified attitude.

"You have deserted me,--me, your lawful wedded wife,--deserted me
shamefully, and upon our wedding-tour!"

"Pardon me, my child, you deserted me," Gersdorf protested. "You drove
off with the picnic-party----"

"For a few hours! And when I returned you were gone,--gone to the
wilderness,--for this Oberstein is no less,--and now here you sit in
this detestable tobacco-smoke, smoking and laughing and joking. Don't
deny it, Albert, you were laughing. I heard your voice plainly from
outside."

"I certainly was laughing, but that is no crime."

"When your wife was away!" Molly exclaimed, angrily,--"when your
deeply-injured wife was at that very moment bewailing the fate that has
fettered her to a heartless husband! Oh, how could you!"

She sobbed aloud, and in her despair threw herself upon the sofa;
bouncing up again instantly, however, in dismay at its extreme
hardness.

"Molly," her husband said, seriously, as he approached her, "you knew
why I wished to avoid those people, and I thought my wife would have
stood by me. I was very sorry to find myself mistaken."

The reproof went home; Molly cast down her eyes and replied, meekly "I
care nothing for all those stupid people; but mamma thought I ought not
to allow myself to be tyrannized over."

"And you complied with your mother's request rather than with mine, and
preferred to mine the company of strangers."

"You did so too," sobbed Molly; "you drove away without a thought of
your poor wife consumed with grief and longing!"

Albert put his arm around her caressingly, as he said, tenderly, "And
were you really unhappy, my little Molly? So was I."

His young wife looked up at him through her tears, and nestled close to
him: "When were you coming back?" she asked.

"The day after to-morrow, if I could have managed to stay away so
long."

"And I came to-day. Is not that enough for you?"

"Yes, my darling, quite enough!" said Gersdorf. "And if you choose we
will return to Heilborn this very day."

"No, we will not," said Molly, resolutely. "I have quarrelled with
mamma, and with papa too; they did not want me to come. I have brought
our luggage, and now we will stay here."

"So much the better," said Albert, much relieved. "I went to Heilborn
solely for your sake, and here we are really in the midst of the
mountains. I am only afraid that we must try to find some other
quarters; the doctor's house can hardly hold you with all your trunks."

The little lady turned up her nose as she surveyed the room, where the
smoke still lingered and the broken pipe and the three-legged chair
encumbered the floor.

"Yes, this seems a detestable bachelor establishment. You would grow
careless enough with this cousin of yours, who rushes away like a
madman if a lady makes her appearance. Has he no manners at all?"

"Poor Benno was so terribly embarrassed," Albert said, by way of
excuse. "He completely lost his head. Be kind to him, Molly, I pray
you, for he is the best fellow in the world. And now let me go look
after your luggage."

He went, and Frau Gersdorf took her seat upon the sofa, with more
caution than before. In a few moments another door was softly and
timidly opened, and the master of the house appeared. He had employed
the time of his absence in arranging his dress, and he now approached
his guest with much humility. At first she seemed scarcely inclined to
be as amiable as her husband had entreated her to be; on the contrary,
she eyed her new cousin with judicial severity.

"Madame," he began, with hesitation, "pray pardon me that, upon your
unexpected arrival--I was very sorry for it, very sorry----"

"For my arrival?" Molly interrupted him, indignantly.

"God forbid, no!" exclaimed Benno. "I only meant--I wished to observe
that I am a bachelor."

"Unfortunately," said Molly, still ungraciously. "It is very sad to be
a bachelor. Why do you not marry?"

"I?" cried Benno, dismayed at the question.

"Certainly; you must marry as soon as possible."

The words sounded so dictatorial that the doctor did not venture to
contradict them; he merely bowed so profoundly that Frau Molly began to
feel her irritation evaporate, and she added, in a milder tone,--

"Albert is married and likes it extremely. Do you doubt it?"

"Oh, no, assuredly not," poor Benno hastened to reply; "but I----"

"Well, you, Herr Doctor?" his new relative persisted.

"I am not accustomed to ladies' society, and my manners are very rude,"
he said, sadly,--"very rude, madame,--and that unfits me for social
enjoyment."

This confession found favour with Molly. A man who felt his
deficiencies so profoundly deserved sympathy. She laid aside her air of
severity and rejoined, kindly,--

"They can easily be improved. Come, sit down, Herr Doctor, and let us
discuss the matter."

"What! Marriage?" Benno asked, in renewed dismay. This seemed like an
immediate settlement of his future life, and he was naturally startled.

"Oh, no: only your manners, for the present. You are anxious to learn,
I can see; all you want is some one to advise and train you. I will do
it!"

"Oh, madame, how kind you are!" said the doctor, with so touching an
expression of gratitude that his instructor of eighteen was entirely
won over.

"I am your cousin, and my name is Molly," she rejoined. "We must call
each other by our first names; so, Benno, come and sit down by me."

He complied with her invitation rather shyly, but the little lady soon
put him entirely at his ease. She questioned him closely, and he soon
grew very confidential; he told her about his awkwardness at the
Nordheim villa, his consequent mortification, and his desperate but
fruitless attempts to attain some degree of ease of manner. As he went
on, all his awkwardness vanished and he showed himself as he was,
frank, true, intelligent, and kindly. When Gersdorf returned at the end
of a quarter of an hour, he found his wife and his cousin talking
together like the best of friends.

"I have had the luggage brought here for the present," he said, "and I
have sent to know if we can have rooms at the inn."

"Not at all necessary," said Molly; "we can stay here. I am sure Benno
will make room for us; will you not, Benno?"

"Of course I will," the doctor exclaimed, eagerly. "I shall move out.
Gronau and I can move into the garret, and you can have the lower
rooms, Molly. I will go and have it arranged immediately."

He sprang up, and hurried out to do as he said.

"Benno?--Molly? You seem to have made astonishing progress in a few
minutes!"

"Albert, your cousin is a very superior man," Molly declared. "We must
befriend the young fellow; it is our duty as his relatives."

Her husband burst out laughing: "The young fellow? Allow me to observe,
madame, that he is just twelve years your senior."

"I am a married woman," was the dignified reply, "and he,
unfortunately, is a bachelor. But it is not his fault, and I shall have
him married as soon as possible."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Gersdorf, "you have scarcely seen poor Benno,
and you are already scheming to marry him? I beg you----"

He got no further, for his wife confronted him with an indignant air:
"'Poor,' do you call him, because he is to be married? You think
marriage a misfortune, then. Is it because your own is unhappy? Albert,
what can you mean by such words?"

But Albert only laughed the more; undismayed by his wife's impressive
manner, he clasped her in his arms, and said, "I mean that there is
only one little woman in the world who can make her husband as happy as
I am. Does this explanation content you?"

And Frau Gersdorf was content.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

                          MIDSUMMER BLESSING.


The afternoon sun shone merrily down upon the gay assemblage on the
green before the inn at Oberstein. Insignificant as the place was, it
was a gathering-point for the inhabitants of all the scattered hamlets
and farms in the country round, and all who could had come to the
festival, which began with the service in church in the morning, while
the afternoon was given over to the usual holiday enjoyments.

The St. John's dance, which, in accordance with ancient custom, was
always danced in the open air, had been going on for some time upon the
improvised dancing-floor in front of the inn. The young peasants, both
men and maidens, were engaged in it, while their elders were seated at
small tables with their beer-glasses. The country musicians fiddled
away unweariedly, and the children played hide-and-seek and ran hither
and thither among the happy crowd. It was a lively, merry scene, and
its charm was much enhanced by the picturesque holiday costumes of the
mountaineers.

The presence of the 'city folk,' who had just appeared, did not in the
least disturb the festivities, for the young engineers quartered in
Oberstein joined in the dance, and the two swarthy servants brought by
the foreign gentleman from Heilborn were objects of admiring wonder for
the peasants.

Waltenberg and the Nordheim ladies were seated at a table in the little
garden on one side of the inn, and here Herr Gersdorf and his wife
joined them. Greatly pleased by this meeting, the entire party was in a
very merry mood, with the exception of Frau von Lasberg.

She took no pleasure in any peasant festivities, even as a spectator,
and she had, besides, had a slight headache, so she had resolved to
decline joining the party. Elmhorst, however, had sent word that it
would be impossible for him to escort his betrothed on this occasion,
as there had been some damage caused to the lower portion of the
railway by a freshet, and he was obliged to drive down to inspect it.
Upon this the old lady had resolved to sacrifice her comfort to her
sense of propriety, which would not allow her to leave the two young
ladies to be escorted only by Waltenberg, who was not as yet Erna's
declared lover. She drove up the mountain with them, suffering an
increase of headache in consequence, and now here was Molly, who had
been in deep disgrace with the old lady since her marriage.

Molly knew this perfectly well, and took no pains to regain the lost
favour. She expressed an ardent desire to join in the dance, declared
that the elegant seclusion of the garden was a great bore, and finally
proposed to mingle with the peasantry; in short, she nearly drove poor
Frau von Lasberg to desperation.

"And if Benno comes, I shall dance with him although it should make
Albert jealous," she said, with a glance towards her husband, who was
standing with Erna and Waltenberg at the picket-fence looking on at the
merriment on the green. "The poor doctor never has a moment's pleasure;
just as we were setting out he was called to a patient, fortunately
here in Oberstein, so he promised to follow us in half an hour. Alice,
I hear that you are now under Benno's care."

The young lady nodded assent, and Frau von Lasberg remarked,
condescendingly, "Alice conforms to the wishes of her betrothed, but I
greatly fear that Herr Elmhorst over-estimates his friend when he
attaches more value to his diagnosis than to that of our first medical
authorities. And there is, at all events, great risk in intrusting his
betrothed to the care of a young physician who, by his own confession,
has practised almost exclusively among peasants."

"I think Herr Elmhorst perfectly right," Molly declared, with dignity.
"Our cousin can easily compete with the 'first medical authorities,' I
assure you, madame."

Baroness Lasberg smiled rather contemptuously: "Ah, excuse me! I really
forgot that Dr. Reinsfeld is now a relative of yours, my dear
Baroness."

"Frau Gersdorf, if you please," Molly corrected her. "I am very proud
of my husband's name, and of my dignity as a married woman."

"So I perceive!" the old lady remarked, with an indignant glance at the
young wife who so paraded her matrimonial satisfaction, and who,
nothing daunted, chattered on merrily,--

"What did you think of Benno, Alice? He was perfectly inconsolable for
his awkwardness on that first visit. Were you really as annoyed by it
as he thinks you were?"

"Your cousin's deportment was certainly not calculated to inspire
confidence, Frau Gersdorf," the Baroness remarked, emphasizing the
plebeian name; but to her immense surprise she here encountered
opposition from her usually passive charge. Alice raised her head, and
said, with unwonted decision, "Dr. Reinsfeld made a very agreeable
impression upon me, and I entirely share Wolfgang's confidence in him."

Molly glanced triumphantly at the old lady, and was about to launch
forth in praise of her 'relative,' when the man himself made his
appearance.

To-day Benno was clad in his trim Sunday costume, which differed but
little from that of the mountaineers of the district, and was generally
adopted by gentlemen among the mountains. The gray jacket braided with
green and the dark-green hat with its chamois beard became him
admirably, setting off his powerful, well-knit frame to the best
advantage; and here where all around him was familiar he almost lost
his shyness. He greeted his relatives and Erna cordially, and received
Waltenberg courteously; even his bow to Frau von Lasberg was quite
correct. It was only when he turned to Alice that the composure
hitherto so bravely maintained forsook him; he blushed, and stammered,
and cast down his eyes. At first he hardly understood what she said to
him, hearing only the sweet, gentle voice, as kind in its tone
as it had been before in 'fairy-land.' He partially recovered his
self-control only when she spoke of her companion. "Poor Baroness
Lasberg is suffering from a violent headache, and it has been worse
since she sacrificed herself by driving up here with us. Can you
suggest a remedy?"

Frau von Lasberg, who was sniffing at her vinaigrette, looked dismayed;
she had no idea of intrusting her precious health to this peasant
doctor. Reinsfeld modestly suggested that the pain had been increased
by the broad sunshine and the noise, and proposed that she should
retire for an hour to some cool, quiet room in the inn. He hurried away
to call the hostess, who came immediately and conducted the old lady,
who really felt quite ill and saw the advisability of taking the rest
suggested, to a quiet room on the side of the house that looked away
from the revellers.

"Thank heaven, now we are left to ourselves, and can go to the dance!"
said Molly, rising to lead the way.

"What! among the peasants?" Alice asked, in alarm.

"In their very midst," the young wife undauntedly replied. "Do not look
so horrified. You ought to thank God that your duenna has the headache,
for else she never would have let you go. Benno, offer your arm to
Fräulein Nordheim."

Benno looked equally horrified at this command; but Molly had taken
possession of her husband, and Waltenberg had given his arm to Erna, so
there was nothing for it but to obey.

"Fräulein Nordheim,--will you allow me?" he asked, timidly.

Alice hesitated a moment, but then, either tempted by the gaiety
outside, or induced by the timid address, she smiled, and took the
offered arm, to follow the others, who had already left the garden.

The pair walked slowly; the doctor was a rather mute cavalier: he
hardly spoke, but looked with shy admiration at the young girl beside
him, who did not, however, seem to him half so unapproachable and
distinguished as she had been on their first interview. She looked
graceful and simple in her light-blue muslin and her flower-trimmed
straw hat; it was just the frame for her face, if only the face were
not so pale. She was apparently somewhat afraid of the crowd, and when
loud shouting was heard from the dancing floor she paused, and looked
up timidly at her escort.

"Are you afraid, Fräulein Nordheim?" he asked. "Then let us go back."

Alice shook her head, and replied, in an undertone, "I am unused to it;
but I do not believe the people are really rude."

"Indeed they are not!" Benno declared. "There is nothing to fear from
our Wolkensteiners,--that I can testify, having lived as long as I have
among them."

"Yes, for five years, Wolfgang tells me. How have you managed it?"

The question was put in a tone of such compassion that Benno smiled:
"Oh, it is not so terrible as you suppose. It is, to be sure, a lonely
life, and at times a laborious one, but it has its pleasures."

"Pleasures?" Alice repeated, dubiously, raising her large brown eyes to
his, which so confused the doctor that he forgot to reply.

Suddenly there was a movement among the crowd: they perceived Reinsfeld
for the first time,--for on his arrival he had come through the
inn,--and instantly a circle was formed about him. "The Herr Doctor!
Our Herr Doctor! Here he is!" resounded from all sides, while twenty,
thirty heads were bared, and as many brown hands were stretched out to
the young physician. Old and young thronged about him eager for a word
or a look or to bid 'God bless' him. There was an outburst of
enthusiasm at sight of their 'doctor.'

Reinsfeld glanced with some anxiety at his companion,--he feared she
might be annoyed by these stormy demonstrations; but Alice seemed, on
the contrary, to enjoy them; she clung rather closer to his arm, but
she looked unusually happy and interested.

No sooner did the doctor explain that the young lady wished to look on
at the dance than all began eagerly to arrange a place for her. The
entire crowd about the doctor accompanied them to the dancing-floor;
the rows of spectators were ruthlessly parted asunder, a chair was
brought, and a few moments later Alice was seated in the midst of all
the joyous tumult of St. John's day, and the sturdy mountaineers formed
a sort of _garde d'honneur_ on each side of her, taking care that the
whirling couples did not fly past her close enough to brush the
Fräulein's skirt. There was a certain rude chivalry in the way in which
they arranged the place for the companion of their doctor.

"The people seem very fond of you," said Alice. "I did not imagine that
the peasantry were so devoted to their physician."

"They are not usually," was Reinsfeld's reply. "They are apt to see in
him only a man who costs them money, and they try not to avail
themselves of his help. But the relation between the Wolkensteiners and
myself is exceptional. We have gone through some hard times together,
and they give me credit for not leaving them in the lurch, and for
going indiscriminately to every one who needs me, even although the
poor wretch have only a 'God bless you!' by way of fee. There is a
great deal of poverty among the people, and it is impossible to think
only of one's self; at least I have found it so."

"Yes, that I know," Alice interposed, with unusual vivacity. "You did
not think of yourself when a better position was offered you. Wolfgang
mentioned that during your visit the other day."

As she referred to it Benno coloured slightly: "Do you really remember
that remark of his? Yes, Wolf was very much provoked with me at the
time, and I suppose he was right. The position was undoubtedly a good
one, in a hospital in one of our large cities, and by a lucky chance I
was preferred beyond any of my colleagues; but the condition attached
was that I should report myself at the election, and enter immediately
upon the duties of my office."

"And you had patients here in the village who were very ill at the
time?"

"Not only here, but everywhere throughout the district. Diphtheria had
broken out, and the children brought home contagion from school. One or
two were lying ill in almost every house, and most of the cases were
very serious, for the epidemic was particularly virulent,--and just
when it was at its height the place was offered me! The nearest
physician lived half a day's journey away, and my distinguished
colleagues in Heilborn do not come up to the lonely farms through storm
and snow,--it would cost the people too dear. I delayed my departure
from day to day, and Wolfgang kept urging me, but I _could_ not go.
Hansel, come here!"

He beckoned to a boy of about six who had worked his way to the front
and stood looking on delightedly at the dancers. He was a sturdy little
fellow, with flaxen hair and a fresh, chubby face. He obeyed the call
instantly, very proud to be summoned by the doctor, and looked up
confidingly at the young lady to whom he was presented.

"Look at this fellow, Fräulein Nordheim," Reinsfeld went on; "he does
not look as if, eight months ago, he lay very nearly dying, does he? He
is the grandson of old Seppel, who used to be at Wolkenstein Court, and
he has a little sister who was at the point of death also. Those two
decided the matter! Just as I had resolved to set out, Sepp came to me
on a stormy night; the old man cried bitterly, and the mother, a young
peasant-woman, wailed out, 'Do not go, Herr Doctor! If you leave us the
boy will die, and the girl too.' I knew better than they did the need
in which they stood of medical aid, and there were others too who
needed me sorely. This poor little rogue struggled so with the
frightful disease, and looked up at me with such beseeching eyes, as if
I were absolutely the Almighty,--and I stayed. I could not find it in
my heart to leave the poor little things to suffer just that I might
feather my own nest. I sent word, to be sure, why I was obliged to
delay, but the gentlemen in authority in could not wait, of course;
there were many other applicants, and one of them got the position."

"And you?" Alice asked, gently.

"I? Well, Fräulein Nordheim, I never repented it, for I brought most of
my little patients through, and since then the Wolkensteiners have been
willing to go through fire and water to serve me."

Alice made no rejoinder; she looked up for a moment at the man who
related all this so simply and as if it were quite a matter of course
that he should relinquish his future, and then she drew little Hansel
towards her and gently kissed the boy's rosy cheek. There was something
inexpressibly tender in the act, and Benno's eyes sparkled as he was
conscious of the silent recognition thus conveyed.

"Well, Benno, are you receiving the homage of the assembled populace?"
cried Molly, approaching with her husband; and Gersdorf added, with a
laugh,--

"Yes, it was really a triumphal procession that escorted Fräulein
Nordheim and yourself to the dancing-floor. Pray allow us some share of
your popularity."

Waltenberg and Erna soon joined them, and the entire party made
themselves comfortable in a corner of the dancing-floor. Poor Frau von
Lasberg little dreamed what were the consequences of her headache.
Alice, her charge, who had been so carefully shielded from every noise,
from all undesirable association,--Alice was sitting close beside the
ear-splitting music of the rural orchestra, in the midst of the shouts
and whoops of the dancers, whose nail-shod soles stamped out the time
amid the whirling dust, and, strange to say, she was extremely well
entertained. There was a faint flush on her pale cheek, her eyes had
lost their weary expression and beamed with pleasure, and Benno
Reinsfeld was standing beside her chair, prouder and happier than he
had ever been in his life before, conducting himself like the very pink
of courtesy. Verily, it was a day of signs and wonders!

The doctor's popularity, however, had its drawbacks, as was soon to
appear. Little Hansel had been summoned by his mother with an air of
mystery from the dancing-floor to be intrusted with an important
mission. Old Sepp had brought from the Nordheim villa the intelligence
that Fräulein von Thurgau and the foreign gentleman from Heilborn were
either already betrothed or were going to be, and that they were only
waiting for the president's return to have their betrothal publicly
announced. The young peasant-woman, Seppel's daughter, who had also
been a servant at Wolkenstein Court until her marriage, and still
cherished a loyal allegiance to its former mistress, was quite beside
herself with joy at sight of her beloved Fräulein, to whom she proudly
presented her two children. Hansel was now to repeat the St. John's
verse to the betrothed pair, and, accompanied by his sister, to present
to them the bunch of flowers which obliged those receiving it to dance
together. The Fräulein knew the old custom and would be delighted to
comply with it with her 'schatz.' From the fresh bouquet of Alpine
flowers which decorated the inn parlour the finest were selected, and a
rehearsal hurriedly took place, in which Hansel had sustained with
great credit the part which he was now to play in public.

There was a pause in the dancing, and the music was silent as Hansel
again made his appearance on the floor, one hand full of Alpine
flowers, while with the other he led along his little sister, who
carried a nosegay equally large. With much gravity he advanced, as he
had been instructed to do, towards the group of ladies and gentlemen;
but the directions given him could not have been sufficiently clear,
for the two children marched straight up to Alice and the doctor, and
offered them the flowers, while Hansel began to recite his verse.

"Gracious, Hansel, those are not the right ones!" his mother cried in a
loud whisper, but Hansel was not to be deterred. For him there was but
one 'right one,' and that was the Herr Doctor, with the young lady
beside him. So he went bravely through his verse, and ended with
emphasis,--


                       "Do not refuse it,--
                          Our offering of flowers,
                        And midsummer's blessings
                          Fall on you in showers."


Alice, surprised, graciously accepted the bouquet which the little girl
held out to her, but Benno, who understood the significance of the
little comedy, was overwhelmed with embarrassment.

"But, my boy,--my little girl, what are you thinking of?" he exclaimed,
trying to turn the children aside. Hansel, however, stood his ground
sturdily and thrust his nosegay into the doctor's hand.

"Ah, take his flowers," Alice said, in entire unconsciousness. "What
does it all mean?"

"It is the ancient St. John's blessing," Erna explained, smiling, "and
the flowers mean that you positively must dance with the doctor, Alice;
I am afraid there is no help for it."

"Oh, this is delightful!" Molly cried, clapping her hands. "Of course;
Benno must dance by all means."

Poor Reinsfeld was in despair, but Waltenberg and Gersdorf laughingly
insisted, and even Erna, who probably guessed, from the young
peasant-wife's face, the state of the case, entered into the jest. "You
need only go once round the floor, Alice," she said. "Comply with the
old custom; you will offend the people if you refuse their doctor, of
whom they think so much, the dance to which, in their opinion, he has a
right. It would be to reject the midsummer blessing which they so
kindly invoke for you."

Alice did not seem for her part to think the custom a very strange one;
she merely smiled on perceiving the young physician's intense
embarrassment, and, turning to him, said, in an undertone,--

"We must comply with their wish, Herr Doctor; do you not think so?"

Poor Benno, who had never danced save at these rural festivals, fairly
grew giddy at these words.

"Fräulein Nordheim--would you?" he asked.

In reply Alice arose and took his arm. Those standing about, who
thought it all a matter of course, made room, the music struck up, and
in another moment the couple were whirling away.

Meanwhile, Frau von Lasberg was feeling much better,--the cool quiet of
the secluded apartment had really done her good; she came rustling in
great majesty to the door of the inn, where, to her intense annoyance,
she found her egress barred by a crowd of people, among whom were
Gronau with Said and Djelma, and the host and hostess. All were
stretching their necks to gaze towards the dancing-floor, which could
be seen very easily from the top of the inn steps, and where something
remarkable seemed to be going on.

The Baroness was naturally of too refined a nature to share in such
vulgar curiosity, and she was annoyed that no one seemed to perceive
her; she turned to Said, who stood near her, and said, authoritatively,
"Said, stand aside; are the ladies still in the garden?"

"No; on the dancing-floor," Said replied, delighted.

Frau von Lasberg was indignant; she suspected some folly of Molly's,
that _enfant terrible_: "And they have left Fräulein Nordheim alone?"

"No; the Fräulein is dancing with the doctor!" Said explained, showing
his white teeth in a grin.

The Baroness shrugged her shoulders at the stupidity of the negro, with
his broken German; but, involuntarily looking in the direction whither
he pointed, she saw what almost paralyzed her,--the doctor's athletic
figure with its arm about the waist of a young lady in a light
summer-gown and a straw hat trimmed with flowers,--her pupil, Alice
Nordheim. And they were dancing together! Fräulein Alice Nordheim
dancing with the peasant doctor!

It was more than Frau von Lasberg's overtaxed nerves could endure. She
very nearly fainted, and would have fallen had not Said received her in
his arms, as was of course his duty; but in great embarrassment as to
what was to be done with his burden, he called out, "Herr Gronau! Herr
Gronau! I have got a lady!"

"Well, you had better keep her, then," said Veit, who, quite unaware of
what was going on, stood at some distance and did not even turn his
head. The host and hostess, however, heard the distressed exclamation
and hurried to the rescue. There was a vast stir and commotion, and
Djelma was running off to the dancing-floor, when Gronau detained him:
"Stop! Where are you going?"

"To bring the doctor." But Veit held him fast.

"Stay where you are!" Veit ordered. "Is the poor doctor never to have
any pleasure? Let him have his dance out, and then he can restore the
Frau Baroness."

The crowd about the dancing-floor were quite unconscious of this
episode, and the couple danced on. Benno's arm encircled the delicate
waist, and his eyes rested with delight upon the lovely face, no longer
pale, but tinged by the exercise a rosy pink, that was raised to his
own, and as he gazed he forgot Oberstein and the entire world.
Oberstein, however, was hugely delighted with the turn affairs had
taken, and testified to its pleasure in unmistakable fashion: the
musicians fiddled away with enthusiasm, the peasant lads and lasses
shouted, Hansel and his little sister skipped about, keeping time to
the waltz, and all the Wolkensteiners sang in chorus,--


                       "Do not refuse it,--
                          Our offering of flowers,
                        And midsummer's blessings
                          Fall on you in showers."



                              CHAPTER XV.

                              A BETROTHAL.


Nearly four weeks had gone by, and July was approaching its close, when
President Nordheim returned to his mountain-villa. Meanwhile, the
engineer-in-chief, whose ill health had long necessitated his resigning
his position into Elmhorst's hands in all save the name, had died, and
there had been but one opinion as to the man who should succeed him;
the future son-in-law of the president, the engineer of the Wolkenstein
bridge, was unanimously chosen to fill the vacant post. He was thus at
the head of the huge undertaking now so near its completion.

Several hours after Nordheim's return he retired with Wolfgang to his
study, there to discuss the matter, which they had not done hitherto
save by letter. Both were well content.

"Your election was a mere form," said the president. "There was
no name save yours mentioned; nevertheless I congratulate you, Herr
Engineer-in-Chief."

Elmhorst smiled slightly, but with none of that proud
self-consciousness with which he had formerly achieved his appointment
as superintendent, and yet that had been only the starting-point of the
career the goal of which was now attained so brilliantly. A change had
taken place in him: he looked pale and depressed, and in the keen eyes,
whose depths had seemed so cold, there glowed from time to time a fire
which leaped to light, only to flicker unsteadily and then to be as
quickly extinguished. In conversation, too, he no longer preserved his
old deliberate composure; in spite of all his self-control the man
seemed to be consumed by some inward struggle, which did not permit him
to march forward to gratify his ambition without looking either to the
right or to the left,--some racking, tormenting struggle barred his
path.

"Thank you, sir," he replied. "I value highly the proof thus given me
of the confidence reposed in me, and I confess, besides, that I take
satisfaction in knowing that the completion of the work to which I have
given the best that is in me should be connected with my name."

"Do you set such a value on that?" Nordheim asked, indifferently.
"True, such an ambition is still natural at your age; but you will soon
outgrow it when loftier interests come to the fore."

"Loftier than the honour that attaches to the creation of a great
work?"

"More practical interests, I mean,--interests of more decisive
weight,--and it is precisely of them that I wish to speak with you. You
know that I have long cherished the desire to retire from the company
as soon as the railway shall be opened?"

"I do; you mentioned it to me some months ago, and surprised me
exceedingly. Why should you wish to retire from an undertaking which
you practically called into existence?"

"Because it no longer seems to me sufficiently profitable," the
president replied, coolly. "The costs of construction are very
heavy,--much heavier than I thought; in fact, there was no possibility
of foreseeing all the difficulties in our way, and then your
predecessor had such a mania for building with solidity. He sometimes
drove me to despair with that solidity of his; it was terribly costly."

"Excuse me, sir, but I share that same 'mania,'" Wolfgang declared,
with some emphasis.

"Of course. Hitherto you have been simply an engineer of the railway,
and it could make but little difference to you if it cost a few
millions more or less. But when in future you engage in such
undertakings as my son-in-law you will think very differently."

"On such points--never!"

"Oh, you must learn to do so. In this case we can specially emphasize
the admirable quality of the structure when the appraisement is made,
which will probably be this year. The stockholders must own the
railway; I have resolved upon that, and have already taken steps to
have it so arranged. My shares stand for millions where others have
invested tens of thousands at the most; I can consider myself the
practical proprietor of the entire concern. Consequently I can impose
my own conditions, and therefore I am especially glad to have you at
the head of affairs as engineer-in-chief; we need take no stranger into
counsel, but can work together."

"I am entirely at your service, sir, as you know; as matters stand, the
appraisement will be tolerably high."

"I hope so," Nordheim said, slowly and significantly. "Moreover, the
calculations are for the most part already made. They should be ready
long beforehand, and they demand the work of a thorough man of
business. I could not, therefore, call upon you to make them; you have
enough to do in the conduct of the technical part of the enterprise.
You will merely be called upon to review and approve the appraisement,
and in this regard I rely upon you absolutely, Wolfgang. The unbounded
confidence which you enjoy, as the result of your labours hitherto,
will make matters very easy for us."

Wolfgang looked somewhat puzzled; it was a matter of course that he
should do his duty and assist his father-in-law to the best of his
ability, but there seemed some other meaning hidden behind the
president's words: they sounded odd. There was no opportunity for
further explanation, however, for Nordheim looked at his watch and
arose.

"Four o'clock already; it will soon be dinner-time. Come, Wolfgang, we
must not keep the ladies waiting."

"You brought Waltenberg with you," Elmhorst said, as he also rose.

"Yes; he met me in Heilborn, and came over with me. His patience seems
to have been put to a hard test in these last four weeks. I cannot
understand the man. He is proud and self-willed, even arrogant in a
certain way, and yet he allows himself to be the victim of a girl's
caprice. I mean to have a serious talk with my niece. The matter must
be decided."

Meanwhile, they had passed through the adjoining room and entered the
drawing-room, where a servant was employed in raising the curtains,
which had been drawn down on account of the sun. Nordheim asked if the
ladies were in the garden.

"Only the Baroness Thurgau and Herr Waltenberg," was the reply.
"Fräulein Nordheim is in her room, where the Herr Doctor is paying her
a visit."

"Ah, the new physician whom you have discovered," said the president,
turning to Wolfgang. "One of your early friends, I think you told me.
He certainly seems to understand the matter, for Alice has changed
greatly for the better in a short time. I was quite surprised by her
appearance and her unusual sprightliness; the doctor seems to have
worked wonders. What is the name of this Oberstein Æsculapius? You
forgot to mention it in your letters."

Wolfgang had purposely avoided doing so, but he felt no longer called
upon to pay any regard to what he considered as his friend's whim, and
he replied, quietly,--

"Dr. Benno Reinsfeld."

Nordheim turned upon him hastily: "Whom did you say?"

"Benno Reinsfeld," Elmhorst repeated, amazed at the tone in which the
question was put. He had supposed that the president would scarcely
remember the name, and that he would not take the slightest interest in
the old associations so foreign now to the millionaire. That they had a
deep and lasting hold upon him was evident, however: Nordheim's face
grew ghastly pale, and expressed dismay, and even terror, which also
showed itself in his voice as he exclaimed, "What! that man in
Oberstein,--and in my house?"

Wolfgang was about to reply, but at that moment the door opened and
Benno himself entered. He started slightly upon perceiving the
president, but paused calmly and bowed. He had just heard from Alice of
her father's arrival, and was prepared for this encounter.

Nordheim immediately divined who the man was; perhaps he remembered the
young physician whom he had seen for a moment three years before at
Wolkenstein Court, without hearing his name, and he was man of the
world enough to recover himself immediately. With apparent composure he
greeted the young man whom Wolfgang now presented to him, but his
impassible features were still ghastly pale.

"Herr Elmhorst wrote me that he had availed himself of your skill on
behalf of his betrothed," he said, with frigid courtesy, "and I must
express my thanks to you, Herr Doctor, for your efforts seem to have
achieved very favourable results; my daughter looks decidedly better.
Your diagnosis, I hear, differs from that of her former physicians?"

"Fräulein Nordheim seems to me to be suffering from a derangement of
the nerves," said Benno, modestly, "and I have treated her
accordingly."

"Indeed? The other gentlemen were tolerably well agreed in pronouncing
her heart affected."

"I know it, but I do not agree with them, and the result of my
treatment seems to prove me in the right. I have induced Fräulein
Nordheim, who has been hitherto forbidden all exercise, to take
walks and to increase their extent daily, and I have advised some
mountain-climbing, and that she should spend as much time as possible
in the open air, since this high atmosphere seems to suit her extremely
well. Thus far I have cause to be satisfied with her improvement."

"As we all have," the president assented, gazing meanwhile at the young
physician as if to read his soul. "As I said, I am grateful to you. You
live in Oberstein, Wolfgang wrote me. Have you been there long?

"Five years, Herr President."

"And you intend to remain?"

"At least until some better position offers."

"There should be no difficulty about that," Nordheim remarked, and then
went on to converse with the young man, but with a degree of distant
courtesy that entirely precluded familiar ease. Not a word, not a look
betrayed any consciousness that the man before him was the son of his
early friend; in spite of his apparent kindliness, his reserve was also
apparent.

Benno perceived this clearly, but was not at all surprised by it, for
he had expected nothing else. He knew that the memories roused by his
name were far from agreeable to the president, and in his modesty he
never dreamed that the result of his medical treatment of the daughter
could influence the father. He never thought of recalling associations
so entirely ignored by the millionaire, and, as the meeting was an
annoying one for him, he took his leave as soon as possible.

Nordheim looked after him in silence for a few moments, and then,
turning to Wolfgang with a frown, he asked, sharply, "How came you to
make this acquaintance?"

"As I have told you, Reinsfeld is one of my early friends, whom I met
again here in Oberstein."

"And you have known him for years without ever mentioning his name to
me?"

"I avoided doing so by Benno's express desire, for your name is as well
known to him as his to you. You do not wish to be reminded that his
father was your fellow-student,--I perceived that to-day."

"What do you know about it?" the president asked, angrily. "Did the
doctor speak to you about it?"

"He did, and informed me that the former friendship had ended in entire
alienation."

Nordheim leaned his hand as if accidentally upon the back of the chair
by which he was standing; his face had grown pale again, and his voice
was rather tremulous as he asked, "Indeed! And what does he know about
it?"

"Nothing at all! He was a boy at the time, and never learned what
caused the breach; but he was much too proud to approach you in any
way, and therefore made me promise to avoid mentioning his name for as
long as I could."

Involuntarily Nordheim breathed a deep sigh; he made no rejoinder, but
walked to the window.

"It seems to me that Dr. Reinsfeld was entitled to a more cordial
reception," Wolfgang began again, evidently hurt by the cool way in
which his friend had been treated. "Of course I know nothing of what
occurred formerly----"

"Nor do I wish you to know," the president sharply interrupted him.
"The affair was of a purely personal character, and one of which I
alone can judge; but you knew that this Reinsfeld could not be
agreeable to me, and I cannot understand how you came to introduce him
into my house and intrust my daughter's health to him. It was an act of
supererogation which I cannot approve."

He was evidently much irritated by his encounter with Benno, and was
wreaking his irritation upon his future son-in-law, who was, however,
nowise inclined to submit to be addressed in a tone which he heard
today for the first time.

"I regret, sir, that the matter should annoy you," he said, coldly,
"but there is no question here of supererogation. It is certainly my
right to call in for my betrothed a physician in whom I have perfect
confidence, and who, as you yourself must admit, has entirely justified
my confidence. I could not possibly surmise that an old grudge, dating
twenty years back, and of which Benno is as innocent as he is ignorant,
could make you so unjust. Your former friend is long since dead, and
all unpleasantness should be buried with him."

"I am the only judge of that," Nordheim interrupted him, with a fresh
access of anger. "Enough. I will not have this man coming to my house.
I will send him a fee,--of course a very large fee,--and decline
further visits from him upon any pretext whatsoever. And I also request
you to discontinue your intercourse with him. I do not approve of it."

The words sounded like a command, but the young engineer-in-chief was
not the man to submit. His eyes flashed: "I think I have told you, sir,
that Dr. Reinsfeld is my friend," he said, sternly, "and of course
there can be no question of giving him up. It would insult him, after
the pains he has taken with Alice's health, to dismiss him with a fee
before her cure is complete. And I must beg you also to adopt another
tone in speaking of him. Benno is a man deserving of the greatest
regard; beneath an unpretending and even awkward exterior he possesses
characteristics and talents worthy of all admiration."

"Indeed?" The president laughed scornfully. "I am learning to know you
to-day, Wolfgang, in an entirely new character,--that of an
enthusiastic and self-sacrificing friend. I should hardly have thought
it of you."

"I am at least wont to stand up for my friends, and not to leave them
in the lurch," was the very decided reply.

"But I repeat that I do not choose to have this man in my house,"
Nordheim said, dictatorially. "I suppose I am master here."

"Certainly; but in _my_ future house Benno will always be a welcome
guest, and I shall explain this to him unreservedly, in case I should
be obliged by your dismissal of him to discuss the matter with him, and
to--excuse you."

The words left nothing to be desired in the way of emphasis. It was the
first time that there had been a difference of opinion between the two
men; hitherto their views and interests had been identical. Wolfgang;
showed in this first encounter that he was no docile son-in-law, but
could maintain his ground with entire resolution. He certainly would
not yield, as the president could clearly see; and probably Nordheim
had some reason for not pushing him to extremities, for he lowered his
tone.

"The matter is not worth a dispute," he said, with a shrug. "What, in
fact, is this Dr. Reinsfeld to me? I would rather not be reminded by
the sight of him of a disagreeable circumstance,--nothing more. In
spite of your enthusiastic eulogy, I take the liberty of finding him as
insignificant as was the incident that caused me to break with his
father. Let the matter drop, for all I care."

He could not have astounded Wolfgang more than by this unwonted
acquiescence. This indifference was in direct contrast with his former
feverish irritability. The young man was silent and appeared satisfied,
but the ancient grudge had acquired a new significance in his eyes. He
was now convinced that the cause of it had not been insignificant; a
man like Nordheim would not have preserved for twenty years the memory
of a mere bagatelle.

Alice here made her appearance, to the evident relief of her father,
who made no reference to the physician's visit, but began to talk of
other things, and Wolfgang also took pains to conceal his annoyance.
Alice did not perceive anything amiss; she was on her way to the garden
to look for Erna, and her father, as well as her betrothed, joined her.

The garden of the villa was scarcely in accord with its elevated
situation, where the usual flowers and ornamental shrubs enjoyed but a
short summer, and were buried beneath the snow during more than half
the year. The beds that had been laid out on the former meadow were
fresh and sunny, but the little pine forest adjoining the garden, and
extending to the foot of the cliffs, offered a cool, shady retreat from
the hot sun.

It formed a kind of natural park, to which the moss-grown rocks,
detached from their mountain-home in some ancient avalanche, and lying
scattered here and there, lent a romantic charm.

Upon a rustic seat at the base of one of these rocks sat the Baroness
Thurgau, and before her stood Ernst Waltenberg, but not engaged in calm
conversation; he had sprung up and planted himself before her as if to
prevent her escape. He was greatly agitated. "No, no, Fräulein Thurgau,
you must stay and hear me!" he exclaimed. "You have repeatedly escaped
me of late when I would fain have uttered what has been upon my lips
for months. Stay, I entreat! I can endure suspense no longer."

Erna could not but be conscious that he had a right to be heard. She
made no further attempt to leave him, but the expression of her face
betrayed her dread of the coming declaration. Neither by word nor by
look did she give the slightest encouragement to the man who now
continued, with ever-increasing ardour,--

"I might have ended this uncertainty long ago, but, for the first time
in my life, I have been and am a very coward. You cannot dream, Erna,
of the misery you have caused me by your reserve, and avoidance of me!
When I would have spoken I seemed to read in your eyes a 'no,' and that
I could not endure."

"Herr Waltenberg, listen to me," the girl said, gently.

"_Herr_ Waltenberg!" he repeated, bitterly. "Have you no other name for
me? Am I still such a stranger to you that you cannot, for once at
least, let me hear you call me Ernst? You must have long known that I
love you with all a man's passion,--that I sue for you as for the
greatest of all blessings. There was a time when entire freedom was my
highest ideal of happiness; when I shrank from the thought of any tie
that could fetter me. All that is gone and forgotten. What is all the
world to me--what is unfettered freedom--without you? On this broad
earth I care for you, and for you only!"

He had taken her hand, and she did not withdraw it from his clasp, but
it lay there cold and passive, and when she raised her eyes to his they
were veiled with sadness.

"I know that you love me, Ernst," she said, slowly, "and I believe in
the depth and sincerity of your affection, but I can give you no love
in return."

He dropped her hand suddenly: "And why not?"

"A strange question to ask. Can love be forced?"

"Ah, yes. A man's boundless, passionate devotion must beget love in
return--if there is no rival in the way."

Erna shivered, and the colour mounted slowly in her face, but she was
silent. This change of colour did not escape Waltenberg, who was gazing
at her with breathless eagerness. His dark face grew pale on a sudden,
and there was something like a menace in the tone in which he said,
"Erna, why have you avoided me hitherto? Why do you refuse to return my
love? Tell me the truth at all hazards. Do you love another?"

A short pause ensued. Erna would fain have refused to reply. How could
she confess to another that which she shrank from acknowledging even to
herself? But a glance into the agitated face of the man before her
decided her.

"I will be entirely frank with you," she said, firmly. "I have loved.
It was a dream, followed by a bitter wakening."

"Then the man was unworthy of you?"

"He was unworthy of any pure and great affection, and when I learned
this, I tore my love for him from my heart. I pray you, do not question
me further. It is gone and buried."

"Ah, he is dead, then?"

There was a degree of savage triumph in the question, and still more
cruel was the hatred that flashed in his eyes,--hatred for one whom he
thought dead. Erna saw it, and for an instant a wave of terror
overwhelmed her. Instinctively she bowed her head as before a
threatened danger, and before she was conscious that by this gesture
she confirmed him in his error the involuntary falsehood was told.

Ernst drew a deep breath, and the colour slowly returned to his cheek:
"Well, then, it is with the dead that I must strive. I will not fear a
phantom; it must yield when once I clasp you in my arms. Erna, come to
me!"

She recoiled in dismay from the passion in his words: "What! you still
persist? When I tell you that I have no love to bestow upon you, does
not your pride stand you in stead?"

"My pride,--where has it gone?" he broke forth. "Do you suppose that I
could have gone on wooing you patiently for months without one word of
encouragement from you, had I been the same Waltenberg who thought he
needed but to ask of fate to attain his desire? Now I have learned to
beg. The sight of you threw about me a spell to escape from which I
struggle in vain. Erna, if you desire it I will resign my wandering
life, and if you should wish for home in those sunny lands which I so
long to show you, I will return with you to the cold, gloomy north, and
for your sake assume the fetters of existence here. You do not know
what a change you have already wrought in me, how all-powerful is your
influence over me. Ah, do not be thus cold and impassive as your Alpine
Fay upon her icy throne! I must win you for my own although your kiss
were as deadly as that of the phantom of your legend."

His words were prompted by passion, strong to sweep down all obstacles
in its path; such tones are always intoxicating for a woman's ear, and
here, moreover, they dropped like soothing balm upon a wound that was
still bleeding. It had been so humiliating to the girl to know herself
ignored, resigned, not for the sake of another,--Erna knew well that
that other was as nought to the man whose ambition was his god, the
idol to whom she had been sacrificed. And now she was beloved,
idolized, encompassed by a passionate regard which knew no calculation
and no bounds. She was desired for herself alone. It was a triumph for
her pride. And she was assailed, too, by pity,--by the consciousness of
power to bestow happiness. Everything urged her to utter the consent
for which she was implored, and yet she was restrained by an invisible
something, and at this decisive moment another face arose in her
memory,--a face that had looked so pale in the moonlight as the white
lips had faltered, 'And could you have loved a man who had risen thus?'

"Erna, ah, do not keep me upon the rack!" Waltenberg exclaimed, with
feverish impatience. "See! I kneel to implore you!" And he threw
himself upon his knees before her and pressed her hand to his lips.

As she turned away her eyes as if entreating help, she suddenly
started, and in a hurried whisper exclaimed, "For heaven's sake, rise,
Ernst! We are not alone."

He sprang to his feet, and, following the direction of her eyes,
perceived the president with his daughter and her betrothed just
emerging in the distance from among the trees.

They had all been witnesses of the scene for a few seconds, but
Nordheim divined that the decisive word had not been spoken, and that
his self-willed niece might thwart his plan at the last moment. He
therefore made haste to render its fulfilment irrevocable, and,
advancing quickly, exclaimed, with a laugh, "We ask a thousand pardons!
Nothing was farther from our intention than to intrude, but, since we
have done so, let me offer you my best wishes, my child, and,
Waltenberg, I congratulate you from my heart! We are scarcely
surprised, having seen for some time how matters stood with you, and
upon my arrival I perceived a betrothal in the air. Come, Alice and
Wolfgang, congratulate these lovers."

He bestowed a paternal embrace upon his niece, shook Waltenberg warmly
by the hand, and so overwhelmed the pair with congratulations and good
wishes that no denial on Erna's part was possible. She passively
allowed it all,--allowed Alice to embrace her and Ernst to clasp her
hand in his as his betrothed, only fully recovering her consciousness
when Wolfgang approached her.

"Let me add my good wishes to the rest, Fräulein von Thurgau," he said.
His voice was calm, too calm, and his immovable countenance betrayed no
breath of the tempest raging within him. Only for one instant did his
eye meet hers, and that instant told her that she was amply revenged
upon the man who had sacrificed his love to ambition and the love of
gold. Now that he saw her in the arms of another, he felt how pitiable
had been his choice, felt that he had bartered away the happiness of
his life.



                              CHAPTER XVI.

                              SUSPICIONS.


"As I say, Wolf, I do not know what to think of it. I never applied for
the position. I did not, in fact, know anything about it, and here it
is offered to me,--to me in this secluded Oberstein at the other end of
the kingdom. There, read for yourself."

As he spoke, Benno Reinsfeld handed his friend a letter which he had
received the day before. They were in the doctor's study, and Elmhorst
also seemed surprised as he read the letter through attentively.

"It certainly is an admirable position," he said. "Neuenfeld is one of
our largest iron-works,--I know the place by name at least, and the
working population form a colony there, while you can establish the
pleasantest relations with the multitude of officials employed in the
management of the factories. Why, your salary will amount to six times
your present income. Of course you must accept it. You must not let
your good fortune slip again."

"But that other time I took infinite trouble to obtain the position. I
sent in a scientific treatise that got me the preference, and then I
was dropped, just because I could not come up to time. I have no
association with Neuenfeld,--I do not know a soul there,--and with such
advantages to offer there must be at least a dozen applicants for the
post. How does the management know of the existence of a Dr. Reinsfeld
in Oberstein?"

Wolfgang looked down thoughtfully, then read over the letter again: "I
think I can solve the riddle for you," he said at last. "The president
has had a hand in it."

"The president? Impossible!"

"On the contrary, very probable. He is interested pecuniarily in the
iron-works, and he put the present director there; his influence
extends everywhere."

"But he certainly would not exert that influence in my behalf. You
yourself saw how coldly he received me on the only occasion when I have
had the honour of meeting him."

"Nor do I think that he has been induced to interfere thus for
benevolence's sake, but---- Benno, do you really know nothing of the
cause of the breach between your father and Nordheim? Can you not
remember some expression, some hint, that would give you a clue to it?"

Benno seemed to reflect, and then shook his head: "No, Wolf; no child
heeds such things. I only know that afterwards, when I asked after
'Uncle Nordheim,' my father, with a severity very unlike himself,
forbade my speaking of him. Soon afterwards my parents died, and in the
hard struggle that ensued I had too much to do to allow of my reviving
childish memories. But why do you ask?"

"Because I am now convinced that something very serious occurred then,
the sting of which is still sharp after twenty years. It caused the
only difference I have ever had with Herr Nordheim, who visits his
anger upon you, who are entirely innocent of all offence."

"Possibly; but that would be all the more reason why he should not
obtain for me a lucrative position."

"It is just what he would do, were there no other means of removing you
from his vicinity, and I fear that this is the true state of the case.
He even wished to put a stop to your professional visits to his
daughter. I did not tell you of it, because I thought it might, with
justice, offend you, and he apparently changed his mind; but I am quite
sure that I see his hand in this offer to you, from an entirely
unexpected quarter, of a position that will keep you confined to a spot
quite as distant from here as from the capital."

"Why, that would be a positive plot," Reinsfeld interposed,
incredulously. "Do you really suspect the president of it?"

"Yes," said Elmhorst, coldly. "But, however the case may stand, so
advantageous a position is not likely to come in your way soon again:
so accept it by all means."

"Even if it be offered to me from such motives?"

"They are only supposititious; and even were they actual, no one in
Neuenfeld knows anything of the circumstances; there they merely accept
the recommendation of an influential man. Perhaps he perceives the
injustice of visiting an old grudge upon you and wishes to indemnify
you, since your presence recalls disagreeable memories."

Wolfgang knew well that this could not be so; his talk with the
president had convinced him that he could be actuated by no sentiments
of justice or magnanimity, but the young engineer wished to make the
way easy for his friend, with whose sensitive delicacy he was familiar.
Under all circumstances it was a piece of good fortune for Reinsfeld to
be removed from his present obscure position, no matter whose was the
influence to which he owed the change.

"We will discuss it this evening when you come to me," Elmhorst
continued, taking his hat from the table. "Now I must go; my conveyance
is waiting outside; I am driving to the lower railway."

"Wolf," said Benno, with a searching, anxious glance at his friend's
face, "did you sleep at all last night?"

"No; I had some work to do. That sometimes will happen."

"Sometimes! It has come to be the rule with you. I believe you hardly
sleep at all."

"Not much, it is true, but there is no help for it. Every structure
must be finished before the winter sets in. Of course that makes a deal
of work, and as engineer-in-chief I must see to it all."

"You are overworking yourself perilously. Hardly any other man could do
as you are doing, and you cannot go on thus for long. How often I have
told you----"

"The same old story," Wolfgang interrupted him, impatiently. "Let me
alone, Benno; there is no help for it."

The doctor had, unfortunately, learned from experience that all his
admonitions on this point would avail nothing, and he shook his head
anxiously as he escorted his friend to the carriage. He himself was
unwearied in the performance of his duties, but he knew nothing of the
feverish state of mind that seeks forgetfulness in labour at whatever
cost.

In the hall they met Veit Gronau, who had come with Waltenberg from
Heilborn, and had taken the opportunity to pay a visit to Oberstein.
The gentlemen bade each other good-day, and then Elmhorst got into his
carriage, while the two others returned to the study.

"The Herr Engineer-in-Chief was in a great hurry," said Gronau,
settling himself in the leathern arm-chair, the leg of which had,
fortunately, been mended. "He scarcely took time to speak to me, and he
looks very little like a happy lover. He's always as pale and gloomy as
the marble guest! And yet he surely has reason to be contented with his
lot."

"Yes, I am anxious about Wolf," Benno declared. "He is not at all like
himself, and I am afraid the post he so coveted will be his bane. Even
his iron, constitution cannot stand the strain of feverish activity
which fills his days and nights. He oversees the entire extent of
railway, and he never gives himself an instant's rest, in spite of all
I can say."

"Yes, he is everywhere except with his betrothed," Gronau remarked,
drily. "The lady seems to be of a remarkably unexacting temperament,
else she could hardly endure having her lover entirely given over to
locomotives, and tunnels, and bridges, or to have him declare as soon
as he appears that he has not a moment to stay. But she takes it all as
quite a matter of course. 'Tis an odd household, that of the Nordheim
villa. With two pair of lovers, one would suppose all would go as
merrily as a marriage-bell, but instead of that they all seem rather
uncomfortable, not excepting Herr Waltenberg. Said and Djelma are
always complaining to me of his temper. I explained to them that it was
all because he was thinking of marrying; that matrimony was sure to
make mischief; but the rogues persist in thinking it very fine."

"Oh, you are a declared foe to matrimony, as we all know," said
Reinsfeld, with a fleeting smile. "If Wolfgang is out of sorts,--and
the responsibilities of his position may well make him so,--his
betrothed is, in looks and temper, all that could be desired."

"Yes, she is the gayest of all," Gronau assented. "That cure of yours
is almost a miracle, Herr Doctor. What a poor, pining little plant she
was, and now she is as fresh and blooming as a rose! Baroness Thurgau
has grown grave and silent; and as for the two men,--one of them is
always at the boiling-point, and is as jealous as a Turk, while the
other is a perfect icicle, and they look at each other as if they would
like to fly at each other's throats. What affectionate relatives they
will be!"

Benno suppressed a sigh; the mute hostility between Wolfgang and
Waltenberg, which was barely concealed beneath the forms of
conventional courtesy, had not escaped him, but he said nothing.

"I am really sorry for Herr Waltenberg," Veit began again. "He cannot
live without a sight of his betrothed every twenty-four hours, and he
drives over from Heilborn daily. She, on the contrary, seems to have
taken the famous mountain divinity for her model: she sits enthroned
like the Alpine Sprite, and allows herself to be worshipped, while she
remains entirely unmoved. Absolutely, doctor, you are the only sensible
being among them all. You have no thoughts of matrimony,--hold fast to
that!"

"I certainly am not thinking of it, but of something else, which
will be scarcely less of a surprise to you,--of going away. Very
unexpectedly a lucrative position has been offered me."

"Bravo! Accept it at once!"

"I certainly must."

Gronau burst into a laugh: "With what a long face you say that! I
verily believe it goes to your heart to leave these honest Obersteiners
who have been wearing you out for five years, to requite you with only
a 'God reward you!' Just like my dear old Benno! He never would have
died a poor man if he had understood the world and human nature. There
he sat for years bothering over an idea which ought to have made
his fortune, but he never knew how to push his claims, and timid
requests and modest applications do no good with great capitalists
and lords of finance. Finally others got before him with his invention,
which was in the air, as it were, when they began to build
mountain-railways, but nevertheless he was the first to devise the
system of mountain-locomotives; all the later inventions are based upon
his principle."

"My father?" Benno asked, with a puzzled air. "You are mistaken; it is
the Nordheim system upon which the locomotives of to-day are
constructed."

"I beg pardon: 'tis the Reinsfeld method," Gronau maintained.

"You are mistaken, I assure you. Wolf told me himself that his future
father-in-law laid the foundation of his fortunes by the sale of his
method of constructing mountain-locomotives. It was purchased and used
by the first mountain-railways. Afterwards, of course, all kinds of
improvements were added, but the inventor made a goodly profit; they
paid him a very large price for the patent."

"Paid whom? Nordheim?" Veit shouted.

"The president,--certainly."

"And the engineer-in-chief told you this?"

"He did; we were talking of it a little while ago. Moreover, the thing
is well known; any engineer can tell you so."

Gronau suddenly sprang up and approached the young physician. "Doctor,"
he said, slowly and emphatically, "this is either a wretched mistake or
a scoundrelly trick!"

"Scoundrelly trick?" Benno repeated, startled. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, or rather I know, that this invention was your father's, and
Nordheim knows it as well as I do. If he has given it out for his
own----"

"In heaven's name, you would not call----"

"The highly-respected president a scoundrel? Well, that remains to be
seen. It was, of course, possible for a stranger to have hit upon the
same invention,--every engineer was occupied with the problem at the
time,--but Nordheim had his friend's completed plan in his possession,
studied it thoroughly, praised and admired it; there is no possibility
of his having happened upon the idea for himself. We must sift the
matter. Consider, Benno, do you really know nothing of the cause of the
estrangement of which you have told me?"

"Nothing at all. I have just told Wolfgang so; he asked me the same
question."

"The engineer-in-chief? What made him do that?"

"He thought he saw the president's hand in the offer that has just been
made me, and he surmised--but no, no! Not a word more of such a
shameful suspicion. It is impossible----"

"Much seems impossible to you, doctor; you have preserved the heart of
a child," Veit said, gravely. "But when a man has seen as much of men
as I have, he comes to disbelieve in such impossibilities. You are sure
that Nordheim took out a patent for the mountain-locomotive?"

"Certainly; of that fact I am sure."

"Then he is a thief!" Gronau exclaimed, in a burst of indignation,--"a
trebly disgraced thief, for he robbed his friend!"

"Hush, hush!" Benno interposed, but fruitlessly: Veit went on to prove
his accusation.

"Tell me why your father, who was loyalty itself to his friends, should
have broken with the one who was nearest to him? Why did Nordheim, if
he were possessed of so inventive a genius, never achieve more than one
invention? and why did he entirely abandon engineering shortly
afterwards? Can you answer these questions?"

Reinsfeld was silent; under other circumstances he would have rejected
all idea of such a suspicion, but the tone of conviction in which the
terrible accusation was made, his conversation with Wolfgang, the
mystery of the quarrel which had left so bitter a sting behind it that
his gentle, amiable father had forbidden the mention of the name of a
friend once so dear to him,--all this rushed upon his mind, almost
paralyzing his power of thought.

"We must be sure," Gronau said, resolutely. "Where are your father's
old papers,--his drawings and sketches? You told me you had preserved
them all carefully. There must be something to be found among them, and
if not, I will go myself to the president and question him. I am
curious to see how he will look. Where are the papers, Benno? Produce
them; we have no time to lose."

Benno pointed to a small cabinet in a corner of the room. "You will
find there everything that I possess of my father's," he said, sadly.
"Here is the key. Look through it; I----"

"I trust you will help me. You are the interested party. Why do you
hesitate?"

The doctor was hesitating, in fact, but Veit had already opened the
cabinet, and in a few minutes the rather meagre collection of papers
belonging to the late engineer was spread out on the table. His old
friend and comrade looked through them with the utmost care; every
drawing was closely examined, every leaf turned, but in vain! There was
nothing that bore any reference to the matter in question,--no sketch,
no note, no memorandum, nothing that could confirm Gronau's suspicions.
Benno, who had undertaken the search unwillingly, breathed a sigh of
relief, while Veit pushed the papers aside in great dissatisfaction.

"Fools that we are! We might have known it! Nordheim never would have
played his rascally trick had anything existed that could betray him.
He must have borrowed the plan from his friend upon some pretext and
then insured himself against discovery. My old Benno was not the one to
unmask such a fox unless he had been in possession of convincing proof
of his treachery; and I, the only one cognizant of the truth of the
case, was off in the wide world no one knew where. But I am here now,
and I will not rest until the affair is brought to light."

"But why?" Benno asked, gently. "Why rake up the old forgotten quarrel?
It can do my poor father no good, and should you find the proof you
speak of, it would be a terrible blow for--the president's family."

Gronau stared at him for a moment speechless, as if he could not
understand his words; then he burst forth, angrily, "Upon my word this
is going too far! Any one else would be almost wild with such a
discovery, would move heaven and earth to find out the truth and to
brand the guilty, and you would fain restrain me because, forsooth, the
engineer-in-chief is your friend,--because you are afraid of troubling
the family of your worst enemy. You are the true son of your father; he
would have done the very same thing."

He was not quite right in his surmise. Benno had not thought of
Wolfgang: a very different face had risen in his mind and gazed at him
with brown eyes filled with troubled questionings, but not for worlds
would he have revealed what made the confirmation of Gronau's
suspicions so terrible to him, and why he would rather bury the whole
affair in oblivion.

Veit Gronau turned away, saying, in a tone expressing discontent and
pity, "There is nothing to be done with you, Benno. Such unpractical
sentimentalists are good for nothing in a matter of this kind.
Fortunately, I am on hand. I am now upon the trail, and, cost what it
may, I shall pursue it. My old friend shall have in his grave the
recognition that was denied him while living!"



                             CHAPTER XVII.

                         UNFORESEEN OBSTACLES.


President Nordheim was seated in his office in the capital, in
consultation with Herr Gersdorf, for the consignment of the railway to
the stockholders was now decided upon. Nordheim's resolve to withdraw
from the company after the completion of the undertaking was regretted,
but caused no surprise, for the man's restless activity was well known,
and it was natural that he should have new schemes wherewith to employ
his capital. The glory was his of having devised and executed a bold
project which had opened a new highway for the world.

The engineer-in-chief had promised that all building operations should
be concluded before the beginning of winter, and as soon as they were
finished the transfer was to be made. It would then be the business of
the new management to effect the final preparations for the opening of
the road, which was to take place the ensuing spring. All this had
been settled for months, and Gersdorf, in his capacity of legal
representative of the railway company, had had many consultations with
the president.

"The engineer-in-chief does in fact achieve almost the impossible," he
said, "but yet I cannot understand how he can have all finished by the
end of October. The month has begun, and four weeks seems a very short
time for the completion of what remains to be done."

"If Wolfgang has said the work shall be done, he will keep his word,"
Nordheim rejoined, in a tone of calm conviction. "In such cases he
spares neither himself nor his subordinates, and in this instance he is
also driven by necessity. November brings the snowstorms which are most
dangerous in the Wolkenstein district; it is very important to have the
work finished."

"Hitherto autumn has brought us only late summer weather," the lawyer
observed, as he gathered together some papers scattered on the table.
"I cannot wonder that your daughter lingers in the mountains and seems
to have no idea of returning."

"She, with Frau von Lasberg, will probably remain there for some weeks
yet. The mountain-air has worked miracles for Alice; she is almost
entirely well, and Dr. Reinsfeld advises her to extend her stay until
the weather changes. I owe a debt of gratitude to your cousin, and I
greatly regret that he is to leave Oberstein. I hear he has another
medical position in prospect in--what is the name of the place?"

"Neuenfeld."

"Right,--Neuenfeld. The name had escaped me. I cannot wonder at the
young physician for desiring a wider sphere of action; but, as I said,
we all regret that he is going so far away. Wolfgang in especial will
miss him much."

The words sounded kindly, as though the president were really grateful
to his daughter's physician and regretted losing him. Gersdorf, who had
no reason to suspect his sincerity, was quite impressed.

"Benno writes me that he shall not leave for his new post before the
end of a couple of weeks," he said. "He stipulated for this delay that
he might install his successor at Oberstein. Therefore we shall have an
opportunity of seeing each other again, for I must go to Heilborn next
week. The suit of the parishes of Oberstein and Unterstein against the
railway for damage done to their forests in its construction is to be
decided, and I represent the company of course."

"Then we shall meet there," said Nordheim. "I am going to take a short
holiday, and then return to town with my family. I have been
overweighted with business of late, and am sadly in need of rest. I
shall hope to see you at our villa; you will not forgot to come?"

"Certainly not," said Gersdorf, rising to take leave.

When he had gone the president rang for lights, for it was growing
dark, and then, seating himself at his writing-table, he became
absorbed in the papers lying there,--they must have been of a very
important nature, for he examined them with the greatest care, his face
expressing intense satisfaction as he did so, until it finally broke
into a smile.

"Everything arranged," he murmured. "It will be a brilliant
transaction. The figures are rather boldly combined, it is true, but
they will do their duty, and as soon as Wolfgang has approved them, and
affixed his name to the entire estimate, it will be accepted without
demur. And that man Reinsfeld is fortunately disposed of. I thought he
could not refuse the bait of such a position. Neuenfeld is far enough
away, and he can live there comfortably to the end of his days.--What
is it? I do not wish to be disturbed again this evening."

The last words were spoken to a servant who entered at the moment, and
who now announced, "Herr Elmhorst has arrived."

"The engineer-in-chief?" Nordheim asked, surprised.

"Arrived a moment ago, Herr President."

Nordheim rose quickly, and was about to go to meet the new-comer,
but Wolfgang appeared at that moment on the threshold in his
travelling-dress.

"Have I startled you, sir, by my unexpected arrival?" he asked.

"Rather; you sent me no telegram," the president replied, motioning to
the servant to withdraw. As soon as the door closed behind him he
asked, hastily, and evidently disturbed, "What has happened? Anything
the matter with the railway?"

"No; I left everything in perfect order."

"And Alice is well, I hope?" This last question was far more composedly
put than had been its predecessor.

"Quite well; you have no cause for anxiety."

"Thank heaven! I was afraid something unfortunate had occurred to
account for your sudden appearance. What brings you here so
unexpectedly?"

"A matter of business, which I could not explain in writing," said
Wolfgang, laying aside his hat. "I preferred to see you personally,
although I could ill be spared from the railway."

"Well, then, let us talk over your business," replied the president,
who was always ready to discuss affairs. "We shall be entirely
undisturbed this evening. But first take some rest. I will give orders
to have your rooms----"

"Thank you, sir," Elmhorst interrupted him, "but I should like to
have the business that has brought me here settled at once; it is
urgent,--at least for me. We are quite alone here?"

"We are; I generally insure myself privacy in my own apartments. But
for security's sake you can close the door of the next room also."

Wolfgang complied, and then returned. As he advanced into the circle of
light from the lamp his face looked pale and agitated. His pallor could
hardly be the effect of fatigue from the long, unbroken ride; there was
a frown on his brow, and his dark eyes had a stern, almost menacing
expression.

"Your business must be important," the president observed, as he sat
down, "or you would hardly have come yourself. Well, then.--But will
you not be seated?"

The young man paid no heed to the request, but remained standing, with
his hand resting on the back of a chair, as he began, in an apparently
calm tone, "You sent me over the estimates and calculations which are
to serve as the basis of the transfer of the railway to the
stockholders."

"I did. You remember I told you that I would spare you the details of
these calculations. You have enough to do in attending to the technical
conduct of the work. All you have to do is to look over and approve the
estimates, your word as engineer-in-chief being decisive."

"I am aware of that,--entirely aware of my responsibility in the
matter, and therefore I wish to put a question to you: Who made these
estimates?"

Nordheim glanced in surprise at his future son-in-law; the question
evidently astonished him.

"Who? Why, my clerks and those who understand such matters."

"That is not what I mean, sir. They simply made up the figures from the
memoranda and calculations furnished them. What I want to know is,
whose were those memoranda?--who put down the sums which are the basis
of the estimates? It cannot possibly have been yourself."

"Indeed? And why not, may I ask?"

"Because all the accounts are falsified!" Wolfgang said, coldly but
very decidedly.

"Falsified? What do you mean?"

"Is it possible that it escaped you?" Elmhorst asked, never taking his
eyes from the president. "I discovered it at a glance. All the
buildings are estimated at almost double the cost of their erection,
and stations are brought into the calculations which do not exist. The
obstacles and catastrophes that impeded us are reckoned up in an
incredible fashion, as causing an outlay of hundreds of thousands where
not half the amount was expended. In short, the whole sum exceeds by
some millions the actual cost of the undertaking."

Nordheim listened in silence, but with a frown, to this agitated
explanation, by which, however, he seemed more surprised than offended;
at last he said, coldly, "Wolfgang, I really do not understand you."

"Nor did I understand your letter requiring me to approve and sign that
estimate. I thought, and I still think, that there is some mistake, and
I wanted to ask you personally about it. I trust you can explain it to
me."

The president shrugged his shoulders, but maintained the same cool,
composed tone, as he replied, "You are a capital engineer, Wolfgang,
but that you have no talent for business is quite clear. I hoped we
should understand each other in this matter without many words, but,
since that does not seem to be the case, we must come to an
explanation. Do you suppose that I intend to withdraw from this
undertaking with loss?"

"With loss? In any case you receive back your capital with interest."

"A transaction that brings in no more than that is to be reckoned as a
losing one," said Nordheim. "I did not imagine you such a novice in
business matters as to require to be told this. We have here a chance
to make a profit,--a considerable profit. The railway, in fact, belongs
to me. I called it into existence, my capital has been principally
expended in its construction, the entire risk has been mine. I venture
to think that you will not dispute my right to dispose of my property
at any price I think fit."

"If that price is to be gained only by the means you have adopted, I do
most decidedly dispute the right you speak of. Should the company
receive the railway under such conditions, its bankruptcy will be
certain. Even if the road be employed to the fullest extent it cannot
bring in a sufficient income to indemnify it approximately for the
amount of loss sustained; the entire enterprise must either go to ruin,
or fall into the hands of some unprincipled schemer."

"And how does that concern us?" Nordheim asked, calmly.

"How does it concern us?" Elmhorst broke forth, indignantly. "To have
the work which you devised, to which I have devoted my best energies,
at the head of which stand our united names, go miserably to ruin or be
an instrument in the hands of swindlers? It concerns me deeply, as I
trust I shall be able to show you."

The president arose with an impatient wave of his hand: "Pray spare me
such bursts of declamation, Wolfgang. They really are out of place in a
business discussion."

The young man drew himself up; all emotion vanished from his face,
giving place to an expression of cool contempt, and his voice was every
whit as cold as the president's own as he replied, "I shall not content
myself with mere declamation, as you will find, sir. Let me ask once
for all, calmly and briefly, who furnished the figures upon which the
estimates you sent me are based?"

"I, myself," was the quiet reply.

"And you expected me to approve them and put my name to them?"

"I expect every thing of my future son-in-law," Nordheim declared, with
sharp emphasis.

"Then you have misunderstood me. I cannot sign the estimates."

"Wolfgang!" There was an evident menace in Nordheim's tone.

"I will not sign them, I say. I never will lend my name to a
falsehood."

"You dare to use such language to me?" the president exclaimed,
angrily.

"What other language could be used if I should sanction estimates which
I know to be false?" Wolfgang asked, with bitterness. "I am the
engineer-in-chief, my word is decisive for the company and for the
stockholders, who are utterly ignorant in the matter. The
responsibility is mine alone."

"Your word could never be questioned," Nordheim interposed. "I had no
idea you were such a martinet. You know nothing of business, or you
would see that I, in my position, could not possibly venture what I do
were there any danger. The figures are so combined that it is
impossible to prove an--error from them, and I have explanations
prepared for every emergency. No one can blame either you or myself."

At this assertion a smile of infinite scorn hovered upon Elmhorst's
lips: "That was certainly the last thing to occur to me! We do indeed
misunderstand each other. You fear discovery, I fear the fraud. In
short, I will have nothing to do with a lie, and if I refuse my
signature it cannot be told."

The president walked close up to him; he was now much agitated, and his
voice betrayed extreme irritation: "Your expressions are, to say the
least, strong. Do you suppose you can dictate to me? Have a care,
Wolfgang. You are not yet my son-in-law; the knot is not yet tied which
was to link you to me. I can cut it at the last moment, and you are too
clever not to know all that you would lose with my daughter's hand."

"That means that you make it a condition?"

"Yes,--your signature! Either that--or----!"

As Nordheim spoke thus explicitly, Wolfgang's eyes were fixed gloomily
on the ground. He pondered all the consequences of the president's
'Either that--or----!' he was indeed 'clever enough' to know that
millions would be lost to him with his betrothed,--the wealth, the
brilliant future for which he had bartered his happiness. The moment
had come in which he was required to barter something more, and
suddenly memory recalled that hour on the Wolkenstein in the moonlit
midsummer night when this moment had been sadly foretold him: 'The
price now is your freedom; in future it may perhaps be your honour!'

Nordheim interpreted the young man's silence after his own fashion; he
laid his hand on Wolfgang's shoulder, and said, in a gentler tone, "Be
reasonable, Elmhorst. We should both lose by a separation, and it is
the last thing that I desire; but I can and must require my son-in-law
to go hand in hand with me, and to make my interests his own. You give
me your signature, and I will go surety for everything else. We will
both forget this conversation, and divide the profit, which will make
you a wealthy, independent man."

"At the price of my honour!" Wolfgang exclaimed, in hot indignation.
"No, by heaven, it shall never come to that! I ought to have known long
ago whither your rule of life, your business principles, would lead,
for since my betrothal to your daughter you have thrown off all
reserve; but I chose to see and to know nothing, because I was fool
enough to imagine that, in spite of it all, I could pursue my own path
and do as I chose. Now I see that there is no halting in the downward
course, that he who leagues himself with you cannot keep his honour
unstained. I have been ambitious and reckless--yes. I reckoned upon our
association in this undertaking as you did, and conceded more to it
than my conscience could entirely justify, but I never will stoop to
deceive. If you believed me ready to be a scoundrel for the sake of
your wealth,--if the future of which I have dreamed is to be purchased
only at such a price,--let it go. I will have none of it!"

He stood erect, and with flashing eyes hurled his refusal at the
president. There was something grand and overwhelming in this stormy
outbreak from the man who thus at last threw off all the fetters of
petty self-interest which had held him bound so long, whose better
nature asserted itself and trampled down the alluring temptation. He
knew that he was resigning the wealth which would make him independent
of Nordheim's favour; that with it he should be free and unfettered to
realize all his golden dreams of the future. There had been an instant
of hesitation, and then he thrust the tempter from him and redeemed his
honour!

The president stood frowning darkly. He perceived now that he had been
mistaken in supposing that he should find in the ambitious young
engineer a willing instrument, a nature as unscrupulous as his own, but
he had no mind to break entirely with the son-in-law he had chosen. He
would lose most by the separation; in the first place, all the profit
which Wolfgang's signature would insure him would be destroyed, and
moreover, he said to himself, it would be dangerous to make an enemy of
one so thoroughly acquainted with his schemes. It could not be; a
breach must be avoided, at least for the present.

"Let us drop this matter for to-day," he said, slowly. "It is too
important, and we are neither of us in a mood to discuss it calmly. I
am going to my mountain-villa in a week, and until then you can take
the affair into consideration. I will not accept your present hasty
decision."

"You will be obliged to accept it at the end of the week," Wolfgang
declared. "My answer will be precisely the same then. Let a true
estimate be made of the cost of the railway, at its highest valuation,
and I will not refuse to give it my sanction. I never will sign my name
to the present one. That is my final word. Farewell!"

"You are going back immediately?" Nordheim asked.

"Certainly; the next express leaves in an hour, and the business that
brought me here is concluded. My presence is indispensable at my post."

He bowed and took his leave, not after the familiar fashion of the
future son-in-law, but formally, as a stranger, and the president felt
the significance of his manner.

When Elmhorst reached the spacious vestibule he found there two
servants awaiting him. His rooms had been prepared for him, and the
lackeys asked for further orders, but he waved them aside: "Thanks, I
am going directly back again, and shall not use the rooms."

The men looked surprised. This was indeed a hurried visit. Would not
Herr Elmhorst have the carriage to drive to the station?

"No; I prefer to walk." As he spoke, Elmhorst once more glanced towards
the broad staircase leading to the gorgeous apartments in the upper
story, and then he left the house where for more than six months he had
been regarded as a son, and upon which he was now turning his back
forever.

Outside, the October evening was cold and damp; the skies were
starless, the air was full of mist, and a keen blast heralded the
approach of winter. Involuntarily Wolfgang drew his travelling-cloak
closer about his shoulders, as he strode forward at a rapid pace.

It was over! He was perfectly aware of it, and he also clearly
perceived Nordheim's desire to avoid a sudden breach for fear lest the
man so lately his confidant should expose him by way of revenge. A
contemptuous smile curled the young man's lip. Such a fear was quite
superfluous; any such act was entirely beneath him. His thoughts
wandered to where they had rarely been of late,--to his betrothed.
Alice would not suffer if the betrothal were dissolved. She had
accepted his suit without opposition in compliance with her father's
wish, and she would bend to his will with the same docility should he
sever the tie. There had never been any talk of love between them;
neither would be conscious of loss.

Wolfgang drew a deep breath. He was free again, free to choose; he
could pursue his proud, lonely path, dependent only upon his own
courage and capacity, but the voice which had roused him from the
stupor of egotism and ambition would never again sound in his ears, the
lovely face would never again smile upon him. That prize belonged to
another, and, whatever he might achieve in the future, his happiness
had been bartered away,--lost forever.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.

                           A MOUNTAIN RAMBLE.


Autumn this year had donned the aspect of a late summer. The days, with
but few exceptions, were sunny and clear, the air was mild, and the
mountains stood revealed in all their rarest beauty.

The inmates of the Nordheim villa had prolonged their stay, which had
been at first arranged for only the summer months, into October. They
had been induced to do this, first out of consideration for Alice's
health, and then in accordance with Erna's wish to spend as long a time
as was possible among her beloved mountains. Since she had been
betrothed to Waltenberg her position in the household had undergone a
change; Frau von Lasberg no longer permitted herself to find fault with
her, and the president was always ready to forestall his niece's
wishes. Waltenberg himself, who disliked a city life with its
conventionalities and restraints, was glad to be rid of it, and the
Baroness alone sighed about the 'endless exile,' and comforted herself
with the prospect of a winter more than usually gay. Now that Erna was
also betrothed and that Elmhorst would be in the capital during the
winter months, after his labours as engineer among the mountains were
at an end, the Nordheim mansion would surely justify its reputation.
There would doubtless be a series of entertainments in honour of the
young couples, and Frau von Lasberg revelled in the contemplation of
the prominent part it would be hers to play.

Erna and Alice were sitting on the veranda of the villa, and the gay
chatter heard thence absolutely came from the lips of Alice Nordheim.
There was not a vestige of the air of indifference with which she used
to speak formerly. The change that had taken place in her bordered on
the miraculous: the sickly pallor the weary movements, the fatigued,
unsympathetic expression, had all vanished; the cheeks were rosy, the
eyes bright. Whether it were owing to the mountain-air which blew here
so pure and fresh, or to the treatment of the young physician, the fact
was that in a few months the girl had blossomed forth like some flower
which, fading and sickly in the shade, expands into tender beauty in
the clear, warm sunshine.

"I wonder where Herr Waltenberg is?" she was just saying. "He is
usually here before this time."

"Ernst wrote me that he should be rather late today, since he meant to
bring us a surprise from Heilborn," Erna replied. She was seated at her
drawing, from which she did not look up, nor did she evince the
slightest interest in the promised surprise.

"'Tis strange that he should write to you so often, when he sees you
every day," remarked Alice, who was quite unused to such attentions
from her own lover. "And then he fairly overwhelms you with flowers,
for which, it seems to me, you are not half grateful enough."

"I am afraid that is Ernst's own fault," was the quiet reply. "He
spoils me, and I am too ready to be spoiled."

"Yes, there is something exaggerated in his manner of wooing," Alice
interposed. "His love seems to me like a fire, which burns rather than
illumines."

"His is an unusual nature," said Erna. "He must not be judged by the
standard we apply to others. Believe me, Alice, much, nay, everything,
can be endured in the consciousness that one is supremely and ardently
beloved."

She laid down her pencil and looked dreamily abroad into space. It
sounded odd, the word 'endured,' and its significance was not softened
by so much as the shadow of a smile. Indeed, the expression of gravity
was deepened in the young girl's face, and in her eyes there was an
indescribable something which assuredly was not happiness.

In the short pause that ensued, the noise of carriage-wheels became
audible, and some vehicle drew up in front of the house. Erna shivered
slightly; she knew who was at hand, although from where she sat the
road could not be seen. She slowly closed her sketchbook and arose, but
before she could leave the veranda, a young creature came flying out of
the drawing-room and clasped her in an enthusiastic embrace, after
which she turned just as eagerly to Alice.

"Why, Molly, is this you?" both girls exclaimed, in a breath.

It was in fact Frau Gersdorf, rosy, merry, and saucy as ever, and
behind her appeared Ernst Waltenberg, evidently delighted with the
success of his surprise.

"Yes, it is really I," the new-comer began. "Albert had a tiresome,
never-ending suit to attend to in Heilborn, and of course I came with
him. The poor fellow's hard work must be made as tolerable as possible
for him, so I always go with him upon these expeditions. I verily
believe that if he should take it into his head to climb Mount Blanc,
or the Himalayas, I should scramble up after him. Thank God, there are
no cases to try up there, so there is no chance of his undertaking the
ascents. And how are you all here? You have absolutely vanished from
the capital. But there's no need to ask; Alice looks fresh as a rose,
and Erna is planning her wedding-tour, I hear. Where is it to be? To
the South Sea or the North Pole? I should advise the South Sea,--the
climate is milder."

She paused to take breath, and without waiting for a reply threw
herself into an arm-chair and declared that she was too tired to say a
single word.

After the first exchange of greetings Ernst approached his betrothed
and handed her a bouquet of costly foreign flowers, rich in colour and
exhaling an overpowering fragrance.

"Did I not keep my promise?" he said, pointing to Molly. "I planned
this surprise with Albert yesterday afternoon, knowing I should surely
be welcome so accompanied."

"But that you always are," said Erna, taking the flowers from him with
thanks.

"Always?" he repeated. "Really always? Some times I doubt it."

"Do not say that, Ernst."

His eyes, filled with a passionate entreaty, met her reproachful
glance, as together they walked down the veranda steps into the garden.
"Are you a little glad when I come?" he went on, in a low tone. "I
sometimes imagine you dread my approach and shrink from my embrace, and
more than once I have fancied I could detect a sigh of relief when I
left you."

"Yes, you watch every look of mine, every breath that I draw, and
convert it all into pain, both for yourself and for me," Erna said,
gravely. "Your passionate surveillance torments me; how will it be when
we are married?"

"Ah, then I shall be calm," he said, with a sigh. "Then I shall know
you for my own, my very own; no other will have any right to intrude
between us, and then perhaps I may teach you to love me; hitherto I
have tried in vain. That you can love I know. You loved--him!"

She hastily withdrew the hand she had left in his: "Ernst, you promised
me----"

"Not to speak of that. Yes, I promised, but I did not know how hard it
is to fight against a memory, to war with a mere phantom. Would that it
were flesh and blood, that I might battle with it to the death!"

His eyes flashed with the mortal hatred that had gleamed in them when
he had learned that Erna had loved another. She turned pale, as she
laid her hand soothingly upon his arm.

"Ernst," she said, gently, "why torment yourself thus perpetually? You
suffer terribly; I see it, and bitterly do I repent my confession. Have
I no power to make you calmer and happier?"

Her tone disarmed him at once; he took her hand, and kissed it eagerly:
"Your power over me is boundless when you look and speak thus. Forgive
me for paining you; indeed it shall not happen again."

The promise had been made a hundred times before, and broken as often.
Erna smiled, but she was still pale as they walked back to the house.

"A scene from Othello seems to be going on there," said Molly, who,
notwithstanding her great fatigue, had been chattering incessantly, and
observing the lovers the while. "Ernst Waltenberg is perilously like
that monster of a Moor. I believe he would make nothing of a murder if
his jealousy were excited. It is to be hoped that Erna will put a
little common sense into him when they are married; there is very
little of it in his love for her at present. I told him about all sorts
of interesting things that are going on in the capital, as we were
driving over, but he never listened to one of them; he kept his eyes
fixed upon the villa, and rushed out of the barouche the instant it
stopped before the door. Ah! now he is kissing her hand and humbly
begging her pardon. Albert never did that, even while we were
betrothed; on the contrary, I was always the one to be forgiven! Albert
is not sentimentally inclined, nor is your betrothed, Alice. Is your
engineer not coming to-day?"

"I hardly think he will be here," said Alice, allowed for the first
time to interpose a word. "Wolfgang has so much to do; he could only be
here for a few moments yesterday. The responsibilities of his position
are very great."

It sounded composed, too much so for a betrothed maiden who could not
but feel herself neglected. Alice knew nothing as yet of what had taken
place between her father and her lover a week before in the capital.
Wolfgang had refrained from mentioning it even to his friend Reinsfeld;
he wished to leave the president, whose arrival was shortly expected,
to contrive a pretext for the final rupture. Meanwhile, he saw Alice as
seldom as possible, availing himself of the plea of work, which had
sufficed him hitherto.

Frau von Lasberg now made her appearance on the veranda, and greeted
Molly with great dignity and little cordiality. The young Frau was to
remain until the next day, when her husband was to call for her, and
they were to pay a visit at Benno's in Oberstein. Molly played the part
of a hurricane in the quiet and elegant household at the villa; from
the moment of her arrival all formality was scattered to the winds. Her
clear, silvery laughter was heard everywhere; she chatted with Alice,
she teased Erna, she disputed with Waltenberg about Oriental customs of
which she knew absolutely nothing, provoking beyond measure the old
Baroness, and withal fairly beaming with happiness and merriment.

Thus the day wore on to noon, and the golden autumn sunlight tempted
all into the open air. Waltenberg proposed a walk up one of the
neighbouring heights, and all assented; even Alice, who a few months
previously had been debarred from all such enjoyments, was ready to
join the party, while Frau von Lasberg was, of course, obliged to
remain at home. The little company walked leisurely up the gradual
ascent, through the sunlit, fragrant forest, until they reached the
foot of a rocky cliff, where the path became steep and stony.

"You must stop here, Alice," said Erna. "The last part of the way is
too steep and rough; you must be careful not to overtask your strength.
Do you think you are equal to it, Molly?"

"I am equal to anything," declared Molly, half offended at the
question. "Do you suppose that Herr Waltenberg and yourself are the
only mountaineers? I can outclimb either of you."

Waltenberg smiled rather derisively at this audacious statement,
casting a significant glance the while at the speaker's little
high-heeled boots. "There is no danger in this ascent," he said: "the
path is made quite easy with steps and hand-rails here and there. But
then an accident is always possible, as my secretary found to his cost
on the Vulture Cliff. He was lucky to escape with only a sprained
ankle."

"Oh, that immensely tall Herr Gronau!" exclaimed Molly. "What has
become of him? I did not catch even a glimpse of him in Heilborn."

"He asked for leave of absence for a few weeks, but I am now expecting
him back again," replied Ernst, who had, in fact, been rather puzzled
by Veit's long absence. He knew that his secretary had no relatives
left in Germany, and he could not understand his sudden journey. Gronau
had not even told him where he was going.

Alice agreed to await the return of the party; and whilst the others
pursued their way to the summit of the height, she seated herself on a
mossy bit of rock at the foot of the ascent. The spot was a peaceful
little nook in the forest depths which no autumnal blast seemed as yet
to have touched. The dark pines and the soft moss had preserved their
fresh green, and the noonday sun had dispelled the mists which were so
apt to linger here and there among the trees. It was as sunny and warm
as on a day in spring.

Alice had been sitting alone about ten minutes, when she perceived at a
little distance the familiar figure of Dr. Reinsfeld striding along
among the trees. He was coming from a patient at one of the
mountain-cottages, and was so lost in thought that he emerged upon the
little clearing without perceiving the young girl until she called to
him: "Herr Doctor, are you really going to hurry past without even a
look for your patient?"

Benno started at the sound of her voice, and paused in surprise: "You
here, Fräulein Nordheim, and entirely alone?"

"Oh, I am not so unprotected as you suppose. Herr Waltenberg, with Erna
and Molly, has just left me. I only stayed behind----"

"Because you are tired?" was the anxious question.

She shook her head, smiling: "Oh, no; I only wanted to husband my
strength for the walk back, in accordance with your orders. You see how
obedient I am."

She moved slightly aside, and seemed to expect that the doctor would
take his seat beside her. He hesitated for a few seconds, and then
accepted her unspoken invitation, and sat down upon the mossy
resting-place. They were no longer strangers to each other; in the last
few months they had seen and talked with each other almost daily.

Alice went on conversing cheerfully. There was an innocent delight in
her gaiety, the delight of a freshly-aroused vitality asserting itself,
still half timidly, after years of depressing ill health. No one could
be more childlike and simple-minded than this young heiress, who was so
little adapted to fill the position assigned her by her father's
millions. Here, resting upon her mossy seat, free from all the
splendour and pomp which fatigued her, with the golden sunlight playing
upon the soft blond hair and the delicately-tinted face, there was an
indescribable refinement and charm in her appearance.

The young physician, on the other hand, was unusually grave and silent;
he forced himself to smile and to reply gaily now and then, but the
effort he made was perceptible. Alice observed it at last, and she too
became more silent, until after a long pause, which Reinsfeld made no
attempt to interrupt, she asked, "Herr Doctor, what is the matter?"

"With me?" Benno started. "Oh, nothing,--nothing at all."

"I am afraid that is not quite true. You looked very grave and sad as
you were striding along so hurriedly, and it is not the first time I
have seen you so. For weeks I have fancied that something has been
depressing and troubling you, although you take great pains to conceal
it. Will you not tell me what it is?"

The girl's voice was so entreatingly sweet, and her brown eyes looked
with so sympathetic a glance of inquiry into those of the young
physician, that it was hard to withstand her, and yet Nordheim's
daughter ought to be the last to learn the cause of Reinsfeld's mood.
She had indeed seen aright; Benno had been suffering for weeks under
the burden of the suspicion which Gronau had implanted in his soul.
Nothing indeed had as yet been discovered to confirm it, but Reinsfeld
divined that Veit's sudden departure and prolonged absence were
connected with some clue which was being followed up. He hastily
collected himself, and replied, "I find it hard to leave Oberstein.
Fatiguing as my practice has been sometimes, and much as I have longed
for a more extended sphere of activity, I feel now how attached I have
become to the people whose joys and sorrows I have shared for years,
and to the mountains where I have had my home. I leave so much behind
me that it is hard to go away."

His eyes were cast down as he spoke the last words, or he would have
become aware of the instant change in the girl's face. She turned pale
and her look of innocent gaiety vanished, while the wild-flowers that
she had plucked on her way up the height dropped upon the moss at her
feet. "Is your departure so near at hand?" she asked, gently.

"It is indeed; I am only waiting for my successor to arrive, and he is
expected in a week."

"And then you go--forever?"

"Yes,--forever!"

Question and answer sounded sad enough, and a silence ensued. Alice
stooped and picked up her scattered flowers, beginning to arrange them
mechanically. She knew, of course, of the doctor's acceptance of his
new position, but it had not occurred to her that he would leave before
her own departure, beyond which her thoughts had not strayed. She had
been so happy in the mountains, had resigned herself entirely to the
enjoyment of the present, without a thought that it could come to an
end, and now she was reminded how near at hand was this end.

"I may go without anxiety," Benno began again. "The health of my
district at present leaves nothing to be desired, and you, Fräulein
Nordheim, need me no longer. Only be careful for some time to come, and
I think I can guarantee your entire recovery. I am very glad to have
been able to keep my promise to my friend and to restore him his
betrothed well and happy."

"If indeed it makes much difference to him," Alice said, in a low tone.

Reinsf----eld looked amazed: "Fräulein Nordheim?"

"Do you imagine, then, that Wolfgang cares for me? I do not think he
does."

There was no bitterness in her words; they were only sad, and the eyes
which Alice raised to the young physician were as sad.

"You do not believe in Wolfgang's love?" he asked, dismayed. "But why,
then, should he have----" He broke off in the middle of his sentence,
knowing well enough that love had borne no share in his friend's
wooing. He remembered only too distinctly how the young engineer had
coldly determined to win for a wife the president's daughter, and the
contemptuous shrug with which he had repudiated the idea of sentiment
in the affair. It was a speculation,--nothing else.

"I have no fault to find with Wolfgang, none at all," Alice went on.
"He is always most attentive, and so anxious about me, but I feel
nevertheless how little I am to him, and I can see how his thoughts
wander whenever he is with me. Formerly I scarcely perceived this, and
if I did perceive it, it did not hurt me. I was always so weary; I had
no pleasure in life,--it was one long illness for me. But when health
began to relieve me of the oppression that had weighed down soul and
body, I saw, and understood. Wolfgang loves his calling, the future to
which he aspires, his great work, the Wolkenstein bridge, of which he
is so proud. He never will love me!"

Benno for a moment could find no reply to these words, which both
startled and amazed him, from the girl whom he had supposed entirely
indifferent in this matter, and who now thus clearly defined the true
state of affairs.

"Wolf's is not an ardent nature," he said at last, slowly. "With him
ambition outweighs sentiment; it was his character as a boy, and it is
far more evident in the man."

Alice shook her head: "Herr Gersdorf's nature is cool and calm, and yet
how he loves Molly! Awhile ago Ernst Waltenberg cared for nothing save
untrammelled freedom, and see how love has transformed him! Frau
Lasberg, to be sure, says such sentiment is the merest nonsense which
hardly outlives the honey-moon, that there is no such thing as the
enduring affection of a romantic girl's imagination, and that a woman,
if she is wise and hopes for happiness in marriage, must banish all
such ideas from her mind. She may be right, but such wisdom is terribly
depressing. Do you share it, Herr Doctor?"

"No!" said Reinsfeld, with so decided an emphasis that Alice looked up
at him in surprise and with a sad smile.

"Then we are both dreamers and fools, whom sensible people would
despise."

"Thank God that it is so!" Benno broke forth. "Never let 'such
sentiment' be snatched from you, Fräulein Nordheim; it is all that can
make life happy or even worth the living. Wolf has always prophesied
that I should never come to good, or make myself a fine position in the
world. So be it. I do not care! I am happier than he with all his
wisdom and his schemes. He takes no real pleasure in anything,--sees
nothing anywhere save bare, forlorn reality, transfigured by no ray of
inspiration. I have had a hard life. When my parents died I was knocked
about the world, with scant favour from any one, and sometimes, as a
student, was hard put to it for bread to eat; even now I possess merely
the necessaries of life; but I would not exchange lots with my friend
for all his brilliant future."

He was carried away by his emotion, and did not perceive how his words
accused Wolfgang; nor did Alice appear to take note of it, for she
looked up with sparkling eyes at the young physician, wont to be so
quiet and calm, who seemed for the moment transfigured. Usually shy and
reserved; as is the case with all introspective natures, when once the
barrier of reserve was overleaped he forgot that any such had ever
existed, and went on, with what was almost passionate ardour, "When the
sum of our lives is reckoned up, the gain may after all be mine. I
question whether Wolfgang would not give all the results he has
achieved for one draught from the fountain which flows inexhaustibly
for me. We poor, ridiculed dreamers are, after all, the only happy
human beings, for in spite of all experience we can love with all our
hearts, can hope, and trust, and have faith in truth and goodness. And
whatever of disappointment this world may have in store for us, nothing
can deprive us of the belief in something higher. We attain heights to
which others cannot soar; wings to reach it are worth all their vaunted
worldly wisdom!"

Alice listened in breathless silence to these words, the like of which
she had never heard beneath her father's roof, but which nevertheless
she comprehended at once with the instinct of a warm young heart
thirsting for love and happiness. She did not dream that the
consciousness of the man who spoke thus in eager defence of faith in
all that is best in humanity was burdened with the knowledge of the
bitterest failure in the faith and honour of her own father.

"You are right!" she exclaimed, holding out both hands to him as in
gratitude. "This faith is the highest, the only happiness in life, and
we will not allow it to be snatched from us."

"The only happiness?" Benno repeated, while, scarcely knowing what he
did, he clasped and held fast the hands held out to him. "No, Fräulein
Nordheim, other joys also await you. Wolfgang's is a noble nature in
spite of his ambition; in time you will learn to understand each other,
and then he will make you truly happy, or he is utterly unworthy of
you. I"--here his voice grew slightly unsteady--"I shall often hear
from him and of his married life,--we are faithful correspondents,--and
sometimes, perhaps, you will allow me to recall myself to your memory."

Alice made no reply; her eyes filled with tears. Unable to conceal the
first profound grief in her young life, at Benno's last words she hid
her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably.

For Benno this moment was one of intoxicating delight and of intense
pain. Another man might perhaps have forgotten all else in the rapture
of the revelation thus made, but for him Alice was sacred as the
betrothed of his friend; not for the world would he have uttered one of
the thousand expressions of love that rose to his lips. He slowly
retreated a few paces, and said, almost inaudibly, "It is well that I
am to go to Neuenfeld. I have long known how it was with me!"

Neither of the pair had any idea that they were overheard. Just as the
doctor had clasped the young girl's hands in his, the shrubbery at the
foot of the rock had parted, and Molly, who had intended in jest to
startle Alice by her sudden appearance, noiselessly emerged. Her merry
face assumed, however, an expression of extreme surprise upon finding
her friend, whom she had supposed alone, in Benno's society, and in
such evident agitation.

Among the praiseworthy qualities of Frau Gersdorf might be reckoned
intense curiosity. She was instantly eager to know how this interesting
interview would terminate. She therefore retreated unperceived, as
noiselessly as she had appeared, and, hid among the bushes, overheard
all that ensued, until Waltenberg's and Erna's approaching footsteps
became audible as they descended the rocky pathway.

Fortunately, the little lady was not lacking in presence of mind, and,
moreover, since she had before her own marriage peremptorily claimed
Alice's services as guardian angel, she felt called upon now to requite
her after the same manner. So she retreated still farther into the
shrubbery, and then called out aloud to the approaching couple that
she had easily outstripped them. The result was all that could be
desired, and when some minutes later the three new-comers reached the
mountain-meadow, Alice was sitting as they had left her, and Benno,
grave and silent, was standing beside her. Molly was, of course,
immensely surprised at finding her cousin Benno, of whom she
straightway took possession. She was resolved to extort a confession
from him as soon as they should be alone, and from Alice also,--as
guardian angel she had a right to their unreserved confidence.

The little party took its way homewards, and Benno was plied by his
young relative with questions, to which he replied absently and
mechanically, while his eyes sought the slender, delicate figure
walking silently beside Erna; he had not waited until to-day to know
that she was dearer to him than aught else on earth.



                              CHAPTER XIX.

                                NEMESIS.


The president made his appearance at the appointed time; until the
opening of the railway he was obliged to drive over from Heilborn, and
he brought with him Herr Gersdorf, who was to come for his wife. The
engineer-in-chief was 'accidentally' absent at a distant post, and
could not receive his future father-in-law as usual. Nordheim knew what
this meant,--he no longer reckoned upon Wolfgang's compliance,--but he
also knew that matters must come to a final explanation.

Molly immediately after dinner invited her husband to walk with her in
the grove at the foot of the garden, that she might open her heart to
him; but when she would have told her secret she prefaced the
revelation by so many mysterious hints, such oracular sentences, that
Gersdorf grew uneasy.

"My dear child, pray tell me outright what has happened," he begged
her. "I noticed nothing whatever unusual upon my arrival; what have you
to tell me?"

"A secret, Albert," she replied, with much solemnity,--"a profound
secret, which I adjure you not to reveal. Incredible things have been
happening,--here and at Oberstein."

"At Oberstein? Has Benno anything to do with them?"

"Yes!" And here Frau Gersdorf made a long, artistic pause, to give due
effect to what was to follow. Then she said, in a tone of the deepest
tragedy, "Benno--loves Alice Nordheim."

Unfortunately, the revelation did not produce the desired effect; the
lawyer merely shook his head, and observed, with exasperating
indifference, "Poor fellow! It is well that he is going to Neuenfeld,
where he will soon get such nonsense out of his head."

"Nonsense, do you call it?" Molly exclaimed, indignantly. "And you
suppose it can be easily got rid of? You probably could have done so if
you had not married me, Albert, for you are a heartless monster!"

"But an excellent husband," Gersdorf, who was quite used to such tragic
outbursts from his wife, asserted with philosophic serenity. "Moreover,
the case was not similar. I knew that in spite of obstacles I could win
you, and then I was sure of your love."

"And so is Benno. Alice loves him also," Molly explained, gratified to
perceive that her husband took this announcement much more seriously.
He listened in thoughtful silence, while, after her usual lively
fashion, she told of the scene on the mountain-meadow, of her
concealment among the trees, and of her extremely vigorous efforts to
smooth matters, as she expressed it.

"An hour later I had Benno alone by himself," she continued. "At first
he would not confess,--not a word; but I should like to see any one
conceal from me what I have resolved to find out. Finally I said to
him, frankly, 'Benno, you are in love, desperately in love,' and then
he denied it no longer, but said, with a sigh, 'Yes, and hopelessly
so!' He was in despair, poor fellow, but I told him to take courage,
for I would undertake to arrange the affair."

"That must, of course, have consoled him greatly," the lawyer
interposed.

"No; on the contrary, he would not hear of it. Benno's
conscientiousness is positively something frightful. Alice was the
betrothed of his friend,--he could not even allow his thoughts to dwell
upon her,--never would he see her again, but if possible he would start
for Neuenfeld to-morrow, and a deal more of such nonsense. He forbade
me to speak to Alice. Of course, as soon as his back was turned, I went
to her and extorted a confession from her too. In short, they love each
other dearly, intensely, inexpressibly. So there is nothing for them to
do but to be married!"

"Indeed?" said her husband, rather surprised by this conclusion.
"You seem to have quite forgotten that Alice is betrothed to the
engineer-in-chief."

Frau Molly turned up her little nose contemptuously; that betrothal
never had found favour in her eyes, and at present she was inclined to
make short work of it.

"Alice never loved that Wolfgang Elmhorst," she asserted, with
decision. "She said yes because her father told her to, because she had
not the energy then to say no, and he--well, what he wanted was a
wealthy wife."

"A very good reason, as you must admit, for disinclination to
relinquish her."

"I told you just now, Albert, that I was going myself to undertake the
adjustment of the affair," Frau Molly declared, with dignity. "I shall
see Elmhorst, and appeal to his generosity, representing to him that
unless he wishes to make two people wretched he must withdraw. He will
be touched and softened, he will bring the lovers together, and----"

"There will be a most romantic scene," Albert concluded her sentence.
"No, that is just what he will _not_ do. You little know the
engineer-in-chief if you credit him with such sensibility. He is not
the man to withdraw from a connection that insures him the future
possession of millions, and he will soon console himself for lack of
affection in his wife. And what do you suppose Nordheim will say to
your romance?"

"The president?" Molly asked, dejectedly. In the contemplation of her
scheme in which she played the part of beneficent fairy, joining the
hands of the lovers with all the emotion befitting the occasion, she
had quite forgotten that Alice had a father whose word might be
decisive in this matter.

"Yes, President Nordheim, who brought about this betrothal, and who
will hardly consent to dissolve it, and to bestow his daughter's hand
upon a young country doctor, who, with all his courage and capacity,
has nothing to give in return. No, Molly, the affair is perfectly
hopeless, and Benno is quite right to resign all hope. Even if Alice
really loves him, she has promised her hand to Wolfgang, and neither he
nor her father will release her. There is no help for it, they must
both submit."

He might have gone on thus forever without convincing his wife. She
knew what her own obstinacy had effected in uniting her with her lover,
and she would not see why Alice could not persist in the same manner.
She listened, indeed, attentively, and then cut short any further
remarks from her husband by declaring, dictatorially,--

"You do not understand it at all, Albert! They love each other. Then
they ought to marry; and marry they shall!"

What could Gersdorf say to refute such logic as this?

Meanwhile, Alice Nordheim was in her father's study, which she rarely
entered, and which she must have sought now for some important purpose,
for she looked pale and agitated, and as she stood leaning against the
window-frame, seemed to be undergoing an inward struggle; yet there was
nothing in prospect save an interview between the father and daughter.
There was, to be sure, nothing of confidence or intimacy in the
relation existing between them. Nordheim, who had surrounded his
daughter with all the luxury and splendour that wealth could procure,
took, in fact, very little interest in her, as Alice had always felt,
but in her docile compliance with whatever her father desired, there
had never been any collision between them.

For the first time this was otherwise; she was about to go to her
father with a confession, which must, she knew, provoke his wrath, and
she trembled at the thought, although her resolution never wavered.

All at once the president's step was heard in the next room, and his
voice said, "Herr Waltenberg's secretary? Certainly. Show him in!"

Alice stood hesitating for a moment; her father, who did not suspect
her presence here, was not alone, and, agitated as she was, she could
not confront a stranger. Probably the man brought some message from
Waltenberg, and his business would shortly be despatched. The young
girl, therefore, slipped into her father's bedroom, which adjoined his
office, and the door of which remained ajar. Nordheim immediately
entered the room she had left, and was shortly joined there by his
visitor.

The president received him with affable ease. He knew that Ernst in his
travels had picked up somewhere an individual who, ostensibly his
secretary, played the part of his confidential friend, but he took
further interest in the matter. He either had not heard or had not
heeded his name; at all events, he did not recognize his former friend.
Twenty-five years are long in passing, and such a life as Gronau's had
been is a great disguiser. This man with his brown, deeply-furrowed
face and gray hair had nothing in his appearance to recall the fresh,
merry youth who had gone out into the world to seek his fortune.

"You are Herr Waltenberg's secretary?" It was thus that Nordheim opened
the conversation.

"Yes, Herr President."

Nordheim started at the sound of the voice, which aroused dim memories
within him. He directed a keen glance towards the stranger, and,
motioning to him to be seated, he went on:

"I suppose we shall not see him to-day? Have you a message from him?
Your name, if you please."

"Veit Gronau," was the reply, as the speaker calmly seated himself.

The president looked extremely surprised; he examined the
weather-beaten features of his former friend, but the memories thus
unexpectedly awakened seemed far from agreeable, and he was apparently
not inclined to admit that there had ever existed any friendship
between himself and his visitor. His manner distinctly indicated the
inferior position which he chose to assign to his friend's secretary.

"We are not, then, entire strangers to each other," he remarked. "I was
acquainted in my youth with a Veit Gronau----"

"The same who has the honour of waiting upon you at present," Gronau
concluded the sentence.

"It gives me pleasure to hear it." The pleasure was but coldly
expressed. "And how have you thriven in the mean while? Well, it would
seem, your position with Herr Waltenberg must be a very agreeable one."

"I have every reason to be contented. I have hardly reached your
heights, Herr President, but one must not expect too much."

"True, true. Human destinies are very various."

"And when men undertake to control them, it all depends upon who can
best steer his own boat."

The remark displeased the president as being too familiar; he desired
no intimacy with his former comrade, so he said, evasively,--

"But we are straying from the object of your visit. Herr Waltenberg
sends you to----?"

"No," Gronau replied, drily.

Nordheim looked at him in surprise: "You do not bring me a message from
him?"

"No, Herr President. I have just returned from a journey, and have not
yet seen Herr Waltenberg. I announced myself in my capacity of his
secretary in order to make sure of your receiving me. I come about an
affair of my own."

At this disclosure the president became several degrees colder and more
formal, for he suspected some favour to be asked; yet the man seated so
calmly before him, looking at him with so searching an expression in
his clear, keen eyes, did not look like a suppliant; there was
something of defiance in his bearing which impressed Nordheim
disagreeably.

"Go on, then," he said, with perceptible condescension. "All relations
between us are far in the past, nevertheless----"

"Yes, they date from five-and-twenty years ago," Gronau interrupted
him. "And yet it is precisely of what then occurred that I wish to
speak,--to pray you to inform me what has become of our--excuse me--of
my former friend, Benno Reinsfeld?"

The question was so sudden and unexpected that Nordheim was silenced
for a moment, but he was too entirely accustomed to self-control to be
long disconcerted by such surprises. One suspicious glance he shot at
his questioner, and then, with a shrug, he replied, coldly,--

"You really demand too much of my memory, Herr Gronau. I cannot
possibly call to mind all the acquaintances of my youth, and in this
instance I do not even remember the name you mention."

"Indeed? Then let me assist your memory, Herr President. I allude to
the inventor of the first mountain-railway locomotive,--the engineer,
Benno Reinsfeld."

The men looked each other in the eye, and instantly the president knew
that there was nothing accidental in his visitor's presence, that he
was confronting a foe, and that the words which sounded so innocent
barely disguised a menace. He must next know whether the man appearing
thus after years of exile were really dangerous, or whether this were
merely an attempt to extort money from his possible fears. Nordheim
seemed inclined to the latter belief, for he said, frigidly, "You must
be falsely informed, _I_ invented the first mountain-locomotive, as is
shown by my patent."

Gronau suddenly rose, his dark face flushed still darker. He had
devised a regular scheme of action, arranged in his mind how he should
attack his opponent and drive him into a corner, until not a chance of
escape was left him, but at such audacious falsehood all his prudent
plans fell to pieces, and honest indignation got the upper hand of him.

"You dare to tell me that to my face!" he burst out, angrily. "To me,
who was present when Benno showed us his invention, and explained it,
and you admired it, and praised him! Does your memory play you false
there also?"

The president calmly reached for the bell-rope: "Will you leave the
house, Herr Gronau, or must I call the servants? I am not inclined to
submit to insult beneath my own roof."

"I advise you to let the bell alone," Gronau burst forth, furiously.
"Take your choice, whether what I have to say shall be said to you
alone, or to all the world. Refuse to listen,--I can find a hearing
everywhere else."

The threat was not without effect; Nordheim slowly withdrew his hand.
He saw that it would not be easy to deal with this resolute, determined
man, and that it would be best not to provoke him further, but his
voice was still impassive as he said, "Well, then, what have you to say
to me?"

Veit Gronau stepped up to his former comrade, and his eyes flashed:
"That you are a scoundrel, Nordheim, neither more nor less!"

The president started, but in an instant burst out, "What! you dare?"

"Oh, yes; and I dare far more, for this is not a matter to be hushed up
easily. Poor Benno, indeed, neither could nor would defend himself; he
bowed his head beneath the stroke, and suffered more, I fancy, from the
consciousness of the treachery of a friend than from the treachery
itself. Had I been here at the time you would not have got off with
your booty so easily. Don't trouble yourself to look indignant. 'Tis of
no use with mc. I know you, and we are alone; no need for play-acting.
You had better make up your mind what answer to make when I accuse you
in public."

In his excitement his voice rang out clear and distinct. Nordheim made
no further attempt to check his words, but he must have felt quite
secure, for he never for an instant lost his bearing of calm
superiority.

"What answer to make?" he said, with a shrug. "Where are your proofs?"

Gronau laughed bitterly: "I thought you would ask that. Therefore I did
not come instantly to you when I heard the sorry tale from poor Benno's
son in Oberstein. I have spent three weeks in following up traces. I
have been in the capital, in Benno's last place of residence,--even in
the town where we were all three born."

"And are they found,--these proofs of yours?" The question was
pronounced in a tone of extreme contempt.

"No, nothing; that is, that could convict you. You insured yourself
well against discovery, and Reinsfeld meanwhile delayed applying for a
patent for his invention because he did not consider it yet complete.
That was the time when I left home and you accepted a position in the
capital. Poor Benno worked away at his invention and perfected it,
building many a castle in the air the while, until one fine day he
heard that his invention had been bought and patented; but the patent
and the money were both in the pocket of his best friend, of whom they
made a millionaire."

"And this is the precious tale you mean to relate to the world?" the
president sneered. "Do you actually believe that the assertion of an
adventurer like yourself could ruin a man of my standing? Why, you
yourself admit the absence of proof."

"Of all direct proof; but what I have learned is quite enough to make
the ground hot beneath your feet. Reinsfeld himself made an effort to
recover his rights; of course he was unsuccessful, although he found
credence here and there. Then he lost courage and gave up all hope. But
the matter was talked of; you were forced to defend yourself against
suspicion, and now you have as an antagonist not poor, inexperienced
Benno, but myself. Look to yourself in this encounter. I have sworn to
indemnify the son of my friend as far as is possible for the wrong done
to his father, and I am wont to keep my word, whether for good or for
evil. As an 'adventurer' I have nothing to lose, and I shall proceed
against you ruthlessly and resolutely; I shall forge weapons against
you out of all that I have lately learned, and shall publish to the
world the suspicion, the knowledge of which was formerly confined to a
very narrow circle. We shall see whether the truth can die away unheard
when an honest man is ready to vindicate it with his very life."

There was an iron determination in his words and manner, and Nordheim
was quite able to measure the power of this antagonist. He seemed
engaged in a mental conflict for a minute or two, and then he asked, in
a low tone, "What is your price?"

Gronau's lip quivered with a contemptuous smile: "Ah, you are ready to
barter, then?"

"It may come to that. I do not deny that such a scandal as you threaten
to raise would be very disagreeable to me, although I am far from
perceiving any danger in it. If you should propose reasonable
conditions I might, perhaps, bring myself to make a sacrifice.
Therefore, what do you ask?"

"Very little for a man of your stamp. Pay to Benno's son, young Dr.
Reinsfeld, the entire sum which you formerly received for the patent.
It is his lawful inheritance, and would be wealth to him in his present
circumstances. Moreover, you must confess the truth to him,--privately,
for all I care,--and give to the dead his due, at least in his son's
eyes. This done, I will answer for it that the matter shall be
immediately dropped."

"Your first condition I accept," Nordheim replied, as though he were
settling some business transaction, "but not the second. You must
content yourselves with the money, which, indeed, will amount to a
considerable sum. I suppose you will go shares in it."

"Is that your opinion?" Gronau asked, scornfully. "But how indeed
should you know anything of honest, unselfish friendship? Benno
Reinsfeld does not even know that I have come to you, or of the
conditions I propose, and I shall have trouble enough, God knows, to
induce him to accept what is lawfully his, and his only. I should
consider it a disgrace to touch a penny of it. But enough of this. Will
you accept both conditions?"

"No; only the first."

"I will retract nothing. I must have both the money and the
confession."

"Which will place me completely in your power? Never!"

"Good! Then we have done with each other. If you wish for war you shall
have war!"

Gronau turned and walked towards the door; the president made as if he
would have detained him, then apparently changed his mind, and in
another moment it was too late: the door had closed behind Veit.

When Nordheim was alone, he began to pace the room rapidly to and fro.
Now when there were no witnesses present it was evident that the
interview had nowise left him as indifferent as he had feigned to be.
There was a deep furrow in his brow, and in his face anger and anxiety
strove for the mastery; gradually he began to be calmer, and at last he
paused and said, half aloud, "'Tis folly to allow this to discompose me
thus. He has no proof. I deny everything."

He turned towards his writing-table, when suddenly he stood rooted
to the spot, and a low cry escaped his lips. The door of his
sleeping-apartment had opened noiselessly, and upon the threshold stood
Alice, ashy pale, both hands clasped against her breast, and her large
eyes riveted upon her father, who recoiled from her as from some
spectre.

"You here?" he said, harshly. "How did you come here? Have you heard
anything of what has been said?"

"Yes,--I heard everything," the young girl replied, scarce audibly.

Then for the first time Nordheim changed colour. His daughter present
at that interview! But the next moment he had collected himself; it
surely could not be difficult to divest of all suspicion the mind of
this innocent, inexperienced girl who had always yielded so readily to
his authority. "It certainly was not meant for your ears," he said,
with asperity. "I really cannot understand your playing the part of
eavesdropper when you must have heard that a purely business matter was
under discussion. You have now been witness to an attempt to blackmail
your father,--an attempt which I ought perhaps to have repulsed more
decidedly. But such audacious liars have the best men at a
disadvantage. The world is ever too ready to credit a falsehood, and
where a man is, like myself, engaged in great undertakings, demanding
principally the entire confidence of the public, he cannot afford to
expose himself to the faintest suspicion. It is better to be rid of
such fellows as this man, who live by blackmail, at the expense of a
sum of money;----but you understand nothing of it all! Go to your room,
and pray do not visit mine in secret again."

His words did not produce the desired effect: Alice stood motionless.
She made no reply; she did not stir; and her silence seemed to irritate
the president still further.

"Do you not hear me?" he said. "I wish to be alone, and I require that
no word of what you have heard should pass your lips. Now go!"

Instead of obeying, Alice slowly approached him, and said, in a
strange, nervous tone, "Papa, I have something to say to you."

"About what? Not this attempt at blackmail, I trust? I have explained
to you how matters stand, and you will hardly give credence to that
scoundrel."

"That man was no scoundrel," the young girl replied, in the same
strange tone.

"Indeed?" the president burst forth. "And what am I, then, in your
eyes?"

No answer, only the same rigid distressed look riveted upon her
father's face. There was no longer any question in it, but a
condemnation, and Nordheim could not bear it. He had confronted his
accuser with a brazen brow, before his child's eyes his own sought the
ground.

Alice caught her breath; at first her voice failed her, but it gained
in firmness as she went on:

"I came here to make a confession, papa, to tell you something that
might have angered you. I do not care to speak of it now. I have only
one question to ask you: Are you going to afford--Dr. Reinsfeld the
satisfaction required of you?"

"Not at all, I shall abide by my last words."

"Then I shall give it to him in your stead."

"Alice, are you bereft of your senses?" the president, now really
alarmed, exclaimed; but she went on, undeterred:

"He does not indeed need your confession, for he knows the truth; he
must have long known it. Now I know why he changed so suddenly, why he
often looked at me so sadly, and never would betray what troubled him.
He knows everything. And yet he has shown me nothing save kindness and
compassion, has used every effort to restore me to health,--me, the
daughter of the man who----" She could not finish the sentence.

Nordheim made no further attempt to appear indignant, for he saw that
Alice was not to be imposed upon, and he also saw that he must give up
the attempt to control her by severity. She had foolishly resolved upon
what might ruin him; her silence must be secured at all hazards.

"I, too, am convinced that Dr. Reinsfeld has nothing to do with the
matter," he said, more calmly; "that he is sufficiently wise to see the
folly of such threats. As for your silly purpose to speak of them to
him, I am sure you are not in earnest. What is the affair to you?"

The young girl stood erect, and her face took on an indescribably stern
expression quite foreign to it: "It ought indeed to be much more to
you, papa! You knew that Dr. Reinsfeld dwelt near us, that he laboured
night and day, in absolute poverty, and you never even tried to make
good to him the wrong done to his father. Life and mankind have been so
cruel to him: he was thrust out into the world in his childhood; as a
student he lacked every means of support, while you won millions with
that money, built palaces, and lived in luxury. At least do what Gronau
asks, papa. You must,--or I shall attempt it myself."

"Alice!" Nordheim exclaimed, between anger and utter amazement at
finding his daughter, the gentle, docile creature who had never before
ventured to contradict him, now laying down the law for him. "Have you
no idea of the meaning of the affair? Would you deliver up your father
to his worst enemy, who----"

"Benno Reinsfeld is not your enemy," Alice interrupted him. "If he
were, he would long since have made use of the secret to extort from
you something quite different from that demanded by Gronau,--for--he
loves me!"

"Reinsfeld--loves you?"

"Yes,--I know it, although he has never told me so. I am betrothed to
another, and he, who could obtain from you what he chose by threats, is
going from here without one demand, without even a word with you,
because he would fain spare me the terrible knowledge, which,
nevertheless, is now mine. You do not dream of the extent of this man's
magnanimity. I now know it all!"

The president stood speechless; he was not prepared for this turn of
affairs, for it required no great amount of perspicacity to perceive
that Benno's love was returned. The girl's passionate indignation spoke
plainly enough, and if Reinsfeld really knew the story of the past--and
that he did so seemed beyond a doubt--there was in fact but one
explanation of his reserve and his silence in a matter so nearly
concerning him. He had relinquished the advantage which his knowledge
gave him that she whom he loved might be saved from disgrace. There was
nothing therefore to apprehend from him; the father of the girl whom he
loved was secure from his revenge, and perhaps he might induce Gronau
also to be silent.

"This is an astounding piece of news!" Nordheim said, slowly, after a
short pause, during which he had watched his daughter narrowly. "And I
hear it rather late. You spoke just now of a confession. What had you
to tell me?"

Alice cast down her eyes, and a burning blush replaced the pallor of
her cheek: "That I do not love Wolfgang, nor does he love me," she
answered, in a low tone. "I did not know it at first myself, but it has
become clear to me within the last few days."

She confidently expected a burst of anger from her father, but nothing
of the kind ensued; on the contrary, his voice was quite changed, as he
said, in an unusually gentle tone, "Why have you no confidence in me,
Alice? I would not force my only daughter to contract a marriage in
which her heart had no share; but this must be well considered and
reflected upon. For the present I only ask that you will not be
overhasty in your resolves, but will leave it to me to find a solution
of the difficulty. Trust your father, my child; you shall have no cause
for dissatisfaction with him."

He stooped to press a paternal kiss upon her forehead, but she shrank
away from the caress with an evident expression of dislike.

"What does this mean?" Nordheim asked, with a frown. "Are you afraid of
me? Do you not believe me?"

She raised her eyes to his with the same hard, accusing look in them,
and her voice, usually so gentle, was inexorably stern, as she replied,
"No, papa; I believe neither in your love nor in your kindness. I shall
never believe you again,--never!"

Nordheim bit his lip and turned away, mutely motioning to her to leave
the room. As mutely she obeyed.

She had rightly divined that the president never for a moment
entertained the idea of a marriage between his daughter and the young
physician, although he had no scruples in hinting at such a possibility
in order to avert for the moment a threatening danger. But he had
miscalculated his daughter's insight; the young, inexperienced girl had
seen through his device, and, man of iron though he was, he could not
endure it. He had preserved his composure in presence of Wolfgang's
haughty indignation and of Gronau's threats. His anger had been
aroused, and at most he had experienced a vague dread. Now for the
first time in his life he felt the sting of shame. Even although the
danger menacing him should be averted, he could not away with the
consciousness that he was judged and condemned by his only child.



                              CHAPTER XX.

                       BLASTS AND COUNTERBLASTS.


The construction of the railway was pushed forward with feverish haste.
In fact, it was no easy task to have the work completed at the promised
time; but Nordheim was right in declaring that the engineer-in-chief
would spare neither himself nor his subordinates. Elmhorst spurred on
his workmen to incredible exertions; he was present everywhere,
superintending and directing, giving to his staff of engineers an
example of unwearied devotion to duty that inspired their emulation.
Under his leadership their capacity for work seemed doubled, and he
actually attained his end. The numerous structures on the line of
mountain-railway were now all but finished, and the last touches were
being put to the Wolkenstein bridge.

Wolfgang had just returned from his day's expedition. He had dismissed
his vehicle in Oberstein, that he might pursue the rest of his way on
foot, and now he was standing upon a cliff above the Wolkenstein abyss,
watching the workmen, swarming like busy ants upon the trestles and
framework of the bridge. A few days more would witness the completion
of the work, which already excited universal admiration, and which in
the course of a year or two would arouse the wonder of thousands; but
he who had created it stood gazing at it as gloomily as if all pleasure
in his creation had departed.

He had evaded for to-day an interview with the president, testifying by
his absence to his adhesion to his refusal; but some explanation was
unavoidable. That the breach between them was final both knew; Nordheim
was scarcely the man to accept for his son-in-law one who had so
frankly and contemptuously defied him, and from whom he could expect in
future no support in his schemes. The question was now how the
separation was to be made, since the interests of each required that it
should take place as quietly as possible. This was all that was to be
arranged, and this was to be settled on the morrow.

The sound of a horse's hoofs close at hand roused Elmhorst from his
reflections, and turning he perceived Erna von Thurgau upon one of the
rough ponies purchased for use among the mountains. She drew rein,
evidently surprised, as she recognized the engineer-in-chief.

"Back already, Herr Elmhorst? We thought your expedition would take up
an entire day."

"I finished my inspection sooner than I anticipated. But you cannot
ride on for a few moments, Fräulein von Thurgau: they are blasting just
below there; it will be all over, however, in ten minutes."

The young lady had already perceived the obstacle; the road leading
down the descent and past the bridge was temporarily barricaded, while
beyond a number of workmen were busied in blasting a large fragment of
rock.

"I am in no hurry," she said, indifferently, "and, besides, I must wait
for Herr Waltenberg, who begged me to ride on while he spoke with Herr
Gronau, whom he met just now quite unexpectedly. I do not wish to be
too far in advance of him."

She let her bridle hang loose, and seemed to bestow all her attention
upon the workmen. The previous night had brought an entire change
in the weather,--a cold rain had obscured all the sunny, fragrant
beauty of the landscape. The skies hung dark and gray above the earth,
the mountains were veiled in mist, and the wind whistled in the
forests,--autumn had come in a single night.

"We shall see you this evening, Herr Elmhorst?" Erna asked, after a
silence of several minutes.

"I regret extremely that I cannot possibly come. I shall be very much
occupied this evening."

It was the old pretext to which he had so often had recourse; but it no
longer found credence. Erna said, with evident significance, "You are
probably not aware that my uncle arrived this forenoon?"

"Oh, yes, I know it, and have excused my absence to him; I shall see
him to-morrow."

"But Alice does not seem well. She will not, it is true, admit any
indisposition, nor will she allow Dr. Reinsfeld to be summoned, but she
looked so pale and ill awhile ago when she came out of her father's
room, that I was quite alarmed."

She seemed to expect an answer, but Elmhorst continued to gaze towards
the bridge in silence.

"Surely you ought to forsake your work for to-day and see after your
betrothed."

"I have no longer the right to call Fräulein Nordheim my betrothed,"
Wolfgang said, coldly.

"Herr Elmhorst!"

"Yes, Fräulein von Thurgau. Differences of opinion have arisen between
the president and myself of so decided a character that any adjustment
is impossible. We have both withdrawn from the intended connection."

"And Alice?"

"She knows nothing of it as yet, at least through me. Possibly her
father may have acquainted her with the matter; in any case, she will
submit to his decision."

The words testified clearly to the nature of the strange alliance,
which had in fact existed only between Nordheim and his intended
son-in-law. Alice had been betrothed since the interests of both men
required that so it should be, and now when these interests no longer
existed the betrothal was dissolved without even referring the matter
to her; it was taken for granted that she would submit. Erna too seemed
to have no doubt upon the subject, but she changed colour at the
unexpected intelligence. "It has come, then, to this," she said,
softly.

"Yes, it has come to this. I was asked to pay a price far too high for
me or----, and I made my choice."

"I knew how you would choose!" the girl exclaimed, eagerly. "I never
doubted it!"

"Ah, you did me that justice, then!" Wolfgang said, with undisguised
bitterness. "I hardly expected it of you."

She made no reply, but there was reproach in her eyes; at last she
said, with hesitation, "And---what now?"

"Now I stand just where I did a year ago. The path which you once
pointed out to me with such enthusiasm lies open before me, and I shall
pursue it, but alone,--entirely alone."

Erna shivered slightly at his last words, but apparently she did not
choose to understand them; she interposed, hastily, "A man like
yourself is not alone. He has his talents and his future, and the
future before you is so grand and----"

"And as dreary and sunless as that mountain-world," he completed her
sentence, pointing to the autumnal, cloudy landscape. "But I have no
right to complain. It came to meet me once, happiness, brilliant and
sunlit, and I turned my back upon it to attain another goal. Then it
spread its wings and departed, soaring to unattainable heights; and
although I would give my very life for it, it never will come back to
me. Those who trifle with it lose it forever."

There was dull, aching misery in his voice as he made this confession,
but Erna had no word of reply for him, and no glance for the eyes
seeking her own. Pale and rigid, she gazed abroad into the misty
distance. Yes, he knew now where for him lay rest and happiness,--now,
when it was too late!

Wolfgang laid his hand upon the horse's mane: "Erna, one question
before we part. After my final interview with your uncle to-morrow I
shall, of course, not enter his house again, and you are going far away
with your husband. Do you look for happiness at his side?"

"At least I hope to confer happiness."

"And you?"

"Herr Elmhorst----"

"Ah, you need not repulse me so sternly! No self-interest lurks behind
my question. My sentence I listened to from your lips on that moonlit
night upon the Wolkenstein. Even were you free I should be hopeless,
for you never could forgive my wooing of another."

"No,--never!" The words were harsh in their decision.

"I know it, and hence these last words of warning. Ernst Waltenberg is
not the man to make such a woman as yourself happy. His love is rooted
in the egotism that is the basis of his entire nature. He never will
ask himself whether he may not be torturing by his jealous passion the
woman whom he loves, and how will you endure constant companionship
with a man to whom all the lofty ideals which are to you inspiration
are but dead ideas? At last I have learned to know--dearly as the
knowledge has been purchased--that there is something loftier and
better than the self which once bounded my horizon. He never will learn
this!"

Erna's lips quivered; she had long known it far better than any one
could tell her. But what availed such knowledge? For her also it was
too late.

"You are speaking of my betrothed, Herr Elmhorst," she said, in a tone
of reproof,--"and to me. Not another word of the kind, I entreat!"

Wolfgang bowed and retired: "You are right, Fräulein von Thurgau; but
they were farewell words, and as such may be forgiven."

She inclined her head in assent, and was about to turn away, when
Waltenberg appeared on the edge of the forest, urging his horse towards
the pair. He and the engineer-in-chief exchanged the coldly courteous
greetings habitual to them in what had become their almost daily
intercourse. They spoke of the weather, and of the president's
arrival,--Ernst being now first aware of the barricade in the road.

"The men are unconscionably dilatory about their blasting," said
Wolfgang, glad to find an opportunity to cut short the interview. "I
will go and hasten them; you shall not have to wait long."

He hurried down the slope, but something seemed to be amiss with the
blasting, and the engineer who was directing the proceedings came
forward to explain matters to his chief. Wolfgang shrugged his
shoulders impatiently and passed on into the midst of the workmen,
apparently to examine the work himself.

Meanwhile, Waltenberg stayed with his betrothed, who asked him, "You
spoke with Gronau, then?"

"Yes, and I took no pains to conceal my surprise at finding him here,
since he had not been to see me in Heilborn, or informed me of his
return. In reply he begged me to see him this evening: he has something
to tell me, which he says concerns me in a certain sense. I am really
curious to know what it is. He is not wont to be oracularly mysterious.
Look, Erna, how dark and threatening the sky is above the Wolkenstein.
Will that storm not overtake us?"

"Hardly to-day," said Erna, with a glance towards the veiled
mountain-top. "To-morrow perhaps, or the day after. In spite of our
fine autumn, the tempests which our poor mountaineers so dread seem to
be setting in earlier than usual. We had a forerunner of them last
night."

"There must be something more than fable in the magic power of your
Alpine Fay," Ernst said, half in jest. "That cloudy peak, which is well
named, for it scarcely ever unveils, has actually cast a spell around
me. It allures and attracts me with a mysterious, wellnigh irresistible
charm, tempting me to lift the veil of the haughty Ice-Queen, and to
snatch from her the kiss hitherto denied to mortals. If one should try
that precipice on this side----"

"Ernst, you promised me to give up all such ideas forever," Erna
interposed.

"And I will keep my word. I promised you on St. John's eve."

"On St. John's eve," the girl repeated, softly, dreamily.

"Do you remember that evening when I yielded to your request? I had
resolved firmly upon an ascent of the Wolkenstein, but my resolution
vanished before the entreaty in your eyes,--your words. Would you
really have been distressed had I then disobeyed you?"

"But, Ernst, what a question!"

"It would not have been incumbent upon you then to be so; I was not
then your declared lover." There was again the old tormenting jealousy
in his voice. "You would probably have been distressed about Sepp or
Gronau if either of them had undertaken the ascent. I mean that
trembling anxiety which only assails one where one dearly loved is
concerned,--a dread before which all else pales and vanishes,--the
distress which would drive me blindly to encounter any danger if I knew
you exposed to it. I suppose you know nothing of that?"

"Why conjure up such fancies?" Erna said, half impatiently. "I have
your promise, and therefore no ground for distress. Why dwell upon an
'if'----?"

A crash as of thunder interrupted her. Below them earth and stones were
hurled into the air, and the huge mass of rock, split into three
fragments, fell apart with a dull thud, while on the instant a terrific
commotion arose. The assembled labourers rushed away from the bridge
towards the spot where the engineer-in-chief with his subordinate
officer had been standing an instant before. It was impossible to see
what had occurred; all that was to be perceived was a close group of
men, whence cries of alarm and dismay were heard.

But above them all there rang out such a shriek as is the utterance of
an agony of despair, and Ernst, turning, saw his betrothed, erect in
her saddle, every vestige of colour fled from her face, gazing towards
the spot where the catastrophe had occurred.

"Erna!" he exclaimed. She did not hear him, but gave her horse the
rein. The brute, terrified by the noise, shied and would not go
forward. A merciless cut with the whip forced it to obey, and the next
instant horse and rider were speeding down the slope towards the group
of men.

It parted at Erna's stormy approach; some of the labourers, who thought
the horse had become unmanageable from fright, seized it by the bridle
and stopped it. Erna seemed hardly aware of it; in mortal terror her
eyes sought only--Wolfgang! and on the instant she perceived him
standing quite unhurt in the midst of the throng.

He too had seen her as she broke through the crowd; he had recognized
the look that sought him out,--had heard the deep-drawn sigh of relief
when she found him uninjured,--and from his eyes there shot a ray of
passionate ecstasy. His mortal peril had revealed her secret,--she did
love him, then!

"Your fear was unfounded; the engineer-in-chief is unharmed," said
Ernst Waltenberg, who had followed his betrothed and had paused just
outside the throng. His voice sounded unnatural, his face was strangely
pale, and in the dark eyes now riveted upon Erna and Wolfgang there
gleamed an evil fire. Erna shivered, and Wolfgang turned hastily. It
needed but a glance to tell him that he was confronting a deadly foe;
yet appearances must be preserved in view of all these stranger eyes.

"The affair might have turned out badly," he said, with forced
composure. "The blast was tardy at first, and then took place before we
could get well away from it. Two of the men are wounded; I am glad to
know, only slightly. The rest of us escaped almost by a miracle."

"But you are bleeding, Herr Elmhorst," said one of the engineers,
pointing to Wolfgang's forehead, where two or three trickling drops of
blood were visible. The young man pressed his pocket-handkerchief upon
the wound, of which he had not before been aware.

"It is not worth mentioning; one of the stones must have grazed my
forehead. Have the wounds of those men bandaged immediately. Fräulein
von Thurgau, I regret that the accident should have frightened you----"

"It frightened my horse, at least," Erna interposed, with ready
presence of mind. "It shied and ran; I could not control it."

The fiction was a plausible one and gained instant credence from the
bystanders, explaining as it did the sudden appearance of the young
lady and her evident terror and emotion. It was fortunate that the
frightened animal had been brought under control in time.

There were two men, however, who were not thus deceived,--Wolfgang, to
whom those few instants of alarm had revealed a certainty which came,
indeed, too late, but which he would not for worlds have relinquished,
and Ernst, who still maintained his place, closely observing the pair.
There was a contemptuous emphasis in his voice as he remarked,--

"We have been fortunately spared another catastrophe. Have you
recovered from your alarm, Erna?"

"Yes."

"Then we will continue our ride. _Au revoir_, Herr Elmhorst."

Wolfgang bowed formally, perfectly comprehending the significance of
that '_Au revoir_;' then he turned to see after the wounds of the two
men, which were in fact very slight, as was his own. A fragment of
stone had, as he said, merely grazed his forehead. The entire
occurrence seemed to have ended very fortunately.

But this was only seeming, as might have been clearly seen in
Waltenberg's countenance. He rode beside his betrothed in silence,
without even turning towards her; this went on for a quarter of an
hour, until Erna could bear it no longer.

"Ernst," she said, softly.

"Beg pardon?"

"Let us turn back. The skies are more threatening, and we can take the
mountain-road home."

"As you please."

They turned their horses into another road, and again complete silence
ensued. Erna was only too conscious that she had betrayed herself, but
she could have borne the wildest outburst of jealousy from her
betrothed rather than this gloomy silence, which was terrible. She did
not indeed fear for herself, but she saw that an explanation was
inevitable so soon as they should reach the house.

Her expectations were, however, disappointed, for at the door of the
villa, after Ernst had helped her to dismount, he got on his horse
again.

"You are going?" she asked, surprised.

"Yes. I need the open air this afternoon."

"Do not go, Ernst. I wanted to ask you----"

"Good-bye!" he interrupted her, curtly; and before she could make any
further attempt to detain him he was gone, leaving her a prey to a
vague anxiety in her ignorance of his intentions.

When Waltenberg reached the forest he checked his horse's speed and
rode on slowly beneath the dark pines, through the tops of which the
wind was whistling. He needed no further explanation; he knew
everything now,--everything! But in the midst of the tempest raging
within him he was aware of a savage satisfaction: the phantom which had
tortured him for so long had finally taken on flesh and blood. Now he
could assail and destroy it!



                              CHAPTER XXI.

                              A CHALLENGE.


It was evening; Elmhorst was in his office with Dr. Reinsfeld, who had
arrived half an hour previously, and from the air of both men it was
evident that the subject of their conversation was a grave one. Benno
seemed especially agitated.

"So matters stand at present," he concluded, after a long explanation.
"Gronau came directly to me after his interview with the president, and
all my efforts to deter him from his purpose are vain. I begged him to
remember that it would cost him his position with Waltenberg, who never
could tolerate such an assault upon the fair fame of the uncle and
guardian of his betrothed, and that he had no positive proof; that
Nordheim would do all that lay in his power to brand him as a liar
and slanderer. It was of no use. He reproached me bitterly with
cowardice,--with indifference to my father's memory. God knows, he was
wrong there; but--I cannot bring forward the accusation!"

"Wolfgang had listened in silence, a contemptuous smile hovering about
his lips. It was high time indeed to break off all association with
that man; never for an instant did he doubt the truth of Gronau's
suspicions.

"I thank you for your frankness, Benno," he said. "It would have been
perfectly excusable if you had never taken me into consideration, but
had acted only as your father's son. I know how great is the regard you
thus show me."

Benno cast down his eyes; he was conscious that these thanks were
undeserved. It was not to spare his friend that he would have buried
that discovery in oblivion.

"You understand that I cannot possibly move in the affair," he
rejoined. "I must leave it to you to speak with your future
father-in-law----"

"No," Wolfgang coldly interrupted him.

Reinsfeld gazed at him in surprise. "You will not?

"No, Benno; Grouau has openly declared war to him, as you tell me,
therefore he is fully prepared; and, moreover, my relations with him
are no longer what they were. We are parted once for all."

The doctor's amazement was inexpressible: "Parted? And your betrothal
with Fräulein Alice----"

"Is at an end. I cannot give you a detailed explanation of the matter.
Nordheim has shown himself to me also,--as what you now know him to be.
He endeavoured to impose upon me conditions entirely inconsistent, in
my opinion, with my honour; therefore I was obliged to retire."

Reinsfeld still stared at him, bewildered; he could not understand how
the man who had once staked everything upon this connection could speak
thus composedly of his shattered hopes.

"And Alice is free?" he managed to ask at last.

"Yes. But what is the matter with you? What is it?"

Benno had started up in extreme agitation: "Wolf, you never loved your
betrothed. I am sure of it, or you could not speak so coldly and calmly
of losing her. You do not even know what you are losing, for you never
appreciated what you possessed."

There was so passionate a reproach in his words that they betrayed
everything. Elmhorst was startled, and gazed at the doctor half
incredulously: "What does this mean? Benno, can it be--what? do you
love Alice?"

The young physician's honest blue eyes sparkled as he looked into those
of his friend: "No need to reproach me with it, Wolf. I have never
spoken a word to your betrothed that you might not have heard, and when
I saw how impossible it was to struggle against my love, I made up my
mind to depart. Do you suppose I would ever have accepted the position
in Neuenfeld, which I more than suspected was the result of the
president's influence, if any other way out of the difficulty had been
possible? There was nothing else to do if I wished to leave Oberstein."

The most conflicting sensations were pictured on Wolfgang's features as
he listened. True, he had never loved his betrothed, but Benno's
confession touched him very strangely, and there was something akin to
bitterness in his voice as he said, "Well, I am no longer an obstacle
in your way, and if you have any hope that your love is returned----"

"It would be vain!" Reinsfeld interposed. "You know now what happened
between our fathers, enough to separate me from Alice forever."

"Perhaps so, constituted as you are. Another man, on the contrary,
might use it to force from Nordheim a consent which he assuredly would
otherwise refuse. That you never could be induced to do."

"No, never!" Benno said, sadly. "I am going to Neuenfeld, and I shall
in all probability never see Alice again."

They were interrupted by the announcement that Herr Waltenberg wished
to speak with the engineer-in-chief. Elmhorst instantly arose, and
Reinsfeld prepared to leave. "Good-night, Wolf," he said, cordially
extending his hand. "Nothing can sever our friendship; we must always
be what we have always been to each other,--eh?"

Wolfgang warmly returned the pressure of the hand thus given:
"Good-night, Benno. I shall see you to-morrow."

He went with him to the door of the room, just as Waltenberg made his
appearance; a few words were exchanged among the young men, and then
Reinsfeld departed, and the two were left alone.

Ernst seemed to have regained his self-control during his lonely ride
of two hours; his manner, at least, was cold and collected, although
there was still a gleam in his eyes that boded no good.

"I hope I do not interrupt you, Herr Elmhorst?" he said, slowly
approaching the young engineer.

"No, Herr Waltenberg; I expected you," was the reply.

"So much the better; there is no need, then, of any preface to what I
am come to say. No, thank you!" he interrupted himself, as Elmhorst
offered him a chair. "Between us formal courtesy is superfluous. I need
not tell you why I am here. Our interpretation of the scene of this
afternoon differed from that of the strangers then present, and I have
a few words to say to you with regard to it."

"I am quite at your service."

Ernst folded his arms, and there was a trace of contempt in his voice
as he continued: "I am, as you know, betrothed to Baroness von Thurgau,
and I am not inclined to allow in my betrothed so intense an interest
in the peril of another man. But that is a matter between herself and
myself. What I desire to know at present is how far you are implicated
in this interest. Do you love Fräulein von Thurgau?"

The question sounded like a threat, but Wolfgang's answer came
instantly and simply: "Yes."

A flash of deadly hatred shot from Ernst Waltenberg's eyes, and yet
this confession told him nothing new. He knew from Erna herself that
she had loved another, but he had fancied that he should have to seek
that other in the grave, among the shades. Here he stood living before
him, the man who could sacrifice an Erna to wretched mammon; a man
incapable of a pure, exalted affection, and who yet held his head as
haughtily erect as if there were no reason why he should bow before any
on earth. This irritated Ernst still more.

"And this love does not probably date from to-day or from yesterday? As
far as I know, you have frequented the house of the president for
years,--before I returned from Europe, before Baroness von Thurgau was
betrothed."

"I regret being obliged to refuse to give you any satisfaction on these
points," Wolfgang replied, as frigidly as before. "I am quite ready to
answer any question you have a right to put. I refuse to submit to a
cross-examination."

"I can well believe it," Waltenberg declared, with a bitter laugh. "You
would fare but ill in such an examination,--as the betrothed of Alice
Nordheim."

Elmhorst bit his lip,--the shot found a joint in his armour, but he
recovered himself in an instant:

"First of all, Herr Waltenberg, I must request you to change your tone,
if this conversation is to be prolonged. I will tolerate no insults,
least of all, as you well know, from yourself."

"I am not to blame if the truth insults you," Ernst retorted,
arrogantly. "Contradict my words, and I will retract them. Until you
do, you must allow me to entertain my own opinion with regard to a man
who loves, or pretends to love, a woman while he woos and wins a
wealthy heiress. You cannot possibly ask esteem for such a paltr----"

"Enough!" Wolfgang cut short his words. "No need of abuse to attain
your end. I am perfectly aware of why you are here, and I will not balk
you. But such words as you are using I forbid. I am in my own house."

He confronted his antagonist erect and very pale. Something in the man
commanded respect, even as he thus repelled the imputation which his
conduct had ostensibly deserved. Ernst could not but feel that his
rival bore himself with dignity, hard as it was to admit it.

"You adopt a lofty tone," said Waltenberg, with a sneer. "'Tis a pity
your betrothed is not here; in her presence there might not be so much
conscious rectitude in your manner."

"I am no longer betrothed," Wolfgang coldly declared.

Waltenberg retreated a step in extreme amazement.

"What--what do you mean?"

"I simply inform you of a fact to show you that the cause for the
imputation with which you would insult me exists no longer, for _I_ was
the one to withdraw from the engagement."

"When? For what reason?" The questions were put hurriedly.

"On these points I owe you no explanation."

"I am not so sure of that, for here, as it seems to me, you are
reckoning upon my magnanimity. You are mistaken. I never will release
Erna; and she herself, as I know, will never ask her release at my
hands. She does not make a promise to-day to break it to-morrow, and
she is far too proud to give herself to a man who preferred wealth to
her love."

"Pray cease your attempts to use the old weapon: it has lost its
point," Elmhorst said, sternly. "Born and bred in the very lap of
luxury as you were, ignorant of all self-denial, what can you know of
the struggles and efforts of one longing to rise, consumed by ambition
to win recognition for himself, to attain a great goal? I yielded to
temptation, yes; but I have delivered my soul now, and can bid defiance
to your boasted virtue. You too would have succumbed if life had denied
you fortune and happiness,--you first of all,--and it may be you would
not have fought your way free as I have, for, by heaven! the struggle
is no easy one."

There was such convincing truth in his words that Ernst was silent. He
to whom luxury was a necessity of existence could hardly have withstood
temptation; but because he could not help the conviction that this was
so, did he all the more detest the man who had come off conqueror in
the fiercest of all battles,--the conflict with self.

"And now go, and hold your betrothed to her promise," Wolfgang went on,
still more bitterly. "She will not break it, nor will she forgive me
for what has been. There you are right. I have paid for my wrong-doing
with my happiness. Force Erna to bestow upon you her hand; her love you
cannot gain, for that belongs to me,--to me alone!"

"Ah, you dare----!" Ernst began, furiously, but paused before the cold,
proud triumph in the eyes that met his own.

"Well? upon what ground now would you quarrel with me? That I love your
betrothed is hardly an insult; that I am beloved you cannot pardon. I
never knew it myself before to-day."

Waltenberg looked as if he would fain have flown at the throat
of the man who thus uttered what could not be gainsaid; in a voice
half stifled by passion be rejoined, "Then you can easily conceive
that I shall hardly consent to share the love of my betrothed with
another,--with a living rival at least."

Elmhorst shrugged his shoulders: "Is this a challenge?"

"Yes, and the affair had best be concluded as soon as possible. I will
send Herr Gronau to you to-morrow to make the necessary arrangements,
and I hope you will agree that to-morrow shall decide----"

"Not at all," Elmhorst interrupted him. "I shall have no time
to-morrow, nor the day after."

"No time for an affair of honour?"

"No, Herr Waltenberg. In fact, I have no great opinion of these affairs
of honour which consist in trying to put an end as quickly as possible
to a man whom one hates. But there are cases in which one must be false
to his convictions rather than incur the imputation of cowardice. So I
am ready. But we workingmen have an honour of our own apart from that
cherished as such by the favoured idlers of society, and mine demands
that I should not expose myself to the possibility of being shot before
the task which I have undertaken to fulfil has been accomplished. In
eight or ten days the Wolkenstein bridge will be finished,--I shall
then have completed my task; I shall have seen my work accomplished.
Then I shall be at your disposal, but not an hour sooner. Until then
you will be obliged to curb your impatience."

There was an almost contemptuous deliberation in the manner in which
all this was stated to the man to whom it was scarcely intelligible.
Waltenberg had never worked, never devised anything that he loved and
would fain see completed; he had never done aught save follow the
impulse of the whim of the moment. Now this impulse incited him to the
destruction of his enemy or to his own ruin,--he did not stop to ask
which; but to be obliged to wait for days, to stay his thirst for
revenge,--the thing seemed an impossibility.

"And if I do not accept this condition?" he asked, sharply.

"Then I do not accept your challenge. The choice is yours."

Ernst clinched his fist in suppressed fury; but he saw that he must
submit: it was his antagonist's right to require this delay.

"So be it, then!" he said, controlling himself by an effort. "In from
eight to ten days. I rely upon your word."

"You will find me ready."

A formal, hostile bow was given on both sides, and Ernst left the room,
while Elmhorst slowly walked to the window.

Outside, the moon, visible now and then among the clouds, cast an
uncertain light over the landscape. For a moment it emerged clearly,
and in its rays was revealed the bridge, the bold structure which had
promised its creator so proud a future. And out into the same light
strode the man who had sworn his death,--whose hand was sure when
a foe was to be removed from his path. Wolfgang made no effort at
self-deception: he bade farewell to his dreams for the future, as he
had already bidden farewell to his happiness.



                             CHAPTER XXII.

                          AN UNEXPECTED VISIT.


Dr. Reinsfeld sat in his room, writing diligently. So much had to be
arranged and prepared for his successor, who was to arrive in the
course of the next week, and who was to buy the house and furniture.
The young physician's belongings were not very valuable, nevertheless
he looked about him upon his poor possessions with a sad, yearning
expression. Here he had been so happy, and so miserable!

A carriage drove up and stopped before his door. Benno looked up from
his writing to see who his visitor might be, and then hurried to the
door, in surprise, as he recognized the graceful figure of Frau
Gersdorf about to alight. This distinguished relative, whose
acquaintance he had formerly dreaded to make, had come to be his
cherished little friend, whose interest in his unhappy love was
intense. He had been obliged to discourage this interest of hers, but
he was nevertheless grateful for it.

He went out with a welcome upon his lips to open the carriage door, but
started, dismayed, for beside his young cousin sat a shyly shrinking
figure,--Alice Nordheim.

"Yes, I am not alone," said Molly, highly delighted by the effect of
her surprise. "We have been out driving, and did not wish to pass
through Oberstein without seeing you. Well, Benno, are you not glad we
stopped?"

Reinsfeld stood dumfounded. Driving in this cold rainy weather? Why had
Alice come? And why did she tremble so as he helped her out of the
carriage, seeming afraid to look at him? He could not utter a word; but
indeed there was no need that he should, for Frau Gersdorf gave no one
any chance to speak. She chattered on until they were in Benno's study,
and then she began afresh:

"And so here we are. You wanted to come, Alice, and now you look as if
you would like to run away. Why? I may surely call upon my cousin if I
please, and you are with me, chaperoned by a married woman, so your
duenna can make no possible objection. And you need not be in the least
embarrassed, children. I know everything,--I grasp the entire
situation, and it is very natural that you should wish to talk to each
other. So now begin!"

She seated herself in the arm-chair which the doctor had just left, and
prepared with great solemnity to assist at the interview. But a long
pause ensued,--neither Alice nor Benno spoke,--and, after some minutes
of silence, Molly began to be tired.

"I dare say you would rather talk without listeners," she remarked.
"Good! I will go into the next room, and see that no one interrupts
you."

Without waiting for a reply, she suited the action to the word, and
left the room for the one adjoining, by the closed door of which she
placed herself as sentinel.

But Molly had forgotten the other door of the study, which led through
a small vestibule out into the garden, and she was quite unconscious
that through the garden Veit Gronau was just now approaching the house,
leaving Said and Djelma to await him at the garden gate.

Ernst Waltenberg had not returned to Heilborn on the previous evening,
although he had promised to meet his secretary there. Early this
morning a messenger from him had brought Gronau the intelligence that
he had taken up his abode for a few days in the little inn at
Oberstein, and that the two servants were to be sent to him with all
that was necessary for his comfort. This had been done, and Veit had
accompanied them. Driving up the steep mountain-road had been very
difficult, wherefore all three had preferred to walk the last part of
the way, leaving the vehicle to bring the luggage.

The foot-path which thay pursued led directly past the doctor's
garden. Gronau walked up the little enclosure and opened the familiar
back-door. His last interview with Benno had been a stormy one,--he had
bitterly reproached the young physician with his indifference,--and his
kindly nature would not long allow him to cherish any unkind feeling.
He came now partly to apologize, and partly in hope of finding the
doctor more in sympathy with his wishes. As the Nordheim carriage was
standing before the front entrance of the house, he had no suspicion of
the visit which Benno was receiving, else he would have fled in dismay.

Meanwhile, Frau Gersdorf maintained her guard with unwearied,
devotion,--a devotion all the more disinterested since the stout oaken
door effectually deadened the voices of the pair she had left. Their
conversation, moreover, was far from what she had hoped would ensue.

Benno, after waiting in vain for Alice to break the silence, said,
gently,--

"And you really wished to come hither, Fräulein Nordheim,--really?"

"Yes, Herr Doctor," was the low, trembling reply.

Reinsfeld knew not what to think. Lately Alice's intercourse with him
had been perfectly easy and familiar. True, since their last interview
in the forest, her ease of manner had vanished, but that could not
explain this alteration in her. She stood pale and trembling before
him, seeming actually afraid of him, for she retreated timidly when he
would have approached her.

"You are afraid--of me?" he asked, reproachfully.

She shook her head: "No, not of you, but of what I have to tell you. It
is so terrible."

Reinsfeld was still puzzled for a moment, and then suddenly the truth
flashed upon him.

"Good God! You do not know----?"

He paused, for, for the first time, Alice looked up at him with eyes
filled with such misery, such despair, that all other reply was
needless. He hastily went up to her and took her hand.

"How could it be? Who could have been so cruel, so dastardly, as to
distress you with _that_?"

"No one!" the girl said, with an evident effort, "By chance--I
overheard a conversation between my father and Herr Gronau----"

"You cannot believe I had any share in it!" Benno hastily interposed.
"I did all that I could to restrain Gronau; I refused to give him my
sanction."

"I know it,--and for my sake!"

"Yes, for your sake, Alice. What can you fear from me? There was no
need that you should come hither to entreat my silence."

"I did not come for that," Alice said, softly. "I wanted to ask your
pardon--your forgiveness for----"

Her voice was lost in a burst of sobs; suddenly she felt herself
clasped in Benno's arms. She was no longer Wolfgang's betrothed; he was
no traitor to his friend; he might for once clasp his love in his arms,
while she wept convulsively upon his breast.

Just at this moment Veit Gronau opened the side-door, and paused in
dismay upon the threshold. He would have been less amazed if the skies
had fallen than he was by the sight that met his eyes. Unfortunately,
he did not possess Frau Gersdorf's diplomatic talent for noiselessly
disappearing and pretending not to have observed anything; on the
contrary, his surprise expressed itself in a long-drawn "A--h!"

The lovers started in terror. Alice in great confusion extricated
herself from Benno's embrace, and the doctor lost all his presence of
mind, while the intruder maintained his stand upon the threshold, and
in his dismay never thought of stirring. At last the young girl fled
into the next room to Molly, while Benno, with a frown, approached his
unbidden guest: "This is an unexpected visit, Herr Gronau, a surprise
indeed."

His tone was unusually sharp, but Gronau did not seem to notice it. He
entered the room, and, with an air of extreme satisfaction, said, "This
is quite another affair,--quite another affair."

"What of it?" Benno exclaimed, impatiently; but Veit tapped him
cordially on the shoulder:

"Why did you not tell me this? Now I understand why you would not
accuse Nordheim. You were quite right, quite right."

"Nor will I suffer any one else to do so," Reinsfeld declared, his
irritation only aggravated by Gronau's genial tone. "I deny any one's
right to meddle in my affairs; understand me, Herr Gronau."

"I have no idea of doing anything of the kind," said Gronau, quietly.
"'Tis well that I have said nothing to Herr Waltenberg as yet. Of
course the matter must be kept quiet among ourselves. You have been far
wiser than I, Herr Doctor. How could you bear my scolding so patiently?
I never gave you credit for such cleverness."

"Can you suppose me capable of sordid calculation?" Benno exclaimed,
angrily. "I love Alice Nordheim."

"So I saw just now," Veit observed, "And she seemed very willing.
Bravo! Now we shall go to work with the Herr President very
differently. We shall say not a word about the stolen invention, but
shall simply ask for his daughter's hand, and his millions will
naturally follow it. 'Tis a fact, Benno, that you have shown a vast
amount of cleverness. Your arrangement of the matter would satisfy even
your father in his grave."

"That is your view," Benno declared, sadly. "Alice's and mine is very
different. What you saw was only a farewell forever."

At this intelligence, Veit looked as if he had suddenly received a box
on the ear.

"Farewell? Forever? Doctor, I verily believe you are out of your
senses."

The young physician was wont to be all patience and gentleness, but at
this interference with his most sacred emotions he lost his temper so
thoroughly that he tried to be rude.

"Herr Gronau, let me reiterate my request that you will no longer
meddle in my affairs. Do you suppose that I can ever call by the name
of father a man who so injured my father? You understand nothing of any
refinement of sentiment."

"No, I suppose not; but all the more do I comprehend what is practical,
and this matter is as simple as possible. You possess a means of
forcing Nordheim to consent to your marriage with his daughter, whom
you love. Use it and marry her. Anything else is nonsense, and that's
an end of it!"

"My opinion precisely," said a voice from the doorway, and Frau
Gersdorf, having heard the last words, advanced into the room and took
part with aplomb in the conversation.

"Herr Gronau is perfectly right. The matter is as plain and simple as
possible," she repeated. "All you have to do, Benno, is to marry Alice,
and there's an end of it."

Poor Reinsfeld thus assailed on both sides might well tremble for his
'refinement of sentiment.' He made up his mind to a final effort, and
declared,--

"But I will not. I am the one, and the only one, to decide here!"

"A pretty lover you are!" exclaimed Gronau raising his hands to heaven
in despair.

Molly, however, took a much more practical view of the case, and
attacked Benno's obstinacy from the other side.

"Benno!" she said, reproachfully, "there sits poor Alice in the next
room crying her very heart out. Will you not try at least to comfort
her?"

This was perfectly successful. Benno hesitated for a moment, but only
for a moment, then he rushed into the next room.

"There! he will not come back for some time," said Molly, closing the
door behind him. "Now we can take the affair in hand, Herr Gronau."

But this was too much for Veit Gronau's declared distrust of womankind.
Charming as was this new ally, her very presence reminded him of how
false to his avowed principles he was in thus standing godfather to a
love-affair. He suddenly remembered his attendant spirits still waiting
at the garden gate, and with a hurried and awkward apology he took his
leave, while Frau Gersdorf, with much self-satisfaction, seated herself
in the doctor's study to await the close of the interview in the next
room, and to reflect upon the vicissitudes that beset the path in life
of a self-constituted guardian angel.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.

                            A JEALOUS LOVER.


For three days there had been raging in the Wolkenstein district a
storm which even in this mountain-region was held to be unprecedented
in violence. The keen blasts of November set in several weeks earlier
this year and were unusual in their fury. In addition, the rain poured
down day and night; in certain valleys there had been rain-spouts which
had deluged the fields, and had so swollen streams and brooks that they
had burst all bounds, overflowed their banks, and made travel
impossible. Communication with Heilborn was interrupted, intercourse
between neighbouring hamlets and villages was maintained with
difficulty, and the danger increased from hour to hour.

In the Nordheim villa preparations had been made for a return to the
capital, but any such intention had to be given up, since travel was
not to be thought of in this weather. All regretted the impossibility,
and longed to be gone, for the entire household was oppressed as by
some gloomy spell.

Alice pleaded indisposition, and had not left her room for several
days, availing herself of this pretext to avoid meeting her father,
whom she had dreaded since their last interview; but the president's
mind was filled with far other anxieties. He probably never noticed his
child's avoidance of him, nor was he aware of the strained relations
existing of late between Erna and her betrothed.

The good fortune which had befriended him hitherto during his life
seemed all at once to be forsaking him; it was as if some hostile power
were at work, frustrating all his efforts, confusing all his schemes,
and confounding all his expectations.

The boldly-conceived plan, the success of which was to gain him
millions, was shattered, and its ruin came from a quarter whence he had
never looked for it. The man whom he thought indissolubly bound to
himself and to his interests withdrew from his plans at the decisive
moment, and made their execution impossible. Nordheim knew perfectly
well that if the engineer-in-chief, his future son-in-law, refused to
approve the estimates as they had been made out, it would be impossible
to present them to the company. The scheme was naught since Elmhorst
refused his aid, opposing a frigid refusal to all efforts to persuade
him. There had been a brief, stern interview between the two men, and
it had set the seal upon their estrangement.

Then Wolfgang had spent an hour with his betrothed. What had passed at
this interview no one was told, not even the girl's father. Alice, with
unwonted decision, refused to speak of it, but the parting had surely
not been unkindly, for when Elmhorst left the house, not to enter it
again, Alice had waved him a farewell from the window more cordial than
any she had ever vouchsafed him while they were betrothed, and he had
responded with equal cordiality.

Nordheim was not a man to bear with equanimity the ruin of schemes
which he had spent years in developing, and to his vexation on that
score was added annoyance at Gronau's threats, which he had at first
underestimated. He regretted that he had not attempted at least to
conciliate the former friend, whose restless energy he had been
familiar with of old. It had been a mistake to make an enemy of him, a
mistake which might have serious consequences.

For the moment it was, however, all thrown into the background in view
of a threatened loss which dwarfed all other anxiety in the president's
mind. The mountain-railway, which should have been completed in a few
days, was in great peril from the freshets. From all quarters came
terrifying reports,--one piece of bad news followed another. The injury
done was already serious; if the storm should continue and the water
mount higher it might be incalculable, and Nordheim was implicated
pecuniarily to an extent which could not but be very grave even to a
man of his vast wealth.

Erna and Molly, whose departure had been perforce postponed, were in
the drawing-room. The lawsuit which had brought Gersdorf to Heilborn
had been decided by a compromise, the arrangement of which detained the
lawyer a few days longer. His wife was at first delighted, for in her
capacity of guardian angel she considered her presence in the Nordheim
household as absolutely necessary, although, to her great
disappointment, she was obliged to admit that she had nothing here to
protect.

The engineer-in-chief had retired; his betrothal with Alice was
dissolved, as all the family now knew, and Alice obstinately refused to
open her heart to her friend. Benno was just as impracticable, seeming
to persist in his idea of a separation, and, worse than all, no human
being required any advice or counsel from Frau Doctor Gersdorf, who was
naturally indignant at such base insensibility.

"That is my reward for my philanthropy," she said, very much out of
humour. "Here I sit, as upon a desert island in the midst of the ocean,
cut off from all the world, separated from my husband, in danger of
being swept away at any moment by a deluge. Albert may be obliged to
rescue my corpse from the raging element and return to town an
inconsolable widower. I wonder if he will marry again? It would be
horrible. I should turn in my grave. But then men are capable of
anything."

Erna, standing at the window looking out at the storm and rain, hardly
heard this chatter; her thoughts were elsewhere.

"We are not in any peril here, Molly," she said at last. "The house is
perfectly safe, standing as high as it does, but I am afraid matters
look serious in Oberstein and on the railway."

"Oh, the engineer-in-chief will take care of that," Molly declared,
confidently. "We hear from all sides of his heroic conduct, how he
accomplishes the impossible. We never did this Elmhorst justice. He
released Alice although he resigned millions by so doing, and now he is
exerting himself to the utmost to preserve the railway for your uncle,
although they separated in anger. Confess, Erna, that you were
prejudiced against him."

"Yes--I was," Erna replied, softly.

"There comes your betrothed!" exclaimed Molly, joining Erna at the
window. "How odd he looks! The water is actually pouring from his
waterproof; he has ridden over from Oberstein in this storm. I think he
would really go through fire and water for one hour with you. But
marriage puts an end to all that, my child; trust the experience of a
wife of four months. My lord and master sits calmly with his manuscript
in Heilborn and waits until the weather is clear enough to come to me.
Your romantic Ernst appears, indeed, to be made of different stuff. But
what is the matter with him? For three days he has been glooming about
like a thunder-cloud, never taking his eyes off you when you are in the
room. It is positively terrible to see you together. Nothing will
persuade me that there has not something occurred between you. Do be
frank with me, Erna; open your heart to me. I am as silent as the
grave."

She clasped her hands upon her breast in asseveration of her
trustworthiness, but Erna, instead of throwing herself into her arms
and confessing, returned the greeting of her betrothed as he alighted
from his horse, and then said, evasively, "You are quite mistaken,
Molly; nothing has happened,--nothing at all."

Frau Gersdorf turned away provoked: no one seemed in the least need of
a guardian angel; these people had a very stupid way of managing their
affairs themselves. The little lady could not understand it, and she
rustled out of the room decidedly out of humour.

Scarcely was she gone when Waltenberg entered. He had laid aside his
hat and cloak, but nevertheless his dress showed traces of the storm,
against which no cloak was a protection. He greeted his betrothed with
his usual chivalric courtesy, but there was something chilling in his
air which was strangely contradicted by the glow in his dark eyes.
Molly was right: he was indeed like some thunder-cloud, whose depths
threaten ominously.

Erna went to meet him in evident embarrassment; she had learned to
dread this icy calm.

"Well, how is all going on outside?" she said. "You come directly from
Oberstein?"

"Yes, but I had to take a roundabout way, for the mountain-road is
under water. Oberstein itself looks tolerably secure, but the villagers
have entirely lost their heads, and are running about bewailing
themselves incessantly. Dr. Reinsfeld is doing all that he can to bring
them to reason, and Gronau is giving him all possible support, but the
people are behaving like lunatics because they think their paltry
belongings are in peril.

"Those paltry belongings, however, are all that they have in the
world," the girl interposed. "Their own lives and those of their
families depend upon them."

Ernst shrugged his shoulders indifferently: "I suppose so; but what is
that in comparison with the tremendous loss sustained by the railway?
As I entered the house just now tidings of fresh disasters were brought
to the president. Nothing but ill news from all quarters. Everything
seems to be imperilled."

"But they are working away desperately; can it be entirely in vain?"

"Yes, the engineer-in-chief is waging desperate warfare against the
elements," Ernst said, with a kind of savage satisfaction. "He is
defending his beloved creation to the death, but against such
catastrophes no mortal power avails. The water is steadily rising, the
dikes are giving way, and the bridges on the lower portion of the road
are already carried off. All nature seems in revolt."

Erna was silent. She went again to the window, and looked out into the
mist, which made any distant view impossible. Even the stretch of
railway in the vicinity of the villa was invisible, while the roaring
of the waters was distinctly audible. Below there Wolfgang was doing
battle at the head of his men, fighting, perhaps, in vain.

"The Wolkenstein bridge stands firm, at all events," Waltenberg
continued. "Herr Elmhorst ought to be satisfied with that, and not
expose himself so foolishly, as he does at every opportunity. He is no
coward, it must be admitted, but it is folly to risk his life to save
every dike that is threatened. He does wonders at the head of his
engineers and labourers, who follow his lead blindly. They had better
take care, or he will drag them with him to destruction."

There was a cold, calculating cruelty in his way of speaking to his
betrothed of the peril threatening the life of the man whom he knew she
loved. She turned and gave him a sad, reproachful glance: "Ernst!"

"Beg pardon?" he asked, without heeding her glance.

"Why do you avoid the frank explanation which I have so often tried to
give you? Do you not wish for it?"

"No, I do not desire it. Let us be silent about it."

"Because you know that your silence torments me more than any
reproaches, and because it gives you pleasure to torment me."

The girl's eyes flashed, but her passionate outbreak was met with icy
coolness: "How you misapprehend me! I wish to spare you a painful
explanation."

"And why? I do not feel guilty. I will neither deny nor conceal
anything----"

"No more than you did at our betrothal!" he interposed, severely. "You
were very frank then--about everything save the name. You intentionally
left me in error,--an error for which I was originally accountable."

"I feared----"

"For him--of course! I perfectly understand that. But reassure
yourself. I am not particular as to time; I can wait."

Erna shuddered at his strange, significant words: "Wait--for what? For
God's sake tell me what you mean!"

His smile was cold and cruel as he replied, "How timid you have grown!
You used to be braver; but in fact there is one thing which can inspire
you with absolutely senseless terror, as I have seen."

"And for this one thing you force me to do penance daily! It is an
ignoble revenge, Ernst. I will refuse you no answer, no confession,
that you ask for: only tell me, have you spoken with Wolfgang Elmhorst
since that day?"

A full minute passed before Ernst replied, during which he studied her
every feature intently. "Yes," he said slowly, at last.

"And what passed between you?" Her voice trembled with suppressed
anxiety, though she tried hard to control it.

"Excuse me, that is a matter between Herr Elmhorst and myself. But you
need not distress yourself: I found Herr Elmhorst quite ready to
forestall my wishes, and we parted, understanding each other
perfectly."

He emphasized every word ironically, and his irony drove Erna to the
last extremity. Hitherto she had mutely endured everything lest she
should irritate him still more against Wolfgang. She knew that he would
fain be revenged upon him; but now, thoroughly roused, she said,
indignantly, "Take care, Ernst; do not go too far. You may repent it. I
am not yet your wife; I can still release myself----"

She did not finish her sentence, for Waltenberg's grasp upon her wrist
was like steel, as he muttered, "Try it; the day that you sever the tie
between us is the last of his life."

Erna grew pale: his face told her more than his threat. Now that he had
dropped the mask of coolness and irony there was in his expression
something tiger-like, and the evil fire in his eyes made her shudder.
She knew he would suit his deeds to his words.

"You are horrible!" she said, below her breath. "I--submit!"

"I knew it," he said, with a laugh. "My arguments are convincing."

He slowly released her hand, for Molly, having got over her fit of the
sulks, entered the room, curious to know how all was faring in
Oberstein, what her cousin Benno was doing, and how it looked along the
railway; she had, as usual, a thousand questions to ask.

Waltenberg replied courteously; he had instantly recovered his
self-possession, and one would never have suspected the tiger-like
nature that he had betrayed a moment before.

"If it would give you pleasure, and you are not afraid of the rain, we
might ride down," he said, after a detailed description of the freshet.

"Pleasure!" cried Molly, who with all her waywardness was truly
tender-hearted. "How can you use the word in view of such misery?"

"True," Ernst replied, with a shrug, "a single man can avail nothing;
but I assure you the spectacle is extremely interesting."

Erna uttered no word of reproof, but this utter selfishness inspired
her with horror. Down below there, hundreds were expending their utmost
force to preserve a bold creation upon which they had laboured for
years; enormous sums of money were at stake, and, moreover, the poor
mountaineers were threatened with the loss of their little all. Ernst
had not one word of compassion or of sympathy in view of this calamity;
he regarded it all as a very interesting spectacle, and if he
experienced any other sensation, it was satisfaction that the work of
his enemy was menaced with ruin.

And this man would force her to spend an entire, long life at his side;
she must belong to him body and soul; and should she rebel and try to
break the chain which she had almost involuntarily allowed to be thrown
around her in a moment of surprise, he threatened her with the death of
him whom she loved, and thus disarmed her. He had found a menace before
which all defiance, all opposition, vanished.

The president's voice was heard in the next room giving orders in an
agitated tone, and the next moment he appeared, very pale, and
evidently retaining his composure only by a great effort. According to
the latest intelligence, the worst was to be apprehended; he wanted to
go down himself and see how matters stood with the railway. Waltenberg
immediately declared his intention of accompanying him; and, turning to
his betrothed, he asked, as quietly as if nothing special had passed
between them, "Will you not come too, Erna? We shall ride to those
places that are in the greatest peril. I know you are not afraid."

Erna hesitated for a few seconds, and then hastily consented. She must
see what was going on; she could not wait and watch here, looking out
into the driving mist which veiled everything, and only hearing reports
from the scene of disaster. They were going to the places in the
greatest peril; Wolfgang would be there. She should at least see him!

Molly, who did not understand how any one could venture out in such
weather, looked after them, shaking her head, as they rode away. Even
the president was on horseback, for in the present condition of
the roads the mountain conveyances were quite useless; the stout
mountain-ponies had much ado to get over the ground through the thick
mud. The little party rode on in oppressive silence; now and then
Waltenberg made a brief remark, which was scarcely heeded. They took
their way first to the Wolkenstein bridge.



                             CHAPTER XXIV.

                             THE AVALANCHE.


The Wolkenstein had shrouded its crest more closely than ever: heavy
clouds were encamped about its peak and floated around its cliffs; wild
glacial torrents were rushing down from its ice-fields, and blasts of
wind raged over it day and night. The Alpine Fay was extending her
sceptre over her domain; the savage queen of the mountains was revealed
in all her terrific might, in all her terrible majesty.

The autumnal tempests had often been disastrous: more than once they
had brought freshets and avalanches; many a village, many a lonely
mountain-range, had suffered; but such a catastrophe as this had not
occurred in the memory of man. Strangely enough, the hamlets were
comparatively spared; the storms and floods threatened the railway,
which, following the course of the stream, traversed the entire
Wolkenstein district, and with its myriad bridges and structures
offered many a point for attack.

The engineer-in-chief had, with his accustomed foresight and energy,
adopted precautionary measures from the first. The entire force of
labourers was called out to protect the railway; the engineers were at
their posts day and night. Elmhorst seemed to be everywhere at once. He
flew from one threatened spot to another, exhorting, commanding,
inspiring courage, and exposing himself recklessly to danger. His
example fired the rest: all that mortal energy could do was done; but
human strength is vain in a conflict with the unfettered elements.

For three days and nights the rain had been pouring in torrents; the
countless veins of water, wont to trickle harmlessly and in silver
clearness from the heights, rushed in cataracts down into the valley;
the brooks were swollen rivers, breaking through the forests, and
tearing away with them huge rocks and uprooted pines, all hurrying
towards the mountain-stream, whose waters steadily rose, and dashed
their foaming, tumbling waves against the railway-dikes. They could no
longer resist the savage onslaught, and at last they were flooded here
and torn down there,--the wet, soggy ground gave way everywhere and
carried with it woodwork and masonry. The bridges too could no longer
resist; one after another succumbed to the assault of the waves, the
force of which it was vain to try to stem. In consequence of the
pouring rain, both ground and rock gave way; one of the stations was
entirely destroyed, and the others were much injured. The raging wind
increased tenfold all danger and the difficulty for the labourers. Had
the engineer-in-chief not been at their head, the people must have
given up in despair, and have merely looked on at the destruction they
thought themselves powerless to prevent.

But Wolfgang Elmhorst fought the battle to the bitter end. Step by
step, as he had once conquered this domain, he now defended it. He
would not succumb, would not give over his work to ruin; but whilst he
was thus putting forth all the energies of his nature in saving it from
destruction there rang in his ears incessantly the last words of old
Baron von Thurgau: 'Have a care of our mountains, lest, when you are so
arrogantly interfering with them, they rush down upon you and shatter
all your bridges and structures like reeds. I should like to stand by
and see the accursed work a heap of ruins!'

The gloomy prophecy seemed near its fulfilment, after all these years.
Forests and rocks had been penetrated, streams turned aside, and the
spacious mountain-realm bound in the iron fetters that were to make it
subservient to human purposes. Men had boasted that they had subdued
and chained the Alpine Fay, and now just as their work was drawing to a
close she had arisen from her cloudy throne and angrily protested. She
was descending in storm and destruction, and before her breath all the
proud structures of man's devising were crumbling to ruin. No courage,
no energy, no desperate struggle, availed; the savage elemental Force
hurled to destruction in the space of a few days all that which it had
cost human ingenuity years of toil to effect, laughing to scorn those
who had dreamed of subduing it.

The Wolkenstein bridge, it is true, stood secure and firm when
everything else was being swept away. Even the white, seething foam
tossed aloft by the dashing river did not reach it, suspended as it was
at a dizzy height above the abyss. And all the blasts of heaven raged
in vain against the iron ribs of the huge structure. It rested upon its
rocky foundations, as if built to bid defiance to destruction for all
eternity.

The station which served as a temporary habitation for the
engineer-in-chief had since the beginning of the storm been the
head-quarters where all reports were received and whence all orders
were issued. This portion of the railway had been hitherto thought
secure, for at this place it crossed one of the narrow, deep valleys,
passed over the Wolkenstein bridge, and then on the lofty steep cliffs
turned again to the mountain-river, which just here made a large curve.
The freshet which was so destructive to the lower stretch of railway
could not reach this upper portion. But now glacial torrents had broken
loose from the Wolkenstein, and the masses of mud and fragments of rock
which they brought with them extended even to the bridge. The danger
here must have been imminent, for Elmhorst himself was on the spot
directing the labourers.

In the prevailing confusion and hurry the arrival of the president and
his companions was hardly noticed; one or two of the engineers,
however, came towards them and confirmed the latest reports. In spite
of the storm, the work went on with feverish persistence, crowds of
labourers were busy near the bridge and also near the station, while
the rain poured down in torrents and the wind howled so fiercely that
it was often impossible to hear the shouted directions of the
engineers.

Nordheim alighted from his horse and approached Elmhorst, who left his
post and came to meet him. Both had believed that the interview in
which the tie between them had been dissolved would be a final one, but
they now saw and talked with each other daily, scarcely conscious, in
the magnitude of the disaster that had befallen the railway, of any
embarrassment in their relations. They knew best what there was to lose
here, and a community of interest still united them closely.

"You are here on the upper stretch?" the president asked, anxiously.
"And the lower----"

"Must be given up!" Wolfgang completed the sentence. "It was impossible
to secure it any longer. The dikes are broken through, the bridges
carried away. I have left only a few of the men to protect the
stations, and have concentrated all my available force here. We must
control these cataracts at all hazards."

Nordheim's uncertain glance sought first the bridge, and then the
station, where a number of men were busy: "What are they doing there?
You are having the house cleared out?"'

"I am having the books and papers, the plans and drawings, carried to a
place of security, for there is danger of an avalanche from the
Wolkenstein; we have had one or two warnings."

"That too!" the president muttered, in despair; then, turning suddenly,
as a thought struck him, "Good God! you do not think the bridge----?"

"No," said Wolfgang, drawing a deep breath. "The enclosed forest
protects the abyss, and the bridge with it; no avalanche can break that
down. I foresaw and provided for this danger when I planned it."

"It would be fearful," Nordheim groaned. "The injury even now is
incalculable. Should the bridge go all is lost!"

The frown on Elmhorst's brow deepened at this outburst of despair.

"Control yourself!" he said, in a low tone, but with emphasis. "We are
observed; every one is looking at us. We must set an example of courage
and hope, or the people will lose heart."

"Hope!" the president repeated, catching at the word as a drowning man
clutches a straw. "Have you really any hope?"

"No; but I shall fight to the last."

Nordheim looked the speaker in the face. His pale, stern features gave
no hint of the tempest raging within, and yet for him everything was at
stake. After the fading of his dreams of wealth and power, his work was
all that was left to him upon which to build a future if he lived, and
to be at least his enduring monument if he should fall by Waltenberg's
hand. It was now imperilled. And yet he stood erect and struggled on,
while the president was the image of impotent despair. What did he care
if others observed his hopelessness? What was it to him that an example
of courage was expected from a man in his position? He thought only of
the gigantic losses which the catastrophe would cause him,--losses
which might ruin him.

"I must return to my post," said Wolfgang. "If you stay, choose
carefully the spot where you stand. Stones and earth are continually
sliding down: we have had several accidents already."

He turned again towards the bridge, and then first noticed that
Nordheim had not come alone. For a moment he paused, and his glance
sought Erna. He divined what had brought her hither; he knew that she
feared for him, but he made no attempt to approach her, for at her side
was the man to whom she belonged, who, mute and inexorable as fate
itself, considered her absolutely his property. Waltenberg marked the
anxious glance of distress which followed Wolfgang as he returned to
his men and took up his stand on a threatened dam, and, as if by
accident, he put his hand upon the bridle of the other horse and held
it fast.

Suddenly behind the pair Gronau's tall figure appeared; muddy and
drenched, but entirely at his ease, he slowly approached. "Here we
are," he said, with a bow. "We come directly from Oberstein, but we
swam rather than walked."

"We?" asked Ernst. "Is Dr. Reinsfeld with you?"

"Yes; we succeeded at last in bringing the Obersteiners to their senses
and in convincing them that their home was not in danger this time. It
was a hard piece of work, and we were scarcely through with it when a
messenger arrived from the engineer-in-chief to ask the doctor to come
and see after some men who had been accidentally injured. The good
doctor, of course, ran his fastest, and I ran too, for I thought
another pair of stout arms might not come amiss, and it was well I did
so. I have established myself in the house there as hospital nurse, and
have just come for an instant to let you know I am here, for my hands
are quite full."

"There have been accidents, then. I hope nothing serious?" Erna asked,
eagerly.

Gronau shrugged his shoulders; "One of the men was carried away by a
cataract and fished out in a mangled condition; the doctor is afraid he
cannot pull him through; and another was struck on the head by a
fragment of falling rock; his case too is serious; the others are only
slightly injured."

"If Dr. Reinsfeld needs help I am ready to do all I can," the young
girl declared, turning her horse as if to go to the house Grouau had
pointed out.

"Thanks, Fräulein von Thurgau, we can get along very well by
ourselves," Veit replied, while Waltenberg looked at his betrothed in
surprise.

"What, Erna, you? There are others to do that work. Gronau is helping
the doctor. Why so superfluously heroic?"

"Because I cannot endure to stand idly and unsympathetically by while
every one else is toiling to the very death!"

There was a stern reproof in her words, but Ernst did not seem to
understand it: "No, you certainly are not unsympathetic, you are
actually trembling with emotion," he observed. "But, in fact, the men
are using their utmost exertions in spite of the danger that
continually threatens them."

"Because the engineer-in-chief is always foremost in peril," Veit
continued the sentence. "If he were not everywhere, showing them an
example of scorn of all danger, they would waver and hesitate; but such
a leader inspires even the timid. There he stands in the very centre of
that dam which the water may carry away at any moment, and issues his
orders as if he could control the entire mountain-realm. For three days
now he has been battling with this accursed Alpine fiend, who seems
positively mad with fury, and I verily believe he will get the upper
hand of her. But I must go back to the doctor. Good-bye."

He went, and the president, who just then returned to his companions,
saw him as he vanished within-doors. He shuddered involuntarily; the
appearance of this man was one more evil omen,--it reminded him that a
danger menaced him which had nothing to do with the present peril,
already terrible enough.

His short conversation with Wolfgang had deprived Nordheim of the last
gleam of hope. If the upper stretch of railway were destroyed, what
would remain of all the buildings, the erection of which had absorbed
millions, and which he could not possibly restore? He had from the
beginning owned the chief part of the railway stock, and of late, in
view of the enormous profit he hoped to gain upon his retirement, he
had greatly increased the number of his shares, so that the tremendous
loss would be his almost alone. He knew that his property, invested in
many other speculations, could not stand such a blow, and if Gronau
should make good his threat and accuse him publicly, all was lost. The
millionaire secure in his position might perhaps have defied him, the
half-ruined speculator would be overwhelmed; Nordheim knew the world in
which he had lived so long.

Neither his energy nor his presence of mind stood him in stead now. The
man who had for so long been the spoiled darling of Fortune, for whom
everything had turned to gain, could not understand how she could
suddenly prove thus false to him. He had always been a bold, clever man
of business, but he had no force of character; in misfortune he was
pitiably cast down. In dull, dumb despair he stood gazing at the men,
at whose head the engineer-in-chief had again placed himself.

Wolfgang seemed to be everywhere; one moment he was standing on the
most imperilled part of the dam, anon he breasted the tempest in the
centre of the bridge, and then he hurried to the station-house to issue
his orders thence. He was dripping from head to foot,--the water was
trickling from his hair, from his clothes; he did not seem to feel it,
or to be in need of either rest or refreshment, and yet nothing but the
most fearful tension of mind and body sustained him in the conflict
which had now been going on for three times four-and-twenty hours.
These were hours when Wolfgang Elmhorst might have forced even his
bitterest enemies to respect and admire him.

And his mortal enemy was thus forced, but none the less did his hatred
and jealousy burn fiercely. Waltenberg was familiar with danger,--he
had often invoked it and dallied with it recklessly,--but there was
something far beyond dalliance in the unconquerable energy with which
Elmhorst thus devoted himself to duty. He knew that his was a forlorn
hope; half of his work was already destroyed, he could not save the
rest, and yet he worked on, seeming determined to die rather than
yield.

And as he thus struggled, Ernst Waltenberg on horseback looked on at
'the very interesting spectacle,' but was conscious of the part he had
condemned himself to play. He had invited Erna to ride with him to the
scene of disaster; the same calculating cruelty which had tormented her
by silence had dictated the proposal. He knew she would accede to it,
since it would give her an opportunity to see Wolfgang again, and she
should see him in the midst of the danger to which he so recklessly
exposed himself, she should tremble in mortal distress, and yet never
betray by a change of feature the anguish of her soul. Elmhorst was
right: this man's love was mere selfishness. What was it to him that
the woman he loved was tortured and in agony, if but his savage thirst
for revenge were allayed? Erna should suffer as he suffered; he would
be as pitiless to her as fate had been to himself.

But he underestimated the fearless nature of his betrothed when he
thought that she would merely tremble at this danger. Her eyes were
indeed riveted on Wolfgang in breathless anxiety, but they flashed with
passionate admiration, with proud satisfaction, on beholding how he
bore himself in the conflict, how he gazed into the terrible
countenance of the Alpine Fay and strove with her to the death. In this
mortal struggle he was for her all hero, her whole soul went out to
meet him. Every shadow which had formerly obscured his image in her
heart was dispersed in this light; he stood before her, as he had
confronted Nordheim, free from all shackles in the triumph of his own
true nature.

Ernst was thus obliged to feel the shaft which he had shot so cruelly
rebound upon himself. He had meant to show Erna the danger of the man
whom she loved; he had shown her only his heroism. To be sure, he stood
guard over her, determined to prevent a meeting, but he could not
prevent the mute language of their eyes, the glances that sought and
found each other in spite of distance and separation, of tempest and
destruction, and in this language they told each other everything.
Wolfgang felt that at this moment the barriers which his wooing of
Alice had erected between himself and his love were levelled, and in
the midst of the hopelessness of his efforts there gleamed upon him a
ray of light, like the gleam of sunset indeed, but all-inspiring.

It seemed in fact as if the success of the work of salvation depended
upon the presence of this man. The most dangerous of the torrents which
rushed wildly against the railway-dike had been successfully turned
aside, Elmhorst having diverted its course to a deep cut in the rocks,
whence it fell harmlessly into the Wolkenstein abyss, carrying with it
the masses of earth and stones which had been so destructive. The most
imminent danger was averted, and for the moment the tempest seemed to
subside. The rain ceased, the wind became less violent, and it began to
look brighter about the Wolkenstein.

There was a few minutes' pause in the work. The president and
Waltenberg, who also had alighted, walked along the bridge, where some
of the workmen were gathered, to observe the diverted torrent foaming
in the abyss. Everything looked more hopeful.

The engineer-in-chief, however, stood on one side apart from the rest.
He did not hear the cheerful exclamations of the men, but, leaning
forward, seemed to listen intently to a sound muttering on high through
the air, like the distant roll of thunder; his eyes were fixed upon the
crest of the Wolkenstein, and suddenly his face took on a death-like
pallor.

"Away from the bridge!" he shouted to the rest. "Save yourselves! Run
for your lives!"

His last words were drowned in a dull rumble that grew to a crash as of
thunder, but his cry of warning had been heard. The people scattered
hastily; they felt the approach of something terrible,--there was no
time to understand what it was; they deserted the bridge as quickly as
possible.

Nordheim and Waltenberg were carried away by the rush, and the former
reached firm land, but Ernst stumbled and fell while yet on the bridge.
Past him and over him the others ran wildly; in the selfishness of
mortal terror every one thought only of his own safety, while
Waltenberg, stunned by his fall, lay on the ground quite unable to rise
for the space of a minute, when seconds were precious.

Suddenly he felt a strong arm grasp him and lift him from the ground,
then bear him onward, to release him only when the stout trunk of a
tree was reached, around which he could clasp his own arms to hold
himself upright.

Then came the wind, howling and roaring like a hurricane,--a blast to
which all that had gone before during the last three days had been but
as the sighing of a breeze,--and everything in its path was prostrated
or carried away. This was the herald of the Alpine Sprite, preparing a
way for her; and now she herself descended from her cloud-veiled
throne. A roar as of a thousand peals of thunder filled the air,
echoing from every height, from every abyss, as if the entire
mountain-realm were crashing to fragments; the rocks seemed to tremble,
the earth to rock, as this terrible something, white and phantom-like,
thundered past. It lasted for a minute, and then there was silence,--a
silence as of death.

The avalanche had torn its way from the peak of the mountain directly
into the abyss, and destruction marked its course. The extensive,
protecting, enclosed forest at the foot of the cliffs had vanished, and
where it had stood there was a desolate, dreary waste. The course of
the stream was blockaded; the chasm was half filled with jagged masses
of ice, from among which projected trunks of trees and huge fragments
of stone, and where the bridge had thrown its bold arch from rock to
rock now yawned sheer emptiness. Two of the huge shafts were still
standing, the rest were partly or entirely torn down, and about them
hung some of the iron ribs, bent and snapped like reeds; all the rest
lay below in the abyss. She had avenged herself, the savage Alpine Fay.
Crushed and splintered at her feet lay the proud creation of man.



                              CHAPTER XXV.

                            NOT ALL DESPAIR.


A scene of indescribable confusion followed upon the catastrophe. At
first no one fully grasped what had occurred, and when at last it
became clear, all rushed to the rescue. The warning shout of the
engineer-in-chief had indeed averted the worst,--at the instant of its
destruction no one had been upon the bridge; but some of the men lay
senseless, thrown to the ground by the concussion of the air, others
had been more or less injured by flying stones and bits of ice; no one,
however, at first seemed mortally hurt, and all who were able were
intent upon aid. There were shouts and cries, and a running to and fro
in wild confusion. Very few preserved their presence of mind, and these
few could not make themselves heard.

One group, however, assembled about a severely wounded man, was quiet
enough, and in a few moments this group became a centre of attraction.
Engineers and workmen crowded around with faces of dismay, a whisper
ran from lip to lip, "The president? Nordheim himself? For God's sake
bring the doctor!"

It was indeed President Nordheim who lay here bleeding and unconscious.
He had reached what he thought a place of safety, when one of the heavy
iron stanchions of the bridge, torn from its place, had felled him to
the earth. Erna and Waltenberg were busied about him, and all were
doing what they could to restore him to consciousness, when the circle
opened to admit the engineer-in-chief and Dr. Reinsfeld.

Benno was rather paler than usual, but perfectly calm, as he knelt down
and began to examine the injury. The pain of this examination seemed to
rouse Nordheim; with a groan he opened his eyes, and gazed into the
countenance of the man bending over him. He did not recognize him, but
probably fancied he saw his early friend, whom the son closely
resembled, for with an unmistakable expression of horror and a
convulsive movement he tried to rise and to push aside the helping
hand. With another agonized groan he sank back, the blood gushing from
his mouth.

The by-standers observed only the signs of physical pain. Benno alone
divined the truth; he bent still lower, and as he gently put his hand
beneath the sufferer's head he said, softly, "Do not reject my help. It
is given you freely, from my heart!"

Nordheim was unable to speak, and the effort he had made exhausted him;
again he became unconscious. The young physician examined with all
possible gentleness the injury in the breast, and then turned with a
very grave face to Waltenberg and Elmhorst.

"You have no hope?" the latter asked, in an undertone.

"No, nothing can avail here. We must try to get him home; he may reach
the house alive if he is carried with extreme caution. Fräulein von
Thurgau, will you kindly go first and prepare his daughter, that the
shock may not be too great? We must not conceal from her that her
father is dying; he cannot possibly live until to-morrow."

Then he gave the necessary directions. A litter was hastily
constructed, and the wounded man was laid upon it with infinite care.
Stout arms were ready to aid, and the sad procession slowly took its
way towards the villa. Erna preceded it, and Reinsfeld, promising to
follow immediately, turned his attention to the other wounded men who
required his skill, although none of them were mortally injured.

"Waltenberg too stayed behind. He paused, hesitating and seeming
engaged in an inward struggle, but when he saw the engineer-in-chief
walk towards the Wolkenstein chasm he followed, and overtook him.

"Herr Elmhorst!"

Wolfgang turned; his face was unnaturally calm, and there was a hard
ring in his voice as he said, "You come to remind me of my promise? I
am at your service at any hour; my duties are at an end."

Ernst had entertained no such intention; he made a gesture of dissent:
"I think neither of us is in the mood to pursue our quarrel at present.
I am sure that you, at least, are not fit for it."

Elmhorst passed his hand across his brow; now when the terrible tension
of his nerves had relaxed he first perceived how utterly exhausted he
was.

"You are probably right," he said, with the same rigid, unnatural look.
"It comes from overwork. I have not slept for three nights; but a
couple of hours' rest will restore me entirely, and, as I said, I am at
your service."

Ernst silently gazed into the face of the man who had just lost his
all; this forced calm did not mislead him. A reply was upon his lips,
but he suppressed it, and his glance wandered to the spot where he had
been thrown down in his flight. Just there one of the columns had
fallen, and the iron part of it was buried deep in the earth. There he
would have lain crushed and mangled but for the hand which had rescued
him from destruction; perhaps he was not as unconscious as he seemed of
whose the hand was.

"I must go and see how the president is," he said, hurriedly. "Dr.
Reinsfeld has promised to stay with us to-night, and we will send you
word of what happens."

"Thanks," said Wolfgang, seeming both to hear and to speak merely
mechanically: his thoughts were elsewhere; and when Waltenberg turned
away, he slowly walked on to the place where the Wolkenstein bridge had
stood.

The night that ensued was a terrible one for the family and household
at the villa. Its master lay struggling with death, which seemed slow
to come in the midst of such agony. Incapable of motion or of speech,
but entirely conscious, he knew that the son of the former friend whom
he had deceived and betrayed, condemning him to a life of poverty and
hardship, while he himself enjoyed wealth and distinction as the fruits
of his treachery, was unwearied in his efforts to minister to him, to
soothe the death-bed from which he could not dismiss the dark
messenger. Nothing could be more ready and unselfish than the aid
afforded by Benno, and this very forgetfulness of self awakened the
dying man's most pungent remorse. Face to face with death falsehood and
deceit vanished, truth alone showed its inexorable countenance, and the
effect was annihilating. The agonized struggle lasted, it is true, but
for a single night, but in that time were compressed the torture of a
lifetime and the penance of a lifetime.

When day at last dawned in mist and clouds, struggle and agony were at
an end, and it was Benno Reinsfeld's hand that closed the dying man's
eyes. Then he gently raised from her knees Alice, who was sobbing
beside her father's body, and led her away. He spoke no word of love or
hope to her,--it would have seemed like desecration to him in such a
moment,--but the way in which he put his arm around her and supported
her showed plainly that he now claimed his right, and that nothing
could part them more. He never could have been a son to the man who had
so wronged his father, but that would now be spared him if Alice should
become his wife; the wealth also which had been the fruit of treachery
had mainly vanished. All barriers between the lovers had fallen.

Erna also, when all was over, retired to her room. Alice did not need
her: she had a better comforter beside her.

The girl sat pale and worn at the window, looking out into the gray,
misty morning. Alien as her uncle had seemed to her, harshly as she had
often judged him, the suffering of his last hours had obliterated every
thought of him in her mind save that it was her mother's brother who
lay dying.

Her thoughts now, however, were not with the dead, but with the living,
with him who was perhaps standing in the dim dawn beside the ruins of
his work. She knew what it had been to him, and felt the blow with him.
Erna would have given her life to be able to stand beside him now with
words of consolation and encouragement, and instead she must know him
alone in his despair. She paid no heed to Griff, who had crept up to
her and laid his head in her lap with sorrowful sympathy in his brown
eyes; she gazed out fixedly into the rolling mist.

The door opened softly; Waltenberg entered and slowly approached his
betrothed, who, sunk in a revery, did not perceive him until he stood
beside her and uttered her name.

When Waltenberg thus addressed her she started with an involuntary
expression of terror and dislike, which did not escape him; his smile
was bitterly sad.

"Are you so afraid of me? You must endure the intrusion, however, for I
have something to say to you."

"Now? at this moment, when death has just crossed our threshold?"

"Precisely now; if I wait I may--lose courage to speak."

The words sounded so strange that Erna looked up, surprised. Her eyes
encountered his, but did not find there the gleam which had so
terrified her of late. In his dark look there glowed somewhat which was
neither all love nor all hatred,--perhaps a combination of both,--she
could not tell.

"Go on, then," she said, wearily. "I will listen."

He paused and looked fixedly at her, and at last said, with slow
emphasis, "I come to bid you farewell."

"You are going? Now, before my uncle has been laid to rest?"

"Yes,--and never to return! You mistake me, Erna. This is no farewell
for days or weeks; it means that we are parting forever."

"Parting?" The girl looked at him incredulously, only half
comprehending his words; they came upon her too suddenly for her to
grasp all their meaning.

"You evidently have no belief in my magnanimity," Ernst said, harshly.
"It is true that yesterday I could more easily have annihilated you
both, you and your Wolfgang, than have given you back your troth. That
is over. He has taught me how to subdue an enemy. Do you think I do not
know whose hand it was that snatched me from a terrible death
yesterday? Without its aid I should have been crushed at the entrance
of the bridge. You saw it,--I know that,--and will only the more
worship your hero, whom you watched yesterday with an enthusiasm that
transfigured you. This deed of his exalts him to an ideal hero in your
eyes. What am I in them?"

"Yes, I saw it," Erna said, looking down, "but I did not think you
recognized him, stunned as you were, and in the general confusion."

"A mortal enemy is always recognized, even while he is saving one's
life. I tried to thank him yesterday, just after the catastrophe, but I
could not bring my lips to frame words of gratitude to that man; they
would have choked me. Let him hear them from you. Tell him that I
revoke my challenge, and that I release him from his promise, as I
release you from yours. Now we are quits,--more than quits: I give him
what is tenfold dearer to me than the life he saved for me."

Erna had grown very pale in the certainty of what she had long
suspected: "You challenged him? That was the meaning of your
interview?"

"Do you suppose that I could have borne to know him happy in your
arms?" Waltenberg asked. "But for what happened yesterday I would have
shot him down like a dog; and he promised to be at my service as soon
as the Wolkenstein bridge was completed. Fate has released him from his
promise."

The bitterness in his tone no longer affected Erna; she heard only the
anguish in his voice, felt only what the renunciation was costing his
passionate nature. In gentle entreaty she laid her hand upon his arm:
"Ernst, trust me, I know the full extent of the sacrifice you are
making for me. You have loved me intensely----"

"Yes, and I was fool enough to fancy that passion such as mine _must_
force you to love in return. I thought that if I carried you to another
quarter of the globe, and put an ocean between you and Wolfgang
Elmhorst, you would learn to forget, and to turn to the husband beside
you. I have learned my error. I never could have torn that love from
your heart; if I had killed him you would have loved him dead. Now, in
his misery, your whole soul flies out to him. Go to him. I am no longer
in your way. You are free!"

"Let us go together," Erna entreated, earnestly. "Offer him your hand
in amity; you can, for you are now the generous one, the benefactor. It
is you whom we have to thank."

He thrust aside her hand: "No, I never will meet that man again. If I
should see him I could not answer for myself, all the fiends within me
would break loose once more. You cannot dream what it has cost me to
conjure them down; let them rest."

Erna did not venture to repeat her request; she comprehended that so
passionate a nature might renounce, but could not forgive. She bowed
her head in mute acquiescence.

"Farewell!" said Ernst, still in the harsh, hostile tone which had
characterized him throughout the interview. "Forget me. It will be easy
at his side."

She looked up to him; her eyes filled with tears: "I never shall forget
you, Ernst, never! But I shall always remember sadly that you left me
in bitterness and hatred."

"In hatred?" he exclaimed, with an outburst of passion, and suddenly
Erna felt herself clasped in his arms, pressed to his heart, while his
kisses were rained upon her hair, her brow, with the same wild
intensity of tenderness which she had so dreaded and which had always
failed to arouse in her the least return of his affection. This time
there was in his caress something of the madness of despair. He tore
himself away and was gone. The short, stormy dream of the love of his
life was over forever!

Meanwhile, the day had fairly appeared. The rain had ceased in the
night, and the wind was not so violent,--the wild uproar of nature had
begun to subside.

The work of the previous day still went on, however, although, since
the Wolkenstein bridge was gone, there was little more to save. This
last blow had been the heaviest, although the entire railway had been
incalculably injured; very few of the numerous bridges and structures
were not in need of repairs, and, in view of the general destruction,
the completion of the undertaking seemed impossible. Its author lay
dead in his house, and the intended transfer of the railway to the
company was of course impossible. How and when, if ever, others would
come forward to carry out his schemes time alone could show.

Such were probably the thoughts occurring to the mind of the man
standing alone on the brink of the Wolkenstein chasm and gazing down at
the ruin below him. The autumn morning was very cold; in the valleys
and depths wreaths of gray mist were curling, long trains of clouds
hovered about the mountains, and a gloomy sky looked down upon the wet,
sodden earth, which bore melancholy traces of the turmoil of the
previous day. Uprooted and broken trees, fragments of rock, mud, and
heaps of stones were everywhere to be seen, and in many a spot the
traces could be perceived of the gallant struggle of man in his fight
with the elements. The roar of the cataract was not so threatening as
it had been, but it still filled the air as the water dashed from the
height, and the wind had not yet left the dripping storm-tossed forests
in peace.

In the Wolkenstein chasm alone there was a silence as of the grave. A
gigantic glacier seemed to rest in its depths, its rigid whiteness
broken by a chaotic mass of rock and earth. The avalanche which had
begun on the crest of the Wolkenstein must have increased fearfully on
its way, for it had prostrated the entire enclosed forest, hitherto
regarded as a sure protection; pines a century old had been snapped
like straws and had dragged with them into the abyss a portion of the
mountain-side. And then the entire mass of ice and snow, of rocks and
trunks of trees, its force augmented tenfold by the velocity of its
fall, had hurled itself against the bridge and crushed it. No human
structure could withstand such an onslaught.

It was some consolation to know this, but Wolfgang Elmhorst seemed to
find no comfort in such reflections. He gazed dully down into the icy
grave where all his schemes and hopes were lying, perhaps never to rise
again. In the beginning, when the railway had first been planned, there
had been objections made to the Wolkenstein bridge because of the cost
of its erection. It had been proposed to avoid the chasm and to carry
the line of railway by another less expensive but roundabout road.
Nordheim, however, who was attracted by the boldness of the scheme,
contrived to overbear all opposition and to have his own way. In future
there could be no thought, since economy would be especially necessary,
of rebuilding the bridge, which, moreover, must be condemned as
impossible, since it had fallen a prey to the elements just when it was
about to astonish and delight all who beheld it, and to bring
reputation and fame to its deviser.

Suddenly a large, lion-like dog came careering over the sodden ground,
testifying by huge leaps to his delight at being released from his long
confinement in-doors. He paused close beside Elmhorst, and began, after
his custom with the engineer-in-chief, to show his teeth, when for the
first time his show of dislike was arrested,--something else attracted
his attention. Wise dog that he was, he perceived what had occurred. He
grew restless, stretched his head far over the edge of the abyss, then
looked towards the other side, finally turning his intelligent dark
eyes upon the engineer-in-chief as if to ask what it all meant.

Hitherto Wolfgang had preserved his composure, at least externally, but
he broke down at the dog's mute inquiry. He covered his eyes with his
hand, and a tear, the first he had shed since boyhood, rolled down his
cheek.

On a sudden he heard his name uttered in a voice not unfamiliar to him,
but in a tone such as had never before fallen upon his ear: "Wolfgang!"

He turned, dashed aside the treacherous witness from his cheek, and,
entirely self-possessed once more, approached the slender figure,
enveloped in a dark wrap, and standing at a little distance, as though
afraid to venture nearer.

"You here, Erna? After the terrible night that you have passed?"

"Yes, it was terrible!" the girl said, with a deep-drawn sigh. "You
have heard that my uncle is dead?"

"I heard it two hours ago. I no longer had the right to watch beside
his death-bed; moreover, the sight of me would only have distressed
him, so I kept away. How does Alice bear it?"

"For the moment she seems stunned, but Dr. Reinsfeld is with her."

"Then she will recover from the blow. They love each other, and with
the one who is loved best in the world beside you even the worst trials
can be borne."

Erna made no reply, but she slowly approached and stood beside him. He
looked at her, and his sad face grew still darker: "I know why you are
here. You would fain speak some word of sympathy, of consolation to me.
But why? Your dying father's curse has borne fruit: the destruction of
the ancestral home of the Thurgaus is avenged, and I think even the
Freiherr would be content."

"Can you really attach such importance to words which were the result
of anger,--of the agitation preceding a sudden death?" Erna asked,
reproachfully. "Since when have you been superstitious?"

"Since faith in my own power has lain buried there. Leave me to myself,
Erna. What comfort can I take in the sympathy which you offer as an
alms, to express which you must have stolen secretly away, and for
which you may have to suffer from Herr Waltenberg's reproaches? I need
no sympathy, not even from you." In the irritability of misery he
turned away and looked up at the Wolkenstein, the crest of which loomed
white and shadowy through the clouds. It alone seemed striving to
unveil, while a thick mist obscured all the surrounding mountain-tops.

"I do not come secretly, nor to offer you an alms," Erna said, in a
voice which she tried vainly to steady. "Ernst knows that I have come
to you, and he sends a message by me."

"Ernst Waltenberg--to me?"

"To you, Wolfgang! He bids me tell you that he releases you from your
promise, and recalls his challenge."

Elmhorst frowned darkly, as he rejoined, "Has he told _you_ of all
that? Very considerate on his part! Such matters are generally
discussed among men exclusively. But, although I accepted his
conditions, I do not accept his magnanimity,--least of all at present."

"And yet you first set him the example of magnanimity. No need to deny
it. He knows as well as I do whose hand snatched him from destruction
on this very spot."

"I leave no one to die if it is in my power to save his life, even if
he be my worst enemy," Wolfgang said, coldly. "At such moments one
obeys the instincts of humanity, never stopping to consider, and I
refuse to accept his gratitude. I pray you say this to Herr Waltenberg,
since he has chosen you, Fräulein von Thurgau, for his messenger."

"Can you really treat his messenger thus harshly?" The girl's voice was
low and gentle and her large dark-blue eyes were strangely bright as
she looked at the man who could no longer control the anguish of his
soul.

"Why torture me with such looks and tones?" he cried, passionately.
"You belong to another----"

"Whom you misunderstand as I did. I know now how immense is the
sacrifice he makes for me, for I know how great was his love for me,
when, with this love in his heart, he could give me back my freedom and
bid me farewell forever."

Wolfgang, half stunned at the unexpected announcement, could only be
conscious that through the black night of his hopeless despair a
dazzling ray of light was darting, heralding the dawn of new life
and energy. "You are free, Erna?" he broke forth. "And now--now you
come----"

"To you. It is so heavy a burden,--this misery that you are bearing
alone. I claim my share."

The words were spoken with earnest simplicity, as if they were mere
words of course; but Elmhorst changed colour and his look was downcast.
He was undergoing a hard struggle with his pride, which felt such
devotion at such a moment to be a humiliation.

"No, no, not yet!" he murmured, with an attempt to turn away. "Let me
recover my courage,--my self-possession. I cannot accept your
sacrifice. It weighs me down to the earth."

"Wolf!"--the old pet name of his boyhood, which he had heard from
none save Benno since that time, came soft and low from the girl's
lips,--"Wolf, you need me most now! You need a love to encourage and
nerve you; never heed the promptings of false pride. You once asked me
if I could have stayed beside you on the lonely, rough path leading to
success. I come to bring you your answer. You shall not pursue it
alone; I will stay beside you through struggle and labour, through
hardship and peril. If you have lost faith in your power and your
future, I believe in them most firmly. I believe wholly in you!"

She looked up at him with a beaming, triumphant smile. All his
hesitation vanished: he opened his arms and clasped his love to his
heart.

Griff meanwhile looked on at this development of affairs in extreme
amazement and evident dissatisfaction. He did not quite comprehend it
all, but thus much was clear,--he must give up all thoughts in future
of growling and showing his teeth at the engineer-in-chief, who was
holding his young mistress in his arms and kissing her, and Griff was
much annoyed. He preferred meanwhile to maintain an expectant attitude,
and so he lay down and kept a constant watch upon the pair.

The mists were still floating about the Wolkenstein, but its peak was
every minute emerging more clearly. It did not now unveil as in the
dreamy moonlight of the mysteriously lovely midsummer-eve; it stood
forth white, icy, and phantom-like; above it the heavens heavy with
rain, about it storm and clouds, and at its feet the desolation which
itself had wrought. And yet from that very desolation there had sprung
forth the purest, truest happiness,--happiness grown to life amid
tempests and storms.

Wolfgang released his love from his embrace and stood erect, all trace
of despair vanished from his face and figure. It had come back to
him,--the joy which he had thought flown forever, and with it had
returned the old courage, the old inexhaustible energy.

"You are right, my darling!" he exclaimed. "I will not doubt, nor
hesitate. I will conquer her yet, that evil Force up there. She has
destroyed my work. I will create it afresh!"



                             CHAPTER XXVI.

                      THE KISS OF THE ALPINE FAY.


The Nordheim villa was silent and deserted. The president's remains had
been transported to the capital and buried thence, and the entire
household had removed thither.

The engineer-in-chief also was in the capital, to consult with the
company which was part owner of the railway, and to arrange the affairs
of the deceased president,--a difficult task, which he had voluntarily
undertaken, being justified in the eyes of the world in so doing, since
the dissolution of his betrothal to Alice had not yet been made public.
The time given to mourning must pass before any such announcement could
be made, and then Alice would no longer need his aid. At present it was
above all desirable to avert the gossip and curiosity sure to ensue
upon the catastrophe which had caused the president's sudden death, and
which had greatly diminished his wealth. A strong arm was needed to
save what remained.

Ernst Waltenberg was still in Heilborn. Since the day when he had
bidden farewell to his betrothed he had held aloof from the Wolkenstein
district, but something appeared to retain him in its vicinity. The
late autumn had set in with unusual severity, and the popular
watering-place was, of course, quite empty but for the foreign
gentleman, with his secretary and servants, who did not as yet talk of
departure.

Veit Gronau was pacing to and fro the drawing-room of the comfortable
cottage which Waltenberg occupied, his face filled with anxiety,
and glancing from time to time towards the closed door of the next
room,--Ernst's study.

"If I could only tell what to make of it all!" he muttered. "He locks
himself in there day after day, and it is a week now since he set foot
in the open air; he who for years has passed two or three hours in the
saddle daily. If I could but get at Reinsfeld; but with his usual
conscientiousness he has gone to Neuenfeld, and will not leave it until
his first term of office has expired, when it is to be hoped a
successor will have been provided for the post. There will surely be
enough of the Nordheim millions left to insure him an easy existence
when he marries his betrothed, and he would have been far wiser to
remain near her now. Here you are at last, Said. What does Herr
Waltenberg say?"

"The master begs Herr Gronau to dine without him," the negro replied.

"This will never do!" exclaimed Veit; but as he walked towards the door
of the next room with some vague intention of forcing it, it opened,
and Waltenberg himself appeared.

"You here yet, Gronau?" he said, with a slight frown. "I begged you to
dine without me."

"I am like yourself, Herr Waltenberg. I have no appetite."

"Then, Said, have the table cleared. Go!"

Said obeyed, but Gronau, although he saw plainly that he too was
dismissed, obstinately maintained his post.

Ernst had gone to the window, whence there was an extended view of the
distant range of mountains. During the entire week that had elapsed
since the avalanche had occurred the weather had not cleared; it had
been dull and stormy, and the mountains, day after day, were veiled.
To-day, for the first time, they showed themselves clearly.

"It is clearing up--at last!" Ernst said, more to himself than to his
companion, who shook his head dubiously.

"It will not last long. Fine weather never does when the outlines of
the mountains are so distinct and the crests seem so near."

Ernst did not at once reply,--he stood gazing steadily at the blue
distance; but after two or three minutes he said, "I want to drive to
Oberstein to-morrow; order the carriage, if you please."

Gronau looked at him, surprised: "To Oberstein? Do you intend making an
excursion?"

"Yes; I wish to ascend the Wolkenstein."

"You mean to the cliffs."

"No, to the summit."

"Now? At this season? It is impossible, Herr Waltenberg. You know the
summit has always been inaccessible."

"That is the very reason why it attracts me. I have stayed on here to
make the ascent, but I could do nothing in the weather we have had. Get
me a couple of competent guides----"

"There are none such to be had for the ascent you speak of," Gronau
gravely interrupted him.

"Why not? Because of that old nurse's tale? Offer the men a large sum
of money; 'tis a sure cure for superstition."

"Possibly; but it might well fail here, for the old nurse's tale has a
background of indubitable reality, as we have seen. The avalanche and
the ruin it wrought are too fresh in the memory of the mountaineers."

"Yes, it wrought ruin indeed," Ernst said, dreamily, still gazing
towards the mountains.

"And therefore let the Wolkenstein alone for the present," Veit
entreated. "This clearing up of the skies is not going to last, I
assure you. We cannot undertake the feat now."

Ernst shrugged his shoulders: "I did not ask you to go with me. Stay at
home if you are afraid, Gronau."

Veit's brown face showed irritation, but he controlled himself: "We
have surely shared enough of adventure together, Herr Waltenberg, to
set your mind at rest with regard to my timidity. I will go with you to
the extent of what is possible; you, I fear, mean to go farther, and
your mood is not one to enable you to encounter danger coolly."

"You are mistaken; my mood is excellent, and I ara going to make this
ascent, with or without guides; if needs must I will go alone."

Gronau was familiar with this tone, and knew that there was nothing to
be done in opposition to it; nevertheless he made one last attempt. He
supposed that there would be an outbreak, but he determined to speak:
"Remember your promise. You promised Baroness Thurgau to avoid the
Wolkenstein."

Ernst started: his change of colour, the flash of menace in his eyes,
betrayed how he suffered by the touch upon his bleeding wound; but in a
moment he had shrouded himself in a frigid composure that forbade all
further discussion.

"The circumstances under which I made that promise no longer exist.
Moreover, I must entreat that all allusion to them in my presence be
avoided for the future."

He went to his room, turning upon the threshold to say, "At eight
o'clock to-morrow morning you will have the carriage ready for a drive
to Oberstein."

                           *   *   *   *   *

Upon a snow-field in face of the peak of the Wolkenstein a small group
of bold mountain-climbers were assembled, who had undertaken the
ascent, and had actually accomplished the greater part of it,--the two
guides, muscular, weather-beaten mountaineers, and Veit Gronau.
They were provided with ropes, axes, and every accessory of a
mountain-ascent, and were evidently taking a prolonged rest here.

They had left Oberstein on the previous day and had climbed to the
borders of the limitless waste of rocks, where was a hut, in which they
had taken shelter for the night, and then with the first dawn of
morning they had attacked the cliff hitherto pronounced inaccessible.
With persistent pains, with indescribable exertions, and with reckless
contempt of the danger that threatened them at every step, they had
scaled it. It had been ascended for the first time!

This consciousness, however, was the only reward of their success, for
the weather, which had hitherto been tolerably clear, had changed
within an hour or two. Thick mist filled the valleys, obscuring the
outlook, and the crests only of the surrounding mountains were visible.
The peak of the Wolkenstein, itself a mighty pyramid of ice rising
sheer above them, was gradually disappearing. Gronau's field-glass was
directed steadily to this pyramid, and the two guides exchanged a few
monosyllabic remarks, while their grave faces showed their anxiety.

"I can see nothing more," said Veit, at last, taking the glass from his
eyes. "The peak is veiled in mist; nothing can be distinguished any
longer."

"That mist is snow," said one of the guides, an elderly man with
grizzled hair. "I told the gentleman it was coming, but he would not
listen to me."

"Yes, it was madness to attempt the ascent under such circumstances,"
Gronau muttered. "I should have thought we had done enough in
surmounting this cliff. It was a terrific piece of climbing; few will
ever venture to follow us, and it never has been done before."

Meanwhile, the younger guide had kept a sharp lookout in all
directions; he now approached and said, "We can wait no longer, Herr;
we must return."

"Without Herr Waltenberg? Upon no account!" Gronau declared.

The man shrugged his shoulders: "Only as far as the snow-barrow, where
we can find shelter beneath the rocks, if it comes to the worst. Up
here we could never stand against the snow, and we must descend the
worst part of the cliff before it comes, or not one of us will get down
alive. We agreed to wait for the gentleman at the snow-barrow."

Such had, in fact, been the agreement when Waltenberg separated from
the party. The guides who had been prevailed upon to undertake the
expedition by the offer of three times their usual fee had brought the
two strangers successfully to the top of the cliff. Here they had
positively refused to go farther, not because their courage failed
them,--the summit lying directly before them was probably less
dangerous to climb than the steep, almost perpendicular cliff they had
already scaled,--but the experienced mountaineers well knew what those
grayish-white clouds foreboded which were beginning to assemble, at
first as light as hovering mist. They begged for an immediate return,
and Gronau seconded their entreaties, but in vain.

Ernst saw directly before him the summit he had so longed to attain,
and no warning, no entreaty, availed to alter his determination to
proceed. He insisted upon the completion of his daring attempt with all
the obstinacy of a nature that held cheaply his own life, as well as
the lives of others. The threatening skies did not move him, and the
refusal of the guides to accompany him only roused his antagonism. With
a sneer at their caution when the goal was all but attained he left
them.

Gronau had kept his word; he had gone with him to the extent of what
was possible, but when that was reached, when the risk was madness,--a
provoking of fate,--he had remained behind, and yet he was regretting
that he had done so. The climber had been visible for a while as he
toiled upward, until near the summit all trace of him through the
field-glass had been lost, because of the mists which gathered quickly
and heavily.

"We must go down," the elder guide said, resolutely. "If the gentleman
comes back he will find us beside the snow-barrow. We shall do him no
good by staying here, and we risk our lives by losing time."

Gronau saw the justice of the man's words, and shut up his glass with a
sigh.

                           *   *   *   *   *

The wavering masses of mist grew thicker and darker; they floated
upward from all the valleys, sailed forth from every cleft, and veiled
forests and peaks in their damp mantle. The precipices of the
Wolkenstein, the sheer gigantic stretch of its rocky walls, vanished in
the rolling fog,--the ice-pyramid of its peak alone stood forth clear
and distinct.

And aloft upon this summit stood the man who had persisted and had
accomplished what had been deemed impossible. His dress bore traces of
his fearful toil, his hands were bleeding from the jagged points of ice
by which he had held to swing himself up, but he stood where no human
foot save his own had ever trod. He had dared to ascend the cloudy
throne of the Alpine Fay, to lift her veil and to look the sovereign of
this icy realm in the face.

And her face was beautiful! But its beauty was wild and phantom-like:
there was in it no trace of earth, and it dazzled with a painful
splendour the eyes of the undaunted adventurer. Around him and below
him was naught save ice and snow,--rigid white glaciers riven and
billowy but gleaming with fairylike brilliancy. The crevasses gave back
here the greenish hue of spring and there the deep blue of ocean, and
the dazzling white of the jagged, snow-covered crests reflected a
thousand prismatic dyes, while above it all arched a sky of such clear
azure that it was as if it would fain pour forth all its fulness of
light upon the old legendary throne of the mountains, the crystal
palace of the Alpine Fay.

Ernst drew deep, long breaths: for the first time in many days the
weight that had so burdened his spirit vanished; the world, with its
loves and hates, its struggles and conflicts, lay far below him; it
disappeared in the misty sea that filled the valleys and buried beneath
it meadows and forest and the habitations of men. The mountain-peaks
alone emerged, like islands in a measureless ocean. Here appeared a
couple of dark crests of rock, there a peak of dazzling snow, and there
a distant range. But they all looked unreal, bodiless, floating and
sailing upon the flood which heaved and undulated as it slowly rose
higher and higher. Over it brooded the silence of death: life was
extinct in this realm of eternal ice.

And yet a warm, passionate human heart was throbbing in this waste,
fain to flee from the world and its woe, seeking forgetfulness here,
but bringing its woe with it. So long as danger strained every nerve,
so long as there was a goal to be attained, the haunting misery of his
soul had been stilled. The old magic draught which Ernst had so often
quaffed had not lost its charm; danger and enjoyment indissolubly
linked, the spell of magnificent nature, and the unfettered freedom
again his own, were all-powerful to stir him. Again he felt the
intoxicating force of the draught, and in the midst of this icy waste
he was seized with a burning longing for those lands of sunshine and
light where only he had been truly at home. There he could forget and
recover,--there he could again live and be happy.

The misty sea rose higher and higher; slowly, noiselessly, but
steadily, one peak after another vanished beneath the gray, mysterious
flood, which, like a deluge, swallowed up everything belonging to
earth. The ice-pyramid of the Wolkenstein alone still stood forth, but
its gleaming splendour had vanished with the vanished sunlight.

The solitary dreamer suddenly shuddered as if from the chill of an icy
breath. He looked up; the blue above him had faded: he saw only white
mist, which began to veil everything near at hand.

Ernst had been abundantly warned by the guides: he knew this sign; with
danger the tension of his nerves returned; it was high time to retrace
his steps. He began the descent, slowly, cautiously, testing every step
as he had done in climbing up, but the mist barred his way everywhere
and chilled him to the bone. Nevertheless, he pursued his downward path
steadily, the traces of his ascent in the snow guiding him; at last,
however, he was forced to search for them, and more than once he lost
them. The effects of his over-exertion began also to assert themselves.

His breath came short and in gasps, the moisture stood out upon his
forehead, and his sight grew uncertain. Conscious of this, he roused
himself to greater efforts. He had challenged the danger, he would not
succumb to it, the old nurse's tale should not come true, and his force
of will was again victorious. He traversed the terrible path for the
second time, and panting, gasping, half frozen, half dead from fatigue,
he finally reached the foot of the pyramid, and stood upon the glacier
summit of the cliff.

The hardest part of his task was over. True, there was still the sheer
descent of the cliff to achieve, but steps had been hewn in the ice by
the ascending party, and ropes had been left at the worst places to
help in the descent. Ernst knew that he should find these aids; in
spite of the fog, they would guide him to the snow-barrow, where his
companions awaited him.

Then forth from the mist it hovered white and glistening, like
fluttering veils softly touching cheek and brow in a gentle
caress,--the snow had begun to fall. And in a few minutes the caressing
touch was transformed to an oppressive, stifling embrace which it was
vain to try to escape. Ernst staggered forward, then turned back, but
the icy arms were everywhere: they robbed him of breath and froze the
blood in his veins. One short, desperate struggle, and they held him in
an indissoluble clasp,--he sank on the ground.

But with the struggle the distress too ceased. How delicious to fall
asleep thus, so mortally weary that dream and reality mingled and
melted into each other! Again he was standing on the summit in the
sunlight, beholding the palace of ice in all its enchanted splendour,
and gazing into the unveiled countenance of the Alpine Fay, whose
pallid beauty no mortal might look upon and live. Yet her face was not
that of a stranger. He knew those features, and the fathomless blue of
the eyes that beamed and smiled upon him as never before. The image of
the woman whom he had loved so wildly, so inexpressibly, did not leave
him even upon the threshold of death, but stole softly upon the last
gleams of his consciousness.

Then the sea of mist slowly rose higher and higher until all else was
overwhelmed; the beloved face alone still showed faint and dreamlike
through the gray veil, till finally it too faded, and the dreamer was
borne onward by this sea of mist stretching endless and shoreless out
into the immeasurable distance,--on into eternity.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.

                          MIDSUMMER EVE AGAIN.


Almost three years had passed since the terrible avalanche wrought
such ruin, and glorious sunshine made glad the hearts of the
mountaineers on the day preceding Midsummer-eve,--the day of the
festival celebrating throughout the Wolkenstein district the opening of
the new mountain-railway. All the villages on the line of travel, now
promoted to the dignity of railway-stations, were gaily decked with
green wreaths and fluttering flags, and crowds of mountaineers in their
Sunday costumes had come from far and near among the mountains to
behold with curiosity and wonder the arrival of the first train. The
iron road, at last completed, was to bring prosperity to their secluded
valleys.

At first, when the terrible catastrophe still struck terror to the
minds of all who heard of it, there had been a doubt as to whether the
upper stretch of the railway, that passing through the Wolkenstein
district, could ever be completed. Consultations with the company had
gone on for months, until finally the energy and persistence of the
engineer-in-chief had been victorious: the work had been taken up once
more, and it was now happily concluded.

Station Oberstein, situated near the village itself, at the end of the
Wolkenstein bridge, was especially conspicuous in its decorations. The
train, bringing the engineer-in-chief and his wife, with the directors
of the road, and a number of invited guests, was to make a stop here,
and a particularly grand reception had been devised. The crowds from
the country around were greater here than elsewhere, and cannon were to
be fired from a neighbouring height.

In the midst of the gay multitude Veit Gronau's tall figure was
conspicuous. He looked more tanned and weather-beaten than ever, but
otherwise was unchanged. Ernst Waltenberg had provided generously in
his will for his former secretary; he was free to live as he chose, but
the old love of a wandering life had driven him forth into the world
again, and after nearly three years' of absence he had returned for
another glimpse of his European home.

"And so Dr. Reinsfeld is to give a grand dinner in his villa to the
directors," he said to himself, as he stood on the railway-platform
looking out for the train. "I am really curious to see how my good
Benno conducts himself as a millionaire. Probably he is quite
uncomfortable; but he will have to get used to it, for Gersdorf wrote
to me that a million had been rescued out of the wreck of Nordheim's
colossal fortune."

"There it comes!" The shout interrupted his reflections; the crowd
pressed forward eagerly and stretched their necks to see the first
train, which came gliding from the depths upon the narrow iron road. It
vanished for a few moments in the tunnel below Oberstein, and then,
appearing once more, rolled smoothly onward, the smoke from the
gaily-decorated locomotive floating backward like a pennon. Anon it
thundered over the bridge, and was greeted at the Oberstein station by
a burst of music, by loud shouts of welcome, and by the cannon-shots
from the height, wakening the echoes from all the mountains around.

The train was emptied at the station, but almost half an hour elapsed
before the party could drive to the villa, for first of all the glory
of the road, the Wolkenstein bridge, had to be inspected. The bold,
gigantic structure had arisen from ruin; as proudly as before it
spanned the chasm from rock to rock. Below it in the giddy depths
rushed the stream with all its old impetuosity, and above it the
Wolkenstein reared its mighty crest aloft, wearing to-day a light crown
of clouds. But upon the declivity, where before had stood the enclosed
forest, there was now a broad, solid wall of masonry, a sure protection
against any repetition of the former disaster.

The engineer-in-chief, with his young wife on his arm, acted as guide
to the inspecting party. Of course he was the hero of the day, and was
overwhelmed on all sides by congratulations and expressions of
admiration. He received them gravely, seeming but little elated by
them.

Erna, on the other hand, was beaming with happiness and gratified
pride; her eyes sparkled as she listened to all that was said to her
husband, and she had a kindly word and a friendly greeting for all who
pressed forward to welcome her.

The pair were obliged to do the honours of the new road without the aid
of Dr. Reinsfeld, who, as husband of the late president's heiress, was
a very important personage on this occasion, but quite averse to
performing his duties as such. He no longer wore the antique coat and
saffron-coloured gloves in which he had made acquaintance with the
invalid Alice; his attire was faultless, but nevertheless it was easy
to see that his task for the day was held by him to be very difficult
of performance. He confined himself to bowing and shaking hands,
keeping as much as possible in the background, when suddenly a familiar
voice accosted him: "Does Dr. Reinsfeld do me the honour to remember
me?"

"Veit Gronau!" exclaimed the doctor, delightedly, offering his hand.
"Then you received our invitation in time. But why did you not let us
know you had arrived, so that you might have come in the train with
us?"

"I came by the way of Heilborn, and was just in time to receive you. I
congratulate you, Benno, upon your share in this occasion."

"Yes,--a dinner for eighty people," sighed Benno. "Wolfgang thought it
would be suitable for me to give a dinner to the party, and when Wolf
takes a thing into his head one had best submit."

"He certainly was right this time," Gronau said, laughing. "As
principal stockholder and director of the company you were bound to do
something for the opening of the railway."

"If I only did not have to talk to everybody!" the poor doctor
lamented. "And worse than all, I ought, he says, to make an
after-dinner speech. I cannot. Wolfgang built the railway, let him make
the speeches. He did, to be sure, speak to-day before we set out, and
it was charming; every one was delighted,--his wife most of all. Does
she not look exquisitely lovely?"

Veit nodded, but his face grew grave as he looked across at Erna. That
beauty had driven another man to his death; Ernst Waltenberg would have
given his hope of heaven for such a look as she was bestowing upon her
husband at that moment. Gronau turned from such thoughts to ask after
the health of Frau Reinsfeld.

"Oh, Alice is as blooming as a rose, and you must see our daughter."
Benno's face glowed as he spoke of his wife and child. "You knew
of----"

"Of your little one? Yes, you wrote me. I suppose you confine your
practice entirely to your family now?"

"On the contrary, I have more patients than ever," the doctor declared.
"When we are here in summer of course I attend all my old friends; and
since I can now supply the poorer ones with all that they need----"

"Why, of course the honest Wolkensteiners continue to work you to
death," Gronau finished the sentence. "But I must no longer detain you
from your guests."

"Oh, stay; pray stay!" Benno exclaimed, with a comical look of alarm.
"I am so comfortable here in the corner with you, and if you go I shall
be obliged to talk to some of these celebrities, to whom I positively
have nothing whatever to say."

Gronau laughed and stayed, but it was of no avail. Gersdorf, with Frau
Molly upon his arm, made his appearance, and Elmhorst came hurrying
towards them to carry off the luckless host, since the distinguished
party were getting into the carriages to drive to the villa, where
Alice was waiting to receive them. She was still a delicate creature in
appearance, although in perfect health, and she had never lost a
certain maidenly shyness of manner which was her great charm. The
dignity of the household was admirably maintained by Frau von Lasberg,
who had never left her former pupil.

The entertainment to-day left nothing to be desired. Poor Benno finally
made his speech; of course he all but broke down in it, but it was
fortunately just at the end, and Wolfgang at the critical moment signed
to the musicians to strike up.

An hour afterwards the guests departed, conducted to the station by
Elmhorst and his wife, who were, however, to return to pass several
days with Reinsfeld and Alice at the villa.

Benno betook himself to the nursery, where the young mother was seated
beside the cradle of their little daughter. He carried in his hand a
bunch of Alpine roses: "It is Midsummer-eve, Alice; I had to bring you
the wonted bouquet."

"Did you really remember it in all the confusion of the day?" the young
mother asked, with a smile.

One never forgets a prophecy of happiness, least of all when it has
been fulfilled. He handed her the flowers with,--


                       "Do not refuse it,--
                          Our offering of flowers,
                        And midsummer's blessings
                          Fall on you in showers."


                           *   *   *   *   *

Evening had fallen when the engineer-in-chief and his wife stood on the
platform of the Oberstein station, watching the departing train as it
vanished in the tunnel beyond the bridge. "I have sent away the
carriage, Erna," said Wolfgang. "I thought we would walk back, the
evening is so fine, and we have not been alone once before to-day."

"And what a delightful day it has been!" said Erna, as she put her arm
through her husband's. "Only you were so grave, Wolf, in the midst of
your triumph, and you are so still."

He smiled, but his voice was grave as he replied, "I could not but
remember how dearly the triumph has been bought, as only you and I can
know. You have been my sole confidante, my only refuge, inspiring me
with courage and ability when all sorts of petty intrigue nearly drove
me insane. If you had not been beside me I could not have persevered."

"Yes, nothing could have been more trying for a nature like yours than
to be so thwarted and harassed on all sides as you have been; but you
have come off conqueror at last."

"And Benno has been such a help in placing everything in my hands as
soon as he was Alice's husband. I never can forget it of him."

"But he owes you more than he can repay," Erna interposed. "Think of
how you worked for Alice after my uncle's death. They owe it to you
that they are still wealthy."

As she spoke, the departed train, having passed through the tunnel, was
visible like a black thread winding among the distant mountains, which
softly echoed back the whistle of the locomotive through the quiet
evening air. Wolfgang paused and drew a deep breath:

"Now she is quelled, the evil Force above there. She has given me
trouble enough. Look, Erna, the last clouds are floating off from the
throne of your Alpine Fay. She seems to unveil completely only on
Midsummer-eve."

A shadow passed across Erna's happy face, and there were tears in her
eyes as she said, looking up at the Wolkenstein, "One other conquered
her, but he had to pay with his life the price of his victory."

"Rather of a foolhardy attempt that could benefit no one." Elmhorst's
voice sounded harsh. "He risked his life, and found what he sought. Can
you never forget him, Erna?"

She shook her head: "Do not be unjust. Wolf, nor jealous of the dead.
You know well whom I have always loved. But it is impossible for you
with your practical energy of character to comprehend a nature like
Ernst's."

"Possibly; we were too diametrically antagonistic to be just to each
other. But no more of him to-day, Erna; your memory and your thoughts
to-day belong to me. The first height is surmounted; with the
completion of the Wolkenstein railway a sure foundation is laid for my
future. But the path was a difficult one."

"And yet it was delightful, in spite of cliffs and chasms," Erna
declared. "Was I not right, Wolf? It is so fine to ascend from below,
to feel your strength increase with every step onward, with every
obstacle overcome, and at last to stand above on the height, conscious
of victory, as you are now!"

"And with my best beloved beside me," Elmhorst added, with passionate
tenderness. "You came to me in the darkest hour of my life, when
everything about me was crumbling to ruin, and with you my lost fortune
returned to me. Now I can hold it fast and pursue my way to loftier
goals."

The night fell slowly, the sacred old Midsummer night with its breath
of mystery. It was not filled as on that other night with dreamy
moonlight, but a clear starlit sky arched above the mountains, which
began to glow here and there with the beacon-fires,--the largest, as of
old, kindled upon the slope of the Wolkenstein. It flashed abroad over
the realm of the Alpine Fay,--her conquered realm, into which human
will had broken a pathway in spite of all her terrors, and in which it
had come off victorious in a strife with the blind fury of the
elements. The work was finished,--the iron road wound secure among the
mountains, the huge bridge spanned the dizzy chasm, and the
Wolkenstein, unveiled, looked down upon it all. One brilliant star
gleamed just above its peak upon the brow of the Alpine Fay.



                               FOOTNOTE:

[Footnote 1: "Cloud-stone."]



                                THE END.





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