Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: On the Cross - A Romance of the Passion Play at Oberammergau
Author: Hillern, Wilhelmine von, 1836-1916
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On the Cross - A Romance of the Passion Play at Oberammergau" ***

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



Transcriber's Notes:

   1. Page scan source:
      http://www.archive.org/details/oncrossaromance00saffgoog

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



[Illustration: "_Accursed be the hour I raised you from the dust to my
side_."--Page 339]



                              ON THE CROSS


                                   A
                     Romance of the Passion Play at
                              Oberammergau



                                   BY
                         Wilhelmine von Hillern
                                  AND
                            Mary J. Safford



                        DREXEL BIDDLE, PUBLISHER
                              PHILADELPHIA



                            Copyright, 1902

                                   BY

                       ANTHONY J. DREXEL BIDDLE.

                               *   *   *



             PRESS OF DREXEL BIDDLE, PHILADELPHIA, U. S. A.



                                   TO

                         HERR JOHANNES DIEMER,

      THE RENOWNED DELIVERER OF THE PROLOGUE IN THE PASSION PLAYS
          OF THE LAST DECADE, A TRUE SON OF AMMERGAU, IN WHOSE
            UNASSUMING PERSON DWELLS THE CALM, DEEP SOUL OF
             THE ARTIST, THE LOYAL SYMPATHIZING FRIEND, IN
                 WHOSE PEACEFUL HOME I FOUND THE QUIET
                   AND THE MOOD I NEEDED TO COMPLETE
                    THIS WORK, IT IS NOW DEDICATED,
                        WITH GRATEFUL ESTEEM, BY

                                              THE AUTHORESS.



                               CONTENTS.


Introduction.


                               CHAPTER I.

A Phantom.


                              CHAPTER II.

Old Ammergau.


                              CHAPTER III.

Young Ammergau.


                              CHAPTER IV.

Expelled from the Play.


                               CHAPTER V.

Modern Pilgrims.


                              CHAPTER VI.

The Evening Before the Play.


                              CHAPTER VII.

The Passion Play.


                             CHAPTER VIII.

Freyer.


                              CHAPTER IX.

Signs and Wonders.


                               CHAPTER X.

In the Early Morning.


                              CHAPTER XI.

Mary and Magdalene.


                              CHAPTER XII.

Bridal Torches.


                             CHAPTER XIII.

Banished from Eden.


                              CHAPTER XIV.

Pieta.


                              CHAPTER XV.

The Crowing of the Cock.


                              CHAPTER XVI.

Prisoned.


                             CHAPTER XVII.

Flying from the Cross.


                             CHAPTER XVIII.

The Marriage.


                              CHAPTER XIX.

At the Child's Bedside.


                              CHAPTER XX.

Conflicts.


                              CHAPTER XXI.

Unaccountable.


                             CHAPTER XXII.

Falling Stars.


                             CHAPTER XXIII.

Noli me Tangere.


                             CHAPTER XXIV.

Attempts to Rescue.


                              CHAPTER XXV.

Day is Dawning.


                             CHAPTER XXVI.

The Last Support.


                             CHAPTER XXVII.

Between Poverty and Disgrace.


                            CHAPTER XXVIII.

Parting.


                             CHAPTER XXIX.

In the Deserted House.


                              CHAPTER XXX.

The "Wiesherrle."


                             CHAPTER XXXI.

The Return Home.


                             CHAPTER XXXII.

To the Village.


                            CHAPTER XXXIII.

Received Again.


                             CHAPTER XXXIV.

At Daisenberger's Grave.


                             CHAPTER XXXV.

The Watchword.


                             CHAPTER XXXVI.

Memories.


                            CHAPTER XXXVII.

The Measure is Full.


                            CHAPTER XXXVIII.

On the Way to the Cross.


                             CHAPTER XXXIX.

Stations of Sorrow.


                              CHAPTER XL.

Near the Goal.


                              CONCLUSION.

From Illusion to Truth.



                             INTRODUCTION.


It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that the risen Son of God showed
Himself, as a simple gardener, to the penitent sinner. The miracle has
become a pious tradition. It happened long, long ago, and no eye has
ever beheld Him since. Even when the risen Lord walked among the men
and women of His own day, only those saw Him who wished to do so.

But those who wish to see Him, see Him now; and those who wish to seek
Him, find Him now.

The Garden of Gethsemane has disappeared--the hot sun of the East has
withered it. All things are subject to change. The surface of the earth
alters and where the olive tree once grew green and the cedar stretched
its leafy roof above the head of the Redeemer and the Penitent, there
is nothing now save dead, withered leafage.

But the Garden blooms once more in a cool, shady valley among the
German mountains. Modern Gethsemane bears the name of Oberammergau. As
the sun pursues its course from East to West, so the salvation which
came from the East has made its way across the earth to the West.
There, in the veins of young and vigorous nations, still flow the
living streams that water the seeds of faith on which the miracle is
nourished, and the stunted mountain pine which has sprung from the hard
rocks of the Ettal Mountain is transformed to a palm tree, the poor
habitant of the little mountain village to a God. It is change, and yet
constancy amid the change.

The world and its history also change in the passage of the centuries.
The event before which the human race sank prostrate, as the guards
once did when the risen Christ burst the gates of the tomb, gradually
passed into partial oblivion. The thunder with which the veil of the
temple was rent in twain died away in the misty distance; heaven closed
forever behind the ascended Lord, the stars pursued their old courses
in undisturbed regularity; revelations were silent. Men rubbed their
eyes as though waking from a dream and began to discuss what portion
was truth and what illusion. The strife lasted for centuries. One
tradition overthrew another, one creed crowded out another. With sword
in hand and the trumpet of the Judgment Day the _Ecclesia Militans_
established the dogma, enforced unity in faith. But peace did not last
long under the rule of the church. The Reformation again divided the
Christian world, the Thirty Years War, the most terrible religious
conflict the earth has ever witnessed began, and in the fury of the
battle the combatants forgot the _cause_ of the warfare. Amid the
streams of blood, the clouds of smoke rising from burning cities and
villages, the ruins of shattered altars, the cross, the holy emblem for
which the battle raged, vanished, and when it was raised again, it was
still but an emblem of warfare, no longer a symbol of peace.

There is a single spot of earth where, untouched by the tumult of the
world, sheltered behind the lofty, inhospitable wall of a high
mountain, the idea of Christianity has been preserved in all its
simplicity and purity--Oberammergau. As God once suffered the Saviour
of the World to be born in a manger, among poor shepherds, He seems to
have extended His protecting hand over this secluded nook and reserved
the poor mountaineers to repeat the miracle. Concealed behind the steep
Ettal mountain was a monastery where, from ancient times, the beautiful
arts had been sedulously fostered.

One of the monks was deeply grieved because, in the outside world,
iconoclasm was rudely shaking the old forms and, in blind fear, even
rejecting religious art as "Romish." As no holy image would be
tolerated; the Saviour and His Saints must disappear entirely from the
eyes of men. Then, in his distress, the inspiration came that a sacred
drama, performed by living beings, could produce a more powerful effect
than word or symbol. So it was determined in the monastery that one
should be enacted.

The young people in the neighborhood, who had long been schooled by the
influence of the learned monks to appreciate beauty, were soon trained
to act legends and biblical poems. With increasing skill they gained
more and more confidence, till at last their holy zeal led them to show
mankind the Redeemer Himself, the Master of the world, in His own
bodily form, saying to erring humanity; "Lo, thus He was and thus He
will be forever."

And while in the churches paintings and relics were torn from the walls
and crucifixes destroyed, the first Passion play was performed, A. D.
1634, under the open sky in the churchyard of Oberammergau--for this
spot, on account of its solemn associations, was deemed the fitting
place for the holy work. The disgraced image of love, defiled by blood
and flames, once more rose in its pure beauty! Living, breathing! The
wounds inflicted more than a thousand years before again opened, fresh
drops of blood trickled from the brow torn by its diadem of thorns,
again the "Continue ye in My love" fell from the pallid lips of the
Lamb of God, and what Puritanism had destroyed in its _dead_ form was
born anew in a _living one_. But, amid the confusion and roar of
battle, the furious yells of hate, no one heard the gentle voice in the
distant nook beyond the mountains.

The message of peace died away, the Crucified One shed His blood
unseen.

Years passed, the misery of the people constantly increased, lands were
ravaged, the ranks of the combatants thinned.

At last the warriors began to be paralyzed, the raging storm subsided
and pallid fear stared blankly at the foes who had at last gained their
senses--the plague, that terrible Egyptian Sphinx, lured by the odor of
corruption emanating from the long war, stole over the earth, and those
at whom she gazed with the black fiery eyes of her torrid zone, sank
beneath it like the scorched grass when the simoom sweeps over the
desert.

Silence fell, the silence of the grave, for wherever this spectre
stalks, death follows.

Fear reconciled enemies and made them forget their rancor in union
against the common foe, the cruel, invincible plague. They gazed around
them for some helping hand, and once more turned to that over which
they had so long quarrelled. Then amid the deathlike stillness of the
barren fields, the empty houses, the denuded churches, and the
desolated land, they at last heard the little bell behind the Ettal
mountain, which every decade summoned the Christian world to the
Passion Play, for this was the vow taken by the Ammergau peasants to
avert the plague and the divine wrath. Again the ever patient Saviour
extended His arms, crying: "Come unto Me, all ye who are weary and
heavy laden!" And they did come. They threw themselves at His feet, the
wearied, hunted earthlings, stained with dust and blood, and He
comforted and refreshed them, while they again recognized Him and
learned to understand the meaning of His sacrifice.

Those who thus saw Him and received the revelation announced it to
others, who flocked thither from far and near till the little
church-yard of Oberammergau became too narrow, and could no longer
contain the throngs; the open fields became a sacred theatre to receive
the pilgrims, who longed to behold the Redeemer's face.

And, strangely enough, all who took part in the sacred play, seemed
consecrated, the plague passed them by, Ammergau alone was spared.

So the pious seed grew slowly, often with periods when it stood still,
but the watchful eye can follow it in history.

Peace at last came to the world. Purer airs blew. The Egyptian hyena,
satiated, left the ravaged fields, new life bloomed from the graves,
and this new life knew naught of the pangs and sufferings of the old.
From the brutality and corruption of the long war, the new generation
longed for more refined manners, culture, and the pleasures of life.
But, as usual after such periods of deprivation and calamity, one
extreme followed another. The desire for more refined manners and
education led to hyperculture, the love of pleasure into epicureanism
and luxury, grace into coquetry, mirth into frivolity. Then came the
so-called age of gallantry. The foil took the place of the sword, the
lace jabot of the leather jerkin, the smoke of battle gave way to the
clouds of powder scattered by heads nodding in every direction.

Masked shepherds and shepherdesses danced upon the graves of a former
generation, a new Arcadia was created in apish imitation and peopled
with grimacing creatures who tripped about on tiptoe in their
high-heeled shoes. Instead of the mediæval representations of martyrs
and emaciated saints appeared the nude gods and cupids of a Watteau and
his school. Grace took the place of majesty. Instead of moral law, men
followed the easy code of convenience and everything was allowable
which did not transgress its rules. Thus arose a generation of
thoughtless pleasure seekers, which bore within itself a moral
pestilence that, in contrast with the "Black Death," might be termed
the "Rosy Death" for it breathed upon the cheeks of all whom it
attacked the rosy flush of a fever which wasted more slowly, but none
the less surely.

And through this rouged, dancing, skipping age, with the click of its
high-heeled shoes, its rustling hooped petticoats, its amorous glances
and heaving bosoms, the chaste figure of the Man of Sorrows, with a
terrible solemnity upon his pallid brow, again and again trod the stage
of Ammergau, and whoever beheld Him dropped the flowing bowl of
pleasure, while the laugh died on his lips.

Again history and the judgment of the world moved forward. The "Rosy
Death" had decomposed and poisoned all the healthful juices of society
and corrupted the very heart of the human race--morality, faith, and
philosophy, everything which makes men manly, had gradually perished
unobserved in the thoughtless whirl. The tinsel and apish civilisation
no longer sufficed to conceal the brute in human nature. It shook off
every veil and stood forth in all its nakedness. The modern deluge, the
French Revolution burst forth. Murder, anarchy, the delirium of fever
swept over the earth in every form of horror.

Again came a change, a transformation to the lowest depths of
corruption. Grace now yielded to brutality, beauty to ugliness, the
divine to the cynical. Altars were overthrown, religion was abjured,
the earth trembled under the mass of destroyed traditions.

But from the turmoil of the throng, fiercely rending one another, from
the smoke and exhalations of this conflagration of the world, yonder in
the German Garden of Gethsemane again rose victoriously, like a
Ph[oe]nix from its ashes, the denied, rejected God, and the undefiled
sun of Ammergau wove a halo of glory around the sublime figure which
hung high on the cross.

It was a quiet, victory, of which the frantic mob were ignorant; for
they saw only the foe confronting them, not the one battling above. The
latter was vanquished long ago, He was deposed, and that settled the
matter. The people in their sovereignty can depose and set up gods at
pleasure, and when once dethroned, they no longer exist; they are
hurled into Tartarus. And as men can not do without a god, they create
an idol.

The country groaned beneath the iron stride of the Emperor and, without
wishing or knowing it, he became the avenger of the God in whose place
he stood. For, as the Thirty Years War ended under the scourge of the
pestilence, and the age of mirth and gallantry under the lash of
the Revolution, the Revolution yielded to the third scourge, the
self-created idol!

He, the man with compressed lips and brow sombre with thought, ruled
the unchained elements, became lord of the anarchy, and dictated laws
to a universe. But with iron finger he tore open the veins of humanity
to mark upon the race the brand of slavery. The world bled from a
thousand wounds, and upon each he marked the name "Napoleon."

Then, wan as the moon floats in the sky when the glow of the setting
sun is blazing in the horizon, the sovereign of the world in his bloody
splendor confronted the pallid shadow of the Crucified One, also robed
in a royal mantle, still wet with the blood He had voluntarily shed.
They gazed silently at each other--but the usurper turned pale.

At last, at the moment he imagined himself most like Him, God hurled
the rival god into the deepest misery and disgrace. The enemy of the
world was conquered, and popular hatred, so long repressed, at last
freed from the unbearable restraint, poured forth upon the lonely grave
at St. Helena its foam of execration and curses. Then the conqueror in
Oberammergau extended His arms in pardon, saying to him also: "Verily I
say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise."

A time of peace now dawned, the century of _thought_. After the great
exertions of the war of liberation, a truce in political life followed,
and the nations used it to make up for what they had lost in the
development of civilization during the period of political strife. A
flood of ideas inundated the world. All talent, rejoicing in the mental
activity which had so long lain dormant, was astir. There was rivalry
and conflict for the prize in every department. The rising generation,
conscious of newly awakening powers, dared enterprise after enterprise
and with each waxed greater. With increasing production, the power of
assimilation also increased. Everything grand created in other
centuries was drawn into the circle of their own nation as if just
discovered. That for which the enlightened minds of earlier days had
vainly toiled, striven, bled, now bloomed in luxuriant harvests, and
the century erected monuments to those who had been misjudged and
adorned them with the harvest garland garnered from the seeds which
they had sowed in tears.

What Galvani and Salomon de Cäus, misunderstood and unheard, had
planned, now made their triumphal passage across the earth as a panting
steam engine or a flashing messenger of light, borne by and bearing
ideas.

The century which produced a Schiller and a Goethe first understood a
Shakespeare, Sophocles and Euripides rose from the graves where they
had lain more than a thousand years, archæology brought the buried
world of Homer from beneath the earth, a Canova, a Thorwaldsen, a
Cornelius, Kaulbach, and all the great masters of the Renaissance of
our time, took up the brushes and chisels of Phidias, Michael Angelo,
Raphael, and Rubens, which had so long lain idle. What Aristotle had
taught a thousand, and Winckelmann and Lessing a hundred years before,
the knowledge of the laws of art, the appreciation of the beautiful,
was no longer mere dead capital in the hands of learned men, but
circulated in the throbbing veins of a vigorously developing
civilization; it demanded and obtained the highest goal.

The circle between the old and the new civilization has closed, every
chasm has been bridged. There is an alternate action of old and new
forces, a common labor of all the nations and the ages, as if there was
no longer any division of time and space, as if there was but one
eternal art, one eternal science. Ascending humanity has trodden matter
under foot, conquered science, made manufactures useful, and
transfigured art.

But this light which has so suddenly flamed through the world also
casts its shadows. Progress in art and science matures the judgment,
but judgment becomes criticism and criticism negation. The dualism
which permeates all creation, the creative and the destructive power,
the principle of affirmation and of denial, cannot be shut out even
now, but must continue the old contest which has never yet been
decided. Critical analysis opposes faith, materialism wars against
idealism, pessimism contends with optimism. The human race has reached
the outermost limit of knowledge, but this does not content it in its
victorious career, it wishes to break through and discover _the God_
concealed behind. Even the heart of a God must not escape the scalpel
which nothing withstood. But the barrier is impenetrable. And one
party, weary of the fruitless toil, pulls back the aspiring ones.
"Down to matter, whence you came. What are you seeking? Science has
attained the highest goal, she has discovered the protoplasm whence all
organism proceeded. What is the Creator of modern times? A
physiological--chemical, vital function within the substance of a cell.
Will ye pray to this, suffer for this, ye fools?"

Others turn in loathing from this cynical interpretation of scientific
results and throw themselves into the arms of beauty, seeking in it the
divinity, and others still wait, battling between earth and heaven, in
the dim belief of being nearest to the goal.

It is a tremendous struggle, as though the earth must burst under the
enormous pressure of power demanding room, irreconcilable contrasts.

Then amid the heat of the lecture rooms, the throng of students of art
and science, comes a long-forgotten voice from the days of our
childhood! And the straining eyes suddenly turn from the teachers and
the dissecting tables, from the glittering visions of art and the
material world to the stage of Oberammergau and the Passion Play.

There stands the unassuming figure with the crown of thorns and the
sorrowful, questioning gaze. And with one accord their hearts rush to
meet Him and, as the son who has grown rich in foreign lands, after
having eaten and enjoyed everything, longs to return to the poverty of
his home and falls repentantly at the feet of his forsaken father, the
human race, in the midst of this intoxication of knowledge and
pleasure, sinks sobbing before the pale flower of Christianity and
longingly extends its arms toward the rude wooden cross on which it
blooms!

That powerful thinker, Max Müller, says in his comparative study of
religions:[1] "When do we feel the blessings of our country more warmly
and truly than when we return from abroad? It is the same with regard
to religion." That fact is apparent here! It is an indisputable verity
that, at the precise period when art and science have attained their
highest stages of development, the Oberammergau Passion Play enjoys a
degree of appreciation never bestowed before, that during this critical
age, from decade to decade, people flock to the Passion Play in ever
increasing throngs. Not only the uncultivated and ignorant, nay, the
most cultured--artists and scholars, statesmen and monarchs. The poor
village no longer has room to shelter all its guests; it is positively
startling to see the flood of human beings pour in on the evening
before the commencement of the play, stifling, inundating everything.
And then it is marvellous to notice how quiet it is on the morning of
the play, as it flows into the bare room called the theatre, how it
seems as it were to grow calm, as if every storm within or without was
subdued under the influence of those simple words, now more than two
thousand years old. How wonderful it is to watch the people fairly
holding their breath to listen to the simple drama for seven long hours
without heeding the time which is far beyond the limit our easily
wearied nerves are accustomed to bear.

What is it, for whose sake the highest as well as the lowest, the
richest and the poorest, prince and peasant, would sleep on a layer of
straw, without a murmur, if no bed could be had? Why will the most
pampered endure hunger and thirst, the most delicate heat and cold, the
most timid fearlessly undertake the hard journey across the Ettal
mountain? Is it mere curiosity to hear a number of poor wood-carvers,
peasants, and wood-cutters repeat under the open sky, exposed to sun
and rain, in worse German than is heard at school the same old story
which has already been told a thousand times, as the enemies of the
Passion Play say? Would this bring people every ten years from half the
inhabited world, from far and near, from South and North, from the
mountains and the valleys, from palaces and huts, across sea and land?
Certainly not? What is it then? A miracle?

Whoever has seen the Passion Play understands it, but it is difficult
to explain the mystery to those who have not.

The deity remains concealed from our earthly vision and unattainable,
like the veiled statue of Sais. Every attempt to raise this veil by
force is terribly avenged.

What is gained by those modern Socinians and Adorantes who, with
ill-feigned piety, seek to drag the mystery to light and make the God a
_human being_, in order to worship in the wretched puppet _themselves_?
Even if they beheld Him face to face, they would still see themselves
only, and He would cry: "You are like the spirit which you understand,
not me."

And what do the Pantheists gain who make man _God_, in order to embrace
in Him the unattainable? Sooner or later they will perceive that they
have mistaken the _effects_ for the _cause_, and the form for the
essence. Loathing and disappointment will be their lot, as it is the
lot of all who have nothing but--human beings.

But those to whom the visible is only the _symbol_ of the _invisible_
which teaches them from the effect to learn the cause, will, with
unerring logical correctness, pass from the form to the essence, from
the _illusion_ to the _truth_.

_That_ is the marvel of the modern Gethsemane, which this book will
narrate.



                               CHAPTER I.

                               A PHANTOM.


Solemn and lofty against the evening sky towers the Kofel, the
land-mark and protecting rock-bulwark of Oberammergau, bearing aloft
its solitary cross, like a threatening hand uplifted in menace to
confront an advancing foe with the symbol of victory.

Twilight is gathering, and the dark shadow of the mighty protector
stretches far across the quiet valley. The fading glow of sunset casts
a pallid light upon the simple cross which has stood on the mountain
peak for centuries, frequently renewed but always of the same size, so
that it can be seen a long distance off by the throngs who journey
upward from the valley, gazing longingly across the steep, inhospitable
mountains toward the goal of the toilsome pilgrimage.

It is Friday. A long line of carriages is winding like a huge serpent
up the Ettal mountain. Amid the throng, two very handsome landaus are
especially conspicuous. The first is drawn by four horses in costly
harnesses adorned with a coronet, which prance gaily in the slow
progress, as if the ascent of the Ettal mountain was but pastime for
animals of their breed. In the equipage, which is open, sit a lady and
a gentleman, pale, listless, uninterested in their surroundings and
apparently in each other; the second one contains a maid, a man
servant, and on the box the courier, with the pompous, official manner,
which proclaims to the world that the family he has the honor of
serving and in whose behalf he pays the highest prices, is an
aristocratic one. The mistress of this elegant establishment, spite of
her downcast eyes and almost lifeless air, is a woman of such
remarkable beauty that it is apparent even amidst the confusion of
veils and wraps. Blonde hair, as soft as silk, clusters in rings around
her brow and diffuses a warm glow over a face white as a tea rose,
intellectual, yet withal wonderfully, tender and sensuous in its
outlines. Suddenly, as though curious to penetrate the drooping lids
and see the eyes they concealed, the sun bursts through a rift in the
clouds, throwing a golden bridge of rays from mountain to mountain. Now
the lashes are raised to return the greeting, revealing sparkling dark
eyes of a mysterious color, varying every instant as they follow the
shimmering rays that glide along the cliff. Then something flashes from
a half-concealed cave and the beams linger a moment on a pale face. It
is an image of Christ carved in wood which, with uplifted hand, bids
the new comers welcome. But those who are now arriving do not
understand its language, the greeting remains unanswered.

The sunbeams glide farther on as if saying, "If this is not the Christ
you are seeking, perhaps it is he?" And now--they stop. On a rugged
peak, illumined by a halo of light, stands a figure, half concealed by
the green branches, gazing with calm superiority at the motley, anxious
crowd below. He has removed his hat and, heated by the rapid walk, is
wiping the perspiration from his brow. Long black locks parted in the
middle, float back from a grave, majestic face with a black beard and
strangely mournful black, far-seeing eyes. The hair, tossed by the
wind, is caught by a thorny branch which sways above the prematurely
furrowed brow. The sharp points glow redly in the brilliant sunset
light, as if crimsoned with blood from the head which rests dreamily
against the trunk. A tremor runs through the form of the woman below;
she suddenly sits erect, as though roused from sleep. The wandering
rays which sought her eyes also lead her gaze to those of the solitary
man above, and on this golden bridge two sparkling glances meet. Like
two pedestrians who cannot avoid each other on a narrow path, they look
and pause. They grasp and hold each other--one must yield, for neither
will let the other pass.

Then the sunbeam pales, the bridge has fallen, and the apparition
vanishes in the forest shadows.

"Did you see that?" the lady asked her companion, who had also glanced
up at the cliff.

"What should I have seen?"

"Why--that--that--" she paused, uncertain what words to choose. She was
going to say, "that man up there," but the sentence is too prosaic, yet
she can find no other and says merely, "him up there!" Her companion,
glancing skyward, shakes his head.

"_Him_ up there! I really believe, Countess, that the air of Ammergau
is beginning to affect you. Apparently you already have religious
hallucinations--or we will say, in the language of this hallowed soil,
heavenly visions!"

The countess leans silently back in her corner--the cold, indifferent
expression returns to the lips which just parted in so lovely a smile.
"But what did you see? At least tell me, since I am not fortunate
enough to be granted such visions," her companion adds with kindly
irony. "Or was it too sublime to be communicated to such a base
worldling as I?"

"Yes," she says curtly, covering her eyes with her hand, as if to shut
out the fading sunset glow in order to recall the vision more
distinctly. Then she remains silent.

Night gradually closes in, the panting train of horses has reached the
village. Now the animals are urged into a trot and the drivers turn the
solemn occasion into a noisy tumult. The vehicles jolt terribly in the
ruts, the cracking of whips, the rattle of wheels, the screams of
frightened children and poultry, the barking of dogs, blend in a
confused din, and that nothing may be wanting to complete it, a howling
gust of wind sweeps through the village, driving the drifting clouds
into threatening masses.

"This is all we lacked--rain too!" grumbled the gentleman. "Shall I
have the carriage closed?"

"No," replied the Countess, opening her umbrella. "Who would have
thought it; the sun was shining ten minutes ago!"

"Yes, the weather changes rapidly in the mountains. I saw the shower
rising. While you were admiring some worthy wood-cutter up yonder as a
heavenly apparition, I was watching the approaching tempest." He draws
the travelling rug, which has slipped down, closer around the lady and
himself. "Come what may, I am resigned; when we are in Rome, we must
follow the Roman customs. Who would not go through fire and water for
you, Countess?" He tries to take her hand, but cannot find it among the
shawls and wraps. He bites his lips angrily; he had expected that the
hand he sought would gratefully meet his in return for so graceful an
expression of loyalty! Large drops of rain beat into his face.

"Not even a clasp of the hand in return for the infernal journey to
this peasant hole," he mutters.

The carriages thunder past the church, the flowers and crosses on the
graves in the quiet church-yard tremble with the shaking of the ground.
The lamps in the parsonage are already lighted, the priest comes to the
window and gazes quietly at the familiar spectacle. "Poor travellers!
Out in such a storm!"

One carriage after another turns down a street or stops before a house.
The Countess and her companion alone have not yet reached their
destination. Meantime it has grown perfectly dark. The driver is
obliged to stop to shut up the carriage and light the lantern, for the
rain and darkness have become so dense and the travellers are drenched.
An icy wind, which always accompanies a thunderstorm in the mountain,
blows into their faces till they can scarcely keep their eyes open. The
servant, unable to see in the gloom, is clumsy in closing the carriage,
the hand-bags fall down upon the occupants; the driver can scarcely
hold the horses, which are frightened by the crowds in pursuit of
lodgings. He is not familiar with the place and, struggling to restrain
the plunging four-in-hand, enquires the way in broken sentences from
the box, and only half catches the answers, which are indistinct in the
tumult. Meantime the other servants have arrived. The Countess orders
the courier to drive on with the second carriage and take possession of
the rooms which have been engaged. The man, supposing it is an easy
matter to find the way in so small a place, moves forward. The Countess
can scarcely control her ill humor.

"An abominable journey--the horses overheated by the ascent of the
mountain and now this storm. And the lamps won't burn, the wind
constantly blows them out. You were right, Prince, we ought to have
taken a hired--" She does not finish the sentence, for the ray
from one of the carriage lamps, which has just been lighted with much
difficulty, falls upon a swiftly passing figure, which looks almost
supernaturally tall in the uncertain glimmer. Long, black locks,
dripping with moisture, are blown by the wind from under his
broad-brimmed hat. He has evidently been surprised by the storm without
an umbrella and is hurrying home--not timidly and hastily, like a
person to whom a few drops of rain, more or less, is of serious
importance, but rather like one who does not wish to be accosted. The
countess cannot see his face, he has already passed, but she
distinguishes the outlines of the slender, commanding figure in the
dark dress, noticing with a rapid glance the remarkably elastic gait,
and an involuntary: "There he goes again!" escapes her lips aloud.
Obeying a sudden impulse, she calls to the servant: "Quick, ask the
gentleman yonder the way to the house of Andreas Gross, where we are
going."

The servant follows the retreating figure a few steps and shouts,
"Here, you--" The stranger pauses a moment, half turns his head, then,
as if the abrupt summons could not possibly be meant for _him_, moves
proudly on without glancing back a second time.

The servant timidly returns. A feeling of shame overwhelms the
countess, as though she had committed the blunder of ordering him to
address a person of high rank travelling incognito.

"The gentleman wouldn't hear me," says the lackey apologetically, much
abashed. "Very well," his mistress answers, glad that the darkness
conceals her blushes. A flash of lightning darts from the sky and a
sudden peal of thunder frightens the horses. "Drive on," the countess
commands; the lackey springs on the box, the carriage rolls forward--a
few yards further and the dark figure once more appears beside the
vehicle, walking calmly on amid the thunder and lightning, and merely
turns his head slightly toward the prancing horses.

The equipage dashes by--the countess leans silently back on the
cushions, and shows no further desire to look out.

"Tell me, Countess Madeleine," asks the gentleman whom she has just
addressed as 'Prince,' "what troubles you today?"

The countess laughs. "Dear me, how solemnly you put the question! What
should trouble me?"

"I cannot understand you," the prince continued. "You treat me coldly
and grow enthusiastic over a vision of the imagination which already
draws from you the exclamation: 'There he is _again!_' I cannot help
thinking what an uncertain possession is the favor of a lady whose
imagination kindles so easily."

"This is charming," the countess tried to jest. "My prince jealous--of
a phantom?"

"That is just it. If a _phantom_ can produce such variations in the
temperature of your heart toward me, how must my hopes stand?"

"Dear Prince, you know that whether with or without a phantom, I could
never yet answer this question which Your Highness frequently
condescends to ask me."

"I believe, Countess, that one always stands between us! You pursue
some unknown ideal which you do not find in me, the realist, who has
nothing to offer you save prosaic facts--his hand, his principality,
and an affection for which unhappily he lacks poetic phrases."

"You exaggerate, Prince, and are growing severe. There is a touch of
truth--I am always honest--yet, as you know, you are the most favored
of all my suitors. Still it is true that an unknown disputes precedence
with you. This rival is but the man of my imagination--but the world
contains no one like my ideal, so you have nothing to fear."

"What ideal do you demand, Countess, that no one can attain it?"

"Ah! a very simple one, yet you conventional natures will never
understand it. It is the simplicity of the lost Paradise to which you
can never return. I am by nature a lover of the ideal--I am
enthusiastic and need enthusiasm; but you call me a visionary when I am
in the most sacred earnest. I yearn for a husband who believes in my
ideal, I want no one from whom I must conceal it in order to avoid
ridicule, and thus be unable to be true to my highest self. He whom my
soul seeks must be at once a man and a child--a man in character and a
child in heart. But where in our modern life is such a person to be
found? Where is gentleness without feeble sentimentality? Where is
there enthusiasm without fantastic vagueness, where simplicity of heart
without narrowness of mind? Whoever possesses a manly character and a
strong intellect cannot escape the demands which science and politics
impose, and this detracts from the emotional life, gives prominent
development to concrete thought, makes men realistic and critical. But
of all who suffer from these defects of our time, you are the best,
Prince!" she adds, smilingly.'

"That is sorry comfort," murmurs the prince. "It is a peculiar thing to
have an invisible rival; who will guarantee that some person may not
appear who answers to the description?"

"That is the reason I have not yet given you my consent," replies the
countess, gravely.

Her companion sighs heavily, makes no reply, but gazes steadfastly into
the raging storm. Alter a time he says, softly, "If I did not love you
so deeply, Countess Madeleine--"

"You would not bear with me so long, would you?" asks the countess,
holding out her hand as if beseeching pardon.

This one half unconscious expression of friendship disarms the
irritated man.--He bends over the slender little hand and raises it
tenderly to his lips.

"She must yet be mine!" he says under his breath, by way of
consolation, like all men whose hopes are doubtful. "I will even dare
the battle with a phantom."



                              CHAPTER II.

                             OLD AMMERGAU.


At last, alter a long circuit and many enquiries, the goal was gained.
The dripping, sorely shaken equipage stopped with two wheels in a ditch
filled with rain water, whose overflow flooded the path to the house.
The courier and maid seemed to have missed their way, too, for the
second carriage was not there. People hurried out of the low doorway
shading small flickering candles with their hands. The countess shrank
back. What strange faces these peasants had! An old man with a terribly
hang-dog countenance, long grey hair, a pointed Jewish beard, sharp
hooked nose, and sparkling eyes! And two elderly women, one short and
fat, with prominent eyes and black curling hair, the other a tall,
thin, odd-looking person with tangled coal-black hair, hooked nose, and
glittering black eyes.

In the mysterious shadows cast by the wavering lights upon the sharply
cut faces, the whole group looked startlingly like a band of gypsies.

"Oh! are these Ammergau people?" whispered the countess in a
disappointed tone.

"Does Gross, the wood-carver, live here?" the prince enquired.

"Yes," was the reply. "Gross, the stone-cutter. Have you engaged rooms
here?"

"We wrote from Tegernsee for lodgings. The Countess von Wildenau,"
answered the prince.

"Oh yes, yes! Everything is ready! The lady will lodge with us; the
carriage and servants can go to the old post-house. I have the honor to
bid you good evening," said the old man. "I am sorry you have had such
bad weather. But we have a great deal of rain here."

The prince alighted--the water splashed high under his feet.

"Oh Sephi, bring a board, quick; the countess cannot get out here!"
cried the old man with eager deprecation of the discomfort threatening
the lady. Sephi, the tall, thin woman, dragged a plank from the garden,
while a one-eyed dog began to bark furiously.

The plank was laid down, but instantly sunk under the water, and the
countess was obliged to wade through the flood. As she alighted, she
felt as if she should strike her head against the edge of the
overhanging roof--the house was so low. Fresco paintings, dark with
age, appeared to stretch and writhe in distorted shapes in the
flickering light. The place seemed more and more dismal to the
countess.

"Shall I carry you across?" asked the prince.

"Oh no!" she answered reprovingly, while her little foot sought the
bottom of the pool. The ice-cold water covered her delicate boot to the
ankle. She had been so full of eager anticipation, in such a poetic
mood, and prosaic reality dealt her a blow in the face. She shivered as
she walked silently through the water.

"Come in, your rooms are ready," said the old man cheeringly.

They passed through a kitchen black with myriads of flies, into an
apartment formerly used as the workshop, now converted into a parlor.
Two children were asleep on an old torn sofa. In one corner lay sacks
of straw, prepared for couches, the owners of the house considered it a
matter of course that they should have no beds during the Passion. A
smoking kerosene lamp hung from, the dark worm-eaten wooden ceiling,
diffusing more smoke than light. The room was so low that the countess
could scarcely stand erect, and besides the ceiling had sunk--in the
dim, smoke-laden atmosphere the beams threatened to fall at any moment.

A sense of suffocation oppressed the new-comer. She was utterly
exhausted, chilled, nervous to the verge of weeping. Her white teeth
chattered. She shivered with cold and discomfort. Her host opened a low
door into a small room containing two beds, a table, an old-fashioned
dark cupboard, and two chairs.

"There," he cried in a tone of great satisfaction, "that is your
chamber. Now you can rest, and if you want anything, you need only call
and one of my daughters will come in and wait upon you."

"Yes, my good fellow, but where am _I_ to lodge?" asked the prince.

"Oh--then you don't belong together? In that case the countess must
sleep with another lady, and the gentleman up here."

He pointed to a little stair-case in the corner which, according to the
custom in old peasant houses, led from one room through a trap-door
into another directly above it.

"But I can't sleep _there_, it would inconvenience the lady," said the
prince. "Have you no other rooms?"

"Why yes; but they are engaged for to-morrow," replied Andreas Gross,
while the two sisters stood staring helplessly.

"Then give me the rooms and send the other people away."

"Oh! I can't do that, sir.--They are promised."

"Good Heavens! Ill pay you twice, ten times as much."

"Why, sir, if you paid me twenty times the price, I could not do it; I
must not break my promise!" said the old man with gentle firmness.

"Ah," thought the prince, "he wants to screw me--but I'll manage that,
Countess, excuse me a few minutes while I look for another lodging."

"For Heaven's sake, try to find one for me, too. I would rather spend
the night in the carriage than stay here!" replied the countess in
French.

"Yes, it is horrible! but it will not be difficult to find something
better. Good-bye!" he answered in the same language.

"Don't leave me alone with these people too long. Come back soon; I am
afraid," she added, still using the French tongue.

"Really?" the prince answered, laughing; but a ray of pleasure sparkled
in his eyes.

Meanwhile, the little girl who was asleep on the sofa had waked and now
came into the room.

The countess requested every one to retire that she might rest, and the
peasants modestly withdrew. But when she tried to fasten the door, it
had neither lock nor bolt, only a little wire hook which slipped into a
loose ring.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, startled. "I cannot lock it."

"You need have no anxiety," replied the old man soothingly, "we sleep
in the next room." But the vicinity of those strange people, when she
could not lock the door, was exactly what the countess feared.

She slipped the miserable wire hook into its fastening and sat down on
one of the beds, which had no mattresses--nothing but sacking.

Covering her face with her hands, she gave free course to indignant
tears. She still wore her hat and cloak, which she had not ventured to
take off, from a vague feeling of being encompassed by perils whence
she might need to fly at any moment. In such a situation, surely it was
safer not to lay aside one's wraps. If the worst came, she would remain
so all night. To go to bed in a house where the roof might fall and
such strange figures were stealing about, was too great a risk. Beside
the bed on which the countess sat was a door, which, amid all the
terrors, she had not noticed. Now it seemed as though she heard a
scraping noise like the filing of iron. Then came hollow blows and a
peculiar rattling. Horrible, incomprehensible sounds! Now a blow fell
upon the door, whose fastening was little better than the other. And
now another.

"The very powers of hell are let loose here," cried the countess,
starting up. Her cold, wet feet seemed paralyzed, her senses were on
the verge of failing. And she was alone in this terrible strait. Where
were the servants? Perhaps they had been led astray, robbed and
murdered--and meanwhile the storm outside was raging in all its fury.

There came another attempt to burst the door which, under two crashing
blows, began to yield. The countess, as if in a dream, rushed to the
workshop and, almost fainting, called to her aid the uncanny people
there--one terror against another. With blanched lips she told them
that some one had entered the house, that some madman or fugitive from
justice was trying to get in.

"Oh! that is nothing," said Andreas, with what seemed to the terrified
woman a fiendish smile, and walking straight to the door, while the
countess shrieked aloud, opened it, and--a head was thrust in. A mild,
big, stupid face stared at the light with wondering eyes and snorted
from wide pink nostrils at the strange surroundings. A bay horse--a
good-natured cart horse occupied the next room to the Countess
Wildenau!

"You see the criminal. He is a cribber, that is the cause of the
horrible noises you heard."

The trembling woman stared at the mild, stupid equine face as though it
was a heavenly vision--yet spite of her relief and much as she loved
horses, she could not have gone to bed comfortably, since as the door
was already half broken down by the elephantine hoofs of the worthy
brute, there was a chance that during the night, lured by the aromatic
odor of the sea-weed, which formed the stuffing of the bed, the bay
might mistake the countess' couch for a manger and rouse her somewhat
rudely with his snuffing muzzle.

"Oh, we'll make that all right at once," said Andreas. "We'll fasten
him so that he can't get free again, and the carter comes at four in
the morning, then you will not be disturbed any more."

"After not having closed my eyes all night," murmured the countess,
following the old man to see that he fastened the horse securely. Yes,
the room which opened from here by a door with neither lock nor
threshold was a stable. Several frightened hens flew from the
straw--this, too. "When the horse has left the stable the cocks will
begin to crow. What a night after the fatigues of the day!" The old man
smiled with irritating superiority, and said:

"Yes, that is the way in the country."

"No, I won't stay here--I would rather spend the night in the carriage.
How can people exist in this place, even for a day," thought the
countess.

"Won't you have something to eat? Shall my daughter make a
schmarren?"[2]

"A schmarren! In that kitchen, with those flies." The countess felt a
sense of loathing.

"No, thank you." Even if she was starving, she could not eat a mouthful
in this place.

The bay was at last tied and, for want of other occupation, continued
to gnaw his crib and to suck the air, a proceeding terribly trying to
the nerves of his fair neighbor in the next room. At last--oh joy,
deliverance--the second carriage rattled up to the house, bringing the
maid and the courier.

"Come in, come in!" called the countess from the window. "Don't have
any of the luggage taken off. I shall not stay here."

The two servants entered with flushed faces.

"Where in the world have you been so long?" asked their mistress,
imperiously, glad to be able, at last, to vent her ill-humor on some
one.

"The driver missed the way," stammered the courier, casting a side
glance at the blushing maid. The countess perceived the situation at a
glance and was herself again. Fear and timidity, all her nervous
weakness vanished before the pride of the offended mistress, who had
been kept waiting an hour, at whose close the tardy servants entered
with faces whose confusion plainly betrayed that so long a delay was
needless.

She drew herself up to her full height, feminine fears forgotten in the
pride of the lady of rank.

"Courier, you are dismissed--not another word!"

"Then I beg Your Highness to discharge me, too," said the excited maid,
thus betraying herself. A contemptuous glance from the countess rested
upon the culprit, but without hesitation, she said, quietly:

"Very well. You can both go to the steward for your wages. Good
evening."

Both left the room pale and silent. They had not expected this
dismissal, but they knew their mistress' temper and were aware that not
another word would be allowed, that no excuse or entreaty would avail.
The countess, too, was in no pleasant mood. She was left here--without
a maid. For the first time in her life she would be obliged to wait
upon herself, unpack all those huge trunks and bags. How could she do
it? She was so cold and so weary, too, and she did not even know which
of the numerous bags contained dry shoes and stockings. Was she to pull
out everything, when she must do the repacking herself? For now she
must certainly go to another house, among civilized people, where she
could have servants and not be so utterly alone. Oh, if only she had
not come to this Ammergau--it was a horrible place! One would hardly
purchase the salvation of the world at the cost of such an evening. It
was terrible to be in this situation--and without a maid!

And, as trivial things find even the loftiest women fainthearted
because they are matters of nerve, and not of character, the lady who
had just confronted her servants so haughtily sank down on the bed
again and wept like a child.

Some one tapped lightly on the door of the workshop. The countess
opened it, and the short, stout sister timidly entered.

"Pardon me, Your Highness, we have just heard that you have discharged
your maid and courier, so I wanted to ask whether my sister or I could
be of any service? Perhaps we might unpack a little?"

"Thank you--I don't wish to spend the night here and hope that my
companion will bring news that he has found other accommodations. I
will pay whatever you ask, but I can't possibly stay. Ask your father
what he charges, I'll give whatever you wish--only let me go."

The old man was summoned.

"Why certainly, Countess, you can be entirely at ease on that score; if
you don't like staying with us, that need not trouble you. You will
have nothing to pay--only you must be quick or you will find no
lodgings, they are very hard to get now."

"Yes, but you must have some compensation. Just tell me what I am to
give."

"Nothing, Countess. We do not receive payment for what is not eaten!"
replied Andreas Gross with such impressive firmness that the lady
looked at him in astonishment. "The Ammergau people do not make a
business of renting lodgings, Countess; that is done only by the
foreign speculators who wish to make a great deal of money at this
time, and alas! bring upon Ammergau the reputation of extortion! We
natives of the village do it for the sake of having as many guests
witness the play as possible, and are glad if we meet our expenses. We
expect nothing more."

The countess suddenly saw the "hang-dog" face in a very different
light! It must have been the dusk which had deceived her. She now
thought it an intellectual and noble one, nay the wrinkled countenance,
the long grey locks, and clear, penetrating eyes had an aspect of
patriarchal dignity. She suddenly realized that these people must have
had the masks which their characters require bestowed by nature, not
painted with rouge, and thus the traits of the past unconsciously
became impressed upon the features. In the same way, among professional
actors, the performer who takes character rôles can easily be
distinguished from the lover.

"Do you act too?" she asked with interest.

"I act Dathan, the Jewish trader," he said proudly. "I have been in the
Play sixty years, for when I was a child three years old I sat in Eve's
lap in the tableaux." The countess could not repress a smile and old
Andreas' face also brightened.

The little girl, a daughter of the short, plump woman, peeped through
the half open door, gazing with sparkling eyes at the lovely lady.

"Whose child is the little one?" asked the countess, noticing her soft
curb and beaming eyes.

"She is my grand-daughter, the child of my daughter, Anna. Her father
was a foreigner. He ran away, leaving his wife and two children in
poverty. So I took them all three into my house again."

The countess looked at the old man's thin, worn figure, and then at the
plump mother and child.

"Who supports them?"

"Oh, we help one another," replied Andreas evasively. "We all work
together. My son, the drawing teacher, does a great deal for us, too.
We could not manage without him." Then interrupting himself with a
startled look, as if he might have been overheard, he added, "but I
ought not to have said that--he would be very angry if he knew."

"You appear to be a little afraid of your son," said the countess.

"Yes, yes--he is strict, very strict and proud, but a good son."

The old man's eyes sparkled with love and pride.

"Where is he?" asked the countess eagerly.

"Oh, he never allows strangers to see him if he can avoid it."

"Does he act, too?"

"No; he arranges the tableaux, and it needs the ability of a field
marshal, for he is obliged to command two or three hundred people, and
he keeps them together and they obey him as though he was a general."

"He must be a very interesting person."

At that moment the prince's step was heard in the sitting-room.

"May I come in?"

"Yes, Prince."

He entered, dripping with rain.

"I found nothing except one little room for myself, in a hut even worse
than this. All the large houses are filled to overflowing. Satan
himself brought us among these confounded peasants!" he said angrily in
French.

"Don't speak so," replied the countess earnestly in the same language.
"They are saints." The little girl whispered to her mother.

"Please excuse me, Sir; but my child understands French and has just
told me that you could get no room for the lady," said Andreas'
daughter timidly. "I know where there is one in a very pretty house
near by. I will run over as quickly as I can and see if it is still
vacant. If you could secure it you would find it much better than
ours." She hurried towards the door.

"Stop, woman," called the prince, "you cannot possibly go out; the rain
is pouring in torrents, and another shower is rising."

"Yes, stay," cried the countess, "wait till the storm is over."

"Oh, no! lodgings are being taken every minute, we must not lose an
instant." The next moment she threw a shawl over her head and left the
house. She was just running past the low window--a vivid flash of
lightning illumined the room, making the little bent figure stand forth
like a silhouette. A peal of thunder quickly followed.

"The storm is just over us," said the prince with kindly anxiety. "We
ought not to have let her go."

"Oh, it is of no consequence," said the old man smiling, "she is glad
to do it."

"Tell me about these strange people," the prince began, but the
countess motioned to him that the child understood French. He looked at
her with a comical expression as if he wanted to say: "These are queer
'natives' who give their children so good an education."

The countess went to the window, gazing uneasily at the raging storm. A
feeling of self-reproach stole into her heart for having let the kind
creature go out amid this uproar of the elements. Especially when these
people would take no compensation and therefore lost a profit, if
another lodging was found.

It was her loss, and yet she showed this cheerful alacrity.

The little party had now entered the living room. The countess sat on
the window sill, while flash after flash of lightning blazed, and peal
after peal crashed from the sky. She no longer thought of herself, only
of the poor woman outside. The little girl wept softly over her poor
mother's exposure to the storm, and slipped to the door to wait for
her. The prince, shivering, sat on the bench by the stove. Gross,
noticing it, put on more fuel "that the gentleman might dry himself." A
bright fire was soon crackling in the huge green stove, the main
support of the sunken ceiling.

"Pray charge the fuel to me," said the prince, ashamed.

The old man smiled.

"How you gentle-folks want to pay for everything. We should have needed
a fire ourselves." With these words he left the room. The thin sister
now thought it desirable not to disturb the strangers and also went
out.

"Tell me, Countess," the prince began, leaning comfortably against the
warm stove, "may I perfume this, by no means agreeable, atmosphere with
a cigarette?"

"Certainly, I had forgotten that there were such things as cigarettes
in the world."

"So it seems to me," said the prince, coolly. "Tell me, _chère amie_,
now that you have duly enjoyed all the tremors of this romantic
situation, how should you like a cup of tea?"

"Tea?" said the countess, looking at him as if just roused from a
dream, "tea!"

"Yes, tea," persisted the prince. "My poor friend, you must have lived
an eternity in this one hour among these 'savages' to have already lost
the memory of one of the best products of civilization."

"Tea," repeated the countess, who now realized her exhaustion, "that
would be refreshing, but I don't know how to get it, I sent the maid
away."

"Yes, I met the dismissed couple in a state of utter despair. And I can
imagine that my worshipped Countess Madeleine--the most pampered and
spoiled of all the children of fortune and the fashionable world--does
not know how to help herself. I am by no means sorry, for I shall
profit by it. I can now pose as a kind Providence. What good luck for a
lover! is it not? So permit me to supply the maid's place--so far as
this is _practicable_. I have tea with me and my valet whom, thank
Heaven, I was not obliged to send away, is waiting your order to serve
it."

"How kind you are, Prince. But consider that kitchen filled with
flies."

"Oh, you need not feel uncomfortable on that score. You are evidently
unused to the mountains. I know these flies, they are different from
our city ones and possess a peculiar skill in keeping out of food. Try
it for once."

"Yes, but we must first ascertain whether I can get the other room,"
said the countess, again lapsing into despondency.

"My dearest Countess, does that prevent our taking any refreshment?
Don't be so spiritless," said the prince laughing.

"Oh, it's all very well to laugh. The situation is tragical enough, I
assure you."

"Tragical enough to pay for the trouble of developing a certain
grandeur of soul, but not, in true womanly fashion, to lose all
composure."

The prince shook the ashes from his cigarette and went to the door to
order the valet to serve the tea. When he returned, the countess
suddenly came to meet him, held out her hand, and said with a
bewitching smile:

"Prince, you are charming to-day, and I am unbearable. I thank you for
the patience you have shown."

"Madeleine," he replied, controlling his emotion, "if I did not know
your kind heart, I should believe you a Circe, who delighted in driving
men mad. Were it not for my cold, sober reason, which you always
emphasize, I should now mistake for love the feeling which makes you
meet me so graciously, and thus expose myself to disappointment. But
reason plainly shows that it is merely the gratitude of a kind heart
for a trivial service rendered in an unpleasant situation, and I am too
proud to do, in earnest, what I just said in jest--profit by the
opportunity."

The countess, chilled and ashamed, drew her hand back. There spoke the
dry, prosaic, commonplace man. Had he _now_ understood how to profit by
her mood when, in her helpless condition, he appeared as a deliverer in
the hour of need, who knows what might have happened! But this was
precisely what he disdained. The experienced man of the world knew
women well enough to be perfectly aware how easily one may be won in a
moment of nervous depression, desperate perplexity and helplessness,
yet though ever ready to enjoy every piquant situation, nevertheless or
perhaps for that very reason he was too proud to owe to an accident of
this kind the woman whom he had chosen for the companion of his life.
The countess felt this and was secretly glad that he had spared her and
himself a disappointment.

"That is the way with women," he said softly, gazing at her with an
almost compassionate expression. "For the mess of pottage of an
agreeable situation, they will sell the birthright of their most sacred
feelings."

"That is a solemn, bitter truth, such as I am not accustomed to hear
from your lips, Prince. But however deep may be the gulf of realism
whence you have drawn this experience, you shall not find it confirmed
in me."

"That is, you will punish me henceforth by your coldness, while you
know perfectly well that it was the sincerity of my regard for you
which prompted my act, Countess, that vengeance would be unworthy; a
woman like you ought not to sink to the petty sensitiveness of ordinary
feminine vanity."

"Oh, Prince, you are always right, and, believe me, if I carried my
heart in my _head_ instead of in my breast, that is, if we could love
with the _intellect_, I should have been yours long ago, but alas, my
friend, it is so _far_ from the head to the heart."

The Prince lighted another cigarette. No one could detect what was
passing in his mind. "So much the worse for me!" he said coldly,
shrugging his shoulders.

At that moment a sheet of flame filled the room, and the crashing
thunder which followed sounded as if the ceiling had fallen and buried
everything under it. The countess seemed bewildered.

"Mother, mother!" shrieked a voice outside. People gathered in the
street, voices were heard, shouts, hurrying footsteps and the weeping
of the little girl. The prince sprang out of the window, the countess
regained her consciousness--of what?

"Some one has been struck by lightning." She hastened out.

A senseless figure was brought in and laid on the bench in the entry.
It was the kind-hearted little creature whom her caprice had sent into
the storm--perhaps to her death. There she lay silent and pale, with
closed lids; her hands were cold her features sharp and rigid like
those of a corpse, but her heart still throbbed under her drenched
gown. The countess asked the prince to bring cologne and smelling salts
from her satchel and skillfully applied the remedies; the prince helped
her rub the arteries while she strove to restore consciousness with the
sharp essences. Meanwhile the other sister soothed the weeping child.
Andreas Gross poured a few drops of some liquid from a dusty flask into
the sufferer's mouth, saying quietly, "You must not be so much
frightened, I am something of a doctor; it is only a severe fainting
fit. The other is worse."

"Were two persons struck?" asked the countess in horror.

"Yes, one of the musicians, the first violin."

A sudden thought darted through the countess' brain, and a feeling of
dread stole over her as if there was in Ammergau a beloved life for
which she must tremble. Yet she knew no one.

"Please bring a shawl from my room," she said to the prince, and when
he had gone, she asked quickly: "Tell me, is the musician tall?"

"Oh, yes."

"Has he long black hair?"

"No, he is fair," replied the old man.

The countess, with a feeling of relief, remained silent, the prince
returned. The sick woman opened her eyes and a faint moan escaped her
lips.

"Here will be a fine scene," thought the prince. "Plenty of capital can
be made out of such a situation. My lovely friend will outweigh every
tear with a gold coin."

After a short time the woman regained sufficient consciousness to
realize her surroundings and tried to lift her feet from the bench.
"Oh, Countess, you will tax yourself too much. Please go in, there is a
strong draught here."

"Yes, but you must come with me," said the countess, "try whether you
can use your feet."

It was vain, she tried to take a step, but her feet refused to obey her
will.

"Alas!" cried the countess deeply moved. "She is paralyzed--and it is
my fault."

Anna gently took her hand and raised it to her lips. "Pray don't
distress yourself, Countess, it will pass away. I am only sorry that I
have caused you such a fright." She tried to smile, the ugly face
looked actually beautiful at that moment, and the tones of her voice,
whose tremor she strove to conceal, was so touching as she tried to
comfort and soothe the self-reproach of the woman who had caused the
misfortune that tears filled the countess' eyes.

"How wise she is," said the prince, marvelling at such delicacy and
feeling.

"Come," said the countess, "we must get her into the warm rooms."

Andreas Gross, and at a sign from the prince, the valet, carried the
sick woman in and laid her on the bench by the stove. The countess held
her icy hand, while tears streamed steadily down the sufferer's cheeks.

"Do you feel any pain?" asked the lady anxiously.

"No, oh no--but I can't help weeping because the Countess is so kind to
me--I am in no pain--no indeed!" She smiled again, the touching smile
which seeks to console others.

"Yes, yes," said the old man, "you need not be troubled, she will be
well to-morrow."

The child laid her head lovingly on her mother's breast, a singularly
peaceful atmosphere pervaded the room, a modest dignity marked the
bearing of the poor peasants. The prince and the countess also sat in
thoughtful silence. Suddenly the sick woman started up, "Oh dear, I
almost forget the main thing. The lady can have the lodgings. Two very
handsome rooms and excellent attendance, but the countess must go at
once as soon as the shower is over. They will be kept only an hour.
More people will arrive at ten."

"I thank you," said the countess with a strange expression.

"Oh, there is no need. I am only glad I secured the rooms, and that the
countess can have attendance," replied the sick woman joyously. "I
shall soon be better, then I'll show the way."

"I thank you," repeated the countess earnestly. "I do not want the
rooms, I shall _stay here_."

"What are you going to do?" asked the prince in amazement.

"Yes, I am ashamed that I was so foolish this evening. Will you keep
me, you kind people, after I have done you so much injustice, and
caused you such harm."

"Oh! you must consult your own pleasure. We shall be glad to have you
stay with us, but we shall take no offence, if it would be more
pleasant for you elsewhere," said the old man with unruffled kindness.

"Then I will stay."

"That is a good decision, Countess," said the prince. "You always do
what is right." He beckoned to Sephi, the thin sister, and whispered a
few words. She vanished in the countess' room, returning in a short
time with dry shoes and stockings, which she had found in one of the
travelling satchels. The prince went to the window and stood there with
his back turned to the room. "We must do the best that opportunity
permits," he said energetically. "I beg your highness to let this lady
change your shoes and stockings. I am answerable for your health, not
only to myself, but to society."

The countess submitted to the prince's arrangement, and the little
ice-cold feet slid comfortably into the dry coverings, which Sephi had
warmed at the stove. She now felt as if she was among human beings and
gradually became more at ease. After Sephi had left the room she walked
proudly up to the prince in her dry slippers, and said: "Come, Prince,
let us pace to and fro, that our chilled blood may circulate once
more."

The prince gracefully offered his arm and led her up and down the long
work-shop. Madeleine was bewitching at that moment, and the grateful
expression of her animated face suited her to a charm.

"I must go," he thought, "or I shall be led into committing some folly
which will spoil all my chances with her."



                              CHAPTER III.

                            YOUNG AMMERGAU.


The valet served the tea. The prince had provided for everything,
remembered everything. He had even brought English biscuits.

The little repast exerted a very cheering influence upon the depressed
spirits of the countess. But she took the first cup to the invalid who,
revived by the unaccustomed stimulant, rose at once, imagining that a
miracle had been wrought, for she could walk again. The Gross family
now left the room. The prince and the countess sipped their tea in
silence. What were they to say when the valet, who always accompanied
his master on his journeys, understood all the languages which the
countess spoke fluently?

The prince was grave and thoughtful. After they had drank the tea, he
kissed her hand. "Let me go now--we must both have rest, you for your
nerves and I for my feelings. I wish you a good night's sleep."

"Prince, I can say that you have been infinitely charming to-day, and
have risen much in my esteem."

"I am glad to hear it, Countess, though a trifle depressed by the
consciousness that I owe this favor to a cup of tea and a pair of dry
slippers," replied the prince with apparent composure. Then he took his
hat and left the room.

And this is love? thought the countess, shrugging her shoulders. What
was she to do? She did not feel at all inclined to sleep. People are
never more disposed to chat than after hardships successfully endured.
She had had her tea, had been warmed, served, and tended. For the first
time since her arrival she was comfortable, and now she must go to bed.
At ten o'clock in the evening, the hour when she usually drove from the
theatre to some evening entertainment.

The prince had gone and the Gross family came in to ask if she wanted
anything more.

"No, but you are ready to go to bed, and I ought to return to my room,
should I not?" replied the countess.

Just at that moment the door was flung open and a head like the bronze
cast of the bust of a Roman emperor appeared. A face which in truth
seemed as if carved from bronze, keen eagle eyes, a nose slightly
hooked, an imperious, delicately moulded brow, short hair combed
upward, and an expression of bitter, sad, but irresistible energy on
the compressed lips. As the quick eyes perceived the countess, the head
was drawn back with the speed of lightning. But old Gross, proud of his
son, called him back.

"Come in, come in and be presented to this lady, people don't run away
so."

The young man, somewhat annoyed, returned.

"My son, Ludwig, principal of the drawing school," said old Gross.
Ludwig's artist eyes glided over the countess; she felt the glance of
the connoisseur, knew, that he could appreciate her beauty. What a
delight to see herself, among these simple folk, suddenly reflected in
an artist's eyes and find that the picture came back beautiful. How
happened so exquisite a crystal, which can be polished only in the
workshops of the highest education and art, to be in such surroundings?
The countess noted with ever increasing amazement the striking face and
the proud poise of the head on the small, compact, yet classically
formed figure. She knew at the first moment that this was a man in the
true sense of the word, and she gave him her hand as though greeting an
old acquaintance from the kingdom of the ideal. It seemed as if she
must ask: "How do you come here?"

Ludwig Gross read the question on her lips. He possessed the vision
from which even the thoughts must be guarded, or he would guess them.

"I must ask your pardon for disturbing you. I have just come from the
meeting and only wanted to see my sister. I heard she was ill."

"Oh, I feel quite well again," the latter answered.

"Yes," said the countess in a somewhat embarrassed tone, "you will be
vexed with the intruder who has brought so much anxiety and alarm into
your house? I reproach myself for being so foolish as to have wanted
another lodging, but at first I thought that the ceiling would fall
upon me, and I was afraid."

"Oh, I understand that perfectly when persons are not accustomed to low
rooms. It was difficult for me to become used to them again when I
returned from Munich."

"You were at the Academy?"

"Yes, Countess."

"Will you not take off your wet coat and sit down?"

"I should not like to disturb you, Countess."

"But you won't disturb me at all; come, let us have a little chat."

Ludwig Gross laid his hat and overcoat aside, took a chair, and sat
down opposite to the lady. Just at that moment a carriage drove up. The
strangers who had engaged the rooms refused to the prince had arrived,
and the family hastened out to receive and help them. The countess and
Ludwig were left alone.

"What were you discussing at so late an hour?" asked the countess.

"Doré sent us this evening two engravings of his two Passion pictures;
he is interested in our play, so we were obliged to discuss the best
way of expressing our gratitude and to decide upon the place where they
shall be hung. There is no time for such consultations during the day."

"Are you familiar with all of Doré's pictures?"

"Certainly, Countess."

"And do you like him?"

"I admire him. I do not agree with him in every particular, but he is a
genius, and genius has a right to forgiveness for faults which
mediocrity should never venture to commit, and indeed never will."

"Very true," replied the lady.

"I think," Ludwig Gross continued, "that he resembles Hamerling. There
is kinship between the two men. Hamerling, too, repels us here and
there, but with him, as with Doré, every line and every stroke flashes
with that electric spark which belongs only to the genuine work of
art."

His companion gazed at him in amazement.

"You have read Hamerling?"

"Certainly. Who is not familiar with his 'Ahasuerus?'"[3]

"I, for instance," she replied with a faint blush.

"Oh, Countess, you must read it. There is a vigor, an acerbity, the
repressed anguish and wrath of a noble nature against the pitifulness
of mankind, which must impress every one upon whose soul the questions
of life have ever cast their shadows, though I know not whether this is
the case with you."

"More than is perhaps supposed," she answered, drawing a long breath.
"We are all pessimists, but Hamerling must be a stronger one than is
well for a poet."

"That is not quite correct," replied Ludwig. "He is a pessimist just so
far as accords with the poesy of our age. Did not Auerbach once say:
'Pessimism is the grief of the world, which has no more tears!' This
applies to Hamerling, also. His poetry has that bitter flavor, which is
required by a generation that has passed the stage when sweets please
the palate and tears relieve the heart."

"Your words are very true. But how do you explain--it would be
interesting to hear from you--how do you explain, in this mood of the
times, the attraction which draws such throngs to the Passion Play?"

Ludwig Gross leaned back in his chair, and his stern brow relaxed under
the bright influence of a beautiful thought.

"One extreme, as is well known, follows another. The human heart will
always long for tears, and the world's tearless anguish will therefore
yield to a gentler mood. I think that the rush to our simple play is a
symptom of this change. People come here to learn to weep once more."

The countess rested her clasped hands on the table and gazed long and
earnestly at Ludwig Gross. Her whole nature was kindled, her eyes
lingered admiringly upon the modest little man, who did not seem at all
conscious of his own superiority. "To learn to _weep_!" she repeated,
nodding gently. "Yes, we might all need that. But do you believe we
shall learn it here?"

Ludwig Gross gazed at her smiling. "You will not ask that question at
this hour on the evening of the day after tomorrow."

He seemed to her a physician who possessed a remedy which he knows
_cannot_ fail. And she began to trust him like a physician.

"May I be perfectly frank?" she asked in a winning tone.

"I beg that you will be so, Countess."

"I am surprised to find a man like you here. I had not supposed there
were such people in the village. But you were away a long time, you are
probably no longer a representative citizen of Ammergau?"

Ludwig Gross raised his head proudly. "Certainly I am, Countess. If
there was ever a true citizen of Ammergau, I am one. Learn to know us
better, and you will soon be convinced that we are all of one mind.
Though one has perhaps learned more than another, that is a mere
accident; the same purpose, the same idea, unites us all."

"But what binds men of such talent to this remote village? Are you
married?"

The bitter expression around the artist's mouth deepened as though cut
by some invisible instrument. "No, Countess, my circumstances do not
permit it; I have renounced this happiness."

The lady perceived that she had touched a sensitive spot, but she
desired to probe the wound to learn whether it might be healed. "Is
your salary so small that you could not support a family?"

"If I wish to aid my own family, and that is certainly my first duty, I
cannot found a home."

"How is that possible. Does so rich a community pay its teacher so
poorly?"

"It does as well as it can, Countess. It has fixed a salary of twelve
hundred marks for my position; that is all that can be expected."

"For this place, yes. But if you were in Munich, you would easily
obtain twice or three times as much."

"Even five times," answered Ludwig, smiling. "I had offers from two
art-industrial institutes, one of which promised a salary of four
thousand, the other of six thousand marks per annum. But that did not
matter when the most sacred duties to my home were concerned."

"But these are superhuman sacrifices. Who can expect you to banish
yourself here and resign everything which the world outside would
lavish upon you in the richest measure? Everyone must consider himself
first."

"Why, Countess, Ammergau would die out if everybody was of that
opinion."

"Oh! let those remain who are suited to the place, who have learned and
can do nothing more. But men of talent and education, like you, who can
claim something better, belong outside."

"On the contrary, Countess, they belong here," Ludwig eagerly answered.
"What would become of the Passion Play if all who have learned and can
do something should go away, and only the uneducated and the ignorant
remain? Do you suppose that there are not a number of people here, who,
according to your ideas, would have deserved 'a better fate?' We have
enough of them, but go among us and learn whether any one complains. If
he should, he would be unworthy the name of a son of Ammergau!" He
paused a moment, his bronzed face grew darker. "Do you imagine," he
added, "that we could perform such a work, perform it in a manner
which, in some degree, fulfills the æsthetic demand of modern taste,
without possessing, in our midst, men of intellect and culture? It is
bad enough that necessity compels many a talented native of Ammergau to
seek his fortune outside, but the man to whom his home still gives even
a bit of _bread_ must be content with it, and without thinking of what
he might have gained outside, devote his powers to the ideal interests
of his fellow citizens."

"That is a grand and noble thought, but I don't understand why you
speak as if the people of Ammergau were so poor. What becomes of the
vast sums gained by the Passion Play?"

Ludwig Gross smiled bitterly. "I expected that question, it comes from
all sides. The Passion Play does not enrich individuals, for the few
hundred marks, more or less, which each of the six hundred actors
receives, do not cover the deficit of all the work which the people
must neglect. The revenue is partly consumed by the expenses, partly
used for the common benefit, for schools and teachers. The principal
sums are swallowed by the Leine and the Ammer! The ravages of these
malicious mountain streams require means which our community could
never raise, save for the receipts of the Passion Play, and even these
are barely sufficient for the most needful outlay."

"Is it possible? Those little streams!" cried the countess.

"Would flood all Ammergau," Gross answered, "if we did not constantly
labor to prevent it. We should be a poor, stunted people, worn down by
fever, our whole mountain valley would be a desolate swamp. The Passion
Play alone saves us from destruction--the Christ who once ruled the
waves actually holds back from us the destroying element which would
gradually devour land and people. But, for that very reason, the
individual has learned here, as perhaps nowhere else in the world, to
live and sacrifice himself for the community! The community is
comprised to us in the idea of the Passion Play. We know that our
existence depends upon it, even our intellectual life, for it protects
us from the savagery into which a people continually struggling with
want and need so easily lapses. It raises us above the common herd,
gives even the poorest man an innate dignity and self-respect, which
never suffer him to sink to base excesses."

"I understand that," the countess answered.

"Then can you wonder that not one of us hesitates to devote property,
life, and every power of his soul to this work of saving our home, our
poor, oppressed home, ever forced to straggle for its very existence?"

"What a man!" the countess involuntarily exclaimed aloud. Ludwig Gross
had folded his arms across his breast, as if to restrain the pulsations
of his throbbing heart. His whole being thrilled with the deepest,
noblest emotions. He rose and took his hat, like a person whose
principle it is to shut every emotion within his own bosom, and when a
mighty one overpowers him, to hide himself that he may also hide the
feeling.

"No," cried the countess, "you must not leave me so, you rare,
noble-hearted man. You have just done me the greatest service which can
be rendered. You have made my heart leap with joy at the discovery of a
_genuine_ human being. Ah! it is a cordial in this world of
conventional masks! Give me your hand! I am beginning to understand why
Providence sent me here. That must indeed be a great cause which rears
such men and binds such powers in its service."

Ludwig Gross once more stood calm and quiet before her. "I thank you,
Countess, in the name of the cause for which I live and die."

"And, in the name of that cause, which I do not understand, yet dimly
apprehend, I beg you, let us be friends. Will you? Clasp hands upon
it."

A kindly expression flitted over the grave man's iron countenance, and
he warmly grasped the little hand.

"With all my heart, Countess."

She held the small, slender artist-hand in a close clasp, mournfully
reading in the calm features of the stern, noble face the story of
bitter suffering and sacrifice graven upon it.



                              CHAPTER IV.

                        EXPELLED FROM THE PLAY.


The storm had spent its fury, the winds sung themselves softly to
sleep, a friendly face looked down between the dispersing clouds and
cast its mild light upon the water, now gradually flowing away. The
swollen brooks rolled like molten silver--cold, glittering veins of the
giant mountain body, whose crown of snow bestowed by the tempest
glimmered with argent lustre in the pallid moonbeams. A breeze, chill
and strengthening as the icy breath of eternity, sweeping from the
white glaciers, entered the little window against which the countess
was dreamily leaning.

Higher and higher rose the moon, more and more transfigured and
transparent became the mountains, as if they were no longer compact
masses, only the spiritual image of themselves as it may have hovered
before the divine creative mind, ere He gave them material form.

The village lay silent before her, and silence pervaded all nature. Yet
to the countess it seemed as if it were the stillness which precedes a
great, decisive word.

"What hast Thou to say to me, Viewless One? Sacred stillness, what dost
thou promise? Will the moment come when I shall understand Thy
language, infinite Spirit? Or wilt Thou only half do Thy work in
me--only awake the feeling that Thou art near me, speaking to me,
merely to let me die of longing for the word I have failed to
comprehend.

"Woe betide me, if it is so! And yet--wherefore hast Thou implanted in
my heart this longing, this inexplicable yearning, which _nothing_
stills, no earthly advantage, neither the splendor and grandeur Thou
hast given me, nor the art and science which Thou didst endow me with
capacity to appreciate. On, on, strives my thirsting soul toward the
germ of all existence, toward _Thee_. Fain would I behold Thy face,
though the fiery vision should consume me!

"Source of wisdom, no knowledge gives Thee to me; source of love, no
love can supply Thy place. I have sought Thee in the temples of beauty,
but found Thee not; in the shining spheres of thought, but in vain; in
the love of human beings, but no matter how many hearts opened to me, I
flung them aside as worthless rubbish, for Thou wert not in them! When
will the moment come that Thou wilt appear before me in some noble form
suited to Thy Majesty, and tell the sinner that her dim longing, into
whatever errors it may have led her, yet obtained for her the boon of
beholding Thy face?"

Burning tears glittered in the moonlight in the countess' large,
beseeching eyes and, mastered by an inexplicable feeling, she sank on
her knees at the little window, stretching her clasped hands fervently
towards the shining orb, floating in her mild beauty and effulgence
above the conquered, flying clouds. The mountain opposite towered like
a spectral form in the moonlit atmosphere, the peak over which she had
driven that day, where she had seen that wondrous apparition, that man
with the grief of the universe in his gaze! What manner of man must he
have been whose glance, in a single moment, awed the person upon whom
it fell as if some higher power had given a look of admiration? Why had
it rested upon her with such strange reproach, as if saying: "You, too,
are a child of the world, like many who come here, unworthy of
salvation." Or was he angry with her because she had disturbed him in
his reveries? Yet why did he fix his eyes so intently upon hers, that
neither could avert them from the other? And all this happened in a
single moment--but a moment worthy of being held in remembrance
throughout an eternity. Who could he be? Would she see him again? Yes,
for in that meeting there was something far beyond mere accident.

An incomprehensible restlessness seized upon her, a longing to solve
the enigma, once more behold that face, that wonderful face whose like
she had never seen before!

The horse was stamping in its stall, but she did not heed it, the thin
candles had burned down and gone out long ago, the worm was gnawing the
ancient wainscoting, the clock in the church-steeple struck twelve. A
dog howled in the distance, one of the children in the workshop was
disturbed by the nightmare, it cried out in its sleep. Usually such
nocturnal sounds would have greatly irritated the countess' nerves. Now
she had no ears for them, before her lay the whole grand expanse of
mountain scenery, bathed in the moonlight, naked as a beautiful body
just risen from a glittering flood! And she was seized with an eager
longing to throw herself upon the bosom of this noble body, that she,
too, might be irradiated with light, steeped in its moist glow and cool
in the pure, icy atmosphere emanating from it, her fevered blood, the
vague yearning which thrilled her pulses. She hurriedly seized her hat
and cloak and stepped noiselessly into the workshop. What a picture of
poverty! The sisters and the little girl were lying on the floor upon
sacks of straw, the boy was asleep on the "couch," and the old man
dozed sitting erect in an antique arm-chair, with his feet on a stool.

"How relative everything is," thought the countess. "To these people
even so poor a bed as mine in yonder room is a forbidden luxury, which
it would be sinful extravagance to desire. And we, amid our rustling
curtains, on our silken cushions, resting on soft down, in rooms
illuminated with the magical glow of lamps which pour a flood of
roseate light on limbs stretched in comfortable repose, while the
bronze angels which support the mirror seem to laugh gaily at each
other, and from the toilet table intoxicating perfumes send forth their
sweet poison, to conjure up a tropical world of blossom before the
drowsy senses! While these sleeping-places here! On the bare floor and
straw, lighted by the cold glimmer of the moon, shining through
uncurtained windows and making the slumberers' lids quiver restlessly.
Not even undressed, cramped by their coarse, tight garments, their
weary limbs move uneasily on the hard beds! And this atmosphere! Five
human beings in the low room and the soot from the lamp which has been
smoking all the evening still filling the air. What lives! What
contrasts! Yet these people are content and do not complain of their
hard fate! Nay, they even disdain a favorable opportunity of improving
it by legitimate gains. Not one desires more than is customary and
usual. What pride, what grandeur of self-sacrifice this requires! _What
gives them this power?_"

Old Andreas woke and gazed with an almost terrified expression at the
beautiful figure of the countess, standing thoughtfully among the
sleepers. Starting up, he asked what she desired.

"Will you go to walk with me, Herr Gross?"

The old man rubbed his eyes to convince himself that he had slept so
long that the sun was shining into his room. But no. "It is the moon
which is so bright," he said to the countess.

"Why, of course, that is why I want to go out!" she repeated. The old
man quickly seized his hat from the chamois horn and stood ready to
attend her. "Are you not tired?" she said hesitatingly. "You have not
been in bed."

"Oh, that is of no consequence!" was his ready answer. "During the
Passion it is always so."

The countess shook her head; she knew that the people here said simply
"the Passion," but she could not understand why, during "the Passion,"
they should neither expect a bed nor the most trivial comfort or why,
for the sake of "the Passion," they should endure without a murmur, and
without succumbing, every exertion and deprivation. She saw in the
broad light which filled the room the old man's bright, keen eyes. "No,
these Ammergau people know no fatigue, their task supports them!"

The countess left the room with him. "Ah!" an involuntary exclamation
of delight escaped her lips as she emerged into the splendor of the
brilliant moonlight, and eagerly inhaled the air which blew cold and
strong, yet closed softly around her, strengthening and supporting her
like the waves of the sea. And, amid these shimmering, floating mists,
this "phosphorescence" of the earth, these waves of melting outlines,
softly dissolving shapes--the Kofel towered solitary in sharp relief,
like a vast reef of rocks, and on its summit glittered the metal-bound
cross, the symbol of Ammergau, sending its beams far and wide in the
light of the full moon like the lantern of a lighthouse.

Madeleine von Wildenau stretched out her arms, throwing back her cloak,
that her whole form might bathe in the pure element.

"Oh, wash away all earthly dust and earthly ballast, ye surging
billows: steal, purify me in thy chaste majesty, queen of the world,
heaven-born air of the heights!" Was it possible that hitherto she had
been able to live without this bliss, _had_ she lived? No, no, she had
not! "Ammergau, thou art the soil I have sought! Thy miracles are
beginning!" cried an exultant voice in the soul of the woman so
suddenly released from the toils of weary desolation.

Without exchanging many words--for the old man was full of delicacy,
and perceived what was passing in the countess' soul--they
involuntarily walked in the direction of the Kofel; only when they were
passing the house of a prominent actor in the Passion Play, he often
thought it his duty to call his companion's attention to it.

Their way now lead them past a small dilapidated tavern which had but
two windows in the front. Here the Roman Procurator lay on his bed of
straw, enjoying his well-earned night's rest. It was the house of
Pilate! Nowhere was any window closed with shutters--there were no
thieves in Ammergau! The moon was reflected from every window-pane.
They turned into the main street of the village, where the Ammer flowed
in its broad, deep channel like a Venetian lagoon. The stately,
picturesquely situated houses threw sharp shadows on the water. Here
the ancient, venerable "star," whose landlord was one of the musicians,
thrust its capacious bow-window into the street; yonder a foot-bridge
led to the house of Caiaphas, a handsome building, richly adorned with
frescoes representing scenes from ancient history; farther on Judas was
sleeping the sleep of the just, rejoicing in the consciousness of
having betrayed his master so often! On the other side Mary rested
under the richly carved gable with the ancient design of the clover
leaf, the symbol of the Trinity, and directly opposite, the milk-wart
nodded and swayed on the wall of the churchyard!

A strange feeling stole over the countess as she stood among these
consecrated sleepers. As the fragrance of the sleeping flowers floats
over a garden at night, the sorrowful spirit of the story of the
Passion seemed to rise from these humble resting places, and the
pilgrim through the silent village was stirred as though she was
walking through the streets of Jerusalem. A street turned to the left
between gardens surrounded by fences and shaded by tall, ancient trees.
The shadows of the branches, tossed by the wind, flickered and danced
with magical grace. "That is the way to the dwelling of the Christ,"
said old Gross, in a subdued, reverential tone.

The countess involuntarily started. "The Christ," she repeated
thoughtfully, pausing. "Can the house be seen?"

"No, not from here. The house is like himself, not very easy to find."

"Is he so inaccessible?" asked the countess, glancing down the
mysterious street again as they passed.

"Oh yes," replied Andreas. "He is a peculiar man. It is difficult to
approach him. He is a friend of my son, but has little to do with the
rest of us."

"But you associate with him?"

"Very little in daily life; he goes nowhere, not even to the ale-house.
But in the Passion I am associated with him. I always nail him to the
cross," added the old man proudly. "No one is permitted to do that
except myself."

The countess listened with eager interest. The brief description had
roused her curiosity to the utmost. "How do you do it?" she asked, to
keep him to the same subject.

"I cannot explain that to you, but a great deal depends upon having
everything exactly right, for, you know, the least mistake might cost
him his life."

"How?"

"Why, surely you can understand. Just think, the man is obliged to hang
on the cross for twenty minutes. During this time the blood cannot
circulate, and he always risks an attack of palpitation of the heart.
One incautious movement in the descent from the cross, which should
cause the blood to flow back too quickly to the heart, might cause his
death."

"That is terrible!" cried the countess in horror. "And does he know
it?"

"Why, certainly."

"And _still_ does it!"

Here Andreas gazed at the great lady with a compassionate smile, as if
he wanted to say: "How little you understand, that you can ask such a
question!"

They walked on silently. The countess was thinking: "What kind of man
must this Christ be?" and while thus pondering and striving to form
some idea of him, it suddenly flashed upon her that there was but _one_
face which could belong to this man, the face she had seen gazing down
upon her from the mountain, as if from some other world. Like a blaze
of lightning the thought flamed through her soul. "_That_ must have
been he!"

At that moment Gross made a circuit around a gloomy house that had a
neglected, tangled garden.

"Who lives there?" asked the countess in surprise, following the old
man, who was now walking much faster.

"Oh," he answered sorrowfully, "that is a sad place! There is an
unhappy girl there, who sobs and moans all night long so that people
hear her outside. I wanted to spare you, Countess."

They had now reached the end of the village and were walking, still
along the bank of the Ammer, toward a large dam over which the mountain
stream, swollen by the rain, plunged in mad, foaming waves. The spray
gleamed dazzlingly white in the moon-rays, the massive beams trembled
under the pressure of the unchained volume of water, groaning and
creaking with a sinister noise amid the thundering roar until it
sounded like the wails of the dying amid the din of battle. The
countess shuddered at the demoniac power of this spectacle. High above
the steep fall a narrow plank led from one bank of the stream to the
other, vibrating constantly with the shock of the falling water.
Madeleine's brain whirled at the thought of being compelled to cross
it. "The timbers are groaning," she said, pausing. "Does not it sound
like a human voice?"

The old man listened. "By heaven! one would suppose so."

"It _is_ a human voice--there--hark--some one is weeping--moaning."

The dam was in the full radiance of the moonlight, the countess and her
companion stood concealed by a dense clump of willows, so that they
could see without being seen.

Suddenly--what was that? The old man made the sign of the cross.
"Heavenly Father, it is she!"

A female figure was gliding across the plank. Like the ruddy glow of
flame, mingled with the bluish hue of the moonlight, a mass of red-gold
hair gleamed around her head and fluttered in the wind. The beautiful
face was ghost-like in its pallor, the eyes were fixed, the very
embodiment of despair. Her upper garment hung in tatters about her
softly-moulded shoulders, and she held her clasped hands uplifted, not
like one who prays, but one who fain would pray, yet cannot. Then with
the firm poise of a person seeking death, she walked to the middle of
the swaying plank, where the water was deepest, the fall most steep.
There she prepared to take the fatal plunge. The countess shrieked
aloud and Gross shouted:

"Josepha! Josepha! May God forgive you. Remember your old mother!"

The girl uttered a piercing cry, covered her face with both hands, and
flung herself prone on the narrow plank.

But, with the speed of a youth, the old man was already on the bridge,
raising the girl. "Shame on you to wish to do such a thing! We must
submit to our fate! Now take care that you don't make a mis-step or I,
an old man, must leap into the cold water to drag you out again, and
you know how much I suffer from the rheumatism." He spoke in low,
kindly tones, and the countess secretly admired his shrewdness and
tenderness. She watched them breathlessly as the girl, at these words,
tried not to slip in order to spare him. But now, as she did not _wish_
to fall, she moved with uncertain, stumbling feet, where she had just
seemed to fly. But Andreas Gross led her firmly and kindly. The
countess' heart throbbed heavily till they reached the end and, in the
utmost anxiety she stretched out her arms to them from the distance.
Thank Heaven, there they are! The lady caught the girl by the hand and
dragged her on the shore, where she sank silently, like a stricken
animal, at her feet. The countess covered the trembling form with her
cloak and said a few comforting words.

"Do you know her?" she asked the old man.

"Of course, it is Josepha Freyer, from the gloomy house yonder."

"Freyer? A relative of the Freyer who played the Christ."

"A cousin; yes."

The old man was about to go to the girl's house to bring her mother.

"No, no," said the countess. "I will care for her. What induced the
unfortunate girl to take such a step?"

"She was the Mary Magdalene in the last Passion!" whispered the old
man. At the words the girl raised her head and burst into violent sobs.

"My child, what has happened!" asked the countess, gazing admiringly at
the charming creature, who was as perfect a picture of the penitent
Magdalene as any artist could create.

"Why don't you play the Magdalene _this time_?"

"Don't you know?" asked the girl, amazed that there was any human being
still ignorant of her disgrace. "I am not _permitted_ to play now--I
am--I have"--she again burst with convulsive sobs and, clasping the
countess' knees, cried: "Oh, let me die, I cannot bear it."

"She fell into error," said Gross, in reply to the lady's questioning
glance. "A little boy was born last winter. Now she can no longer act,
for only those who are pure and without reproach are permitted to take
part in the Passion."

"Oh, how harsh!" cried the countess; "And in a land where human beings
are so near to nature, and in circumstances where the poor girls are so
little guarded."

"Yes, we are aware of that--and Josepha is a heavy loss to us in the
play--but these rules have come down to us from our ancestors and must
be rigidly maintained. Yet the girl takes it too much to heart, she
weeps day and night, so that people never pass the house to avoid
hearing her lamentations, and now she wants to kill herself, the
foolish lass."

"Oh, it's very well for you to talk, it's very well for you to talk,"
now burst from the girls lips in accents tremulous with passion.
"First, try once what it is to have the whole world point at you. When
the Englishmen, and the strangers from all the foreign countries in the
world, come and want to see the famous Josepha Freyer, who played in
the last Passion, and fairly drag the soul out of your body with their
questions about the reason that you no longer act in it. Wait till you
have to tell each person the story of your own disgrace, that it may be
carried through the whole earth and know that your name is branded
wherever men speak of the Passion Play. First try what it is to hide in
a corner like a criminal, while they are acting in the Passion, and
bragging and giving themselves airs as if they were saints, while
thousands upon thousands listen devoutly. Ah, I alone am shut out, and
yet I know that _no one_ can act as I do." She drew herself up proudly,
and flung the magnificent traditional locks of the Magdalene back on
her shoulders. "Just seek such a Magdalene as I was--you will find
none. And then to be forced to hear people who are passing ask: 'Why
doesn't Josepha Freyer play the Magdalene this year?' And then there
are whispers, shrugs, and laughter, some one says, 'then she would suit
the character exactly.' And when people pass the house they point at
it--it seems as if I could feel it through the walls--and mutter:
'That's where the Penitent lives!' No, I won't bear it. I only waited
till there was a heavy storm to make the water deep enough for me to
drown myself. And I've been prevented even in this."

"Josepha!" said the countess, deeply moved, "will you go with me--away
from Ammergau, to another, a very different world, where you and your
disgrace are unknown?"

Josepha gazed at the stranger as if in a dream.

"I believe," the lady added, "that my losing my maid to-day was an act
of Providence in your behalf. Will you take her place?"

"Thank heaven!" said old Gross. "Brighter days will dawn for you,
Josepha!"

Josepha stood still with her hands clasped, tears were streaming down
her cheeks.

"Why, do you hesitate to accept my offer?" asked the countess, greatly
perplexed.

"Oh, don't be angry with me--I am sincerely grateful; but what do I
care for all these things, if I am no longer permitted to act the
Magdalene?" burst in unutterable anguish from the very depths of the
girl's soul.

"What an ambition!" said the countess to Andreas in astonishment.

"Yes, that is the way with them all here--they would rather lose their
lives than a part in the Passion!" he answered in a low tone. "But,
child, you could not always play the Magdalene--in ten years you would
be too old for it," he said soothingly to the despairing Josepha.

"Oh that's a very different thing--when we have grown grey with honors,
we know that we must give it up--but so--" and again she gazed
longingly at the beautiful, deep, rushing water, where it would be so
cool, so pleasant to rest--which she had vowed to seek, and now could
not keep her word.

"Do you love your child, Josepha?" asked Countess Wildenau.

"It died directly after it was born."

"Do you love your mother?"

"No, she was always unkind and harsh to me, and now she has lost her
mind."

"Do you love your lover?" the lady persisted.

"Yes--but he is dead! A poacher shot him--he was a forester."

"Then you have no one for whom you care to live?"

"No one!"

"Then come with me and try whether you cannot love me well enough to
make it worth while to live for me! Will you?"

"Yes, your Highness, I will try!" replied the girl, fixing her large
eyes with an expression of mingled inquiry and admiration upon the
countess. A beautiful glow of gratitude and confidence gradually
transfigured the grief-worn face: "I think I could do anything for
you."

"Come with me then--at once, poor child--I will save you! Your
relatives will not object."

"Oh, no! They will be glad to have me go away."

"And your cousin, the--the--" she does not know herself why she
hesitates to pronounce the name.

"The Christ-Freyer?" said Josepha finishing the sentence. "Oh! he has
not spoken to me for a year, except to say what was absolutely
necessary, he cannot get over my having brought disgrace upon his
unsullied name. It has made him disgusted with life here and, if it
were not for the Christ, he would not stay in Ammergau. He is so severe
in such things."

"So _severe!_" the countess repeated, thoughtfully.

The clock in the steeple of the Ammergau church struck two.

"It is late," said the countess, "the poor thing needs rest." She
wrapped her own cloak around the girl.

"Come, lonely heart, I will warm you."

She turned once more to drink in the loveliness of the exquisite scene.

"Night of miracle, I thank thee."



                               CHAPTER V.

                            MODERN PILGRIMS.


"What do you think. The Countess von Wildenau is founding an Orphan's
Home!" said the prince, as, leaving the Gross house, he joined a group
of gentlemen who were waiting just outside the door in the little
garden.

The news created a sensation; the gentlemen, laughing and jesting,
plied him with questions.

"Oh, _Mon Dieu_, who can understand a woman? Our goddess is sitting in
the peasants' living room, with the elderly daughters of the house,
indescribable creatures, occupying herself with feminine work."

"Her Highness! Countess Wildenau! Oh, that's a bad joke."

"No, upon my honor! If she had not hung a veil over the window, we
could see her sitting there. She has borrowed a calico apron from one
of the 'ladies of the house,' and as, for want of a maid, she was
obliged to arrange her hair herself, she wears it to-day in a
remarkably simple style and looks,"--he kissed his hand to the empty
air--"more bewitching than ever, like a girl of sixteen, a regular
Gretchen! Whoever has not gone crazy over her when she has been in full
dress, will surely do so if he sees her _thus_."

"Aha! We must see her, too; we'll assail the window!" cried his
companions enthusiastically.

"No, no! For Heaven's sake don't do that, on pain of her anger! Prince
Hohenheim, I beg you! Count Cossigny, don't knock! St. Génois, _au nom
de Dieu_, she will never forgive you."

"Why not--friends so intimate as we are?"

"I have already said, who can depend upon a woman's whims? Let me
explain. I entered, rejoicing in the thought of bringing her such
pleasant news. I said: 'Guess whom I met just now at the ticket office,
Countess?' The goddess sat sewing."

There was a general cry of astonishment. "Sewing!" the prince went on,
"of course, without a thimble, for those in the house did not fit, and
there was none among Her Highness' trinkets. So I repeated my question.
An icy 'How can I tell?' was the depressing answer, as if at that
moment nothing in the world could possibly interest her more than her
work! So, unasked and with no display of attention, I was forced to go
on with my news. 'Just think, Countess, Prince Hohenheim, the Counts
Cossigny, Wengenrode, St. Génois, all Austria, France, and Bavaria have
arrived!' I joyously exclaimed. I expected that she would utter a sigh
of relief at the thought of meeting men of her world again, but no--she
greeted my tidings with a frown."

"Hear, hear!" cried the group.

"A frown! I was forced to persist. 'They are outside, waiting to throw
themselves at your feet,' I added. A still darker frown. 'Please keep
the gentlemen away, I can see no one, I will see no one.' So she
positively announced. I timidly ventured to ask why. She was tired, she
could receive no one, she had no time. At last it came out. What do you
suppose the countess did yesterday?"

"I dare not guess," replied St. Génois with a malicious glance at the
prince, which the latter loftily ignored.

"She sent me away at eleven o'clock and then went wandering about,
rhapsodizing over the moonlight with her host, old Gross."

A universal peal of laughter greeted these words. "Countess Wildenau,
for lack of an escort, obliged to wander about with an old
stone-cutter!"

"Yes, and she availed herself of this virtuous ramble to save the life
of a despairing girl, who very opportunely attempted to commit suicide,
just at the time the countess was passing to rescue this precious
prize. Now she is sitting yonder remodeling one of her charming tailor
costumes for this last toy of her caprice. She declares that she loves
the wench most tenderly, will never be separated from her; in short,
she is playing the novel character of Lady Bountiful, and does not want
to be disturbed."

"Did you see the fair orphan?"

"No; she protested that it would be unpleasant for the girl to expose
herself to curious glances, so she conceals this very sensitive young
lady from profane eyes in her sleeping room. What do you say to all
this, Prince?"

"I say," replied Prince Hohenheim, an elderly gentleman with a clearly
cut, sarcastic face, a bald forehead, and a low, but distinct
enunciation, "that a vivacious, imaginative woman is always influenced
by the environment in which she happens to find herself. When the
countess is in the society of scholarly people, she becomes extremely
learned, if she is in a somewhat frivolous circle, like ours, she
grows--not exactly frivolous, but full of sparkling wit, and here,
among these devout enthusiasts, Her Highness wishes to play the part of
a Stylite. Let us indulge her, it won't last long, a lady's whim must
never be thwarted. _Ce que femme veut, Dieu le veut!_"

"Has the countess also made a vow to fast?" asked Count Cossigny of the
Austrian Embassy, and therefore briefly called 'Austria,' "could we not
dine together?"

"No, she told me that she would not leave the beloved suicide alone a
moment at present, and therefore she intended to dine at home.
Yesterday she shuddered at the bare thought of drinking a cup of tea
made in that witch's kitchen, and only the fact that my valet prepared
it and I drank it first in her presence finally induced her, at ten
o'clock last evening, to accept the refreshment. And to-day she will
eat a dinner prepared by the ladies of the house. There must really be
something dangerous in the air of Ammergau!"

"To persons of the countess' temperament, yes!" replied Prince
Hohenheim in his calm manner, then slipping his arm through the
prince's a moment, whispered confidentially, as they walked on: "I
advise you, Prince Emil, to get her away as soon as possible."

"Certainly, all the arrangements are made. We shall start directly
after the performance."

"That is fortunate. To-morrow, then! You have tickets?"

"Oh yes, and what is still better, whole bones."

"That's true," cried Austria, "what a crowd! One might think Sarah
Bernhardt was going to play the Virgin Mary."

"It's ridiculous! I haven't seen such a spectacle since the Paris
Exposition!" remarked St. Génois.

"It's worse than Baden-Baden at the time of the races," muttered
Wengenrode, angrily. "Absurd, what brings the people here?"

"Why, _we_ are here, too," said Hohenheim, smiling.

"_Mon Dieu_, it must be seen once, if people are in the neighborhood,"
observed Cossigny.

"Are you going directly after the performance, too?" asked Prince Emil.

"Of course, what is there to do here? No gaming--no ladies' society,
and just think, the burgomaster of Ammergau will allow neither a circus
nor any other ordinary performance. He was offered _forty thousand
marks_ by the proprietor of the Circus Rouannet, if he would permit him
to give performances during the Passion Play! Mademoiselle Rouannet
told me so herself. Do you suppose that obstinate, stiff-necked
Philistine could be persuaded? No, it was not in harmony with the
dignity of the Passion Play. He preferred to refuse the 40,000 marks.
The Salon Klüber wanted to put up an elegant merry-go-round and offered
12,000 marks for the privilege. Heaven forbid!"

"I believe these people have the mania of ambition," said Wengenrode.

"Say rather of _saintship_,' corrected Prince Hohenheim.

"Aye, they all consider themselves the holy personages whom they
represent. We need only look at this arrogant burgomaster, and the
gentleman who personates Christ, to understand what these people
imagine themselves."

All joined in the laugh which followed.

"Yes," said Wengenrode, "and the Roman procurator, Pilate, who is a
porter or a messenger and so drags various loads about, carried up my
luggage to-day and dropped my dressing case containing a number of
breakable jars and boxes. 'Stupid blockhead!' I exclaimed, angrily. He
straightened himself and looked at me with an expression which actually
embarrassed me. 'My name is _Thomas Rendner_, sir! I beg your pardon
for my awkwardness, and am ready to make your loss good, so far as my
means shall allow.'"

"Now tell me, isn't that sheer hallucination of grandeur?"

Some of the gentlemen laughed, but Prince Emil and Hohenheim were
silent.

"Where shall we go to-morrow evening in Munich to recompense ourselves
for this boredom?" asked Cossigny.

"To the Casino, I think!" said the prince.

"Well, then we'll all meet there, shall we?"

The party assented.

"Provided that the countess has no commands for us," observed St.
Génois.

"She will not have any," said the prince, "for either the Play will
produce an absurd impression which is not to be expected, and then she
will feel ashamed and unwilling to grant us our triumph because we
predicted it, or her sentimental mood will draw from this farce a sweet
poison of emotion, and in that case we shall be too frivolous for her!
This must first be allowed to exhale."

"Very true," Hohenheim assented. "You are just the man to cope with
this capricious beauty, Prince Emil. Adieu! May you prosper!"

The gentlemen raised their hats.

"Farewell!" said Cossigny, "by the way, I'll make a suggestion. We
shall best impress the countess while in this mood, by our generosity;
let us heap coals of fire on her head by sending a telegram to the
court-gardener to convert the whole palace into a floral temple to
welcome her return. It will touch a mysterious chord of sympathy if she
meets only these mute messengers of our adoration. When on entering she
finds this surprise and remembers how basely she treated us this
morning, her heart will be touched and she will invite us to dine the
day after to-morrow."

"A capital plan," cried Wengenrode and St. Génois, gaily. "Do your
Highnesses agree?"

"Certainly," replied Hohenheim, with formal courtesy, "when the point
in question is a matter of gallantry, a Hohenheim is never backward."

"I beg to be allowed to contribute also, but _incognito_. She would
regard such an attention from me as a piece of sentimentality, and it
would produce just the contrary effect," Prince Emil answered.

"As you please."

"Let us go to the telegraph office!" cried Wengenrode, eagerly.

"Farewell, gentlemen."

"_Au revoir_, Prince Emil! Are you going to return to the lionesses'
den?"

"Can you ask?" questioned Hohenheim with a significant smile.

"Then early to-morrow morning at the Play, and at night the Casino,
don't forget!" Cossigny called back.

The gentlemen, laughing and chatting, strolled down the street to their
lodgings. The prince watched them a moment, turned, and went back to
the countess.

"I cannot really be vexed with her, if these associates do not satisfy
her," he thought.

"Should I desire her to become my wife, if they did? Certainly not. Yet
if women only would not rush from one extreme to another? Hohenheim is
perfectly right, she ought not to stay here too long, she must go
to-morrow."

He had reached the house and entered the neglected old garden where
huge gnarled fruit trees, bearing small, stunted fruit, interlaced
their branches above a crooked bench. There, in the midst of the rank
grass and weeds, sat the countess, her beautiful head resting against
the mouldy bark of the old trunk, gazing thoughtfully at the luminous
mountains gleaming in the distance through the tangled boughs and
shrubbery.

From the adjoining garden of the sculptor Zwink, whose site was
somewhat higher, a Diana carved in white stone gazed curiously across,
seeming as if she wished to say to the pensive lady who at that moment
herself resembled a statue: "Art will create gods for you
_everywhere_!" But the temptation had no effect, the countess seemed to
have had no luck with these gods, she no longer believed in them!

"Well, Countess Madeleine, did the light and air lure you out of
doors?" asked the prince, joyfully approaching her.

"Oh, I could not bear to stay there any longer. Herr Gross' daughters
are finishing the dress. We will dine here, Prince; the meal can be
served on a table near the house, under a wild-grape vine arbor. We can
wait on ourselves for one day."

"For _one_ day!" repeated the prince with great relief; "oh yes, it can
be managed for one day." Thank Heaven, she had no intention of staying
here.

"Oh, Prince, see how beautiful, how glorious it is!"

"Beautiful, glorious? Pardon me, but I see nothing to call forth words
you so rarely use! You must have narrowed your demands if, after the
view of the wondrous garden of the Isola Bella and all the Italian
villas, you suddenly take delight in cabbage-stalks, wild-pears, broom,
and colt's foot."

"Now see how you talk again!" replied the countess, unpleasantly
affected by his words. "Does not Spinoza say: 'Everything is beautiful,
and as I lose myself in the observation of its beauty, my pleasure in
life is increased.'"

"That has not been your motto hitherto. You have usually found
something to criticise in every object. It seems to me that you have
wearied of the beautiful and now, by way of a change, find even
_ugliness_ fair."

"Very true, my friend. I am satisfied, nothing charms me, nothing
satisfies me, not even the loveliest scene, because I always apply to
everything the standard of perfection, and nothing attains it." She
shook herself suddenly as if throwing off a burden. "This must not
continue, the æsthetic intolerance which poisoned every pleasure must
end, I will cast aside the whole load of critical analysis and academic
ideas of beauty, and snap my fingers at the ghosts of Winckelmann and
Lessing. Here in the kitchen-garden, among cabbage-stalks and colt's
foot, wild-pear and plum-trees, fanned by the fresh, crystal-clear air
of the lofty mountains, whose glaciers shimmer with a bluish light
through the branches, in the silence and solitude, I suddenly find it
beautiful; beautiful because I am happy, because I am only a human
being, free from every restraint, thinking nothing, feeling nothing
save the peace of nature, the delight of this repose."

She rested her feet comfortably on the bench and, with her head thrown
back, gazed with a joyous expression into the blue air which, after the
rain, arched above the earth like a crystal bell.

This mood did not quite please the prince. He was exclusively a man of
the world. His thoughts were ruled by the laws of the most rigid logic,
whatever was not logically attainable had no existence for him; his
enthusiasm reached the highest pitch only in the enjoyment of the
noblest products of art and science. He did not comprehend how any one
could weary of them, even for a moment, on the one side because his
calm temperament did not, like the countess' passionate one, exhaust
everything by following it to its inmost core, and he was thus guarded
from satiety; on the other because he wholly lacked appreciation of
nature and her unconscious grandeur. He was the trained vassal of
custom in the conventional, as well as in every other province. The
countess, however, possessed some touch of that doctrine of divine
right which is ready, at any moment, to cast off the bonds of tradition
and artificial models and obey the impulse of kinship with sovereign
nature. This was the boundary across which he could not follow her, and
he was perfectly aware of it, for he had one of those proud characters
which disdain to deceive themselves concerning their own powers. Yet it
filled him with grave anxiety.

"What are you thinking of now, Prince?" asked his companion, noticing
his gloomy mood.

"That I have not seen you so contented for months, and yet I am unable
to understand the cause of this satisfaction. Especially when I
remember what it usually requires to bring a smile of pleasure to your
lips."

"Dear me, must everything be understood?" cried the beautiful woman,
laughing; "there is the pedant again! Must we be perpetually under
the curb of self-control and give ourselves an account whether
what we feel in a moment of happiness is sensible and authorized?
Must we continually see ourselves reflected in the mirror of our
self-consciousness, and never draw a veil over our souls and permit God
to have one undiscovered secret in them?"

The prince silently kissed her hand. His eyes now expressed deep,
earnest feeling, and stirred by emotion, she laid her other hand upon
his head:

"You are a noble-hearted man, Prince; though some unspoken,
uncomprehended idea stands between us, I know your feelings."

Again the rose and the thorn! It was always so! At the very moment her
soft, sweet hand touched him caressingly, she thrust a dagger into his
heart. Aye, that was the continual "misunderstanding" which existed
between them, the thorn in the every rose she proffered.

Women like these are only tolerable when they really love; when a
powerful feeling makes them surrender themselves completely. Where this
is not the case, they are, unconsciously and involuntarily, malicious,
dangerous creatures, caressing and slaying at the same moment.

First, woe betide the man whom _they believe_ they love. For how often
such beings are mistaken in their feelings!

Such delusions do not destroy the woman, she often experiences them,
but the man who has shared them with her! Alas for him who has not kept
a cool head.

The prince was standing with his back turned to the street, gazing
thoughtfully at the beautiful woman with the fathomless, sparkling
eyes. Suddenly he saw her start and flush. Turning with the speed of
lightning, he followed the direction of her glance, but saw nothing
except the figure of a man of unusual height, with long black hair,
pass swiftly around the corner and disappear.

"Do you know that gentleman?"

"No," replied the countess frankly, "he is the person whom I saw
yesterday as we drove up the mountain."

"Pardon the indiscretion, but you blushed."

"Yes, I felt it, but I don't know why," she answered with an almost
artless innocence in her gaze. The prince could not help smiling.

"Countess, Countess!" he said, shaking his finger at her as if she were
a child. "Guard your imagination; it will prove a traitor some day."

The countess, as if with a sweet consciousness of guilt, drew down the
uplifted hand with a movement of such indescribable grace that no one
could have remained angry with her. The prince knelt at her feet an
instant, not longer than a blade of grass requires to bend before the
breeze and rise again, then he stood erect, somewhat paler than before,
but perfectly calm.

"I'll go in and tell my valet to serve our dinner here."

"If you please, Prince," replied the lady, gazing absently down the
street.

Andreas Gross entered the garden. "Everything is settled, Your
Highness. I have talked with Josepha's relatives and guardian and they
will be very glad to have you take her."

"All, even the Christ-Freyer?"

"Certainly, there is no objection."

She had expected something more and looked at the old man as if for the
rest of the message, but he added nothing.

"Ought not Freyer to come here, in order to discuss the particulars
with me?" she asked at last, almost timidly.

"Why, he goes to see no one, as I told you, and he surely would not
come to speak of Josepha, for he is ashamed of her. He says that
whatever you do will be satisfactory to him."

"Very well," replied the countess, in a somewhat disappointed tone.

"What a comical tête-à-tête!" a laughing voice suddenly exclaimed
behind the fence. The countess started up, but it was too late for
escape; she was caught.

A lady, young and elegantly dressed, accompanied by two older ones,
eagerly rushed up to her.

"Dear Countess, why have you hidden yourself here at the farthest
corner of the village? We have searched all Ammergau for you. Your
coat-of-arms on the carriage and your liveries at the old post-house
betrayed you. Yes, yes, when people want to travel _incognito_, they
must not journey with genuine Wildenau elegance. We were more cautious.
We came in a modest hired conveyance. But what a life this is! I was
obliged to sleep on straw last night. Hear and shudder! On _straw_! Did
you have a bed? You have been here since yesterday?"

"Why, Your Highness, pray take breath! Good morning, Baroness! Good
morning, Your Excellency!"

The Countess von Wildenau greeted all the ladies somewhat absently, yet
very cordially. "Will you condescend to sit on this bench?"

"Oh, you must sit here, too."

"No, It is not large enough, I am already seated."

She had taken her seat on the root of a tree, with her face turned
toward the street, in which she seemed to be deeply interested. The
ladies were accommodated on the bench, and then followed a conversation
which no pen could describe. This, that, and the other thing, matters
to which the countess had not given a single thought, an account of
everything the new comers had heard about the Ammergau people, the
appearance of the Christ, whom they had already met, a handsome man,
very handsome, with magnificent hair, and mysterious eyes--not the head
of Christ, but rather as one would imagine Faust or Odin; but there was
no approaching him, he was so unsociable. Such a pity, it would have
been so interesting to talk with him. Rumor asserted that he was in
love with a noble lady; it was very possible, there was no other way of
explaining his distant manner.

Countess von Wildenau had become very quiet, the eyes bent upon the
street had an expression of actual suffering in their depths.

Prince Emil stood in the doorway, mischievously enjoying the situation.
It was a just punishment for her capricious whims that now, after
having so insolently refused to see her friends, she should be
compelled to listen to this senseless chatter.

At last, however, he took pity on her and sent out his valet with the
table-cloth and plates.

"Oh, it is your dinner hour!" The ladies started up and Her Highness
raised her lorgnette.

"Ah, Prince Emil's valet! So the faithful Toggenburg is with you."

"Certainly, ladies!" said a voice from the door, as the prince came
forward. "Only I was too timid to venture into such a dangerous
circle."

Peals of laughter greeted him.

"Yes, yes; the Prince of Metten-Barnheim timid!"

"At present I am merely the representative of Countess Wildenau's
discharged courier, whose office, with my usual devotion, I am trying
to fill, and doing everything in my power to escape the fate of my
predecessor."

"That of being sent away?" asked the baroness somewhat maliciously.

Countess Madeleine cast a glance of friendly reproach at him. "How can
you say such things, Prince?"

"Your soup is growing cold!" cried the duchess.

"Where does Your Highness dine?"

"At the house of one of the chorus singers, where we are lodging. A man
with the bearing of an apostle, and a blacksmith by trade. It is
strange, all these people have a touch of ideality about them, and all
this beautiful long hair! Haven't you walked through the village yet?
Oh, you must, it's very odd; the people who throng around the actors in
the Passion Play are types we shall not soon see again. I'm waiting
eagerly for to-morrow. I hope our seats will be near. Farewell, dear
Countess!" The duchess took the arm of the prince, who escorted her to
the garden gate. "I hope you will take care that the countess, under
the influence of the Passion, doesn't enter a convent the day after
to-morrow."

"Your Highness forgets that I am an incorrigible heretic," laughed
Madeleine Wildenau, kissing the two ladies in waiting, in her absence
of mind, with a tenderness which they were at a loss to understand.

The prince accompanied the ladies a short distance away from the house,
while Madeleine returned to Josepha, as if seeking in the society of
the sorrowful, quiet creature, rest from the noisy conversation.

"Really, Countess von Wildenau has an over-supply of blessings. This
magnificent widow's dower, the almost boundless revenue from the
Wildenau estates, and a host of suitors!" said the baroness, after the
prince had taken leave to return to "his idol."

"Yes, but she will lose the revenue if she marries again," replied the
duchess. "The will was made in that way by Count Wildenau because his
jealousy extended beyond the grave. I know all the particulars. She
must either remain a widow or make a _very_ brilliant match; for a
woman of her temperament could _never_ accommodate herself to more
modest circumstances."

"So she is not a good match?" asked Her Excellency.

"Certainly not, for the will is so worded that on the day she exchanges
the name of Wildenau for another, the estates, with the whole income,
go to a side branch of the Wildenau family as there are no direct
heirs. It is enough to make one hate him, for the Wildenau cousins are
extravagant and avaricious men who have already squandered one fortune.
The poor countess will then have nothing except her personal property,
her few diamonds, and whatever gifts she received from her husband."

"Has she no private fortune?" asked the baroness, curiously.

"You know that she was a Princess Prankenburg, and the financial
affairs of the Prankenburg family are very much embarrassed. That is
why the beautiful young girl was sacrificed at seventeen to that
horrible old Wildenau, who in return was forced to pay her father's
debts," the duchess explained.

"Oh, so _that's_ the way the matter stands!" said Her Excellency,
drawing a long breath. "Do her various admirers know it? All the
gentlemen undoubtedly believe her to be immensely rich."

"Oh, she makes no secret of these facts," replied the duchess kindly.
"She is sincere, that must be acknowledged, and she endured a great
deal with her nervous old husband. We all know what he was; every one
feared him and he tyrannized over his wife. What was all her wealth and
splendor to her? One ought not to grudge her a taste of happiness."

"She laid aside her widow's weeds as soon as possible. People thought
that very suspicious," observed the baroness in no friendly tone.

"That is exactly why I say: she is better than her reputation, because
she scorns falsehood and hypocrisy," replied the duchess, leading the
way across a narrow bridge. The two ladies in waiting, lingering a
little behind, whispered: "_She_ scorn falsehood and deception! Why,
Your Excellency, her whole nature is treachery. She cannot exist a
moment without acting some farce! With the pious she is pious, with the
Liberals she plays the Liberal, she coquets with every party to
maintain her influence as ex-ambassadress. She cannot cease intriguing
and plotting. Now she is once more assuming the part of youthful
artlessness to bewitch this Prince Emil. Did you see that look of
embarrassment just now, like a young girl? It is enough to make one
ill!"

"Yes, just see how she has duped that handsome, clever prince, the heir
of a reigning family, too," lamented Her Excellency, who had daughters.
"It is a shocking affair, he is seen everywhere with her; and yet there
is no report of a betrothal! What do the men find in her? She
captivates them all, young and old, there is no difference."

"And she is no longer even _beautiful_. She has faded, lost all her
freshness, it is nothing but coquetry!" answered the baroness hastily,
for the duchess had stopped and was waiting for the ladies to overtake
her. So they walked on in the direction of the Passion Theatre where,
on the morrow, they were to behold the God of Love, for whose sake they
made this pious pilgrimage.

"You were rightly served, Countess Madeleine," said the prince
laughing, as they took their seats at the table. "You sent away your
true friends and fell into the hands of these false ones."

"The duchess is not false," answered the countess with a weary look,
"she is noble in thought and act."

"Like all who are in a position where they need envy no one," said the
prince, pushing aside with his spoon certain little islands of doubtful
composition which were floating in the soup. "But believe me, with
these few exceptions, no one save men, deals sincerely with an admired
woman. Women of the ordinary stamp cannot repress their envy. I should
not like to hear what is being said of us by these friends on their way
home."

"What does it matter?" answered his companion, leaving her soup
untasted.

"Our poor diplomatic corps, which had anticipated so much pleasure in
seeing you," the prince began again. "I would almost like to ask you a
favor, Countess!"

"What is it?"

"That you will invite us to dine day after to-morrow. The gentlemen
have resolved to avenge themselves nobly by offering you an ovation on
your return to Munich to-morrow evening."

"Indeed, what is it?"

"I ought not to betray the secret, but I know that you do not like
surprises. The Wildenau palace will be transformed into a temple of
flowers. Everything is already ordered, it is to be matchless, fairy
like!"

The speaker was secretly watching the impression made by his words; he
must get her away from this place at any cost! The mysterious figure
which had just called to her cheeks a flush for whose sake he would
have sacrificed years of his life, then he had noticed--nothing escaped
his keen eye and ear--her annoyed, almost jealous expression when the
ladies spoke of the "raven-locked" Christ and his love for some
high-born dame. She must leave this place ere the whim gained a firm
hold. The worthy peasant-performer might not object to the admiration
of noble ladies, a pinchback theatre-saint would hardly resist a
Countess Wildenau, if she should choose to make him the object of an
eccentric caprice.

"It is very touching in the gentlemen," said the countess; "let us
anticipate them and invite them to dine the day after to-morrow."

"Ah, there spoke my charming friend, now I am content with you. Will
you permit me, at the close of this luxurious meal, to carry the joyous
tidings to the gentlemen?"

"Do so," she answered carelessly. "And when you have delivered the
invitation, would you do me the favor to telegraph to my steward?"

"Certainly." He pushed back the plate containing an unpalatable cutlet
and drew out his note-book to make a memorandum.

"What shall I write?"

"Steward Geres, Wildenau Palace, Munich.--Day after to-morrow, Monday,
Dinner at 6 o'clock, 12 plates, 15 courses," dictated the countess.

"There, that is settled. But, Countess, twelve persons! Whom do you
intend to invite?"

"When I return the duchess' visit I will ask the three ladies, then
Prince Hohenheim and Her Excellency's two daughters will make twelve."

"But that will be terribly wearisome to the neighbors of Her
Excellency's daughters."

"Yes, still it can't be helped, I must give the poor girls a chance to
make their fortune! With the exception of Prince Hohenheim, you are all
in the market!" she said smiling.

"No one could speak so proudly save a Countess Wildenau, who knows that
every other woman only serves as a foil," replied the prince, kissing
her hand with a significant smile. She was remarkably gracious that
day; she permitted her hand to rest in his, there was a shade of
apology in her manner. Apology for what? He had no occasion to ponder
long--she was ashamed of having neglected a trusted friend for a
chimera, a nightmare, which had assumed the form of a man with
mysterious black eyes and floating locks. The ladies' stories of the
love affairs of the presumptive owner of these locks had destroyed the
dream and broken the spell of the nightmare.

"Admirable, it had happened very opportunely."

"But, Countess, the gentlemen will be disappointed, if the ladies,
also, come. Would it not be much pleasanter without them? You are far
more charming and entertaining when you are the only lady present at
our little smoking parties."

"We can have one later. The ladies will leave at ten. Then you others
can remain."

"And who will be sent away _next_, when you are wearied by this _après
soirée_? Who will be allowed to linger on a few minutes and smoke the
last cigarette with you?" he added, coaxingly. He looked very handsome
at that moment.

"We shall see," replied the countess, and for the first time her voice
thrilled with a warmer emotion. Her hand still rested in his, she had
forgotten to withdraw it. Suddenly its warmth roused her, and his blue
eyes flashed upon her a light as brilliant as the indiscreet glare
which sometimes rouses a sleeper.

She released it, and as the dinner was over, rose from the little
table.

"Will you go with me to call on the duchess later?" she asked. "If so,
I will dress now, while you give the invitation to the gentlemen, and
you can return afterward."

"As you choose!" replied the prince in an altered tone, for the slight
variation in the lady's mood had not escaped his notice. "In half an
hour, then. Farewell!"



                              CHAPTER VI.

                      THE EVENING BEFORE THE PLAY.


Josepha sat in the countess' room at work on her new dress. She was
calm and quiet; the delight in finery which never abandons a woman to
her latest hour--the poorest peasant, if still conscious, asks for a
nicer cap when the priest comes to bring the last sacrament--had
asserted its power in her. The countess noticed it with pleasure.

"Shall you finish it soon, Josepha?"

"In an hour, Your Highness!"

"Very well, I shall return about that time, and then we'll try the
dress on."

"Oh, your ladyship, it's a sin for me to put on such a handsome gown,
nobody will see me."

"Not here, if you don't wish them to do so, but to-morrow evening we
shall go to Munich, where you will begin a new life, with no brand upon
your brow."

Josepha kissed the countess' hand; a few large tears rolled down on the
dress which was to clothe a new creature. Then she helped her mistress
to put on a walking toilette, performing her task skillfully and
quickly. The latter fixed a long, thoughtful look upon her. "You are
somewhat like your cousin, the Christ, are you not?"

"So people say!"

"I suppose he sees a great many ladies?"

"They all run after him, the high as well as the low. And it isn't the
strangers only, the village girls are crazy over him, too. He might
have _any_ one he wanted, it seems as if he fairly bewitched the
women."

"I heard that the reason for his secluded life was that he had a love
affair with some noble lady."

"Indeed?" said Josepha carelessly, "I don't know anything about it. I
don't believe it, though he would not tell me, even if it were true.
Oh, people talk about him so much, that's one reason for the envy. But
his secluded life isn't on account of any noble lady! He has had
nothing to say to anybody here since they refused to let me take part
in the Play and gossiped so much about me. Though he doesn't speak of
it, it cuts him to the heart. Alas, I am to blame, and no one else."

Countess Wildenau, obeying a sudden impulse, kissed the girl on the
forehead: "Farewell, keep up courage, don't weep, rejoice in your new
life; I will soon return."

As she passed out, she spoke to the Gross sisters commending Josepha to
their special care.

"The gentlemen are delighted, and send you their most grateful homage,"
called the prince.

"Then they are all coming?" said Countess Wildenau, taking his arm.

"All, there was no hesitation!" he answered, again noticing in his
companion's manner the restlessness which had formerly awakened his
anxiety. As they passed down the street together, her eyes were
wandering everywhere.

"She is seeking some one," thought the prince.

"Let me tell you that I am charmed with this Ammergau Christ," cried
the duchess, as they approached the blacksmith's house. She was
sitting in the garden, which contained a tolerably large manure
heap, a "Saletl," the name given to an open summer-house, and three
fruit-trees, amid which the clothes lines were stretched. On the house
was a rudely painted Madonna, life-size, with the usual bunch of
flowers, gazing with a peculiar expression at the homage offered to her
son, or at least, so it seemed to the countess.

"Have you seen him, Duchess? I am beginning to be jealous!" said the
countess with a laugh intended to be natural, but which sounded a
little forced.

The visitors entered the arbor; after an exchange of greeting, the
duchess told her guests that she had been with the ladies to the
drawing-school, where they had met Freyer. The head-master (the son of
Countess von Wildenau's host) had presented him to the ladies, and he
had been obliged to exchange a few words with them, then he made his
escape. They were "fairly _wild_." His bearing, his dignity, the
blended courtesy and reserve of his manner, so modest and yet so proud,
and those eyes!

The prince was on coals of fire.

The blacksmith was hammering outside, shoeing a horse whose hoof was so
crooked that the iron would not fit. The man's face was dripping with
sooty perspiration, yet when he turned it toward the ladies, they saw a
classic profile and soft, dreamy eyes.

"Beautiful hair and eyes appear to be a specialty among the Ammergau
peasants," said the prince somewhat abruptly, interrupting the duchess.
"Look at yonder smith, wash off the soot and we shall have a superb
head of Antinous."

"Yes, isn't that true? He is a splendid fellow, too," replied the
duchess. "Let us call him here."

The smith was summoned and, wiping the grime from his face with his
shirt sleeves, modestly approached. The prince watched with honest
admiration the man's gait and bearing, clear-cut, intelligent features,
and slender, lithe figure, which betrayed no sign of his hard labor
save in the tense sinews and muscles of the arms.

"I must apologize," he said in excellent German--the Ammergau people
use dialect only when speaking to one another--"I am in my working
clothes and scarcely fit to be seen."

"You have a charming voice. Do you sing baritone?"

"Yes, Your Highness, but I rarely sing at all. My voice unfortunately
is much injured by my hard toil, and my fingers are growing too stiff
to play on the piano, so I cannot accompany myself."

"Do you play on the piano?"

"Certainly, Your Highness."

"Good Heavens, where did you learn?"

"Here in the village, Your Highness. Each one of us learns to use some
instrument, else where should we obtain an orchestra for the Passion?"

"Think of it!" said the duchess in French, "A blacksmith who plays on
the piano; peasants who form an orchestra!" Then addressing her host in
German, she added, "I suppose you have a church choir!"

"Certainly, Your Highness."

"And what masses do you perform?"

"Oh, nearly all the beautiful ones, some dating from the ancient
Cecilian Church music, others from the later masters, Handel, Bach,
down to the most modern times. A short time ago I sung Gounod's Ave
Maria in the church, and this winter we shall give a Gethsemane by
Kempter."

"Is it possible!" said the duchess, "_c'est unique!_ Then you are
really all artists and ought not to follow such hard trades."

"Yes, Duchess, but we must _live_. Our wives and children must be
supported. _All_ cannot be wood-carvers, smiths are needed, too. If the
artisan is not rough, the trade is no disgrace."

"But have you time, with your business, for such artistic work?"

"Oh, yes, we do it in the evenings, after supper. We meet at half past
seven and often practise our music till twelve or even one o'clock."

"Oh, how tired you must be to study far into the night after the labor
of the day."

"Oh, that doesn't harm us, it is our recreation and pleasure. Art is
the only thing which lifts men above their daily cares! I would not
wish to live, if I did not possess it, and we all have the same
feeling."

The ladies exchanged glances.

"But, when do you sleep? You must be obliged to rise early in the
morning."

"Oh, we Ammergau people are excitable, we need little sleep. To bed at
one and up at five gives us rest enough."

"Well, then, you must live well, or you could not bear it."

"Yes, we live very well, we have meat every Sunday," said the smith
with much satisfaction.

"_C'est touchant!_" cried the duchess. "Meat _once_ a week? And the
rest of the time?"

"Oh, we eat something made of flour. My wife is an excellent cook, she
was the cook in Count P.'s household!" he added with great pride,
casting an affectionate glance at the plump little woman, holding a
child in her arms, standing at the door of the house. He would gladly
have presented this admirable wife to the strangers, but the ladies
seemed less interested in her.

"What do you eat in the evening?"

"We have coffee at six o'clock, and drink a few glasses of beer when we
meet at the tavern."

"And do all the Ammergau people live so?"

"All. No one wants anything different."

"Even your Christ?"

"Oh, he fares worse than we, he is unmarried and has no one to care for
him."

"What a life, dear Countess, what a life!" the duchess, murmured in
French.

"But you have a piano in your house. If you are able to get such an
instrument, you ought to afford better food," said Her Excellency.

The blacksmith smiled, "If we had had better food, we should not have
been able to buy the piano. We saved it from our stomachs."

"That is the true Ammergau spirit," said the countess earnestly. "They
will starve to secure a piano. Every endeavor is toward the ideal and
the intellectual, for which they are willing to make any personal
sacrifice. I have never seen such people."

"Nor have I. It seems as if the Passion Play gave them all a special
consecration," answered the duchess.

Countess von Wildenau rose. Her thoughts were so far away that she was
about to take leave without remembering her invitation. But Prince Emil
said impressively:

"Countess, surely you are forgetting that you intended to _invite_ the
ladies--."

"Yes, yes," she interrupted, "it had almost escaped my mind." The smith
modestly went back to his work, for the horse was growing restless, and
the odor of burnt horn and hair soon pervaded the atmosphere.

Meanwhile the countess delivered her invitation, which was accepted
with great enthusiasm.

A stately, athletic man in a blouse, carrying a chest on his shoulder,
passed the ladies. The burden was terribly heavy, for even his
powerful, well-knit frame staggered under it, and his handsome kingly
head was bowed almost to the earth.

"Look, Countess, that is Thomas Rendner the Roman procurator. We shall
soon make the acquaintance of the whole company. We sit here in the
summer-house like a spider in its web, not a fly can pass unseen."

"Good Heavens, that Pilate!" exclaimed the countess, watching him with
sympathizing eyes, "Poor man, to-day panting under an oppressive
burden, to-morrow robed in purple and crowned with a diadem, only to
exchange them again on the third day, for the porter's dusty blouse,
and take the yoke upon himself once more. What a contrast, and yet he
loses neither his balance nor his temper! Indeed I think that we can
learn as much here outside of the Passion Play, as from the spectacle
itself."

"Yes, if we watch with your deep, thoughtful eyes, my dear Countess!"
said the duchess, kissing the speaker's brow. "We will discuss this
subject farther when we drive with you the day after to-morrow."

The ladies parted. Madeleine von Wildenau, leaning on the prince's arm,
walked silently through the crowd which now, on the eve of the play,
thronged the narrow streets. The din and tumult were enough to deprive
one of sight and hearing. Dazed by the confusion, she clung closely to
her companion's arm.

"Good Heavens, is it possible that Christianity still possesses such a
power of attraction!" she murmured, involuntarily, while struggling
through the throng.

The ground in the Ettal road trembled under the roll of carriage
wheels. The last evening train had arrived, and a flood of people and
vehicles poured into the village already almost crushed beneath the
tide of human beings. Horses half driven to death, dragging at a gallop
heavy landaus crowded with six or eight persons. Lumbering wagons
containing twenty or thirty travellers just as they had climbed in,
sometimes half clinging to the steps or the boxes of the wheels, swayed
to and fro; intoxicated, excited by the mad rush and the fear of being
left behind--raging and shrieking like a horde of unchained fiends come
to disturb the sacred drama rather than pious pilgrims who wished to
witness it, the frantic mob poured in. "_Sauve qui peut_" was the
motto, the prince lifted the countess on a small post by the roadside.
Just at that moment the fire-brigade marched by to watch the theatre.
It was said that several of the neighboring parishes, envious of
Ammergau, had threatened to ruin the Play by setting the theatre on
fire. Fire engines and strangers' carriages passed pell-mell. The
people of Ammergau themselves, alarmed and enraged by the cruel threat,
were completely disconcerted; passionate discussions, vehement
commands, and urgent entreaties were heard on all sides. Prompt and
energetic action was requisite, the fate of all Ammergau was at stake.

The bells now began to ring and at the same moment the first of the
twenty-five cannon shots which were to consecrate the morrow's festival
was discharged, and the musicians passed through the streets.

The air fairly quivered with the deafening uproar of all these mingling
waves of sound. Darkness was gathering, the countess grew giddy, she
felt as if she were stifling in the tumult. A pair of horses fell just
below them, causing a break in the line of carriages, which the prince
used to get his companion across, and she at last reached home, almost
fainting. Her soul was stirred to its inmost depths. What was the power
which produced such effects?

Was this the calm, petty doctrine, which had been inculcated so
theoretically and coldly at the school-room desk and from the pulpit,
and with which, when a child, she has been disgusted by an
incomprehensible school-catechism? Was this the doctrine which, from
earliest childhood, had been nothing more than a wearisome dead letter,
to which, as it had become the religion of the state, an official visit
to church was due from time to time, just as, on certain days, cards
were left on ambassadors and government officials?

The wind still bore from the village the noise of the throngs of
people, the ringing of the bells, and the thunder of the cannon,
blended with occasional bursts of music. The countess had had similar
experiences when tidings of great victories had been received during
the last war, but those were _facts_. For the first time in her life
she asked herself if Christianity was a fact? And if not, if it was
only an idea, what inherent power, after the lapse of nearly two
thousand years, produced such an effect?

Why did all these people come--why did she _herself_? The human race is
homesick, it no longer knows for what; it is only a vague impulse, but
one which instinctively draws it in the direction where it perceives a
sign, a vestige of what it has lost and forever seeks. Such, she knows
it now, such is the feeling of all the throngs that have flocked hither
to-day, she realized that at this moment she was a microcosm of weary,
wandering mankind seeking for salvation.

And as when, deceived and disappointed in everything, we seek the
picture of some dead friend, long since forgotten, and press it weeping
to our lips, she clung to the image of the Redeemer. Now that
everything had deluded her, no system which had boastfully promised a
victory over calamity and death had stood the test, after one makeshift
had supplanted another without supplying what was lacking, after all
the vaunted remedies of philosophy and materialism proved mere
palliatives which make the evil endurable for the moment but do not
heal it, suffering, cheated humanity was suddenly seeking the image of
the lost friend so long forgotten. But a dead friend cannot come forth
from a picture, a painted heart can no longer beat. Could _Christ_ rise
again in His image? Could _His_ word live once more on the lips of a
stranger? And would the drops of artificial blood, trickling from the
brow of the personified Messiah, possess redeeming power?

That was the miracle which attracted the throngs from far and near,
_that_ must be the marvel, and tomorrow it would be revealed.

"Of what are you dreaming, Countess Madeleine?" asked the prince after
a pause which she had spent in the wild-grape arbor near the house
gazing into vacancy, with her head resting on her hand. She looked up,
glancing at him as if she had entirely forgotten his presence. "I don't
know what is the cause of my emotion, the tumult in the village has
stirred me deeply! I feel that only potent things could send such a
storm before them, and it seems as if it was the portent of some
wonderful event!"

"Good Heavens! What extravagant fancies, my dear Countess! I believe
you add to all your rich gifts the dangerous one of poesy! I admire and
honor you for it--but I can perceive in this storm nothing save a proof
that curiosity is the greatest and most universal trait in human
character, and that these throngs desire nothing more than the
satisfaction of their curiosity. The affair is fashionable just now,
and that explains the whole."

"Prince, I pity you for what you have just said," replied the countess,
rising. Her face wore the same cold, lifeless expression as on the day
of her arrival.

"But, my dearest friend, for Heavens's sake tell me, did _you_ and _I_
come from any other motive than curiosity?"

"You, no! I, yes!"

"Don't say that, _chère amie_. You, the scholar, superior to us all in
learning; you, the disciple of Schopenhauer, the proud philosopher, the
believer in Nirvâna."

"Yes, I, Prince!" cried the countess, "The philosopher who was not
happy for an hour, not content for a moment. What is this Nirvâna? A
stone idol, which the fruitless speculation of our times has conjured
from the rubbish of archæological excavations, and which stares at us
with its vacant eyes until we fall into an intellectual hypnotism which
we mistake for peace." An expression of bitter sarcasm rested on her
lips. "I came here to bring pessimism and Christianity face to face. I
thought it would be very novel to see the stone idol Nirvâna, with his
hands on his lap and the silence of eternal death on his lips, watch
the martyr, dripping with sweat and blood, bear His own cross to the
place of execution and cheerfully take up the work where Buddha
faltered; on the boundary of non-existence. I wanted to see how the two
would treat each other, if for nothing more than a comparative study of
religion."

"You are irresistible in your charming mockery, dearest Countess, yet
logically I cannot confess myself conquered!" replied the prince. The
countess smiled: "Of course, when did a man ever acknowledge that to a
woman, where intellectual matters were concerned? A sunny curl, the
seductive arch of an upper lip, a pair of blue eyes sparkling with
tears will make you lords of creation the dupes of the most ordinary
coquette or even the yielding toy of the dullest ignorance. We women
all know it! But, if we assail your dry logic, you are as unconquerable
as Antæus so long as he stood upon the earth! You, too, could only be
vanquished by whoever had the power to lift you from the ground where
_you_ stand."

"You might have that power, Countess. Not by your arguments, but by
your eyes. You know that _one_ loving glance would not only lift me
from the earth but into heaven, and then you could do with me what you
would."

"You have forfeited the loving glance! Perhaps it might have _rewarded_
your assent, but it would never _purchase_ it, I scorn bribed judges,
for I am sure of my cause!"

"Countess, pardon my frankness: it is a pity that you have so much
intellect."

"Why?"

"Because it leads you into sophistical by-ways; your tendency to
mysticism gives an apparently logical foundation and thereby
strengthens you the more in this dangerous course. A more simple,
temperate judgment would _guard_ you from it."

"Well, Prince--" she looked at him pityingly, contemptuously--"may
Heaven preserve me from _such_ a judgment as well as from all who may
seek to supply its place to me. Excuse me for this evening. I should
like to devote an hour to these worthy people and soothe my nerves--I
have been too much excited by the scenes we have witnessed. Goodnight,
Prince!"

Prince Emil turned pale. "Good-night, Countess. Perhaps to-morrow you
will be somewhat more humane in this cat and mouse game; to-day I am
sent home with a bleeding wound." With lips firmly compressed, he bowed
his farewell and left the garden. Madeleine looked after him: "He is
angry. I cannot help him, he deserved it. Oh, foolish man, who deemed
yourself so clever! Do you suppose this glowing heart desires no other
revelations than those of pure reason? Do you imagine that the
arguments of all the philosophical systems of humanity could offer it
that for which it longs? Shall I find it? Heaven knows! But one thing
is certain, I shall no longer seek it in _you_."

The sound of moans and low sobs came from the chamber above the
countess' room. It was Josepha. Countess Wildenau passed through the
little trap-door and entered it. The girl was kneeling beside the bed,
with her face buried in the pillows, to shut out the thunder of the
cannon and the sound of the bells, which summoned the actors in the
sacred Play from which she alone, the sinner, the outcast, was shut
out.

Mary Magdalene, too, had sinned and erred, yet she had been suffered to
remain near the Lord. She was permitted to touch His divine body and to
wipe His feet with her hair! But _she_ was not allowed to render this
service to His _image_! She grasped the mass of wonderful silken locks
which fell in loosened masses over her shoulders. What did she care for
this beautiful hair now? She would fain cut it off and throw it into
the Ammer or, better still, bury it in the earth, the earth on which
the Passion Theatre stood. With a hasty movement, she snatched a pair
of shears which lay beside the bed, and just as the countess' foot
touched the threshold, a sharp, cutting sound was heard and the most
beautiful red hair that ever adorned a girl's head fell like a dying
flame at her feet. "Josepha, what are you doing?" cried the countess,
"Oh, what a pity to lose that magnificent hair!"

"What do I care for it?" sobbed Josepha, "It can never be seen in the
Play! When the performance is over, I will slip into the theatre before
we leave and bury it under the stage, where the cross stands. There I
will leave it, there it shall stay, since I am no longer able to make
it serve Him." She threw herself into the countess' arms and hid her
tear-stained face upon her bosom. Alas, she was not even allowed to
appear among the populace, she alone was banished from the cross, yet
she knew that the _real_ Saviour would have suffered her to be at His
feet as well as Mary Magdalene.

"Console yourself, Josepha, your belief does not deceive you. The real
Christ would not have punished you so cruelly. Men are always more
severe than God. Whence should they obtain divine magnanimity, they are
so petty. They are like a servant who is arrogant and avaricious for
his master because he does not understand his wishes and turns from the
door the poor whom his master would gladly have welcomed and
refreshed." She kissed the young girl's brow. "Be calm, Josepha, gather
up your hair, you shall bury it to-morrow in the earth which is so dear
to you. I promise that I will think of you when the other Magdalene
appears; your shadow shall stand between her and me, so that I shall
see you alone! Will this be a slight consolation to you?"

Josepha, for the first time, looked up into the countess' eyes with a
smile. "Yes, it is a comfort. Ah, you are so kind, you take pity on me
while all reproach and condemn me."

"Oh, Josepha! If people judged thus, which of us would be warranted in
casting the first stone at you?" The countess uttered the words with
deep earnestness, and thoughtfully left the room.



                              CHAPTER VII.

                           THE PASSION PLAY.


Day was dawning. The first rays of the morning sun, ever broader and
brighter, were darting through the air, whose blue waves surged and
quivered under the flaming couisers of the ascending god of day.
Aphrodite seemed to have bathed and left her veil in the foam of the
wild mountain stream into which the penitent Magdalene had tried to
throw herself. Apollo in graceful sport, had gathered the little white
clouds to conceal the goddess and they waved and fluttered merrily in
the morning breeze around the rushing chariot. Then, as if the
thundering hoof-beats of the fiery chargers had echoed from the vaulted
arch of the firmament, the solemn roar of cannon announced the approach
of the _other_ god, the poor, unassuming, scourged divinity in His
beggar-garb. The radiant charioteer above curbed his impatient steeds
and gazed down from his serene height upon the conflict, the torturing,
silent conflict of suffering upon the bloody battlefield of the
timorous earth. Smiling, he shook his divine head, for he could not
understand the cause of all this. Why should a god impose upon Himself
such misery and humiliation! But he knows that He was a more powerful
god, for _he_ was forced to fly from the zenith when the former rose
from His grave.--So thought Helios, glancing over at the gentle goddess
Selene, whose wan face, paling in his presence, was turned full toward
the earth. She could not bear to behold the harrowing spectacle, she
was the divinity of peace and slumber, so, averting her mild
countenance, she bade Helios farewell and floated away to happier
realms.

Blest gods, ye who sit throned in eternal beauty, eternal peace; ye who
are untouched by the grief and suffering of the human race, who descend
to earth merely to taste the joys of mortals when it pleases ye to add
them to your divine delights, look down upon the gods whom sorrowing
humanity, laden with the primeval curse, summoned from his heaven to
aid, where none of ye aided, to give what none of ye gave, _the heart's
blood of love!_ Gaze from your selfish pleasures, ye gay Hellenic
deities, behold from your Valhalla, grim divinities of the Norsemen,
look hither, ye dull, stupid idols of ancient India, hither where, from
love for the human race, a god bleeds upon the martyr's cross--behold
and turn pale! For when the monstrous deed is done, and the night has
passed. He will cast aside His humble garb and shine in His divine
glory. Ye will then be nothing but the rainbow which shimmers in
changeful hues above His head! "Excelsior!" echoes a voice through the
pure morning-sky and: "Gloria in excelsis, Deo!" peals from the church,
as the priests chant the early mass.

An hour later the prince stopped before the door in a carriage to
convey the countess to the Passion Theatre, for the way was long and
rough.

He gave the Gross sisters strict orders to have everything ready for
Countess Wildenau's departure at the close of the performance.

"The carriages must stand packed with the luggage before the theatre
when we come out. The new maid must not be late."

Madeleine von Wildenau made no objection to all this, she was very pale
and deeply agitated. Ludwig Gross, who was also just going to the
theatre, was obliged to enter the carriage, too; the countess would
listen to no refusal. The prince looked coldly at him. Ludwig Gross
raised his hat, saying courteously:

"May I request an introduction?"

The lady blushed. "Herr Gross, head-master of the drawing-school!" She
paused a moment in embarrassment, Ludwig's bronze countenance still
retained its expectant expression.

"The Hereditary Prince of Metten-Barnheim," said the prince, relieving
the countess' embarrassment, and raising his hat.

The drawing-master's delicate tact instantly perceived Prince Emil's
generous intention.

"Pardon me," he said, with a shade of bashfulness, "I did not know that
I was in the presence of a gentleman of such high rank--"

"No, no, you were perfectly right," interrupted Prince Emil, who was
pleased with the man's modest confidence, and immediately entered into
conversation with him. He asked various questions, and Ludwig described
how he was frequently compelled to get suitable figures for his tableau
from the forests and the fields, because the better educated people all
had parts assigned to them, and how difficult it was to work with this
untrained material; especially as he had barely two or three minutes to
arrange a tableau containing three hundred persons.

The countess gazed absently at the motley throngs surging toward the
Passion Theatre. The fresh morning breeze blew into the carriage. All
nature was full of gladness, a festal joy which even the countess'
richly caparisoned horses seemed to share, for they pranced gaily and
dashed swiftly on as if they would fain vie with the sun-god's steeds
above. The Bavarian flags on the Passion Theatre fluttered merrily
against the blue sky, and now another discharge of cannon announced the
commencement of the performance. The carriage made its way with much
difficulty through the multitude to the entrance, which was surrounded
by natives of Ammergau. Ludwig Gross ordered the driver to stop, and
sprang out. All respectfully made way for him, raising their hats: "Ah,
Herr Gross! The drawing-master! Good-day!"

"Good-day," replied Ludwig Gross, then unceremoniously giving the
countess his arm, requested the prince to follow and led them through
several side passages, to which strangers were not admitted, into the
space reserved for boxes, where two fine-looking young men, also
members of the Gross family, the "ushers" were taking tickets. Ludwig
lifted his hat and left them to go to his work. The prince shook hands
with him and expressed his thanks. "A cultured man!" he said, after
Ludwig had gone. Meanwhile one of the ushers had conducted the countess
to her seat.

There directly before her lay the long-desired goal! A huge
amphitheatre built in the Greek style. Between the boxes, which
overlooked the whole, and the stage, under the open sky, extended a
vast space, whose seats rose to the height of a house. The orchestra,
too, was roofless, as also were the proscenium and the stage, at whose
extreme right and left stood the houses of Pilate and Caiaphas, between
which stretched the streets of Jerusalem. The chorus was stationed on
the proscenium and here all the great scenes in which the populace took
part were performed. The main stage, occupying the centre only, as in
the Greek theatre, was a temple-like covered building with a curtain,
in a certain sense a theatre within a theatre, where the scenes that
required a smaller frame were set. Beyond, the whole was surrounded by
the amphitheatre of the lofty mountains gazing down in majestic repose,
surmounting and crowning all.

The orchestra was playing the last bars of the overture and the surging
and hum of the thousands who were finding their seats had at last
ceased. The chorus came forward, all the singers clad in the Greek
costume, at their head as choragus Johannes Diemer, arrayed in diadem
and toga. A majestic figure of true priestly dignity, he moved across
the stage, fully imbued with the spirit of the sublime drama which it
was his honorable office to open. Deep silence now reigned throughout
the audience. It seemed as if nature herself was listening outside, the
whispering morning breeze held its breath, and not a single bird-note
was heard. The repose of the Sabbath spread its wings protectingly over
the whole scene, that nothing should disturb this consecrated mood.

As the stately figures advanced wearing their costly robes with as much
dignity as if they had never been clad in any other garments, or would
be forced again to exchange them for the coarse torn blouse of toil; as
they began to display the art acquired with such self-sacrificing
devotion after a wearisome day of labor, and the choragus in the
purest, noblest intonation began the first lines:


           "Sink prostrate, overwhelmed with sacred awe,
            Oh, human race, bowed by the curse of God!"


the countess' heart was suddenly stirred by a new emotion and tears
filled her eyes.

           "Eternal God, Thy stammering children hear,
            For children's language, aye, is stammering."


In these words the devout lips expressed the sacred meaning underlying
the childish pastime, and those who heard it feel themselves once more
children--children of the one omnipresent Father.

The prologue was over. The curtain of the central stage rolled up, and
the first tableau, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, was
revealed. Countess Madeleine gazed at it with kindly eyes, for Ludwig
Gross' refined artistic instinct was visible to her, his firm hand had
shaped the rude material into these graceful lines. A second tableau
followed--the Adoration of the Cross. An empty cross, steeped in light,
stood on a height worshipped by groups of children and angels. The
key-note was thus given and the drama began.--The first scene was
before the temple at Jerusalem--the Saviour's entry was expected.
Madeleine von Wildenau's heart throbbed heavily. She did not herself
know the cause of her emotion--it almost robbed her of breath--will it
be _he_ whom she expects, to whom she is bound by some incomprehensible,
mysterious spell? Will she find him?

Shouts of "Hosanna!" echoed from the distance--an increasing tumult was
audible. A crowd of people, rejoicing and singing praises, poured out
of the streets of Jerusalem--the first heralds of the procession
appeared, breathlessly announcing His approach.

An indescribable fear overpowered the countess--but it now seemed to
her as if she did not dread the man whom she expected to see, but Him
he was to personate. The audience, too, became restless, a vibrating
movement ran like a faint whisper through the multitude: "He is
coming!"

The procession now poured upon the stage, a surging mass--passionately
excited people waving palms, and in their midst, mounted on a miserable
beast of burden--the Master of the World.

The countess scarcely dared to look, she feared the dismounting, which
might shock her æsthetic sense. But lightly as a thought, with scarcely
a movement, he had already slipped from the animal, not one of the
thousands saw how.

"It is he!" Madeleine's brain whirled, an unspeakable joy overwhelmed
her: "When shall I behold thee face to face!" her own words, spoken the
evening before, rang in her ears and--the realization was standing
before her.

"The Christ!"--a thrill of reverence stirred the throng. Aye, it was
He, from head to foot! He had not uttered a word, yet all hearts sank
conquered at his feet. Aye, that was the glance, the dignity, the
calmness of a God! That was the soul which embraced and cherished a
world--that was the heart of love which sacrificed itself for man--died
upon the cross.

Now the lips parted and, like an airy, winged genius the words soared
upward: A voice like an angel's shouting through the universe: "Peace,
peace on earth!"--now clear and resonant as Easter bells, now gentle
and tender as a mother's soothing song beside the bed of her sick
child. "Source of love--thou art He!"

Mute, motionless, as if transfigured, the countess gazed at the
miracle--and with her thousands in the same mood. But from her a secret
bond stretched to him--from her alone among the thousands--a prophetic,
divine bond, woven by their yearning souls on that night after she had
beheld the face from which the God so fervently implored now smiled
consent.

The drama pursued its course.

Christ looked around and perceived the traders with their wares, and
the tables of the money-changers in the court of the temple. As cloud
after cloud gradually rises in the blue sky and conceals the sun, noble
indignation darkened the mild countenance, and the eyes flashed with a
light which reminded Helios, watching above, of the darts of Zeus.

"My House," saith the Lord, "shall be called a house of prayer, but ye
have made it a den of thieves!" And as though His wrath was a power,
which emanating from Him acted without any movement of His, a hurricane
seemed to sweep over the stands of the traders, while not a single
vehement motion destroyed the calmness of the majestic figure. The
tables were overthrown, the money rolled on the ground, the cages of
the doves burst open, and the frightened birds soared with arrowy speed
over the heads of the spectators. The traders raged and shrieked, "My
doves, my doves! My money!" and rushed to save the silver coins and
scattered wares. But He stood motionless amid the tumult, like the
stone of which He said: "Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be
broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."

Then, with royal dignity. He swung the scourge over the backs bowed to
seize their paltry gains. "Take these things hence, make not my
Father's house a house of merchandise!" He did not strike, yet it
seemed as though the scourge had fallen, for the dealers fled in wild
confusion before the uplifted hand, and terror seized the Pharisees.
They perceived that He who stood before them was strong enough to crush
them all! His breath had the might of the storm, His glance was
consuming flame--His lash felled without striking--He need only will,
and "in three days" He would build a new temple as He boasted. Roaring
like the sea in a tempest, the exulting populace surrounded Him,
yielding to His sway as the waves recede before the breath of the
mighty ruler.--Aye, this was the potent spirit of the Jehovah of the
Jews, the Zeus of the Greeks, the Jupiter of the Romans. This man was
the Son of the God who created Heaven and earth, and it would be an
easy matter for the Heir of this power to crush the Pharisees without
stirring a finger--if He desired, but that was the point; it was _not_
His will, for His mission was a different one! The head once more
drooped humbly, the brow, corrugated with anger, smoothed. "I have done
my Father's bidding--I have saved the honor of His House!" The storm
died away into a whisper, and the mild gaze rested forgivingly upon His
foes.

The countess' virile heart almost rebelled against this humility, and
would fain have cried out: "Thou _art_ the Son of God, help Thyself!"
Her sense of justice, formed according to human ideas, was opposed to
this toleration, this sacrifice of the most sacred rights! Like Helios
in the vault above, she could not understand the grandeur, the divinity
of self humiliation, of suffering truth and purity to be judged by
falsehood and hypocrisy--instead of using His own power to destroy
them.

As if the personator of Christ suspected her thoughts he suddenly fixed
his glance, above the thousands of heads, directly upon her and like a
divine message the words fell from his lips: "But in many hearts, day
will soon dawn!" Then, turning with indescribable gentleness to His
disciples. He added: "Come, let us go into the temple and there worship
the Father!" He walked toward it, yet it did not seem as if his feet
moved; He vanished from the spectators' eyes noiselessly, gradually,
like the fleeting of a happy moment.

The countess covered her eyes with her hand--she felt as if she were
dreaming a sadly beautiful dream. The prince watched her silently, but
intently. Nods and gestures of greeting came from the boxes on all
sides--from the duchess, the diplomatic corps, and numerous
acquaintances who happened to be there--but the countess saw nothing.

The drama went on. It was the old story of the warfare of baseness
against nobility, falsehood against truth. The Pharisees availed
themselves of the injury to the tradesmen's interests to make them
their allies. The populace, easily deluded, was incited against the
agitator from "Galilee," who wished to rob them of the faith of their
fathers and drive the dealers from the temple. So the conspiracy arose
and swelled to an avalanche to crush the sacred head! Christ had dealt
a rude blow to all that was base in human nature, but baseness was the
greater power, to which even God must succumb while He remained a
dweller upon earth. But, even in yielding, He conquered--death bestowed
the palm of victory!

Between the first and second act was a tableau, "Joseph sold by his
Brethren." With thoughtful discrimination every important incident in
the Play was suggested by a corresponding event in the Old Testament,
represented by a tableau, in order to show the close connection between
the Old and the New Testament and verify the words: "that all things
which are written may be fulfilled."

At last the curtain rose again and revealed the Sanhedrim assembled for
judgment. Here sat the leaders of the people of Israel, and also of
Oberammergau. In the midst was Caiaphas, the High-priest, the Chief of
the Sanhedrim, the burgomaster of Ammergau and chief manager of the
Passion Play. At his right and left sat the oldest members of the
community of Ammergau, an old man with a remarkably fine face and long
white beard, as Annas, and the sacristan, an impressive figure, as
Nathanael. On both sides, in a wide circle, were the principal men in
the parish robed as priests and Pharisees. What heads! What figures!
The burgomaster, Caiaphas, rose and, with a brief address, opened the
discussion. Poor Son of God, how wilt Thou fare in the presence of this
mighty one of earth? The burgomaster was the type of the fanatical,
ambitious priest, not a blind, dull zealot--nay, he was the
representative of the aristocratic hierarchy, the distinguished men of
the highest intelligence and culture. A face rigid as though chiselled
from stone, yet animated by an intellect of diabolical superiority,
which would never confess itself conquered, which no terror could
intimidate, no marvel dazzel, no suffering move. Tall and handsome in
the very flower of manhood, with eyes whose glances pierced like
javelins, a tiara on his haughty head, robed in all the pomp of
Oriental priestly dignity, every clanking ornament a symbol of his
arrogant, iron nature, every motion of his delicate white hands, every
fold of his artistically draped mantle, every hair of his flowing beard
a proof of that perfect conscious mastery of outward ceremonial
peculiar to those who are accustomed to play a shrewdly planned part
before the public. Thus he stood, terrible yet fascinating, repellent
yet attractive, nay to the trained eye of an artist who could
appreciate this masterly blending of the most contradictory influences,
positively enthralling.

This was the effect produced upon Countess Wildenau. The feeling of
indication roused by the incomprehensible humiliation of the divine
Martyr almost tempted her to side with the resolute foe who manfully
defended his own honor with his god's. A noble-hearted woman cannot
withstand the influence of genuine intellectual manfulness, and until
the martyrdom of Christ became _heroism_, the firm, unyielding
high-priest exerted an irresistible charm over the countess. The
conscious mastery, the genius of the performer, the perfection of his
acting, roused and riveted the artistic interest of the cultivated
woman, and as, with the people of Ammergau, the individual and the
actor are not two distinct personages, as among professional artists,
she knew that the man before her also possessed a lofty nature, and the
nimbus of Ammergau constantly increased, the spirit ruling the whole
obtained still greater sway. The sacristan was also an imposing figure
as Nathanael, the second high-priest, who, with all the power of
Pharisaical superiority and sophistry, appeared as Christ's accuser.
The eloquence of these two judges was overpowered, and into the surging
waves of passion, Annas, in his venerable dignity, dropped with steady
hand the sharp anchor of cold, pitiless resolve. An imposing, sinister
assembly was this great Sanhedrim, and every spectator involuntarily
felt the dread always inspired by a circle of stern, cruel despots.
Poor Lamb, what will be Thy fate?

Destiny pursued its course. In the next act Christ announced His
approaching death to the disciples. Now it seemed as though He bore
upon His brow an invisible helm of victory, on which the dove of the
Holy Spirit rested with outspread wings. Now He was the hero--the hero
who _chose_ death. Yet meekness was diffused throughout His whole
bearing, was the impress of His being; the meekness which spares others
but does not tremble for itself. A new perception dawned upon the
countess: to be strong yet gentle was the highest nobility of the
soul--and as here also the character and its personator were one, she
knew that the men before her possessed these attributes: strength and
gentleness. Now her defiant spirit at last melted and she longed to
take Him to her heart to atone for the injustice of the human race. She
thanked Simon for receiving the condemned man under his hospitable
roof.

"Aye, love Him--I, too, love Him?" she longed to cry out to those who
were ministering to Him. But when Mary Magdalene touched and anointed
Him she averted her eyes, for she grudged her the privilege and thought
of her poor, beautiful penitent at home. As He uttered the words:
"Rise, Magdalene. Darkness is gathering, and the wintry storms are
raging. Yet be comforted! In the early morning, in the Spring garden,
thou wilt see me again!" tears streamed form her eyes; "When will the
morning dawn that I shall greet Thee--in the Spring garden, redeeming
love?" asked a voice in her heart.

But when Mary appeared and Christ took leave of His mother--when the
latter sank upon the breast of her divine son and He consoled her with
a voice whose sweetness no ear had ever heard equalled, a feeling which
she had never experienced took possession of her: it was neither envy
nor jealousy--only a sorrowful longing: "If I were only in her place!"

And when Christ said: "My hour is come; now is my soul troubled; and
what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause
came I unto this hour!" and Mary, remembering Simeon's words, cried:
"Simeon, thy prediction--'a sword shall pierce through thy own soul,
also'--is now fulfilled!" the countess, for the first time, understood
the meaning of the pictures of Mary with the seven swords in her heart;
her own was bleeding from the keenness of her anguish. Now, overpowered
with emotion, He again extended His arms: "Mother, mother, receive thy
son's fervent gratitude for all the love and faith which thou hast
bestowed in the thirty-three years of my life: Farewell, dear mother!"

The countess felt as if she would no longer endure it--that she must
sink in a sea of grief and yearning.

"My son, where shall I see Thee again?" asked Mary.

"Yonder, dear mother, where the words of the Scripture shall be
fulfilled: 'He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep
before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.'" Then, while
the others were weeping over the impending calamity, Christ said: "Be
not overcome in the first struggle. Trust in me." And, as He spoke, the
loving soul knew that it might rest on Him and be secure.

He moved away. Serene, noble, yet humble, He went to meet His death.

The curtain fell--but this time there was no exchange of greetings from
the boxes, the faces of their occupants were covered to conceal the
tears of which they were ashamed, yet could not restrain.

The countess and her companion remained silent. Madeleine's forehead
rested on her hand--the prince was secretly wiping his eyes.

"People of God, lo, thy Saviour is near! The Redeemer, long promised,
hath come!" sang the chorus, and the curtain rising, showed Christ and
his disciples on the way to Jerusalem. It was the moment that Christ
wept over Jerusalem. Tears of the keenest anguish which can pierce the
heart of a God, tears for the sins of the world! "Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things
which belongs unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes."

The disciples entreated their Master not to enter the hostile city and
thus avoid the crime which it was destined to commit. Or to enter and
show Himself in His power, to judge and to reward.

"Children, what ye desire will be done in its time, but my ways are
ordered by my Father, and thus saith the Lord: 'My thoughts are not
your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.'"

And, loyal and obedient, He followed the path of death. Judas alone
lingered behind, resolving to leave the fallen greatness which promised
no earthly profit and would bring danger and disgrace upon its
adherents. In this mood he was met by Dathan, Andreas Gross, who was
seeking a tool for the vengeance of the money changers. Finding it in
Judas, he took him before the Sanhedrim.

An impressive and touching tableau now introduced a new period, the
gathering of manna in the wilderness, which refreshed the starving
children of Israel. A second followed: The colossal bunch of grapes
from Canaan. "The Lord miraculously fed the multitude in the desert
with the manna and rejoiced their hearts with the grapes of Canaan, but
Jesus offers us a richer banquet from Heaven. From the mystery of His
body and blood flows mercy and salvation!" sang the chorus. The curtain
rose again, Christ was at supper with His disciples. He addressed them
in words of calm farewell. But they did not yet fully understand, for
they asked who would be _first_ in His heavenly kingdom?

His only answer was to lay aside His upper garment, gird, with divine
dignity, a cloth about His loins, and kneel to perform for the
disciples the humblest service--_the washing of their feet_.

The human race looked on in breathless wonder--viewless bands of angels
soared downward and the demons of pride and defiance in human nature
fled and hid themselves in the inmost recesses of their troubled
hearts.

Aye, the strong soul of the woman, which had at first rebelled against
the patience of the suffering God--now understood it and to her also
light came, as He had promised and, by the omnipotent feeling which
urged her to the feet of Him who knelt rendering the lowliest service
to the least of His disciples, she perceived the divinity of
_humility_!

It was over. He had risen and put on His upper garment; He stood with
His figure drawn up to His full height and gazed around the circle:
"Now ye are clean, but not _all_!"--and His glance rested mournfully on
Peter, who before the cock crew, would deny Him thrice, and on Judas,
who would betray Him for thirty pieces of silver.

Then He again took His seat and, as the presentiment of approaching
death transfigures even the most commonplace mortal and illumines the
struggling soul at the moment of its separation from the body, so the
_God_ transfigured the earthly form of the "Son of Man" and appeared
more and more plainly on the pallid face, ere he left the frail husk
which He had chosen for His transitory habitation. And as the dying man
distributes his property among his heirs, _He_ bequeathed His. But He
had nothing to give, save Himself. As the cloud dissolves into millions
of raindrops which the thirsting earth drinks, He divided Himself into
millions of atoms which, in the course of the ages, were to refresh
millions of human beings with the banquet of love. His body and His
blood were his legacy. He divided it into countless portions, to
distribute it among countless heirs, yet it remained _one_ and the
_part_ is to every one _the whole_. For as an element remains a great
unity, no matter into how many atoms it may dissolve--as water is
always water whether in single drops or in the ocean--fire always fire
in sparks or a conflagration--so Christ is _always Christ_ in the drops
of the chalice and the particles of the bread, as well as in His
original person, for He, _too_, is an element, _the element of
divinity_.

As kindred kneel around the bedside of a loved one who is dying, bedew
his hand with tears, and utter the last entreaty: "Forgive us, if we
have ever wounded you?" the thousands of spectators longed to kneel,
and there was not one who did not yearn to press his lips to the
wonderful hand which was distributing the bread, and cry: "Forgive us
our sins." But as reverence for the dying restrains loud lamentations,
the spectators controlled themselves in order not to sob aloud and thus
disturb the divine peace throned upon the Conqueror's brow.

Destiny now relentlessly pursued its course. Judas sold his master for
thirty pieces of silver, and they were paid to him before the
Sanhedrim. The pieces of silver rang on the stone table upon which they
were counted out. It seemed as if the clear sound was sharply piercing
the world, like the edge of a scythe destined to mow down the holiest
things.

The priests exulted, there was joy in the camp of the foes! All that
human arrogance and self-conceit could accomplish, raised its head
triumphantly in Caiaphas. The regal priest stood so firmly upon
the height of his secular power that nothing could overthrow him,
and--Jesus of Nazareth must die!

So the evening came when Christ went with the twelve disciples to the
Mount of Olives to await His doom.

"Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may also
glorify thee! I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do--I
have manifested thy name unto men! Father, sanctify them through thy
truth; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me and I in
thee!"

He climbed the lonely mount in the garden of olive trees to pass
through the last agony, the agony of death, which seized upon even the
Son of God so long as He was still bound by the laws of the human body.

"Father, if thou be willing, let this cup pass from me!"

Here Freyer's acting reached its height; it was no longer semblance,
but reality. The sweat fell in burning drops from his brow, and tears
streamed from his eyes. "Yet not _my_ will, but _Thine_ be done--Thy
sacred will!" Clasping his trembling hands, he flung himself prone on
the ground, hiding his tear-stained face, "Father--Thy son--hear Him!"

The throng breathed more and more heavily, the tears flowed faster. The
heart of all humanity was touched with the anguished cry: "Oh, sins of
humanity, ye crush me--oh, the terrible burden--the bitter cup!"

With this anguish the Son of God first drew near to the human race, in
this suffering He first bent down to mortals that they might embrace
Him lovingly like a mortal brother. And it was so at this moment, also!
They would fain have dragged Him from the threatening cross, defended
Him with their own bodies, purchased his release at any cost--too late,
_this_ repentance should have come several centuries earlier.

The hour of temptation was over. The disciples had slept and left him
alone--but the angel of the Lord had comforted Him, the angel whom God
sends to every one who is deserted by men. He was himself again--the
Conqueror of the World!

Judas came with the officers and pressed upon the sweet mouth on which
the world would fain hang in blissful self-forgetfulness--the traitor's
kiss.

"Judas, can you touch those lips and not fall at the feet of Him you
have betrayed?" cried a voice in Madeleine von Wildenau's heart. "Can
you _kiss_ the lips which so patiently endure the death-dealing caress,
and not find your hate transformed to love?" Ah, only the divine can
recognize the divine, only sympathetic natures attract one another!
Judas is the symbol of the godless world, which would no longer
perceive God's presence, even if He came on earth once more. The
soldiers, brawny fellows, fell to the ground as He stood before them
with the words: "I am Jesus of Nazareth!" and He was forced to say:
"Rise! Fear ye not!" that they might accomplish their work--but Judas
remained unmoved and delivered Him up.

Christ was a prisoner and descended step by step into the deepest
ignominy. But no matter through what mire of baseness and brutality
they dragged Him, haling Him from trial to trial--nothing robbed Him of
the majesty of the Redeemer! And if His speech had been full of power,
so was His silence! Before the Sanhedrim, before Herod, and finally
before Pilate, _He_ was the king, and the mighty ones of earth were
insignificant in _His_ presence.

"Who knows whether this man is not the son of some god?" murmured the
polytheistic Romans--and shrank from the mystery which surrounded the
silent One.

The impression here was produced solely by Freyer's imposing calmness
and unearthly eyes. The glance he cast at Herod when the latter ordered
him to perform a miracle--darken the judgment chamber or transform a
roll of papyrus into a serpent--that one glance, full of dignity and
gentleness, fixed upon the poor, short-sighted child of the dust was a
greater miracle than all the conjuring tricks of the Egyptian
Magicians.

But this very silence, this superiority, filled the priest with furious
rage and hastened His doom, which He disdained to stay by a single
word.

True, Pilate strove to save Him. The humane Roman, with his
aristocratic bearing, as Thomas Rendner personated him with masterly
skill, formed a striking contrast to the gloomy, fanatical priests, but
he was not the man for violent measures, and the furious leaders
understood how to present this alternative. The desire to conciliate,
the refuge of all weak souls which shrink in terror from catastrophes,
had already wrested from him a shameful concession--he had suffered the
Innocent One to be delivered to the scourge.

With clenched teeth the spectators beheld the chaste form, bound to the
stake and stained with blood, quiver beneath the lashes of the
executioner, without a murmur of complaint from the silent lips. And
when He had "had enough," as they phrased it, they placed him on a
chair, threw a royal mantle about Him, and placed a sceptre of reeds in
the hand of the mock-king. But He remained mute. The tormentors grew
more and more enraged--they wanted to have satisfaction, to gloat over
the moans of the victim--they dealt Him a blow in the face, then a
second one. Christ did not move. They thrust Him from the chair so that
He fell on the ground--no one ever forgot the beautiful, pathetic
figure--but He was still silent! Then one of the executioners brought a
crown made of huge thorns; He was raised again and the martyr's diadem
was placed upon His brow. The sharp thorns resisted, they would not fit
the noble head, so His tormentors took two sticks laid cross-ways, and
with them forced the spiked coronals so low on His forehead that drops
of blood flowed! Christ quivered under the keen agony--but--He was
silent! Then He was dragged out of His blood, a spectacle to the
populace.

Again Helios above gave the rein to his radiant coursers--he thought of
all the horrors in the history of his divine House, of the Danaides, of
the chained Prometheus, and of others also, but he could recall nothing
comparable to _this_, and _loathed the human race_! Averting his face,
he guided his weary steeds slowly downward from the zenith.

The evening breeze blew chill upon the scene of agony.

A furious tumult filled the streets of Jerusalem. The priests were
leading the raging mob to the governor's house--fanning their wrath to
flame with word and gesture. Caiaphas, Nathanael, the fanatics of
Judaism--Annas and Ezekiel, each at the head of a mob, rushed from
three streets in an overwhelming concourse. The populace surged like
the angry sea, and unchaining yet dominating the elements with word and
glance the lofty figure of Caiaphas, the high priest, towered in their
midst.

"Shake it off! Cast from you the yoke of the tempter!"

"He has scorned Moses and the prophets--He has blasphemed God--to the
cross with the false Messiah!"

"May a curse rest on every one who does not vote for his death--let him
be cut off from the hereditary rights of our fathers!"

Thus the four leaders cast their watchword like firebrands among the
throngs, and the blaze spread tumultuously.

"The Nazarene must die--we demand judgment," roared the people. New
bands constantly flocked in. "Oh, fairest day of Israel! Children, be
resolute! Threaten a general insurrection. The governor wished to hear
the voice of the people--let him hear it!" shrieked Caiaphas, and his
passion stirred the mob to fiercer fury. All pressed forward to the
house of Pilate. The doors opened and the governor came out. The
handsome, classic countenance of the Roman expressed deep contempt, as
he surveyed the frantic mob. Behind him appeared the embodiment of
sorrow--the picture of all pictures--the Ecce Homo--which all the
artists of the world have striven to represent, yet never exhausted the
subject. Here it stood personified--before the eyes of men, and even
the governor's voice trembled as he pointed to it.

"Behold, _what_ a man!"

"Crucify him!" was the answer.

Pilate endeavored to give the fury of the mob another victim: the
criminal Barabbas was brought forth and confronted with Christ. The
basest of human beings and the noblest! But the spectacle did not move
them, for the patience and serenity of the Martyr expressed a grandeur
which shamed them all, and _this_ was the intolerable offense! The
sight of the scourged, bleeding body did not cool their vengeance
because they saw that the spirit was unbroken! It _must_ be quelled,
that it might not rise in judgment against them, for they had gone too
far, the ill-treated victim was a reproach to them--he could not be
suffered to live longer.

"Release Barabbas! To death with the Nazarene, crucify him!"

Vainly the governor strove to persuade the people. The cool,
circumspect man was too weak to defy these powers of hatred--he would
fain save Christ, yet was unwilling to drive the fanatics to extremes.
So he yielded, but the grief with which he did so, "to avert a greater
misfortune," absolved him from the terrible guilt whose curse he cast
upon the leaders' head.

The expression with which he pronounced the sentence, uttered the
words: "Then take ye Him and crucify Him!" voices the grief of the man
of culture for eternal beauty.

The bloodthirsty mob burst into a yell of exultation when their victim
was delivered to them--now they could cool their vengeance on Him! "To
Golgotha--hence with him to the place of skulls!"

Christ--and Thy sacrifice is for _these_. Alas, the day will come,
though perchance not for thousands of years, when Thou wilt perceive
that they were not _worthy_ of it. But that will be the day of
judgment!

A crowd surged though the streets of Jerusalem--in their midst the
condemned man, burdened with the instrument of his own martyrdom.

In one corner amid the populace stood Mary, surrounded by a group of
friends, and the mother beheld her son urged forward, like a beast
which, when it falls, is forced up with lashes and pressed on till it
sinks lifeless.

High above in the vaulted heavens, veiled by the gathering dude of
evening, the gods whispered to one another with secret horror as they
watched the unprecedented sight. Often as they might behold it, they
could never believe it.

The procession stopped before a house--Christ sank to the earth.

A man came out and thrust Him from the threshold.

"Hence, there is no place here for you to rest."

Ahasuerus! The tortured sufferer looked at him with the gaze of
a dying deer--a single mute glance of agony, but the man on whom
it fell nevermore found peace on earth, but was driven from every
resting-place, from land to land, from one spot to another--hunted on
ceaselessly through the centuries--wandering forever.

"He will die on the road"--cried the first executioner, Christ had
dragged Himself a few steps forward, and fell for the second time.

"Drive him on with blows!" shrieked the Pharisees and the people.

"Oh! where is the sorrow like unto my sorrow?" moaned Mary, covering
her face.

"He is too weak, some one must help him," said the executioner. He
could not be permitted to die there--the people must see Him on the
pillory.

His face was covered with sweat and blood--tears flowed from His eyes,
but the mute lips uttered no word of complaint. Then His friends
ventured to go and render whatever aid was permitted. Veronica offered
Him her handkerchief to wipe His face, and when He returned it, it bore
in lines of sweat and blood, the portrait which, throughout the ages,
has exerted the silent magic of suffering in legend and in art.

Simon of Cyrene took the cross from the sinking form to bear it for Him
to Golgotha, and the women of Jerusalem wept. Christ was standing by
the roadside exhausted, but when He saw the women with their children,
the last words of sorrow for their lost ones rose from His heart to His
lips:

"Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and
your children."

"For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say: Blessed
are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never
gave suck!"

"Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the
hills. Cover us."

"For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the
dry?"

"Drive the women away! Spare him no longer--hence to the place of
execution!" the priests commanded.

"To Golgotha--Crucify him!" roared the people. The women were driven
away; another message from the governor was unheeded, the procession
moved steadily on to death.

But Mary did not leave Him. With the few faithful friends she joined
her son's march of suffering, for the steadfastness of maternal love
was as great as her anguish.

There was a whispering and a murmuring in the air as if the Valkyries
and the gods of Greece were consulting whether they should aid the Son
of Man. But they were powerless; the sphere of the Christian's god was
closed against them.

The scene changed. The chorus, robed in sable mourning cloaks, appeared
and began the dirge for the dying God. The simple chant recalled an
ancient Anglo-Saxon song of the cross, composed in the seventh century
by the skald Caedmon, and which for more than a thousand years lay
buried in the mysterious spell of the rune.


   [4]Methought I saw a Tree in mid-air hang
      Of trees the brightest--mantling o'er with light-streaks;
      A beacon stood it, glittering with gold.

            All the angels beheld it,
            Angel hosts in beauty created.
            Yet stood it not a pillory of shame.
            Thither turned the gaze
            Of spirits blessed,
            And of earthly pilgrims
            Of noblest nature.
            This tree of victory
            Saw I, the sin-laden one.

            Yet 'mid the golden glitter
            Were traces of honor.
            Adown the right side
            Red drops were trickling.
            Startled and shuddering
            Noted I the hovering vision
            Suddenly change its hue.

            Long lay I pondering
            Gazing full sadly
            At the Saviour's Rood.
            When lo, on my ear
            Fell the murmur of speech;
            These are the words
            The forest uttered:

           "Many a year ago,
            Yet still my mind holds it,
            Low was I felled.
            The dim forest within
            Hacked from my roots,
            Haled on by rude woodmen
            Bracing sinewy shoulders
            Up the steep mountain side,
            Till aloft on the summit
            Firmly they fastened me.

           "I spied the Frey[5] of man with eager haste
            Approach to mount me; neither bend nor break
            I durst, for so it was decreed above
            Though earth about me shook.

           "Up-girded him then the young hero,
            That was God Almighty,
            Strong and steady of mood,
            Stept he on the high gallows:
            Fearless amongst many beholders
            For he would save mankind.
            Trembled I when that 'beorn' climbed me,
            But I durst not bow to earth."

            There hung the Lord of Hosts
            Swart clouds veiled the corpse,
            The sun's light vanished
            'Neath shadows murk.
            While in silence drear
            All creation wept
            The fall of their king.
            Christ was on Rood--
            Thither from afar
            Men came hastening
            To aid the noble one.

            Everything I saw,
            Sorely was I
            With sorrows harrowed,
            Yet humbly I inclined
            To the hands of his servants
            Striving much to aid them.

            Now from the Rood
            The mighty God,
            Spear-pierced and blood-besprent,
            Gently men lowered;
            They laid him down limb-weary,
            They stood at the lifeless head,
            Gazing at Heaven's Lord,
            And he there rests awhile,
            Weary after his mickle death-fight.


Such was the paean of Caedmon, mighty among the writers of runes, in
the seventh century after the Saviour's death. Now, twelve centuries
later, it lived again, and the terrible event was once more enacted,
just as the skald had sung, just as it happened nearly two thousand
years ago.

What is space, what is time to aught that is rooted in love?

The dirge of the chorus had died away. A strange sound behind the
curtain accompanied the last verses--the sound of hammering--could it
be? No, it would be too horrible. The audience heard, yet _would_ not
hear. A deathlike stillness pervaded the theatre--the blows of the
hammer became more and more distinct--the curtain rolled upward--there
He lay with His feet toward the spectators, flat upon the cross. And
the executioners, with heavy blows, drove nails through His limbs; they
pierced the kind hands which had never done harm to any living
creature, but wherever they were gently laid, healed all wounds and
stilled all griefs; the feet which had borne the divine form so lightly
that it seemed to float over the burning sand of the land and the
surging waves of the sea, always on a mission of love. Now He lay in
suffering on the ground, stretched upon the accursed timbers--half
benumbed, like a stricken stag. At the right and left stood the lower
crosses of the two criminals. These men merely had their arms thrown
over the cross-beams and tied with ropes, only the feet were fastened
with nails. Christ alone was nailed by both hands and feet, because the
Pharisees were tortured by a foreboding that He could not be wholly
killed. Had they dared, they would have torn Him to pieces, and
scattered the fragments to the four winds, in order to be sure that He
would not rise on the third day, as He had predicted.

The executioners had completed the binding of the thieves. "Now the
King of the Jews must be raised."

"Lift the cross! Take hold!" the captain commanded. The spectators held
their breath, every heart stood still! The four executioners grasped it
with their brawny arms. "Up! Don't let go!"

The cross is ponderous, the men pant, bracing their shoulders against
it--their veins swell--another jerk--it sways--"Hold firm! Once
more--put forth your strength!" and in a wide sweep it moved
upward--all cowered back shuddering at the horrible spectacle.

"It is not, It cannot be!" Yet it is, it can be! Horror thrilled the
spectators, their limbs trembled. One grasped another, as if to hold
themselves from falling. It was rising, the cross was rising above the
world! Higher--nearer! "Brace against it--don't let go!"

It stood erect and was firm.

There hung the divine figure of sorrow, pallid and wan. The nails were
driven through the bleeding hands and feet--and the eye which would
fain deny was forced to witness it, the heart that would have
prevented, was compelled to bear it. But the scene could be endured no
longer, the grief restrained with so much difficulty found vent in loud
sobs, and the hands trembling with a feverish chill were clasped with
the _same_ feeling of adoring love. Unspeakable compassion was poured
forth in ceaseless floods of tears, and rose gathering in a cloud of
pensive melancholy around the head of the Crucified One to soothe His
mortal anguish. By degrees their eyes became accustomed to the scene
and gained strength to gaze at it. Divine grace pervaded the slender
body, and--as eternal beauty reconciles Heaven and hell and
transfigures the most terrible things--horror gradually merged into
devout admiration of the perfect human beauty revealed in chaste repose
and majesty before their delighted gaze. The countess had clasped her
hands over her breast. The world lay beneath her as if she was floating
above with Him on the cross. She no longer knew whether he was a _man_
or Christ Himself--she only knew that the universe contained _nothing_
save that form.

Her eyes were fixed upon the superhuman vision, tear after tear
trickled down her cheeks. The prince gazed anxiously at her, but she
did not notice it--she was entranced. If she could but die now--die at
the foot of the cross, let her soul exhale like a cloud of incense,
upward to Him.

Darkness was gathering. The murmuring and whispering in the air drew
nearer--was it the Valkyries, gathering mournfully around the hero who
scorned the aid. Was it the wings of the angel of death? Or was it a
flock of the sacred birds which, legend relates, strove to draw out the
nails that fastened the Saviour to the cross until their weak bills
were crooked and they received the name of "cross-bills."

The sufferer above was calm and silent. Only His lambent eyes spoke,
spoke to those invisible powers hovering around Him in the final hour.

Beneath His cross the soldiers were casting lots for His garments--the
priests were exulting--the brute cynicism was watching with wolfish
greed for the victim to fall into its clutches, while shouting with
jeering mocking: If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross!

He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him!--

"Thou that destroyest the temple and buildest it in three days, save
thyself. Show thy power, proud King of the Jews!"

The tortured sufferer painfully turned His head.

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.--"

Then one of the malefactors, even in his own death agony, almost mocked
Him, but the other rebuked him; "We receive the due reward of our
deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss!" Then he added
beseechingly: "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."

Christ made the noble answer: "Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt
thou be with me in paradise."

There was a fresh roar of mockery from the Pharisees. "He cannot save
himself, yet promises the kingdom of heaven to others."

But the Saviour no longer heard, His senses were failing; He bent His
head toward Mary and John. "Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold thy
mother!"

The signs of approaching death appeared. He grew restless--struggled
for breath, His tongue clung to His palate.

"I thirst."

The sponge dipped in vinegar was handed to him on a long spear.

He sipped but was not refreshed. The agony had reached its climax:
"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" He cried from the depths of His
breaking heart, a wonderful waving motion ran through the noble form in
the last throes of death. Then, with a long sigh, He murmured in the
tones of an Æolian harp: "It is finished! Father, into Thy hands I
commend my spirit!" gently bowed his head and expired.

A crashing reverberation shook the earth. Helios' chariot rolled
thundering into the sea. The gods fled, overwhelmed and scattered by
the hurrying hosts of heaven. Dust whirled upward from the ground and
smoke from the chasms, darkening the air. The graves opened and sent
forth their inmates. In the mighty anguish of love, the Father rends
the earth as He snatches from it the victim He has too long left to
pitiless torture! The false temple was shattered, the veil rent--and
amid the flames of Heaven the Father's heart goes forth to meet the
maltreated, patient, obedient Son.

"Come, thou poor martyr!" echoed yearningly through the heavens. "Come,
thou poor martyr!" repeated every spectator below.

Yet they were still compelled to see the beloved body pierced with a
sharp lance till the hot blood gushed forth--and it seemed as if the
thrust entered the heart of the entire world! They were still forced to
hear the howling of the wolves disputing over the sacred corpse--but at
last the tortured soul was permitted to rest.

The governor's hand had protected the lifeless body and delivered it to
His followers.

The multitude dispersed, awe-stricken by the terrible portents--the
priests, pale with terror, fled to their shattered temple. Golgotha
became empty. The jeers and reviling had died away, the tumult in
nature had subsided--and the sacred stillness of evening brooded over
those who remained. "He has fulfilled His task--He has entered into the
rest of the Father." The drops of blood fell noiselessly from the
Redeemer's heart upon the sand. Nothing was heard save the low sobbing
of the women at the foot of the cross.

Then pitying love approached, and never has a pæan of loyalty been sung
like that which the next hour brought. The first blades were now
appearing of that love whose seed has spread throughout the world!

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus came with ladders and tools to take
down the body.

Ascending, they wound about the lifeless form long bands of white
linen, whose ends they flung down from the cross. These were grasped by
the friends below as a counterpoise to lower it gently down. Joseph and
Nicodemus now began to draw out the nails with pincers; the cracking
and splintering of the wood was heard, so firm was the iron.

Mary sat on a stone, waiting resignedly, with clasped hands, for her
son. "Noble men, bring me my child's body soon!" she pleaded softly.

The women spread a winding sheet at her feet to receive it.

At last the nails were drawn out and--


           "Now from the rood
            The mighty God
            Men gently lowered."


Cautiously one friend laid the loosened, rigid arms of the dead form
upon the other's shoulders, that they might not fall suddenly, Joseph
of Arimathea clasped the body: "Sweet, sacred burden, rest upon my
shoulders."

He descended the ladder with it. Half carried, half lowered in the
bands, the lifeless figure slides to the foot of the instrument of
martyrdom.

Nicodemus extended his arms to him: "Come, sacred corpse of my only
friend, let me receive you."

They bore Him to Mary--


           "They laid Him down limb-weary
            They stood at the lifeless head."


that the son might rest once more in the mother's lap.

She clasped in her arms the wounded body of the son born in anguish the
second time.

Magdalene knelt beside it. "Let me kiss once more the hand which has so
often blessed me." And with chaste fervor the Penitent's lips touched
the cold, pierced hand of the corpse.

Another woman flung herself upon Him. "Dearest Master, one more tear
upon Thy lifeless body!" And the sobbing whisper of love sounded sweet
and soothing like vesper-bells after a furious storm.

But the men stood devoutly silent:


           "Gazing at Heaven's Lord,
            And He there rests awhile
            Weary after his mickle death-fight."



                             CHAPTER VIII.

                                FREYER.


The Play was over. "Christ is risen!" He had burst the sepulchre and
hurled the guards in the dust by the sight of His radiant apparition.
He had appeared to the Penitent as a simple gardener "early in the
morning," as He had promised, and at last had been transfigured and had
risen above the world, bearing in His hand the standard of victory.

The flood of human beings poured out of the close theatre into the open
air. Not loudly and noisily, as they had come--no, reverently and
gravely, as a funeral train disperses after the obsequies of some noble
man; noiselessly as the ebbing tide recedes after flood raised by a
storm. These were the same people, yet they _returned_ in a far
different mood.

The same vehicles in which yesterday the travelers had arrived in so
noisy a fashion, now bore them away, but neither shouts nor cracking of
whips was heard--the drivers knew that they must behave as if their
carriages were filled with wounded men.

And this was true. There was scarcely one who did not suffer as if the
spear which had pierced the Saviour's heart had entered his own, who
did not feel the wounds of the Crucified One in his own hands and feet!
The grief which the people took with them was grand and godlike, and
they treasured it carefully, they did not desire to lose any portion of
it, for--we love the grief we feel for one beloved--and to-day they had
learned to love Christ.

So they went homeward.

The last carriages which drew up before the entrance were those of the
countess and her friends. The gentlemen of the diplomatic corps were
already standing below, waiting for Countess Wildenau to assign them
their seats in the two landaus. But the lady was still leaning against
the pillar which supported one end of the box. Pressing her
handkerchief to her eyes, she vainly strove to control her tears. Her
heart throbbed violently, her breath was short and quick--she could not
master her emotion.

The prince stood before her, pale and silent, his eyes, too, were
reddened by weeping.

"Try to calm yourself!" he said firmly. "The ladies are still in their
box, the duchess seems to expect you to go to her. A woman of the
world, like yourself, should not give way so."

"Give way, do you call it?" repeated Madeleine, who did not see that
Prince Emil, too, was moved. "We shall never understand each other."

At this moment the ladies left their box and crossed the intervening
space. They were the last persons in the theatre. The duchess, without
a word, threw her arms around Countess von Wildenau's neck. Her
ladies-in-waiting, too, approached with tearful eyes, and when the
duchess at last released her friend from her embrace, the baroness
whispered: "Forgive me, I have wronged you as well as many others--even
yesterday, forgive me." The same entreaty was expressed in Her
Excellency's glance and clasp of the hand as she said: "Whoever sees
this must repent every unloving word ever uttered; we will never forget
that we have witnessed it together."

"I thank you, but I should have borne you no ill will, even had I known
what you have now voluntarily confessed to me!" replied the countess,
kissing the ladies with dry, burning lips.

"Shall we go?" asked the duchess. "We shall be locked in."

"I will come directly--I beg you--will your Highness kindly go first? I
should like to rest a moment!" stammered the countess in great
confusion.

"You are terribly unstrung--that is natural--so are we all. I will wait
for you below and take you in my carriage, if you wish. We can weep our
fill together."

"Your Highness is--very kind," replied the countess, scarcely knowing
what she answered.

When the party had gone down stairs, she passionately seized Prince
Emil's arm: "For Heaven's sake, help me to escape going with them. I
will not, _cannot_ leave. I beseech you by all that is sacred, let me
stay here."

"So it is settled! The result is what I feared," said the prince with a
heavy sigh. "I can only beg you for your own sake to consider the
ladies. You have invited them to dine day after to-morrow--"

"I know it--apologize for me--say whatever you please--you will
know--you can manage it--if you have ever loved me--help me! Drive with
the ladies--entertain them, that they may not miss me!"

"And the magnificent ovation which the gentlemen have arranged at your
home?"

"What do I care for it?"

"A fairy temple awaits you at the Palace Wildenau, and you will stay
here? What a pity to lose the beautiful flowers, which must now wither
in vain."

"I cannot help it. For Heaven's sake, act quickly--some one is coming!"
She was trembling in every limb with fear--but it was no member of the
party sent to summon her. A short man with clear cut features stood
beside her, shrewd loyal eyes met her glance. "I saw that you were
still here, Countess, can I serve you in any way?"

"Thank Heaven, it is Ludwig Gross!" cried the excited woman joyously,
taking his arm. "Can you get me to your father's house without being
seen?"

"Certainly, I can guide you across the stage, if you wish!"

"Quick, then! Farewell, Prince--be generous and forgive me!"

She vanished.

The prince was too thoroughly a man of the world to betray his feelings
even for an instant. The short distance down the staircase afforded him
ample time to decide upon his course. The misfortune had happened, and
could no longer be averted--but it concerned himself alone. Her name
and position must be guarded.

"Have you come without the countess?" called the duchess.

"I must apologize for her, Your Highness. The performance has so
completely unstrung her nerves that she is unable to travel to-day. I
have just placed her in her landlord's charge promising not only to
make her apologies to the ladies, but also endeavor to supply her
place."

"Oh, poor Countess Wildenau!" said the duchess, kindly. "Shall we not
go to her assistance?"

"Permit me to remind your Highness that we have not a moment to lose,
if we wish to catch the train!"

"Is it possible! Then we must hurry."

"Yes--and I think rest will be best for the countess at present,"
answered Prince Emil, helping the ladies into the carriage.

"Well, we shall see her at dinner on Tuesday? She will be able to
travel to-morrow?"

"Oh, I hope so."

"But, Prince Emil! What will become of our flowers?" asked the
gentlemen.

"Oh, they will keep until to-morrow!"

"I suppose she has no suspicion?"

"Of course not, and it is far better, for had she been aware of it, no
doubt she would have gone to-day, in spite of her illness, and made
herself worse."

The gentlemen assented. "Still it's a pity about the flowers. If they
will only keep fresh!"

"She will let many a blossom wither, which may well be mourned!"
thought the prince bitterly.

"Will you drive with us, Prince?" asked the duchess.

"If Your Highness will permit! Will you go to the Casino to-night, as
we agreed, gentlemen?" he called as he entered the vehicle.

"Not I," replied Prince Hohenheim. "I honestly confess that I am not in
the mood."

"Nor I," said St. Génois. "This has moved me to that--the finest circus
in the world might be here and I would not enter! The burgomaster of
Ammergau was right in permitting nothing of the kind."

"Yes, I will take back everything I said yesterday; I went to laugh and
wept," remarked Wengenrode.

"It has robbed me of all desire for amusement," Cossigny added. "I care
for nothing more to-day."

They bowed to the ladies and the prince, and silently entered their
carriages. Prince Emil ordered the countess' coachman to drive back
with the maid, who sat hidden in one corner, and joined the duchess and
her companions.

The equipages rolled away in different directions--one back to the
Gross house, the other to Munich, where the florists were toiling
busily to adorn the Wildenau Palace for the reception of its fortunate
owner, who was not coming.

Ludwig Gross led the countess across the now empty stage. It thrilled
her with a strange emotion to thread its floor, and in her reverent
awe, she scarcely ventured to glance around her at the vast, dusky
space. Suddenly she recoiled from an unexpected horror--the cross lay
before her. Her agitation did not escape the keen perception of Ludwig
Gross, and he doubtless understood it; such things are not new to the
people of Ammergau. "I will see whether the house of Pilate is still
open, perhaps you may like to step out on the balcony!" he said, and
moved away to leave her alone.

The countess understood the consideration displayed by the sympathizing
man. Kneeling in the dark wings, she threw herself face downward on the
cross, pressed her burning lips on the hard wood which had supported
the noble body, on the marks left here also by the nails which had
apparently pierced the hands of the crucified one, the red stains made
by his painted wounds. Aye, it had become true, the miracle had
happened. _The artificial blood also possessed redeeming power_.

Rarely did any pilgrim to the Holy Land ever press a more fervent kiss
upon the wood of the true cross, than was now bestowed on the false
one.

So, in the days of yore, Helen, the beautiful, haughty mother of the
Emperor Constantine, may have flung herself down, after her long sea
voyage, when she at last found the long sought cross to press it to her
bosom in the unutterable joy of realization.

Ludwig's steps approached, and the countess roused herself from her
rapture.

"Unfortunately the house is closed," said Ludwig, who had probably been
perfectly aware of it. They went on to the dressing-rooms. "I'll see if
Freyer is still here!" and the drawing-master knocked at the first
door. The countess was so much startled that she was forced to lean
against the wall to save herself from falling. Was it to come now--the
fateful moment! Her knees threatened to give way, her heart throbbed
almost to bursting--but there was no answer to the knock, thrice
repeated. He was no longer there. Ludwig Gross opened the door, the
room was empty. "Will you come in?" he asked. "Would it interest you to
see the dressing-room?"

She entered. There hang his garments, still damp with perspiration from
the severe toil.

Madeleine von Wildenau stooped with clasped hands in the bare little
chamber. Something white and glimmering rustled and floated beside
her--it was the transfiguration robe. She touched it lightly with her
hand in passing, and a thrill of bliss ran through every nerve.

Ah, and there was the crown of thorns.

She took it in her hand and tears streamed down upon it, as though it
were some sacred relic. Again the dream-like vision stood before her as
she had seen it for the first time on the mountain top with the thorny
branches swaying around the brow like an omen. "No, my hands shall
defend thee that no thorn shall henceforth tear thee, beloved brow!"
she thought, while a strange smile irradiated her face. Then looking
up, she met the eyes of Ludwig, fixed upon her with deep emotion as she
gazed down at the crown of thorns.

She replaced it and followed him to the door of the next room.
Caiaphas! An almost childlike dread and timidity assailed her--the sort
of feeling she had had when a young girl at the time of her first
presentation at court--she was well-nigh glad that he was no longer
there and she had time to calm herself ere she confronted the mighty
priest.

"It is too late, they have all gone!" said Ludwig, offering his
companion his arm to lead her down the staircase.

Numerous groups of people were standing in front of the theatre and in
the street leading to the village.

"What are they doing here?" asked the lady.

"Oh, they are waiting for Freyer! It is always so. He has slipped
around again by a side path to avoid seeing anyone, and the poor people
must stand and wait in vain. I have often told him that he ought not to
be so austere! It would please them so much if he would but give them
one friendly word--but he cannot conquer this shyness. He cannot suffer
himself to be revered as the Christ, after the Play is over. He ought
not to permit the feeling which the people have for the Christ to be
transferred to his person--that is his view of the matter."

"It is a lofty and noble thought, but hard for us poor mortals, who so
eagerly cling to what is visible. It is impossible not to transfer the
impression produced by the character to its representative, especially
with a personality like Freyer's!"

Ludwig Gross nodded assent. "Yes, we have had this experience of old.
Faith needs an earthly pledge, says our great poet, and Freyer's
personation is such a pledge, a guarantee of whose blessed power
everyone feels sure."

The countess eagerly pressed Ludwig's hands.

"I have seen people," Ludwig added, "who were happy, if they were only
permitted to touch Freyer's garment, as though it could bring them
healing like the actual robe of Christ! Would not Christ, also, if He
beheld this pious delusion, exclaim: 'Woman, thy faith hath saved
thee!'"

A deep flush crimsoned the countess' face, and the tears which she had
so long struggled to repress flowed in streams. She leaned heavily on
Ludwig's arm, and he felt the violent throbbing of her heart. It
touched him and awakened his compassion. He perceived that hers, too,
was a suffering soul seeking salvation here, and if she did not find
it, would perish. "It shall be yours, poor woman; for rich as you may
be, you are still poor--and we will give you what we can!" he thought.

The two companions pursued their way, without exchanging another word.
The countess now greeted the old house like a lost home which she had
once more regained.

Andreas Gross met her at the door, took off her shawl, and carried it
into the room for her.

Josepha had already returned and said that the countess was ill.

"I hope it is nothing serious?" he asked anxiously.

"No, Herr Gross, I am well--but I cannot go; I must make the
acquaintance of these people--I cannot tear myself away from this
impression!"

She sank into a chair, laid her head on the table and sobbed like a
child. "Forgive me, Herr Gross, I cannot help it!" she said with
difficulty, amid her tears.

The old man laid his hand upon her shoulder with a gesture of paternal
kindness. "Weep your fill, we are accustomed to it, do not heed us!" He
drew her gently into the sitting-room.

Ludwig had vanished.

Josepha entered to ask whether she should unpack the luggage which was
up in her room.

"Yes," replied the countess, "and let the carriages return to Munich,
until I need them again."

"His Highness the Prince has left his valet here for your service,"
Josepha reported.

"What can he do? Let him go home, too! Let them all go--I want no one
except you!" said the countess sternly, hiding her face again in her
handkerchief. Josepha went out to give the order. Where could Ludwig
Gross be?--He had become a necessity to her now, thus left alone with
her overflowing heart! He had been right in everything.--He had told
her that she would learn to weep here, he had first made her understand
the spirit of Ammergau. Honor and gratitude were his due, he had
promised nothing that had not been fulfilled. He was thoroughly genuine
and reliable! But where had he gone, did not this man, usually so
sympathetic, know that just now he might be of great help to her? Or
did he look deeper _still_, and know that he was but a substitute
for another, for whom her whole soul yearned? It was so lonely. A
death-like stillness reigned in the house and in the street. All were
resting after the heavy toil of the day.

Something outside darkened the window. Ludwig Gross was passing on his
way toward the door, bringing with him a tan, dark figure, towering far
above the low window, a figure that moved shyly, swiftly along,
followed by a throng of people, at a respectful distance. The countess
felt paralyzed. Was _he_ coming? Was he coming in.

She could not rise and look--she sat with clasped hands, trembling in
humble expectation, as Danae waited the moment when the shower of gold
should fall. Then--steps echoed in the workshop--the footsteps of
two--! They were an eternity in passing down its length--but they were
really approaching her room--they came nearer--some one knocked!
She scarcely had breath to call "come in." She would not believe
it--from the fear of disappointment. She still sat motionless at the
table--Ludwig Gross opened the door to allow the other to precede
him--and _Freyer_ entered. He stooped slightly, that he might not
strike his head, but that was needless, for--what miracle was this? The
door expanded before the countess' eyes, the ceiling rose higher and
higher above him. A wide lofty space filled with dazzling light
surrounded him. Colors glittered before her vision, figures floated to
and fro; were they shadows or angels? She knew not, a mist veiled her
eyes--for a moment she ceased to think. Then she felt as if she had
awaked from a deep slumber, during which she had been walking in her
sleep--for she suddenly found herself face to face with Freyer, he was
holding her hands in his, while his eyes rested on hers--in speechless
silence.

[Illustration: _She suddenly found herself face to face with Freyer_. Page 102.]

Then she regained her self-control and the first words she uttered were
addressed to Ludwig: "You have brought _him_--!" she said, releasing
Freyer's hands to thank the man who had so wonderfully guessed her
yearning.

Gift and gratitude were equal--and here both were measureless! She
scarcely knew at this moment which she valued more, the man who brought
this donation or the gift itself. But from this hour Ludwig Gross was
her benefactor.

"You have brought _him_"--she repeated, for she knew not what more to
say--that one word contained _all_! Had she possessed the eloquence of
the universe, it would not have been so much to Ludwig as that _one_
word and the look which accompanied it. Then, like a child at
Christmas, which, after having expressed its thanks, goes back happily
to its presents, she turned again to Freyer.

Yet, as the child stands timidly before the abundance of its gifts,
and, in the first moments of surprise, does not venture to touch them,
she now stood, shy and silent before him, her only language her eyes
and the tears which streamed down her cheeks.

Freyer saw her deep emotion and, bending kindly toward her, again took
her hands in his. Every nerve was still quivering--she could feel
it--from the terrible exertion he had undergone--and as the moisture
drips from the trees after the rain, his eyes still swam in tears, and
his face was damp with perspiration.

"How shall I thank you for coming to me after this day of toil?" she
began in a low tone.

[Illustration: _She suddenly found herself face to face with Freyer_.]

"Oh, Countess," he answered with untroubled truthfulness, "I did it for
the sake of my friend Ludwig--he insisted upon it."

"So it was only on his friend's account," thought the countess,
standing with bowed head before him.

He was now the king--and she, the queen of her brilliant sphere, was
nothing save a poor, hoping, fearing woman!

At this moment all the vanity of her worldly splendor fell from
her--for the first time in her life she stood in the presence of a man
where _she_ was the supplicant, he the benefactor. What a feeling! At
once humiliating and blissful, confusing and enthralling! She had
recognized by that one sentence the real state of the case--what
to this man was the halo surrounding the Reichscountess von Wildenau
with her coronet and her millions? Joseph Freyer knew but one
aristocracy--that of the saints in whose sphere he was accustomed to
move--and if he left it for the sake of an earthly woman, he would
stoop to her, no matter how far, according to worldly ideals, she might
stand above him!

Yet poor and insignificant as she felt in his presence--while the
lustre of her coronet and the glitter of her gold paled and vanished in
the misty distance--_one_ thing remained on which she could rely, her
womanly charm, and this must wield its influence were she a queen or
the child of a wood-cutter! "Then, for the earthly crown you have torn
from my head, proud man, you shall give me your crown of thorns, and I
will _still_ be queen!" she thought, as the spirit of Mother Eve
stirred within her and an intoxicating breeze blew from the Garden of
Paradise. Not for the sake of a base emotion of vanity and
covetousness, nay, she wished to be loved, in order to _bless_. It is
the nature of a noble woman to seek to use her power not to receive,
but to give, to give without stint or measure. The brain thinks
quickly--but the heart is swifter still! Ere the mind has time to grasp
the thought, the heart has seized it. The countess had experienced all
this in the brief space during which Freyer's eyes rested on her.
Suddenly he lowered his lashes and said in a whisper: "I think we have
met before, countess."

"On my arrival Friday evening. You were standing on the top of the
mountain while I was driving at the foot. Was it not so?"

"Yes," he murmured almost inaudibly, and there was something like an
understanding, a sweet familiarity in the soft assent. She felt it, and
her hand clasped his more firmly with a gentle pressure.

He again raised his lashes, gazing at her with an earnest, questioning
glance, and it seemed as if she felt a pulse throbbing in the part of
the hand which bore the mark of the wound--the warning did not fail to
produce its effect.

"Christus, my Christus!" she whispered repentantly. It seemed as if she
had committed a sin in suffering an earthly wish to touch the envoy of
God. He was crucified, dead, and buried. He only walked on earth like a
spirit permitted to return from time to time and dwell for a brief
space among the living. Who could claim a spirit, clasp a shadow to the
heart? Grief oppressed her, melancholy, akin to the grief we feel when
we dream of the return of some beloved one who is dead, and throw
ourselves sobbing on his breast, while we are aware that it is only a
dream! But even if but a dream, should she not dream it with her whole
soul? If she knew that he was given to her only a few moments, should
she not crowd into them with all the sweeter, more sorrowful strength,
the love of a whole life?

After us the deluge, says love to the moment--and that which does not
say it is not love.

But in this _moment_, the countess felt, lay the germ of something
imperishable, and when it was past there would begin for her--not
annihilation, but _eternity_. To it she must answer for what she did
with the moment!

Ludwig Gross was standing by the window, he did not wish to listen what
was communicated by the mute language of those eyes. He had perceived,
with subtle instinct, the existence of some mysterious connection, in
which no third person had any part. They were alone--virtually alone,
yet neither spoke, only their tearful eyes expressed the suffering
which he endured and _she_ shared in beholding.

"Come, poor martyr!" cried her heart, and she released one of his hands
to clasp the other more closely with both her own. She noticed a slight
quiver. "Does your hand still ache--from the terrible nail which seemed
to be driven into your flesh?"

"Oh, no, that would cause no pain; the nail passes between the fingers
and the large head extends toward the center of the palm. But to-day,
by accident, Joseph of Arimathea in drawing out the nail took a piece
of the flesh with it, so that I clenched my teeth with the pain!" he
said, smiling, and showing her the wound. "Do you see? Now I am really
stigmatized!"

"Good Heavens, there is a large piece of the flesh torn out, and you
bore it without wincing?"

"Why, of course!" he said, simply.

Ludwig gazed fixedly out of the window. The countess had gently drawn
the wounded hand nearer and nearer; suddenly forgetting everything in
an unutterable feeling, she stooped and ere Freyer could prevent it
pressed a kiss upon the bloody stigma.

Joseph Freyer shrank as though struck by a thunderbolt, drawing back
his hand and closing it as if against some costly gift which he dared
not accept. A deep flush crimsoned his brow, his broad chest heaved
passionately and he was obliged to cling to a chair, to save himself
from falling. Yet unconsciously his eyes flashed with a fire at once
consuming and life-bestowing--a Prometheus spark!

"You are weary, pardon me for not having asked you to sit down long
ago!" said the countess, making an effort to calm herself, and
motioning to Ludwig Gross, in order not to leave him standing alone.

"Only a moment"--whispered Freyer, also struggling to maintain his
composure, as he sank into a chair. Madeleine von Wildenau turned away,
to give him time to regain his self-command. She saw his intense
emotion, and might perhaps have been ashamed of her hasty act had she
not known its meaning--for her feeling at that moment was too sacred
for him to have misunderstood it. Nor had he failed to comprehend, but
it had overpowered him.

Ludwig, who dearly perceived the situation, interposed with his usual
tact to relieve their embarrassment: "Freyer is particularly exhausted
to-day; he told me, on our way here, that he had again been taken from
the cross senseless."

"Good Heavens, does that happen often?" asked the countess.

"Unfortunately, yes," said Ludwig in a troubled tone.

"It is terrible--your father told me that the long suspension on the
cross was dangerous. Can nothing be done to relieve it?"

"Something might be accomplished," replied Ludwig, "by substituting a
flat cross for the rounded one. Formerly, when we had a smooth, angular
one, it did not tax his strength so much! But some authority in
archæology told us that the crosses of those days were made of
semi-circular logs, and this curve, over which the back is now
strained, stretches the limbs too much."

"I should think so!" cried the countess in horror. "Why do you use such
an instrument of torture?"

"He himself insists upon it, for the sake of historical accuracy."

"But suppose you should not recover, from one of these fainting fits?"
asked the lady, reproachfully.

Then Freyer, conquering his agitation, raised his head. "What more
beautiful fate could be mine, Countess, than to die on the cross, like
my redeemer? It is all that I desire."

"All?" she repeated, and a keen emotion of jealousy assailed her,
jealousy of the cross, to which he would fain devote his life! She met
his dark eyes with a look, a sweet, yearning--fatal look--a poisoned
arrow whose effect she well knew. She grudged him to the cross, the
dead, wooden instrument of martyrdom, which did not feel, did not love,
did not long for him as she did! And the true Christ? Ah, He was too
noble to demand such a sacrifice--besides. He would receive too souls
for one, for surely, in His image, she loved _Him_. He had sent her the
hand marked with blood stains to show her the path to Him--He could not
desire to withdraw it, ere the road was traversed.

"You are a martyr in the true sense of the word," she said. Her eyes
seemed to ask whether the shaft had struck. But Freyer had lowered his
lids and sat gazing at the floor.

"Oh, Countess," he said evasively, "to have one's limbs wrenched for
half an hour does not make a martyr. That suffering brings honor and
the consciousness of serving others. Many, like my friend Ludwig, and
other natives of Ammergau, offer to our cause secret sacrifices of
happiness which no audience beholds and applauds, and which win
no renown save in their own eyes and God's. _They_ are martyrs,
Countess!--I am merely a vain, spoiled, sinful man, who has enough to
do to keep himself from being dazzled by the applause of the world and
to become worthy of his task."

"To _become_!" the countess repeated. "I think whoever speaks in that
way, _is_ worthy already."

Freyer raised his eyes with a look which seemed to Madeleine von
Wildenau to lift her into a higher realm. "Who would venture to say
that he was worthy of _this_ task? It requires a saint. All I can hope
for is that God will use the imperfect tool to work His miracles, and
that He will accept my _will_ for the deed,--otherwise I should be
forced to give up the part _this very day_."

The countess was deeply moved.

"Oh, Freyer, wonderful, divinely gifted nature! To us you are the
Redeemer, and yet you are so severe to yourself."

"Do not talk so, Countess! I must not listen! I will not add to all my
sins that of robbing my Master, in His garb, of what belongs to _Him_
alone. You cannot suspect how it troubles me when people show me this
reverence; I always long to cry out, 'Do not confound me with Him--I am
nothing more than the wood--or the marble from which an image of the
Christ is carved, and withal _bad_ wood, marble which is not free from
stains.' And when they will not believe it, and continue to transfer to
me the love which they ought to have for Christ--I feel that I am
robbing my Master, and no one knows how I suffer." He started up. "That
is why I mingle so little with others--and if I ever break this rule I
repent it, for my peace of mind is destroyed."

He took his hat. His whole nature seemed changed--this was the chaste
severity with which he had driven the money changers from the temple,
and Madeleine turned pale--chilled to the inmost heart by his
inflexible bearing.

"Are you going?" she murmured in a trembling voice.

"It is time," he answered, gently, but with an unapproachable dignity
which made the words with which she would fain have entreated him to
stay longer, die upon her lips.

"Your Highness win leave to morrow?"

"The countess intends to remain some time," said Ludwig, pressing his
friend's arm lightly, as a warning not to wound her feeling.

"Ah," replied Freyer, thoughtfully, "then perhaps we shall meet again."

"I have not yet answered what you have said to-day; will you permit me
to do so to-morrow?" asked the countess, gently; an expression of quiet
suffering hovered around her lips.

"To-morrow I play the Christ again, Countess--but doubtless some
opportunity will be found within the next few days."

"As you please--farewell!"

Freyer bowed respectfully, but as distantly as if he did not think it
possible that the lady would offer him her hand. Ludwig, on the
contrary, as if to make amends for his friend's omission, frankly
extended his. She clasped it, saying in a low, hurried tone: "Stay!"

"I will merely go with Freyer to the door, and then return, if you will
allow me."

"Yes," she said, dismissing Freyer with a haughty wave of the hand.
Then, throwing herself into the chair by the table, she burst into
bitter weeping. She had always been surrounded by men who sued for her
favor as though it were a royal gift. And here--here she was disdained,
and by whom? A man of the people--a plebeian! No, a keen pang pierced
her heart as she tried to give him that name. If _he_ was a plebeian,
so, too, was Christ. Christ, too, sprang from the people--the ideal of
the human race was born in a _manger_! She could summon to confront Him
only _one_ kind of pride, that of the _woman_, not of the high-born
lady. Alas--she had not even _this_. How often she had flung her heart
away without love. For the mess of pottage of gratified vanity or an
interesting situation, as the prince had said yesterday, she had
bartered the birthright of the holiest feeling. Of what did she dare to
be proud? That, for the first time in her life, she really loved? Was
she to avenge herself by arrogance upon the man who had awakened this
divine emotion because he did not share it? No, that would be petty and
ungrateful. Yet what could she do? He was so far above her in his
unassuming simplicity, so utterly inviolable. She was captured by his
nobility, her weapons were powerless against him. As she gazed around
her for some support by which she might lift herself above him, every
prop of her former artificial life snapped in her grasp before the
grand, colossal verity of this apparition. She could do nothing save
love and suffer, and accept whatever fate he bestowed.

Some one knocked at the door; almost mechanically she gave the
permission to enter.

Ludwig Gross came in noiselessly and approached her. Without a word she
held out her hand, as a patient extends it to the physician. He stood
by her side and his eyes rested on the weeping woman with the sympathy
and understanding born of experience in suffering. But his presence was
infinitely soothing. This man would allow nothing to harm her! So far
as his power extended, she was safe.

She looked at him as if beseeching help--and he understood her.

"Freyer was unusually excited to-day," he said, "I do not know what was
passing in his mind. I never saw him in such a mood before! When we
entered the garden, he embraced me as if something extraordinary had
happened, and then rushed off as though the ground was burning under
his feet--of course in the direction opposite to his home, for the
whole street was full of people waiting to see him."

The countess held her breath to listen.

"Was he in this mood when you called for him?" she asked.

"No, he was as usual, calm and weary."

"What changed him so suddenly?"

"I believe, Countess, that you have made an impression upon him which
he desires to understand. You have thrown him out of the regular
routine, and he no longer comprehends his own feelings."

"But I--I said so little--I don't understand," cried the countess,
blushing.

"The important point does not always depend on what is said, but on
what is _not_ said, Countess. To deep souls what is unuttered is often
more significant than words."

Madeleine von Wildenau lowered her eyes and silently clasped Ludwig's
hand.

"Do you think that he--" she did not finish the sentence, Ludwig spared
her.

"From my knowledge of Freyer--either he will _never_ return, or--he
will come _to-morrow_."



                              CHAPTER IX.

                           SIGNS AND WONDERS.


The great number of strangers who were unable to get tickets the day
before had rendered a second performance necessary. The countess did
not attend it. To her the play had been no spectacle, but an
experience--a repetition would have degraded it to a mere drama. She
had spent the day in retirement, like a prisoner, that she might not
fall into the hands of any acquaintances. Now the distant rumble of
carriages announced the close of the performance. It was a delightful
autumn evening. The Gross family came to the window on their return
home, and wondered to find the countess still in her room. The sounds
of stifled sobs echoed from the work room. The other lodgers in the
house had come back from the theatre and, like every one, were paying
their tribute of tears. An American had gone to-day for the second
time. He sat weeping on the bench near the stove, and said that it had
been even more touching than yesterday. Andreas Gross assented: "Yes,
Joseph Freyer never played as he did to-day."

The countess, sitting in her room, heard the words and was strangely
moved. Why had he never played as he did _to-day_?

Some one tapped gently on the door.

A burning blush suffused the countess' face--had _he_--? He might have
passed through the garden from the other side to avoid the spectators.
"Come in!" she called.

It was Josepha with a telegram in her hand. The messenger was waiting
for an answer.

The countess opened it and read the contents. It was from the prince.
"Please inform me whether I shall countermand the dinner."

"Very well. I will send the reply."

Josepha withdrew.

"If Ludwig were only here!" thought the countess. "He must be waiting
to bring Freyer, as he did yesterday."

The rapid pulsing of her heart almost stifled her. One quarter of an
hour passed after another. At last Ludwig came--but alone.

The countess was sitting at the open window and Ludwig paused beside
it.

"Well, how was the play to-day?"

"Magnificent," he replied. "I never saw Freyer so superb. He was
perfect, fairly superhuman! It is a pity that you were not there."

"Did he inquire for me?"

"Yes. I explained to him that you did not wish to see it a second
time--and for what reason. He nodded and said: 'I am glad the lady
feels so.'"

"Then--we understand each other!" The countess drew a long breath. "Did
you ask him to come here with you?"

"No. I thought I ought not to do that--he must come now of his own free
will, or you would be placed in a false position."

"You are right--I thank you!" said the countess, turning pale and
biting her lips. "Do you think that--he will come?"

"Unfortunately, no--he went directly home."

"Will you do me a favor?"

"Certainly, Countess."

"Despatch a telegram for me. I have arranged to give a dinner party at
home and should like to send a message that I am coming."

"You will not remain here longer?"

"No!" she said in a tone sharp and cutting as a knife which is thrust
into one's own heart. "Come in, please."

Ludwig obeyed the command and she wrote with the bearing of a queen
signing a death-warrant:


"Hereditary Prince of Metten-Barnheim, Munich.

   "Will come at five to-morrow. Dinner can be given.

                                                 "Madeleine."


"Here, if you will be so kind," she said, handing the sheet to Ludwig.

The latter gazed earnestly at her, as though he wanted to say: "If only
you don't repent it." But he asked the question in the modest wording:
"Shall I send it _at once_?"

"Yes, if you please!" she answered, and her whole manner expressed a
coldness which startled Ludwig.

"Can genuine warmth of heart freeze so quickly?" he asked himself.
Madeleine von Wildenau felt the mute reproach and disappointment in
Ludwig's manner. She felt, too, that he was right, and called him back
as he reached the door. "Give it to me," she said, taking the telegram,
"I will consider the matter." Then meeting the eyes of the noble man,
which now brightened again for her sake, she added earnestly, holding
out her hand, "You understand me better than I do myself."

"I thank you for those words--they make me very proud, Countess!" said
Ludwig with a radiant glance, placing the telegram on the table. "I
will go now that I may not disturb you while you are considering what
course to pursue."

He left the room. Twilight was gathering. The countess sat by the table
holding the telegram clenched in her little hand.

"The people of Ammergau unconsciously exercise a moral constraint which
is irresistible. There is a power of truth in them which prevents even
self-deception in their presence!" she murmured half defiantly, half
admiringly. What was to be done now? To remain longer here and
countermand the dinner meant a positive breach with society. But who
was there _here_ to thank her for such a sacrifice? Who cared for the
Countess Wildenau? She was one of the thousands who came and went,
taking with them a lofty memory, without leaving any remembrance in the
mind of any one. Why should she hold them accountable if she gave to
this impression a significance which was neither intended nor
suspected. We must not force upon men sacrifices which they do not
desire!

She rested her arm on the table and sat irresolute. Now--now in this
mood, to return to the prosaic, superficial round, after imagining
yesterday that she stood face to face with deity? _Could_ she do it?
Was not the mute reproach in Ludwig's glance true? She thoughtfully
rested her beautiful face on her hand.

She had not noticed a knock at the door, a carriage was driving by
whose rattle drowned every sound. For the same reason the person
outside, supposing that he had not heard the "come in!" softy opened
the door. At the noise the countess raised her head--Freyer stood
before her.

"You have come, you _did_ come!" she exclaimed, starting up and seizing
his hand that the sweet, blissful dream might not vanish once more.

"Excuse me if I disturb you," he said in a low, timid tone. "I--I
should not have come--but I could not bear to stay at home, I was so
excited to-day. When evening came, some impulse drove me here--I was--I
had--"

"You had a desire to talk to some one who could understand you, and
this urged you to me, did it not?"

"Yes, Countess! But I should not have ventured to come in, had not--"

"Well?"

"Ludwig met me and said that you were going away--"

"Ah--and did you regret it?"

"I wished at least to bid you farewell and thank you for all your
kindness to my unhappy cousin Josepha!" he said evasively. "I neglected
to do so yesterday, I was so embarrassed."

"You are not sincere with me, Herr Freyer!" said the countess,
motioning to him to sit down. "This expression of thanks does not come
from your heart, for you do not care what I do for Josepha. That is
merely the pretext for coming to me--because you do not wish to confess
what really brought you. Am I not right?"

"Countess!" said Freyer, completely disconcerted, as he tried to rise.

She gently laid her hand on his, detaining him. "Stay! Your standard is
so rigid in everything--what is your view of truth?"

Freyer fixed his eyes on the floor.

"Is it _true_, when you say that you came to thank me for Josepha? Were
you not drawn hither by the feeling that, of all the thousands of souls
who pass you in the course of the summer, perhaps there is not one who
could understand you and your task as I do?"

Freyer clasped his hands on his knees and silently bent his head.

"Perhaps you have not thought of me as I have thought of you, all day
long, since our eyes met on the mountain, as though some higher power
had pointed us out to each other."

Freyer remained silent, but as the full cup overflows at the slightest
movement, tears again gushed from his eyes.

"Why did you look at me so from head to foot, pouring forth in that
gaze your whole soul with a world of grief and joy, as a blossoming
tree showers its flowers on the passer-by? Surely not on account of a
woman's face, though it may be passably fair, but because you felt that
I perceived the Christ in you and that it was _He_ for whom I came.
Your glance meant to tell me: 'It is I whom you are seeking!' and I
believe you. And when at last the promise was fulfilled and the long
sought redeemer stood before me, was it by chance that his prophetic
eye discovered me among the thousands of faces when he said: 'But in
many hearts day will soon dawn!' Did you not seek me, as we look for a
stranger to whom we must fulfill a promise given on the journey?"

Freyer now raised his dark eyes and fixed them full upon her, but made
no reply.

"And is it true that you came yesterday, only because Ludwig wished it,
you who, spite of all entreaties, have kept ladies who had the world at
their feet waiting on your stairs for hours? Did you not come because
you suspected that I might be the woman with whom, since that meeting,
you had had some incomprehensible spiritual bond?"

Freyer covered his eyes with his hand, as if he was afraid more might
be read in them.

"Be truthful, Herr Freyer, it is unworthy of you and of me to play a
conventional farce. I am compelled to act so many in my life that I
would fain for once be frank, as mortal to mortal! Tell me simply, have
I judged correctly--yes or no?"

"Yes!" whispered Freyer, without looking up.

She gently drew his hand down. "And to-day--to-day--did you come merely
out of gratitude for your cousin?" she questioned with the archness of
her increasing certainty of happiness.

He caught the little hand with which she had clasped his, and raised it
ardently to his lips; then, as if startled that he had allowed himself
to be carried so far, he flung back his raven locks as if they had
deluded his senses, and pushed his chair farther away in order not to
be again led into temptation. She did not interfere--she knew that he
was in her power--struggle as he might, the dart was fixed. Yet the
obstacles she had to conquer were great and powerful. Coquetry would be
futile, only the moral force of a _genuine_ feeling could cope with
them, and of this she was conscious, with a happiness never felt
before. Again she searched her own heart, and her rapid glance wandered
from the thorn-scarred brow of the wonderful figure before her, to
pierce the depths of her own soul. Her love for him was genuine, she
was not toying with his heart; she wished, like Mary Magdalene, to
sanctify herself in his love. But she was the Magdalene in the _first_
stage. Had Christ been a _man_, and attainable like _this_ man, what
transformations the Penitent's heart must have undergone, ere its fires
wrought true purification.

"Herr Freyer," the countess began in a low, eager tone, "you said
yesterday that it troubled you when people showed you idolatrous
reverence and you felt that you thereby robbed your Master. Can we give
aught to any earthly being without giving it to _God_?"

Freyer listened intently.

"Is there any soul which does not belong to God, did not emanate from
_Him_, is not a part of _His_ power? And does not that which flows from
one part to another stream back in a perpetual circle to the _Creator_?
We can _take_ nothing which does not come from God, _give_ nothing
which does not return to Him. Do you know the principle of the
preservation of power?"

"No," said Freyer, confused by his ignorance of something he was asked.

"Well, it can be explained in a very few words. Science has proved that
nothing in the universe can be lost, that even a force which is
apparently uselessly squandered is merely transformed into another.
Thus in God nothing can be lost, even though it has no direct relation
to Him--for he is the _spiritual_ universe. True, _every_ feeling does
not produce a work of God, any more than every effort of nature brings
forth some positive result. But as in the latter case the force
expended is not lost, because it produces other, though secondary
results, so in _God_ no sentiment of love and enthusiasm is lost, even
though it may relate to Him only in a secondary degree."

"Very true."

"Then if that _is_ so,--how can any one rob this God, who surrounds us
like the universe, from which we come, into which we pass again, and in
which our forces are constantly transformed in a perpetual round of
change."

Freyer rested his head on his hand, absorbed in thought.

"And if a feeling is so deeply rooted in religion, so directly
associated with God as that which men offer to you. His representative,
why should you have these scruples?"

"I have never heard any one talk in this way! Pardon my
faint-heartedness, and ignorance--I am a poor, simple-hearted man--you
will be indulgent, will you not?"

"Freyer!" cried the countess, deeply moved, and spite of the distance
to which he had pushed his chair, held out her hand.

"You see, I had no opportunity to attend a higher school, I was so
poor. I lost my parents when a lad of twelve and received only the most
necessary instruction. All my knowledge I obtained afterwards by
reading, and it is of course defective and insufficient. On our
mountains, beside our rushing streams, among the hazel bushes whose
nuts were often my only food, I grew up, watching the horses sent to
pasture with their colts. Up by St. Gregory's chapel, where the Leine
falls over the cliffs, I left the animals grazing in the wide meadows,
flung myself down in a field of gentian and, lying on my back, gazed
upward into the blue sky and thought it must surely open, the
transparent atmosphere _must_ at last be pierced--as the bird imagines,
when it dashes its head against a pane of glass--so I learned to think
of God! And when my brain and heart grew giddy, as if I were destined
for something better, when a longing overwhelmed me which my simple
meditations could not quell, I caught one of my young horses by the
mane, swung myself on its bare back, and swept over the broad plain,
feeling myself a king."

He extended his arms, and now his face was suddenly
transformed--laughing, bright, joyous as the Swedes imagine their
Neck, the kind, friendly water sprite who still retains some of the
mythical blood of the Northern god of Spring, Freyer's namesake. "Ah,
Countess--that was poetry! Who could restore _those_ days; that
childish ignorance, that happy hope, that freedom of innocence!"

Again, like the pictures in a kaleidoscope, his expression changed and
a gloomy melancholy spread its veil over his brow. "Alas!--that is all
over! My light-footed colts have become weary, clumsy animals, dragging
loaded wains, and I--I drag no less wearily the burden of life."

"How can you speak so at the moment when, yourself a miracle, you are
revealing to men the miracles of God? Is it not ungrateful!"

"Oh, no, Countess, I am grateful! But I do not so separate myself from
my part that I could be happy while portraying the sufferings of my
Redeemer! Do you imagine that I have merely learned the words by heart?
With His form, I have also taken His cross upon me! Since that time all
my youth has fled and a touch of pain pervades my whole life."

"Then you are His true follower--then you are doing what Simon of
Cyrene did! And do _you_ believe that you ought not to accept even the
smallest portion of the gratitude which men owe to the Crucified One?
Must you share only His sufferings, not His joys, the joys bestowed by
the love and faith of moved and converted souls? Surely if you are so
narrow-minded, you understand neither yourself nor the love of God, Who
has chosen and favored you from among millions to renew to the world
the forgotten message of salvation."

"Oh God, oh God!--help me to keep my humility--this is too much."

Freyer started up and pressed his hand upon his brow as if to ward off
an invisible crown which was descending upon it.

The countess also rose and approached him. "Freyer, the suffering you
endure for Christ's sake, I share with you! It is the mystery in which
our souls found each other. Pain is eternal, Freyer, and that to which
it gives birth is imperishable! What do we feel when we stand before a
painted or sculptured image of the Crucified One? Pity, the most
agonizing pity! I have never been willing to believe it--but since
yesterday I have known that it is a solace to the believing soul to
bestow a tender embrace upon the lifeless image and to touch the
artificial wounds with ardent lips. What must it be when that image
loves, feels, and suffers! When it speaks to us in tones that thrill
the inmost heart? When we see it quiver and bleed under the lashes of
the executioner--when the sweat of agony trickles from the brow and
_real_ tears flow from the eyes? I ask, _what_ must this be to us?
Imagine yourself for once the person who _sees this_--and then judge
whether it is not overpowering? If faith in the _stone_ Christ works
miracles--why should not belief in the _living_ one do far more? The
pious delusion is so much the greater, and _faith_ brings blessing."

She clasped her hands upon his breast

"Come, image of mercy, bend down to me. Let me clasp your beloved head
and press upon your tortured brow the kiss of reconciliation for all
penitent humanity!" Then, taking his face between her hands, she
lightly pressed a fervent kiss upon the brow gently inclined toward
her. "Now go and lament that you have robbed your Master of this
kiss. He will ask, with a smile: 'Do you know for whom that kiss was
meant--_thee_ or _me_?' And you will be spared an answer, for when you
raise your eyes to Him, you will find it imprinted on _His_ brow."

She paused, overpowered by the sacredness of the moment. There are
times when our own words influence us like some unknown force, because
they express something which has been so deeply concealed in our hearts
that we ourselves were ignorant of its existence. This was the case now
with the countess. Freyer stood silently with clasped hands, as if in
church.

It seemed as though some third person was addressing them--an invisible
person whom they must hold their very breath to understand.

It had grown late. The waning moon floated high above the low window
and brightened the little room with its cheering rays. The countess
nodded. "It is fulfilled!" Then she laid her hands in Freyer's: "For
the first time since my childhood I place my soul in the keeping of a
human being! For the first time since my childhood, I strip off all the
arrogance of reason, for a higher perception is hovering above me,
drawing nearer and nearer with blissful certainty! Is it love, is it
faith? Whichever it may be--God dwells in _both_. And--if philosophy
says: 'I _think_, therefore I _am_,' I say: 'I _love_, therefore I
_believe_!'"

She humbly bowed her head. "And therefore I beseech you. Bless me, you
who are so divinely endowed, with the blessing which is shed upon and
emanates from you!"

Freyer raised his eyes to Heaven as if to call down the benediction she
implored, and there was such power in the fervid gaze that Madeleine
von Wildenau experienced a thrill almost of fear, as if in the presence
of some supernatural being. Then he made the sign of the cross over
her: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost."

A tremor of foreboding ran through her limbs as if the finger of God
had marked her for some mysterious destination and, with this rune, she
had been enrolled in the pallid host of those consecrated by sorrow as
followers of the deity.

With sweet submission she clasped the hand which had just imprinted the
mournful sign on brow and breast: "In the name of God, if only _you_
are near me!" Her head drooped on her bosom. Some one knocked at the
door, the countess' brain reeled so much that she was forced to cling
to Freyer for support.

Josepha timidly asked if she wanted a light.

"Light! Was it _dark_?"

"Very well," she answered absently.

Josepha brought the lamp and enquired when the countess desired to have
supper? Freyer took his hat to go.

"I shall eat nothing more to-night!" said the countess in a curt,
impatient tone, and Josepha timidly withdrew.

Madeleine von Wildenau covered her face with both hands like a person
who had been roused from a beautiful dream to bare reality.

"Alas--that there must be other people in the world, besides
ourselves!" She sighed heavily, as if to take breath after the terrible
fall. Freyer, hat in hand, approached her, calm and self-controlled.
Joseph Freyer, addressing Countess Wildenau, had no remembrance of what
the penitent soul had just confided to the image of the Redeemer.

"Allow me to take my leave, your Highness," he said in a gentle, but
distant tone.

The countess understood the delicate modesty of this conduct. "Did your
blue gentians teach this tact? It would seem that lonely pastures,
whispering hazel copses, and dashing mountain streams are better
educators of the heart, for those who understand their mysterious
language, than many of our schools."

Freyer was silent a moment, then with eyes bent on the floor, he said:
"May I ask when your Highness intends to leave to-morrow?"

"_Must_ I go, Freyer?"

"Your Highness--"

"Here is a telegram which announces my arrival at home to-morrow. Tell
me, Freyer, shall I send it?"

"How can _I_ decide--" stammered Freyer in confusion.

"I wish to know whether you--_you_, Freyer, would like to keep me
here?"

"But Good Heavens, your Highness--is it seemly for me to express such a
wish? Of course it will be a great pleasure to have you remain--but how
could I seek to influence you in any way?"

"Mere phrases!" said the countess, disappointed and offended. "Then, if
it is a matter of indifference to you whether I go or stay, I will send
the telegram." She went to the table to add something.

Suddenly he stood close beside her, with a beseeching, tearful
glance--and laid his hand upon the paper.

"No--do not send it."

"Not send it?" asked Madeleine in blissful expectation. "Not send
it--then what am I to do?"

His lips moved several times, as if he could not utter the word--but at
last it escaped from his closed heart, and with an indescribable smile
he murmured: "Stay!"

Ah! A low cry of exultation escaped the countess, and the telegram lay
torn upon the table. Then with a trembling hand she wrote the second,
which she requested him to send at once. It contained only the words:
"Am ill--cannot come!"

He was still standing at her side, and she gave it to him to read.

"Is it true?" he asked, after glancing at it, looking at her with
timid, sportive reproach. "Are you ill?"

"Yes!" she said caressingly, laying her hand, as if she felt a pang,
upon her heart. "I _am_!"

He clasped both in his own and asked softly in a tone which sent a
thrill of happiness through every vein: "How shall we _cure_ this
illness?"

She felt his warm breath on her waving hair--and dared not stir.

Then, with sudden resolution he shook off the thrall: "Good-night,
Countess!"

The next moment he was hurrying past the window.

Ludwig, wondering at his Mend's hasty departure, entered.

"What has happened, Countess?"

"Signs and wonders have happened," she said, extending her arms as if
transfigured.



                               CHAPTER X.

                         IN THE EARLY MORNING.


"Rise Mary! Night is darkening and the wintry storms are raging--but be
comforted, in the early morning, in the Spring garden, you will see me
again."

The countess woke from a short slumber as if some one had uttered the
words aloud. She glanced around the dusky room, it was still early,
scarcely a glimmer of light pierced through the chinks of the shutters.
She tried to sleep again, but in vain. The words constantly rang in her
ears: "In the early morning you will see me again." Now the chinks in
the shutters grew brighter, and one golden arrow after another darted
through. The countess threw aside the coverlet and started up. Why
should she torment herself with trying to court sleep? Outside a dewy
garden offered its temptations.

True, it was an autumn, not a spring garden. Yet for her it was
Spring--it had dawned in her heart--the first springtime of her life.

Up and away! Should she wake Josepha, who slept above her? Nay, no
sound, no word must disturb this sacred morning stillness.

She dressed and, half an hour later, glided lightly, unseen, into the
garden.

The clock in the church steeple was striking six. A fresh autumn breeze
swept like a band of jubilant sprites through the tops of the ancient
trees, then rushing downward, tossed her silken hair as though it would
fain bear away the filmy strands to some envious wood-nymph to weave
nets from it for the poor mortals who might lose themselves in her
domain.

On the ground at her feet, too, the grasses and shrubs swayed and
rustled as if little gnomes were holding high revel there. A strange
mood pervaded all nature.

Madeleine von Wildenau looked upward; there were huge cloud-shapes in
the sky, but the sun was shining brightly in a broad expanse of blue.
The bells were ringing for early mass. The countess clasped her hands.
Everything was silent and lonely, no eye beheld, no ear heard her, save
the golden orb above. The birds carolling their matin songs, the
flowers whose cups were filled with morning dew, the buzzing, humming
bees--all were celebrating the great matins of awakening nature--and
she, whose heart was full of the morning dew of the first genuine
feeling of her life, was she alone not to join in the chorus of
gratitude of refreshed creation?

There is a language whose key we do not possess. It is the Sanscrit of
Nature and of the human soul when it communes with the deity. The
countess sank silently down on the dewy grass. She did not pray in set
words--there was an interchange of thought, her heart spoke to God, and
reason knew not what it confided to Him.

In the early morning in the spring garden "thou wilt see me again!"
There again spoke the voice which had roused her so early! The countess
raised her head--but still remained kneeling as if spell-bound. Before
her stood the Promised One.

She could say nothing save the word uttered by Mary Magdalene:
"Master!"

A loving soul can never be surprised by the object of its love because
it expects him always and everywhere, yet it appears a miracle when its
expectation becomes fulfilment.

"Have I interrupted your prater? I did not see you because you were
kneeling"--he said, gently.

"You interrupt my prayer--you who first taught me to pray?" she asked,
holding out her hand that he might help her rise. "Tell me, how did you
come here?"

"I could not sleep--some yearning urged me to your presence--to your
garden."

He gently raised her, while she gazed into his eyes as if enraptured.
"Master!" she repeated. "Oh, my friend, I was like Mary Magdalene, my
Lord had been taken away and I knew not where they had laid Him. Now I
know. He was buried in my own heart and the world had rolled the stone
before it, but yesterday--yesterday He rose and the stone was cast
aside. So some impulse urged me into the garden early this morning to
seek Him and lo--He stands before me as He promised."

"Do not speak so!--I am well aware that the words are not meant for me,
but if you associate Christ so closely with my personality, I fear that
you will confound Him with me, and that His image will be dimmed, if
anything should ever shadow mine! I beseech you, Countess, by all that
is sacred--learn to separate Him from me--or you have not grasped the
true nature of Christ, and my work will be evil!" He stood before her
with hand uplifted in prophecy, the outlines of his powerful form were
sharply relieved against the dewy, shining morning air. Purity,
chastity, the loftiest, most inspired earnestness were expressed in his
whole bearing, all the dignity of the soul and of primeval, divinely
created human nature.

Must not she have that feeling of adoration which always seizes upon us
whenever, no matter where it may be, the deity is revealed in His
creations? No, she did not understand what he meant, she only
understood that there was something divine in him, and that the
perception of this nearness to God filled her with a happiness never
known before. Joseph Freyer was the guarantee of the existence of a God
in whom she had lost faith--why should she imagine Him in any other
form than the one which she had found Him again? "Thou shalt make
thyself no graven image!" Must this Puritanically misunderstood literal
statement destroy man's dearest possession, the _symbol of the
reality_? Then the works of Raphael, Titian, and Rubens must be
effaced, and the unions of miracles of faith, wrought in the souls of
the human race by the representations of the divine nature.

"Oh blessed image-worship, now I understand your meaning!" she joyously
exclaimed. "Whoever reviles you has never felt the ardent desire of the
weak human heart, the captive of the senses, for contact with the
unapproachable, the sight of the face of the ever concealed yet ever
felt divinity. Here, here stands the most perfect image Heaven and
earth ever created, and must I not kneel before it, clasp it with all
the tendrils of my aspiring soul? No! No one ought, no one can prevent
me."

Half defiantly, half imploringly, the words poured from her inmost soul
like molten lava. "Let all misunderstand me--save _you_, Freyer! You,
by whom God wrought the miracle, ought not to be narrow-minded! _You_
ought not to destroy it for me, you least of all!" Then she pleaded,
appealed to him: "Let saints, let glorified spirits grasp _only_ the
essence and dispense with the earthly pledge--I cannot! I am a type of
the millions who live snared by the weaknesses, the ideas, the
pleasures of the world of sense; do you suddenly require of me the
abstract purity and spiritualization of religious thought, to which
only the highest innate or required perfection leads? Be forbearing to
me--God has various ways of drawing the rebellious to Him! To the soul
which is capable of material ideas only. He gives revelations by the
senses until, through pain and sorrow, it has worked its way upward to
intellectual ones. And until I can behold the _real_ God in His shadowy
sphere, I shall cling lovingly and devoutly to His _image_."

She sank on her knees before him in passionate entreaty. "Do not
destroy it for me, rather aid the pious delusion which is to save me!
Bear patiently with the woe of a soul seeking its salvation, and leave
the rest to God!" She leaned her brow against the hand which hung by
his side and was silent from excess of emotion.

The tall, stalwart man stood trembling as Abraham may have stood before
the thicket when God stayed his uplifted arm and cried in tender love:
"I will not accept thy sacrifice."

He had a presentiment that the victim would be snatched from him also,
if he was too stern, and all the floods of his heart burst forth, all
the flood gates of love and pity opened. Bending down, he held her head
in a close, warm clasp between both hands, and touched her forehead
with quivering lips.

A low cry of unutterable bliss, and she sank upon his breast; the next
instant she lifted her warm rosy lips to his.

But he drew back a step in agonizing conflict; "No, Countess, for
Heavens's sake no, it must not be."

"Why not?" she asked, her face blanching.

"Let me remain worthy of the miracle God has wrought upon you through
me. If I am to represent Christ to you, I must at least feel and think
as He did, so far as my human weakness will permit, or everything will
be a deception."

The countess covered her face with her hands. "Ah, no one can utter
such words who knows aught of love and longing!" she moaned between her
set teeth in bitter scorn.

"Do you think so?" exclaimed Freyer, and the tone in which he spoke
pierced her heart like a cry of pain. Drawing her hands from her face,
he forced her to meet his glowing eyes: "Look at me and see whether the
tears which now course down my cheeks express no love and longing. Look
at yourself, your sweet, pouting lips, your sparkling eyes, all your
radiant charms, and ask yourself whether a man into whose arms such a
woman falls _can_ remain unmoved? When you have answered these
questions, say to yourself: 'How that man must love his Saviour, if he
buys with such sacrifices the right to wear His crown of thorns!'
Perhaps you will then better understand what I said just now of the
spirit and nature of Christ."

Countess Madeleine made no reply, but wringing her hands, bent her eyes
on the ground.

"Have I wounded you, Countess?"

"Yes, unto death. But it is best so. I understand you. If I am to love
you as Christ, you must _be_ Christ. And the more severe you are, the
higher you raise me! Alas--the pain is keen!" She pressed her hand upon
her heart as though to close a wound, a pathetic expression of
resignation rested on her pallid face.

"Oh, Countess, do not make my task too hard for me. I am but mortal!
Oh, how can I see you suffer? _I_ can renounce everything, but to hurt
_you_ in doing so--is beyond my power."

"Do not say _you_ in this solemn hour! Call me by my name, I would fain
hear it once from your lips!"

"And what _is_ your name?"

"Maria Magdalena."

"No. You call yourself so under the impression of the Passion Play."

"I was christened Maria Magdalena von Prankenberg."

"Maria Magdalena," he repeated, his eyes resting upon her with deep
emotion as she stood before him, she whose bearing was usually so
haughty, now humble, silent, submissive, like the Penitent before the
Master. Suddenly, overpowered by his feelings, he extended his arms:
"_My_ Magdalena."

"My Master, my salvation," she sobbed, throwing herself upon his
breast. He clasped her with a divine gesture of love in his embrace.

"Oh, God she has flown hither like a frightened dove and nestled in my
breast. Poor dove, I will conceal and protect you from every rude
breeze, from every base touch of the world! Build your nest in my
heart--here you shall rest in the peace of God!" He pressed her head
close to his heart.

"How you tremble, dove! May I call you so?"

"Oh, forever!"

"Are you wearied by your long flight? Poor dove! Have you fluttered
hither to me across the wild surges of the world, to bring the olive
branch, the token of reconciliation, which makes my peace with things
temporal and eternal? And must I now thrust you from me, saying as
Christ said to Magdalene! 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to
my Father?' Shall I drive you forth again into this chaos, that the
faithful wings which bore you on the right way may droop exhausted till
you perish in the billows of the world?" He clasped her still more
closely: "Oh, God! This cannot be Thy will! But I think I understand
Thee, Omnipotent One--Thou hast _entrusted_ this soul to me, and I will
guard it for Thee _loyally_!"

It was an hour of sacred happiness. Her head rested on his breast. Not
a leaf stirred on the boughs. The dense shadow of the beeches
surrounded them, separating them from the world as if the universe
contained naught save this one spot of earth, and the dream of this
moment.

"Tell me _one_ thing," she whispered, "only one, and I will suffer,
atone, and purchase this hour of Heaven by any sacrifice: Do you love
me?"

He looked at her, his whole soul in his eyes. "Must I _tell_ you so?"
he asked mournfully. "What can it serve you to put your hand into the
wound in my heart, and see how deep it is? You cannot cure it. Have you
not felt, from the first moment, that some irresistible spell drew me
to you, forcing me, the recluse, to come to you again and yet again?
What was it that drove me from my couch early this morning and sent me
hither to your closed house and deserted garden? What was it save
love?"

"Ever since four o'clock I have wandered restlessly about with my eyes
fixed on the shutters of your room, till the impetuous longing of my
soul roused you and drew you from your warm bed into the chill morning
air. Come, you are shivering, let me warm you, nestle in my arms and
feel the glow of my heart."

He sat down on the bench under the arbor, and--he knew not how it
happened--she clung to him like a child and he could not repulse her,
he _could_ not! She stroked his long black locks with her little soft
hand and rested her head against his cheek--she was the very embodiment
of innocence, simplicity, girlish artlessness. And in low murmurs she
poured out her whole heart to him as a child confides in its father.
Without reserve, she told him all the bitter sorrow of her whole
life--a life which had never known either love or happiness! Having
lost her mother when a mere child, she had been educated by a
cold-hearted governess and a pessimistic tutor. Her father, wholly
absorbed by the whirl of fashionable life, had cared nothing for her,
and when scarcely out of the school-room had compelled her to marry a
rich old man with whom for eight years existence was one long torment.
Then, in mortal fear lest her listener would not forgive her, yet
faithful to the truth, she confessed also how her eager soul, yearning
for love, had striven to find some compensation, rebelling against a
law which recognized the utmost immorality as moral, till _sin_ itself
seemed virtue compared to the wrong of such a bond. But as the
forbidden draught did not quench her thirst, a presentiment came to her
that she was longing for that spring of which Christ said: "But
whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never
thirst!" This had brought her here, and here had been opened the
purifying, redeeming fount of life and love.

"Now you know all! My soul lies open before you! By the self denial
with which I risked my highest blessing, _yourself_, and revealed my
whole past life to you, you can judge whether I have been ennobled by
your love." Slipping from his embrace, she sank on her knees before
him: "Now judge the Penitent--I will accept from your hand whatever
fate you may impose. But one thing I beseech you to do, whatever you
may ask of me: remember _Christ_."

Freyer raised his large dark eyes. "I do remember Him." Bending toward
her with infinite gentleness, he lifted her in his strong arms: "Come,
Magdalena! I cannot condemn you," he said, and the Penitent again
rested in the embrace of compassion.

"There are drops of cold perspiration on your brow," said Madeleine
after a long silence. "Are you suffering?"

"I suffer gladly. Do not heed it!" he said with effort.

Then a glance of loving inquiry searched his inmost soul. "Do you
regret the kiss which you just denied me?" she asked, scarcely above
her breath, but the whispered question made him wince as though a probe
had entered some hidden wound. She felt it, and some irresistible
impulse urged her to again raise her pouting lips. He saw their rosy
curves close to his own, and gently covered them with his hand. "Be
true! Let us be loyal to each other. Do not make my lot harder than it
is already! You do not know what you are unchaining." Starting up, he
clasped his hands upon his breast, eagerly drinking in long draughts of
the invigorating morning air. The gloomy fire which had just glowed in
his eyes changed again to a pure, calm light. "This is so _beautiful_,
do not disturb it," he said gently, kissing her on the forehead. "My
child, my dove! Our love shall remain pure and sacred--shall it not?"

"Yes!" she murmured in reverent submission, for now he was once more
the image of Christ, and she bent silently to kiss his hand. He did not
resist, for he felt that it was a comfort to her. Then he disappeared,
calm, lofty, like one who has stripped off the fetters of this world.

Madeleine von Wildenau was left alone. Pressing her forehead against
the trunk of the tree, a rude but firm support, she had sunk back upon
the bench, closing her eyes. Her heart was almost bursting with its
seething tide of emotion. Tears coursed down her cheeks. God had given
her so much, that she almost swooned under this wealth of happiness.
Only a touch of pain could balance it, or it would be too great for
mortal strength to bear. This pain was an unsatisfied yearning, a vague
feeling that her destiny could only be fulfilled through this love, and
that she was still so far from possessing it. God has ordained that the
human heart can bear only a certain measure of happiness and, when this
limit is passed, joy becomes pain because we are not to experience here
on earth bliss which belongs to a higher stage of development. That is
why the greatest joy brings tears, that is why, amid the utmost love,
we believe that we have never loved enough, that is why, amid the
excess of enjoyment, we are consumed with the desire for a rapture of
which this is but a foretaste, that is why every pleasure teaches us to
yearn for a new and greater one, so that we may _never_ be satisfied,
but continually suffer.

There is but one power which, with strong hand, maintains the balance,
teaches us to be sparing of joy, helps us endure pain, dams all the
streams of desire and sends them back to toil and bear fruit within the
soul: asceticism! It cuts with firm touch the luxuriant shoots from the
tree of life, that its strength may concentrate within the marrow of
the trunk and urge the growth _upward_. Asceticism! The bugbear of all
the grown up children of this world. Wherever it appears human hearts
are in a tumult as if death were at hand. Like flying ants bearing away
their eggs to a place of safety, the disturbed consciences of
worldlings anxiously strive to hide their secret desires and pleasures
from the dreaded foe! But whoever dares to meet its eyes sees that it
is not the bugbear which the apostles of reason and nature would fain
represent it, no fleshless, bloodless shadow which strives to destroy
the natural bond between the Creator and creation, but a being with a
glowing heart, five wounds, and a brow bedewed with drops of sweat. Its
office is stern and gloomy, its labor severe and thankless, for it has
to struggle violently with rebellious souls and, save for the aid of
the army of priests who have consecrated themselves to its service, it
would succumb in the ceaseless struggle with materialism which is ever
developing into higher consciousness! Yet whoever has once given
himself to her service finds her a lofty, earnest, yet gracious
goddess! She is the support of the feeble, the comforter of the
unhappy and the solitary, the angel of the self-sacrificing. Whoever
feels her hand upon a wounded, quivering heart, knows that she is the
_benefactress_, not the taskmistress of humanity.

Nor does she always appear as the gloomy mourner beside the corpse of
murdered joys. Sometimes roses wreath the thorn-scarred brow, and she
becomes the priestess of love. When the world and its self-created
duties rudely sunders two hearts which God created for each other and
leaves them to waste away in mortal anguish, _she_ is the compassionate
one. With sanctifying power she raises the struggling souls above the
dividing barrier of temporal things, teaches them to trample the earth
under their feet and unites them with an eternal bond in the purer
sphere of _intellectual_ love. Thus she unites what _morality_ severs.
_Morality_ alone is harsh, not asceticism. Morality pitilessly
prescribes her laws, unheeding the weakness of poor human hearts,
asceticism helps them to submit to them. Morality _demands_ obedience,
asceticism _teaches_ it. Morality punishes, asceticism corrects. The
former judges by appearances, the latter by the reality. Morality has
only the reward of the _world_, asceticism of _Heaven_! Morality made
Mary Magdalene an outcast, asceticism led her to the Lord and obtained
His mercy for her.

And as the beautiful Magdalene of the present day sat with closed eyes,
letting her thoughts be swept along upon the wildly foaming waves of
her hot blood, she fancied that the bugbear once so dreaded because she
had known it only under the guise of the fulfilment of base, loathsome
duty was approaching. But this time the form appeared in its pure
beauty, bent tenderly over her, a pallid shape of light, and gazed at
her with the eyes of a friend! Low, mysterious words, in boding
mournful tones, were murmured in her ears. As she listened, her tears
flowed more gently, and with childlike humility she clasped the sublime
vision and hid her face on its breast. Then she felt upon her brow a
chill kiss, like a breath from the icy regions of eternal peace, and
the apparition vanished. But as the last words of something heard in a
dream often echo in the ears of the person awaking, the countess as she
raised her closed lids, remembered nothing save the three words: "On
the cross!" ...



                              CHAPTER XI.

                          MARY AND MAGDALENE.


"On the cross"--was it a consolation or a menace? Who could decipher
this rune? It was like all the sayings of oracles. History would
explain its meaning, and when this was done, it would be too late, for
it would be fulfilled! The countess still sat motionless in the old
arbor. Her destiny had commenced on the cross, that was certain.
Hitherto she had been a blind blank, driven like thousands by the wheel
of chance. She had first entered into communication with the systematic
order of divine thought in the hour when she saw Joseph Freyer on the
cross. Will her fate _end_ as it _began_, upon the cross? An icy chill
ran through her veins. She loved the cross, since it bore the man whom
she loved, but what farther influence was it to have upon her life! And
what had pallid asceticism to do with her? What was the source of all
these oppressive, melancholy forebodings, which could only be justified
if a conflict with grave duties or constraining circumstances was
impending. Why should they not love each other, both were free!
But--she not only desired to love him, she wished to be _his_, to claim
him _hers_. Every loving woman longs for the fulfilment of her destiny
in the man she loves. How was she to obtain this fulfilment? What is
born in morality, cannot exist in immorality. He knew this, felt it,
and it was the cause of his sternness. This was the source of her
grief, the visit of the mysterious comforter, and the warning of the
cross. But must the brightest happiness, the beautiful bud of love
wither on the cross, because it grew there? Was there no other sacred
soil where it might thrive and develop to the most perfect flower? Was
there no wedding altar, no sacrament of marriage? She drew back as if
she suddenly stood on the verge of a yawning abyss. Her brain reeled! A
throng of jeering spectres seemed grinning at her, watching with
malicious delight the leap the Countess Wildenau was about to take,
down to a peasant! She involuntarily glanced around as if some one
might have been listening to the _thought_. But all was still and
silent; her secret, thank Heaven, was still her own.

"Eternal Providence, what fate hast thou in store for me?" her
questioning gaze asked the blue sky. What was the meaning of this
extraordinary conflict? She loved Freyer as the God whom he
represented, yet he could be hers only as a man; she must either resign
him or the divine illusion. She felt that the instant which made him
hers as a man would break the spell, and she would no longer love him!
The God was too far above her to be drawn down to her level, the man
was too low to be raised to it. Was ever mortal woman thus placed
between two alternatives and told: "Choose!" The golden shower fell
into Danae's lap, the swan flew to Leda, the bull bore Europa away, and
Jupiter did not ask: "In what form do you wish me to appear?" But to
the higher consciousness of the Christian woman the whole
responsibility of free choice is given. And what is the reward of this
torturing dilemma? If she chooses the God, she must resign the man, if
she chooses the man she must sacrifice the God. Which can she renounce,
which relinquish? She could not decide, and wrung her hands in agony.
Why must this terrible discord be hers? Had she ventured too boldly
into the sphere of divine life that, as if in mockery, she was given
the choice between the immortal and the mortal in order, in the
struggle between the two, to recognize the full extent of her weakness?

It seemed so! As if utterly wearied by the sore conflict, she hid her
face in her hands and called to her aid the wan comforter who had just
approached so tenderly. But in vain, the revelations were silent, the
deity would not aid her!

"You ought to go up the mountain to-day, Countess," called a resonant
voice. This time no pale phantom, no grimacing spectre stood before
her, but her friend Ludwig, who gazed into her eyes with questioning
sympathy. She clasped his hand.

"Whenever you approach me, my friend, I can never help receiving you
with a 'Thank Heaven!' You are one of those whose very _presence_ is
beneficial to the sufferer, as the physician's entrance often suffices
to soothe the patient without medicines."

Ludwig sat down on the bench beside the countess. "My sisters and
Josepha are greatly troubled because you have not yet ordered
breakfast, and no one ventured to ask. So _I_ undertook the dangerous
commission, and your Highness can see yonder at the door how admiringly
my sisters' eyes are following me."

The countess laughed. "Dear me, am I so dreaded a tyrant?"

"No doubt you are a little inclined to be one," replied Ludwig,
quizzically; "now and then a sharp point juts from a hidden coronet. I
felt one myself yesterday?"

"When--how?"

"May I remind you of it?"

"Certainly."

"When you poured all your wrath upon poor Freyer, and resolved to leave
Ammergau at once. Then I was puzzled for a moment."

"Really?" said the countess with charming embarrassment. "Then I was
not mistaken--I perceived it, and therefore delayed sending the
telegram. People ought not to take such passing ebullitions so
seriously."

"Yes, Countess, but that 'passing ebullition,' might have made poor
Freyer miserable for a long time. Pray, have more patience and
tolerance in future. Natures so powerful and superior as yours fail to
exert a destructive influence upon a circle of simple folk like
ourselves, only when they show a corresponding degree of generosity,
which suffices to excuse all our awkwardnesses. Otherwise you will some
day thrust us down from the height to which you have raised us, and
that would be far worse than if we had _never_ been withdrawn from our
modest sphere."

"You are right!" said the countess, thoughtfully.

"My fear is that we are capable only of _rousing_ your interest, not
_fixing_ it. We are on too unequal a footing, we feel and understand
your spell, but are too simple and inexperienced not to be dazzled and
confused by its ever varying phantasmagoria. Therefore, Countess, you
are as great a source of peril as of happiness."

"Hm! I understand. But suppose that for the sake of you people of
Ammergau I desired to return to plainness--and simplicity."

"You cannot, Countess, you are too young."

"What do you mean? That would be the very reason I should be able to do
so."

"No, for you have passed the age when people easily accommodate
themselves to new circumstances. Too many of the shoots of luxury have
gained a generous growth; they will assert their claims and cannot be
forced back into the seeds whence they came. Not until they have lived
out their time in the world and died can they form the soil for a new
and, if you desire it, more primitive and simple development!--Any
premature attempt of this kind will last only a few moments and even
these would be a delusion. But what to you would be passing moments of
disappointment, to those who shared them would be--lifelong destiny.
Our clumsy natures cannot make these graceful oscillations from one
feeling to another, we stake all on one and lose it, if we are
deceived."

The countess looked earnestly at him.

"You are a stern monitor, Ludwig Gross!" she said, thoughtfully. "Do
you fear that I might play a game with one of you?"

"An unconscious one, Countess--as the waves toy with a drifting boat."

"Well, that would at least be no cruel one!" replied the lady, smiling.

"_Any_ sport, Countess, would be cruel, which tore one of these calm
souls from its quiet haven here and set it adrift rudderless on the
high sea of passion." He rose. "Pardon me--I am taking too much
liberty."

"Not more than my friendship gave you a right to say. You brought your
friend to me; you are right to warn me if you imagine I should
heedlessly throw the priceless gift away! But, Ludwig Gross"--she took
his hand--"do you know that I prize it so highly that I should not
consider _myself_ too great a recompense? Do you know that you have
just found me in a sore struggle over this problem?"

Ludwig Gross drew back a step as if he could not grasp the full meaning
of the words. So momentous did they seem that he turned pale. "Is it
possible?" he stammered.

A tremulous gesture of the hand warned him to say no more. "I don't
know--whether it is possible! But that I could even _think_ of it, will
enable you to imagine what value your gift possesses for me. Not a
word, I beseech you. Give me time--and trust me. So many marvels have
been wrought in me during the past few days, that I give myself up to
the impulse of the moment and allow myself to be led by an ever-ruling
Providence--I shall be dealt with kindly."

Ludwig, deeply moved, kissed his companion's hand. "Countess, the
impulse which moves you at this moment must unconsciously thrill every
heart in Ammergau--as the sleeping child feels, even in its dreams,
when a good fairy approaches its cradle. And it is indeed so; for, in
you conscious culture approaches unconscious nature--it is a sublime
moment, when the highest culture, like the fairy beside the cradle,
listens to the breathing of humanity, where completion approaches the
source of being, and drinks from it fresh vigor."

"Yes," cried the countess, enthusiastically: "That is it. You
understand me perfectly. All civilization must gain new strength from
the fountain of nature or its sources of life would become dry--for
they perpetually derive their nourishment from that inexhaustible
maternal bosom. Where this is not accomplished in individual lives, the
primeval element, thus disowned, avenges itself in great social
revolutions, catastrophes which form epochs in the history of the
world. It is only a pity that in such phases of violent renewal the
labor of whole epochs of civilization is lost. Therefore souls in
harmony with their age must try to reconcile peacefully what, taken
collectively, assumes the proportions of contrasts destructive to the
universe."

"And where could we find this reconciliation, save in love?" cried
Ludwig, enthusiastically.

"You express it exactly: that is the perception toward which minds are
more and more impelled, and whose outlines in art and science appear
more and more distinctly. That is the secret of the influence of
Parsifal, which extends far beyond the domain of art and, in another
province, the success of the Passion Play! To one it revealed itself
under one guise, to another under another. To me it was here that the
very source of love appeared. And as you, who revealed it to me, are
pervaded by the great lesson--I will test it first upon you. Brother!
Friend! I will aid you in every strait and calamity, and you shall see
that I exercise love, not only in words, but that the power working
within me will accomplish deeds also." She clasped her hands
imploringly: "And if I love one of you _more_ than the others, do not
blame me. The nearer to the focus of light, the stronger the heat! He,
that one, is surely the focus of the great light which, emanating from
you, illumines the whole world. I am so near him--could I remain cold?"

"Ah, Countess--now I will cast aside all fears for my friend. In
Heaven's name, take him. Even if he consumes under your thrall--pain,
too, is godlike, and to suffer for _you_ is a grand, a lofty destiny, a
thousand-fold fairer and better than the dull repose of an every day
happiness."

"Good heavens, when have I ever heard such language!" exclaimed the
countess, gazing admiringly at the modest little man, whose cheeks were
glowing with the flush of the loftiest feeling. He stood before her in
his plain working clothes, his clear-cut profile uplifted, his eyes
raised with a searching gaze as if pursuing the vanishing traces of a
lofty, unattainable goal.

She rose: "There is not a day, not an hour here, which does not bring
me something grand. Woe befall me if I do not show myself worthy of the
obligation your friendship imposes, I should be more guilty than those
to whom the summons of the ideal has never come; who have never stood
face to face with men like you."

Ludwig quietly held out his hand and clasped hers closely in her own.
The piercing glance of his artist-eye seemed to read the inmost depths
of her soul.

After a long pause Madeleine von Wildenau interrupted the silence:
"There stands your sister in great concern over my bodily welfare! Well
then, let us remember that we are human--unfortunately! Will you
breakfast with me?"

"I thank you, I have already breakfasted," said Ludwig, modestly,
motioning to Sephi to be ready.

"Then at least bear me company." Taking his arm, she went with him to
the arbor covered with a wild grape-vine where the table was spread.
She sat down to the simple meal, while her companion served her with so
much tact and grace that she could not help thinking involuntarily;
"And these are peasants? What ought we aristocrats to be?" Then, as if
in mockery of this reflection, a man in his shirt-sleeves with his
jacket flung over his arm and a scythe in his hand passed down the
street by the fence. "Freyer!" exclaimed the countess, her face aflame:
"The Messiah with a scythe?"

Freyer stopped. "You called me, Countess?"

"Where are you going with that implement, Herr Freyer?" she asked,
coldly, in evident embarrassment.

"To mow my field!" he answered quietly. "I have just time, and I want
to try to harvest a little hay. Almost everything goes to ruin during
the Passion!"

"But why do you cut it yourself?"

"Because I have no servant, Countess!" said Freyer, smiling, raised his
hat with the dignified gesture characteristic of him, and moved on as
firmly and proudly as though the business he was pursuing was worthy of
a king. And so it was, when _he_ pursued it. A second blush crimsoned
Madeleine von Wildenau's fair forehead. But this time it was because
she had been ashamed of him for a moment. "Poor Freyer! His little
patrimony was a patch of ground, and should it be accounted a
degradation that he must receive the scanty gift of nature directly
from her hand, or rather win it blade by blade in the sweat of his
brow?" So she reasoned.

Then he glanced back at her and she felt that the look, outshining the
sun, had illuminated her whole nature. The fiery greeting of a radiant
soul! She waved her white hand to him, and he again raised his hat.

"Where is Freyer's field?"

"Not far from us, just outside the village. Would you like to go
there?"

"No, it would trouble me. I should not like to see him toiling for his
daily bread. Men such as he ought not to find it necessary, and it must
end in some way. God sent me here to equalize the injustice of fate."

"You cannot accomplish this with Freyer, Countess, he would have been a
rich man long ago, if he had been willing to accept anything. What do
you imagine he has had offered by ladies who, from sacred and selfish
motives, under the influence of his personation of the Christ, were
ready to make any sacrifice? If ever poverty was an honor to a man, it
is to Freyer, for he might have been in very different circumstances
and instead is content with the little property received from his
father, a bit of woodland, a field, and a miserable little hut. To keep
the nobility and freedom of his soul, he toils like a servant and cares
for house, field, and wood with his own hands."

"Just see him now, Countess," he added, "You have never beheld any man
look more aristocratic while at work than he, though he only wields a
scythe."

"You are a loyal friend, Ludwig Gross," she answered. "And an eloquent
advocate! Come, take me to him."

She hurried into the house, returning with a broad-brimmed hat on her
head, which made her face look as blooming and youthful as a girl's.
Long undressed kid gloves covered her arms under the half flowing
sleeves of her gown, and she carried over her shoulder a scarlet
sunshade which surrounded her whole figure with a roseate glow. There
was a warmth, a tempting charm in her appearance like the velvety bloom
of a ripe peach. Ludwig Gross gazed at her in wonder.

"You are--_fatally_ beautiful!" he involuntarily exclaimed, shaking his
head mournfully, as we do when we see some inevitable disaster
approaching a friend. "No one ought to be so beautiful," he added,
disapprovingly.

Madeleine von Wildenau laughed merrily. "Oh! you comical friend, who
offers with so sour a visage the most flattering compliments possible.
Our young society men might take lessons from you! Pardon me for
laughing," she said apologetically, as Ludwig's face darkened. "But it
came so unexpectedly, I was not prepared for such a compliment here,"
and in spite of herself, she laughed again, the compliment was too
irresistible.

Her companion was deeply offended. He saw in this outbreak of mirth a
levity which outraged his holiest feelings. These were "the graceful
oscillations from one mood to another," as he had termed it that day,
which he had so dreaded for his friend, and which now perplexed his own
judgment!

A moment was sufficient to reveal this to the countess, in the next she
had regained her self-control and with it the power of adapting herself
to the earnestness of her friend's mood.

He was walking silently at her side with a heavy heart. There had been
something in that laugh which he could not fathom, readily as he
grasped any touch of humor. To the earnest woman he had seen that
morning, he would have confided his friend in the belief that he was
fulfilling a lofty destiny; to the laughing, coquettish woman of the
world, he grudged him; Joseph Freyer was far too good for such a fate.

They had walked on, each absorbed in thought, leaving the village
behind, into the open country. Few people were at work, for during the
Passion there is rarely time to till the fields.

"There he is!" Ludwig pointed to a man swinging his scythe with a
powerful arm. The countess had dreaded the sight, yet now stood
watching full of admiration, for these movements were as graceful as
his gestures. The natural symmetry which was one of his characteristic
qualities rendered him a picturesque figure even here, while toiling in
the fields. His arms described rhythmically returning circles so
smoothly, the poise of the elastic body, bending slightly forward, was
so noble, and he performed the labor so easily that it seemed like a
graceful gymnastic exercise for the training of the marvellous limbs.
The countess gazed at him a long time, unseen.

A woman's figure, bearing a jug, approached from the opposite side of
the meadow and offered Freyer a drink. "I have brought some milk. You
must be thirsty, it is growing warm," the countess heard her say. She
was a gracious looking woman, clad in simple country garb, evidently
somewhat older than Freyer, but with a noble, virginal bearing and
features of classic regularity. Every movement was dignified, and her
expression was calm and full of kindly earnestness.

"I ought to know her," said the countess in a strangely sharp tone.

"Certainly. She is the Mother of God in the Passion Play, Anastasia
Gross, the burgomaster's sister."

"Yes, the Mary!" said the countess, and again she remembered how the
two, mother and son, had remained clasped in each other's arms far
longer than seemed to her necessary. What unknown pang was this which
now pierced her heart? "I suppose they are betrothed?" she asked, with
quickened breath.

"Who can tell? We think she loves him, but no one knows Freyer's
feelings!" said Ludwig.

"I don't understand, since you are such intimate friends, why you
should not know!"

"I believe, Countess, if we people of Ammergau have any good quality,
it is discretion. We do not ask even the most intimate friend anything
which he does not confide to us."

Madeleine von Wildenau lowered her eyes in confusion. After a short
struggle she said with deadly sternness and bitterness: "You were right
this morning--the man must be left _in his sphere_. Come, let us go
back!" A glance from Ludwig's eyes pierced her to the heart. She turned
back toward the village. But Freyer had already seen her and overtook
her with the speed of thought.

"Why, Countess, you here? And"--his eyes, fierce with pain, rested
enquiringly on hers as he perceived their cold expression, "and you
were going to leave me without a word of greeting? Were you ashamed to
speak to the poor peasant who was mowing his grass? Or did my dress
shock you?" He was so perfectly artless that he did not even interpret
her indignation correctly, but attributed it to an entirely different
cause. This did not escape the keen intuition of a woman so thoroughly
versed in affairs of the heart. But when a drop of the venom of
jealousy has entered the blood, it requires some time ere it is
absorbed, even though the cause of the mischief has long been removed.
This is an old experience, as well as the fact that, this process once
over, repentance is all the sweeter, love the more passionate. But the
poor simple-hearted peasant, in his artlessness, could not perceive all
this. He was merely ashamed of standing before the countess in his
shirt sleeves and hurriedly endeavored, with trembling fingers, to
fasten his collar which he had opened while at work, baring his throat
and chest. It seemed as if the hot blood could be heard pulsing against
the walls of his arched chest, like the low murmur of the sea. The
labor, the increasing heat of the sun, and the excitement of the
countess' presence had quickened the usually calm flow of his blood
till it fairly seethed in his veins, glowing in roseate life through
the ascetic pallor of the skin, while the swelling veins stood forth in
a thousand beautiful waving lines like springs welling from white
stone. Both stood steeped in the fervid warmth, one absorbing, the
other reflecting it.

But with the cruelty of love, which seeks to measure the strength of
responsive passion by the very pain it has the power to inflict, the
beautiful woman curbed the fire kindled in her own pulses and said
carelessly: "We have interrupted your tête-à-tête, we will make amends
by retiring."

"Countess!" he exclaimed with a look which seemed to say: "Is it
possible that you can be so unjust! My _Mother_, Mary, was with me, she
brought her son something to refresh him at his work, why should you
interrupt us?"

The simple words, which to her had so subtle a double meaning,
explained everything and Madeleine von Wildenau felt, with deep
embarrassment, that he understood her and that she must appear very
petty in his eyes.

Ludwig Gross drew out his watch. "Excuse me, it is nine o'clock; I must
go to my drawing-school." He bowed and left them, without shaking hands
with the countess as usual. She felt it as a rebuke, and a voice in her
heart said: "You must become a far better woman ere you are worthy of
this man."

"Would not you like to know Mary? May I introduce her to you?" asked
Freyer, when they were alone.

"Oh, it is not necessary."

"Why, how can you love the son and not care for the mother?"

"She is _not_ your mother," replied the countess.

"And _I_ am not the Christ. Why does the illusion affect me, and not
Mary?"

"Because it was perfect in you, but not in her."

"Then there is still more reason to know her, that her personality may
complete what her personation lacked."

The countess cast a gloomy look at the tall maiden, who meanwhile had
taken the scythe and was doing Freyer's work.

"She seems to be very devoted to you," she said suspiciously.

"Yes, thank Heaven, we are loyal friends."

"I suppose you call each other thou."

"Yes, all the Ammergau people do that, when they have been
schoolmates."

"That is a strange custom. Is it practised by those in both high and
low stations?"

"There are neither high nor low stations among us. We all stand on the
same footing, Countess. The fact that one is richer, another poorer,
that one can do more for education and external appearances than his
neighbor makes no difference with us and, if it did, it would be an
honor for me to be permitted to address Anastasia with the familiar
thou, for she and the whole Gross family are far above me. Even in your
sense of the word, Countess, the burgomaster is an aristocrat, no child
of nature like myself, but a man familiar with social usages and
thoroughly well educated."

"Well, then," cried the countess, "why don't you marry the lady, if she
possesses such superior advantages?"

"Marry?" Freyer started back as if instead of Madeleine's beautiful
face he had suddenly beheld some hideous vision, "I have never thought
of it!"

"Why not?"

"The Christ wed Mary? The son the mother? No, though we are not what we
represent, _that_ would be impossible. I have become so accustomed to
regard her as my mother that it would seem to me a profanation."

"But next winter, when the Play is over, it will be different."

"And _you_ say this to me, Countess; _you_, after this morning?" cried
Freyer, with a trembling voice. "Are you in earnest?"

"Certainly. I cannot expect you, for my sake, to neglect older claims
upon your heart!"

"Countess, if I had older claims, would I have spoken to you as I did
to-day, would the events have occurred which happened to-day? Can you
believe such things of me? You are silent? Well, Countess, that may be
the custom in your circle, but not in mine."

"Forgive me, Freyer!" stammered the lady, turning pale.

"Freyer shaded his eyes with his hand as if the sun dazzled him, in
order to conceal his rising tears.

"For what are you looking?" asked the countess, who thought he was
trying to see more distinctly.

He turned his face, eloquent with pain, full toward her. "I was looking
to see where my dove had flown, I can no longer find her. Or was it all
a dream?"

"Freyer!" cried the countess, utterly overwhelmed, slipping her hand
through his arm and resting her head without regard for possible
spectators on his heaving breast. "Joseph, your dove has not flown
away, she is here, take her to your heart again and keep her forever,
forever, if you wish."

"Take care, Countess," said Freyer, warningly, "there are people moving
in all directions."

She raised her head. "Will it cause you any harm?" she asked, abashed.

"Not me, but you. I have no one to question me and could only be proud
of your tokens of favor, but consider what would be said in your own
circle, if it were rumored that you had rested your head on a peasant's
breast."

"You are no peasant, you are an artist."

"In your eyes, but not in those of the world. Even though we do
passably well in wood-carving and in the Passion Play, so long as we
are so poor that we are compelled to till our fields ourselves, and
bring the wood for our carvings from the forest with our own hands, we
shall be ranked as peasants, and no one will believe that we are
anything else. You will be blamed for having associated with such
uncultured people."

"Oh, I will answer for that before the whole world."

"That would avail little, my beloved one, Heaven forbid that I should
ever so far forget myself as to boast of your love before others, or
permit you to do anything which they would misjudge. God alone
understands what we are to each other, and therefore it must remain
hidden in His bosom where no profane eye can desecrate it."

The countess clung closer to him in silent admiration. She remembered
so many annoyances caused by the indiscretions due to the vanity of men
whom she had favored, that this modest delicacy seemed so chivalrous
and lofty that she would fain have fallen at his feet.

"Dove, have I found you again?" he said, gazing into her eyes. "My
sweet, naughty dove! You will never more wound and wrong me so. I feel
that you might break my heart" And pressing her arm lightly to his
side, he raised her hand to his burning lips.

A glow of happiness filled Madeleine von Wildenau's whole being as she
heard the stifled, passionate murmur of love. And as, with every
sunbeam, the centifolia blooms more fully, revealing a new beauty with
each opening petal, so too did the soul of the woman thus illumined by
the divine ray of true love.

"Come," she said suddenly, "take me to the kind creature who so
tenderly ministers to you, perhaps suffers for you. I now feel drawn
toward her and will love her for your sake as your mother, Mary."

"Ah, my child, that is worthy of you! I knew that you were generous and
noble! Come, my Magdalene, I will lead you to Mary."

They walked rapidly to the field where Anastasia was busily working.
The latter, seeing the stranger approach, let down the skirt she had
lifted and adjusted her dress a little, but she received the countess
without the least embarrassment and cordially extended her hand. _Her_
bearing also had a touch of condescension, which the great lady
especially noticed. Anastasia gazed so calmly and earnestly at her that
she lowered her eyes as if unable to bear the look of this serene soul.
The smoothly brushed brown hair, the soft indistinctly marked brows,
the purity of the features, and the virginal dignity throned on the
noble forehead harmonized with the ideal of the Queen of Heaven which
the countess had failed to grasp in the Passion Play. She was
beautiful, faultless from head to foot, yet there was nothing in her
appearance which could arouse the least feeling of jealousy. There was
such spirituality in her whole person--something--the countess could
not describe it in any other way--so expressive of the sober sense of
age, that the beautiful woman was ashamed of her suspicion. She now
understood what Freyer meant when he spoke of the maternal relation
existing between Anastasia and himself. She was the true Madonna, to
whom all eyes would be lifted devoutly, reverently, yet whom no man
would desire to press to his heart. She was probably not much older
than the countess, two or three years at most, but compared with her
the great lady, so thoroughly versed in the ways of the world, was but
an immature, impetuous child. The countess felt this with the secret
satisfaction which it affords every woman to perceive that she is
younger than another, and it helped her to endure the superiority which
Anastasia's lofty calmness maintained over her. Nay, she even accepted
the inferior place with a coquettish artlessness which made her appear
all the more youthful. Yet at the very moment she adopted the childish
manner, she secretly felt its reality. She was standing in the presence
of the Mother of God. Womanly nature had never possessed any charm for
her, she had never comprehended it in any form. She had never admired
any of Raphael's Madonnas, not even the Sistine. A woman interested her
only as the object of a man's love for which she might envy her, the
contrary character, the ascetic beauty of an Immaculate was wholly
outside of her sphere. Now, for the first time in her life, she was
interested in a personality of this type, because she suddenly realized
that the Virgin was also the Mother of the Saviour. And as her love for
the Christ was first awakened by her love for Joseph Freyer, her
reverence for Mary was first felt when she thought of her as his
mother! Madeleine von Wildenau, so poor in the treasures of the heart,
the woman who had never been a mother, suddenly felt--even while
in the act of playing with practised coquetry the part of childlike
ignorance--under the influence of the man she loved, the _reality_ in
the farce and her heart opened to the sacred, mysterious bond between
the mother and the child. Thus, hour by hour, she grew out of the
captivity of the world and the senses, gently supported and elevated by
the might of that love which reconciles earth and heaven.

She held out one hand to Anastasia, the other to Freyer. "I, too, would
fain know the dear mother of our Christ!" she said, with that sweet,
submissive grace which the moment had taught her. Freyer's eyes rested
approvingly upon her. She felt as if wings were growing on her
shoulders, she felt that she was beautiful, good, and beloved; earth
could give no more.

Anastasia watched the agitated woman with the kindly, searching gaze of
a Sister of Charity. Indeed, her whole appearance recalled that of one
of these ministering spirits, resigned without sentimentality; gentle,
yet energetic; modest, yet impressive.

"I felt a great--" the countess was about to say "admiration," but this
was not true, she admired her now for the first time! She stopped
abruptly in the midst of her sentence, she could utter no stereotyped
compliments at this moment. With quiet dignity, like a princess giving
audience, Anastasia came to her assistance, by skilfully filling up the
pause: "So this is your first visit to Ammergau?"

"Yes."

"Then you have doubtless been very much impressed?"

"Oh, who could remain cold, while witnessing such a spectacle?"

"Yes, is not our Christ perfect?" said Anastasia, smiling proudly. "He
costs people many tears. But even _I_ cannot help weeping, and I have
played it with him thirty times." She passed her hand across his brow
with a tender, maternal caress, as if she wished to console him for all
his sufferings. "Does it not seem as if we saw the Redeemer Himself?"

The countess watched her with increasing sympathy. "You have a
beautiful soul! Your friend was right, people should know you to
receive the full impression of Mary."

"Yes, I play it too badly," replied Anastasia, whose native modesty
prevented her recognition of the flattery conveyed in the countess'
words.

"No--badly is not the word. But the delicate shadings of the feminine
nature are lost in the vast space," the other explained.

"It may be so," replied Anastasia, simply. "But that is of no
importance; no matter how we others might play--_he_ would sustain the
whole."

"And your brother, Anastasia, and all the rest--do you forget them?"
said Freyer, rebukingly.

"Yes, dear Anastasia." The countess took Freyer's hand. "I have given
my soul into the keeping of this Christ--but your brother's performance
is also a masterpiece! It seems to me that you are unjust to him. And
also to Pilate, whom I admired, the apostles and high-priests."

"Perhaps so. I don't know how the others act--" said Mary with an
honesty that was fairly sublime. "I see only him, and when he is not on
the stage I care nothing for the rest of the performance. It is because
I am his _mother_: to a mother the son is beyond everything else," she
added, calmly.

The countess looked at her in astonishment. Was it possible that a
woman could love in this way? Yet there was no doubt of it. Had even a
shadow of longing to be united to the man she loved rested on the soul
of this girl, she could not have had thus crystalline transparency and
absolute freedom from embarrassment.

These Madonnas are happy beings! she thought, yet she did not envy this
calm peace.

Drawing off her long glove with much difficulty, she took a ring from
her finger. "Please accept this from me as a token of the secret bond
which unites us in love for--your son! We will be good friends."

"With all my heart!" said Anastasia in delight, holding out her
sunburnt finger to receive the gift. "What will my brother say when
I come home with such a present?" She gratefully kissed the donor's
hand. "You are too kind, Countess--I don't know how I deserve it."
She stooped and lifted her jug. "I must go home now to help my
sister-in-law. You will visit us, won't you? My brother will be so
pleased."

"Very gladly--if you will allow me," replied the lady, smiling.

"I beg you to do so!" said Anastasia with ready tact. Then with noble
dignity, she moved away across the fields, waving her hand from the
distance to the couple she had left behind, as if to say: "Be happy!"



                              CHAPTER XII.

                            BRIDAL TORCHES.


"Magdalene--Wife--Angel--what shall I call you?" cried Freyer,
extending his arms. "Oh, if only we were not in the open fields, that I
might press you to my heart and thank you for being so kind--so
_generous_ and so kind."

"Does your heart at last yearn for me? Then let us come into the
forest, where no one is watching us save holy nature. Take me up one of
the mountains. Will you? Can you? Will not your hay spoil?"

"_Let_ it spoil, what does that matter? But first you must allow me to
go home to put on garments more suitable for your society."

"No, that will be too late! Remain as you are--you are handsome in any
clothes," she whispered, blushing faintly, like a girl, while she
lowered her eyes from the kingly figure to the ground. A happy smile
flitted over her face. Stooping, she picked up the jacket which he had
removed while doing his work.

"And you--are you equipped for mountain climbing?"

"Oh, we will not go far. Not farther than we can go and return in time
for dinner."

"Come, then. If matters come to the worst, I will take my dove on my
shoulder and carry her when she can walk no farther."

"Oh, happy freedom!" cried the countess, joyously! "To wander through
the woods, like two children in a fairy tale, enchanted by some wicked
fairy and unable to appear again until after a thousand years! Oh,
poetry of childhood--for the first time you smile upon me in all your
radiance. Come, let us hasten--it is so beautiful that I can hardly
believe it. I shall not, until we are there."

She flew rather than walked by his side. "My dove--suppose that we were
enchanted and forced to remain in the forest together a thousand
years?"

"Let us try it!" she whispered, fixing her eyes on his till he
murmured, panting for breath: "I believe--the spell is beginning to
work." And his eyes glowed with a gloomy fire as he murmured, watching
her: "Who knows whether I am not harboring the Lorelei herself, who is
luring me into her kingdom to destroy me!"

"What do you know of the Lorelei?"

Freyer stopped. "Do you suppose I read nothing? What else should I do
during the long evenings, when wearied by my work, I am resting at
home?"

"Really?" she asked absently, drawing him forward.

"Do you suppose I could understand a woman like you if I had not
educated myself a little? Alas, we cannot accomplish much when the
proper foundation is lacking. The untrained memory retains nothing
firmly except what passes instantly into flesh and blood, the
perception of life as it is reflected to us from the mirror of art. But
even this reflection is sometimes distorted and confuses our natural
thoughts and feelings. Alas, dear one, a person who has learned nothing
correctly, and yet knows the yearning for something higher, without
being able to satisfy it--is like a lost soul that never attains the
goal for which it longs."

"My poor friend, I do know that feeling--to a certain extent it is the
same with us women. We, too, have the yearning for education, and
finally attain only a defective amount of knowledge! But, by way of
compensation, individuality, directness, intuitiveness are developed
all the more fully. You did not need to know anything--your influence
is exerted through your personality; as such you are great. All
knowledge comes from man, and is attainable by him--the divine gift of
individuality can neither be gained, nor bestowed, any more than
intuition! What is all the logic of reflecting reason compared with the
gift of intuition, which enabled you to assume the part of a God? Is
not that a greater marvel than the hard-won result of systematic study
at the desk?"

"You are a kind comforter!" said Freyer.

"Thinking makes people old!" she continued. "It has aged the human
race, too.--Nature, simplicity, love must restore its youth! In them is
_direct_ contact with the deity; in civilization only an indirect one.
Fortunately for me, I have put my lips to their spring. Oh, eternal
fountain of human nature, I drink from you with eager draughts."

They had entered the forest--the tree-tops rustled high above their
heads and at their feet rippled a mountain stream. Madeleine von
Wildenau was silent--her heart rested on her friend's broad breast,
heaving with the rapid throbbing of his heart, her supple figure had
sunk wearily down by his side. "Say no more--not a word is needed
here." The deep gloom of the woods surrounded them--a sacred stillness
and solitude. "On every height there dwells repose!" echoed in soft
melody above her head, the marvellous Rubinstein-Goethe song. There was
no human voice, it seemed like a mere breath from the distance of a
dream--like the wind sweeping over the chords of the cymbal hung by
Lenau's gypsy on a tree, scarcely audible, already dying away again.
Her ear had caught the notes of that Æolian harp once before: she knew
them again; on the cross--with the words: "Into _thy_ hands I commend
my spirit." And sweet as the voice which spoke at that time was now the
tenor that softly, softly hushed the restless spirit of the worldling
to slumber. "Wait; soon, soon--" and then the notes gradually rose till
the whole buzzing, singing woodland choir seemed to join in the words:
"Thou, too, shalt soon rest."

The mysterious sound came from the depths of the great heart on which
she rested, as if the soul had quitted the body a few moments and now,
returning, was revealing with sweet lamentation what it had beheld in
the invisible world.

"Are you weeping?" he asked tenderly, kissing the curls which clustered
round her forehead: "_My child_."

"Oh, when you utter that word, I have a feeling which I never
experienced before. Yes, I am, I wish to be a child in your hands. Only
those who have ever tasted the delight of casting the burden of their
own egoism upon any altar, whether it be religion or love--yielding
themselves up, becoming absorbed in another, higher power--_only those_
can know my emotions when I lean on your breast and you call me your
child! Thus released from ourselves, thus free and untrammelled must we
feel when we have stripped off in death the fetters of the body and
merged all which is personal to us in God."

"Heaven has destined you for itself, and you already feel how it is
loosening your fibres and gradually drawing you up out of the soil in
which you are rooted. That is why you wept when I sang that song to you
here in the quiet woodland solitude. Such tears are like the drops the
tree weeps, when a name is cut upon it. At such moments you feel the
hand of God tearing open the bark which the world has formed around
your heart, and the sap wells from the wounded spot. Is it not so?" He
gently passed his hand over her eyes, glittering with unshed tears.

"Ah, noble soul! How you penetrate the depths of my being! What is all
the wit and wisdom of the educated mind, compared with the direct
inspiration of your poetic nature. Freyer, Spring of the earth--Christ,
Spring of humanity! My heart is putting forth its first blossom for
you, take it." She threw herself with closed eyes upon his breast, as
if blindly. He clasped her in a close embrace, holding her a long time
silently in his arms. Then he said softly: "I will accept the beautiful
blossom of your heart, my child, but not for myself." He raised his
eyes fervently upward: "Oh, God, Thou hast opened Thy hand to the
beggar, and made him rich that he may sacrifice to Thee what no king
could offer. I thank Thee."

Something laughed above their heads--it was a pair of wild-doves,
cooing in the green tent over them.

"Do you know why they are laughing?" asked the countess, in an altered
tone. "They are laughing at us!"

"Magdalena!"

"Yes! They are laughing at the self-tormenting doubt of God's goodness.
Look around you, see the torrent foaming, and the blue gentians
drinking its spray, see the fruit-laden hazel, the sacred tree which
sheltered your childhood; see the bilberries at your feet, all the
intoxicating growth and movement of nature, and then ask yourself
whether the God who created all this warm, sunny life is a God who only
_takes_--not _gives_. Do you believe He would have prepared for us this
Spring of love, that we may let its blossoms wither on the cold altar
of duty or of prejudice? No--take what He bestows--and do not
question."

"Do not lead me into temptation, Magdalena!" he gently entreated. "I
told you this morning that you do not know what you are unloosening."

He stood before her as if transfigured, his eyes glowed with the sombre
fire which had flashed in them a moment early that morning, a rustling
like eagle's pinions ran through the forest--Jupiter was approaching in
human form.

The beautiful woman sat down on a log with her hands clasped in her
lap.

"A man like me loves but once, but with his whole being. I _demand_
nothing--but what is given to me is given _wholly_, or not at all; for
if I once have it, I will never give it up save with my life!

"Not long since a stranger came here, who sang the song of the Assras,
who die when they love. I believe I am of their race. Woman, do not
toy, do not trifle with me! For know--I love you with the fatal love of
those 'Assras.'"

Madeleine von Wildenau trembled with delight.

"If I once touch your lips, the barrier between us will have fallen!
Will you forgive me if the flood-tide of feeling sweeps me away till I
forget who you are and what a gulf divides the Countess Wildenau from
the low-born peasant?"

"Oh, that you can remind me of it--in this hour--!" cried the countess,
with sorrowful reproach.

He looked almost threateningly into her eyes. The dark locks around his
head seemed to stir like the bristling mane of a lion: "Woman, you do
not know me! If you deceive me, you will betray the most sacred emotion
ever felt by mortal man--and it will be terribly avenged. Then the
flame you are kindling will consume either you or me, or both. You see
that I am now a different man. Formerly you have beheld me only when
curbed by the victorious power of my holy task. You have conjured up
the spirits, now they can no longer be held in thrall--will you not be
terrified by the might of a passion which is unknown to you people of
the world, with your calm self-control?"

"_I_, terrified by you?" cried the proud woman in a tone of exultant
rapture. "Oh, this is power, this is the very breath of the gods.
Should I fear amid the element for which I longed--which was revealed
to me in my own breast? Does the flame fear the fire? The Titaness
dread the Titan? Ah, Zeus, hurl thy thunderbolt, and let the forest
blaze as the victorious torch of nature at last released from her long
bondage."

He sat down by her side, his fiery breath fanning her cheek. "Then you
will try it, will give me the kiss I dared not take to-day?"

"Yes."

"But it will be a betrothal kiss."

"Yes."

He opened his arms, and as a black moth settles upon a fragrant
tea-rose, hovering on its velvet wings above the dewy calyx, he bent
his head to hers, shadowing her with his dark locks and pressed his
first kiss upon Madeleine von Wildenau's quivering lips.

But such moments tempt the gods themselves, and Jupiter hovered over
the pair, full of wrath, for he envied the Christian mortal the
beautiful woman. He had heard her laughingly challenge him in the midst
of the joy she had stolen from the gods, and the heavens darkened, the
hurricane saddled the steeds of the storm, awaiting his beck, and down
flashed the fire from the sky--a shrill cry rent the air, the highest
tree in the forest was cleft asunder and the bridal torch lighted by
Jupiter blazed aloft.

"The gods are averse to it," said Freyer, gloomily. "Defy them!" cried
the countess, starting up; "they are powerless--we are in the hands of
a Higher Ruler."

"Woman, you do not belong to this world, or you have no nerves which
can tremble."

"Tremble?" She laughed happily. "Tremble, by _your_ side?" Then,
nestling closer still, she murmured: "I am as cowardly as ever woman
was, but where I love I have the courage to defy death. Even were I to
fall now beneath a thunderbolt, could I have a fairer death than at
_this_ moment? You would willingly die for your Christ--and I for
mine."

"Well then, come, you noble woman, that I may shield you as well as I
can! Now we shall see whether God is with us! I defy the elements!" He
proudly clasped the object of his love in his arms and bore her firmly
on through the chaos into which the whole forest had fallen. The
tempest, howling fiercely, burst its way through the woods. The boughs
snapped, the birds were hurled about helplessly. The destroying element
seemed to come from both heights and depths at the same time, for it
shook the earth and tore the roots of trees from the ground till the
lofty trunks fell shattered and, rolling down the mountain, swept
everything with them in the sudden ruin. With fiendish thirst for
battle the fiery sword flamed from the sky amid the uproar, dealing
thrust after thrust and blow after blow--while here and there scarlet
tongues of flame shot hissing upward through the dry branches.

A torrent of rain now dashed from the clouds but without quenching the
flames, whose smoke was pressed down into the tree-tops, closely
interlaced by the tempest. Like a gigantic black serpent, it rolled its
coils from every direction, stifling, suffocating with the glowing
breath of the forest conflagration, and the undulating cloud body bore
with it in glittering, flashing sparks, millions of burning pine
needles.

"Well, soul of fire, is the heat fierce enough for you now?" asked
Freyer, pressing the beautiful woman closer to his side to shield her
with his own body: "Are you content now?"

"Yes," she said, gasping for breath, and the eyes of both met, as if
they felt only the fire in their own hearts and had blended this with
the external element into a single sea of flame.

Nearer, closer drew the fire in ever narrowing circles around the
defiant pair, more and more sultry became the path, brighter grew the
hissing blaze through which they were compelled to force their way.
Now on the left, now on the right, the red-eyed conflagration
confronted them amid the clouds of smoke and flame, half stifled by the
descending floods of rain, yet pouring from its open jaws hot,
scorching steam--fatal to laboring human chests--and obliged the
fugitives to turn back in search of some new opening for escape.

"If the rain ceases, we are lost!" said the countess with the utmost
calmness. "Then the fire will be sole ruler."

Freyer made no reply. Steadily, unflinchingly, he struggled on,
grasping with the strength of a Titan the falling boughs which
threatened the countess' life, shielding with both arms her uncovered
head from the flying sparks, and ever and anon, sprinkling her hair and
garments from some bubbling spring. The water in the brooks was already
warm. Throngs of animals fleeing from the flames surrounded them, and
birds with scorched wings fell at their feet. It was no longer possible
to go down, the fire was raging below them. They were compelled to
climb up the mountain and seek the summit.

"Only have courage--forward!" were Freyer's sole words. And upward they
toiled--through the pathless woods, through underbrush and thickets,
over roots of trees, rolling stones, and rocks, never pausing, never
taking breath, for the flames were close at their heels, threatening
them with their fiendish embrace. Where the path was too toilsome,
Freyer lifted the woman he loved in his arms and bore her over the
rough places.

At last the woods grew thinner, the boundary of the flames was passed,
they had reached the top--were saved. The neighing steeds of the wind
received them on the barren height and strove to hurl them back into
the fiery grave, but Freyer's towering form resisted their assault and,
with powerless fury, they tore away the rocks on the right and left and
rolled them thundering down into the depths below. The water pouring
from the clouds drenched the lovers like a billow from the sea, beating
into their eyes, mouths, and ears till, blinded and deafened, they were
obliged to grope their way along the cliff. The garments of the
beautiful Madeleine von Wildenau hung around her in tatters, heavy as
lead, her hair was loosened, dripping and dishevelled, she was
trembling from head to foot with cold in the icy wind and rain here on
the heights, after the heat and terror below in the smouldering
thicket.

"I know where there is a herder's hut, I'll take you to it. Cling
closely to me, we must climb still higher."

They silently continued the ascent.

The countess staggered with fatigue. Freyer lifted her again in his
arms, and, by almost superhuman exertion, bore her up the last steep
ascent to the hut. It was empty. He placed the exhausted woman on the
herder's straw pallet, where she sank fainting. When she regained her
consciousness she was supported in Freyer's arms, and her face was wet
with his tears. She gazed at him as if waking to the reality of some
beautiful dream. "Is it really you?" she asked, with such sweet
childlike happiness, as she threw her arms around him, that the strong
man's brain and heart reeled as if his senses were failing.

"You are alive, you are safe?" He could say no more. He kissed her
dripping garments her feet, and tenderly examined her beautiful limbs
to assure himself that she had received no injury. "Thank Heaven!" he
cried joyously, amid his tears, "you are safe!" Then, half staggering,
he rose: "Now, in the presence of the deadly peril we have just
escaped, tell me whether you really love me, tell me whether you are
mine, _wholly_ mine! Or hurl me down into the blazing forest--it would
be more merciful, by Heaven! than to deceive me."

"Joseph!" cried the countess, clinging passionately to him. "Can you
ask that--now?"

"Alas! I cannot understand how a poor ignorant man like me can win the
love of such a woman. What can you love, save the illusion of the
Christ, and when that has vanished--what remains?"

"The divine, the real _love_!" replied the countess with a lofty
expression.

"Oh, I believe that you are sincere. But if you have deceived yourself,
if you should ever perceive that you have overestimated me--ah, it
would be far better for me to be lying down below amid the flames than
to experience _that_. There is still time--consider well, and say--what
shall it be?"

"Consider?" replied the countess, drawing his head down to hers. "Tell
the torrent to consider ere it plunges over the cliff, to dissolve into
spray in the leap. Tell the flower to consider ere it opens to the
sunbeam which will consume it! Will you be more petty than they? What
is there to consider, when a mighty impulse powerfully constrains us?
Is not this moment worth risking the whole life without asking: 'What
is to come of it?' Ah, then--then, I have been mistaken in you and it
will be better for us to part while there is yet time."

"Oh--enchantress! You are right, I no longer know myself! Part, now?
No, it is too late, I am yours, body and soul. Be it so, then, I will
barter my life for this moment, and no longer doubt, for I _can_ do
nothing else."

Sinking on his knees before her, he buried his face in her lap.
Madeleine von Wildenau embraced him with unspeakable tenderness, yet
she felt the burden of a heavy responsibility resting upon her, for she
now realized--that she was his destiny. She had what she desired, his
soul, his heart, his life--nay, had he possessed immortality, he would
have sacrificed that, too, for her sake. But now the "God" had become
_human_--the choice was made. And, with a secret tear she gazed upon
the husk of the beautiful illusion which had vanished.

"What is the matter?" he asked suddenly, raising his head and gazing
into her eyes with anxious foreboding. "You have grown cold."

"No, only sad."

"And why?"

"Alas! I do not know! Nothing in this world can be quite perfect." She
drew him tenderly toward her. "This is one of those moments in which
the highest happiness becomes pain. The fury of the elements could not
harm us, but it is a silent, stealing sorrow, which will appease the
envy of the gods for unprecedented earthly bliss: Mourning for my
Christus."

Freyer uttered a cry of anguish and starting up, covered his face with
both hands. "Oh, that you are forced to remind me of it!" He rushed out
of the hut.

What did this mean. The beautiful mistress of his heart felt as if she
had deceived herself when she believed him to be exclusively her own,
as if there was something in the man over which she had no power!
Filled with vague terror, she followed him. He stood leaning against
the hut as if in a dream and did not lift his eyes. The sound of
alarm-bells and the rattle of fire-arms echoed from the valley. The
rain had ceased, and columns of flame were now rising high into the
air, forming a crimson canopy above the trees in the forest. It was a
wild scene, this glowing sea of fire into which tree after tree
gradually vanished, the air quivering with the crash of the falling
boughs, from which rose a shower of sparks, and a crowd of shrieking
birds eddying amid the flames. Joseph Freyer did not heed it. The
countess approached almost timidly. "Joseph--have I offended you?"

"No, my child, on the contrary! When I reminded you to-day of the
obligations of your rank, you were angry with me, but I thank you for
having remembered what I forgot for your sake."

"Well. But, spite of the warning, I was not ashamed of you and did not
disown you before the Countess Wildenau! But you, Joseph, are ashamed
of me in the presence of Christ!"

He gazed keenly, sorrowfully at her. "I ashamed of you, I deny you in
the presence of my Redeemer, who is also yours? I deny you, because
I am forced to confess to Him that I love you beyond everything
else--nay, perhaps more than I do _Him_? Oh, my dearest, how little you
know me! May the day never come which will prove which of us will first
deny the other, and may you never be forced to weep the tears which
Peter shed when the cock crowed for the third time."

She sank upon his breast. "No, my beloved, that will never be! In the
hour when _that_ was possible, you might despise me."

He kissed her forehead tenderly. "I should not do that--any more than
Christ despised Peter. You are a child of the world, could treachery to
me be charged against you if the strong man, the disciple of Christ,
was pardoned for treason to the _holiest_."

"Oh, my angel! It would be treason to the 'holiest,'" said the countess
with deep emotion, "if I could deny _you_!"

"Why, for Heaven's sake, Herr Freyer," shouted a voice, and the
herdsman came bounding down the mountain side: "Can you stand there so
quietly--amid this destruction?" The words died away in the distance.

"The man is right," said the countess in a startled tone, "we are
forgetting everything around us. Whoever has hands must help. Go--leave
me alone here and follow the herdsman."

"There is no hope of extinguishing the fire, the wood is lost!" replied
Freyer, indifferently. "It is fortunate that it is an isolated piece of
land, so the flames cannot spread."

"But, Good Heavens, at least try to save what can yet be secured--that
is only neighborly duty."

"I shall not leave you, happen what may."

"But I am safe, and perhaps some poor man's all, is burning below."

"What does it matter, in this hour?"

"What does it matter?" the countess indignantly exclaimed. "Joseph, I
do not understand you! Have you so little feeling for the distress of
your fellow men--and yet play the Christ?"

Freyer gazed at the destruction with a strange expression--his noble
figure towered proudly aloft against the gloomy, cloud-veiled sky.
Smiling calmly, he held out his hand to the woman he loved and drew her
tenderly to his breast: "Do not upbraid me, my dove--the wood was
_mine_."



                             CHAPTER XIII.

                          BANISHED FROM EDEN.


Silence reigned on the height. The winds had died away, the clouds were
scattering swiftly, like an army of ghosts. The embers of the wood
below crackled softly. The trunks had all been gnawed to the roots by
the fiery tooth of the flames. It was like a churchyard full of clumsy
black crosses and grave-stones on which the souls danced to and fro
like will-o'-the-wisps.

The countess rested silently on Freyer's breast. When he said: "The
wood was mine!" she had thrown herself, unable to utter a word, into
his arms--and had since remained clasped in his embrace in silent,
perfect peace.

Now the misty veil, growing lighter and more transparent, at last
drifted entirely away, and the blue sky once more arched above the
earth in a majestic dome. Here and there sunbeams darted through the
melting cloud-rack and suddenly, as though the gates of heaven had
opened, a double rainbow, radiant in seven-hued majesty, spanned the
vault above them in matchless beauty.

Freyer bade the countess look up. And when she perceived the exquisite
miracle of the air, with her lover in the midst--encompassed by it, she
raised her head and extended her arms like the bride awaiting the
heavenly bridegroom. Her eyes rested on him as if dazzled: "Be what you
will, man, seraph, God. Shining one, you must be mine! I will bring you
down from the height of your cross, though you were nailed above with
seven-fold irons. You must be mine. Freyer, hear my vow, hear it, ye
surrounding mountains, hear it, sacred soil below, and thou radiant
many-hued bow which, with the grace of Aphrodite, dost girdle the
universe, risen from chaos. I swear to be your wife, Joseph Freyer,
swear it by the God Who has appeared to me, rising from marvel to
marvel, since my eyes first beheld you."

Freyer, with bowed head, stood trembling before her. He felt as if a
goddess was rolling in her chariot of clouds above him--as if the
glimmering prism above were dissolving and flooding him with a sea of
glittering sparks. "You--my wife?" he faltered, sobbing, then flung
himself face downward before her. "This is too much--too much--"

"You shall be my husband," she murmured, raising him, "let me call you
so now until the priest's hand has united us! When, where, and how this
can be done--I do not yet know! Let the task of deciding be left to
hours devoted to the consideration of earthly things. This is too
sacred, it is our spiritual marriage hour, for in it I have pledged
myself to you in spirit and in truth! Our church is nature, our
witnesses are heaven and earth, our candles the blazing wood
below--your little heritage which you sacrificed for me with a smile!
And so I give you my bridal kiss--my husband!"

But Freyer did not return the caress. The old conflict again awoke--the
conflict with his duty as the representative of Christ.

"Oh, God--is it not the tempter whom Thou didst send to Thy own son on
Mt. Hebron that he might show him all the splendors of the world,
saying: 'All shall be thine?' Dare I be faithless to the character of
Thy chaste son, if Thou dost appoint me to undergo the same trial? Dare
I be happy, dare I enjoy, so long as I wear the sacred mask of His
sufferings and sacrifice. Will it not then be a terrible fraud, and
dare I enter the presence of God with this lie upon my conscience? Will
He not tear the crown of thorns from my head and exclaim: 'Juggler--I
wish to rise by the pure and saintly--not by deceivers who _feign_ my
sufferings and with deceitful art turn the holiest things into a farce.
Woe betide me, poor, weak mortal that I am--the trial is too severe. I
cannot endure it. Take Thy crown--I place it in Thy hands again--and
will personate the Christ no more."

"Joseph!" exclaimed Countess Wildenau, deeply moved. "Must this be? I
feel your anguish and am stirred as if we were parting from our dearest
possession." She raised her tearful eyes heavenward. "Must the Christ
vanish on the very day I plight my troth to him whom I love as Thy
image, even as Eve must have loved Adam _for the sake of his likeness
to God_. And must I, like Eve, no longer behold Thy face because I have
loved the divine in mortal form after the manner of mortals? Unhappy
doctrine of the fall of man, which renders the holiest feeling a crime,
must we too be driven out of Paradise, must you stand between us and
our happy intercourse with the deity? Joseph. Do you believe that the
Saviour Who came to bring redemption to the poor human race banished
from Eden, will be angry with you if you represent with a happy loving
heart the sacrifice by which He saved us?"

"I do not know, my beloved, you may be right. Even the time-honored
precepts of our forefathers permit the representative of the Christ to
be married. Yet I think differently! The highest demands claim the
loftiest service! Whoever is permitted to personate the Saviour should
have at that time no other feelings than moved Christ Himself, for
_truth_ may not be born of _falsehood_."

He drew the weeping woman to his heart. "You know, sweet wife--to love
_you_ and call you _mine_ is a very different thing from the monotonous
commonplace matrimonial happiness which our plain village women can
bestow. You demand the _whole_ being and every power of the soul is
consumed in you."

He clasped her in an embrace so fervent that her breath almost failed,
his eyes blazed with the passionate ardor with which the unchained
elements seize their prey. "Say what you will, it is on your
conscience! I can feel nothing, think of nothing save you! Nay, if they
should drive the nails through my own flesh, I should not heed it, in
my ardent yearning for you. I have struggled long enough, but you have
bewitched me with the sweet promise of becoming my wife--and I am
spoiled for personating the Christ. I am yours, take me! Only fly with
me to the farthest corner of the world, away from the place where I was
permitted to feel myself a part of God, and resigned it for an earthly
happiness."

"Come then, my beloved, let us go forth like the pair banished from
Eden, and like them take upon us, for love's sake, our heavy human
destiny! Let us bear it together, and even in exile love and worship,
like faithful cast-off children, the Father who was once so near us!"

"Amen!" said Freyer, clasping the beautiful woman who thus devoted her
life to him in a long, silent embrace. The rainbow above their heads
gradually paled. The radiant splendor faded. The sun was again
concealed by clouds, and the warm azure of the sky was transformed into
a chill grey by the rising mists. The mountain peak lay bare and
cheerless, the earth was rent and ravaged, nothing was visible save
rough rubble and colorless heather. An icy fog rose slowly, gathering
more and more densely around them. Nothing could be seen save the
sterile soil of the naked ridge on which stood the two lonely outcasts
from Eden. The gates of their dream paradise had closed behind them,
the spell was broken, and in silent submission they moved down the
hard, stony path to reality, the cruel uncertainty of human destiny.



                              CHAPTER XIV.

                                 PIETA.


Twilight was gathering when the pair reached the valley.

The Passion Theatre loomed like a vast shadow by the roadside, and
both, as if moved by the _same_ impulse, turned toward it.

Freyer, drawing a key from his pocket, opened the door leading to the
stage. "Shall we take leave of it?" he said.

"Take leave!"

The countess said no more. She knew that the success of the rest of the
performances depended solely upon him--and it burdened her soul like a
heavy reproach. Yet she did not tell him so, for hers he must be--at
any cost.

The strength of her passion swept her on to her robbery of the cross,
as the wind bears away the leaf it has stripped from the tree.

They entered the property room. There stood the stake, there lay the
scourges which lacerated the sacred body. The spear that pierced his
heart was leaning in a corner.

Madeleine von Wildenau gazed around her with a feeling of dread. Freyer
had lighted a lamp. Something close beside it flashed, sending its rays
far through the dim space. It was the cup, the communion cup! Freyer
touched it with a trembling hand: "Farewell! I shall never offer you to
any one again! May all blessings flow from you! Happy the hand which
scatters them over the world and my beloved Ammergau."

He kissed the brim of the goblet, and a tear fell into it, but it
glittered with the same unshadowed radiance. Freyer turned away, and
his eyes wandered over the other beloved trophies.

There lay the reed sceptre broken on the floor.

The countess shuddered at the sight. A strange melancholy stole over
her, and tears filled her eyes.

"My sceptre of reeds--broken--in the dust!" said Freyer, his voice
tremulous with an emotion which forced an answering echo in Madeleine
von Wildenau's soul. He raised the fragments, gazing at them long and
mournfully. "Aye, the sad symbol speaks the truth--my strength is
broken, my sovereignty vanished."

A terrible dread overpowered the countess and she fondly clasped the
man she loved, as a princess might press to her heart her dethroned
husband, grieving amid the ruins of his power. "You will still remain
king in my heart!" she said, consolingly, amid her tears.

"You must now be everything to me, my loved one. In you is my Heaven,
my justification in the presence of God. Hold me closely, firmly, for
you must lift me in your arms out of this constant torture by the
redeeming power of love." He rested his head wearily on hers, and she
gladly supported the precious burden. She felt at that moment that she
had the power to lift him from Hades, that the love in her heart was
strong enough to win Heaven for him and herself.

"Womanly nature is drawing us together!" She clung to him, so absorbed
in blissful melancholy that his soul thrilled with an emotion never
experienced before. Their lips now met in a kiss as pure as if all
earthly things were at an end and their rising souls were greeting each
other in a loftier sphere.

"That was an angel's kiss!" said Freyer with a sigh, while the air
around the stake seemed to quiver with the rustling of angels' wings,
the chains which bound him to it for the scourging to clank as though
some invisible hand had flung one end around the feet of the fugitives,
to bind them forever to the place of the cross.

"Come, I have one more thing to do." He took the lamp from the table
and went into the dressing-room.

There hung the raiment in which a God revealed Himself to mortal
eyes--the ample garments stirred mysteriously in the draught from the
open door. A glimmering white figure seemed to be soaring upward in one
corner--it was the Resurrection robe. Inflated by the wind, it floated
with a ghost-like movement, while the man divested of his divinity
stood with clasped hands and drooping head--to say farewell.

When a mortal strips off his earthly husk he knows that he will
exchange it for a brighter one! _Here_ a mortal was stripping off his
robe of light and returning to the oppressive form of human
imperfection. This, too, was a death agony.

The countess clung to him tenderly. "Have you forgotten me?"

He threw his arm around her. "Why, sweet one?"

"I mean," she said, with childlike grace, "that if you thought of _me_,
you could not be so sad."

"My child, I forget you at the moment I am resigning Heaven for your
sake. You do not ask that seriously. As for the pain, let me endure
it--for if I could do this with a _light_ heart, would the sacrifice be
worthy of you? By the anguish it costs me you must measure the
greatness of my love, if you can."

"I can, for even while I rest upon your heart, while my lips eagerly
inhale your breath, I pine with longing for your lost divinity."

"And no longer love me as you did when I was the Christ. Be frank--it
will come!"

He pressed his hands upon his breast, while his eyes rested mournfully
on the shining robe which seemed to beckon to him from the gloom.

"Oh, what are you saying! You sacrifice for me the greatest possession
which man ever resigned for woman; the illusion of deity--and I am to
punish you for the renunciation by loving you less? Joseph, what _you_
give me, no king can bestow. Crowns have been sacrificed for a woman's
sake, crowns of gold--but never one like this!"

"My wife!" he murmured in sweet, mournful tones, while his dark eyes
searched hers till her very soul swooned under the power of the look.

She clasped her hands upon his breast. "Will you grant me one favor?"

"If I can."

"Ah, then, appear to me once more as the Christ. I will go out upon the
stage. Throw the sacred robe over you--let me see Him once more, clasp
His knees--let me take farewell, an eternal farewell of the departing
One."

"My child, that would be a sin! Are you again forgetting what you
yourself perceived this morning with prescient grief--that I am a man?
Dare I continue the sacred character outside of the play? That would be
working wrong under the mask of my Saviour."

"No, it would be no wrong to satisfy the longing for His face. I will
not touch you, only once more, for the last time show my wondering eyes
the sublime figure and let the soul pour forth all the anguish of
parting to the vanishing God."

"My wife, where is your error carrying you! Did the God-Man I
personated vanish because I stripped off His mask? Poor wife, the
anguish which now masters you is remorse for having in your sweet
womanly weakness destroyed the pious illusion and never rested until
you made the imaginary God a man. Oh, Magdalena, how far you still are
from the goal gained by your predecessor. Come, I will satisfy your
longing; I will lead you where you will perceive that He is everywhere,
if we really seek Him, that the form alone is perishable. He is
imperishable." Then gently raising her, he tenderly repeated: "Come.
Trust me and follow me." Casting one more sorrowful glance around him,
he took from the table the crown of thorns, extinguished the lamp, and
with a steady arm guided the weeping woman through the darkness.
Outside of the building the stars were shining brightly, the road was
distinctly visible. The countess unresistingly accompanied him. He
turned toward the village and they walked swiftly through the silent
streets. At last the church rose, dark and solemn, before them. He led
her in. A holy-water font stood at the entrance, and, pausing, he
sprinkled her with the water. Then they entered. The church was dark.
No light illumined it save the trembling rays of the ever-burning lamp
and two candles flickering low in their sockets before an image of the
Madonna in a remote corner. They were obliged to grope their way
forward slowly amid the wavering shadows. At the left of the entrance
stood a "Pieta." It was a group almost life-size, carved from wood. The
crucified Saviour in the Madonna's lap. Mary Magdalene was supporting
his left hand, raising it slightly, while John stood at the Saviour's
feet. The whole had been created by an artist's hand with touching
realism. The expression of anguish in the Saviour's face was very
affecting. Before the group stood a priedieu on which lay several
withered wreaths.

The countess' heart quivered; he was leading her there! So this was to
be the compensation for the living image? Mere dead wood?

Freyer drew her gently down upon the priedieu. "Here, my child, learn
to seek him here, and when you have once found Him, you will never lose
Him more. Lay your hands devoutly on the apparently lifeless breast and
you will feel the heart within throbbing, as in mine--only try."

"Alas, I cannot, it will be a falsehood if I do."

"What, _that_ a falsehood, and I--was _I_ the Christ?"

"I could imagine it!"

"Because I breathed? Ah, the breath of the deity can swell more than a
human breast, sister, and you will hear it! Collect your thoughts--and
pray!"

His whisper grew fainter, the silence about her more solemn. "I cannot
pray; I never have prayed," she lamented, "and surely not to lifeless
wood."

"Only try--for my sake," he urged gently, as if addressing a restless
child, which ought to go to sleep and will not.

"Yes; but stay with me," she pleaded like a child, clinging to his arm.

"I will stay," he said, kneeling by her side.

"Teach me to pray as you do," she entreated, raising her delicate hands
to him. He clasped them in his, and she felt as if the world could do
her no further harm, that her soul, her life, lay in his firm hands.

The warmth emanating from him became in her a devout fervor. The pulses
of ardent piety throbbing in his finger-tips seemed to communicate a
wave-like motion to the surrounding air, which imparted to everything
which hitherto had been dead and rigid, an undulating movement that
lent it a faint, vibrating life.

Something stirred, breathed, murmured before and above her. There was a
rustling among the withered leaves of the garlands at the foot of the
Pieta, invisible feet glided through the church and ascended the steps
of the high altar; high up the vaulted dome rose a murmur which
wandered to the folds of the funeral banner, hanging above, passing
from pillar to pillar, from arch to arch, in ghostly echoes which the
listening ear heard with secret terror, the language of the silence.
And the burning eyes beheld the motionless forms begin to stir. The
contours of the figures slowly changed in the uncertain, flickering
light, the shadows glided and swung to and fro. The Saviour's lips
opened, then slowly closed, the kneeling woman touched the rigid limbs
and laid her fevered fingers on the wounded breast. The other hand
rested in Freyer's. A chain was thus formed between the three, which
thrilled and warmed the wood with the circulating stream of the hot
blood. It was no longer a foreign substance--it was the heart, the poor
pierced heart of their beloved, divine friend. It throbbed, suffered,
bled. More and more distinctly the chest rose and fell with the regular
breathing. It was the creative breath of the deity, which works in the
conscious and unconscious object, animating even soulless matter. The
arm supported by Mary Magdalene swayed to and fro, the fingers of the
hand moved gently. The poor pierced hand--it seemed as if it were
trying to move toward the countess, as if it were pleading, "Cool my
pain."

Urged by an inexplicable impulse, the countess warmed the stiff,
slender fingers in her own. She fancied that it was giving relief.
Higher and higher swelled the tide of feeling in her heart until it
overflowed--and--she knew not how, she had risen and pressed a kiss
upon the wounds in the poor little hand, a kiss of the sweetest, most
sacred piety. She felt as if she were standing by a beloved corpse
whose mute lips we seek, though they no longer feel.

She could not help it, and bending down again the rosy lips of the
young widow rested on the pale half-parted ones of the statue. But the
lips breathed, a cool, pure breath issued from them, and the rigid form
grew more pliant beneath the sorrowful caress, as though it felt the
reconciling pain of the penitent human soul. But the divine fire which
was to purify this soul, blazed far beyond its boundaries in this first
ardor. Overpowered by a wild fervor, she flung herself on her knees and
adjured the God whose breath she had drunk in that kiss, to hear her.
The friend praying at her side was forgotten, the world had vanished,
every law of reason was annihilated, all knowledge was out of her
mind--every hard-won conquest of human empiricism was effaced. From the
heights and from the depths it came with rustling pinions, bearing the
soul away on the flood-tide of mercy. The _miracle_ was approaching--in
unimagined majesty.

Thousands of years vanished, eternity dawned in that _one_ moment. All
that was and is, _was_ not and _is_ not--past, present, and future,
were blended and melted into a single breath beyond the boundaries of
the natural life.

"If it is Thou, if Thou dost live, look at me," she had cried with
ardent aspiration, and, lo!--was it shadow or imagination?--the eyes
opened and two large dark pupils were fixed upon her, then the lids
closed for an instant to open again The countess gazed more and more
earnestly; it was distinct, unmistakable. A shudder ran through her
veins as, in a burning fever, the limbs tremble with a sudden chill.
She tried to meet the look, but spite of the tension in every nerve,
the effort was futile. It was too overpowering; it was the gaze of a
God. Dread and rapture were contending for the mastery. Doubtless she
said to herself, "It is not _outside_ of you, but within you." Once
more she ventured to glance at the mysterious apparition, but the eyes
were fixed steadily upon her. Terror overpowered her. The chord of the
possible snapped and she sank half senseless on the steps of the altar,
while the miracle closed its golden wings above her.



                              CHAPTER XV.

                        THE CROWING OF THE COCK.


A loud step roused the rapt enthusiast from her visions. The sacristan
was passing through the church, extinguishing the candles which,
meanwhile, had burned down in their sockets before the Madonna in the
distant corner.

"I beg your pardon for disturbing you," he said; "but I wanted to close
the church. There is plenty of time, however. Shall I leave a candle?
It will be too dark; the lamp alone does not give sufficient light."

"I thank you," replied Freyer, more thoughtful than the countess, who,
unable to control herself, remained on her knees with her face buried
in her hands.

"I will lock the church when we leave it and bring you the key," Freyer
added, and the sacristan was satisfied. The imperious high priest
withdrew silently and modestly, that he might not disturb the prayers
of the man whom he sentenced to death every week with such fury.

The lovers were again alone, but the door remained open. The shrill
crowing of a cock suddenly echoed through the stillness from the yard
of the neighboring parsonage. The countess started up. Her eyes were
painfully dazzled by the light of the wax candle so close at hand.
Before her, the face smeared with shining varnish, lay the wooden
Christ, hard and cold in its carven bareness and rigidity. The
pale-blue painted eyes gazed with the traditional mournfulness upon the
ground.

"What startled you just now?" asked Freyer.

"I don't know whether it was a miracle or a shadow, which created the
illusion, but I would have sworn that the statue moved its lids and
looked at me."

"Be it what it might, it was still a miracle," said Freyer. "If the
finger of God can paint the Saviour's eyes to the excited vision from
the wave of blood set in motion by the pulsation of our hearts, or from
the shadow cast by a smoking candle, is that any less wonderful than if
the stiff lids had really moved?"

The countess breathed a long sigh of relief; "Yes, you are right. That
is the power which, as you say, can do more than swell a human breast,
it can make, for the yearning soul, a heart throb even in a Christ
carved from wood. Even if what I have just experienced could have been
done by lifeless matter, the power which brought us together was
divine, and no one living could have resisted it. Lay aside your crown
of thorns trustfully and without remorse, you have accomplished your
mission, you have saved the soul for which God destined you, it was His
will, and who among us could resist Him?"

Freyer raised the crown of thorns, which he still held, to his lips,
kissed it, and laid it at the feet of the Pieta: "Lord, Thy will be
done, in so far as it is Thy will. And if it is not, forgive the
error."

"It is no error, I understand God's purpose better. He has sent me His
image in you and given it to me in an attainable human form, that I may
learn through it to do my duty to the prototype. To the feeble power of
the novice in faith. He graciously adds an earthly guide. Oh, He is
good and merciful!"

She raised Freyer from his knees: "Come, thou God-given one, that I may
fulfil the sweetest duty ever imposed on any mortal, that of loving you
and making you happy. God and His holy will be praised."

"And will you no longer grieve for the lost Christ?"

"No, for you were right. He is everywhere!"

"In God's name then, come and obey the impulse of your heart, even
though I perish."

"Can you speak so to-day, Joseph?"

"To-day especially. Would you not just now have sworn to the truth of
an illusion conjured up by a shadow? And were you not disappointed when
the light came and the spell vanished? The time will come when you will
see me, as you now do this wooden figure, in the light of commonplace
reality, and then the nimbus will vanish and nothing will remain save
the dross as here. Then your soul will turn away disenchanted and
follow the vanished God to loftier heights."

"Or plunge into the depths," murmured the countess.

"I should not fear that, for then my mission would have been vain! No,
my child, if I did not believe that I was appointed to save you I
should have no excuse in my own eyes for what I am doing. But come, it
is late, we must return home or our absence will occasion comment."

                           *   *   *   *   *

It was half-past nine o'clock. An elderly gentleman of distinguished
aristocratic bearing was pacing impatiently to and fro.

The two sisters were standing helplessly in the doorway, deeply
oppressed by the burden of so haughty a guest.

"If she would only come!" Sephi lamented in the utmost anxiety, for she
dreaded the father for the daughter's sake. It was the old Prince von
Prankenberg, and his bearing augured nothing good.

It seemed to these loyal souls a democratic impertinence on the part of
fate that _such_ a gentleman should be kept waiting, and the prince
regarded it in precisely the same light. The good creatures would
willingly have lent wings to the daughter for whom _such_ a father was
waiting. But what did it avail that the noble lord constantly quickened
his pace as he walked to and fro, time and his unsuspicious daughter
did not do the same. Prince Prankenberg had reached Ammergau at noon
that day and waited in vain for the countess. On his arrival he had
found the whole village in an uproar over the conflagration in the
woods, and the countess and Herr Freyer, who had been seen walking
together in that direction, were missing. At last the herder reported
that they had been in the mountain pasture with him, and Ludwig Gross,
on his return from directing the firemen in the futile effort to
extinguish the flames, set off to inform the Countess Wildenau of her
father's arrival. He had evidently failed to find her, for he ought to
have returned long before. So the faithful women had been on coals of
fire ever since. Andreas Gross had gone to the village to look for the
absent ones, as if that could be of any service! Josepha was gazing
sullenly through the window-panes at the prince, who had treated her as
scornfully as if she were a common maid-servant, when she offered to
show him the way to the countess' room, and answered: "People can't
stay in such a hole!" Meanwhile night had closed in.

At last, coming from exactly the opposite direction, a couple
approached whose appearance attracted the nobleman's attention. A
female figure, bare-headed, with dishevelled hair and tattered,
disordered garments, leaning apparently almost fainting on the arm of a
tall, bearded man in a peasant's jacket. Could it--no, it was
impossible, that _could_ not be his daughter.

The unsuspecting pair came nearer. The lady, evidently exhausted, was
really almost carried by her companion. It was too dark for the prince
to see distinctly, but her head seemed to be resting on the peasant's
breast. An interesting pair of lovers! But they drew nearer, the prince
could not believe his eyes, it _was_ his daughter, leaning on a
peasant's arm. There was an involuntary cry of horror from both as
Countess Wildenau stood face to face with her haughty father. The blood
fairly congealed in Madeleine's veins, her cheeks blanched till their
pallor glimmered through the gloom! Yet the habit of maintaining social
forms did not desert her: "Oh, what a surprise! Good evening, Papa!"

Her soul had retreated to the inmost depths of her being, and she was
but a puppet moving and speaking by rule.

Freyer raised his hat in a farewell salute.

"Are you going?" she said with an expressionless glance. "I suppose I
cannot ask you to rest a little while? Farewell, Herr Freyer, and many
thanks."

How strange! Did it not seem as if a cock crowed?

Freyer bowed silently and walked on, "Adieu!" said the prince without
lifting his hat. For an instant he considered whether he could possibly
offer his aim to a lady in _such_ attire, but at last resolved to do
so--she was his daughter, and this was not exactly the right moment to
quarrel with her. So, struggling with his indignation and disgust, he
escorted her, holding his arm very far out as though he might be soiled
by the contact, through the house into her room. The Gross sisters,
with trembling hands, brought in lights and hastily vanished. Madeleine
von Wildenau stood in the centre of the room, like an automaton whose
machinery had run down. The prince took a candle from the table and
threw its light full upon her face. "Pardon me, I must ascertain
whether this lady, who looks as if she had just jumped out of a
gipsy-cart, is really my daughter? Yes, it is actually she!" he
exclaimed in a tone intended to be humorous, but which was merely
brutal. "So I find the Countess Wildenau in _this_ guise--ragged, worn,
with neither hat nor gloves, wandering about with peasants! It is
incredible!"

The countess sank into a chair without a word. Her father's large,
stern features were flushed with a wrath which he could scarcely
control.

"Have you gone out of fashion so completely that you must seek your
society in such circles as these, _ma fille_? Could no cavalier be
found to escort the Countess Wildenau that she must strike up an
intimacy with one of the comedians in the Passion Play?"

"An intimacy? Papa, this is an insult!" exclaimed the countess angrily,
for though it was true, she felt that on his lips and in _his_ meaning
it was such! Again a cock crowed at this unwonted hour.

"Well _ma chère_, when a lady is caught half embraced by such a man,
the inference is inevitable."

"Dear me, I was so exhausted that I could scarcely stand," replied the
countess, softly, as if the cocks might hear: "We were caught by the
storm and the man was obliged to support me. I should think, however,
that the Countess Wildenau's position was too high for such
suspicions."

"Well, well, I heard in Munich certain rumors about your long stay here
which accorded admirably with the romantic personage who has just left
you. My imaginative daughter always had strange fancies, and as you
seem able to endure the peasant odor--I am somewhat more sensitive to
it ..."

"Papa!" cried the countess, frantic with shame. "I beg you not to speak
in that way of people whom I esteem."

"Aha!" said the prince with a short laugh, "Your anger speaks plainly
enough. I will make no further allusion to these delicate relations."

The countess remained silent a moment, struggling with her emotions.
Should she confess all--should she betray the mystery of the "God in
man?" Reveal it to this frivolous, prosaic man from whose mockery,
even in her childhood, she had carefully concealed every nobler
feeling--disclose to him her most sacred possession, the miracle of her
life? No, it would be desecration. "I _have_ no delicate relations! I
scarcely know these people--I am interested in this Freyer as the
representative of the Christ--he is nothing more to me."

The cede crowed for the third time.

"What was that? I am continually hearing cocks crow to-night. Did you
hear nothing?" asked the countess.

"Not the slightest sound! Have you hallucinations?" asked the prince:
"The cocks are all asleep at this hour."

She knew it--the sound was but the echo of her own conscience. She
thought of the words Freyer had uttered that day upon the mountain, and
his large eyes gazed mournfully, yet forgivingly at her. Now she knew
why Peter was pardoned! He would not suffer the God in whom he could
not force men to believe to be profaned--so he concealed Him in his
heart. He knew that the bond which united him to Christ and the work
which he was appointed to do for Him was greater than the cheap
martyrdom of an acknowledgment of Him to the dull ears of a handful of
men and maid-servants! It was no lie when he said: "I know not the
man"--for he really did _not_ know the Christ whom _they_ meant. He was
denying--not _Christ_, but the _criminal_, whom they believed Him to
be. It was the same with the countess. She was not ashamed of the man
she loved, only of the person her father saw in him and, as she could
not explain to the prince what Joseph Freyer was to her, she denied him
entirely. But even as Peter mourned as a heavy sin the brief moment in
which he faithlessly separated from his beloved Master, she, too, now
felt a keen pang, as though a wound was bleeding in her heart, and
tears streamed from her eyes.

"You are nervous, _ma fille_! It isn't worth while. Tears for the sake
of that worthy villager?" said the prince, with a contemptuous shrug of
the shoulders. "Listen, _ma chère_, I believe it would be better for
you to marry."

"Papa!" exclaimed the countess indignantly.

The prince laughed: "No offence, when women like you begin to be
sentimental--it is time for them to marry! You were widowed too
young--it was a misfortune for you."

"A misfortune? May God forgive you the sneer and me the words--it was a
misfortune that Wildenau lived so long--nay more: that I ever became
his wife, and you, Papa, ought never to remind me of it."

"Why not?"

"Because I might forget that you _are_ my father--as _you_ forget it
when you sold me to that greybeard?"

"Sold? What an expression, _chére enfant_! Is this the result of your
study of peasant life here? I congratulate you on the enlargement of
your vocabulary. This is the gratitude of a daughter for whom the most
brilliant match in the whole circle of aristocratic families was
selected."

"And her soul sold in exchange," the countess interrupted; "for that my
moral nature was not utterly destroyed is no credit of yours."

The prince smiled with an air of calm superiority: "Capital! Moral
nature destroyed! When a girl is wedded to one of the oldest members of
the German nobility and made the possession of a yearly income of half
a million! That is what she calls moral destruction and an outrageous
deed, of which the inhuman father must not remind his daughter without
forfeiting his _paternal rights_. It is positively delicious!" He
laughed and drew out his cigar case: "You see, _ma fille_--I understand
a jest. Will you be annoyed if I smoke a Havana in this rural
bed-room?"

"As you please!" replied the countess, who had now regained her former
cold composure, holding the candle to him. The prince scanned her
features with the searching gaze of a connoisseur as she thus stood
before him illumined by the ruddy glow. "You have lost a little of your
freshness, my child, but you are still beautiful--still charming. I
admit that Wildenau was rather too old for a poetic nature like
yours--but there is still time to compensate for it. When were you
born? A father ought not to ask his daughter's age--but the Almanach de
Gotha tells the story. You must be now--stop! You were not quite
seventeen when you married Wildenau--you were married nine years--you
have been a widow two--that makes you twenty-eight. There is still
time, but--not much to lose! I am saying this to you in a mother's
place, my child"--he added, with a repulsive affectation of tenderness.
His daughter made no reply.

"It is true, you will lose your income if you give up the name of
Wildenau--as the will reads 'exchange it for another.' This somewhat
restricts your choice, for you can resign this colossal dower only in
favor of a match which can partially supply your loss."

The countess turned deadly pale. "That is the curse Wildenau hurled
upon me from his grave. It was not enough that I was miserable during
his life, no--I must not be happy even after his death."

"Why--who has told you so? You have your choice among any of the
handsome and wealthy men who can offer you an equivalent for all that
you resign. Prince von Metten-Barnheim, for instance! He is a
visionary, it is true--"

"Prosaic Prince Emil a visionary!" said the countess, laughing
bitterly.

"Well, I think that a man who surrounds himself so much with plebeian
society, scholars and authors, might properly be termed a visionary!
When his father dies, the luckless country will be ruled by loud-voiced
professors. What does that matter! He'll suit you all the better, as
you are half a scholar yourself. True, it might be said that the
Barnheim family is of inferior rank to ours--the Prankenbergs are an
older race and from the days of Charlemagne have not made a single
_mesalliance_, while the Barnheim genealogical tree shows several
gaps--which explains their liberal tendencies. Such things always
betray themselves. Yet on the other hand, they are reigning dukes, and
we a decaying race--so it is tolerably equal. You are interested in
him--so decide at last and marry him, then you will be a happy woman
and the curse of the will can have no power."

"Indeed?" cried the countess, trembling with excitement. "But suppose
that I loved another, a poor man, whom I could not wed unless I
possessed some property of my own, however small, and the will made me
a _beggar_ the moment I gave him my hand--what then? Should I not have
a right to hate the jealous despot and the man who sacrificed me to his
selfish interests--even though he was my own father?" A glance of the
keenest reproach fell upon the prince.

He was startled by this outburst of passion, hitherto unknown in his
experience of this apathetic woman. He could make no use of her present
mood. Biting off a leaf from his cigar, he blew it into the air with a
graceful movement of the lips. Some change had taken place in
Madeleine, that was evident! If, after all, she should commit some
folly--make a love-match? But with whom? Again the scene he had
witnessed that evening rose before his mind! She had let her head rest
on the shoulder of a common peasant--that could not be denied, he had
_seen_ it with his own eyes. Did such a delusion really exist? A woman
of her temperament was incomprehensible--she would be quite capable, in
a moment of enthusiasm, of throwing her whole splendid fortune away and
giving society an unparalleled spectacle. Who could tell what ideas
such a "lunatic" might take into her head. And yet--who could prevent
it? No one had any power over her--least of all he himself, who could
not even threaten her with disinheritance, since it was long since he
had possessed anything he could call his own. An old gambler,
perpetually struggling with debt, who had come that day, that very day,
to--nay, he was reluctant to confess it to himself. And he had already
irritated his daughter, his last refuge, the only support which still
kept his head above water, more than was wise or prudent--he dared not
venture farther.

He had the suppressed brutality of all violent natures which cannot
have their own way, are not masters of their passions and their
circumstances, and hence are constantly placed in the false position of
being compelled to ask the aid of others!

After having busied himself a sufficiently long time with his cigar,
he said in a soothing and--for so imperious a man--repulsively
submissive tone: "Well, _ma fille_, there is an expedient for that case
also. If you loved a man who was too poor to maintain an establishment
suitable for you--you might do the one thing without forfeiting the
other--Wildenau's will mentions only _a change of name_: you might
marry secretly--keep his name and with it his property."

"Papa!" exclaimed the countess--a burning blush crimsoned her cheeks,
but her eyes were fixed with intense anxiety upon the speaker--"I could
not expect that from a husband whom I esteemed and loved."

"Why not? If he could offer you no maintenance, he could not ask you to
sacrifice yours! Surely it would be enough if you gave him yourself."

"If he would accept me under such conditions,"' she answered,
thoughtfully.

"Aha--we are on the right track!" the prince reflected, watching her
keenly. "As soon as he perceived that there was no other possibility of
making you his--certainly! A woman like you can persuade a man to do
anything. I don't wish to be indiscreet, but, _ma fille_--I fear that
you have made a choice of which you cannot help being ashamed. Could
you think of forming such an alliance except in secret. If, that is,
you _must_ wed? What would the world say when rumor whispered:
'Countess Wildenau has sunk so low that she'--I dare not utter the
word, from the fear of offending you."

The countess sat with downcast eyes.

The world--! It suddenly stood before her with its mocking faces.
Should she expose her sacred love to its derision? Should she force the
noble simple-mannered man who was the salvation of her soul to play a
ridiculous part in the eyes of society, as the husband of the Countess
Wildenau? Her father was right--though from very different motives.
Could this secret which was too beautiful, too holy, to be confided to
her own father--endure the contact of the world?

"But how could a secret marriage be arranged?" she asked, with feigned
indifference.

Prince von Prankenberg was startled by the earnestness of the question.
Had matters gone so far? Caution was requisite here. Energetic
opposition could only produce the opposite result, perhaps a public
scandal. He reflected a moment while apparently toiling to puff rings
of smoke into the air, as if the world contained no task more
important. His daughter's eyes rested on him with suspicious keenness.
At last he seemed to have formed his plan.

"A secret marriage? Why, that is an easy matter for a woman of your
wealth and independent position! Is the person in question a Catholic?"

Madeleine silently nodded assent.

"Well--then the matter is perfectly simple. Follow the example of
Manzoni's _promessi sposi_, with whom we are sufficiently tormented
while studying Italian. Go with your chosen husband to the pastor and
declare before him, in the presence of two witnesses, who can easily be
found among your faithful servants, that you take each other in
marriage. According to the rite of the Catholic church, it is
sufficient to constitute a valid marriage, if both parties make this
declaration, even without the marriage ceremonial, in the presence of
an ordained priest--your ordained priest in this case would be our old
pastor at Prankenberg. You can play the farce best there. You will thus
need no papers, no special license, which might betray you, and if you
manage cleverly you will succeed in persuading the decrepit old man not
to enter the marriage in the church register. Then let any one come
and say that you are married! There will be absolutely no proof--and
when the old pastor dies the matter will go down to the grave with him!
You will choose witnesses on whom you can depend. What risk can there
be?"

"Father! But will that be a marriage?" cried the countess in horror.

"Not according to _our_ ideas," said the prince, laconically: "But the
point is merely that _he_ shall consider himself married, and that _he_
shall be bound--not you?"

"Father--I will not play such a farce!" She turned away with loathing.

"If you are in earnest--there will be no farce, _ma chère_! It will
rest entirely with you whether you regard yourself as married or not.
In the former case you will have the pleasant consciousness of a moral
act without its troublesome consequences--can go on a journey after the
pseudo wedding, roam through foreign lands with a reliable maid, and
then return perhaps with one or two 'adopted' children, whom, as a
philanthropist, you will educate and no one can discover anything. The
anonymous husband may be installed by the Countess Wildenau under some
title on one of her distant estates, and the marriage will be as happy
as any--only less prosaic! But you will thus spare yourself an endless
scandal in the eyes of society, keep your pastoral dream, and yet
remain the wealthy and powerful Countess Wildenau. Is not that more
sensible than in Heaven knows what rhapsody to sacrifice honor,
position, wealth, and--your old father?"

"My father?" asked the countess, who had struggled with the most
contradictory emotions while listening to the words of the prince.

"Why yes"--he busied himself again with his cigar, which he was now
obliged to exchange for another, "You know, _chère enfant_, the duties
of our position impose claims upon families of princely rank, which,
unfortunately, my finances no longer allow me to meet. I--h'm--I find
myself compelled--unpleasant as it is--to appeal to my daughter's
kindness--may I use one of these soap dishes as an ash-receiver? So I
have come to ask whether, for the sake of our ancient name--I expect no
childish sentimentality--whether you could help me with an additional
sum of some fifty thousand marks annually, and ninety thousand to
be paid at once--otherwise nothing is left for me--a light,
please--_merci_--except to put a bullet through my head!" He paused to
light the fresh cigar. The countess clasped her hands in terror.

"Good Heavens, Papa! Are the sums Wildenau gave you already exhausted?"

"What do you mean--can a Prince Prankenberg live on an income of fifty
thousand marks? If I had not been so economical, and we did not live in
the quiet German style, I could not have managed to make such a trifle
hold out so _long_!"

"A trifle! Then I was sold so cheaply?" cried Madeleine Wildenau with
passionate emotion. "I have not even, in return for my wasted life, the
consciousness of having saved my father? Yes, yes, if this is true--I
am no longer free to choose! I shall remain to the end of my days the
slave of my dead husband, and must steal the happiness for which
I long like forbidden fruit. You have chosen the moment for this
communication well--it must be true! You have destroyed the first
blossom of my life, and now, when it would fain put forth one last bud,
you blight that, too."

The prince rose. "I regret having caused you any embarrassment by my
affairs. As I said, you are your own mistress. If I did not put a
bullet through my head long ago, it was purely out of consideration for
you, that the world might not say: 'Prince von Prankenberg shot himself
on account of financial embarrassment because his wealthy daughter
would not aid him!' I wished to save you this scandal--that is why I
gave you the choice of helping me if you preferred to do so."

The countess shuddered. "You know that such threats are not needed! If
I wept, it was not for the sake of the paltry money, but all the
unfortunate circumstances. How can I ever be happy, even in a secret
marriage, if I am constantly compelled to dread discovery for my
father's sake? If it were for a father impoverished by misfortune,
the tears shed for my sacrifice of happiness would be worthy of
execration--but, Papa, to be compelled to sacrifice the holiest feeling
that ever thrilled a human heart for gambling, race-courses, and the
women of doubtful reputation who consume your property--that is hard
indeed!"

"Spare your words, _ma fille_, I am not disposed to purchase your help
at the cost of a lecture. Either you will relieve me from my
embarrassments without reproaches, or you will be the daughter of a
suicide--what is the use of all this philosophizing? A lofty unsullied
name is a costly article! Make your choice. _I_ for my own part set
little value on life. I am old, a victim to the gout, have grown too
stiff to ride or enjoy sport of any kind, have lost my luck with
women--there is nothing left but gambling. If I must give that
up, too, then _rogue la galère_! In such a case, there are but two
paths--_corriger la fortune_--or die. But a Prankenberg would rather
die &an to take the former."

"Father! What are you saying! Alas, that matters have gone so far! Woe
betide a society that dismisses an old man from its round of pleasures
so bankrupt in every object, every dignity, that no alternative remains
save suicide or cheating at the gaming-table--unless he happens, by
chance, to have a wealthy daughter!"

"My beloved child!" said the prince, who now found it advisable to
adopt a tone of pathos.

"Pray, say no more, Father. You have never troubled yourself about your
daughter, have never been a father to me--if you had, you would not now
stand before me so miserable, so poor in happiness. This is past
change. Alas, that I cannot love and respect my father as I ought--that
I cannot do what I am about to do more gladly. Yet I am none the less
ready to fulfill my duties towards you. So far as lies in my power, I
will afford you the possibility of continuing your pitiful life of
shams, and leave it to your discretion how far you draw upon my income.
It is fortunate that you came in time--in a few days it might have been
too late. I see now that I must not give up my large income so long as
my father needs the money. My dreams of a late, but pure happiness are
shattered! You will understand that one needs time to recover from such
a blow and pardon my painful excitement."

She rose, with pallid face and trembling limbs: "I will place the
papers necessary to raise the money in your hands early to-morrow
morning, and you will forget this painful scene sooner than I."

"You have paid me few compliments--but I shall bear no malice--you are
nervous to-day, my fair daughter. And even if you do not bestow your
aid in the most generous way, nevertheless you help me. Let me kiss
your liberal hand! Ah, it is exactly like your mother's. When I think
that those slender, delicate fingers have been laid in the coarse fist
of Heaven knows what plebeian, I think great credit is due me--"

"Do not go on!" interrupted the countess, imperiously. "I think I have
done my duty, Papa--but the measure is full, and I earnestly entreat
you to let me rest to-day."

"It is the fate of fathers to let their daughters rule them," replied
the prince in a jesting tone. "Well, it is better to be ill-treated by
a daughter than by a sweetheart. You see I, too, have some moral
impulses, since I have been in your strict society. May the father whom
you judge so harshly be permitted to kiss your forehead?"

The countess silently submitted--but a shudder ran through her frame as
if the touch had defiled her. She felt that it was the Judas kiss of
the world, not the caress of a father.

The prince wiped his mouth with a sensation of secret disgust. "Who
knows what lips have touched that brow today?" He dared not think of
it, or it would make him ill.

"_Ma chère_, however deeply I am indebted to you, I must assert my
paternal rights a few minutes. You have said so many bitter things,
whose justice I will not deny, that you will permit me to utter a few
truthful words also." Fixing his eyes upon her with a stern, cold gaze,
he said in a low tone, placing a marked emphasis on every word: "We
have carried matters very far--you and I--the last of the ancient
Prankenberg race! A pretty pair! the father a bankrupt, and the
daughter--on the eve of marrying a peasant."

Madeleine von Wildenau, deadly pale, stood leaning with compressed lips
on the back of her armchair.

The prince laid his hand on her shoulder. "We may both say that to-day
_each_ has saved the _other_! This is my reparation for the humiliating
role fate has forced upon me in your presence. Am I not right?
Good-night, my queenly daughter--and I hope you bear me no ill-will."



                              CHAPTER XVI.

                               PRISONED.


The prince had left the room, and she heard him walk through the
work-shop. Silence fell upon the house and the street. The tortured
woman, utterly exhausted, sank upon her bed--her feet would support her
no longer. But she could get no rest; an indescribable grief filled her
heart. Everything had happened precisely as Freyer had predicted.
Before the cock crowed, she had thrice betrayed him, betrayed him in
the very hour when she had sworn fidelity. At the first step she was to
take on the road of life with the man she loved, at the first glance
from the basilisk eyes of conventional prejudice, she shrank back like
a coward and could not make up her mind to acknowledge him. This was
her purification, this the effect of a feeling which, as she believed,
had power to conquer the world? Everything was false--she despaired of
all things--of her future, of herself, of the power of Christianity,
which she, like all new converts, expected would have the might to
transform sinners into saints in a single moment. One thing alone
remained unchanged, _one_ image only was untouched by any tinge of
baseness amid the turmoil of emotions seething in her heart--Freyer. He
alone could save her--she must go to him. Springing from her bed she
hurried into the work-shop. "Where is your son?" she asked Andreas
Gross, who was just preparing to retire.

"I suppose he is in his room, Countess."

"Bring him to me at once."

"Certainly, Countess."

"Shall I undress Your Highness?" asked Josepha, who was still waiting
for her orders.

Madeleine von Wildenau's eyes rested on the girl with a searching
expression, as if she saw her now for the first time. Was she
faithful--as faithful as a maid must be to make it possible to carry
out the plan her father had suggested? Josepha gazed steadily into the
countess' eyes, her frank face expressed nothing but innocent wonder
at so long a scrutiny. "Yes--you are faithful," said the countess at
last--"are you not?"

"Certainly, Countess," replied the girl, evidently surprised that she
needed to give the assurance.

"You know what unhappiness means?"

"I think so!" said Josepha, with bitter emphasis.

"Then you would aid the unhappy so far as you were able?"

"It would depend upon who it was," answered Josepha, brusquely, but the
rudeness pleased the countess; it was a proof of character, and
character is a guarantee of trustworthiness. "If it were I, Josepha,
could I depend upon you in _any_ situation?"

"Certainly!" the girl answered simply--"I live only for you--otherwise
I would far rather be under the sod. What have I to live for except
you?"

"I believe, Josepha, that I now know the reason Providence sent me to
you!" murmured her mistress, lost in thought.

Ludwig Gross entered. "Did you wish to see me?"

Madeleine von Wildenau silently took his hand and drew him into her
room.

"Oh, Ludwig, what things I have been compelled to hear--what sins I
have committed--what suffering I have endured!" She laid her arm on the
shoulder of the faithful friend, like a child pleading for aid. "What
time is it, Ludwig?"

"I don't know," he replied. "I was asleep when my father called me. I
wandered about looking for you and Freyer until about an hour ago. Then
weariness overpowered me." He drew out his watch. "It is half past
ten."

"Take me to Freyer, Ludwig. I must see him this very day. Oh, my
friend! let me wash myself clean in your soul, for I feel as if the
turbid surges of the world had soiled me with their mire."

Ludwig Gross passed his arm lightly about her shoulders as if to
protect her from the unclean element. "Come," he said soothingly, "I
will take you to Freyer. Or would you prefer to have me bring him
here?"

"No, he would not come now. I must go to him, for I have done something
for which I must atone--there can be no delay."

Ludwig hurriedly wrapped her in a warm shawl. "You will be ill from
this continual excitement," he said anxiously, but without trying to
dissuade her. "Take my arm, you are tottering."

They left the house before the eyes of the astonished Gross family.
"She is a very singular woman," said Sephi, shaking her head. "She
gives herself no rest night or day."

It was only five days since the evening that Madeleine von Wildenau had
walked, as now, through the sleeping village, and how much she had
experienced.

She had found the God whom she was seeking--she had gazed into his
eyes, she had recognized divine, eternal love, and had perceived that
she was not worthy of it. So she moved proudly, yet humbly on, leaning
upon the arm of her friend, to the street where a thrill of reverence
had stirred her whole being when Andreas Gross said, "That is the way
to the dwelling of the Christ."

The house stood across the end of the street. This time no moonbeams
lighted the way. The damp branches of the trees rustled mournfully
above them in the darkness. Only a single window on the ground floor of
Freyer's house was lighted, and the wavering rays marked the way for
the pair. They reached it and looked in. Freyer was sitting on a wooden
stool by the table, his head resting on his hand, absorbed in sorrowful
thought. A book lay before him, which he had perhaps intended to read,
but evidently had not done so, for he was gazing wearily into vacancy.

Madeleine von Wildenau stepped softly in through the unfastened door.
Ludwig Gross waited for her outside. As she opened the door of the room
Freyer looked up in astonishment "You?" he said, and his eyes rested
full upon her with a questioning gaze--but he rose with dignity,
instead of rushing to meet her, as he would formerly have greeted the
woman he loved, had she suddenly appeared before him.

"Countess--what does this visit mean--at this hour?" he asked,
mournfully, offering her a chair. "Did you come alone?"

"Ludwig brought me and is waiting outside for me--I have only a few
words to say."

"But it will not do to leave our friend standing outside. You will
allow me to call him in?"

"Do so, you will then have the satisfaction of having a witness of my
humiliation," said the countess, quietly.

"Pardon me, I did not think of that interpretation!" murmured Freyer,
seating himself.

"May I ask your Highness' commands?"

"Joseph--to whom are you speaking?"

"To the Countess Wildenau!"

She knelt beside him: "Joseph! Am I _still_ the Countess Wildenau?"

"Your Highness, pray spare me!" he exclaimed, starting up. "All this
can alter nothing. You remain--what you are, and I--what I am! This was
deeply graven on my heart to-night, and nothing can efface it." He
spoke with neither anger nor reproach--simply like a man who has lost
what was dearest to him on earth.

"If that is true, I can certainly do nothing except go again!" she
replied, turning toward the door. "But answer for it to God for having
thrust me forth unheard."

"Nay, Countess, pray, speak!" said Freyer, kindly. She looked
at him so beseechingly that his heart melted with unutterable pain.
"Come--and--tell me what weighs upon your heart!" he added in a gentler
tone.

"Not until you again call me your dove--or your child."

Tears filled his eyes, "My child--what have you done!"

"That is right--I can speak now! What have I done, Joseph? What you
saw; and still worse. I not only treated you coldly and distantly in my
father's presence, I afterwards disowned you three times--and I come to
tell you so because you alone can and--I know--will forgive me."

Freyer had clasped his hands upon his knee and was gazing into vacancy.
Madeleine continued: "You see, I have so lofty an opinion of you, and
of your love, that I do not try to justify myself. I will only remind
you of the words you yourself said to-day: 'May you never be forced to
weep the tears which Peter shed when the cock crowed for the third
time.' I will recall what must have induced Christ to forgive Peter:
'He knew the disciple's heart!' Joseph--do you not also know the heart
of your Magdalena?"

A tremor ran through the strong man's frame and, unable to utter a
word, he threw his arm around her and his head drooped on her breast.

"Joseph, you are ignorant of the world, and the bonds with which it
fetters even the freest souls. Therefore you must _believe_ in me! It
will often happen that I shall be forced to do something
incomprehensible to you. If you did not then have implicit faith in me,
we could never live happily together. This very day I had resolved to
break with society, strip off all its chains. But no matter how many
false and culpable ideas it has--its principles, nevertheless, rest
upon a foundation of morality. That is why it can impose its fetters
upon the very persons who have nothing in common with its _immoral_
side. Nay, were it merely an _immoral_ power it would be easy, in a
moment of pious enthusiasm, to shake off its thrall--but when we are
just on the eve of doing so, when we believe ourselves actually free,
it throws around our feet the snare of a _duty_ and we are prisoned
anew. Such was my experience to-day with my father! I should have been
compelled to sunder every tie, had I told him the truth! I was too weak
to provoke the terrible catastrophe--and deferred it, by disowning
you."

Freyer quivered with pain.

She stroked his clenched hand caressingly. "I know what this must be. I
know how the proud man must rebel when the woman he loved did _that_.
But I also expect my angel to know what it cost me!"

She gently tried to loose his clenched fingers, which gradually yielded
till the open hand lay soft and unresisting in her own. "Look at me,"
she continued in her sweet, melting tones: "look at my pallid face, my
eyes reddened with weeping--and then answer whether I have suffered
during these hours?"

"I do see it!" said Freyer, gently.

"Dear husband! I come to you with my great need, with my great
love--and my great guilt. Will you thrust me from you?"

He could hold out no longer, but with loving generosity clasped the
pleading woman to his heart.

"I knew it, you are the embodiment of goodness, gentleness--love! You
will have patience with your weak, sinful wife--you will ennoble and
sanctify her, and not despair if it is a long time ere the work is
completed. You promise, do you not?" she murmured fervently amid her
kisses, breathing into his inmost life the ardent pleading of her
remorse.

And, with a solemn vow, he promised never to be angry with her again,
never to desert her until she _herself_ sent him away.

She had conquered--he trusted her once more. And now--she must profit
by this childlike confidence.

"I thank you!" she said, after a long silence. "Now I shall have
courage to ask you a serious question. But let us send home the friend
who is waiting outside, you can take me back yourself."

"Certainly, my child," said Freyer, smiling, and went out to seek
Ludwig. "He was satisfied," he said returning. "Now speak--and tell me
everything that weighs upon your heart--no one can hear us save God."
And he drew her into a loving embrace.

"Joseph," the countess began in an embarrassed tone. "The decisive hour
has come sooner than I expected and I am compelled to ask, 'Will you be
my husband--but only before God, not men.'"

Freyer drew back a step. "What do you mean?"

"Will you listen to me quietly, dearest?" she asked, gently.

"Speak, my child."

"Joseph! I promised to-day to become your wife--and I will keep the
pledge, but our marriage must be a secret one."

"And why?"

"My husband's will disinherits me, as soon as I give up the name of
Wildenau. If I marry you, I shall be dependent upon the generosity of
my husband's cousins, who succeed me as his heirs, and they are not
even obliged to give me an annuity--so I shall be little better than a
beggar."

"Oh, is that all? What does it matter? Am I not able to support my
wife--that is, if she can be satisfied with the modest livelihood a
poor wood-carver like myself can offer?"

The countess, deeply touched, smiled. "I knew that you would say so.
But, my angel, that would only do, if I had no other duties. But, you
see, this is one of the snares with which the world draws back those
who endeavor to escape its spell. I have a father--an unhappy man whom
I can neither respect nor love--a type of the brilliant misery, the
hollow shams, to which so many lives in our circle fall victims, a
gambler, a spendthrift, but still _my father_! He asks pecuniary aid
which I can render only if I remain the Countess Wildenau. Dare I be
happy and let my father go to ruin?"

"No!" groaned Freyer, whose head sank like a felled tree on the arms
which rested folded on the table.

"Then what is left to us--my beloved, save _separation_ or a secret
marriage? Surely we would not profane the miracle which God has wrought
in us by any other course?"

"No--never!"

"Well--then I must say to you: 'choose!'"

"Oh, Heaven! this is terrible. I must not be allowed to assert my
sacred rights before men--must live like a dishonored man under ban?
And _where_ and _when_ could we meet?"

"Joseph--I can offer you the position of steward of my estates, which
will enable us to live together constantly and meet without the least
restraint. I can recompense you a hundredfold, for what you resign
here, my property shall be yours, as well as all that I am and
have--you shall miss nothing save outward appearances, the triumph of
appearing before the world as the husband of the Countess Wildenau."

"Oh! God, Thou art my witness that no such thought ever entered my
heart. If you were poor and miserable, starving by the wayside, I would
raise you and bear you proudly in my arms into my house. If you were
blind and lame, ill and deserted, I would watch and cherish you day and
night--nay, it would be my delight to work for you and earn, by my own
industry, the bread you eat. When I brought it, I would offer it on my
knees and kiss your dear hands for accepting it. But your servant, your
hireling, I cannot be! Tell me yourself--could you still love me if I
were?"

"Yes, for my love is eternal!"

"Do not deceive yourself; you have loved me as a poor, but _free_
citizen of Ammergau--as your paid servant you would despise me."

"You shall not be my servant--it is merely necessary to find some
pretext before the world which will render it possible for us to be
constantly together without exciting suspicion--and the office of a
steward is this pretext!"

"Twist and turn it as you will--I shall eat your bread, and be your
subordinate. Oh, Heaven, I was so proud and am now so terribly
humiliated--so suddenly hurled from the height to which you had raised
me!"

"It will be no humiliation to accept what my love bestows and my
superabundance shares with you."

"It _is_, and I could be your husband only on the condition that I
might continue to work and earn my own support."

"Oh! the envious arrogance of the poor, who grudge the rich the noblest
privilege--that of doing good. Believe me, true pride would be to say
to yourself that your noble nature a thousand times outweighed the
petty sacrifice of worldly goods which I could make for you. He who
scorns money can accept it from others because he knows that the
outward gift is valueless, compared with the treasures of happiness
love can offer. Or do you feel so poor in love that you could not pay
me the trivial debt for the bit of bread I furnished? Then indeed--let
me with my wealth languish in my dearth of happiness and boast that you
sacrificed to your pride the most faithful of women--but do not say
that you loved the woman!"

"My dove!"

"I am doing what I can!" she continued, mournfully, "I am offering you
myself, my soul, my freedom, my future--and you are considering whether
it will not degrade you to eat my bread and be apparently my servant,
while in reality you are my master and my judge.--I have nothing more
to say, you shall have your will, but decide quickly, for what is to be
done must be done at once. My father himself (when he perceived that I
really intended to marry) advised me to be wedded by our old pastor at
Prankenberg. But I know my father, and am aware that he was only luring
me into a trap. He will receive from me to-morrow a power of attorney
to raise some money he needs--the day after he will invent some new
device to keep me in his power. We must take the pastor at Prankenberg
by surprise before he can prevent it. Now decide!"

"Omnipotent God!" exclaimed Freyer. "What shall I, what must I do? Oh!
my love, I ought not to desert you--and even if I ought--I _could_ not,
for I could no longer live without you! You know that I must take what
you offer, and that my fate will be what you assign! But, dearest, how
I shall endure to be your husband and yet regarded as your servant, I
know not. If you could let this cup pass from me, it would be far
better for us both."

"And did God spare the Saviour the cup? Was Christ too proud to take
upon Him His cross and His ignominy, while you--cannot even bear the
yoke your wife imposes, is _forced_ to impose?"

He bowed his head to the earth. Tears sparkled in his radiant eyes, he
was once more the Christ. As his dark eyes rested upon her in the dim
light diffused by the lamp, with all the anguish of the Crucified
Redeemer, Madeleine von Wildenau again felt a thrill of awe in the
presence of something supernatural--a creature belonging to some middle
realm, half spirit, half mortal--and the perception that he could never
belong wholly to the earth, never wholly to _her_. She could not
explain this feeling, he was so kind, so self-sacrificing. Had she had
any idea that such a man was destined to absorb _us_, not we _him_, the
mystery would have been solved. What she was doing was precisely the
reverse. His existence must be sacrificed to hers--and she had a vague
suspicion that this was contrary to the laws of his noble, privileged
nature.

But he, unconscious of himself, in his modest simplicity, only knew
that he must love the countess to the end--and deemed it only just that
he should purchase the measureless happiness of calling this woman his
by an equally boundless sacrifice. The appeal to Christ had suddenly
made him believe that God proposed to give him the opportunity to
continue in life the part of a martyr which he was no longer permitted
to play on the stage. The terrible humiliation imposed by the woman
whom he loved was to be the cross received in exchange for the one he
had resigned.

"Very well, then, for the sake of Christ's humility!" he said, sadly,
as if utterly crushed. "Give me whatever position you choose, but I
fear you will discover too late that you have robbed yourself of the
_best_ love I have to bestow. Your nature is not one which can love a
vassal. You will be like the children who tear off the butterfly's
wings and then--throw aside the crawling worm with loathing. My wings
were my moral freedom and my self-respect. At this moment I have lost
them, for I am only a weak, love-sick man who must do whatever an
irresistible woman requires. It is no free moral act, as is usual when
a man exchanges an equal existence with his chosen wife.

"If you think _that_, Joseph," said the countess, turning pale, "it
will certainly be better--for me to leave you." She turned with dignity
toward the door.

"Yes, go!" he cried in wild anguish--"go! Yet you know that you will
take me with you, like the crown of thorns you dragged caught in the
hem of your dress!" He threw himself on his knees at her feet. "What am
I? Your slave. In Heaven's name, be my mistress and take me. I place my
soul in your keeping--I trust it to your generosity--but woe betide us
both, if you do not give me yours in return. I ask nothing save your
soul--but that I want wholly."

The exultant woman clasped him in a passionate embrace: "Yes, give
yourself a prisoner to me, and trust your fate to my hands. I will be a
gentle mistress to you--you, beloved slave, you shall not be _more_
mine than I am yours--that is, _wholly_ and _forever_."



                             CHAPTER XVII.

                         FLYING FROM THE CROSS.


The burgomaster went to the office every morning at six o'clock, for
the work to be accomplished during the day was very great and required
an early beginning. Freyer usually arrived about seven to share the
task with him. On Fridays, however, he often commenced his labor before
the energetic burgomaster. It was on that day that the rush upon the
ticket office began, and every one's hands were filled.

But to-day Freyer seemed to be in no hurry. It was after seven--he
ought to have arrived long before. He had been absent yesterday, too.
The stranger must have taken complete possession of him. The
burgomaster shook his head--Freyer's conduct since the countess'
arrival, had not pleased him. He had never neglected his duties
to the community. And at the very time when the Passion Play had
attained unprecedented success. How could any one think of anything
else--anything _personal_, especially the man who took the part of the
Christ! There were heaps of orders lying piled before him, how could
they be disposed of, if Freyer did not help.

This countess was a beautiful woman--and probably a fascinating one.
But to the burgomaster there was but _one_ beauty--that of the angel of
his home. High above the turmoil of the crowd, in quiet, aristocratic
seclusion, the lonely man sat at his desk in his bare, plain office.
But the angel of Ammergau visited him here; he leaned his weary head
upon His breast, _His_ kiss rewarded his unselfish labor, _His_
radiance illumined the unassuming citizen. No house was so poor and
insignificant that at this season the angel of Ammergau did not take up
His abode within and shed upon it His own sanctity and dignity. But to
him who was the personification of Ammergau, the man who was obliged to
care for everything--watch over everything--bear the responsibility
of everything, to him the angel brought the reward which men cannot
give--the proud consciousness of what he was to his home in these
toilsome days. But it was quite time that Freyer should come! The
burgomaster rang his bell. The bailiff entered.

"Kleinhofer, see where Herr Freyer is--or the drawing-master. _One_ of
them can surely be found."

"Yes, Herr Burgomaster." The man left the room.

The burgomaster leaned back in his chair to wait. His eyes rested a few
seconds on one of Doré's pictures, Christ condemned by Pontius Pilate.
He involuntarily compared the engraving with the grouping on the stage.
"Ah, if we could do that! If living beings, with massive bones and
clumsy joints, would be as pliable as canvas and brushes!" he thought,
sorrowfully. "Wherever human beings are employed there must be defects
and imperfections. Perfection, absolute beauty, exist only in the
imagination! Yet ought not an inflexible stage manager, by following
the lines of the work of art, to succeed in shaping even the rudest
material into the artistic idea."

"Much--much remains to be done," said the singular stage manager in
pitiless self-criticism, resting his head on his hand. "When one thinks
of what the Meininger company accomplishes! But of course they work
with _artists_--I with natural talent! Then we are restricted in
alloting the parts by dilettante traditional models--and, worst of all,
by antiquated statutes and prejudices." The vision of Josepha Freyer
rose before him, he keenly felt the blow inflicted on the Passion Play
when the beautiful girl, the very type of Mary Magdalene, was excluded.
"The whole must suffer under such circumstances! The actors cannot be
chosen according to talent and individuality; these things are a
secondary consideration. The first is the person's standing in the
community! A poor servant would be allowed to play only an inferior
part, even if he possessed the greatest talent, and the principal ones
are the monopoly of the influential citizens. From a contingent thus
arbitrarily limited the manager is compelled to distribute the
characters for the great work, which demands the highest powers. It is
a gigantic labor, but it will be accomplished, nothing is needed save
patience and an iron will! They will grow with their task. The
increasing success of the Passion Play will teach them to understand
how important it is that artistic interests should supersede all
others. Then golden hours will first dawn on Ammergau. May God permit
me to witness it!" he added. And he confidently hoped to do so; for
there was no lack of talent, and with a few additions great results
might be accomplished. This year the success of the Play was secured by
Freyer, who made the audience forget all less skilful performers. With
him the Passion Play of the present year would stand or fall. The
burgomaster's eyes rested with a look of compassion upon the Christ of
Doré and the Christ personated by Freyer, as it hovered before his
memory--and Freyer bore the test. He had come from the hand of his
Creator a living work of art, perfect in every detail. "Thank Heaven
that we have him!" murmured the burgomaster, with a nod of
satisfaction.

Some one knocked at the door. "At last," said the burgomaster: "Come
in!"

It was not the person whom he expected, but Ludwig Gross!

He tottered forward as if his feet refused to obey his will. His grave
face was waxen-yellow in its hue and deeply lined--his lips were
tightly compressed--drops of perspiration glittered on his brow.

The burgomaster glanced at him in alarm: "What is it? What has
happened?"

Ludwig Gross drew a letter from his pocket, "Be prepared for bad news."

"For Heaven's sake, cannot the performance take place? We have sold
more than a thousand tickets."

"That would be the least difficulty. Be strong, Herr Burgomaster--I
have a great misfortune to announce."

"Has it anything to do with Freyer?" exclaimed the magistrate, with
sudden foreboding.

"Freyer has gone--with Countess Wildenau!"

"Run away?" cried the burgomaster, inexorably giving the act the right
name.

"Yes, I have just found these lines on his table."

The burgomaster turned pale as if he had received a mortal wound. A
peal of thunder seemed to echo in his ears--the thunder which had
shattered the temple of Jerusalem, whose priest he was! The walls fell,
the veil was rent and revealed the place of execution. Golgotha lay
before him. He heard the rustling wings of the departing guardian angel
of Ammergau. High above, in terrible solitude, towered the cross, but
it was empty--he who should hang upon it--had vanished! Grey clouds
gathered around the desolate scene.

But from the empty cross issued a light--not a halo, but like the
livid, phosphorescent glimmer of rotten wood! It shone into a chasm
where, from a jutting rock, towered a single tree, upon which hung,
faithful to his task--Judas!

A peal of jeering laughter rose from the depths. "You have killed
yourself in vain. Your victim has escaped. See the conscientious Judas,
who hung himself, while the other is having a life of pleasure!"

Shame and disgrace! "The Christ has fled from the cross." Malicious
voices echo far and wide, cynicism exults--baseness has conquered, the
divine has become a laughing-stock for children--the Passion Play a
travesty.

The phosphorescent wood of the cross glimmered before the burgomaster's
eyes. Aye, it was rotten and mouldering--this cross--it must
crumble--the corruption of the world had infected and undermined it,
and this had happened in Oberammergau--under _his_ management.

The unfortunate man, through whose brain this chain of thoughts was
whirling, sat like a stone statue before his friend, who stood waiting
modestly, without disturbing his grief by a single word.

What the two men felt--each knew--was too great for utterance.

The burgomaster was mechanically holding Freyer's letter in his
clenched hand. Now his cold, stiff fingers reminded him of it. He laid
it on the table, his eyes resting dully on the large childish
characters of the unformed hand: "Forgive me!" ran the brief contents.
"I am no longer worthy to personate the Saviour! Not from lack of
principle, but on account of it do I resign my part. Ere you read these
lines, I shall be far away from here! God will not make His sacred
cause depend upon any individual--He will supply my place to you!
Forget me, and forgive the renegade whose heart will be faithful to you
unto death!                                     Freyer!"

Postscript:

"Sell my property--the house, the field, and patch of woods which was
not burned and divide the proceeds among the poor of Ammergau. I will
send you the legal authority from the nearest city.

"Once more, farewell to all!"

The burgomaster sat motionless, gazing at the sheet. He could have read
it ten times over--yet he still stared at the lines.

Ludwig Gross saw with terror that his eyes were glassy, his features
changed. The calmness imposed by the iron will had become the rigidity
of death. The drawing-master shook him--now, in the altered position,
the inert body lost its balance and fell against the back of the chair.
His friend caught the tottering figure and supported the noble head. It
was possible for him to reach the bell with his other hand and summon
Kleinhofer. "The doctor--quick--tell him to come at once!" he shouted.
The man hurried off in terror.

The news that the burgomaster had been stricken with apoplexy ran
through the village like wild fire. Every one rushed to the office. The
physician ran bare-headed across the street. The confusion was
boundless.

Ludwig could scarcely control the tumult. Supporting the burgomaster
with one arm, he pushed the throng back with the other. The doctor
could scarcely force his way through the crowded room. He rubbed the
temples and arteries of the senseless man. "I don't think it is
apoplexy, only a severe congestion of the brain," he said, "but we
cannot tell what the result may be. He has long been overworked and
over-excited."

The remedies applied began to act, the burgomaster opened his eyes. But
as if he were surrounded by invisible fiends which, like wild beasts,
were only held in check by the firm gaze of the tamer and, ever ready
to spring, were only watching for the moment when they might wrest from
him the sacred treasure confided to his care--his dim eyes in a few
seconds regained the steady flash of the watchful, imperious master.
And the discipline which his unyielding will was wont to exert over his
limbs instantly restored his erect bearing. No one save the physician
and Ludwig knew what the effort cost him.

"Yes," said the doctor in a low tone to the drawing-master: "This is
the consequence of his never granting himself any rest during these
terrible exertions."

The burgomaster had gone to the window and obtained a little air. Then
he turned to the by-standers. His voice still trembled slightly, but
otherwise not the slightest weakness was perceptible, and nothing
betrayed the least emotion.

"I am glad, my friends, that we are all assembled--otherwise I should
have been compelled to summon you. Is the whole parish here? We must
hold a consultation at once. Kleinhofer, count them."

The man obeyed.

"They are all here," he said.

At that moment the burgomaster's wife rushed in with Anastasia. They
had been in the fields and had just learned the startling news of the
illness of the husband and brother.

"Pray be calm!" he said, sternly. "There is nothing wrong with
me--nothing worth mentioning."

The weeping women were surrounded by their friends but the burgomaster,
with an imperious wave of the hand, motioned them to the back of the
room. "If you wish to listen--and it is my desire that you should--keep
quiet. We have not a moment to lose." He turned to the men of the
parish.

"Dear friends and companions! I have tidings which I should never have
expected a native of Ammergau would be compelled to relate of a fellow
citizen. A great misfortune has befallen us. We no longer have a
Christ! Freyer has suddenly gone away."

A cry of horror and indignation answered him. A medley of shouts and
questions followed, mingled with fierce imprecations.

"Be calm, friends. Do not revile him. We do not know what has occurred.
True, I cannot understand how such a thing was possible--but we must
not judge where we know no particulars. At any rate we will respect
ourselves by speaking no evil of one of our fellow citizens--for that he
was, in spite of his act."

Ludwig secretly pressed his hand in token of gratitude.

"This misfortune is sent by God"--the burgomaster continued--"we will
not judge the poor mortal who was merely His tool. Regard him as one
dead, as he seems to regard himself. He has bequeathed his property to
our poor--we will thank him for that, as is right--in other respects he
is dead to us."

The burgomaster took the letter from the table. "Here is his last will
for Ammergau, I will read it to you." The burgomaster calmly read the
paper, but it seemed as if his voice, usually so firm, trembled.

When he had finished, deep silence reigned. Many were wiping their
eyes, others gazed sullenly into vacancy--a solemn hush, like that
which prevails at a funeral, had taken possession of the assembly. "We
cannot tell," the burgomaster repeated: "Peace to his ashes--for the
fire which will be so destructive to us is still blazing in him. We can
but say, may God forgive him, and let these be the last words uttered
concerning him."

"May God forgive him!" murmured the sorely stricken assemblage.

"Amen!" replied the burgomaster. "And now, my friends, let us consult
what is to be done. We cannot deceive ourselves concerning our
situation. It is critical, nay hopeless. The first thing we must try to
save is our honor. When it becomes known that one of our number, and
that one the Christ--has deserted his colors, or rather the cross, we
shall be disgraced and our sacred cause must suffer. _Our_ honor here
is synonymous with the honor of God, and if we do not guard it for
ourselves we must for His sake."

A murmur of assent answered him. He continued: "Therefore we must make
every effort to keep the matter secret. We can say that Freyer had
suddenly succumbed to the exertion imposed by his part, and to save his
life had been obliged to seek a warmer climate! Those who _know_ us men
of Ammergau will not believe that any one would retire on account of
his health, nay would prefer death rather than to interrupt the
performances--but there are few who do know us."

"God knows that!" said the listeners, mournfully.

"Therefore I propose that we all promise to maintain the most absolute
secrecy in regard to the real state of affairs and give the pretext
just suggested to the public."

"Yes, yes--we will agree not to say anything else," the men readily
assented. "But the women--they will chatter," said Andreas Gross.

"That is just what I fear. I can rely upon you men," replied the
burgomaster, casting a stern glance at the girls and women. "The men
are fully aware of the meaning and importance of our cause. It is bad
enough that so many are not understood and supported by their wives!
You--the women of Ammergau--alas that I must say it--you have done the
place and the cause more harm by your gossip than you can answer for to
the God who honors us with His holy mission. There is chattering and
tattling where you think you can do so unpunished, and many things are
whispered into the ears of the visitors which afterwards goes as false
rumors through the world! You care nothing for the great cause, if you
get an opportunity to gratify some bit of petty malice. Now you are
weeping, are you not? Because we are ruined--the performances must
cease! But are you sure that Joseph Freyer would have been capable of
treating us in this way, had it not been for the flood of gossip you
poured out on him and his cousin, Josepha? It embittered his mind
against us and drove him into the stranger's arms. Has he not said a
hundred times that, if it were not for personating the Christ, he would
have left Ammergau long ago? Where _one_ bond is destroyed another
tears all the more easily. Take it as a lesson--and keep silence _this_
time at least, if you can govern your feminine weakness so far! I shall
make your husbands accountable for every word which escapes concerning
this matter." Several of the women murmured and cast spiteful glances
at the burgomaster.

"To _whom_ does this refer, _who_ is said to have tattled?" asked a
stout woman with a bold face.

The burgomaster frowned. "It refers to those who feel guilty--and does
not concern those who do not!" he cried, sternly. "The good silent
women among you know very well that I do not mean them--and the others
can take heed."

A painful pause followed. The burgomaster's eyes rested threateningly
upon the angry faces of the culprits. Those who felt that they were
innocent gazed at him undisturbed.

"I will answer for my wife"--"Nothing shall go from my house!"
protested one after another, and thus at least every effort would be
made to save the honor of Ammergau, and conceal their disgrace from the
world. But now came the question how to save the Play. A warm debate
followed. The people, thus robbed of their hopes, wished to continue
the performances at any cost, with any cast of characters. But here
they encountered the resolute opposition of the burgomaster: "Either
well--or not at all!" was his ultimatum. "We cannot deceive ourselves
for a moment. At present, there is not one of us who can personate the
Christ--except Thomas Rendner, and where, in that case, could we find a
Pilate--who could replace Thomas Rendner?"

There was a violent discussion. "The sacristan, Nathanael, could play
Pilate."

"Who then would take Nathanael?"

"Ah, if this one and that one were still in the village! But they had
gone away to seek their bread, like so many who could no longer earn a
support since the Partenkirch School of Carving had competed with the
one in Ammergau. And many more would follow. If things went on in the
same fashion, and matters were not improved by the play, in ten years
more there might be none to fill the parts, necessity would gradually
drive every one away."

"Yes, we are in a sore strait, my friends. The company melts away more
and more--the danger to the Passion Play constantly increases. If we
can find no help now, penury will deprive us of some of our best
performers ere the next time. And yet, my friends, believe me--I
say it with a heavy heart: if we now continue with a poor cast of
characters--we shall be lost wholly and forever, for then we shall have
destroyed the reputation of the Passion Play."

"Thomas Rendner will personate the Christ well--there is no danger on
that score."

"And if he does--if Rendner takes the Christ, the sacristan Pilate, and
some one else Nathanael--shall we not be obliged to study the whole
piece again, and can that be done so rapidly? Can we commence our
rehearsals afresh now? I ask you, is it possible?"

The people hung their heads in hopeless discouragement.

"Our sole resource would be to find a Christ among those who are not in
the Play--and all who have talent are already employed. The others
cannot be used, if we desire to present an artistic whole."

Despair seized upon the listeners--there was not a single one among
them who had not invested his little all in furniture and beds for the
strangers, and even incurred debts for the purpose, to say nothing of
the universal poverty.

New proposals were made, all of which the hapless burgomaster was
compelled to reject.

"The general welfare is at a stake, and the burgomaster thinks only of
the _artistic whole_."

With these words the wrath of the assembly was finally all directed
against him, and those who fanned it were mainly the strangers
attracted by the Passion Play for purposes of speculation, who cared
nothing how much it suffered in future, if only they made their money!

"I know the elements which are stirring up strife here," said the
burgomaster, scanning the assembly with his stern eyes. "But they shall
not succeed in separating us old citizens of Ammergau, who have held
together through every calamity! Friends, let the spirit which our
forefathers have preserved for centuries save us from discord--let us
not deny the good old Ammergau nature in misfortune."

"And with the good old nature you can starve," muttered the
speculators.

"If the burgomaster does not consider your interests of more importance
than the fame of his success as stage manager he ought to go to Munich
and get the position--there he could give as many model performances as
he desired!"

"Yes," cried another, "he is sacrificing our interests to his own
vanity."

During this accusation the burgomaster remained standing with his
figure drawn up to its full height. Only the dark swollen vein on his
weary brow betrayed the indignation seething in his soul.

"I disdain to make any reply to such a charge. I know the hearts of my
fellow citizens too well to fear that any one of them believes it."

"No, certainly not!" exclaimed the wiser ones. But the majority were
silent in their wrathful despair.

"I know that many of you misjudge me, and I bear you no resentment for
it. I admit that in such a period of storm and stress it is difficult
to maintain an unprejudiced judgment.

"I know also that I myself have often bewildered your judgment, for it
is impossible to create such a work without giving offense here and
there. I know that many who feel wounded and slighted secretly resent
it, and I do not blame them! Only I beg you to visit the rancor on me
_personally_--not extend it to the cause and injure that out of
opposition to me. In important moments like these, I beg you to let all
private grudges drop and gather around me--in this one decisive hour
think only of the whole community, and not of all the wrongs the
burgomaster may have done you individually.

"If I had only the interest of Ammergau to guard, all would be well!
But I have not only _your_ welfare to protect, but the dignity of a
cause for which I am responsible to _God_--so long as it remains in my
hands. Human nature is weak and subject to external impressions. The
religious conceptions of thousands depend upon the greater or less
powerful illusion produced by the Passion Play as a moral symbol. This
is a heavy responsibility in a time when negation and materialism are
constantly undermining faith and dragging everything sacred in the
dust. In such a period, the utmost perfection of detail is necessary,
that the _form_ at least may command respect, where the _essence_ is
despised. I will try to make this dear to you by an example. The cynic
who sneers at our worship of Mary and, with satirical satisfaction,
paints the Virgin as the corpulent mother of four or five boys, will
laugh at an Altötting Virgin but grow silent and earnest before a
Sistine Madonna! For here the divinity in which he does not wish to
believe confronts him in the work of art and compels his reverence. It
is precisely in a period of materialism like the present that religious
representation has its most grateful task--for the deeper man sinks
into sensualism, the more accessible he is to sensual impressions, and
the more easily religion can influence him through visible forms,
repelling or attracting according to the defective or artistic
treatment of the material. The religious-sensuous impetus is the only
one which can influence times like these, that is why the Passion Play
is more important now than ever!

"God has bestowed upon me the modest talent of organization and a
little artistic culture, that I may watch over it, and see that those
who come to us trustfully to seek their God, do not go away with
a secret disappointment--and that those who come to _laugh_ may be
quiet--and ashamed.

"This is the great task allotted to me, which I have hitherto executed
without regard for personal irritability, and the injury of petty
individual interests, and hope to accomplish even under stress of the
most dire necessity.

"If you wish to oppose it, you should have given the office I occupy to
some one who thinks the task less lofty, and who is complaisant enough
to sacrifice the noble to the petty. But see where you will end with
the complaisant man, who listens to every one. See how soon anarchy
will enter among you, for where individual guidance is lacking, and
every one can assert his will, the seed of discord shoots up,
overgrowing everything. Now you are all against _me_, but then you will
be against _one another_, and while you are quarreling and disputing,
time will pass unused, and at last the first antiquated model will be
seized because it can be most easily and quickly executed. But the
modern world will turn away with a derisive laugh, saying: 'We can't
look at these peasant farces any more.'

"Then answer for robbing thousands of a beautiful illusion and letting
them return home poorer in faith and reverence than they came--answer
for it to God, whose sublime task you have degraded by an inferior
performance, and lastly to yourselves for forgetting the future in the
present gain, and to profit by the Passion Play a few more times now,
ruin it for future decades. You do not believe it because, in this
secluded village, you cannot know what the taste of our times demands.
But I do, for I have lived in the outside world, and I tell you that
whoever sees these incomplete performances will certainly not return,
and will make us a reputation stamping us as bunglers forever!"

The burgomaster pressed his hand to his head; a keen pang was piercing
his brain--and his heart also.

"I have nothing more to add," he concluded, faintly. "But if you know
any one whom you believe could care for Ammergau better than I--I am
ready at any moment to place my office in his hands."

Then, with one accord, every heart swelled with the old lofty feeling
for the sacred cause of their ancestors and grateful appreciation of
the man who had again roused it in them. No, he did not deserve that
they should doubt him--he had again taught them to think like true
natives of Ammergau, aye, they felt proudly that he was of the true
stock--it was Ammergau blood that flowed in his veins and streamed from
the wounds which had been inflicted on his heart that day! They saw
that they had wronged him and they gathered with their old love and
loyalty around the sorely-beset man, ready to atone with their lives,
for these hot-blooded, easily influenced artist-natures were
nevertheless true to the core.

The malcontents were forced to keep silence, no one listened to
them. All flocked around the burgomaster. "We will stand by you.
Burgomaster--only tell us what we are to do--and how we can help
ourselves. We rely wholly upon you."

"Alas! my friends, I must reward your restored confidence with
unpalatable counsel. Let us bear the misfortune like men! It is
better to fell trees in the forest, go out as day laborers--nay,
_starve_--rather than be faithless to the spirit of our ancestors! Am I
not right?" A storm of enthusiasm answered him.

It was resolved to announce the close of the Passion Play for this
decade. The document was signed by all the members of the community.

"So it is ended for this year! For many of us perhaps for this life!"
said the burgomaster. "I thank all who have taken part in the Play up
to this time. I will report the receipts and expenditures within a few
days. In consideration of the painful cause, we will dispense with any
formal close."

A very different mood from the former one now took possession of the
assembly. All anxiety concerning material things vanished in the
presence of a deeper sorrow. It was the great, mysterious grief of
parting, which seized all who had to do anything connected with the
"Passion." It seemed as if the roots of their hearts had become
completely interwoven with it and must draw blood in being torn away,
as if a part of their lives went with it. The old men felt the pang
most keenly. "For the last time for this life!" are words before whose
dark portal we stand hesitating, be it where it may--but if this "for
the last time" concerns the highest and dearest thing we possess on
earth, they contain a fathomless gulf of sadness! Old Barabbas, the man
of ninety, was the first, to express it--the others joined in and the
greybeards who had been young together and devoted their whole lives to
the cause which to them was the highest in the world, sank into one
another's arms, like a body of men condemned to death.

Then one chanted the closing line of the choragus: "Till in the world
beyond we meet"--and all joined as with a _single_ voice, the
unutterable anguish of resigning that close communion with Deity, in
which every one of them lived during this period, created its own
ceremonial of farewell and found apt expression in those last words of
the Passion Play.

Then they shook hands with one another, exchanging a life-long
farewell. They knew that they should meet again the next day--in the
same garments--but no longer what they now were, Roman governor and
high-priests, apostles and saints. They were excluded from the
companionship of the Lord, for their Christ had not risen as usual--he
had fled and faithlessly deserted his flock, ere their task could be
fulfilled. It was doubly hard!

Old Judas, the venerable Lechner, was so much moved that they were
obliged to support him down the stairs: Judas weeping over Christ! The
loyal man had suffered unutterably from the necessity of playing the
traitor's part--the treachery now practised toward the sacred cause by
the personator of Christ himself--fairly broke his heart! "That I must
live to witness this!" he murmured, wringing his hands as he descended
the steps. But Thomas Rendner shook his handsome head and mournfully
repeated the momentous words of Pilate: "What is truth?" With tears in
his eyes, he held out his sinewy right hand consolingly to Caiaphas.

"Don't take it so much to heart, Burgomaster; God is still with us!"
Then he cast a sorrowful glance toward the corner of the room. "Poor
Mary! I always thought so!" he muttered compassionately, under his
breath, and followed the others.

The burgomaster and Ludwig were left behind alone and followed
the direction of Rendner's glance. There--it almost broke their
hearts--there sat the burgomaster's sister--the "Mary" in the corner,
with her hands clasped in her lap, the very attitude in which she
waited for the body of her Crucified Son.

"Poor sister," said the burgomaster, deeply moved. "For what are you
waiting? They will never bring him to you again."

"He will come back, the poor martyr!" she replied, her large eyes
gazing with prophetic earnestness into vacancy. "He will come, weary
and wounded--perhaps betrayed by all."

"Then I will have nothing to do with him," said the burgomaster in a
low, firm tone.

"You can do as you please, you are a man. But I, who have so long
personated his mother--I will wait and receive and comfort him, as a
mother cheers her erring child."

"Oh, Anastasia!" A cry of pain escaped Ludwig's lips, and, overwhelmed
by emotion, he turned away.

The burgomaster, with tender sympathy, laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Ah, sister, Freyer is not worthy that you should love him so!"

"How do I love him?" replied the girl. "I love him as Eternal
Compassion loves the poor and suffering. He _is_ poor and suffering.
Oh! do not think evil of him--he does not deserve it. He is good and
noble! Believe me, a mother must know her child better," she added,
with the smile that reveals a breaking heart.

She looked the drawing-master kindly in the face: "Ludwig, we both
understand him, do we not? _We_ believe in him, though all condemn."

Ludwig could not speak--he merely nodded silently and pressed
Anastasia's hand, as if in recognition of the pledge. He was undergoing
a superhuman conflict, but, with the strength peculiar to him,
succeeded in repressing any display of emotion.

The burgomaster stood mutely watching the scene, and neither of the
three could decide which suffered most.

He gazed in speechless grief at the clasped hands of his sister and his
friend. How often he had wished for this moment, and now--? What
_parted_ alone united them, and what united, divided.

"Aye, Freyer has brought much misery upon us!" he said, with sullen
resentment. "I only hope that he will never set foot again upon the
soil of his forefathers!"

"Oh, Brother, how can you speak so--you do not mean it. I know that his
heart will draw him back here; he will seek his home again, and he
shall find it. You will not thrust him from you when he returns from
foreign lands sorrowing and repentant. God knows how earnestly I wish
him happiness, but I do not believe that he will possess it. And as he
will be loyal to us in his inmost soul, we will be true to him and
prepare a resting place when the world has nailed his heart upon the
cross. Shall we not, Ludwig?"

"Yes, by Heaven, we will!" faltered Ludwig, and his tears fell on the
beautiful head of the girl, who still sat motionless, as if she must
wait here for the lost one.

"Woman, behold thy son--son, behold thy mother!" stirred the air like a
breath.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.

                             THE MARRIAGE.


On a wooded height, hidden in the heart of the forests of the Bavarian
highlands, stood an ancient hunting castle, the property of the
Wildenau family. A steep mountain path led up to it, and at its feet,
like a stone sea, stretched the wide, dry bed of a river, a Griess, as
it was called in that locality. Only a few persons knew the way; to the
careless glance the path seemed wholly impassable.

Bare, rugged cliffs towered like a wall around the hunting castle on
its mossy height, harmonizing in melancholy fashion with the white sea
of stone below, which formed a harsh foreground to the dreary scene.
Ever and anon a stag emerged from the woods, crossing the Griess with
elastic tread, the brown silhouette of its antlers sharply relieved
against the colorless monotony of the landscape. The hind came forward
from the opposite side, slowly, reluctantly, with nostrils vibrating.
The report of a rifle echoed from beyond the river bed, the antlers
drooped, the royal creature fell upon its knees, then rolled over on
its back; its huge antlers, flung backward in the death agony, were
thrust deep down among the loose pebbles. The hind had fled, the
poacher seized his prey--a slender rill of blood trickled noiselessly
through the stones, then everything was once more silent and lifeless.

This was the hiding-place where, for seven years, Countess Wildenau had
hidden the treasury filched from the cross--the rock sepulchre in which
she intended to keep the God whom the world believed dead. Built close
against the cliff, half concealed by an overhanging precipice, the
castle seemed to be set in a niche. Shut out from the sunshine by the
projecting crag which cast its shadow over it even at noonday, it was
so cold and damp that the moisture trickled down the walls of the
building, and, moreover, was surrounded by that strange atmosphere of
wet moss and rotting mushrooms which awakens so strange a feeling when,
after a hot walk, we pause to rest in the cool courtyard of some ruined
castle, where our feet sink into wet masses of mouldering brown leaves
which for decades no busy hand has swept away. It seems as if the sun
desired to associate with human beings. Where no mortal eyes behold its
rays, it ceases to shine. It does not deem it worth while to penetrate
the heaps of withered leaves, or the tangle of wild vines and bushes,
or the veil of cobwebs and lime-dust which, in the course of time,
accumulates in heaps in the masonry of a deserted dwelling.

As we see by a child's appearance whether or not it has a loving
mother, so the aspect of a house reveals whether or not it is dear to
its owner, and as a neglected child drags out a joyless existence, so a
neglected house gradually becomes cold and inhospitable.

This was the case with the deserted little hunting seat. No foot had
crossed its threshold within the memory of man. What could the Countess
Wildenau do with it? It was so remote, so far from all the paths of
travel, so hidden in the woods that it would not even afford a fine
view. It stood as an outpost on the chart containing the location of
the Wildenau estates. It had never entered the owner's mind to seek it
out in this--far less in reality.

Every year an architect was sent there to superintend the most
necessary repairs, because it was not fitting for a Wildenau to let one
of these family castles go to ruin. This was all that was done to
preserve the building. The garden gradually ran to waste, and became so
blended with the forest that the boughs of the trees beat against the
windows of the edifice and barred out like a green hedge the last
straggling sunbeams. A castle for a Sleeping Beauty, but without the
sleeping princess. Then Fate willed that a blissful secret in its
owner's breast demanded just such a hiding-place in which to dream the
strangest fantasy ever imagined by woman since Danæ rested in the
embrace of Jove.

Madeleine von Wildenau sought and found this forgotten spot in her
chart, and, with the energy bestowed by the habit of being able to
accomplish whatever we desire, she discovered a secret ford through the
Griess, known only to a trustworthy old driver, and no one was aware of
Countess Wildenau's residence when she vanished from society for days.
There were rumors of a romantic adventure or a religious ecstacy into
which the Ammergau Passion Play had transported her years before. She
had set off upon her journey to the Promised Land directly after, and
as no sea is so wide, no mountain so lofty, that gossip cannot find its
way over them, it even made its way from the Holy Sepulchre to the
drawing rooms of the capital.

A gentleman, an acquaintance of so-and-so, had gone to the Orient, and
in Jerusalem, at the Holy Sepulchre, met a veiled lady, who was no
other than Countess Wildenau. There would have been nothing specially
remarkable in that. But at the lady's side knelt a gentleman who bore
so remarkable a resemblance to the pictures of Christ that one might
have believed it was the Risen Lord Himself who, dissatisfied with
heaven, had returned repentant to His deserted resting-place.

How interesting! The imagination of society, thirsting for romance,
naturally seized upon this bit of news with much eagerness.

Who could the gentleman with the head of Christ be, save the Ammergau
Christ? This agreed with the sudden interruption of the Passion Play
that summer, on account of the illness of the Christ--as the people of
Ammergau said, who perfectly understood how to keep their secrets from
the outside world.

But as they committed the imprudence of occasionally sending their
daughters to the city, one and another of these secrets of the
community, more or less distorted, escaped through the dressing-rooms
of the mistresses of these Ammergau maids.

Thus here and there a flickering ray fell upon the Ammergau
catastrophe: The Christ was not ill--he had vanished--run away--with a
lady of high rank. What a scandal! Then lo! one day Countess Wildenau
appeared--after a journey of three years in the east--somewhat
absentminded, a little disposed to assume religious airs, but without
any genuine piety. Religion is not to be obtained by an indulgence of
religious-erotic rapture with its sweet delusions--it can be obtained
only by the hard labor of daily self-sacrifice, of which a nature like
Madeleine von Wildenau's has no knowledge.

So she returned, somewhat changed--yet only so far as that her own ego,
which the world did not know, was even more potential than before.

But she came alone! Where had she left her pallid Christ? All inquiries
were futile. What could be said? There was no proof of anything--and
besides; proven or not--what charge would have overthrown Countess
Wildenau? That would have been an achievement for which even her foes
lacked perseverance?

It is very amusing when a person's moral ruin can be effected by a word
carelessly uttered! But when the labor of producing proof is associated
with it, people grow good-natured from sheer indolence--let the victim
go, and seek an easier prey.

This was the case with the Countess Wildenau! Her position remained as
unshaken as ever, nay the charm of her person exerted an influence even
more potent than before. Was it her long absence, or had she grown
younger? No matter--she had gained a touch of womanly sweetness which
rendered her irresistible.

In what secret mine of the human heart and feeling had she garnered the
rays which glittered in her eyes like hidden treasures on which the
light of day falls for the first time?

When a woman conceals in her heart a secret joy men flock around her,
with instinctive jealousy, all the more closely, they would fain
dispute the sweet right of possession with the invisible rival. This is
a trait of human nature. But one of the number did so consciously, not
from a jealous instinct but with the full, intense resolve of
unswerving fidelity--the prince! With quiet caution, and the wise
self-control peculiar to him, he steadily pursued his aim. Not with
professions of love; he was only too well aware that love is no weapon
against love! On the contrary, he chose a different way, that of cold
reason.

"So long as she is aglow with love, she will be proof against any other
feeling--she must first be cooled to the freezing-point, then the
chilled bird can be clasped carefully to the breast and given new
warmth."

It would be long ere that point was reached--but he knew how to wait!

Meanwhile he drew the Countess into a whirl of the most fascinating
amusements.

No word, no look betrayed the still hopeful lover! With the manner of
one who had relinquished all claims, but was too thoroughly a man of
the world to avoid an interesting woman because he had failed to win
her heart, he again sought her society after her return. Had he
betrayed the slightest sign of emotion, he would have been repulsive
in her present mood. But the perfect frankness and unconcern with which
he played the "old friend" and nothing more, made his presence a
comfort, nay even a necessity of life! So he became her inseparable
companion--her shadow, and by the influence of his high position
stifled every breath of slander, which floated from Ammergau to injure
his beautiful friend.

During the first months after her return she had the whim--as she
called it--of retiring from society and spending more time upon her
estates. But the wise caution of the prince prevented it.

"For Heaven's sake, don't do that. Will you give free play to the
rumors about your Ammergau episode and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem
connected with it, by withdrawing into solitude and thus leaving the
field to your slanderers, that they may disport at will in the deserted
scenes of your former splendor?"

"This," he argued, "is the very time when you must take your old
position in society, or you will be--pardon my frankness--a fallen
star."

The Countess evidently shrank from the thought.

"Or--have you some castle in the air whose delights outweigh the world
in your eyes?" he asked with relentless insistence:

This time the Countess flushed to the fair curls which clustered around
her forehead.

Since that time the drawing-rooms of the Wildenau palace had again
been filled with the fragrance of roses--lighted, and adorned with
glowing Oriental magnificence, and the motley tide of society, amid
vivacious chatter, flooded the spacious apartments. Glittering with
diamonds, intoxicated by the charm of her own beauty whose power she
had not tested for years, the Countess was the centre of all this
splendor--while in the lonely hunting-seat beyond the pathless Griess,
the solitary man whom she had banished thither vainly awaited--his
wife.

The leaves in the forest were turning brown for the sixth time since
their return from Jerusalem, the autumn gale was sweeping fresh heaps
of withered leaves to add to the piles towering like walls around the
deserted building, the height was constantly growing colder and more
dreary, the drawing-rooms below were continually growing warmer, the
Palace Wildenau, with its Persian hangings and rugs and cosy nooks
behind gay screens daily became more thronged with guests. People drew
their chairs nearer and nearer the blazing fire on the hearth, which
cast a rosy light upon pallid faces and made weary eyes sparkle with a
simulated glow of passion. The intimate friends of the Countess
Wildenau, reclining in comfortable armchairs, were gathered in a group,
the gentlemen resting after the fatigues of hunting--or the autumn
man[oe]uvres, the ladies after the first receptions and balls of the
season, which are the more exhausting before habit again asserts its
sway, to say nothing of the question of toilettes, always so trying to
the nerves at these early balls.

What is to be done at such times? It is certainly depressing to
commence the season with last year's clothes, and one cannot get new
ones because nobody knows what styles the winter will bring? Parisian
novelties have not come. So one must wear an unassuming toilette of no
special style in which one feels uncomfortable and casts aside
afterwards, because one receives from Paris something entirely
different from what was expected!

So the ladies chatted and Countess Wildenau entered eagerly into the
discussion. She understood and sympathized with these woes, though now,
as the ladies said, she really could not "chime in" since she had a
store of valuable Oriental stuffs and embroideries, which would supply
a store of "exclusive" toilettes for years. Only people of inferior
position were compelled to follow the fashions--great ladies set them
and the costliness of the material prevented the garments from
appearing too fantastic. A Countess Wildenau could allow herself such
bizarre costumes. She had a right to set the fashions and people would
gladly follow her if they could, but two requirements were lacking, on
one side the taste--on the other the purse. The Countess charmingly
waived her friends' envious compliments; but her thoughts were not on
the theme they were discussing; her eyes wandered to a crayon picture
hanging beside the mantel-piece, the picture of a boy who had the
marvellous beauty of one of Raphael's cherubs.

"What child is that?" asked one of the ladies who had followed her
glance.

"Don't you recognize it?" replied the Countess with a dreamy smile. "It
is the Christ in the picture of the Sistine Madonna."

"Why, how very strange--if you had a son one might have thought it was
his portrait, it resembles you so much."

"Do you notice it?" the Countess answered. "Yes, that was the opinion
of the artist who copied the picture; he gave it to me as a surprise."
She rose and took another little picture from the wall. "Look, this is
a portrait of me when I was three years old--there really is some
resemblance."

The ladies all assented, and the gentlemen, delighted to have an
opportunity to interrupt the discussion of the fashions, came forward
and noticed with astonishment the striking likeness between the girl
and the boy.

"It is really the Christ child in the Sistine Madonna--very exquisitely
painted!" said the prince.

"By the way, Cousin," cried a sharp, high voice, over Prince Emil's
shoulder, a voice issuing from a pair of very thin lips shaded by a
reddish moustache, "do you know that you have the very model of this
picture on your own estates?"

The Countess, with a strangely abrupt, nervous movement, pushed the
copy aside and hastily turned to replace her own portrait on the wall.
The gentlemen tried to aid her, but she rejected all help, though she
was not very skillful in her task, and consequently was compelled to
keep her back turned to the group a long time.

"It is possible--I cannot remember," she replied, while still in this
position. "I cannot know the children of all my tenants."

"Yes," the jarring voice persisted, "it is a boy who is roaming about
near your little hunting-castle."

Madeleine von Wildenau grew ghastly pale.

"Apropos of that hunting box," the gentleman added--he was one of the
disinherited Wildenaus--"you might let me have it, Cousin. I'll confess
that I've recently been looking up the old rat's nest. Schlierheim will
lease his preserves beyond the government forests, but only as far as
your boundaries, and there is no house. My brother and I would hire
them if we could have the old Wildenau hunting-box. We are ready to pay
you the largest sum the thing is worth. You know it formerly belonged
to our branch of the family, and your husband obtained it only forty
years ago. At that time it was valueless to us, but now we should like
to buy it again."

The Countess shivered and ordered more wood to be piled on the fire.
She had unconsciously drawn nearer to Prince Emily as if seeking his
protection. Her shoulder touched his. She was startlingly pale.

"The recollection of her husband always affects her in this way," the
prince remarked.

"Well, we will discuss the matter some other time, _belle cousine_!"
said Herr Wildenau, sipping a glass of Chartreuse which the servant
offered.

Prince Emil's watchful gaze followed the little scene with the closest
attention.

"Did you not intend to have the little castle put in order for your
father's residence, as the city air does not agree with him in his
present condition?" he said, with marked emphasis.

"Yes, certainly--I--we were speaking of it a short time ago," stammered
the Countess. "Besides, I am fond of the little castle. I should not
wish to sell it."

"Ah, you are _fond_ of it. Pardon me--that is difficult to understand!
I thought you set no value upon it--the whole place is so neglected."

"That is exactly what pleases me--I like to have it so," replied the
Countess in an irritated tone. "It does not need to have everything in
perfect order. It is a genuine forest idyl!"

"A forest idyl?" repeated the cousin. "H'm, Ah, yes! That's a different
matter. Pardon me. Had I known it, I would not have alluded to the
subject!" His keen gray eyes glittered with a peculiar light as he
kissed her hand and took his leave.

The others thought they must now withdraw also, and the Countess
detained no one--she was evidently very weary.

The prince also took leave--for the sake of etiquette--but he
whispered, with an expression of friendly anxiety, "I will come back
soon." And he kept his promise.

An hour had passed. Madeleine von Wildenau, her face still colorless,
was reclining on a divan in a simple home costume.

Prince Emil's first glance sought the little table on which stood the
crayon picture of the infant Christ--it had vanished.

The Countess followed his look and saw that he missed it--their eyes
met. The prince took a chair and sat down by her side, as if she were
an invalid who had just sustained a severe operation and required the
utmost care. He himself was very pale. Gently arranging the pillows
behind her, he gazed sympathizingly into her face.

"Why did you not tell me this before?" he murmured, almost inaudibly,
after a pause. "All this should have been very differently managed!"

"Prince, how could I suppose that you were so generous--so noble"--she
could not finish the sentence, her eyes fell, the beautiful woman's
face crimsoned with shame.

He gazed earnestly at her, feeling at this moment the first great
sorrow of his life, but also perceiving that he could not judge the
exquisite creature who lay before him like a statue of the Magdalene
carved by the most finished artist--because he could not help loving
her in her sweet embarrassment more tenderly than ever.

"Madeleine," he said, softly, and his breath fanned her brow like a
cooling breeze, "will you trust me? It will be easier for you."

She clasped his hand in her slender, transparent fingers, raising her
eyes beseechingly to his with a look of the sweetest feminine weakness,
like a young girl or an innocent child who is atoning for some trivial
sin. "Let me keep my secret," she pleaded, with such touching
embarrassment that it almost robbed the prince of his calmness.

"Very well," he said, controlling himself with difficulty. "I will ask
no farther questions and will not strive to penetrate your secret. But
if you ever need a friend--and I fear that may happen--pray commit no
farther imprudences, and remember that, in me, you possess one who adds
to a warm heart a sufficiently cool head to be able to act for you as
this difficult situation requires! Farewell, _chère amie_! Secure a
complete rest."

Without waiting for an answer, like the experienced physician, who
merely prescribes for his patients without conversing with them about
the matter, he disappeared.

The countess was ashamed--fairly oppressed by the generosity of his
character. Would it have been better had she told him the truth?

Should she tell him that she was married? Married! Was she wedded?
Could she be called a wife? She had played a farce with herself and
Freyer, a farce in which, from her standpoint, she could not believe
herself.

On their flight from Ammergau they had hastened to Prankenberg,
surprised the old pastor in his room, and with Josepha and a coachman
who had grown gray in the service of the Wildenau family for witnesses,
declared in the presence of the priest that they took each other for
husband and wife.

The old gentleman, in his surprise and perplexity, knew not what course
to pursue. The countess appealed to the rite of the Tridentine Council,
according to which she and Freyer, after this declaration, were man and
wife, even without a wedding ceremony or permission to marry in another
diocese. Then the loyal pastor, who had grown gray in the service of
the Prankenbergs, as well as of his church, could do nothing except
acknowledge the fact, declare the marriage valid, and give them the
marriage certificate.

So at the breakfast-table, over the priest's smoking coffee, the bond
had been formed which the good pastor was afterwards to enter in the
church register as a marriage. But even this outward proof of the
marriage between the widowed Countess Wildenau and the Ammergau
wood-carver Freyer was removed, for the countess had been right in
distrusting her father and believing that his advice concerning the
secret marriage was but a stratagem of war to deter her from taking any
public step.

On returning from the priest's, her carriage dashed by Prince von
Prankenberg's.

Ten minutes after the prince rushed like a tempest into the room of the
peaceful old pastor, and succeeded in preventing the entry of the
"scandal," as he called it, in the church register. So the proofs of
the fact were limited to the marriage certificate in the husband's
hands and the two witnesses, Josepha and Martin, the coachman--a chain,
it is true, which bound Madeleine von Wildenau, yet which was always in
her power.

What was this marriage? How would a man like the prince regard it?
Would it not wear a totally different aspect in the eyes of the sceptic
and experienced man of the world than in those of the simple-hearted
peasant who believed that everything which glittered was gold? Was such
a marriage, which permitted the exercise of none of the rights and
duties which elevate it into a moral institution, better than an
illegal relation? Nay, rather worse, for it perpetrated a robbery of
God--it was an illegal relation which had stolen a sacred name!

But--what did this mean? To-day, for the first time, she felt as if
fate might give the matter the moral importance which she did not
willingly accord it--as if the Deity whose name she had abused might
take her at her word and compel her to turn jest into earnest.

Her better nature frankly confessed that this would be only moral
justice! To this great truth she bowed her head as the full ears bend
before the approaching hail storm.

Spite of the chill autumn evening, there was an incomprehensible
sultriness in the air of the room.

Something in the brief conversation with Herr Wildenau and especially
in the manner in which the prince, with his keen penetration,
understood the episode, startled the Countess and aroused her fears.

Why had Herr Wildenau gone to the little hunting-box? How had he seen
the child?

Yet how could she herself have been so imprudent as to display the
picture? And still--it was the infant Christ of Raphael. Could she not
even have one of Raphael's heads in her drawing-room without danger
that some one would discover a suspicious resemblance!

She sprang from the cushions indignantly, drawing herself up to her
full height. Who was she? What did she dread?

"Anything but cowardice, Madeleine," she cried out to herself. "Woe
betide you, if your resolution fails, you are lost! If you do not look
the brute gossip steadily in the eye, if so much as an eye-lash
quivers, it will rend you. Do not be cowardly, Madeleine, have no
scruples, they will betray you, will make your glance timid, your
bearing uncertain, send a flush to your brow at every chance word.
But"--she sank back among her cushions--"but unfortunately this very
day the misfortune has happened, all these people may go away and say
that they saw the Countess Wildenau blush and grow confused--and
why?--Because a child was mentioned--"

She shuddered and cowered--a moan of pain escaped her lips!

"Yet you exist, my child--I cannot put you out of the world--and no
mother ever had such a son. And I, instead of being permitted to be
proud of you, must feel ashamed.

"Oh, God, thou gavest me every blessing: the man I loved, a beautiful
child--all earthly power and splendor--yet no contentment, no
happiness! What do I lack?" She sat a long time absorbed in gloomy
thought, then suddenly the cause became clear. She lacked the moral
balance of service and counter-service.

That was the reason all her happiness was but theft, and she was
forced, like a thief, to enjoy it in fear and secrecy. Her maternal
happiness was theft--for Josepha, the stranger, filled a mother's place
to the boy, and when she herself pressed him to her heart she was
stealing a love she had not earned. Her conjugal happiness was a theft,
for so long as she retained her fortune, she was not permitted to
marry! That was the curse! Wherever she looked, wherever she saw
herself, she was always the recipient, the petitioner--and what did she
bestow in return? Where did she make any sacrifice? Nothing--and
nowhere! Egotism was apparent in everything. To enjoy all--possess all,
even what was forbidden and sacrifice nothing, must finally render her
a thief--in her own eyes, in those of God, and who knows, perhaps also
in those of men, should her secret ever be discovered!

"Woe betide you, unhappy woman--have you not the strength to resign one
for the other? Would you rather live in fear of the betrayer than
voluntarily relinquish your stolen goods? Then do not think yourself
noble or lofty--do not deem yourself worthy of the grace for which you
long!"

She hid her face in the cushions of the divan, fairly quivering under
the burden of her self-accusation.

"I beg your pardon, your Highness, I only wanted to ask what evening
toilette you desired."

Madeleine von Wildenau started up. "If you would only cease this
stealing about on tip-toe!" she angrily exclaimed. "I beg pardon, I
knocked twice and thought I did not hear your 'come in.'"

"Walk so that you can be heard--I don't like to have my servants glide
about like spies, remember that!"

"At Princess Hohenstein's we were all obliged to wear felt slippers.
Her Highness could not endure any noise."

"Well I have better nerves than Princess Hohenstein."--

"And apparently a worse conscience," muttered the maid, who had not
failed to notice her mistress' confusion.

"May I ask once more about the evening toilette?"

"Street costume--I shall not go to the theatre, I will drive out to the
estates. Order Martin to have the carriage ready."

The maid withdrew.

The countess felt as if she were in a fever--must that inquisitive maid
see her in such a condition? It seemed as though she was surrounded
like a hunted animal, as though eyes were everywhere watching her.

There was something in the woman's look which had irritated her. Oh,
God, had matters gone so far--must she fear the glance of her own maid?

Up and away to nature and her child, to her poor neglected husband on
the cliff.

Her heart grew heavy at the thought that the time since she had last
visited the deserted man could soon be counted by months.

Her _interest_ in the simple-hearted son of nature was beginning to
wane, she could not deny it. Woe betide her if _love_ should also grow
cold; if that should happen, then--she realized it with horror--she
would have no excuse for the whole sensuous--supersensuous episode,
which had perilled both her honor and her existence!



                              CHAPTER XIX.

                        AT THE CHILD'S BEDSIDE.


The stars were already twinkling above the Griess, here and there one
looked as if impaled on a giant flagstaff, as they sparkled just above
the tops of the lofty firs or the sharp pinnacles of the crags.
Countless shooting stars glided hither and thither like loving glances
seeking one another.

The night was breathing in long regular inhalations. Every five minutes
her sleeping breath rustled the tree-tops.

Four horses drawing a small calash whose wheels were covered with
rubber glided across the Griess as noiselessly as a spectral equipage.
The animals knew the way, and their fiery spirit urged them forward
without the aid of shout or lash, though the mountain grew steeper and
steeper till the black walls of the hunting seat at last became visible
in the glimmering star-light.

Josepha was standing at the window of the little sitting-room upstairs:

"I think the countess is coming." At a table, by the lamp, bending over
a book, sat "the _steward_."

He evidently had not heard the words, for he did not look up from the
volume and it seemed as if the gloomy shadow above his eyes grew darker
still.

"Joseph, the countess is coming!" cried Josepha in a louder tone.

"You are deceiving yourself again, as usual," he replied in the
wonderful voice which gave special importance to the simplest words, as
when a large, musical bell is rung for some trivial cause.

"No, this time it really is she," Josepha insisted.

"I don't believe it."

Josepha shook her head. "You must receive her."

"She is not coming on my account, it is only to see the child."

"Then _I_ will go. Oh, Heaven, what a life!" sighed Josepha, going out
upon the green moss-covered steps of the half ruined stone stairs where
the carriage had just stopped.

"Is that you, Josepha?" asked the countess, in a disappointed tone,
"where--where is Freyer?"

"He is within, your Highness, he would not believe that your Highness
was really coming!"

The countess understood the bitter meaning of the words.

"I did not come to endure ill-temper!" she murmured. "Is the boy
asleep?"

"Yes, we have taken him into the sitting-room, he is coughing again and
his head is burning, so I wanted to have him in a warmer room."

"Isn't it warm here?"

"Since the funnel fell out, we cannot heat these rooms; Freyer tried to
fit it in, but it smokes constantly. I wrote to your Highness last
month asking what should be done. Freyer, too, reported a fortnight ago
that the stove ought to be repaired, and the child moved to other
apartments before the cold weather set in if Your Highness approved,
but--we have had no answer. Now the little boy is ill--it is beginning
to be very cold."

Madeleine von Waldenau bit her lips. Yes, it was true, the letters had
been written--and in the whirl of society and visits she had forgotten
them.

Now the child was ill--through her fault. She entered the sitting-room.
Freyer stood waiting for her in a half defiant, half submissive
attitude--half master, half servant.

The bearing was unlovely, like everything that comes from a false
position. It displeased the countess and injured Freyer, though she had
herself placed him in this situation. It made him appear awkward and
clownish.

When, with careless hand, we have damaged a work of art and perceive
that instead of improving we have marred it, we do not blame ourselves,
but the botched object, and the innocent object must suffer because we
have spoiled our own pleasure in it. It is the same with the work of
art of creation--a human being.

There are some natures which can never leave things undisturbed, but
seek to gain a creative share in everything by attempts at shaping and
when convinced that it would have been better had they left the work
untouched, they see in the imperfect essay, not their own want of
skill, but the inflexibility of the material, pronounce it not worth
the labor bestowed--and cast it aside.

The countess had one of these natures, so unconsciously cruel in their
artistic experiments, and her marred object was--Freyer.

Therefore his bearing did not, could not please her, and she allowed a
glance of annoyance to rest upon him, which did not escape his notice.
Passing him, she went to their son's bed.

There lay the "infant Christ," a boy six or seven years old with silken
curls and massive brows, beneath whose shadow the closed eyes were
concealed by dark-lashed lids. A single ray from the hanging lamp fell
upon the forehead of the little Raphael, and showed the soft brows knit
as if with unconscious pain.

The child was not happy--or not well--or both. He breathed heavily in
his sleep, and there was a slight nervous twitching about the
delicately moulded nostrils.

"He has evidently lost flesh since I was last here!" said the countess
anxiously.

Freyer remained silent.

"What do you think?" asked the mother.

"What can I think? You have not seen the boy for so _long_ that you can
judge whether he has altered far better than I."

"Joseph!" The beautiful woman drew herself up, and a look of genuine
sorrow rested upon the pale, irritated countenance of her husband.
"Whenever I come, I find nothing save bitterness and cutting
words--open and secret reproaches. This is too much. Not even to-day,
when I find my child ill, do you spare the mother's anxious heart. This
is more than I can endure, it is ignoble, unchivalrous."

"Pardon me," replied her husband in a low tone, "I could not suppose
that a mother who deserts her child for months could possibly possess
so tender a nature that she would instantly grow anxious over a slight
illness or a change in his appearance. I am a plain man, and cannot
understand such contradictions!"

"Yes, from your standpoint you are right--in your eyes I must seem a
monster of heartlessness. I almost do in my own. Yet, precisely because
the reproach appears merited it cuts me so deeply, that is why it would
be generous and noble to spare me! Oh! Freyer, what has become of the
great divine love which once forgave my every fault?"

"It is where you have banished it, buried in the depths of my heart, as
I am buried among these lonely mountains, silent and forgotten."

The countess, shaking her head, gazed earnestly at him. "Joseph, you
see that I am suffering. You must see that it would be a solace to rest
in your love, and you are ungenerous enough to humble my bowed head
still more."

"I have no wish to humble you. But we can be generous only to those who
need it. I see in the haughty Countess Wildenau a person who can
exercise generosity, but not require it."

"Because you do not look into the depths of my heart, tortured with
agonies of unrest and self-accusation?" As she spoke tears sprang to
her eyes, and she involuntarily thought of the faithful, shrewd friend
at home whose delicate power of perception had that very day spared her
the utterance of a single word, and at one glance perceived all the
helplessness of her situation.

True, the _latter_ was a man of the world whom the tinsel and glitter
which surrounded her no longer had power to dazzle, and who was
therefore aware how poor and wretched one can be in the midst of
external magnificence.

The _former_--a man of humble birth, with the childish idea of the
value of material things current among the common people, could not
imagine that a person might be surrounded by splendor and luxury, play
a brilliant part in society, and yet be unhappy and need consideration.

But, however, she might apologize for him, the very excuses lowered him
still more in her eyes! Each of these conflicts seemed to widen the
gulf between them instead of bridging it.

Such scenes, which always reminded her afresh of his lowly origin, did
him more injury in her eyes than either of them suspected at the
moment. They were not mere ebullitions of anger, which yielded to
equally sudden reactions--they were not phases of passion, but the
result of cool deliberation from the standpoint of the educated woman,
which ended in hopeless disappointment.

The continual refrain: "You do not understand me!" with which the
countess closed such discussions expressed the utter hopelessness of
their mutual relations.

"You wonder that I come so rarely!" she said bitterly. "And yet it is
you alone who are to blame--nay, you have even kept me from the bedside
of my child."

"Indeed?" Freyer with difficulty suppressed his rising wrath. "This,
too!"

"Yes, how can you expect me to come gladly, when I always encounter
scenes like these? How often, when I could at last escape from the
thousand demands of society, and hurried hither with a soul thirsting
for love, have you repulsed me with your perpetual reproaches which you
make only because you have no idea of my relations and the claims of
the fashionable world. So, at last, when I longed to come here to my
husband and my child, dread of the unpleasant scenes which shadow your
image, held me back, and I preferred to conjure before me at home the
Freyer whom I once loved and always should love, if you did not
yourself destroy the noble image. With _that_ Freyer I have sweet
intercourse by my lonely fireside--with _him_ I obtain comfort and
peace, if I avoid _this_ Freyer with his petty sensitiveness, his
constant readiness to take umbrage." A mournful smile illumined her
face as she approached him; "You see that when I think of the Freyer of
whom I have just spoken--the Freyer of my imagination--my heart
overflows and my eyes grow dim! Do you no longer know that Freyer? Can
you not tell me where I shall find him again if I seek him very, _very_
earnestly?"

Freyer opened his arms and pointed to his heart: "Here, here, you can
find him, if you desire--come, my beloved, loved beyond all things
earthly, come to the heart which is only sick and sensitive from
longing for you."

In blissful forgetfulness she threw herself upon his breast, completely
overwhelmed by another wave of the old illusion, losing herself
entirely in his ardent embrace.

"Oh, my dear wife!" he murmured in her ear, "I know that I am irritable
and unjust! But you do not suspect the torment to which you condemn me.
Banished from your presence, far from my home, torn from my native
soil, and not yet rooted in yours. What life is this? My untrained
reason is not capable of creating a philosophy which could solve this
mystery. Why must these things be? I am married, yet not married. I am
your husband, yet you are not my wife. I have committed no crime, yet
am a prisoner, am not a dishonored man--yet am a despised one who must
conceal himself in order not to bring shame upon his wife!

"So the years passed and life flits by!" You come often, but--I might
almost say only to make me taste once more the joys of the heaven from
which I am banished.

"Ah, it is more cruel than all the tortures of bell, for the condemned
souls are not occasionally transferred to Heaven only to be again
thrust forth and suffer a thousandfold. Even the avenging God is not so
pitiless."

The countess, overwhelmed by this heavy charge, let her head sink upon
her husband's breast.

"See, my wife," he continued in a gentle, subdued tone, whose magic
filled her heart with that mournful pleasure with which we listen to a
beautiful dirge even beside the corpse of the object of our dearest
love. "In your circles people probably have sufficient self-control to
suppress a great sorrow. I know that I only weary and annoy you by my
constant complaints, and that you will at last prefer to avoid me
entirely rather than expose yourself to them!

"I know this--yet I cannot do otherwise. I was not trained to
dissimulation--self-control, as you call it--I cannot laugh when my
heart is bleeding or utter sweet words when my soul is full of
bitterness. I do not understand what compulsion could prevent you, a
free, rich woman, from coming to the husband whom you love, and I
cannot believe that you could not come if you longed to do so--that is
why I so often doubt your love.

"What should you love in me? I warned you that I cannot always move
about with the crown of thorns and sceptre of reeds as Ecce Homo, and
you now perceive that you were deceived in me, that I am only a poor,
ordinary man, your inferior in education and intellect! And so long as
I am not a real Ecce Homo--though that perhaps might happen--so long I
am not what you need. But however poor and insignificant I may be--I am
not without honor--and when I think that you only come occasionally,
out of compassion, to bring the beggar the crumbs which your fine
gentlemen have left me--then, I will speak frankly--then my pride
rebels and I would rather starve than accept alms."

"And therefore you thrust back the loving wife when, with an
overflowing heart, she stole away from the glittering circles of
society to hasten to your side, therefore you were cold and stern,
disdaining what the others _sought in vain_!--For, however distant you
may be, there has not been an hour of my life which you might not have
witnessed--however free and independent of you I may stand, there is
not a fibre in my heart which does not cling to you! Ah, if you could
only understand this deep, sacred tie which binds the freest spirit to
the husband, the father of my child. If I had wings to soar over every
land and sea--I should ever be drawn back to you and would return as
surely as 'the bird bound by the silken cord.' No one can part me from
you except _you yourself_. That you are not my equal in education, as
you assert, does not sever us, but inferiority of _character_ would do
so, for nothing but _greatness_ attracts me--to find you base would be
the death-knell of our love! Even the child would no longer be a bond
between us, for to intellectual natures like mine the ties of blood are
mere animal instincts, unless pervaded and transfigured by a loftier
idea. The greatest peril which threatens our love is that your narrow
views prevent your attaining the standpoint from which a woman like
myself must be judged. I have great faults which need great indulgence
and a superiority which is not alarmed by them. Unfortunately, my
friend, you lack both. I have a great love for you--but you measure it
by the contracted scales of your humdrum morality, and before this it
vanishes because its dimensions far transcend it.--Where, where, my
friend, is the grandeur, the freedom of the soul which I need?"

"Alas, your words are but too true," said Freyer, releasing her from
his embrace. "Every word is a death sentence. You ask a grandeur which
I do not possess and shall never obtain. I grew up in commonplace
ideas, I have never seen any other life than that in which the husband
and wife belonged together, the father and mother reared, tended, and
watched their children together, and love in this close, tender
companionship reached its highest goal. This idea of quiet domestic
happiness embodied to me all the earthly bliss allotted by God to
Christian husbands and wives. Of a love which is merely incidental,
something in common with all the other interests of life, and which
when it comes in conflict with them, must move aside and wait till it
is permitted to assert itself again, of such a love I had no
conception--at least, not in marriage! True, we know that in the dawn
of love it is kept secret as something which must be hidden. But this
is a state of restless torture, which we strive to end as soon as
possible by a marriage. That such a condition of affairs would be
possible in marriage would never have entered my mind, and say what you
will, a--marriage like ours is little better than an illegal relation."

The countess started--she had had the same thought that very day.

"And I "--Freyer inexorably continued--"am little more than your lover!
If you choose to be faithful to me, I shall be grateful, but do not ask
the 'grandeur' as you call it, of my believing it. Whoever regards
conjugal duties so lightly--whoever, like you, feels bound by no law
'which was only made for poor, ordinary people' will keep faith
only--so long as it is agreeable to do so."

The countess, gazing into vacancy, vainly strove to find a reply.

"This seems very narrow, very ridiculous from your lofty standpoint.
You see I shall always be rustic. It is a misfortune for you that
 you came to me. Why did you not remain in your own aristocratic
circle--gentlemen of noble birth would have understood you far better
than a poor, plain man like me. I tell myself so daily--it is the worm
which gnaws at my life. Now you have the 'greatness' you desire, the
only 'greatness' I can offer--that of the perception of our misery."

Madeleine nodded hopelessly. "Yes, we are in an evil strait. I despair
more and more of restoring peace between us--for it would be possible
only in case I could succeed in making you comprehend the necessity of
the present certainly unnatural form of our marriage. Yet you cannot
and will not see that a woman like me cannot live in poverty, that
wealth, though it does not render me happy, is nevertheless
indispensable, not on account of the money, but because with it honor,
power, and distinction would be lost. You know that this would follow
an acknowledgement of our marriage, and I would die rather than resign
them. I was born to a station too lofty to be content in an humble
sphere. Do you expect the eagle to descend to a linnet's nest and dwell
there? It would die, for it can breathe only in the regions for which
it was created."

"But the eagle should never have stooped to the linnet," said Freyer,
gloomily.

"I believed that I should find in you a consort, aspiring enough to
follow me to my heights, for the wings of your genius rustled with
mighty strokes above me when you hung upon the cross. Oh, can one who,
like you, has reached the height of the cross, sink to the Philistine
narrowness of the ideas of the lower classes and thrust aside the
foaming elixir of love, because it is not proffered in the usual wooden
bowl of the daily performance of commonplace duties? It is incredible,
but true. And lastly you threaten that I shall make you an Ecce Homo!
If you were, it would be no fault of mine but because, even in daily
life, you could not cease to play the Christ."

The countess had spoken with cutting sharpness and bitterness; it
seemed as if the knife she turned against the man she loved must be
piercing her own heart.

Freyer's breath came heavily, but no sound betrayed the anguish of the
wound he had received. But the child, as if feeling, even in its sleep,
that its mother was about to sunder, with a fatal blow, the chord of
life uniting her to the father and itself, quivered in pain and flung
its little hands into the air, as though to protect the mysterious bond
whose filaments ran through its heart also.

"See, the child feels our strife and suffers from it!" said Freyer, and
the unutterable pain in the words swept away all hardness, all
defiance. The mother, with tearful eyes, sank down beside the bed of
the suffering child--languishing under the discord between her and its
father like a tender blossom beneath the warfare of the elements. "My
child!" she said in a choking voice, "how thin your little hands have
grown! What does this mean?"

She pressed the boy's transparent little hands to her lips and when she
looked up again two wonderful dark eyes were gazing at her from the
child's pale face. Yes, those were the eyes of the infant Redeemer of
the World in the picture of the Sistine Madonna, the eyes which mirror
the foreboding of the misery of a world. It was the expression of
Freyer's, but spiritualized, and as single sunbeams dance upon a dark
flood, it seemed as if golden rays from his mother's sparkling orbs had
leaped into his.

What a marvellous child! The mother's delicate beauty, blended with the
deep earnestness of the father, steeped in the loveliness and
transfiguration of Raphael. And she could wound the father of this boy
with cruel words? She could scorn the wonderful soul of Freyer, which
gazed at her in mute reproach from the eyes of the child, because the
woe of the Redeemer had impressed upon it indelible traces; disdain it
beside the bed of this boy, this pledge of a love whose supernatural
power transformed the man into a god, to rest for a moment in a divine
embrace? "Mother!" murmured the boy softly, as if in a waking dream;
but Madeleine von Wildenau felt with rapture that he meant _her_, not
Josepha. Then he closed his eyes again and slept on.

Kneeling at the son's bedside, she held out her hand to the father; it
seemed as if a trembling ray of light entered her soul, reflected from
the moment when he had formerly approached her in all the radiance of
his power and beauty.

"And _we_ should not love each other?" she said, while binning tears
flowed down her cheeks. Freyer drew her from, the child's couch,
clasping her in a close embrace. "My dove!" He could say no more, grief
and love stifled his voice.

She threw her arms around his neck, as she had done when she made her
penitent confession with such irresistible grace that he would have
pardoned every mortal sin. "Forgive me, Joseph," she said softly, in
order not to wake the boy who, even in sleep, turned his little head
toward his parents, as a flower sways toward the sun. "I am a poor,
weak woman; I myself suffer unutterably under the separation from you
and the child; if you knew how I often feel--a rock would pity me! It
is a miserable condition--nothing is mine, neither you, my son, nor my
wealth, unless I sacrifice one for the other, and that I cannot resolve
to do. Ah, have compassion, on my weakness. It is woman's way to bear
the most unendurable condition rather than form an energetic resolve
which might change it. I know that the right course would be for me to
find courage to renounce the world and say: 'I am married, I will
resign, as my husband's will requires, the Wildenau fortune; I will
retire from the stage as a beggar--I will starve and work for my daily
bread.' I often think how beautiful and noble this would be, and that
perhaps we might be happy so--happier than we are now--if it were only
_done_! But when I seriously face the thought, I feel that I cannot do
it."

"Yet you told me in Ammergau," cried Freyer, "that it was only on your
father's account that you could not acknowledge the marriage. Your
father is now a paralytic, half-foolish old man, who cannot live long,
then this reason will be removed."

"Yes, when we married it _was_ he who prevented me from announcing it;
I wished to do so, and it would have been easy. But if I state the fact
now, after having been secretly married eight years, during which I
have illegally retained the property, I shall stamp myself a cheat.
Take me to the summit of the Kofel and bid me leap down its thousand
feet of cliff--I cannot, were it to purchase my eternal salvation. Hurl
me down--I care not--but do not expect me voluntarily to take the
plunge, it is impossible. Unless God sends an angel to bear me over the
chasm on its wings, all pleading will be futile."

She pressed her cheek, burning with the fever of fear, tenderly against
his: "Have pity on my weakness, forgive me! Ah, I know I am always
talking about greatness--yet with me it exists only in the imagination.
I am too base to be capable of what is really noble."

"You see me now, as God Himself beholds me. He will judge me--but it is
the privilege of marital love to forgive. Will you not use this sweet
right? Perhaps God will show me some expedient. Perhaps I shall succeed
in making an agreement with the relatives or gaining the aid of the
king, but for all this I must live in the world--in order to secure
influence and scope for my plans. Will you have patience and
forbearance with me till there is a change?"

"That will never be, any more than during the past eight years.
But I will bear with you, poor wife; in spite of _everything_ I
will trust your love, I will try to repress my discontent when you
come and gratefully accept what you bestow, without remonstrance or
fault-finding. I will bear it as long as I can. Perhaps--it will wear
me out, then we shall both be released. I would have removed myself
from the world long ago--but that would be a sin, and would not have
benefited you. Your heart is too kind not to be wounded and the
suicide's bloody shade would not have permitted you to enjoy your
liberty."

"Oh, Heaven, what are you saying! My poor husband, is that your
condition?" cried the countess, deeply stirred by the tragedy of these
calmly uttered words. She shuddered at this glimpse of the dark depths
of his fathomless soul and what, in her opinion, he might lack in
broadness of view was now supplied by the extent of his suffering; at
this moment he again interested her. Throwing herself on his breast,
she overwhelmed him with caresses. She sought to console him, make him
forget the bitterness of his grief by the magic potion of her love. She
herself did not know that even now--carried away by a genuine emotion
of compassion--she was yielding to the demoniac charm of trying upon
his pain the power of her coquetry, which she had long since tested
sufficiently upon _human beings_. But where she would undoubtedly have
succeeded with men of cultivation, she failed with this child of
nature, who instinctively felt that this sweet display of tenderness
was not meant for him but was called forth by the struggle against a
hostile element which she desired to bribe or conquer. His grief
remained unchanged; it was too deeply rooted to be dispelled by the
love-raptures of a moment. Yet the poor husband, languishing for the
wife so ardently beloved, took the poisoned draught she offered, as the
thirsting traveller in the desert puts his burning lips to the tainted
pool whence he knows he is drinking death.



                              CHAPTER XX.

                               CONFLICTS.


It was morning! The lamp had almost burned out! Josepha and the
countess were busied with the boy, whose sleep was disturbed by a
short, dry cough. The mother had remained at the little castle all
night and rested only a few hours. When with the little one there were
times when her maternal affection was roused. Then she was seized with
dread lest God should recall a precious gift because she had not known
its value. It would be only just, she was aware of that--and because of
its justice it seemed probable, and her heart strove to make amends in
a few hours for the neglect of years. Perhaps thereby she might escape
the punishment. But when she had gone, the little pale star in her
horizon receded into the background before the motley phenomena of the
world in which she lived, and only in isolated moments did she realize,
by a dull pain, that feelings were slumbering within her soul which
could not be developed--like a treasure which lies concealed in a spot
whence it cannot be raised. It was akin to the parable of the servant
who did not put out his talent at interest. This talent which God
entrusted to men is _love_. A lofty noble sentiment which we suppress
is the buried treasure which God will require of us, when the period
for which He loaned it has expired. There were hours when the unhappy
woman realized this. Then she accused everything--the world and
herself! And the poor little child felt in his precocious soul the
grief of the "beautiful lady," in whom he presciently loved his mother
without knowing that it was she. Ordinary children, like animals, love
best those who provide for their physical wants and therefore
frequently cling more fondly to the nurse than to the mother. Not so
this boy. He was almost ungrateful to Josepha, who nursed him the more
faithfully, the more he was neglected by the countess.

Josepha was passionately attached to the boy. All the sorrowful love
which she had kept in her desolate heart for her own dead son was
transferred from the first hour to this delicate, motherless creature.
It reminded her so much of her own poor child: the marked family
likeness between him and Freyer--the mystery with which he must be
surrounded. A mother who was ashamed of him, like Josepha at the
time--it seemed as though her own dead child had returned to life. And
besides she passed for his mother.

The boy was born while the countess was travelling in the East, and it
was an easy matter to arrange with the authorities. The countess, while
in Jerusalem, took the name of Josepha Freyer--Josepha that of Countess
Wildenau, and the child was baptized under the name of Freyer. It was
entered in the register as an illegitimate child, and Josepha bore the
disgrace and returned to Germany as the boy's mother.

What was lacking to complete Josepha's illusion that the child was
hers, and that she might love it as a mother? Nothing, save the return
of her affection. And this was a source of bitter pain. She might give
and do what she would, devote her days and nights to him, sacrifice her
already failing health--nothing availed. When after weeks and months of
absence the "beautiful lady," as he called her, came, his melancholy
eyes brightened and he seemed to glow with new life as he stretched
out his little arms to her with a look that appeared to say: "Had
you not come soon, I should have died!" Josepha no longer existed
for him, and even his father, whom he usually loved tenderly as his
god-father--"Goth," as the people in that locality call it--was
forgotten. This vexed Josepha beyond endurance. She performed a
mother's duties in all their weariness, her heart cherished a mother's
love with all its griefs and cares and, when that other woman came, who
deserved nothing, did nothing, had neither a mother's heart nor a
mother's rights--she took the child away and Josepha had naught save
the trouble and the shame! The former enjoyed hurriedly, lightly,
carelessly, the joys which alone could have repaid Josepha's
sacrifices, the child's sweet smiles, tender caresses, and coaxing
ways, for which she would have given her life. She ground her sharp
white teeth and a secret jealousy, bordering on hatred, took root in
her embittered mind. What could she esteem in this woman? For what
should she be grateful to her? She was kind to her--because she needed
her services--but what did she care for Josepha herself! "She might
give me less, but do her duty to her husband and child--that would suit
me better," she secretly murmured. "To have such a child and not be a
mother to him, not give him the sunshine, the warmth of maternal love
which he needs--and then come and take away from another what she would
not earn for herself."

To have such a husband, the highest blessing Josepha knew on earth--a
man to whom the whole world paid homage as if to God, a man so devout,
so good, so modest, so faithful--and desert him, conceal him in a
ruinous old castle that no one might note the disgrace of the noble
lady who had married a poor wood-carver! And then to come and snatch
the kisses from his lips as birds steal berries, when no one was
looking, he was good enough for that! And he permitted it--the proud,
stern man, whom the whole community feared and honored. It was enough
to drive one mad.

And she, Josepha, must swallow her wrath year after year--and dared not
say anything--for woe betide her if she complained of the countess! He
would allow no attack upon her--though this state of affairs was
killing him. She was forced to witness how he grieved for this woman,
see him gradually lose flesh and strength, for the wicked creature
bewitched every one, and charmed her husband and child till they were
fairly dying of love for her, while she was carrying on her shameless
flirtations with others.

Such were the terrible accusations raging in Josepha's passionate soul
against the countess, charges which effaced the memory of all she owed
her former benefactress.

"I should like to know what she would do without me" was the constant
argument of her ungrateful hatred. "She may well be kind to me--if I
chose, her wicked pranks would soon be over. She would deserve it--and
what do I care for the pay? I can look after myself, I don't need the
ill-gotten gains. But--then I should be obliged to leave the boy--he
would have no one. No, no, Josepha, hold out as long as possible--and
be silent for the child's sake."

Such were the conflicts seething in the breast of the silent dweller in
the hunting-castle, such the gulfs yawning at the unsuspicious woman's
feet.

It was the vengeance of insulted popular morality, to which she
imagined herself so far superior. This insignificant impulse in the
progress of the development of mankind, insignificant because it was
the special attribute of the humble plain people, will always conquer
in the strife against the emancipation of so-called "more highly
organized" natures, for it is the destiny of individual giants always
to succumb in the war against ordinary mortals. Here there is a great,
eternal law of the universe, which from the beginning gathered its
contingent from the humble, insignificant elements, and in so-called
"plebian morality" is rooted--Christianity. Therefore, the former
will conquer and always assert its right, even where the little
Philistine army, which gathers around its standard, defeats a far
nobler foe than itself, a foe for whom the gods themselves would mourn!
Woe betide the highly gifted individuality which unites with Philistine
elements--gives them rights over it, and believes it can still pursue
its own way--in any given case it will find pity before _God_, sooner
than before the judgment seat of this literal service, and the spears
and shafts of its yeomanry.

Something like one of these lance-thrusts pierced the countess from
Josepha's eyes, as she bent over the waking child.

Josepha tried to take the boy, but he struggled violently and would not
go to her. With sparkling, longing eyes he nestled in the arms of the
"beautiful lady." The countess drew the frail little figure close to
her heart. As she did so, she noticed the stern, resentful expression
of Josepha's dry cracked lips and the hectic flush on the somewhat
prominent cheek bones. There was something in the girl's manner which
displeased her mistress. Had it been in her power, she would have
dismissed this person, who "was constantly altering for the worse." But
she was bound to her by indissoluble fetters, nay, was dependent upon
her--and must fear her. She felt this whenever she came. Under such
impressions, every visit to the castle had gradually become a penance,
instead of a pleasure. Her husband, out of humor and full of
reproaches, the child ill, the nurse sullen and gloomy. A spoiled child
of the world, who had always had everything disagreeable removed from
her path, could not fail at last to avoid a place where she could not
breathe freely a single hour.

"Will you not get the child's breakfast, Josepha?" she said wearily,
the dark circles around her eyes bearing traces of her night vigil.

"He must be bathed first!" said Josepha, in the tone which often
wounded the countess--the tone by which nurses, to whose charge
children are left too much, instruct young mothers that, "if they take
no care of their little ones elsewhere, they have nothing to say in the
nursery."

The countess, with aristocratic self-control, struggled to maintain her
composure. Then she said quietly, though her voice sounded faint and
hoarse: "The child seems weak, I think it will be better to give him
something to eat before washing him."

"Yes," pleaded the little fellow, "I am thirsty." The words reminded
the countess of his father, as he said on the cross: "I thirst." When
these memories came, all the anguish of her once beautiful love--now
perishing so miserably--overwhelmed her. She lifted the boy--he was
light as a vapor, a vision of mist--from the bed into her lap, and
wrapped his little bare feet in the folds of her morning dress. He
pressed his little head, crowned with dark, curling locks, against her
cheek. Such moments were sweet, but outweighed by too much bitterness.

"Bring him some milk--fresh milk!" Madeleine von Wildenau repeated in the
slightly imperious tone which seems to consider opposition impossible.

"That will be entirely different from his usual custom," remarked
Josepha, as if the countess' order had seriously interfered with the
regular mode of life necessary to the child.

The mother perceived this, and a faint flush of shame and indignation
suffused her face, but instantly vanished, as if grief had consumed the
wave of blood which wrath had stirred.

"Is your mother--Josepha--kind to you?" she asked, when Josepha had
left the room.

The boy nodded carelessly.

"She does not strike you, she is gentle?"

"No, she doesn't strike me," the little fellow answered. "She loves
me."

"Do you love her, too?" the countess went on.

"Wh--y--Yes!" said the child, shrugging his shoulders. Then he looked
tenderly into her face. "I love you better."

"That is not right, Josepha is your mother--you must love her best."

The boy shook his head thoughtfully. "But I would rather have you for
my mamma."

"That cannot be--unfortunately--I must not."

The child gazed at her with an expression of sorrowful disappointment.
=At last he found an expedient. "But in Heaven--when I go to
Heaven--_you_ will be my mother there, won't you?"

The countess shuddered--an indescribable pain pierced her heart, yet
she was happy, a blissful anguish! Tears streamed from her eyes and,
clasping the child tenderly, she gently kissed him.

"Yes, my child! In Heaven--perhaps I may be your mother!"

Josepha now brought in the milk and wanted to give it to him, but the
boy would not take it from her, he insisted that the countess must hold
the bowl. She did so, but her hand trembled and Josepha was obliged to
help her, or the whole contents would have been spilled. She averted
her face.

"She cannot even give her child anything to drink," thought Josepha, as
she moved about the room, putting it in order.

"Josepha, please leave me alone a little while," said the countess,
almost beseechingly.

"Indeed?" Josepha's cheeks flushed scarlet, it seemed as if the bones
grew still more prominent. "If I am in your Highness' way--I can go at
once."

"Josepha!" said the countess, now suddenly turning toward her a face
wet with tears. "Surely I might be allowed to spend fifteen minutes
alone with my child without offending any one! I will forgive your
words--on account of your natural jealousy--and I think you already
regret them, do you not?"

"Yes," replied Josepha, somewhat reluctantly, but so conquered by the
unhappy mother's words that she pressed a hard half reluctant kiss upon
the countess' hand with her rough, parched lips. Then, with a
passionate glance at the child, she gave place to the mother whose
claim she would fain have disputed before God Himself, if she could.

But when the door had closed behind her, the countess could bear no
more. Placing the child in his little bed, she flung herself sobbing
beside it. "My child--my child, forgive me," she cried, forgetting all
prudence "--pray for me to God."

Just at that moment the door opened and Freyer entered. All that was
stirring the mother's heart instantly became clear to him, as he saw
her thus broken down beside the boy's bed.

"Calm yourself--what will the child think!" he said, bending down and
raising her.

"Don't cry, Mamma!" said the boy, stroking the soft hair on the
grief-bowed head. He did not know why he now suddenly called her
"mamma"--perhaps it was a prospect of the heaven where she would be his
mother, and he said it in advance.

"Oh, Freyer, kill me--I am worthy of nothing better--cut short the
battle of a wasted life! An animal which cannot recover is killed out
of pity, why not a human being, who feels suffering doubly?"

"Magdalena--Countess--I do not know you in this mood."

"Nor do I know myself! What am I? What is a mother who is no mother--a
wife who cannot declare herself a wife? A fish that cannot swim, a bird
that cannot fly! We kill such poor crippled creatures out of sheer
compassion. What kind of existence is mine? An egotist who nevertheless
feels the pain of those whom she renders unhappy; an aristocrat who
cannot exist outside of her own sphere and yet pines for the eternal
verity of human nature; a coquette who trifles with hearts and yet
would _die_ for a genuine feeling--these are my traits of character!
Can there be anything more contradictory, more full of wretchedness?"

"Let us go out of doors, Countess, such conversation is not fit for the
child to hear."

"Oh, he does not understand it."

"He understands more than you believe, you do not know what questions
he often asks--ah, you deprive yourself of the noblest joys by being
unable to watch the remarkable development of this child."

She nodded silently, absorbed in gazing at the boy.

"Come, Countess, the sun has risen--the cool morning air will do you
good, I will ring for Josepha to take the boy," he said quietly,
touching the bell.

The little fellow sat up in bed, his breathing was hurried and anxious,
his large eyes were fixed imploringly on the countess: "Oh, mamma--dear
mamma in Heaven--stay--don't go away."

"Ah, if only I could--my child--how gladly I would stay here always.
But I will come back again presently, I will only walk in the sunshine
for half-an-hour."

"Oh, I would like to go in the sunshine, too. Can't I go with you, and
run about a little while?"

"Not to-day, not until your cough is cured, my poor little boy! But
I'll promise to talk and think of nothing but you until I return!
Meanwhile Josepha shall wash and dress you, I don't understand
that--Josepha can do it better."

"Oh! yes, I'm good enough for that!" thought the girl, who heard the
last words just as she entered.

"My beautiful mamma has been crying, because she is a bird and can't
fly--" said the child to Josepha with sorrowful sympathy. "But you
can't fly either--nor I till we are angels--then we can!" He spread out
his little arms like wings as if he longed to soar upward and away, but
an attack of coughing made him sink back upon his pillows.

The husband and wife looked at each other with the same sorrowful
anxiety.

The countess bent over the little bed as if she would fain stifle with
kisses the cough that racked the little chest.

"Mamma, it doesn't hurt--you must not cry," said the boy, consolingly.
"There is a spider inside of my breast which tickles me--so I have to
cough. But it will spin a big, big net of silver threads like those on
the Christmas tree which will reach to Heaven, then I'll climb up on
it!"

The countess could scarcely control her emotion. Freyer drew her hand
through his arm and led her out into the dewy morning.

"You are so anxious about our secret and yet, if _I_ were not
conscientious enough to help you guard it, you would betray yourself
every moment, you are imprudent with the child, it is not for my own
interest, but yours that I warn you. Do not allow your newly awakened
maternal love to destroy your self-control in the boy's presence. Do
not let him call you 'Mamma.' Poor mother--indeed I understand how this
wounds you--but--it must be one thing or the other. If you cannot--or
_will_ not be a mother to the child--you _must_ renounce this name."

She bowed her head. "You are as cruel as ever, though you are right!
How can I maintain my self-control, when I hear such words from the
child? What a child he is! Whenever I come, I marvel at his
intellectual progress! If only it is natural, if only it is not the
omen of an early death!"

Freyer pitied her anxiety,

"It is merely because the child is reared in solitude, associating
solely with two sorrowing people, Josepha and myself; it is natural
that his young soul should develop into a graver and more thoughtful
character than other children," he said, consolingly.

They had gone out upon a dilapidated balcony, overgrown with vines and
bushes. It was a beautiful morning, but the surrounding woods and the
mouldering autumn leaves were white with hoar frost. Freyer wrapped the
shivering woman in a cloak which he had taken with him. Under the cold
breath of the bright fall morning, and her husband's cheering words,
she gradually grew calm and regained her composure.

"But something must be done with the child," she said earnestly.
"Matters cannot go on so, he looks too ethereal.--I will send him to
Italy with Josepha."

"Good Heavens, then I shall be entirely alone!" said Freyer, with
difficulty suppressing his dismay.

"Yet it must be," replied the countess firmly.

"How shall I endure it? The child was my all, my good angel--my light
in darkness! Often his little hands have cooled my brow when the flames
of madness were circling around it. Often his eyes, his features have
again revealed your image clearly when, during a long separation, it
had become blurred and distorted. While gazing at the child, the dear,
beautiful child, I felt that nothing could sever this sacred bond. The
mother of this boy could not desert her husband--for the sake of this
child she must love me! I said to myself, and learned to trust, to
hope, once more. And now I am to part from him. Oh, God!--Thy judgment
is severe. Thou didst send an angel to comfort Thy divine son on the
Mount of Olives--Thou dost take him from me! Yet not my will, but
Thine, be done!"

He bent his head sadly: "If it must be, take him."

"The child is ill, I have kept him shut up in these damp rooms too
long, he needs sunshine and milder air. If he were obliged to spend
another winter in this cold climate, it would be his death. But if it
is so hard for you to be separated from the boy--go with him. I will
hire a villa for you and Josepha somewhere on the Riviera. It will do
you good, too, to leave this nook hidden among the woods--and I cannot
shelter you here in Bavaria where every one knows you, without
betraying our relation."

Freyer gazed at her with a mournful smile: "And you think--that I would
go?" He shook his head. "No, I cannot make it so easy for you. We are
still husband and wife, I am still yours, as you are mine. And though
you so rarely come to me--if during the whole winter there was but a
single hour when you needed a heart, you must find your husband's, I
must be here!" He drew her gently to his breast. "No, my wife, it would
have been a comfort, if I could have kept the child--but if you must
take him from me, I will bear this, too, like everything which comes
from your hand, be it life or death--nothing shall part me from you,
not even love for my boy."

There was something indescribable in the expression with which he gazed
at her as he uttered the simple words, and she clung to him overwhelmed
by such unexampled fidelity, which thus sacrificed the only, the last
blessing he possessed for a _single_ hour with her.

"My husband--my kind, noble husband! The most generous heart in all the
world!" she cried, caressing him again and again as she gazed
rapturously at the beautiful face, so full of dignity: "You shall not
make the sacrifice for a single hour, your wife will come and reward
your loyalty with a thousand-fold greater love. Often--often. Perhaps
oftener than ever! For I feel that the present condition of affairs
cannot last. I must be permitted to be wife and mother--I realized
to-day at the bedside of my child that my _guilt_, too, was growing
year by year. It is time for me to atone. When I return home I will
seriously consider what can be done to make an arrangement with my
relatives! I need not confess that I am already married--I could say
that I might marry if they would pay me a sufficient sum, but I would
_not_ do so, if they refused me the means to live in a style which
befitted my rank. Then they will probably prefer to make a sacrifice
which would enable me to marry, thereby giving them the whole property,
rather than to compel me, by their avarice, to remain a widow and keep
the entire fortune. That would be a capital idea! Do you see how
inventive love is?" she said with charming coquetry, expecting his
joyful assent.

But he turned away with clouded brow--it seemed as though an icy wind
had suddenly swept over the whole sunny landscape, transforming
everything into a wintry aspect.

"Falsehood and deception everywhere--even in the most sacred things.
When I hear you speak so, my heart shrinks! So noble a woman as you to
stoop to falsehood and deceit, like one of the basest!"

The countess stood motionless, with downcast lids, shame and pride were
both visible on her brow. Her heart, too, shrank, and an icy chill
encompassed it.

"And what better proposal would you make?"

"None!" said Freyer in a low tone, "for the only one I could suggest
you would not accept. It would be to atone for the wrong you have
committed, frankly confess how everything happened, and then retire
with your husband and child into solitude and live plainly, but
honestly. The world would laugh at you, it is true, but the
noble-hearted would honor you. I cannot imagine that any moral
happiness is to be purchased by falsehood and deceit--there is but one
way which leads to God--the way of truth--every other is delusive!"

The beautiful woman gazed at him in involuntary admiration. This was
the inward majesty by which the lowly man had formerly so awed her; and
deeply as he shamed and wounded her, she bowed to this grandeur. Yet
she could no longer bear his gaze, she felt humbled before him, her
pleasure in his companionship was destroyed. She stood before the man
whom she believed so far beneath her, like a common criminal, convicted
of the most petty falsehood, the basest treachery. She fairly loathed
herself. Where was there anything to efface this brand? Where was the
pride which could raise her above this disgrace? In her consciousness
of rank? Woe betide her, what would her peers say if they knew her
position? Would she not be cast out from every circle? What was there
which would again restore her honor? She knew no dignity, no honor save
those which the world bestows, and to save them, at any cost and by any
means--she sank still lower in her own eyes and those of the poor, but
honorable man who had more cause to be ashamed of her than she of him.

She must return home, she must again see her palace, her servants, her
world, in order to believe that she was still herself, that the ground
was still firm under her feet, for everything in and around her was
wavering.

"Please order the horses to be harnessed!" she said, turning toward the
half ruined door through which they had come out of the house.

It had indeed grown dull and cold. A pallid autumnal fog was shrouding
the forest. It looked doubtful whether it was going to rain or snow.

"I have the open carriage--I should like to get home before it rains,"
she said, apologetically, without looking at him.

Freyer courteously opened the heavy ancient iron door. They walked
silently along a dark, cold, narrow passage to the door of the boy's
room.

"I will go and have the horses harnessed," said Freyer, and the
countess entered the chamber.

She took an absent leave of the child. She did not notice how he
trembled at the news that she was going home, she did not hear him
plead: "Take me with you!" She comforted him as usual with the promise
that she would soon come again, and beckoned Josepha out of the room.
The boy gazed after her with the expression of a dying roe, and a few
large tears rolled down his pale cheeks. The mother saw it, but she
could not remain, her stay here was over for that day. Outside she
informed Josepha of the plan of sending her and the child to Italy, but
the latter shook her head.

"The child needs nothing but its mother," she said, pitilessly, "it
longs only for _you_, and if you send it still farther away, it will
die."

The countess stood as if sentenced.

"When you are with him, he revives, and when you have gone, he droops
like a flower without the sun!"

"Oh Heaven!" moaned the countess, pressing her clasped hands to her
brow: "What is to be done!"

"If you could take the boy, it would be the best cure. The child need's
a mother's love; that would be more beneficial to him than all the
travelling in the world. You have no idea how he clings to his mother.
It really seems as if you had bewitched him. All day long he wears
himself out listening and watching for the roll of the carriage, and
when evening comes and the hour that you usually drive up arrives, his
little hands are burning with fever from expectation. And then he sees
how his father longs for you. A child like him notices everything and,
when his father is sad, he is sorrowful, too. 'She is not coming
to-day!' he said a short time ago, stroking his father's cheek; he knew
perfectly well what troubled him. A delicate little body like his is
soon worn out by constant yearning. Every kid, every fawn, cries for
its mother. Here in the woods I often hear the young deer, whose mother
has been shot, wail and cry all night long, and must not a child who
has sense and affection long for its mother? You sit in your beautiful
rooms at home and don't hear how up here in this dreary house with us
two melancholy people, the poor child asks for the mother who is his
all."

"Josepha, you will kill me!"

The countess clung to the door-post for support, her brain fairly
whirled.

"No, I shall not kill you, Countess, I only want to prevent your
killing the child," said Josepha with flaming eyes. "Do you suppose
that, if I could supply a mother's place to the boy, I would beg you
for what is every child's right, and which every mother who has a
mother's heart in her breast would give of her own accord? Certainly
not. I would _steal_ the child's heart, which you are starving--ere I
would give you one kind word, and you might beg in vain for your son's
love, as I now beseech his mother's for him. But the poor little fellow
knows very well who his mother is, and no matter what I do--he will not
accept me! That is why I tell you just how matters are. Do what you
choose with me--I no longer fear anything--if the child cannot be saved
I am done with the world! You know me--and know that I set no value on
life. You have made it no dearer to me than it was when we first met."

Just at that moment the door opened and a small white figure appeared.
The boy had heard Josepha's passionate tone and came to his mother's
assistance: "Mamma, my dear mamma in Heaven, what is she doing to you?
She shan't hurt you. Wicked mamma Josepha, that's why I don't like you,
you are always scolding the beautiful, kind lady."

He threw his little arm around his mother's neck, as if to protect her.

"Oh, you angel!" cried the countess, lifting him in her arms to press
him to her heart.

The rattle of wheels was heard outside--the countess' four horses were
coming. To keep the fiery animals waiting was impossible. Freyer
hastily announced the carriage, the horses were very unruly that day.
The countess gave the boy to Josepha's care. Freyer silently helped her
into the equipage, everything passed like a flash of lightning for the
horses were already starting--one gloomy glace was exchanged between
the husband and wife--the farewell of strangers--and away dashed the
light vehicle through the autumn mists. The mother fancied she heard
her boy weeping as she drove off, and felt as if Josepha had convicted
her of the murder of the child. But she would atone for it--some
day--soon! It seemed as if a voice within was crying aloud: "My child,
my child!" An icy moisture stood in drops upon her brow; was it the
sweat of anxiety, or dew? She did not know, she could no longer think,
she was sinking under all the anxieties which had pressed upon her that
day. She closed her eyes and leaned back in the carriage as if
fainting, while the horses rushed swiftly on with their light burden
toward their goal.

The hours flew past. The equipage drove up to the Wildenau palace, but
she was scarcely conscious of it. All sorts of plans and resolutions
were whirling through her brain. She was assisted from the carriage and
ascended the carpeted marble stairs. Two letters were lying on the
table in her boudoir. The prince had been there and left one, a note,
which contained only the words: "You will perceive that at the present
time you _dare_ not refuse this position.

                             "_The friend who means most kindly_."

The other letter, in a large envelope, was an official document.
Countess Wildenau had been appointed mistress of ceremonies!



                              CHAPTER XXI.

                             UNACCOUNTABLE.


A moment--and a turning point in a life!

The countess was "herself" again, as she called it. "Thank God!"

The Ammergau episode--with all its tragic consequences--belonged to the
past. To-day, under the emotional impressions and external
circumstances at that luckless castle, where everything conspired
against her, she had thought seriously of breaking with her traditions
and the necessities of life, faced the thought of poverty and shame so
boldly that this appointment to the highest position at court saved her
from the gulf of ruin. Stopped at the last moment, tottering, giddy,
the startled woman sought to find a firm footing once more. She felt
like a suicide, who is not really in earnest, and rejoices when some
one prevents his design.

She stood holding the document in her hand. This was truth, reality,
the necessity for self-destruction was imagination. The disgrace whose
brand she already felt upon her brow could no longer approach her!

She set her foot upon the shaggy skin of a lion--the earth did not yet
reel beneath her. She pressed her burning brow against a slender marble
column--this, too, was still firm! She passed her slender fingers over
the silk plush of the divan on which she reclined and rejoiced that it
was still hers. Her eye, intoxicated with beauty, wandered over the
hundreds of art-treasures, pictures and statues from every land with
which she had adorned her rooms--nothing was lacking. Upon a pedestal
stood the Apollo Belvedere, whose pure marble glowed warmly in a
sunbeam shining through red curtains, as if real blood were circulating
in the stone. The wondrous face smiled in divine repose upon the motley
array, which the art and industry of centuries had garnered here.

The past and the present here closed their bewitching chain. Yonder
stood a Venus de Milo, revealing to the charming owner the majesty of
her own beauty. In a corner filled with flowers, a bathing nymph, by a
modern master, timidly concealed herself. In a Gothic niche a dying
Christ closed his eyes to the splendor of the world and the senses.
It was a Christ after the manner of Gabriel Max, which opened and
shut its eyes. Not far away the portrait of the countess, painted
with the genius of Lenbach stood forth from the dark frame--the
type of a drawing-room blossom. Clad in a soft white robe of Oriental
stuff embroidered with gold, heavy enough to cling closely to the
figure--flight enough to float away so far as to reveal all that
fashion and propriety permitted to be seen of the beauty of a wonderful
neck and arm. And, as Lenbach paints not only the outward form but the
inward nature, a tinge of melancholy, of yearning and thoughtfulness
rested upon the fair face, which made the beholder almost forget the
beauty of the form in that of the soul, while gazing into the spiritual
eyes which seemed to seek some other home than this prosaic earth. Just
in the direction of her glance, Hermes, the messenger of death, bent
his divine face from a group of palms and dried grasses. It seemed as
if she beheld all these things for the first time--as if they had been
newly given back to her that day after she had believed them lost. Her
breath almost failed at the thought that she had been on the point of
resigning it all--and for what? All these treasures of immortal beauty
and art--for a weeping child and a surly man, who loved in her only the
housewife, which any maid-servant can be, but understood what she
really was, what really constituted her dignity and charm no more than
he would comprehend Lenbach's picture, which reflected to her her own
person transfigured and ennobled. She gazed at herself with proud
satisfaction. Should such a woman sacrifice herself to a man who
scarcely knew the meaning of beauty! Destroy herself for an illusion of
the imagination? She rang the bell--she felt the necessity of ordering
something, to be sure that she was still mistress of the house.

The lackey entered. "Your Highness?"

Thank Heaven! Her servants still obeyed her.

"Send over to the Barnheim Palace, and invite the Prince to dine with
me at six. Then serve lunch."

"Very well. Has Your Highness any other orders?"

"The maid."

"Yes, Your Highness."

The man left the room with the noiseless, solemn step of a well-trained
lackey.

"How can any one live without servants?" the countess asked herself,
looking after him. "What should I have done, if I had dismissed mine?"
She shuddered. Now that regal luxury again surrounded her she was a
different person from this morning. No doubt she still felt what she
had suffered that day, but only as we dimly, after waking from a
fevered dream, realize the tortures we have endured.

Some one knocked, and the maid entered.

"I will take a bath before lunch. I feel very ill. Pour a bottle of
_vinaigre de Bouilli_ into the water. I will come directly."

The maid disappeared.

Everything still went on like clock-work. Nothing had changed--no one
noticed what she had _almost_ done that day. The struggle was over. The
royal order, which it would have been madness to oppose, had determined
her course.

But her nerves were still quivering from the experiences of the day.

The child, if only she were not hampered by the child! That was the
only thing which would not allow her to breathe freely--it was her own
flesh and blood. That was the wound in her heart which could never be
healed. She would always long for the boy--as he would for her. Yet,
what did this avail, nothing could be changed, she must do what reason
and necessity required. At least for the present; nay, there was even
something beautiful in a sorrow borne with aristocratic dignity! By the
depth of the wound, we proudly measure the depth of our own hearts.

She pleased herself with the idea of doing the honors as mistress of
ceremonies to kings and emperors, while yearning in the depths of
her soul for a poor orphaned child, the son of the proud Countess
Wildenau--whose husband was a peasant. Only a nature of the elasticity
of Madeleine von Wildenau's could sink so low and yet soar so high,
without losing its equilibrium.

These were the oscillations which Ludwig Gross once said were necessary
to such natures--though their radii passed through the lowest gulfs of
human misery to the opposite heights. Coquetry is not only cruel to
others, but to itself--in the physical tortures which it endures for
the sake of an uncomfortable fashion, and the spiritual ones with which
it pays for its triumphs.

This was the case with the countess. During her first unhappy marriage
she had learned to control the most despairing moods and be "amusing"
with an aching heart. What marvel that she deemed it a matter of course
that she must subdue the gnawing grief of her maternal love. So she
coquetted even with suffering and found pleasure in bearing it
gracefully.

She sat down at her writing-desk, crowned with Canova's group of Cupid
and Psyche, and wrote:

"My dear husband! In my haste I can only inform you that I shall be
unable to come out immediately to arrange Josepha's journey. I have
been appointed mistress of ceremonies to the queen and must obey the
summons. Meanwhile, let Josepha prepare for the trip, I will send the
directions for the journey and the money to-day. Give the boy my love,
kiss him for me, and comfort him with the promise that I will visit him
in the Riviera when I can. Amid the new scenes he will soon forget me
and cease waiting and expecting. The Southern climate will benefit his
health, and we shall have all the more pleasure in him afterward. He
must remain there at least a year to regain his strength.

"I write hastily, for many business matters and ceremonies must be
settled within the next few days. It is hard for me to accept this
position, which binds me still more closely in the fetters I was on the
eve of stripping off! But to make the king and queen my enemies at the
very moment when I need powerful friends more than ever, would be
defying fate! It will scarcely be possible for me now to come out as
often as I promised you to-day. But, if you become too lonely, you
can occasionally come in as my 'steward,' ostensibly to bring me
reports--in this way we shall see each other and I will give orders
that the steward shall be admitted to me at any time, and have a
suitable office and apartments assigned to him 'as I shall now be
unable to look after the estates so much myself.'

"If I cannot receive you at once, you will wait in your room until your
wife, freed from the restraint and duties of the day, will fly to your
arms.

"Is not this admirably arranged? Are you at last satisfied, you
discontented man?

"You see that I am doing all that is possible! Only do not be angry
with me because I also do what reason demands. I must secure to my
child the solid foundations of a safe and well-ordered existence, since
we must not, for the sake of sentiment, aimlessly shatter our own
destiny. How would it benefit the sick child if I denounced myself and
was compelled to give up the whole of my private fortune to compensate
my first husband's relatives for what I have spent illegally since
my second marriage? I could not even do anything more for my son's
health, and should be forced to see him pine away in some mountain
hamlet--perhaps Ammergau itself, whither I should wander with my
household goods and you, like some vagrant's family. The boys there
would stone him and call him in mockery, the 'little Count.' The
snow-storms would lash him and completely destroy his delicate lungs.

"No, if I did not fear poverty for _myself_, I must do so for _you_.
How would you endure to have the Ammergau people--and where else could
you find employment--point their fingers at you and say: 'Look, that is
Freyer, who ran away with a countess! He did a fine thing'--and then
laugh jeeringly.

"My Joseph! Keep your love for me, and let me have judgment for you,
then all will be well. In love,
                                                     Your M."

She did not suspect, when she ended her letter, very well satisfied
with her dialectics, that Freyer after reading it would throw the torn
fragments on the floor.

This cold, frivolous letter--this change from the mood of
yesterday--this act after all her promises! He had again been deceived
and disappointed, again hoped and believed in vain. All, all on which
he had relied was destroyed, the moral elevation of his beloved wife,
which would at last restore to her husband and child their sacred
rights--was a lie, and instead, by way of compensation, came the
offer--of the position of a lover.

He was to seek his wife under the cover of the darkness, as a man seeks
his inamorata--he, her husband, the father of her child! "No, Countess,
the steward will not steal into your castle, in order when you have
enjoyed all the pleasures of the day, to afford you the excitement of a
stolen intrigue.

"Though the scorn and derision of the people of my native village would
wound me sorely, as you believe--I would rather work with them as a
day-laborer, than to play before your lackeys the part which you assign
me." This was his only answer. He was well aware that it would elicit
only a shrug of the shoulders, and a pitying smile, but he could not
help it.

It was evening when the countess' letter reached him, and while, by the
dim light of the hanging lamp, in mortal anguish he composed at the
bedside of the feverish child this clumsy and unfortunately mis-spelled
reply, the folding-doors of the brilliantly lighted dining-room in the
Wildenau palace, were thrown open and the prince offered his arm to the
countess.

She was her brilliant self again. She had taken a perfumed bath,
answered the royal letter, made several sketches for new court costumes
and sent them to Paris.

She painted with unusual skill, and the little water-color figures
which she sent to her modistes, were real works of art, far superior to
those in the fashion journals.

"Your Highness might earn your bread in this way"--said the maid
flatteringly, and a strange thrill stirred the countess at these words.
She had made herself a costume book, in which she had painted all the
toilettes she had worn since her entrance into society, and often found
amusement in turning the leaves; what memories the sight of the old
clothes evoked! From the heavy silver wrought brocade train of old
Count Wildenau's young bride, down to the airy little summer gown which
she had worn nine years ago in Ammergau. From the stiff, regulation
court costume down to the simple woolen morning gown in which she had
that morning spent hours of torture on account of that Ammergau
"delusion." But at the maid's words she shut the book as if startled
and rose: "I will give you the dress I wore this morning, but on
condition that I never see it."

"Your Highness is too kind, I thank you most humbly," said the
delighted woman, kissing the sleeve of the countess' combing-mantle--she
would not have ventured to kiss her hand.

The dinner toilette was quickly completed, and when the countess looked
in the glass she seemed to herself more beautiful than ever. The
melancholy expression around her eyes, and a slight trace of tears
which she had shed, lent the pale tea-rose a tinge of color which was
marvellously becoming.

The day was over, and when the prince came to dinner at six o'clock she
received him with all her former charm.

"To whom do I owe this--Prince?" she said smiling, holding out the
official letter.

"Why do you ask me?"

"Because _you_ only can tell!"

"I?"

"Yes, you. Who else would have proposed me to their Majesties? Don't
try to deceive me by that air of innocence. I don't trust it. You, and
no one else would do me this friendly service, for everything good
comes through you. You are not only a great and powerful man--you are
also a good and noble one--my support, my Providence! I thank you."

She took both his hands in hers and offered him her forehead to kiss,
with a glance of such sincere admiration and gratitude, that in his
surprise and joy he almost missed the permitted goal and touched her
lips instead. But fortunately, he recollected himself and almost
timidly pressed the soft curls which quivered lightly like the delicate
tendrils of flowers.

"I cannot resist this gratitude! Yes, my august cousin, the queen, did
have the grace to consider my proposal as 'specially agreeable' to her.
But, my dear Countess, you must have been passing through terrible
experiences to lavish such undue gratitude upon the innocent instigator
of such a trifle as this appointment as mistress of ceremonies, for
whose acceptance we must be grateful to you. There is a touch of almost
timidity in your manner, my poor Madeleine, as if you had lost the
self-control which, with all your feminine grace, gave your bearing so
firm a poise. You do yourself injustice. You must shake off this
oppression. That is why I ventured to push the hands of the clock of
life a little and secured this position, which will leave you no time
for torturing yourself with fancies. That is what you need most.
Unfortunately I cannot lift from those beautiful shoulders the burden
you yourself have probably laid upon them; but I will aid you
gradually, to strip it off.

"The world in which you are placed needs you--you must live for it and
ought not to withdraw your powers, your intellect, your charm. You are
created for a lofty position! I do not mean a subordinate one--that of
a mistress of ceremonies. This is merely a temporary palliative--I mean
that of a reigning princess, who has to provide for the physical and
intellectual welfare of a whole nation. When in your present office you
have become reconciled to the world and its conditions--perhaps the day
will come when I shall be permitted to offer you that higher place!"

The countess stood with her hands resting on the table and her eyes
bent on the floor. Her heart was throbbing violently--her breath was
short and hurried. _One_ thought whirled through her brain. "You might
have had all this and forfeited it forever!" The consciousness of her
marred destiny overwhelmed her with all its power. What a contrast
between the prince, the perfect product of culture, who took into
account all the demands of her rank and character, and the narrow,
limited child of nature, her husband, who found cause for reproach in
everything which the trained man of the world regarded as a matter of
course. Freyer tortured her and humbled her in her own eyes, while the
prince tenderly cherished her. Freyer--like the embodiment of Christian
asceticism--required from her everything she disliked while Prince Emil
desired nothing save to see her beautiful, happy, and admired, and made
it her duty to enjoy life as suited her education and tastes! She would
fain have thrown herself exultingly into the arms of her preserver and
said: "Take me and bear me up again on the waves of life ere I fall
into the power of that gloomy God whose power is nurtured on the blood
of the murdered joys of His followers."

Suddenly it seemed as if some one else was in the room gazing intently
at her. She looked up--the eyes of the Christ in the Gothic niche were
bent fixedly on her. "Are you looking at me again?" asked a voice in
her terror-stricken soul. "Can you never die?"

It was even so; He could not die on the cross, He cannot die in her
heart. Even though it was but a moment that He appeared to mortal eyes
in the Passion Play, He will live for ever to all who experienced that
moment.

Her uplifted arms fell as if paralyzed, and she faltered in broken
sentences: "Not another word, Prince--in Heaven's name--do not lead me
into temptation. Banish every thought of me--you do not know--oh! I was
never worthy of you, have never recognized all your worth--and now when
I do--now it is too late." She could say no more, tears were trembling
on her lashes. She again glanced timidly at the painted Christ--He had
now closed His eyes. His expression was more peaceful.

The prince gazed at her earnestly, but quietly. "Ah, there is a false
standpoint which must be removed. It will cost something, I see. Calm
yourself--you have nothing more to fear from me--I was awkward--it was
not the proper moment, I ought to have known it. Do you remember our
conversation nine years ago, on the way to the Passion Play? At that
time a phantom stood between us. It has since assumed a tangible form,
has it not? I saw this coming, but unfortunately could not avert it.
But consider--it is and will always remain--a phantom! Such spectres
can be fatal only to eccentric imaginative women like you who, in
addition to imagination, also possess a strongly idealistic tendency
which impresses an ethical meaning upon everything they feel. With a
nature like yours things which, in and of themselves, are nothing
except romantic episodes, assume the character of moral conflicts in
which you always feel that you are the guilty ones because you were the
superior and have taken a more serious view of certain relations than
they deserved."

"Yes, yes! That is it. Oh, Prince--you understand me better than any
one else!" exclaimed the countess, admiringly.

"Yes, and because I understand you better than any one else, I love you
better than any one else--that is the inevitable consequence. Therefore
it would be a pity, if I were obliged to yield to that phantom--for
never were two human beings so formed for each other as we." He was
silent, Madeleine had not heard the last words. In her swift variations
of mood reacting with every changing impression, a different feeling
had been evoked by the word "phantom" and the memories it awakened.
Even the cleverest man cannot depend upon a woman. The phantom again
stood between them--conjured up by himself.

As if by magic, the Kofel with its glittering cross rose before her,
and opposite at her right hand the glimmering sunbeams stole up the
cliff till, like shining fingers, they rested on a face whose like she
had never seen--the eyes, dark yet sparkling, like the night when the
star led the kings to the child in the manger! There he stood again,
the One so long imagined, so long desired.

And her enraptured eyes said: "Throughout the whole world I have
sought you alone." And his replied: "And I you!" And was this to be a
lie--this to vanish? It seemed as if Heaven had opened its gates and
suffered her to look in, and was all this to be delusion? The panorama
of memory moved farther on, leading her past the dwellings of the high
priest and apostles in Ammergau to the moonlit street where her ear,
listening reverently, caught the words: This is where Christus lives!
And she stood still with gasping breath, trembling with expectation of
the approach of God.

Then the following day--the great day which brought the fulfilment of
the mighty yearning when she beheld this face "from which the God so
long sought smiled upon her!" The God whom she had come to seek, to
confess! What! Could she deny, resign this God, in whose wounds she had
laid her fingers.

Again she stood in timid reverence, with a glowing heart, while before
her hovered the pierced, bleeding hand--Heaven and earth turned upon
the question whether she dared venture to press her lips upon the
stigma; she did venture, almost swooning from the flood of her
feelings--and lo, in the kiss the quivering lips felt the throbbing of
the warm awakening life in the hand of the stern "God," and a feeling
of exultation stirred within her, "You belong to me! I will steal you
from the whole human race." And now, scarcely nine years later--must
the joy vanish, the God disappear, the faith die? What a miserable,
variable creature is man!

"Dinner is served, and Baron St. Génois has called--shall I prepare
another place?"

The countess started from her reverie--had she been asleep where she
stood? Where was she?

The lackey was obliged to repeat the announcement and the question. A
visitor now? She would rather die--yet Baron St. Génois was an intimate
friend, he could come to dinner whenever he pleased--he was not to be
sent away.

She nodded assent to the servant. Her emotions were repressed and
scattered, her throbbing heart sank feebly back to its usual
pulsation--pallid despair whispered: "Give up the struggle--you cannot
be saved!"

A few minutes after the little party were celebrating in the
brilliantly lighted dining-room in sparkling sack the "event of the
day," the appointment of the new mistress of ceremonies.



                             CHAPTER XXII.

                             FALLING STARS.


"The new mistress of ceremonies isn't popular."

"Countess Wildenau is said to have fallen into disgrace already; she
did not ride in the queen's carriage at the recent great parade."

"That is perfectly natural. It was to be expected, when a lady so
unaccustomed to put any constraint upon herself as Countess Wildenau
was appointed to such a position."

"She is said to make constant blunders. If she chooses, she keeps the
queen and the whole court waiting. She is reported to have arrived at
court fifteen minutes too late a short time ago."

"And to have forgotten to present a number of ladies."

"People are indignant with her."

"Poor woman, she takes infinite trouble, but the place is not a
suitable one for her--she is absent-minded and makes mistakes, which
are unpardonable in a mistress of ceremonies."

"Yes, if the queen's cousin, the Hereditary Prince of Metten-Barnheim
did not uphold her, the queen would have dropped her long ago. She is
seen at court only when she is acting as representative. She has not
succeeded in establishing personal relations with Her Majesty."

Such, at the end of a few months, were the opinions of society, and
they were just.

It seemed as though the curse of those whom she had deserted, rested
upon her--do what she would, she had no success in this position.

As on the mountain peak towering into the upper air, every warm current
condenses into a cloud, so in the cool, transparent atmosphere of very
lofty and conspicuous positions the faintest breath of secret struggles
and passions seems to condense into masses of clouds which often gather
darkly around the most brilliant personalities, veiling their traits.
The passionate, romantic impulse, which was constantly at war with the
aristocratic birth and education of the countess, was one of those
currents which unconsciously and involuntarily must enter as an alien
element in the crystalline clearness of these peaks of society.

This was the explanation of the mystery that the countess, greatly
admired in private life and always a welcome guest at court, could not
fill an official position successfully. The slight cloud which, in her
private life, only served to surround her with a halo of romance which
rendered the free independent woman of rank doubly interesting, was
absolutely unendurable in a lady of the court representing her
sovereign! There everything must be clear, calm, official. The
impersonal element of royalty, as it exists in our day, specially in
the women of reigning houses, will not permit any individuality to make
itself prominent near the throne. All passionate emotions and
peculiarities are abhorrent, because, even in individuals, they are
emanations of the seething popular elements which sovereigns must at
once rule and fear.

Countess Wildenau's constant excitement, restless glances, absence
of mind, and feverish alternations of mood unconsciously expressed
the vengeance of the spirit of the common people insisted in her
husband--and the queen, in her subtle sensibility, therefore had a
secret timidity and aversion to the new mistress of ceremonies which
she could not conquer. Thus the first mists in the atmosphere near the
throne arose, the vapors gathered into clouds--but the clouds were seen
by the keen-eyed public--as the sun of royal favor vanished behind
them.

It is far better never to have been prominent than to be forced to
retire. The countess was a great lady, whose power seemed immovable and
unassailable, so long as she lived independently--now it was seen that
she was on the verge of a downfall! And now there was no occasion for
further consideration of the woman hitherto so much envied. Vengeance
could fearlessly be taken upon her for always having handsomer
toilettes, giving better dinners, attracting more admirers--and being
allowed to do unpunished what would be unpardonable in others.

"A woman who is continually occupied with herself cannot be mistress of
ceremonies, I see that clearly," she said one day to the prince. "If
any position requires self-denial, it is this. And self-denial has
never been my forte. I ought to have known that before accepting the
place. People imagine that the court would be the very field where the
seeds of egotism would flourish most abundantly! It is not true;
whoever wishes to reap for himself should remain aloof, only the utmost
unselfishness, the most rigid fulfilment of duty can exist there. But
I, Prince, am a spoiled, ill-trained creature, who learned nothing
during the few years of my unhappy marriage save to hate constraint and
shun pain! What is to be done with such a useless mortal?"

"Love her," replied Prince Emil, as quietly as if he were speaking of a
game of chess, "and see that she is placed in a position where she need
not obey, but merely command. Natures created to rule should not serve!
The pebble is destined to pave the path of daily life--the diamond to
sparkle. Who would upbraid the latter because it serves no other
purpose? Its value lies in itself, but only connoisseurs know how to
prize it!" Thus her friend always consoled her and strengthened her
natural tendencies. But where men are too indulgent to us, destiny is
all the more severe--this is the amends for the moral sins of society,
the equalization of the undeserved privileges of individuals compared
with the sad fate of thousands.

Prince Emil's efforts could not succeed in soothing the pangs of
Madeleine von Wildenau's conscience--for he did not know the full
extent of her guilt. If he knew all, she would lose him, too.

Josepha took care to torture the mother's heart by the reports sent
from Italy.

Freyer was silent. Since that bitter letter, which he wrote, she had
heard nothing more from him. He had hidden himself in his solitary
retreat as a sick lion seeks the depths of its cave, and she dared not
go to him there, though a secret yearning often made her start from her
sleep with her husband's name on her lips, and tears in her eyes.

In addition to this she was troubled by Herr Wildenau, who was becoming
still more urgent in his offers to purchase the hunting-castle, and
often made strangely significant remarks, as though he was on the track
of some discovery. The child with the treacherous resemblance was far
away--but if this man was watching--_that_ fact itself might attract
his notice because it dated from the day when he made the first
allusions. She lay awake many nights pondering over this mystery, but
could not discover what had given him the clew to her secret. She did
not suspect that it was the child himself who, in an unwatched moment,
had met the curious stranger and made fatal answers to his cunning
questions, telling him of "the beautiful lady who came to see 'Goth'
who had been God--in Ammergau! And that he loved the beautiful lady
dearly--much better than Mother Josepha!"

Question and answer were easy, but the inference was equally so. It was
evident to the inquisitor that a relation existed here quite
compromising enough to serve as a handle against the countess, if the
exact connection could be discovered. Cousin Wildenau and his brother
resolved from that day forth to watch the countess' mysterious actions
sharply--this was the latest and most interesting sport of the
disinherited branch of the Wildenau family.

But the game they were pursuing had a powerful protector in the prince,
they must work slowly and cautiously.

At court also it was his influence which sustained her. The queen, out
of consideration for him, showed the utmost patience in dealing with
the countess spite of her total absence of sympathy with her. Thus the
unfortunate woman lived in constant uncertainty. Her soul was filled
with bitterness by the experiences she now endured. She felt like
dagger thrusts the malevolence, the contempt with which she had been
treated since the sun of royal favor had grown dim. She lost her
self-command, and no longer knew what she was doing. Her pride
rebelled. A Wildenau, a Princess von Prankenberg, need not tolerate
such treatment! Her usual graciousness deserted her and, in its place,
she assumed a cold, haughty scorn, which she even displayed while
performing the duties of her office, and thereby still more incensed
every one against her. Persons, whom she ought to have honored she
ignored. Gradations of rank and lists of noble families, the alpha and
omega of a mistress of ceremonies, were never in her mind. People
entitled to the first position were relegated to the third, and similar
blunders were numerous. Complaints and annoyances of all kinds poured
in, and at a state dinner in honor of the visit of a royal prince, she
was compelled to endure, in the presence of the whole court, a rebuke
from the queen who specially distinguished a person whom she had
slighted.

This dinner became fateful to her. Wherever she turned, she beheld
triumphant or sarcastic smiles--wherever she approached a group,
conversation ceased with the marked suddenness which does not seek to
conceal that the new-comer has been the subject of the talk. Nay, she
often encountered a glance which seemed to say: "Why do you still
linger among us?"

It happened also that the prince had been summoned to Cannes by his
father's illness and was not at hand to protect her. She had hoped that
he would return in time for the dinner, but he did not come. She was
entirely deserted. A few compassionate souls, like the kind-hearted
duchess whom she met at the Passion Play, her ladies-in-waiting, and
some maids of honor, joined her, but she felt in their graciousness a
pity which humbled her more than all the insults. And her friends! The
gentlemen who belonged to the circle of her intimate acquaintances had
for some time adopted a more familiar tone, as if to imply that she
must accept whatever they choose to offer. She was no longer even
beautiful--a pallid, grief-worn face, with hollow eyes gazing
hopelessly into vacancy, found no admirers in this circle. And as every
look, every countenance wore a hostile expression, her own image gazed
reproachfully at her from the mirror, the dazzling fair neck with its
marvellous contours, supported a head whose countenance was weary and
prematurely aged. "It is all over with you!" cried the mirror! "It
is all over with you!" smiled the lips of society. "It is all over
with you, you may be glad if we still come to your dinners!" the
wine-scented breath of her former intimate friends insultingly near her
seemed to whisper.

Was this the world, to which she had sacrificed her heart and
conscience? Was this the honor for which she hourly suffered tortures.
And on the wintry mountain height the husband who had naught on earth
save the paltry scrap of love she bestowed, was perishing--she had
avoided him for months because to her he represented that uncomfortable
Christianity whose asceticism has survived the civilization of
thousands of years. Yes! This christianity of the Nazarene who walked
the earth so humbly in a laborer's garb is the friend of the despised
and humbled. It asks no questions about crowns and the favor of courts,
human power and distinction. And she who had trembled and sinned for
the wretched illusions, the glitter of the honors of this brief
life--was she to despise a morality which, in its beggar's garb, stands
high above all for which the greatest and most powerful tremble?
Again the symbol of the renewed bond between God and the world--the
cross--rose before her, and on it hung the body of the Redeemer,
radiant in its chaste, divine beauty--that body which for _her_
descended from the cross where it hung for the whole world and, after
clasping it in her arms, she repined because it was only the _image_ of
what no earthly desire will ever attain, no matter how many human
hearts glow with the flames of love so long as the world endures.

"My Christus--my sacrificed husband!" cried a voice in her heart so
loudly that she did not hear a question from the queen. "It is
incredible!" some one exclaimed angrily near her. She started from her
reverie. "Your Majesty?" The queen had already passed on, without
waiting for a reply--whispers and nods ran through the circle, every
eye was fixed upon her. What had the queen wanted? She tried to hurry
after her. Her Majesty had disappeared, she was already going through
the next hall--but the distance was so great--she could not reach her,
the space seemed to increase as she moved on. She felt that she was on
the verge of fainting and dragged herself into a secluded room.

The members of the court were retiring. Confusion arose--the mistress
of ceremonies was absent just at the moment of the _Congé_! No one had
time to seek her. All were assembling to take leave, and then hurrying
after servants and wraps. Carriage after carriage rolled away, the
rooms were empty, the lackeys came to extinguish the lights. The
countess lay on a sofa, alone and deserted in the last hall of the
suite.

"In Heaven's name, is your Highness ill?" cried an old major-domo,
offering his assistance to the lady, who slowly rose. "Is it all over?"
she asked, gazing vacantly around "Where is my servant?"

"He is still waiting outside for Your Highness," replied the old
gentleman, trying to assist her. "Shall I call a doctor or a maid?"

"No, thank you, I am well again. It was only an attack of giddiness,"
said the countess, walking slowly out of the palace.

"Who is driving to-night?" she asked the footman, as he put her fur
cloak over her bare shoulders.

"Martin, Your Highness."

"Very well, then go home and say that I shall not come, but visit the
estates."

"It is bitterly cold. Your Highness!" observed the major domo, who had
attended her to the equipage.

"That does not matter--is the beaver robe in the carriage?"

"Certainly, Your Highness!"

"What time is it? Late?"

"Oh no; just nine. Your Highness."

"Forward, then!"

Martin knew where.

The major-domo closed the door and away dashed the horses into the
glittering winter night along the familiar, but long neglected road. It
was indeed a cold drive. The ground was frozen hard and the carriage
windows were covered with frost flowers. The countess' temples were
throbbing violently, her heart beat eagerly with longing for the
husband whom she had deserted for this base world! The mood of that
Ammergau epoch again asserted its rights, and she penitently hastened
to seek the beautiful gift she had so thoughtlessly cast aside. With a
heart full of rancor over the injustice and lovelessness experienced in
society, her soul plunged deeply into the sweet chalice of the love and
poesy of those days--a love which was religion--a religion which was
_love_. "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not charity, I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal!" Aye,
for sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal she had squandered warm
heart's blood, and the sorrowing soul of the people from whose sacred
simplicity her wearied soul was to have drawn fresh youth, gazed
tearfully at her from the eyes of her distant son.

The horses went so slowly to-night, she thought--no pace is swift
enough for a repentant heart which longs to atone!

He would be angry, she would have a bitter struggle with him--but she
would soften his wrath--she would put forth all her charms, she would
be loving and beautiful, fairer than he had ever seen her, for she had
never appeared before him in full dress, with diamonds sparkling on her
snowy neck, and heavy gold bracelets clasping her wonderful arms.

She would tell him that she repented, that everything should be as of
yore when she plighted her troth to him by the glare of the bridal
torches of the forest conflagration and, feeling Valkyrie might in her
veins, dreamed Valkyrie dreams.

She drew a long breath and compared the pallid court lady of the
present, who fainted at a proof of disfavor and a few spiteful glances,
with the Valkyrie of those days! Was it a mere delusion which made her
so strong? No--even if the God whom she saw in him was a delusion, the
love which swelled in her veins with that might which defied the
elements was divine and, by every standard of philosophy, æsthetics,
and birth, as well as morality, had a right to its existence.

Then why had she been ashamed of it? On account of trivial prejudices,
petty vanities: in other words, weakness!

Not Freyer, but _she_ was too petty for this great love! "Yet
wait--wait, my forsaken husband. Your wife is coming to-day with a love
that is worthy of you, ardent enough to atone in a single hour for the
neglect of years."

She breathed upon the frost-coated pane, melting an opening in the
crust of ice. The castle already stood before her, the height was
almost reached. Then--a sudden jolt--a cry from the coachman, and the
carriage toppled toward the precipice. With ready nerve the countess
sprang out on the opposite side.

"What is it?"

"Why, the horses shied at sight of Herr Freyer!" said the coachman, as
Freyer, with an iron hand, curbed the rearing animals. The countess
hastened toward him. Aided by the coachman, he quieted the trembling
creatures.

"I beg your pardon, Your Highness," said Freyer, still panting from the
exertion he had made. "I came out of the wood unexpectedly, and the
dark figure frightened them. Fortunately I could seize their reins."

"Drive on, Martin," the countess ordered, "I will walk with Herr
Freyer." The coachman obeyed. She put her hand through Freyer's arm.
"No wonder that the horses shied, my husband, you look so strange. What
were you doing in the woods in the middle of the night?"

"What I always do--wandering about."

"That is not right, you ought to sleep."

"Sleep?" Freyer repeated with a bitter laugh.

"Is this my reception, Joseph?"

"Pardon me--it makes me laugh when you talk of sleeping! Look"--he
raised his hat: "Even in the starlight you can see the white hairs
which have come since you were last here, sent my child away, and made
me wholly a hermit. No sleep has come to my eyes and my hair has grown
grey."

The countess perceived with horror the change which had taken place in
him. Threads of silver mingled with his black locks, his eyes were
sunken, his whole figure was emaciated, his chest narrowed--he was a
sick man. She could not endure the sight--it was the most terrible
reproach to her; she fixed her eyes on the ground: "I had made such a
lovely plan--Martin has the key of the outside door--I was going to
steal gently to the side of your couch and kiss your sleeping lips."

"I thank you for the kind intention. But do you imagine that I could
have slept after receiving that letter which brought me the news that I
was betrayed--betrayed once more and, after all the sacred promises
made during your last visit, you had done exactly the opposite and
accepted a position which separated you still farther from your husband
and child, bound you still more firmly to the world? Do you imagine
that the _days_ are enough to ponder over such thoughts? No, one must
call in the nights to aid. You know that well, and I should be far
better satisfied if you would say honestly: 'I know that I am killing
you, that your strength is being consumed with sorrow, but I have no
wish to change this state of affairs!' instead of feigning that you
cannot understand why I should not sleep quietly and wondering that I
wander all night in the forest? But fear nothing, I am perfectly
calm--I shall reproach you no farther," he added in a milder tone, "for
I have closed accounts with myself--with you--with life. Do not weep,
I promised that when you sought your husband you should find him--I
will not be false to my pledge. Come, lay your little head upon my
breast--you are trembling, are you cold? Lean on me, and let us walk
faster that I may shelter you in the warm room. Wandering dove--how did
you happen suddenly to return to your husband's lonely nest in the cold
night, in this bitter winter season? Why did not you stay in the warm
cote with the others, where you had everything that you desire? Do you
miss anything? Tell me, what do you seek with me, for what does your
little heart long?" His voice again sank to the enthralling whisper
which had formerly made all her pulses throb with a sensation of
indescribable bliss. His great heart took all its pains and suffering
and ceased to judge her. The faithless dove found the nest open, and
his gentle hand scattered for her the crumbs of his lost happiness, as
the starving man divides his last crust with those who are poorer
still.

She could not speak--overpowered by emotion she leaned against him,
allowing herself to be carried rather than led up the steep ascent. But
she could not wait, even as they moved her lips sought his, her little
hands clasped his, and a murmur tremulous with emotion: "_This_ is what
I missed!"--answered the sweet question. The stars above sparkled with
a thousand rays--the whole silent, glittering, icy winter night
rejoiced.

At last the castle was reached and the "warm" room received them. It
did not exactly deserve the name, for the fire in the stove had gone
out, but neither felt it--the glow in their hearts sufficed.

"You must take what I can offer--I am all alone, you know."

"_All alone_!" she repeated with a happy smile which he could see by
the starlight shining through the open window. Another kiss--a long
silent embrace was exchanged.

"Now let me light a lamp, that I may take off your cloak and make you
comfortable! Or, do you mean to spend the night so?" He was bewitching
in his mournful jesting, his sad happiness.

"Ah, it is so long since I have seen you thus," Madeleine murmured.
"World, I can laugh at you now!" cried an exultant voice in her heart,
for the old love, the old spell was hers once more. And as he again
appeared before her in his mild greatness and beauty, she desired to
show herself his peer--display herself to him in all the dazzling
radiance of her beauty. As he turned to light the lamp she let the
heavy cloak fall and stood in all her loveliness, her snowy neck framed
by the dark velvet bodice, on which all the stars in the firmament
outside seemed to have fallen and clung to rest there for a moment.

Freyer turned with the lamp in his hand--his eyes flashed--a faint cry
escaped his lips! She waited smiling for an expression of delight--but
he remained motionless, gazing at her as if he beheld a ghost, while
the glance fixed upon the figure whose diamonds sparkled with a myriad
rays constantly grew more gloomy, his bearing more rigid--a deep flush
suffused his pallid face. "And this is my wife?" at last fell in a
muffled, expressionless tone from his lips. "No--it is not she."

The countess did not understand his meaning--she imagined that the
superb costume so impressed him that he dared not approach her, and she
must show him by redoubled tenderness that he was not too lowly for
this superb woman. "It _is_ your wife, indeed it is, and all this
splendor veils a heart which is yours, and yours alone!" she cried,
throwing herself on his breast and clasping her white arms around him.

But with a violent gesture he released himself, drawing back a step.
"No--no--I cannot, I will not touch you in such a guise as this."

"Freyer!" the countess angrily exclaimed, gazing at him as if to detect
some trace of insanity in his features. "What does this mean?"

"Have you--been in society--in _that_ dress?" he asked in a low tone,
as if ashamed for her.

"Yes. And in my impatience to hasten to you I did not stop to change
it. I thought you would be pleased."

Freyer again burst into the bitter laugh from which she always shrank.
"Pleased, when I see that you show yourself to others so--"

"How?" she asked, still failing to understand him.

"So naked!" he burst forth, unable to control himself longer. "You have
uncovered your beauty thus before the eyes of the gentlemen of your
world? And this is my wife--a creature so destitute of all shame?"

"Freyer!" shrieked the countess, tottering backward with her hand
pressed upon her brow as if she had just received a blow on the head:
"This to _me_--_to-day_!"

"To-day or to-morrow. On any day when you display the beauty at which I
scarcely dare to glance, to the profane eyes of a motley throng of
strangers, who gaze with the same satisfaction at the booths of a
fair--on any day when you expose to greedy looks the bosom which
conceals the heart that should be mine--on any such day you are
unworthy the love of any honest man."

A low cry of indignation answered him, then all was still. At last
Madeleine von Wildenau's lips murmured with a violent effort: "This is
the last!"

Freyer was striving to calm himself. He pressed his burning brow
against the frosty window-panes with their glittering tangle of crystal
flowers and stars. The sparkling firmament above gazed down in its
eternal clearness upon the poor earthling, who in his childlike way was
offering a sacrifice to the chaste God, whose cold home it was.

"Whenever I come--there is always some new torture for me--but you have
never so insulted and outraged me as today," said the countess slowly,
in a low tone, as if weighing every word. Her manner was terribly calm
and cold.

"I understand that it may be strange to you to see a lady in full
dress--you have never moved in a circle where this is a matter of
course and no one thinks of it. To the pure all things are pure, and he
who is not stands with us under the law of the etiquette of our
society. Our village lasses must muffle themselves to the throat, for
what could protect them from the coarse jests and rudeness of the
village lads?"

Freyer winced, he felt the lash.

"To add to the splendor of festal garments," she went on, "a little of
the natural beauty of the divinely created human body is a tribute
which even the purest woman can afford the eye, and whatever is kept
within the limits of the artistic sense can never be shameless or
unseemly. Woe betide any one who passes these bounds and sees evil
in it--he erases himself from the ranks of cultured people. So much,
and no more, you are still worthy that I should say in my own
justification!"

She turned and took up the cloak to wrap herself in it: "Will you be
kind enough to have the horses harnessed?"

"Are you going?" asked Freyer, who meanwhile had regained his
self-control.

"Yes."

"Alas, what have I done!" he said, wringing his hands. "I have not even
asked you to sit down, have not let you rest, have offended and wounded
you. Oh, I am a savage, a wretched man."

"You are what you can be!" she replied with the cutting coldness into
which a proud woman's slighted love is quickly transformed.

"What such an uncultivated person can be! That is what you wish to
say!" replied Freyer. "But there lies my excuse. Aye, I am a native of
the country, accustomed to break my fruit, wet with the morning-dew,
from the tree ere any hand has touched it, or pluck from the thorny
boughs in the dewy thicket the hidden berries which no human eye has
beheld;--I cannot understand how people can enjoy fruits that have been
uncovered for hours in the dust of the marketplace. The aroma is
gone--the freshness and bloom have vanished, and if given me--no matter
how costly it might be, I should not care for it--the wild berries in
the wood which smiled at me from the leafy dusk with their glittering
dewdrops, would please me a thousand times better! This is not meant
for a comparison, only an instance of how people feel when they live in
the country!"

"And to carry your simile further--if you believe that the fruit so
greatly desired has been kept for you alone--will it not please you to
possess what others long for in vain?"

"No," he said simply, "I am not envious enough to wish to deprive
others of anything they covet--but I will not share, so I would rather
resign!"

"Well, then--I have nothing more to say on that point--let us close the
conversation."

Both were silent a long time, as if exhausted by some great exertion.

"How is our--the child? Have you any news from Josepha?" the countess
asked at last.

"Yes, but unfortunately nothing good."

"As usual!" she answered, hastily; "it is her principle to make us
anxious. Such people take advantage of every opportunity to let us feel
their power. I know that."

"I do not think so. I must defend my cousin. She was always honest,
though blunt and impulsive," answered Freyer. "I fear she is writing
the truth, and the boy is really worse."

"Go there then, if you are anxious, and send me word how you find him."

"I will not travel at your expense--except in your service, and my own
means are not enough," replied Freyer in a cold, stern tone.

"Very well, this _is_ in my service. So--obey and go at my expense!"

Freyer gazed at her long and earnestly. "As your steward?" he asked in
a peculiar tone.

"I should like to have a truthful report--not a biassed one, as is
Josepha's custom," she replied evasively. "There is nothing to be done
on the estates now--I beg the 'steward' to represent my interests in
this matter. If you find the child really worse, I will get a leave of
absence and go to him."

"Very well, I will do as you order."

"But have the horses harnessed now, or it will be morning before I
return."

"Will it not be too fatiguing for you to return to-night? Shall I not
wake the house-maid to prepare your room and wait on you!"

"No, I thank you."

"As you choose," he said, quietly going to order the horses, which had
hardly been taken from the carriage, to be harnessed again. The
coachman remonstrated, saying that the animals had not had time to
rest, but Freyer replied that there must be no opposition to the
countess' will.

The half-hour which the coachman required was spent by the husband and
wife in separate rooms. Freyer was arranging on his desk a file of
papers relating to his business as steward; bills and documents for the
countess to look over. He worked as quietly as if all emotion was dead
within him. The countess sat alone in the dimly-lighted, comfortless
sitting room, gazing at the spot where her son's bed used to stand. Her
blood was seething with shame and wrath; yet the sight of the empty
wall where the boy no longer held out his arms to her from the little
couch, was strangely sad--as if he were dead, and his corpse had
already been borne out. Her heart was filled with grief, too bitter to
find relief in tears, they are frozen at such a moment. She would fain
have called his name amid loud sobs, but something seemed to stand
beside her, closing her lips and clutching her heart with an iron hand,
the _vengeance_ of the sorely insulted woman. Then she fancied she saw
the child fluttering toward her in his little white shirt. At the same
moment a door burst open, a draught of air swept through the room,
making her start violently--and at the same moment a star shot from the
sky, so close at hand, that it appeared as if it must dart through the
panes and join its glittering fellows on the countess' breast.

What was that? A gust of wind so sudden, that it swept through the
closed rooms, burst doors open, and appeared to hurl the stars from the
sky? Yet outside all was still; only the wainscoting and beams of the
room creaked slightly--popular superstition would have said: "Some
death has been announced!" The excited woman thought of it with secret
terror. Was it the whir of the spindle from which one of the Fates
had just cut the thread of life? If it were the life-thread of her
child--if at that very hour--her blood congealed to ice! She longed to
shriek in her fright, but again the gloomy genius of vengeance sealed
her lips and heart. _If_ it were--God's will be done. Then the last
bond between her and Freyer would be sundered. What could she do with
_this_ man's child? Nothing that fettered her to him had a right to
exist--if the child was dead, then she would be free, there would be
nothing more in common between them! He had slain her heart that day,
and she was slaying the last feeling which lived within it, love for
her child! Everything between them must be over, effaced from the
earth, even the child. Let God take it!

Every passionate woman who is scorned feels a touch of kinship with
Medea, whose avenging steel strikes the husband whom it cannot reach
through the children, whether her own heart is also pierced or not.
Greater far than the self-denial of _love_ is that of _hate_, for it
extends to self-destruction! It fears no pain, spares neither itself
nor its own flesh and blood, slays the object of its dearest love to
give pain to others--even if only in _thought_, as in the modern realm
of culture, where everything formerly expressed in deeds of violence
now acts in the sphere of mental life.

It was a terrible hour! From every corner of the room, wherever she
gazed, the boy's large eyes shone upon her through the dusk, pleading:
"Forgive my father, and do not thrust me from your heart!" But in vain,
her wrath was too great, her heart was incapable at that moment of
feeling anything else. Everything had happened as it must; she had
entered an alien, inferior sphere, and abandoned and scorned her own,
therefore the society to which she belonged now exiled her, while she
reaped in the sphere she had chosen ingratitude and misunderstanding.

Now, too late, she was forced to realize what it meant to be chained
for life to an uneducated man! "Oh, God, my punishment is just,"
murmured an angry voice in her soul, "in my childish defiance I
despised all the benefits of culture by which I was surrounded, to make
for myself an idol of clay which, animated by my glowing breath, dealt
me a blow in the face and returned to its original element! I have
thrown myself away on a man, to whom any peasant lass would be dearer!
Why--why, oh God, hast Thou lured me with Thy deceitful mask into the
mire? Dost Thou feel at ease amid base surroundings? I cannot follow
Thee there! A religion which stands on so bad a footing with man's
highest blessings, culture and learning, can never be _mine_. Is it
divine to steal a heart under the mask of Christ and then, as if in
mockery, leave the deceived one in the lurch, after she has been caught
in the snare and bound to a narrow-minded, brutal husband? Is this
God-like? Nay, it is fiendish! Do not look at me so beseechingly,
beautiful eyes of my child, I no longer believe even in you! Everything
which has hitherto bound me to your father has been a lie; you, too,
are an embodied falsehood. It is not true that Countess Wildenau has
mingled her noble blood with that of a low-born man; that she has given
birth to a bastard, wretched creature, which could be at home in no
sphere save by treachery! No--no, I cannot have forgotten myself so
far--it is but a dream, a phantasy of the imagination and when I awake
it will be on the morning of that August day in Ammergau after the
Passion Play. Then I shall be free, can wed a noble man who is my peer,
and give him legitimate heirs, whose mother I can be without a blush!"

What was that? Did her ears deceive her? The hoof-beats of a horse,
rushing up the mountain with the speed of the wind. She hurried to the
window. The clock was just striking two. Yes! A figure like the wild
huntsman was flitting like a shadow through the night toward the
castle. Now he turned the last curve and reached the height and the
countess saw distinctly that he was her cornier. What news was he
bringing--what had happened--at so late an hour?

Was the evil dream not yet over?

What new blow was about to strike her?

"What you desired--nothing else!" said the demon of her life.

The courier checked his foaming horse before the terrace. The countess
tried to hurry toward him, but could not leave the spot. She clung
shuddering to the cross-bars of the window, which cast its long black
shadow far outside.

Freyer opened the door; Madeleine heard the horseman ask: "Is the
Countess here?"

"Yes!" replied Freyer.

"I have a telegram which must be signed, the answer is prepaid."

Freyer tore off the envelope. "Take the horse round to the stable, I
will attend to everything."

He entered and approached the door, through which the child had come to
his mother's aid the last time she was there, to protect her from
Josepha. The countess fancied that the little head must be again thrust
in! But it was only Freyer with the despatch. The countess mechanically
signed her name to the receipt as if she feared she could not do so
after having read the message. Then, with a trembling hand, she opened
the telegram, which contained only the words:

"Our angel has just died, with his mother's name on his lips. Please
send directions for the funeral.

                                                    "Josepha."

A cry rang through the room like the breaking of a chord--a death-like
silence followed. The countess was on her knees, with her face bowed on
the table, her hand clasping the telegram, crushed before the God whose
might she felt for the first time in her life, whom only a few moments
before she had blasphemed and defied. He had taken her at her word, and
her words had condemned her. The child, the loyal child who had died
with her name on his lips, she had wished but a few minutes before that
God would take out of the world--she could betray him for the sake of
an aristocratic legitimate brother, who never had existed. She could
think of his death as something necessary, as her means of deliverance?
Now the child _had_ released her. Sensitive and modest, he had removed
the burden of his poor little life, which was too much for her to bear
and vanished from the earth where he found no place--but his last word
was the name of all love, the name "mother!" He had not asked "have you
fulfilled a mother's duties to me?--have you loved me?" He had loved
his mother with that sweet child-love, which demands nothing--only
gives.

And she, the avaricious mother, had been niggardly with her love--till
the child died of longing. She had let it die and did not bestow the
last joy, press the last kiss upon the little mouth, permit the last
look of the seeking eyes to rest upon the mother's face!

Outraged nature, so long denied, now shrieked aloud, like an animal for
its dead young! But the brute has at least done its duty, suckled its
offspring, warmed and protected it with its own body, as long as it
could. But she, the more highly organized creature--for only human
beings are capable of such unnatural conduct--had sacrificed her child
to so-called higher interests, had neither heeded Josepha's warning,
nor the voice of her own heart. Now came pity for the dead child, now
she would fain have taken it in her arms, called it by every loving
name, cradled the weary little head upon her breast. Too late! He had
passed away like a smiling good genius, whom she had repulsed--now she
was alone and free, but free like the man who falls into a chasm
because the rope which bound him to the guide broke. She had not known
that she possessed a child, while he lived, now that he was dead she
knew it. _Maternal joy_ could not teach her, for she had never
experienced it--_maternal grief_ did--and she was forced to taste it to
the dregs. Though she writhed in her torture, burying her nails in the
carpet as if she would fain dig the child from the ground, she could
find no consolation, and letting her head sink despairingly, she
murmured: "My child--you have gone and left me with a guilt that can
never be atoned!"

"You can be my mother in Heaven," he had once said. This, too, was
forfeited; neither in Heaven nor on earth had she a mother's rights,
for she had denied her child, not only before the world but, during
this last hour, to herself also.

Freyer bore the dispensation differently. To him it was no punishment,
but a trial, the inevitable consequence of unhappy, unnatural
relations. He could not reproach himself and uttered no reproaches to
others. He was no novice in suffering and had one powerful consolation,
which she lacked: the perception of the divinity of grief--this made
him strong and calm! Freyer leaned against the window and gazed upward
to the stars, which were so peacefully pursuing their course. "You were
far away from me when you lived in a foreign land, my child--now you
are near, my poor little boy! This cold earth had no home for you! But
to your father you will still live, and your glorified spirit will
brighten my path--the dark one I must still follow!" Tears flowed
silently down his cheeks. No loud lamentations must profane his great,
sacred anguish. With clasped hands he mutely battled it down and as of
old on the cross his eyes appealed to those powers ever near the
patient sufferer in the hour of conflict. However insignificant and
inexperienced he might be in this world, he was proportionally lofty
and superior in the knowledge of the things of another.

"Come, rise!" he said gently to the bewildered woman, bending to help
her. She obeyed, but it was in the same way that two strangers, in a
moment of common disaster, lend each other assistance. The tie had been
severed that day, and the child's death placed a grave between them.

"I fear your sobbing will be heard downstairs. Will you not pray with
me?" said Freyer. "Do what we may, we are in God's hands and must
accept what He sends! I wish that you could feel how the saints aid a
soul which suffers in silence. Loud outcries and unbridled lamentations
drive them away! God does not punish us to render us impatient, but
patient." He clasped his hands: "Come, let us pray for our child!" He
repeated in a low tone the usual, familiar prayers for the dying--we
cannot always command words to express our feelings. An old formula
often stands us in good stead, when the agitation of our souls will not
suffer us to find language, and our thoughts, swept to and fro by the
tempest of feeling, gladly cling to a familiar form to which they give
new life.

The countess did not understand this. She was annoyed by the
commonplace phraseology, which was not hallowed to her by custom and
piety--she was contemptuous of a point of view which could find
consolation for _such_ a grief by babbling "trivialties." Freyer ended
his prayer, and remained a moment with his hands clasped on his breast.
Then he dipped his fingers in the holy water basin beside the place
where the child's couch had formerly stood and made the sign of the
cross over himself and the unresponsive woman. She submitted, but
winced as if he had cut her face with a knife and destroyed its beauty.
It reminded her of the hour in Ammergau when he made the sign of the
cross over her for the first time! Then she had felt enrolled by this
symbol in a mysterious army of sufferers and there her misery began.

"We must now arrange where we will have the child buried," said Freyer;
"I think we should bring him here, that we may still have our angel's
grave!"

"As you choose!" she said in an exhausted tone, wiping away her tears.
"It will be best for you to go and attend to everything yourself. Then
you can bring the--body!" The word again destroyed her composure. She
saw the child in his coffin with Josepha, the faithful servant who had
nursed him, beside it, and an unspeakable jealousy seized her
concerning the woman to whom she had so indifferently resigned all her
rights. The child, always so ready to lavish its love, was lying cold
and rigid, and she would give her life if it could rise once more,
throw its little arms around her neck, and say "my dear mother." "Pearl
of Heaven--I have cast you away for wretched tinsel and now, when the
angels have taken you again, I recognize your value." She tore the
jewels from her breast. "There, take these glittering stars of my
frivolous life and put them in his coffin--I never want to see them
again--let their rays be quenched in my child's grave."

"The sacrifice comes too late!" said Freyer, pushing the stones away.
He did not wish to be harsh, but he could not be untruthful. What was a
handful of diamonds flung away in a moment of impulse to the Countess
Wildenau? Did she seek to buy with them pardon for her guilt toward her
dead child? The father's aching heart could not accept _that_ payment
on account! Or was it meant for the symbol of a greater sacrifice--a
sacrifice of her former life? Then it came too late, too late for the
dead and for the living; it could not avail the former, and the latter
no longer believed in it!

She had understood him and the terrible accusation which he unwittingly
brought against her! Standing before him as if before a judge, she felt
that God was with him at that moment--but she was deserted, her angel
had left her, there was no pity for her in Heaven or on earth--save
from one person! The thought illumined the darkness of her misery.
There was but one who would pour balm upon her wounds, one who had
indulgence and love enough to raise the drooping head, pardon the
criminal--her noble, generous-hearted friend, the Prince! She would fly
to him, seek shelter from the gloomy spirit which had pursued her ever
since she conjured up in Ammergau the cruel God who asked such
impossible things and punished so terribly.

"Pray, order the carriage--I must leave here or I shall die."

Freyer glanced at the clock. "The half-hour Martin required is over, he
will be here directly."

"Is it only half an hour? Oh! God--is it possible--so much misery in
half an hour! It seems an eternity since the news came!"

"We can feel more grief in one moment than pleasure in a thousand
years!" answered Freyer. "It is probably because a just Providence
allots to each an equal measure of joy and pain--but the pain must be
experienced in this brief existence, while we have an eternity for joy.
Woe betide him, who does the reverse--keeps the pain for eternity and
squanders the joy in this world. He is like the foolish virgins who
burned their oil before the coming of the 'bridegroom.'"

The countess nodded. She understood the deep significance of Freyer's
words.

"But we of the people say that 'whom God loveth, He chasteneth,'" he
continued, "and I interpret that to mean that He _compels_ those whom
He wishes to save to bear their portion here below, that the joy may be
reserved for them in Heaven! To such favored souls He sends an angel
with the cup of wormwood and wherever it flees and hides--he finds it.
Nearer and nearer the angel circles around it on his dark pinions, till
it sinks with fatigue, and fainting with thirst like the Saviour on the
Cross--drinks the bitter draught as if it were the most delicious
refreshment."

The countess gazed into his face with timid admiration. He seemed to
her the gloomy messenger of whom he spoke, she fancied she could hear
the rustle of his wings as he drew nearer and nearer in ever narrowing
circles, till escape was no longer possible. Like a hunted animal she
took to flight--seeking deliverance at any cost. Thank Heaven, the
carriage! Martin was driving up. A cold: "Farewell, I hope you may gain
consolation and strength for the sad journey!" was murmured to the
father who was going to bring home the body of his dead child--then she
entered the carriage.

Freyer wrapped the fur robe carefully around the delicate form of his
wife, but not another word escaped his lips. What he said afterward to
his God, when he returned to the deserted house, Countess Wildenau must
answer for at some future day.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.

                            NOLI ME TANGERE.


"I have attracted you by a Play--for you were a child, and children are
taught by games. But when one method of instruction is exhausted it is
cast aside and exchanged for a higher one, that the child may ripen to
maturity." Thus spoke the voice of the Heavenly Teacher to the countess
as, absorbed in her grief, she drove through the dusk of a wintry
morning. She almost wondered, as she gazed out into the grey dawn, that
the day-star was not weary of pursuing its course. Aye, the mysterious
voice spoke the truth: the play was over, that method of instruction
was exhausted, but she did not yet feel ready for a sterner one and
trembled at the thought of it.

Instead of the divine Kindergarten instructor, came the gloomy teacher
death, forcing the attention of the refractory pupil by the first
pitiless blow upon her own flesh and blood! Day was dawning--in nature
as well as in her own soul, but the sun shone upon a winding sheet,
outside as well as in, a world dead in the clasp of winter. Where was
the day when the redeeming love for which she hoped would appear to her
in the spring garden? Woe to all who believed in spring. Their best
gift was a cold winter sunlight on snow-covered graves.

The corpse of her spring dream was lying on the laughing shores of the
Riviera.

The God whom she sought was very different from the one she intended to
banish from her heart. The new teacher seized her hand with bony
fingers and forced her to look closely at the God whom she herself had
created, and whom she now upbraided with having deceived her. "What
kind of God would this creature of your imagination be?" rang in her
ears with pitiless mockery. Aye, she had believed Him to be the Jupiter
who loved mortal women, only in the course of the ages he had changed
his name and now appeared as Christ. But she was now forced to learn
that He was no offspring of the sensual fancy of the nations, but a
contrast to every natural tendency and desire--a _true_ God, not a
creation of mankind. Were it not so, men would have invented a more
complaisant one. Must not that be a divine power which, in opposition
to all human, all earthly passions, with neither splendor, nor power,
with the most insignificant means has established an empire throughout
the world? Aye, she recognized with reverent awe that this was a God,
though unlike the one whom she sought, Christ was not Jupiter--and
Freyer was not Christ. The _latter_ cannot be clasped in the arms, does
not yield to earthly yearning, no matter how fervently devout. Spirit
as He is, He vanishes, even where He reveals Himself in material form,
and whoever thinks to grasp Him, holds but the poor doll, whom He gave
for a momentary support to the childish mind, which seeks solely what
is tangible!

Mary Magdalene was permitted to serve and anoint Him when He walked on
earth in human form, but when she tried to clasp the risen Lord the
"_noli me tangere_" thundered in her ears, and God withdrew from mortal
touch. In Mary Magdalene, however, the love kindled by the visible
Master was strong enough to burn on for the invisible One--she no
longer sought Him among the living, but went into solitude and lived
for the vanished Christ. But the countess had not advanced so far. What
"God of Love" was this, who imposed conditions which made the warm
blood freeze, killed the warm life-pulses? What possession was this,
which could only be obtained by renunciation, what joy that could be
attained solely by mortification? Her passionate nature could not
comprehend this contradiction. She longed to clasp His knees and wipe
His feet with her hair, at least that, nothing more, only that--she
would be modest! But not even that was allowed her.

This was the great impulse of religious materialism, in which divinity
and humanity met, the Magdalene element in the history of the
conversion of mankind, which attracted souls like that of Madeleine von
Wildenau, made them feel for an instant the bliss of the immediate
presence of God, and then left them disappointed and alone until they
perceived that in that one instant wings have grown--strong enough to
bear them up to Heaven, if they once learned to use them.

Thus quivering and forsaken, the heart of the modern Magdalene lay on
the earth when the first _noli me tangere_ echoed in her ears. She had
never known that there were things which could not be had, and now that
she wanted a God and could not obtain Him, she murmured like a child
which longs in vain for the stars until it attains a higher
consciousness of ownership than lies in mere personal possession, the
feeling which in quiet contemplation of the starry firmament fills us
with the proud consciousness: "This is yours!"

Everything is ours--and nothing, according to our view of it. To expand
our breasts with its mighty thoughts--to merge ourselves in it and revel
in the whirling dance of the atoms, _in that sense_ the universe is
ours. But absorb and contain it we cannot; in that way it does not
belong to us. It is the same with God. Greatness cannot enter
littleness--the small must be absorbed by the great; but its power of
possession lies in the very fact that it can do this and still retain
its own nature. How long will it last, and what will it cost, ere the
impatient child attains the peace of this realization?

In the faint glimmer of the dawn the countess drove past a little
church in the suburbs of Munich. It was the hour for early mass. A few
sleepy, shivering old women, closely muffled, were shuffling over the
snow in big felt shoes toward the open door. A dim ray of light
streamed out, no organ notes, no festal display lured worshippers, for
it was a "low mass." It was cold and gloomy outside, songless within.
Yet the countess suddenly stopped the carriage.

"I am going into the church a moment," she said, tottering forward with
uncertain steps, for she was exhausted both physically and mentally.
The old women eyed her malignantly, as if asking: "What do you want
among poor ugly crones who drag their crooked limbs out of bed so early
to go to their Saviour, because later they must do the work of their
little homes and cannot get away? What brings you to share with us the
bitter bread of poverty, the bread of the poor in spirit, with which
our Saviour fed the five thousand and will feed thousands and tens of
thousands more from eternity to eternity? Of what use to you are the
crumbs scattered here for a few beggars?"

She felt ashamed as she moved in her long velvet train and costly fur
cloak past the cowering figures redolent of the musty straw beds and
close sleeping rooms whence they had come, and read these questions on
the wrinkled faces peering from under woollen hoods and caps, as if
she, the rich woman, had come to take something from the poor. She had
gone forward to the empty front benches near the altar, where the timid
common people do not venture to sit, but--she knew not why--as she was
about to kneel there, she suddenly felt that she could not cut off a
view of any part of the altar from the people behind, deprive them of
anything to which she had no right, and turning she went back to the
last seat. There, behind a trembling old man in a shabby woollen
blouse, who could scarcely bend his stiff knees and sat coughing and
gasping, and a consumptive woman, who was passing the beads of her
rosary between thin, crooked fingers, she knelt down. She was more at
ease now--she felt that she had no rights here, that she was the least
among the lowliest.

The church was still dark, it had not yet been lighted, the sacristan
was obliged to be saving--every one knew that. The faint ray which
streamed through the door came from the candle ends brought by the
congregation, who set them in front of the praying-desks to read their
prayer-books. The first person was compelled to use a match, the others
lighted their candles from his and were glad to be able to save the
matches. It was a silent agreement, which every one knew. Here and
there a tiny light glowed brightly--ever and anon in some dark corner
the slight snap of a match was heard and directly after a column or the
image of some saint emerged from the wavering shadows, now fainter, now
more distinct, according as the light flashed up and down, till it
burned clearly. Then the nave grew bright and the breath of the
congregation rose through the cold church over the little flames like
clouds of incense. The high-altar alone still lay veiled in darkness.
The light of a wax-candle on the bench in front shone brightly into the
countess' eyes. The woman in the three-cornered kerchief with the
sunken temples and bony hands glanced back and gazed mournfully, almost
reproachfully, into her face and at her rich fur cloak. Madeleine von
Wildenau was ashamed of her beauty, ashamed that she wore furs while
the woman in front of her scarcely had her shoulders covered. She
felt burdened, she almost wanted to excuse herself. If she were poor
also--she would have no cause to be ashamed. She gently drew out her
purse and slipped the contents into the woman's hand. The latter drew
back startled, she could not believe, could not understand that she was
really to take it, that the lady was in earnest.

"May God reward you! I'll pray for you a thousand times!" she
whispered, and a great, unutterable emotion filled the countess' soul
as she met the poor woman's grateful glance. Then the kneeling crone
nudged her neighbor, the coughing, stammering old man, and pressed a
gold coin into his hand.

"There's something for you! You're poor and needy too."

The latter looked at the woman, who was a stranger, as though she were
an apparition from another world. "Why, what is this?" he murmured with
difficulty.

"The lady behind gave it to me," said the woman, pointing backward with
her thumb.

The old man nodded to the lady, as well as his stiff neck would permit,
and the woman did not notice that he ought to have thanked her, as the
money was given to her and she had voluntarily shared it with him.

Countess Wildenau experienced a strange emotion of satisfaction as if
now, for the first time, she had a right here, and with the gift she
had purchased her share of the "bread of poverty."

At last there was a movement near the high altar. A sleepy alcolyte
shuffled in, made his reverence before it and lighted a candle, which
would not burn because he did not wait till the wax, which was
stiffened by the cold, had melted. While he was lighting the second,
the first went out and he was obliged to begin his task anew. The wand
wavered to and fro a long time in the boy's numb hands, but at last the
altar was lighted, the boy bowed again, and went down the stone steps
into the vestry-room. This was ordinary prose, but the devout
worshippers did not perceive it. They all knew the wondrous spell of
fire, with which the Catholic church consecrates candles and gives
their light the power to scatter the princes of darkness, and rejoiced
in the victorious rays from which the evil spirits fled, they saw their
gliding shadows dart in wild haste through the church and the sleepy
boy who had wrought the miracle by means of his lighter disappear. _The
light shines, no matter who kindles it_. The poor dark souls, illumined
by no ray of earthly hope, eagerly absorbed its cheering rays and so
long as the consecrated candles burned, the ghosts of care, discord,
envy, and all the other demons of poverty were spell-bound! Now the
priest entered, clad in his white robes, accompanied by two attendants.

A deathlike stillness reigned throughout the church. In a low, almost
inaudible whisper he read the Latin text, which no one understood, but
whose meaning every one knew, even the countess.

Everything which gives an impulse to the independent activity of the
soul produces more effect than what is received in a complete form.
During the incomprehensible muttering, the countess had time to recall
the whole mighty drama to which it referred better and more vividly
than any distinct prosaic theological essay could have described
it. Again she experienced all the horrors of the Passion, as she
had done in the Passion Play--only this time invisibly, instead of
visibly--spiritually instead of materially--"Noli me tangere!"

The priest stooped and kissed the altar, it meant the Judas kiss. "Can
you kiss those lips and not fall down to worship?" cried a voice in the
countess' heart, as it had done nine years before, and a nameless
longing seized upon her for the divine contact which had fallen to the
traitor's lot--but "Noli me tangere" rang in the ears of the penitent
Magdalene. Before her stood an altar and a priest, not Christ nor
Judas, and the kiss she envied was imprinted upon white linen, not the
Saviour's lips. She pressed her hands upon her heart and a few bitter
tears oozed from beneath her drooping lashes. She was like the blind
princess in Henrik Hertz' wonderful poem, who, when she suddenly
obtained her sight, no longer knew herself among the objects which she
had formerly recognized only by touch, and fancied that she had lost
everything which was dear and familiar--because she had gained a new
sense which she knew not how to use--a _higher_ one than that of her
groping finger tips. Then in her fear she turned to the _invisible_
world and recognized _it_ only, it alone had not changed with outward
phenomena because alike to the blind and those who had sight it
revealed itself only to the _mind_. It was the same with the countess.
The world which she could touch with her fingers had vanished and
before her newly awakened sense lay a boundless space filled with
strange forms, which all seemed so unattainably distant; one only
remained the same: the God whom she had _never_ seen. And now when
everything once familiar and near was transformed and removed to a vast
distance, when everything appeared under a wholly different guise, it
was He to whom her heart, accustomed to blindness, sought and found the
way.

The priest was completely absorbed in his prayer-book. What he beheld
the others felt with mysterious awe. It was like looking through a
telescope into a strange world, while those who were not permitted to
do so stood by and imagined what the former beheld.

The Sursum corda fell slowly from the lips of the priest. The bell
sounded. "Christ is present!" The congregation, as if dazzled, bowed
their faces and crossed themselves in the presence of the marvel
that Heaven itself vouchsafed to descend to their unworthy selves.
Again the bell sounded for the transformation, and perfect silence
followed--while the miracle was being wrought by which God entered the
mouths of mortals to be the bread of life to mankind.

This was the bread of the poor and simple-hearted, whose crumbs the
Countess Wildenau had that day stolen and was eating with secret shame.

The mass was over, the priest pronounced the benediction and
withdrew to the vestry-room. The people put out their bits of wax
candles--clouds of light smoke filled the church. It was like Christmas
Eve, after the children have gone to bed and the candles on the tree
are extinguished--but their hearts are still full of Christmas joy. The
countess knew not why the thought entered her mind, but she suddenly
recollected that Christmas was close at hand and she no longer had any
child on whom she could bestow gifts. True, she had never done this
herself, but always left Josepha to attend to the matter. This year,
however, she had thought she would do it, now it was too late. Suddenly
she saw a child's eyes gazing happily at a lighted tree and below it a
manger, with the same eyes sparkling back. The whole world, heaven and
earth were glittering with children's beaming eyes, but the most
beautiful of all--those of her own boy, were closed--no grateful glance
smiled upon her amid the universal joy, for her there was no Christmas,
for it was the mother's day, and she was _not_ a mother. "Child in the
manger, bend down to the sinner who mourns neglected love at Thy feet."
Sinking on the kneeling bench, she sobbed bitterly. It was dark and
silent. The congregation had gone, the candles on the altar had been
extinguished as fast as possible--the ever-burning lamp cast dull red
rays upon the altar, dawn was glimmering through the frost-covered
window panes. All was still--only in the distance the cocks were
crowing. Again she remembered that evening when her father came and she
had knelt with Freyer in the church before the Pieta, until the crowing
of the cock reminded her how easy it was to betray love and fidelity.
Rising wearily from her knees, she dragged herself to a Pieta above a
side altar, and pressed her lips upon the wounds of the divine body.
She gazed to see if the eyes would not once more open, but it remained
rigid and lifeless, this time no echo answered the mute pleading of
the warm lips. No second miracle was wrought for her, the hand which
guided her had been withdrawn, and like the poorest and most humble
mortal she was forced to grope her way wearily along the arid path of
tradition;--it was just, she had deserved nothing better, and the great
discovery which came to her that day was that this path also led to
God.

While thus absorbed in contemplation, a voice suddenly startled her so
that she almost fainted: "What does this mean, Countess? You here at
early mass, in a court-train! Are you going to write romances--or live
them? I have often asked you the question, but never with so much
justification as now!" Prince Emil was standing before her. She could
almost have shrieked aloud in her delight. "Prince--my dear Prince!"

"Unfortunately, Prince no longer, but Duke of Metten-Barnheim, in which
character I again lay myself at your feet and beg for a continuation of
your favor!" said the prince with a touch of humor. Raising her from
her knees, he led her into the little corridor of the church. "My
father," he went on, "feels so well at Cannes that he wants to spend
his old age there in peace, and summoned me by telegram to sign the
abdication documents and take the burden of government upon my young
shoulders. I was just coming from the station and, as I drove by, saw
your carriage waiting before this poor temple. I stopped and obtained
with difficulty from the half frozen coachman information concerning
the place where his mistress was seeking compensation from the ennui of
a court entertainment! A romantic episode, indeed! A beautiful woman in
court dress, weeping and doing penance at six o'clock in the morning,
among beggars and cripples in a little church in the suburbs. A
swearing coachman and two horses stiff from the cold waiting outside,
and lastly a faithful knight, who comes just at the right time to
prevent a moral suicide and save a pair of valuable horses--what more
can be desired in our time, in the way of romance?"

"Prince--pardon me, Duke, your mockery hurts me."

"Yes, I suppose so, you are far too wearied, to understand humor. Come,
I will take you to the carriage. There, lean on me, you are ill,
_machère Madeleine_, you cannot go on in this way. What--you will take
holy water, into which Heaven knows who has dipped his fingers. Well,
to the pure all things are pure. Fortunately the doubtful fluid is
frozen!"

Talking on in this way he led her out into the open air. A keen morning
wind from the mountains was sweeping through the streets and cut the
countess' tear-stained face. She involuntarily hid it on the duke's
breast. The latter put his arm gently around her and lifted her into
the carriage. His own coachman was waiting near, but the duke looked at
her beseechingly. "May I go with you? I cannot possibly leave you in
this state."

The countess nodded. He motioned to his servant to drive home and
entered the Wildenau equipage. "First of all, Madeleine," he said,
warming her cold hands in his, "tell me: _Are_ you already a saint--or
do you wish to _become_ one? Whence dates this last caprice of my
adored friend?"

"No saint, Duke--neither now, nor ever, only a deeply humbled, contrite
heart, which would fain fly from this world!"

"But is this world so unlovely that one would fain try Heaven, while
there are people who can be relied on under any circumstances!"

"Yes" replied the countess bitterly, but the sweetness of the true
warmth of feeling revealed through her friend's humor was reviving and
strengthening to her brain and heart. In his society it seemed as if
there was neither pain nor woe on earth, as if all gloomy spirits must
flee from his unruffled calmness. His apparent coldness produced the
effect of champagne frappé, which, ice-cold when drunk, warms the whole
frame.

"Oh, thank Heaven, that you are here--I have missed you sorely," she
said from the depths of her soul. "Oh, my friend, what is to be done--I
am helpless without you!"

"So much the better for me, if I am indispensable to you--you know that
is the goal of my desires! But dearest friend--you are suffering and I
cannot aid you because I do not know the difficulty! What avail is a
physician, who cures only the symptoms, not the disease. You are simply
bungling about on your own responsibility and every one knows that is
the worst thing a sick person can do. Consumptives use the hunger-cure,
anæmics resort to blood letting. You, my dear Madeleine, I think, do
the same thing. Mortification, when your vital strength is waning,
moral blood-letting, while the heart needs food and warmth. What kind
of cure is it to be up all night long and wander about in cold
churches, with the thermometer marking below freezing, early in the
morning. I should advise you to edit a book on the physiology of the
nerves. You are like the man in the fairy-tale who wanted to learn to
shiver." An involuntary smile hovered about the countess' lips.

"Duke--your humor is beginning to conquer. No doubt you are right in
many things, but you do not know the state of my mind. My life is
destroyed, the axe is laid at the root, happiness, honor--all are
lost."

"For Heaven's sake, what has happened to thus overwhelm you?" asked the
duke, still in the most cheerful mood.

She could not tell him the truth and pleaded some incident at court as
an excuse. Then in a few words she told him of the queen's displeasure,
the malice of her enemies, her imperilled position.

"And do you take this so tragically?" The prince laughed aloud: "Pardon
me, _chère amie_--but one can't help laughing! A woman like you to
despair because a few stiff old court sycophants look askance at you,
and the queen does not understand you which, with the dispositions you
both have, was precisely what might have been expected. It is too
comical! It is entirely my own fault--I ought to have considered
it--but I expected you to show more feminine craft and diplomacy. That
you disdained to employ the petty arts which render one a _Persona
grata_ at court is only an honor to you, and if a few fops presumed to
adopt an insolent manner to you, they shall receive a lesson which
will teach them that _your_ honor is _mine_! Nay, it ought to amuse
you, to feign death awhile and see how the mice will all come out and
dance around you to scatter again when the lioness awakes. Do you
talk of destroyed happiness and roots to which the axe is laid? Oh,
women--women! You can despair over a plaything! For this position at
court could never be aught save a toy to you!"

"But to retire thus in shame and disgrace--would _you_ endure it--if it
should happen to you? Ought not a woman to be as sensitive concerning
her honor as a man?"

"I don't think your honor will suffer, because the restraint of court
life does not suit you! Or is it because you do not understand the
queen? Why, surely persons are not always sympathetic and avoid one
another without any regret; does the fact become so fateful because one
of you wears a crown? In that case I beg you to remember that a crown
is hovering over your head also--a crown that is ready to descend
whenever that head will receive it, and that you will then be in a
position to address Her Majesty as 'chère cousine!' You, a Princess von
Prankenberg, a Countess Wildenau, fly like a rebuked child at an
ungracious glance from the queen and her court into a corner of a
church?" He shook his head. "There must be something else. What is it?
I shall never learn, but you cannot deceive me!"

The countess was greatly disconcerted. She tried to find another
plausible pretext for her mood and, like all natures to whom deception
is not natural, said precisely what betrayed her: "I am anxious about
the Wildenaus--they are only watching for the moment when they can
compromise me unpunished, and if the queen withdraws her favor, they
need show me no farther consideration."

The duke frowned. "Ah! ah!"--he said slowly, under his breath: "What do
you fear from the Wildenaus, how can they compromise you?"

The countess, startled, kept silence. She saw that she had betrayed
herself.

"Madeleine"--he spoke calmly and firmly--"everything must now be
clearly understood between us. What connection was there between
Wildenau and that mysterious boy? I must know, for I see that that is
the quarter whence the danger which you fear is threatening you, and I
must know how to avert it--you have just heard that _your_ honor is
_mine_.' There was a shade of sternness in his tone, the sternness of
an resolve to take this weak, wavering woman under his protection.

"The child"--she faltered, trembling from head to foot--"ah, no--there
is nothing more to be feared from him--he is dead!"

"Dead?" asked the duke gently. "Since when?"

"Since yesterday!" And the proud countess, sobbing uncontrollably, sank
upon his breast.

A long silence followed.

The duke passed his arm around her and let her weep her fill. "My poor
Madeleine--I understand everything." An indescribable emotion filled
the hearts of both. Not another word was exchanged.

The carriage rolled up to the entrance of the Wildenau palace. Her
little cold hands clasped his beseechingly.

"Do not desert me!" she whispered hurriedly.

"Less than ever!" he replied gravely and firmly.

"Her Highness is ill!" he said to the servants who came hurrying out
and helped the tottering woman up the steps. She entered the boudoir,
where the duke himself removed her cloak. It was a singular sight--the
haughty figure in full evening dress, adorned with jewels, in the light
of the dawning day--like some beautiful spirit of the night, left
behind by her companions who had fled from the first sunbeams, and now
stood terrified, vainly striving to conceal herself in darkness. "Poor
wandering sprite, where is the home your tearful eyes are seeking?"
said the prince, overwhelmed by pity as he saw the grief-worn face.
"Yes, Madeleine, you are too beautiful for the broad glare of day. Such
visions suit the veil of evening--the magical lustre of drawing-rooms!
By day one feels as if the night had been robbed of an elf, who
having lost her wings by the morning light was compelled to stay
among common mortals." Carried away by an outburst of feeling, he
approached her with open arms. A strange conflict of emotion was
seething in her breast. She had longed for him, as for the culture she
had despised--she felt that she could not live without him, that
without him she could not exorcise the spirits she had conjured up to
destroy her, her ear listened with rapture to the expression of love in
cultured language, but when he strove to approach her--it seemed as if
that unapproachable something which had cried "Noli me tangere!" had
established its throne in her own heart since she had knelt among the
beggars early that morning, and now, in spite of herself, cried in its
solemn dignity from her lips the "Noli me tangere" to another.

And, without words, the duke understood it, respected her mute denial,
and reverently drew back a step.

"Do you not wish to change your dress, you are utterly exhausted. If it
will be a comfort to you to have me stay, I will wait till you have
regained your strength. Then I will beg permission to breakfast with
you!" he said with his wonted calmness.

"Yes, I thank you!" she answered--with a two-fold meaning, and left the
room with a bearing more dignified than the duke had ever seen, as
though she had an invisible companion of whom she was proud.



                             CHAPTER XXIV.

                          ATTEMPTS TO RESCUE.


The countess remained absent a long time, while the duke sat at the
window of the boudoir gazing out into the frosty winter morning, but
without seeing what was passing outside. Before him lay a shattered
happiness, a marred destiny. The happiness was his, the destiny hers.
"There is surely nothing weaker than a woman--even the strongest!" he
thought, shaking his head mournfully. Ought we not to punish this
personator of Christ, who used his mask to break into the citadel of
our circle and steal what did not belong to him? Pshaw, how could the
poor fellow help it if an eccentric woman out of ennui--ah, no, we
should not think of it! But--what is to be done now? Shall I sacrifice
this superb creature to an insipid prejudice, because she sacrificed
herself and everything else to a childish delusion? Where is the man
pure enough to condemn you because when you give, you give wholly,
royally, and in your proud self-forgetfulness fling what others would
outweigh with kingly crowns into the lap of a beggar who can offer you
nothing in exchange, not even appreciation of your value--which he is
too uncultured to perceive.

"Alas! such a woman--to be thrown away on such a man! And should I not
save her? Should I weakly desert her--I, the only person who can
forgive because I am the only one who _understands_ her?--No! It would
be against all the logic of destiny and reason, were I to suffer such a
life to be wrecked by this religious humbug. What is the use of my cool
brain, if I lose my composure _now_? _Allons donc_! I will bid defiance
to fate and to every prejudice, clasp her in my arms, and destroy the
divine farce!"

Such was the train of the duke's thoughts. But his pale face and
joyless expression betrayed what he would not acknowledge to himself:
that his happiness was shattered. He gathered up the fragments and
tried to join them together--but with the secret grief with which we
bear home some loved one who could not be witheld from a dangerous
path, knowing that, though the broken limbs may be healed, he can never
regain his former strength.

"So grave, Duke?" asked a voice which sent the blood to his heart. The
countess had entered--her step unheard on the soft carpet.

He started up: "Madeleine--my poor Madeleine! I was thinking of you and
your fate!"

"I have saddened you!" she said, clasping her hands penitently.

"Oh, no!" he drew the little hands down to his lips, and with a
sorrowful smile kissed them.

"My cheerfulness can bear some strain--but the malapert must be
permitted to be silent sometimes when there are serious matters to be
considered."

"You are too noble to let me feel that you are suffering. Yet I see
it--you would not be the man you are if you did not suffer to-day."

The duke bit his lips, it seemed as if he were struggling to repress a
tear: "Pshaw--we won't be sentimental! You have wept enough to-day! The
world must not see tear-stains on your face. Give me a cup of coffee--I
do not belong to the chosen few whom a mortal emotion raises far above
all the needs of their mortal husk."

The countess rang for breakfast.

The servant brought the dishes ordered into the boudoir, as the
dining-room was not yet thoroughly heated. In the chimney-corner beside
the blazing fire the coffee was already steaming in a silver urn over
an alcohol lamp, filling the cosy room with its aroma and musical
humming.

"How pleasant this is!" said the duke, throwing himself into an
armchair beside the grave mistress of the house.

"I will pour it myself," she said to the servant who instantly
withdrew. The countess was now simply dressed in black, without an
ornament of any kind, and with her hair confined in a plain knot.

"What a contrast!" the duke remarked, smiling--"you alone are capable
of such metamorphoses. Half an hour ago in a court costume, glittering
with diamonds, an aching heart, and hands half frozen from being
clasped in prayer in the chilled church, now a demure little housewife,
peacefully watching the coffee steam in a cosy little room, waiting
intently for the moment when the water will boil, as if there were no
task in the whole world more important than that of making a good
decoction."

A faint smile glided over the countess' face--she had nearly allowed
the important moment to pass. Now she poured out the coffee,
extinguished the spirit lamp, and handed her companion a cup of the
steaming beverage.

"A thousand thanks! Ah, that's enough to brighten the most downcast
mood! What comfort! Now let us enjoy an hour of innocent, genuine
plebeian happiness. Ah--how fortunate the people are who live so every
day. I should be the very man to enjoy such bliss!" His glance wandered
swiftly to the countess' empty cup. "Aha! I thought so! A great sorrow
must of course be observed by mortifying the body, in order to be sure
to succumb to it. Well, then the guest must do the honors of the
hostess! There, now _ma chère Madeleine_ will drink this, and dip this
buscuit into it! One can accomplish that, even without an appetite. Who
would wish to make heart and stomach identical!"

The countess, spite of her protestations, was forced to obey. She saw
that the duke had asked for breakfast only to compel her to eat.

"There. You see that it can be done. I enjoy with a touch of emotion
this coffee which your dear hands have prepared. If you would do the
same with the cup I poured out what a sentimental breakfast it would
be!" A ray of the old cheerfulness sparkled in the duke's eyes.

"Ah, I knew that with you alone I should find peace and cheer!" said
the countess, brightening.

"So much the better." The duke lighted a cigarette and leaned
comfortably back in his chair.

The countess ordered the coffee equipage to be removed and then sat
down opposite to him with her hands clasped in her lap.

"The main point now, my dear Madeleine, if I may be allowed to speak of
these things to you, is to release you from the cause of all the
trouble--I need not name him. Of course I do not know how easy or how
difficult this may be, because I am ignorant how far you are involved
in this relation and unfortunately lack the long locks of the Christ,
which would enable me successfully to play the part of the 'Good
Shepherd,' who freed the imprisoned lamb from the thicket."

"As if it depended on that!" said the countess.

"Not at all? Oh, women, women! What will not a few raven locks do? The
destiny of your lives turns upon just such trifles. Imagine that
Ammergau Christus with close-cropped hair and a bristling red beard!
Would that mask have suited the illusion to which you sacrificed
yourself? Hardly!"

The countess made no reply, silenced by the pitiless truth, but at last
she thought she must defend herself. "And the religious impression, the
elevation, the enthusiasm--the revelations of the Passion Play, do you
count these nothing?"

"Certainly not! I felt them myself, but, believe me, you would not have
transferred them to the person, if the representative of Christ had
worn a wig, and the next day had appeared before you with stiff,
closely-cropped red hair."

The countess made a gesture of aversion.

"There, now you see the realist again. Yet, say what you will, a few
locks of raven hair formed the net in which the haughty, clever
Countess Wildenau was prisoned!"

"You may be right, the greatest picture consists of details, and may be
spoiled by a single one. I will confess it--Yes! The harmony of the
whole person, down to the most trifling detail, with the Christ
tradition, enthralled me, and had the locks been wanting, the
impression would not have been complete. But, however I may have been
deceived in the image, I cannot let myself and him sink so low in your
opinion as to permit you to believe that it was nothing save an
ensnaring outward semblance which sealed my fate! Had not his spiritual
nature completed the illusion--matters would never have gone so far."

"Yes, yes, I can imagine how it happened. You prompted the part, and he
had skill enough to play to the prompter, as it is called in the
parlance of the stage."

"'Skill' is not the right word, he was influenced precisely as I was."

"Ah! He probably would not have been so foolish as to refuse such a
chance. A wealthy, beautiful woman--like you--"

"No, no, do not speak of him in that way. I cannot let that accusation
rest upon him. He is not base! He is uncultured, has the narrow-minded
views of a peasant, is sensitive and capricious, an unfortunate
temperament, with which it is impossible to live happily--but I know no
one in the world, to whom any ignoble thought is more alien."

The prince gazed at her admiringly. Tears were sparkling in her eyes.
"I don't deny that I am bitterly disappointed in him--but though I love
him no longer, I must not allow him to be insulted. He loved me and
sacrificed his poor life for mine--that the compensation did not
outweigh the price was no fault of his, and I ought not to make him
responsible for it."

The duke became very thoughtful. The countess was silent, she had
clasped her hands on her knee, and was gazing, deeply moved, into
vacancy.

"You are a noble woman, Madeleine!" he said in a low tone. "I always
ranked you high, but never higher than at this moment! I will never
again wound your feelings. But however worthy of esteem Freyer
may be, deeply as I pity the unfortunate man--you are my first
consideration--and you cannot, must not continue in this relation.
Throughout the whole system of the universe the lower existence must
yield to the higher. You are the higher--therefore Freyer must be
sacrificed! You are a philosopher--accept the results of your view of
the world, be strong and resolve to do what is inevitable quickly. You
yourself say that you no longer love him--whether you have ever done
so, I will not venture to decide! If he is really what you describe him
to be, he must feel this and--I believe, that he, too, is not to be
envied. What kind of respite is this which you are granting the hapless
man under the sword of the executioner. Pardon me, but I should term it
torture. You feign, from motives of compassion, feelings you no longer
have, and he feels the deception. So he is continually vibrating
between the two extremes of fear and hope--a prey to the most torturing
doubts. So you permit the victim whom you wish to kill to live, in
order to destroy him slowly. You pity him--and for pity are cruel."

The countess cast a startled glance at him. "You are terribly
truthful."

"I must say that I am sorry for that man," the duke went on in his
usual manner. "I think it is your duty to end this state of things. If
he has a good, mentally sound character, he will conquer the blow and
shape his life anew. But such a condition of uncertainty would unnerve
the strongest nature. This cat and mouse sport is unworthy of you! You
tried it with me ten years ago in a less painful way--I, knowing women,
was equal to the game, so no harm was done, and I could well allow you
the graceful little pastime. It is different with Freyer. A man of his
stamp, who stakes his whole life upon a single feeling, takes the
matter more tragically, and the catastrophe was inevitable. But must
romance be carried to tragedy? See, my dear friend, that it is confined
within its proper limits. Besides, you have already paid for it dearly
enough--it has left an indelible impress upon your soul--borne a fruit
which matured in suffering and you have buried with anguish because
destiny itself, though with a stern hand, tried to efface the
consequences of your error. Heed this portent, for your sake and his
own! I speak in his behalf also. My aim is not only to win you, but to
see the woman whom I have won worthy of herself and the high opinion I
cherish of her."

The countess' features betrayed the most intense emotion. What should
she do? Should she tell this noble man all--confess that she was
_married_. The hour that he discovered it, he would desert her. Must
she lose him, her last support and consolation? No, she dared not. The
drowning woman clung to him; she knew not what was to come of it--she
only knew that she would be lost without him--and kept silence.

"Where is he? In the old hunting-box of which your cousin Wildenau
spoke?" asked the duke after a long pause.

"Yes."

"As what?"

"As steward."

"Steward? H'm!"

The duke shook his head. "What a relation; you made the man you loved
your servant, and believed that you could love him still? How little
you knew yourself! Had you seen him on the mountains battling with wind
and storm as a wood-cutter, a shepherd, but free, you might have
continued to love him. But as 'the steward' at whom the servants look
with one eye as their equal, with the other as their mistress'
favorite--never! You placed him in a situation where he could not help
despising himself--how could you respect him? But a woman like you no
longer loves where she can no longer esteem!" He was silent a moment,
then with sudden determination exclaimed: "Do you understand what I say
now? Not free yourself from him--but free _him_ from _himself_! You
have done the same thing as the giantess who carried the farmer and his
plough home in her apron. Do you understand what a deep meaning
underlies Chamisso's comical tale? The words with which the old giant
ordered her to take her prize back to the spot where she found it, say
everything: 'The peasant is no plaything.' Only in the sphere where a
man naturally belongs is he of value, but this renders him too good for
a toy. You have transplanted Freyer to a sphere in which he ceased to
have any value to you and are now making him play a part there which I
would not impose on my worst enemy."

"Yes, you are right."

"Finally we owe it to those who were once dear to us, not to make them
ridiculous! Or do you believe that Freyer, if he had the choice, would
not have pride enough to prefer the most cruel truth to a compassionate
lie?"

"Certainly."

"And still more. We owe it to the law of truthfulness, under which we
stand as moral beings, not to continue deliberately a deception which
was perhaps unconsciously begun. When self-respect is lost--all is
lost."

The duke rose: "It is time for me to go. Consider my advice, I can say
nothing more in your interest and his."

"But what shall I do--how am I to find a gentle way--oh! Heaven, I
don't know how to help myself."

"Do nothing at present, everything is still too fresh to venture upon
any positive act--the wounds would bleed, and what ought to be severed
would only grow together the more firmly. Go away for a time. You are
out of favor with the queen. What is more natural than to go on a
journey and sulk. To the so-called steward also, this must at present
serve for a pretext to avoid a tragical parting scene."

"Go now! Now!--leave--you?" she whispered, blushing as she spoke.

"Madeleine," he said gently, drawing her hand to his breast. "How am I
to interpret this blush? Is it the sign of a sweeter feeling, or
embarrassment because circumstances have led you to say something which
I might interpret differently from your intention?"

She bent her head, blushing still more deeply.

"Perhaps you do not know yourself--I will not torture you with
questions, which your agitated heart cannot answer now. But if anything
really does bind you to me, then--I would suggest your joining my
father at Cannes. If even the faintest feeling of affection for me is
stirring within you, you will understand that we could never be nearer
to each other than while you were learning to be my old father's
daughter! Will you?"

"Yes!" she whispered with rising tears, for ever more beautiful, ever
purer rose before her a happiness which she had forfeited, of which she
would no longer be worthy, even could she grasp it.

The duke, usually so sharp-sighted, could not guess the source of these
tears; for the first time he was deceived and interpreted favorably an
emotion aroused by the despairing perception that all was vain.

He gazed down at her with a ray of love shining in his clear blue eyes,
and pressed a kiss on her drooping brow. Then raising his hand, he
pointed upward. "Only have courage, and hold your head high. All will
yet be well. Adieu!"

He moved away as proudly, calmly and firmly as if success was assured;
he did not suspect that he was leaving a lost cause.



                              CHAPTER XXV.

                            DAY IS DAWNING.


In the quiet chamber in the ancient hunting-castle, on the spot
formerly occupied by the little bed, a casket now stood on two chairs
near a wooden crucifix.

Freyer had returned, bringing the body of his child. He had telegraphed
to the countess, but received in reply only a few lines: "She was
compelled to set off on a journey at once, her mind was so much
affected that her physician had advised immediate change of scene to
avert worse consequences."

A check was enclosed to defray the funeral expenses and bestow a sum on
Josepha "as a recognition of her faithful service," sufficient to
enable her to live comfortably in case she wished to rest. Josepha
understood that this was a gracious form of dismissal. But the royal
gift which expressed the countess' gratitude did not avail to subdue
the terrible rancor in her soul, or the harshness of this dismissal.

Morning was dawning. Josepha was changed by illness almost beyond
recognition, yet she had watched through the night with Freyer beside
the coffin. Now she again glanced over the letter which had come the
evening before. "She doesn't venture to send me away openly, and wants
to satisfy me with money, that I may go willingly. Money, always money!
I was forced to give up the child, and now I must lose you, too, the
last thing I have in the world?" she said to Freyer, who was sitting
silently beside the coffin of his son. Tearing the cheque, she threw it
on the floor. "There are the fragments. When the child is buried, I
know where I shall go."

"You will not leave here, Josepha, as long as I remain. Especially now
that you are ill. I have been her servant long enough. But this is the
limit where I cease to yield to her caprices. She cannot ask me to give
you up also, my relative, the only soul in my boundless solitude. If
she did, I would not do it, for--no matter how lowly my birth, I am
still her husband; have I no rights whatever? You will stay with me, I
desire it, and can do so the more positively as my salary is sufficient
to support you. So you need accept no wages from her."

"Yes, tell her so, say that I want nothing--nothing except to stay with
you, near my angel's grave." Sobs stifled her words. After a time, she
continued faintly: "I shall not trouble her long, you can see that."

"Oh, Josepha, don't fancy such things. You are young and will recover!"
said Freyer consolingly, but his eyes rested anxiously upon her.

She shook her head. "The child was younger still, yet he died of
longing for his mother, and I shall die of the yearning for him."

"Then let me send for a doctor--you cannot go on in this way."

"Oh, pray don't make any useless ado--it would only be one person more
to question me about the child, and I shall be on thorns while I am
deceiving him. You know I never could lie in my life. Leave me in
peace, no doctor can help me."

Some one rang. Josepha opened the door. The cabinetmaker was bringing
in a little coffin, which was to take the place of the box containing
the leaden casket. Her black dress and haggard face gave her the
semblance of a mother mourning her own child. Nothing was said during
the performance of the work. Josepha and Freyer lifted the metal casket
from the chest and placed it in the plain oak coffin. The man was paid
and left the room. Freyer hastened out and shook the snow from some
pine branches to adorn the bier. A few icicles which still clung to
them thawed in the warm room, and the drops fell on the coffin--the
tears of the forest! The last scion of the princely House of
Prankenberg lay under frost-covered pine boughs; and a peasant mourned
him as his son, a maid servant prepared him for his eternal rest. This
is the bloodless revolution sometimes accomplished amid the ossified
traditions of rank, which affords the insulted idea of universal human
rights moments of loving satisfaction.

The two mourners were calm and quiet. They seemed to have a premonition
that this moment possessed a significance which raised it far above
personal grief.

An hour later the pastor came--a few men and maid-servants formed the
funeral procession. Not far from the castle, in the wood, stood a
ruinous old chapel. The countess had permitted the child to be buried
there because the churchyard was several leagues away. "It is a great
deal of honor for Josepha's child to be placed in the chapel of a noble
family!" thought the people. "If haughty old Count Wildenau knew it, he
would turn in his grave!" The coffin was raised and borne out of the
castle. Josepha, leaning on Freyer, followed silently with fixed,
tearless eyes and burning cheeks. Yet she succeeded in wading through
the snow and standing on the cold stone floor in the chilly chapel
beside the grave. But when she returned home, the measure of her
strength was exhausted. Her laboring lungs panted for breath; her icy
feet could not be warmed; her heart, throbbing painfully, sent all the
blood to her brain, which burned with fever, while her thoughts grew
confused. The terrible chill completed the work of destruction
commenced by grief. Freyer saw it with unutterable sorrow.

"I must get a doctor!" he said gently. "Come, Josepha, don't stare
steadily at the empty space where the body lay. Come, I will take you
to my room and put you on the bed. Everything there will not remind you
of the boy."

"No, I will stay here," she said, with that cruelty to herself,
peculiar to sick persons who do not fear death. "Just here!" She clung
to the uncomfortable sofa on which she sat as if afraid of being
dragged away by force.

Freyer hastily removed the chairs which had supported the coffin, the
crucifix, and the candles.

"Yes, put them out, you will soon need them for me. Oh, you
kind-hearted man. If only you could have the happiness you deserve. You
merited a better fate. Ah, I will not speak of what she has done to me,
but her sins against you and the child nothing can efface--nothing!" A
fit of coughing almost stifled her. But it seemed as if her eyes
continued to utter the words she had not breath to speak, a feverish
vengeance glittered in their depths which made Freyer fairly shudder.

"Josepha," he said mildly, but firmly. "Sacrifice your hate to God, and
be merciful. If you love me, you must forgive her whom I love and
forgive."

"Never!" gasped Josepha with a violent effort "Joseph--oh! this pain in
my chest--I believe it is inflammation of the lungs!"

"Alas!--and there is no one to send for the doctor. The men are all in
the woods. Go to bed, I beg you, there is not a moment to be lost, I
must get the doctor myself. I will send the house-maid to you. Keep up
your courage, I will be as quick as I can!"

And he hurried off, forgetting his grief for his child in his anxiety
about the last companion of his impoverished life.

The house-maid came in and asked if she could do anything, but Josepha
wanted no assistance. The anxious girl tried to persuade her to go to
bed, but Josepha said that she could not breathe lying down. At last
she consented to eat something. The nourishment did her good, her
weakness diminished and her breathing grew easier. The girl put some
wood in the stove and returned to her work in the kitchen. Josepha
remained lost in thought. To her, death was deliverance--but Freyer,
what would become of him if he lost her also? This alone rendered it
hard to die. The damp wood in the stove sputtered and hissed like the
voices of wrangling women. It was the "fire witch," which always
proclaims the approach of any evil. Josepha shook her head. What could
be worse than the evil which had already befallen her poor cousin and
herself? The fire witch continued to shriek and lament, but Josepha did
not understand her. A pair of crows perched in an old pine tree outside
the window croaked so suddenly that she started in terror.

Ah, it was very lonely up here! What would it be when Freyer lived all
alone in the house and waited months in vain for the heartless woman
who remembered neither her husband nor her child? She had not troubled
herself about the living, why should she seek the little grave where
lay the _dead_?

A loud knock on the door of the house echoed through the silence.

Josepha listened. Surely it could not be the doctor already?

The maid opened it. Heavy footsteps and the voices of men were heard in
the entry, then a dog howled. The stupid servant opened the door of the
room and called: "Jungfer Josepha, here are two hunters, who are so
tired tramping over the snow that they would like to rest awhile. Can
they come in? There is no fire anywhere else!"

Josepha, though so ill, of course could not refuse admittance to the
freezing men, who were already on the threshold. Rising with an effort
from the sofa, she pushed some chairs for the strangers near the stove.
"I am ill," she said in great embarrassment--"but if you wish to rest
and warm yourselves here, I beg--"

"We are very grateful," said one of the hunters, a gentleman with a red
moustache and piercing eyes. "If we do not disturb you, we will gladly
accept your hospitality. We are not familiar with the neighborhood and
have lost our way. We came from beyond the frontier and have been
wading through the snow five hours."

Meanwhile, at a sign from Josepha, the maid-servant had taken the
gentlemen's cloaks and hunting gear.

"See, this is our booty," said the other hunter. "If we might invite
you to dine with us, I should almost venture to ask if this worthy lass
could not roast the hare for us? Our cousin, Countess Wildenau, will
surely forgive us this little trespass upon her preserves."

"Are you relatives of Countess Wildenau?"

"Certainly, her nearest and most faithful ones!"

Josepha, in her mortal weakness felt as if crushed by the presence of
these strangers--with their heavy hunting-boots and loud voices. She
tried to take refuge in the kitchen on the pretense of roasting the
hare herself. But both gentlemen earnestly protested against it.

"No, indeed, that would be fine business to drive you out of your room
when you are ill! In that case, we must leave the house at once."

The red-bearded gentleman--Cousin Wildenau himself--sprang from his
chair and almost forced Josepha to go back to her sofa.

"There, my dear--madam--or miss? Now do me the honor to take your seat
again and allow us to remain a short time unto the roast is ready, then
you must dine with us."

A faint smile hovered around Josepha's parched lips. "I thank you, but
I am too ill to eat."

"You are really very ill"--said the stranger with kindly solicitude.
"You are feverish. I fear we are disturbing you very much. Pray send us
away if we annoy you." Yet he knew perfectly well that she could not
help asking the unbidden guests to stay.

"But my dear--madam--or miss?"--Josepha never answered the
question--"are you doing nothing to relieve your illness, have you had
no physician?"

"No we are in such a secluded place, a physician cannot always be had.
But I am expecting one to-day."

"Why, it is strange to live in this wilderness. And how uncomfortable
you are, you haven't even a stool," said the red-haired cousin putting
his huge hunting-muff, after warming it at the stove, under her feet.

Josepha tried to refuse it, but he would not listen.
"You need not mind us, we are sick nurses ourselves, we commanded a
sanitary battalion in the war. So we understand a little what to do.
You are suffering from asthma, it is difficult for you to breathe, so
you must sit comfortably. There! Now put my cousin's muff at your back.
That's better, isn't it?"

"But pray--"

"Come, come, come--no contradiction. You must be comfortable."

Josepha was ashamed. The gentlemen were so kind, so solicitous about
her--there were good people in the world! The neglected, desolate heart
gratefully appreciated the unusual kindness.

"But I am really astonished to find everything so primitive. Our
honored cousin really ought to have done something more for your
comfort. Not even a sofa-cushion, no carpet! I should have thought she
would have paid more attention to so faithful a--" he courteously
suppressed the word "servant"--and correcting himself, said:
"assistant!"

Josepha made no answer, but her lips curled bitterly, significantly.

Wildenau noted it. "Dissatisfied!" escaped his lips, so low that only
his companion heard it.

"You have been here a long time, I suppose--how many years?

"Have I been with her?" said Josepha frankly. "Since the last Passion
Play. That will be ten years next summer."

"Ah--true--you are a native of Ammergau!" said the baron, with the
manner of one familiar with the facts, whose memory has failed for an
instant. "I suppose you came to the countess at the same time as the
Christus?"

"Yes."

"Is he a relative of yours?"

"Yes, my cousin."

"He is here still, isn't he?"

"Why, of course."

"He is--her--what is his title?"

"Steward."

"Is he at home?"

"No, he has gone to the city for a doctor."

"Oh, I am very sorry. We should have been glad to make his
acquaintance. We have heard so many pleasant things about him. A man in
whom our cousin was so much interested--"

"Then she speaks of him?"

"Oh--to her intimate friends--certainly!" said Wildenau equivocally
gazing intently at Josepha, whose face beamed with joy at the thought
that the countess spoke kindly of Freyer.

"Why is he never seen in the city? He must live like a hermit up here."

"Yes, Heaven knows that."

"He ought to visit my cousin sometimes in the city, everybody would be
glad to know the Ammergau Christus."

"But if she doesn't wish it--!" said Josepha thoughtlessly.

"Why, that would be another matter certainly, but she has never told me
so. Why shouldn't she wish it?" murmured Wildenau with well-feigned
surprise.

"Because she is ashamed of him!"

"Ah!" Wildenau almost caught his breath at the significance of the
word. "But, tell me, why does Herr Freyer--isn't that his name--submit
to it?"

Josepha shrugged her shoulders. "Yes, what can he do about it?"

A pause ensued. Josepha stopped, as if fearing to say too much. The two
gentlemen had become very thoughtful.

At last Wildenau resumed the conversation. "I don't understand how a
man who surely might find a pleasant position anywhere, can be so
dependent on a fine lady's whims. You won't take it amiss, I see that
your kinsman's position troubles you--were I in his place I would give
up the largest salary rather than--"

"Salary?" interrupted Josepha, with flashing eyes. "Do you suppose that
my cousin would do anything for the sake of a salary? Oh, you don't
know him. If the countess described him to you in that way, the shame
is hers!"

Wildenau listened intently. "But, my dear woman, that isn't what I
meant, you would not let me finish! I was just going to add that such a
motive would not affect your kinsman, that it could be nothing but
sincere devotion, which bound him to our cousin--a loyalty which
apparently wins little gratitude."

"Yes, I always tell him so--but he won't admit it--even though his
heart should break."

Two dark interlaced veins in Josepha's sunken, transparent temples
throbbed feverishly.

"But--how do you feel? We are certainly disturbing you!" said the
baron.

"Oh, no! It does not matter!" replied Josepha, courteously.

"Could you not take us into some other room--the countess doubtless
comes here constantly--there must be other apartments which can be
heated."

"Yes, but no fire has been made in them for weeks; the stoves will
smoke."

"Has not the countess been here for so long?"

"No, she scarcely ever comes now."

"But the time must be very long to you and your cousin--you were
doubtless accustomed to the countess' visits."

"Certainly," replied Josepha, lost in thought--"when I think how it
used to be--and how things are now!"

Wildenau glanced around the room, then said softly: "And the little
son--he is dead."

Josepha stared at him in terror. "Do you know that?"

"I know all. My cousin has his picture in her boudoir, a splendid
child."

Josepha's poor feverish brain was growing more and more confused. The
tears she had scarcely conquered flowed again. "Yes, wasn't he--and to
let such a child die without troubling herself about him!"

"It is inexcusable," said Wildenau.

"If the countess ever speaks of it again, tell her that Josepha loved
it far more than she, for she followed it to the grave while the mother
enjoyed her life--she must be ashamed then."

"I will tell her. It is a pity about the beautiful child--was it not
like an Infant Christ?"

"Indeed it was--and now I know what picture you mean. In Jerusalem,
where the child was christened, a copy as they called it of the Infant
Christ hung in the chapel over the baptismal font. The countess
afterwards bought the picture on account of its resemblance to the
boy."

"I suppose it resembles Herr Freyer, too?" the baron remarked
carelessly.

"Somewhat, but the mother more!"

Baron Wildenau began to find the room too warm--and went to the window
a moment to get the air, while his companion, horrified by these
disclosures, shook his head. He would gladly have told the deluded
woman that they had only learned the child's death from a wood-cutter
whom they met in the forest--but he dared not "contradict" his cousin.
After a pause, Wildenau again turned to Josepha. He saw that there was
danger in delay, for at any moment the fever might increase to such a
degree that she would begin to rave and no longer be capable of making
a deposition: The truth must be discovered, now or never! He felt,
however, that Josepha's was no base nature which could be led to betray
her employer by ordinary means. Caution and reflection were necessary.

"I am really touched by your fidelity to my cousin. Any one who can
claim such a nature is fortunate. I thank you in her name."

He held out his hand. But she replied with her usual blunt honesty: "I
don't deserve your thanks, sir. I have not remained here for the sake
of the countess, but on account of the child and my unfortunate cousin.
She has been kind to me--but--if I should see her to-day, I would tell
her openly that I would never forgive her treatment of the child and
Joseph--no matter what she did. The child is dead and my cousin will
die too. Thank Heaven, I shall not live to witness it."

"I understand you perfectly--oh, I know my cousin. And--my poor dear
Fräulein Josepha--I may call you Fräulein now, may I not, since you are
no longer obliged to pass for the child's mother?--it was an
unprecedented sacrifice for you--! Alas! My dear Fräulein, you and your
cousin must be prepared to fare still worse, to be entirely forgotten,
for I can positively assure you that the countess is about to wed the
Hereditary Prince of Metten-Barnheim."

"What?" Josepha shrieked loudly.

Wildenau watched her intently.

"She has just gone to Cannes, where the old duke is staying, and the
announcement of the engagement is daily expected."

"It is impossible--it cannot be!" murmured Josepha, trembling in every
limb.

"But why not? She is free--has a right to dispose of her hand--"
Wildenau persisted.

"No--she is not--she cannot marry," cried Josepha, starting from her
sofa in despair and standing before them with glowing cheeks and red
hair like a flame which blazes up once more before expiring. "For
Heaven's sake--it would be a crime!"

"But who is to prevent it?" asked Wildenau breathlessly.

"I!" groaned Josepha, summoning her last strength.

"You?--My dear woman, what can you do?"

"More than you suppose!"

"Then tell me, that we may unite to prevent the crime ere it is too
late."

"Yes, by Heaven! Before I will allow her to do Joseph this wrong--I
will turn traitor to her."

"But Herr Freyer has no right to ask the countess not to marry again--"

"No right?" she repeated with terrible earnestness, "are you so sure of
that?"

"He is only the countess' lover--"

"Her lover?" sobbed Josepha in mingled wrath and anguish: "Joseph, you
noble upright man--must _this_ be said of you--!"

"I don't understand. If he is not her lover--what is he?"

Josepha could bear no more. "He is her husband--her legally wedded
husband."

The baron almost staggered under this unexpected, unprecedented
revelation. Controlling himself with difficulty, he seized the sick
woman's hand, as if to sustain her lest she should break down, ere he
had extorted the last disclosure from her--the last thing he must know.
"Only tell me where and by whom the marriage ceremony was performed."

As if under the gaze of a serpent the victim yielded to the stronger
will: "At Prankenburg--Martin and I--were witnesses." She slipped from
his hand, her senses grew confused, her eyes became glassy, her chest
heaved convulsively in the struggle for breath, but the one word which
she still had consciousness to utter--was enough for the Wildenaus.

When, a few hours later, Freyer returned with the physician and the
priest, whom he had thoughtfully brought with him, he found Josepha
alone on the sofa, speechless, and in the last agonies of death.

The physician, after examining her, said that an acute inflammation of
the lungs had followed the tuberculosis from which she had long
suffered and hastened her end. The priest gave her the last sacrament
and remained with Freyer, sitting beside the bed in which she had been
laid. The death-struggle was terrible. She seemed to be constantly
trying to tell Freyer something which she was unable to utter. Three
times life appeared to have departed, and three times she rallied
again, as if she could not die without having relieved her heart of its
burden. Vain! It was useless for Freyer to put his ear to her lips, he
could not understand her faltering words. It was a terrible night! At
last, toward morning, she grew calm, and now she could die. Leaning on
his breast, she ceased her struggles to speak, and slowly breathed her
last. _She_ had conquered and she now knew that _he_ would conquer
also. She bowed her head with a smile, and her last glance was fixed on
him, a look of reconciliation rested on her Matures--her soul soared
upward--day was dawning!



                             CHAPTER XXVI.

                           THE LAST SUPPORT.


There was alarm in the Wildenau Palace. The countess had suddenly
returned, without notifying the servants--in plain words, without
asking the servants' permission. She had intended to remain absent
several months--they were not prepared, had nothing ready, nothing
cleaned, not even a single room in her suite of apartments heated.

She seemed absent-minded, went to her rooms at once, and locked herself
in. Then her bell rang violently--the servants who were consulting
together below scattered, the maids darted up the main staircase, the
men up a side flight.

"I want the coachman, Martin!" was the unexpected order.

"Martin isn't here," the footman ventured to answer--"as we did not
know ..."

"Then send for him!" replied the countess imperiously. She did not
appear even to notice the implied reproof. Then she permitted the
attendant to make a fire on the hearth, for it was a raw, damp day in
early spring, and after her stay in Cannes, the weather seemed like
Siberia.

Half an hour elapsed. Meanwhile the maids were unpacking, and the
countess was arranging a quantity of letters she had brought with her.
They were all numbered, and of ancient date. Among them was one from
Freyer, written four weeks previously, containing only the words:

"Even in death, Josepha has filled a mother's place to our child--she
has rested in the chapel with him since this morning. I think you will
not object to her being buried there.

                                                      "Joseph."

The countess again glanced at the letter, her eyes rested on the errors
in orthography. Such tragical information, with so terrible a reproach
between the lines--and the effect--a ludicrous one! She would gladly
have effaced the mistakes in order not to be ashamed of having given
this man so important a part in the drama of her life--but they stood
there with the distinctness of a boy's unpractised hand. A man who
could not even write correctly! She had not noticed it before, he wrote
rarely and always very briefly--or had she possessed no eyes for his
faults at that time? Yes, she must have been blind, utterly blind. She
had not answered the letter. Now she tore it up and threw it into the
fire. Josepha's death would have been a deliverance to her, had she not
a few weeks later received another letter which she now read once more,
panting for breath. But, however frequently she perused its contents,
she found only that old Martin entreated her to return--Josepha had
"blabbed."

That one word in the stiff hand of the faithful old servant, which
looked as if it might have been scrawled with a match upon paper
redolent of the odors of the stable, had so startled the countess that
she left Cannes by the first train, and traveled day and night to reach
home. A nervous restlessness made the sheet tremble in her hand as she
thrust it into the flames. Then she paced restlessly to and fro. Martin
was keeping her waiting so long.

A little supper had been hurriedly prepared and was now served. But
the countess scarcely touched the food and, complaining that the
dining-room was cold, crept back to her boudoir. At last, about half
past nine, Martin was announced. He had gone to bed and they had been
obliged to rouse him.

"Is Your Highness going out?" asked the footman, who could not
understand the summons to Martin.

"If I am, you will receive orders for the carriage," replied his
mistress, and a flash from her eyes silenced the servant. "Let Martin
come in!" she added in a harsh, imperious tone.

The man opened the door.

"You are dismissed for to-night. The lights can be put out," she added.

Martin stood, hat in hand, awaiting his mistress' commands. A few
minutes passed, then the countess noiselessly went to the door to see
that the adjoining rooms were empty and that no one was listening. When
she returned she drew the heavy curtains over the door to deaden every
sound. Then her self-control gave way and rushing to the old coachman
she grasped his hand. "Martin, for Heaven's sake, what has happened?"

Tears glittered in Martin's eyes, as he saw his mistress' alarm, and he
took her trembling hands as gently as if they were the reins of a fiery
blooded horse, on which a curb has been placed for the first time.
"Ho--ho--dear Countess, only keep quiet, quiet," he said in the
soothing tones used to his frightened steeds: "All is not lost! I
didn't let myself be caught, and there's no proof of what Josepha
blabbed."

"So they tried to catch you? Tell me"--she was trembling--"how did they
come to you?"

"Well," said Martin clumsily, "this is how it was. They seem to have
driven Josepha into a corner. At her funeral the cook told me that just
before she died, two strangers came to the house and had a long
conversation with the sick woman. When the hare she was ordered to cook
was done, she carried it up. But the people in the room were talking so
loud that she didn't dare go in and stood at the door listening.
Something was said about the countess' favor and a crime, and Josepha
was terribly excited. Suddenly she heard nothing more, Josepha
stammered a few unintelligible words, and the gentlemen came out with
faces as red as fire. They left the hare in the lurch--and off they
went. Josepha died the same night. Then I thought they might be the
Barons von Wildenau, because their coachman had often tried to pump me
about our countess, and I said to myself, 'now I'll do the same to
him.' And sure enough I found out that the gentlemen had gone away, and
where? To Prankenberg!"

The countess turned pale and sank into an arm-chair. "There,
there--Your Highness, don't be troubled," Martin went on calmly--"that
will do them no good, the church books don't lie open on the tavern
tables like bills of fare, and the old pastor will not let everybody
meddle with them."

"The old pastor?" cried the countess despairingly--"he is dead, and
since my father, the prince, has grown weak-minded, the patronage has
lapsed to the government. The new pastor has no motive for showing us
any consideration."

"So the old pastor is dead? H'm, H'm!" Martin for the first time shook
his head anxiously. "If one could only get a word from His Highness the
Prince--just to find out whether the marriage was really entered in the
record."

"Yes, if we knew that!"

Martin smiled with a somewhat embarrassed look. "I ventured to take a
little liberty--and went--I thought I would try whether I could find
out anything from him? Because His Highness--you remember--followed us
to Prankenberg."

"Very true!" The countess nodded in the utmost excitement. "Well?"

"Alas!--it was useless! His Highness doesn't know anybody, can remember
nothing. When you go over to-morrow, you will see that he can't live
long. His Highness is perfectly childish. Then he got so excited that
we thought he would lose his breath, and at last had to be put to bed.
I could not help weeping when I saw it--such a stately gentleman--and
now so helpless!"

The countess listened to this report with little interest. Her father
had been nothing to her while he retained his mental faculties--now, in
a condition of slow decay, he was merely a poor invalid, to whom she
performed the usual filial duties.

"Go on, go on," she cried impatiently, "you are not telling the story
in regular order. When did you see my father?"

"A week ago, after my talk with the gentlemen."

"That is the main thing--tell me about that."

"Why, it was this way: I was sitting quietly at the tavern one night,
when Herr von Wildenau's coachman came to me again and said that his
master wanted to talk with me about our bay mare with the staggers
which he would like to harness with his bay. I was glad that we could
get the mare off on him."

"Fie, Martin!"

"Why--if nobody tried to cheat, there wouldn't be any more
horse-trading! So I told him I thought the countess would sell the
mare--we had no mate for her and I would inform Your Highness. No, the
gentleman would write directly to Her Highness--only I must go to them,
they wanted to talk with me. Well--I went, and they shut all the doors
and pulled the curtains over them, just as your Highness did, and then
they began on the bay and promised me a big fee, if I would get her
cheap for them. Every coachman takes a fee," the old man added in an
embarrassed tone, "it's the custom--you won't be vexed, Countess--so I
made myself a bit important and pretended that it depended entirely on
me, and I would make Her Highness so dissatisfied with the mare that
she would be glad to get rid of her cheap, and--all the rest of the
things we coachmen say! So the gentlemen thought because I bargained
with them about one thing, I would about another. But that was quite
different from a horse-trade, and my employers are no animals to be
sold, so they found that they had come to the wrong person. If I would
make a little extra money by getting rid of a poor animal, which we had
long wanted to sell, I'm not the rascal to take thousands from anybody
to deprive my employers of house and home. And the poor old Prince,
who can no longer help himself, would perhaps be left to starve in his
old age. No, the gentlemen were mistaken in old Martin, they don't
know what it is"--tears were streaming down the old man's wrinkled
cheeks--"to put such a little princess on a horse for the first time
and place the reins in her tiny hands."

"Please go on Martin," said the countess gently, scarcely able to exert
any better control over herself. "What did they offer you?"

"A great deal of money, if I would bear witness in court that you were
married."

"Ah!"--the terrified woman covered her face with her hands.

"There--there, Countess," said Martin, soothingly. "I haven't finished!
Hold your head up. Your Highness, I beg you, this is no time to be
faint-hearted, we must be on the watch and keep the reins well in hand,
that they may not get the start of us."

"Yes, yes! Go on!"

"Well, they tried to catch me napping. They knew everything, and I had
been a witness of the wedding at Prankenberg!"

"Good Heavens!" The countess seemed paralyzed.

Martin laughed. "But I didn't let myself be caught--I looked as stupid
as if I couldn't bridle a horse, and had never heard of any wedding in
all my days except our Princess' marriage to the late Count. Of course
I was at the church then, with all the other servants. Then the
gentlemen muttered something in French--and asked what wages I had, and
when I told them, they said they were too low for such rich employers,
and began to make me offers till they reached fifty thousand marks, if
I would state what they wanted. Yes, and then they told me you were
capable of marrying two men and meant to take the duke as well as the
steward, and they didn't want to have such a crime in the family--so I
must help them prevent it. But this didn't move me at all, and I said:
'That's no concern of mine; my mistress knows what to do!' So off I
went, and left the gentlemen staring like balky horses when they don't
want to pass anything. Then I went to the Prince, and as I could learn
nothing there, I knew of no other way than to write to Your Highness. I
hope you'll pardon the liberty."

"Oh, Martin, you trusty old servant! Your simple loyalty shames me; but
I fear that your sacrifice is useless--they know all, Martin, nothing
can save me."

Martin smiled craftily into the bottom of his hat, as if it was the
source of his wisdom, "I think just this: If the gentlemen _do_ know
everything, they have got to _prove_ it, for Josepha is dead, and if
they had found the information they wanted at Prankenberg, they needn't
offer so much money for my testimony!"

The countess pressed her hand upon her head: "I don't know, I can't
think any more. Oh, Martin, how shall I thank you? If the stroke of the
pen which will give you the fifty thousand marks you scorned to receive
from the Wildenaus can repay you--take it, but I shall still be your
debtor." She hurriedly wrote a few words. "There is a check for fifty
thousand marks, cash it early to-morrow morning. Don't delay an hour,
any day may be the last that I shall have anything to give. Take it
quickly."

But Martin shook his head. "Why, what is Your Highness thinking of? I
don't want to be paid, like a bribed witness, for doing only my duty.
There would have been no credit in refusing the money, if I took it
afterward from Your Highness. No, I thank you most humbly--but I can't
do it."

The countess was deeply ashamed. "But if I lose my property, Martin, if
they begin a law-suit--I can no longer reward your fidelity. Have you
considered that everything can be taken from me if they succeed in
proving that I am married?"

Martin nodded: "Yes, yes, I know our late master's will. I believe he
was jealous and wanted to prevent the countess from marrying again. But
you needn't be troubled about me, I've saved enough to buy a little
home which, in case of need, might shelter the countess and Herr
Freyer, too. I have had it all from you!" Martin's broad face beamed
with joy at the thought.

"Martin!"--she could say no more. Martin did not know what had
happened--surely the skies would fall--the countess had sunk upon his
breast, the broad old breast in which throbbed such a stupid, honest
heart! He stood as motionless as a post or the pile of a bridge, to
which a drowning person clings. But, during all the sixty-five years
his honest heart had beat under the Prankenberg livery, it had never
throbbed so violently as at this moment. His little princess! She was
in his arms again as in the days when he placed her in the saddle for
the first time. Then she wept and clung to him whenever the horse made
a spring, but he held her firmly and she felt safe in his care--now she
again wept and clung to him in helpless terror--but now she was a
stately woman who had outgrown his protection!

"There--there, Countess," he said, soothingly. "God will help you. Go
to rest. You are wearied by the long journey. To-morrow you will see
everything with very different eyes. And, as I said before, if all the
ropes break--then you will find lodging with old Martin. You always
liked peasants' fare. Don't you remember how you used to slip in to the
coachman's little room and shared my bread and cheese till the
governess found it out and spoiled our fun? Yes, yes, bread and cheese
were forbidden dainties, and yet they were God's gift which even the
poorest might enjoy. You must remember the coachman's little room and
how they tasted! Well, we haven't gone so far yet, and Your Highness'
friends will not suffer it. Yet, if matters ever _did_ come to that, I
believe Your Highness would rather accept a home from me than from any
of these noblemen."

"You may be right there!" said the countess, with a thoughtful nod.

"May God guard Your Highness from either.--Has Your Highness any
farther orders?"

"Yes, my good Martin. Go early to-morrow morning to the Prince--or
rather the Duke of Metten-Barnheim--and ask him to call on me at ten
o'clock."

"Alas--the duke went to shoot black cock this morning--I suppose he
didn't know that Your Highness was coming?"

"Certainly not How long will he be away?"

"Till the end of the week, his coachman told me."

"This too!" She stood in helpless despair.

"The coachman said that His Highness was going to Castle
Sternbach--perhaps Your Highness might telegraph there!"

"Yes, my good old friend--you are right!" And with eager haste she
wrote a telegram. "There it is, Martin, it will reach him somewhere!"

And she remembered the message despatched nine years before, after the
Passion Play, to the man whom she was now recalling as her last
support. At that time she informed him that she should stay in Ammergau
and let the roses awaiting her at home wither--now she remained at home
and let the roses that bloomed for her in Ammergau languish.

The coachman, as if reading the mute language of her features and the
bitter expression of her compressed lips, asked timidly: "I suppose
Your Highness will not drive to the Griess."

"No!" she said, so curtly and hastily that it cut short any farther
words.

For the first time a shadow flitted over honest Martin's face. Sadly,
almost reproachfully, he wished his beloved mistress "a good night's
rest," and stumbled wearily out. It had hurt him,--but "the last thing
he had discovered," he did not venture, out of respect to his employer,
to express even to himself.



                             CHAPTER XXVII.

                     BETWEEN POVERTY AND DISGRACE.


Three weary days had passed. The countess was ill. At least she
permitted her household to believe that she was unable to leave her
room. No one was allowed to know that she had returned, and the windows
of the Wildenau Palace remained closed, as when the owner was absent
Thus condemned to total inactivity in the twilight of her apartments,
she became the helpless prey of her gnawing anxiety. The third day
brought a glimmer of hope, a telegram from the duke: "I will come at
six this evening."

The countess trembled and turned pale as she read the lines. What was
to be done now? She did not know, she only felt that the turning-point
of her life had come.

"The Duke of Metten-Barnheim will call this evening and must be
admitted, but no one else!" were the orders given to the servant.

Then, to pass away the time, she changed her dress. If she was to be
poor and miserable, to possess nothing she formerly owned; she would at
least be beautiful, beautiful as the setting sun which irradiates
everything with rosy light.

And with the true feminine vanity which coquets with death and finds a
consolation in being beautiful even in the coffin, she chose for the
momentous consultation impending one of the most bewitching negligeé
costumes in her rich wardrobe. Ample folds of rose-colored _crêpe de
chine_ were draped over an under-dress of pink plush, which reflected a
thousand shades from the deepest rose to the palest flesh color, the
whole drapery loosely caught with single grey pearls. How long would
she probably possess such garments? She perhaps wore it to-day for the
last time. Her trembling hand was icy cold, as she wound a pink ribbon
through her curls and fastened it with a pearl clasp.

There she stood, like Aphrodite, risen from the foam of the sea,
and--she smiled bitterly--she could not even raise herself from the
mire into which a single error had lured her. Then she was again
overwhelmed by an unspeakable consciousness of misery, her disgrace,
which made all her splendor seem a mockery. She was on the point of
stripping off the glittering robe when the duke was announced. It was
too late to change.

She hurried into the boudoir to meet him--floating in like a roseate
cloud.

"How beautiful!" exclaimed the duke, admiringly; "you look like a
bride! It must be some joyful cause which brought you back here so soon
and made you send for me."

"On the contrary, Duke--a bride of misfortune--a penitent who would
fain varnish the ugliness of her guilt in her friend's eyes by outward
beauty."

"H'm! That would be at any rate a useless deed, Madeleine; for
beautiful as you are, I do not love you for your beauty's sake. Nor is
it for your virtues--you never aspired to be a saint, not even in
Ammergau, where you least succeeded! What I love is the whole grand
woman with all her faults, who seems to have been created for me, in
spite of the obstacles reared between us by temperament and
circumstances. The latter are accidents which may prevent our union,
but which cannot deprive me of my share in you, the part which _I_
alone understand, and which I shall love when I see you before me as a
white-haired matron, weary of life--perhaps then for the first time."

Emotion stifled the countess' words. She drew him down upon a chair by
her side and sank feebly upon the cushions of her divan.

"Oh, how cold your hands are!" said the duke, gazing with loving
anxiety into her eyes. "You alarm me. Spite of your rosy glimmer, you
are pale as your own pearls. And now pearls in your eyes too?
Madeleine--my poor tortured Madeleine--what has happened?"

"Oh, Duke--help, advise me--or all is lost. The Wildenaus have
discovered my secret. Josepha, that half-crazy girl from Ammergau, has
betrayed me!"

"So that is her gratitude for the life you saved." The duke nodded as
if by no means surprised. "It was to be expected from that sort of
person. Why did you preserve the fool?"

"I could not let her leap into the water."

"Perhaps it would have been better! This sham-saint had not even
sufficient healthful nature in her to be grateful?"

"Ah, she had reason to hate me, she loved my child more than any
earthly thing and reproached me for having neglected it. These people
can imagine love only in the fulfillment of lowly duties and physical
attendance. That a woman can have no time or understanding of these
things, and yet love, is beyond their comprehension."

"A fine state of affairs, where the servant makes herself the judge of
her mistress--nay even discovers in her conduct an excuse for the
basest treachery. A plain maid-servant, properly reared by her parents,
would have fulfilled her duty to her employers without philosophizing."

The countess nodded, she was thinking of old Martin.

"But," the duke continued, "extra allowance must of course be made for
these Ammergau people."

"We will let her rest; she is dead. Who knows how it happened, or the
struggles through which she passed?"

"Is she dead?"

"Yes, she died just after the child."

"Indeed?" said the duke, thoughtfully, in a gentler tone: "Well, then
at least she has atoned. But, my dear Madeleine, this does not undo the
disaster. The Wildenaus will at any rate try to make capital out of
their knowledge of your secret, and, as the dear cousins are constantly
incurring gaming and other debts--especially your red-haired kinsman
Fritz--they will not let slip the opportunity of making their honored
cousin pay for their discretion the full amount of their notes!"

"Ah, if that were all!"

"That all! What more could there be? I admit that it is unspeakably
painful for you to know that your honor and your deepest secrets are in
such hands--but how long will it be ere, if it please God, you will be
in a position which will remove you from it all, and I--!"

"Duke--Good Heavens!--It is far worse," cried the countess, wringing
her hands: "Oh, merciful God--at last, at last, it must be told. You do
not know all, the worst--I had not courage to tell you--are you aware
of the purport of my late husband's will?"

"Certainly--it runs that you must restore the property, of which he
makes you sole heiress, to the cousins, if you marry again. What of
that--do you suppose I ever thought of your millions?" He laughed
gayly: "I flatter myself that my finances will not permit you to feel
the withdrawal of your present income when you are my wife."

"Omnipotent Father!--You do not understand me! This is the moment I
have always dreaded--oh, had I only been truthful. Duke, forgive me,
pity me, I am the most miserable creature under the sun. I shall not be
your wife, but a beggar--for I am married, and the Wildenaus know it
through Josepha!"

There are moments when it seems as if the whole world was silent--as if
the stars paused in their courses to listen, and we hear nothing save
the pulsing of the blood in our ears. It is long ere we perceive any
other sound. This was the case with the duke. For a long time he seemed
to himself both deaf and blind. Then he heard the low hissing of the
gas jets, then heavy breathing, and at last the earth began to turn on
its axis again and things resumed their natural relations.

Yet his energetic nature did not need much time to recover its poise.
One glance at the hopeless, drooping woman showed him that this was not
the hour to think of himself--that he never had more serious duties to
perform than to-day. Now he perceived for the first time that he had
unconsciously retreated from her half the length of the room.

She held out her hand imploringly, and with the swiftness of thought he
was once more at her side, clasping it in his own. "I have concealed
this, deceived your great, noble love--for years--because I perceived
that you were as necessary to my life as reason and science and all the
other gifts I once undervalued. I did not venture to reveal the secret,
lest I should lose you. The moment has come--you will leave me, for you
must now make another choice--but do not be angry, grant me the _one_
consolation of parting without rancor."

"We have not yet gone so far. I told you ten minutes ago that the
accidents of temperament and circumstance may divide us, but cannot rob
you of what was created for me, we do not part so quickly.--You have
not deceived me, for you have never told me that you loved me or would
become my wife, and your bearing was blameless. Your husband might have
witnessed every moment of our intercourse. Believe me, the slightest
coquetry, the smallest concession in my favor at your husband's expense
would find in me the sternest possible judge. But though an unhappy
wife, you were a loyal one--to that I can bear witness. If I yielded to
illusions, it is no fault of yours--who can expect a nature so
delicately strung as yours to make an executioner of the heart of her
best friend? Those are violent measures which would not accord with the
sweet weakness, which renders you at once so guilty and so excusable."

The countess hid her face as if overwhelmed by remorse and shame.

"Do not let us lose our composure and trust to me to care for you
still, for your present position requires the utmost caution and
prudence. But now, Madeleine--you have no further pretext for not
telling me the whole truth! Now I must know _all_ to be able to act.
Will you answer my questions?"

"Yes."

"Then tell me--are you really married to Freyer?"

"Yes!"

"So the farce must end tragically!" murmured the duke. "I cannot, will
not believe it--it is too shocking that a woman like you should be
ruined by the Ammergau farce."

"Not by that; by the presumption with which I sought to draw the deity
down to me. Oh, it is a hard punishment. I prayed so fervently to God
and, instead of His face, He showed me a mask and then left me to atone
for the deception by the repentance of a whole life."

"Ah, can you really believe that the Highest Wisdom would have played
so cruel a masquerade with you? Why should you be so terribly punished?
No, _ma chère amie_, God has neither deceived nor wished to punish you.
He showed Himself in response to your longing, or rather your longing
made you imagine that you saw Him--and had you been content with that,
you would have returned home happy with the vision of your God in your
heart, like thousands who were elevated by the Passion Play. But you
wanted _more_; you possess a sensuous religious nature, which cannot
separate the essence from the _appearance_ and, after having _seen_,
you desired to _possess_ Him in the precise form in which He appeared
to you! Had it depended upon you, you would have robbed the world of
its God! Fortunately, it was only Herr Freyer whom you stole, and now
that you perceive your error you accuse God of having deceived you. You
talk constantly of your faith in God, and yet have so poor an opinion
of Him? What had God to do with your imagining that the poor actor in
the Passion Play, who wore His mask, must be Himself, and therefore
wedded him!"

The countess made no reply. This was the tone which she could never
endure. He was everything to her--her sole confidant and counselor--but
he could not comprehend what she had experienced during the Passion
Play.

"I am once more the dry sceptic who so often angered you, am I not?"
said the Prince, whose keen observation let nothing escape. "But I
flatter myself that you will be more ready to view matters from a sober
standpoint after having convinced yourself of the dangers of
intercourse with 'phantoms' and demi-gods, who lure their victims into
devious paths where they are liable morally to break their necks."

The countess could not help smiling sorrowfully. "You are
incorrigible!"

"Well, we must take things as they are. As you will not confess that
you--pardon the frankness--have committed a folly and ruined your life
for the sake of a fanciful whim, the caprice must be elevated to the
rank of a 'dispensation of Providence,' and the inactive endurance of
its consequences a meritorious martyrdom. But I do not believe that God
is guilty either of your marriage or of your self-constituted
martyrdom, and therefore I tell you that I do not regard your marriage,
to use the common parlance, one of those 'made in Heaven'--in other
words, an _indissoluble_ one."

The countess shrank as though her inmost thoughts were suddenly
pointing treacherous fingers at her. "Do you take it so lightly, Duke?"

"That I do not take it lightly is proved by the immense digression
which I made to remove any moral and religious scruples. The practical
side of the question scarcely requires discussion. But to settle the
religious moral one first, tell me, was your marriage a civil or
religious one?"

"Religious."

"When and where?"

"At Prankenberg, after the Passion Play. It will be ten years next
August."

"How did it all happen?"

"Very simply: My father, who suddenly sought me, as usual when he was
in debt, saw that I wanted to marry Freyer and, fearing a public
scandal, advised me, in order to save the property--which he needed
almost more than I--to marry _secretly_. Wherever the Tridentine
Council ruled, the sole requisite of a valid marriage was that the two
persons should state, in the presence of an ordained priest and two
witnesses, that they intended to marry. As my father was never very
reliable, and might change his opinion any day, I hastened to follow
his advice before it occurred to him to put any obstacles in my way, as
the pastor at Prankenberg was wholly in his power. So I set off with
Freyer and Josepha that very night. An old coachman, Martin, whose
fidelity I had known from childhood, lived at Prankenberg. I took him
and Josepha for witnesses, and we surprised the old pastor while he was
drinking his coffee."

The prince made a gesture of surprise. "What--over his coffee?"

"Yes--before he could push back his cup, we had made our statement--and
the deed was done."

The prince started up; his eyes sparkled, his whole manner betrayed the
utmost agitation. "And you call that being married? And give me this
fright?" He drew a long breath, as if relieved of a burden. "Madeleine,
if you had only told me this at once!"

"But why? Does it change the matter?"

"Surely you will not persuade yourself that this farce with the old
pastor in his dressing-gown and slippers, his morning-pipe and the
fragrance of Mocha--was a wedding? You will not expect me as a
Protestant, or any enlightened Catholic, to regard it in that light?"

"But what does the form matter? Protestantism cares nothing for the
form--it heeds only the meaning."

"But the meaning was lacking--at least to you--to you it was a mere
form which you owed to the sanctity of your lover's mask of Christus."
He seized her hand with unwonted passion. "Madeleine, for once be
truthful to yourself and to me--am I not right?"

"Yes!" she murmured almost inaudibly.

"Well, then--if the _meaning_ was lacking and the chosen form an
_illegal_ one--what binds you?"

Madeleine was silent. This question was connected with her secret,
which he would never understand. His nature was too positive to reckon
with anything except facts. The duke felt that she was withholding an
answer, not because she had none, but because she did not wish to give
the true one. But he did not allow himself to be disconcerted. "Did the
old pastor give you any written proof of this 'sacred rite'--we will
give it the proud name of a marriage certificate."

"Yes."

"Who has the document?"

"Freyer!"

"That is unfortunate; for it gives him an apparent right to consider
himself married and make difficulties, which complicate the case. But
we can settle with Freyer--I have less fear of him. Your situation is
more imperilled by this tale of a secret marriage, which Josepha, in
good faith, brought to the ears of the Wildenaus. This is a disaster
which requires speedy remedy. In other respects everything is precisely
as it was when you went to Cannes. This complication changes nothing in
my opinion. I hold the same view. If you no longer _love_ Freyer, break
with him; the way of doing so is a minor matter. I leave it to you. But
break with him and give me your hand--then the whole spectre will melt.
We will gladly restore the Wildenau property to the cousins, and they
will then have no farther motive for pursuing the affair."

"Is that true? Could you still think seriously of it--and I, good
Heavens, must I become doubly a criminal?"

"But, _chère amie_, look at things objectively a little."

"Even if I do look at them objectively, I don't understand how I could
marry again without being divorced, and to apply for a divorce now
would be acknowledging the marriage."

"Who is to divorce you, if no one married you? According to civil law,
you are still single, for you are not registered in accordance with
your rank--according to religious law you are not married, at least not
in the opinion of the great majority of Christian countries and sects,
to whom the Tridentine Council is not authoritative! Will you insist
upon sacrificing your existence and honor to a sentimental scruple?
Will you confess to the Wildenaus that you are married? In that case
you must not only restore the property, but also the interest you have
illegally appropriated for nine years, which will swallow your little
private property and rob you of your sole means of support. What will
follow then? Do you mean to retire with the 'steward' from the scene
amid the jeering laughter of society, make soup for him at his home in
Ammergau, live by the labor of his hands, and at Christmas receive the
gift of a calico gown?"

The countess shuddered, as though shaken by a feverish chill.

"Or will you continue to live on with Freyer as before and suffer the
cousins to begin an inquiry against you, and afford the world the
spectacle of seeing you wrangle with them over the property? Then you
must produce the dogmatic and legal proof that you are not married.
This certainly would not be difficult--but I must beg you to note
certain possibilities. If it is decided that your marriage was
_illegal_, then the question will be brought forward--how did _you
yourself_ regard it? And it might occur to the Wildenaus' lawyers that,
no matter whether correctly or not, you considered yourself married and
intentionally defrauded them of the property!"

"Merciful Heaven!"

"Or will you then escape a criminal procedure by declaring that you
regarded your connection with Freyer as an illegal marriage?"

"Oh!" the countess crimsoned with shame.

"There the vindication would be more dishonoring than the
accusation--so you must renounce _that_. You see that you have been
betrayed into a _circulus vitiosus_ from which you can no longer
escape. Wherever you turn--you have but the choice between poverty or
disgrace,--unless you decide to become Duchess of Metten-Barnheim and
thus, at one bound, spring from the muddy waves which now threaten you,
into the pure, unapproachable sphere of power and dignity to which you
belong. My arms are always open to save you--my heart is ready to love
and to protect you--can you still hesitate?"

The tortured woman threw herself at his feet. "Duke--Emil--save me--I
am _yours_!"



                            CHAPTER XXVIII.

                                PARTING.


Several minutes have passed--to the duke a world of happiness--to the
countess of misery. The duke bent over the beautiful trembling form to
clasp her in his arms for the first time.

"Have I won you at last--my long-sought love?" he exclaimed,
rapturously. "Do you now perceive what your dispensations of Providence
mean? The shrewdness and persistence of a single man who knows what he
wants, has baffled them, and driven all the heroes of signs and wonders
from the field! Do you now believe what I said just now: that we are
our own Providence?"

"That will appear in due time, do not exalt yourself and do not
blaspheme, God might punish your arrogance!" she said faintly, slipping
gently from his embrace.

"Madeleine--no betrothal kiss--after these weary years of waiting and
hoping."

"I am _still_ Freyer's wife," she said, evasively--"not until I am
parted from him."

"You are right! I will not steal my bride's first kiss from another. I
thank you for honoring my future right in his." His lips touched her
brow with a calm, friendly caress. Then he rose: "It is time to go, I
have not a moment to lose." He glanced at the clock: "Seven! I will
make my preparations at once and set out for Prankenberg to-morrow."

"What do you wish to do?"

"First of all to see what is recorded in the church register, and to
ascertain what kind of a man the Catholic pastor is, that I may form
some idea of what the Wildenaus have discovered and how much proof they
have obtained. Then we can judge how far we must dissimulate with these
gentlemen until your relation with Freyer can be dissolved without any
violent outbreak or without being compelled to use any undue haste. I
will also go to Barnheim and quietly prepare everything there for our
marriage. The more quickly all these business matters are settled, the
sooner our betrothal can be announced. And that I am ardently longing
to be at last permitted to call you mine, you will--I hope,
understand?"

"But my relation with Freyer must first be arranged," said the
countess, evasively. "We cannot dispose of him like an ordinary
business matter. He is a man of heart and mind--we must remember that I
could not be happy for an hour, if I knew that he was miserable."

"Yet you have left him alone for weeks and months without any pangs of
conscience," said the duke with a shade of sternness.

"It was not _I_, but the force of circumstances. What happens now _I_
shall do--and must bear the responsibility. Help me to provide that it
is not too heavy." Her face wore a lofty, beautiful expression as she
spoke, and deeply moved, he raised her hand to his lips.

"Certainly, Madeleine! We will show him every consideration and do
everything as forbearingly as possible. But remember that, as I just
respected _his_ rights, you must now guard _mine_, and that every hour
in which you retain this relation to him longer than necessary--is
treason to _both_. It cannot suit your taste to play such a part--so do
not lose a moment in renouncing it."

"Certainly--you are right."

"Will you be strong--will you have the power to do what is
unavoidable--and do it soon?"

"I have always been able to do what I desired--I can do this also."

The duke took her hand and gazed long and earnestly into her eyes.
"Madeleine--I do not ask: do you love me? I ask only: do you believe
that you _will_ love me?"

The profound modesty of this question touched her heart with
indescribable melancholy, and in overflowing gratitude for such great
love, which gave all and asked nothing, she bowed her head: "Yes--I do
believe it."

The duke's usual readiness of speech deserted him--he had no words to
express the happiness of this moment.

What was that? Voices in the ante-room. The noise sounded like a
dispute. Then some one knocked violently at the door.

"Come in!" cried the countess, with a strange thrill of fear. The
footman entered hurriedly with an excited face. "A gentleman, he calls
himself 'Steward Freyer,' is there, is following close at my heels--he
would not be refused admittance." He pointed backward to where Freyer
already appeared.

The countess seemed turned to stone. "Request the steward to wait a
moment!" she said at last, with the imperiousness of the mistress.

The man stepped back, and they saw him close the door almost by force.

"Do not carry matters too far," said the duke; "he seems to be very
much excited--such people should not be irritated. Admit him before he
forces the door and makes a scandal in the presence of the servant. He
comes just at the right time--in this mood it will be easy for you to
dismiss him. So end the matter! But be _calm_, have no scene--shall I
remain at hand?"

"No--I am not afraid--it would be ignoble to permit you to listen to
him. Trust me, and leave me to my fate."

At this time the voices again grew louder, then the door was violently
thrown open. Freyer stood within the room.

"What does this mean--am I assaulted in my own house?" cried the
countess, rebelling against this act of violence.

Freyer stood trembling from head to foot; they could hear his teeth
chatter: "I merely wished to ask whether it was the Countess Wildenau's
desire that I should be insulted by her servant."

"Certainly not!" replied the countess with dignity. "If my servant
insulted you, you shall have satisfaction--only I wish you had asked it
in a less unseemly way."

The duke quietly took his hat and kissed the countess' hand: "_Restez
calme_!" Then he passed out, saluting Freyer with that aristocratic
courtesy which at once irritates and disarms.

Freyer stepped close to the countess, his eyes wandered restlessly, his
whole appearance was startling: "Everything in the world has its limit,
even patience--mine is exhausted. Tell me, are you my wife--you who
stand here in this gay masquerade of laces and pearls--are you the
mourning mother of a dead child? Is this my wife who decks herself for
another, shuts herself up with another, or at least gives orders not to
be disturbed--who has her lackeys keep her wedded husband at bay
outside with blows--and deems it unseemly if the last remnant of manly
dignity in his soul rebels and he demands satisfaction from his wife.
Where is the man, I ask, who would not be frenzied? Where is the woman,
I ask, who once loved me? Is it you, who desert, betray, make me
contemptible to myself and others? Where--where--in the wide world is
there a man so deceived, so trampled under foot, as I am by you? Have
you any answer to this, woman?"

The countess turned deadly pale, terror almost stifled her. For the
first time, she beheld the Gorgon, popular fury, in his face and while
turning to stone the thought came to her: "Would you live _with that_?"
Horror stole over her--she did not know whether her feeling was fear or
loathing, she only knew that she must fly from the "turbid waves" ever
rolling nearer.

There is no armor more impenetrable than the coldness of a dead
feeling. Madeleine von Wildenau armed herself with it. "Tell me, if you
please, how you came here, what you desire, and what put you into such
excitement."

"What--merciful Heaven, do you still ask? I came here to learn where
you were now, to what address I could write, as you made no reply to my
announcement of Josepha's death--and I wished to say that I could no
longer endure this life! While talking with the servant at the door,
old Martin passed and told me that you were here. I wanted to say one
last word to you--I went upstairs, found the footman, and asked,
entreated him to announce me, or at least to inquire when I could speak
to you! You had a visitor and could not be disturbed, was his scornful
answer. Then the consciousness of my just rights awoke within me, and I
_commanded_ him to announce me. You refused to receive me: 'I must
wait'--I--must wait in the ante-room while you, as I saw through the
half-opened door, were whispering familiarly with you former suitor!
Then I forgot everything and approached the door--the servant tried to
prevent me, I flung him aside, and then--he dealt me a blow in the
face--that face which you had once likened to the countenance of your
God--he, your servant. If I had not had sufficient self-control at the
moment to say to myself that the lackey was only your tool--I should
have torn him to pieces with my own hands, as I should now tear you, if
you were not a woman and sacred to me, even in your sin."

"I sincerely regret what has happened and do not blame you for making
me--at least indirectly responsible. I will dismiss the servant, of
course--although he has the excuse that you provoked him, and that he
did not know you."

"Yes, he certainly cannot know me, when I am never permitted to
appear."

"No matter, he should not venture to treat even a _stranger_ so, and
therefore must be punished with dismissal."

"Because he should not venture to treat even a _stranger_ so?" Freyer
laughed sadly, bitterly: "I thank you, keep your servant--I will
renounce this satisfaction."

"I do not know what else you desire."

"You do not know? Oh, Heaven, had this happened earlier, what would
your feelings have been! Do you remember your emotion in the Passion
Play, when I received only the _semblance_ of a blow upon the cheek?
Did it not, as you said, strike your own heart? How should you feel
when you saw it in reality? Oh, tears should have streamed down your
cheeks with grief for the poor deserted husband, who the only time he
crossed your threshold, was insulted by your lackey. If you still
retained one spark of love for me, you would feel that a single kiss
pressed compassionately on my cheek to efface the brand would be a
greater satisfaction than the dismissal of a servant whom you would
have sacrificed to any stranger. But that is over, we no longer
understand each other!"

The countess struggled a moment between pity and repugnance. But at the
thought of pressing her lips to the face her servant's hand had struck,
loathing overwhelmed her and she turned away.

"Yes, turn your back upon me--for should you look me in the eyes now,
you would be forced to lower your own and blush with shame."

"I beg you to consider that I am not accustomed to such outbreaks, and
shall be compelled to close the conversation, if your manner does not
assume a form more in accord with the standard of my circle."

"Yes, I understand! You dread the element you have unchained? A peasant
was very well, by way of variety, was he not? He loved differently,
more ardently, more fiercely than your smooth city gentlemen. The
strength and the impetuosity of the untutored man were not too rude
when I bore you through the flaming forest, and caught the falling
branches which threatened to crush you--then you did not fear me, you
did not thrust me back within the limits of your social forms; on the
contrary, you rejoiced that the world still contained power and
might, and felt yourself a Titaness. Why have you suddenly become so
weak-nerved, and cannot endure this might--because it has turned
against you?"

"No," said the countess, with a flash of deadly hatred in her
fathomless grey eyes: "Not on that account--but because at that time I
believed you to be different from what you really are. Then I believed
I beheld a God, now I perceive that it was a--" She paused.

"Go on--put no constraint on yourself--now you perceive that it was a
_peasant_."

"You just called yourself by that name."

Freyer stood as though a thunder-bolt had struck him. He seemed to be
struggling for breath. "Yes," he said at last in a low tone, "I did
call myself by that name, but--_you_ should not have done so--_not
you_!" He grasped the back of a chair to steady himself.

"It is your own fault," said the countess, coldly. "But--will you not
sit down? We have only a few words to say to each other. You have in
this moment stripped off the mask of Christus and torn the last
illusion from my heart. I can no longer see in the person who stood
before me so disfigured by fury the image of the Redeemer."

"Was not the Christ also angry, when He saw the moneychangers in the
temple? And you, you bartered the most sacred treasures of your heart
and mine for paltry-pelf and useless baubles--but I must not be angry!
Scarcely a year ago, by the bedside of our sick child, you reproached
me with being unable to cease playing the Christ--now--I have not kept
up the part! But it does not matter, whatever I might be, I should no
longer please you, for the _love_ which rendered the peasant a God is
lacking. Yet one thing I must add; if now, after nine years marriage
with you, I am still rough and a peasant, the reproach does not fall on
me alone. You might have raised, ennobled me, my soul was in your
keeping"--tears suddenly filled his eyes: "Woman, what have you done
with my soul?"

He sank into a chair, his strength was exhausted. Madeleine von
Wildenau made no reply, the reproach struck home. She had never taken
the trouble to develop his powers, to expand his intellectual
faculties. After his poetical charm was exhausted--she flung him aside
like a book whose contents she had read.

"You knew my history. I had told you that I grew up in the meadow with
the horses and had gained the little I knew by my own longing. I would
have been deeply grateful, if you had released me from the ban of
ignorance and quenched the yearning which those who are half educated
always feel for the treasures of culture, of which they know a little,
just enough to show them what they lack. But whenever I sought to
discuss such subjects with you, you impatiently made me feel my
shortcomings, and this shamed and intimidated me. So I constantly
deteriorated in my lonely life--grew more savage, instead of more
cultivated. Do you know what is the hardest punishment which can be
inflicted upon criminals? Solitary confinement. It can be imposed for a
short time only, because they go _mad_. Since the child and Josepha
died, I have been one of those unfortunates, and you--did not even
write me a line, had no word for me! I felt that my mind was gradually
becoming darkened! Woman, even if you had power over life and
death--you must not murder my soul, you have no right to that--even the
law slays the body only, not the soul. And where it imposes the death
penalty, it provides that the torture shall be shortened as much as
possible. You are more cruel than the law--for you destroy your victim
slowly--intellectually and physically."

"Terrible!" murmured the countess.

"Ay, it is terrible! You worldlings come and entice and sigh and kiss
the hem of our robes, as long as the delusion of your excited
imagination lasts, and your delusion infects us till we at last believe
ourselves that we are gods--and then you thrust us headlong into the
depths. Here you strew the miasma of the mania for greatness and
vanity, yonder money and the seeds of avarice--there again you wished
to sow your culture, tear us from our ignorance, and but half complete
your work. Then you wonder because we become misshapen, sham,
artificial creatures, comedians, speculators, misunderstood
geniuses--everything in the world except true children of Ammergau!" He
wiped his forehead, as if it were bleeding from the scratches of
thorns. "I was a type of my people when, still a simple shepherd boy, I
was brought from my herd to act the Christ, when in timid amazement,
I suddenly felt stirring within me powers of which I had never
dreamed--and I am so once more in my wretchedness, my mental conflicts,
my marred life. I shall be so at last in my defeat or victory--as God
is gracious to me. And since everything has deserted me--since I saw
Josepha, the last thing left me of Ammergau, lying in her coffin--since
then it has seemed as if from her grave, and that of all my happiness,
my home, my betrayed, abandoned home, once more rose before me, and I
felt a strange yearning for the soil to which I have a right, the earth
where I belong. Ah, only when the outside world abandons us do we know
what home is! Unfortunately I forgot it long enough, while I believed
that you loved and needed me. Now that I know that you no longer care
for me--the matter is very different! Like a true peasant, I believed
that I had only duties, no rights, but in my loneliness I have pondered
over many things, and so at last perceived that you, too, had duties
and expected more from me than I can honorably endure! That I bore it
_so long_ gave you a right to despise me, for the husband who sits
angrily in a corner and sees his wife daily betray, deny, and mock
him--deserves no better fate. So I have come to ask what you intend and
to tell you my resolve."

"What do you desire?"

"That you will go with me to Ammergau, that you will cast aside the
wealth, distinction, and splendor which I was not permitted to share
with you, and in exchange accept with me my scanty earnings, my
simplicity, my honest, plebeian name. For, poor and humble as I am, I
am not so contemptible in the eyes of Him, who bestowed upon me the
dignity and honor of personating His divine Son, that you need feel
ashamed to be my wife in the true Christian meaning."

The countess uttered a sigh of relief. "You anticipate me," she
answered, blushing. "I see that you feel the untenableness of our
relation. Your ultimatum is a proof that you will have strength to do
what is inevitable, and I have delayed so long only from consideration
for you. For--you know as well as I that I could never assent to your
demand. It will be a sacred duty, so long as you live, to see that you
want for nothing, but we must _part_."

Freyer turned pale. "Part? We must part--for ever?"

"Yes."

"Merciful Heaven--is nothing sacred to you, not even the bond of
marriage?"

"You know that I am a Rationalist, and do not believe in dogmas; as
such I hold that every marriage can be dissolved whenever the moral
conditions under which it was formed prove false. Unfortunately this is
the case with us. You did not learn to accommodate yourself to the
circumstances, and you never will--the conflict has increased till it
is unendurable, we cannot understand each other, so our marriage-bond
is spiritually sundered. Why should we maintain its outward semblance?
I have lost through you nine years of my life, sacrificed to you the
duties imposed by my rank, by renouncing marriage with a man of equal
station. Matters have now progressed so far that I shall be ruined if
you do not release me! Will you nevertheless cross my path and thrust
yourself into my sphere?"

"Oh God--this too!" cried Freyer in the deepest anguish. "When have I
thrust myself into your sphere? How, where, have I crossed your path?
During the whole period of my marriage I have lived alone on the
solitary mountain peak as your servant. Have I boasted of my position
as your husband? I waited patiently until every few weeks, and later,
every few months, you came to me. I disdained all the gifts of your
lavish generosity, it was my pride to work for you in return for the
morsel of food I ate. I asked nothing from your wealth, your position,
took no heed, like others, of the splendor of your establishment. I
wanted nothing from you save the immortal part. I was the poorest, the
most insignificant of all your servants! My sole possession was your
love, and that I was forced to conceal from every inquisitive eye, like
a theft, in order to avoid the scorn of my fellow-citizens and all who
could not understand the relation in which I stood to you. But this
disgrace also I bore in silence, when a word would have vindicated
me--bore it, that I might not drag you down from your brilliant
position to mine--and you call that thrusting myself into your sphere?
I will grant that I gradually became morose and embittered and by my
ill-temper and reproaches deterred you more and more from coming, but I
am only human and was forced to bear things beyond human endurance. The
intention was good, though the execution might have been faulty. I
lost your love--I lost my child--I lost my faithful companion, Josepha,
yet I bore all in silence! I saw you revelling in the whirl of
fashionable society, saw you admired by others and forget me, but I
bore it--because I loved you a thousand times better than myself and
did not wish to cause you pain. I often thought of secretly vanishing
from your life, like a shadow which did not belong there. But the
inviolability of the marriage-bond held me, and I wished to try once
more, by the power of the vow you swore at the altar, to lead you back
to your duty, for I cannot dissolve the sacrament which unites us, and
which you voluntarily accepted with me. If it does not bind _you_--it
still binds _me_! I am your husband, and shall remain so; if _you_
break the bond you must answer for it to God; as for me, I shall keep
it--unto death!"

"That would be a needless sacrifice, which neither church nor state
would require. I will not release myself and leave you bound. You argue
from a mistaken belief that we were legally married--it is time to
explain the error, both on your account and mine. You speak of a vow
which I made you before the altar, pray remember that we have never
stood before one."

"Never?" muttered Freyer, and the vein on his forehead swelled with
anger.

"Was the breakfast-table of the Prankenberg pastor an altar?"

"No, but wherever two human beings stand before a priest in the name of
God, there is a viewless altar."

"Those are subjective Catholic opinions which I do not understand--I do
not consider myself married, and you need not do so either."

"Not married? Do you know what you are saying?"

"What I _must_ say, to loose _your_ bonds as well as _mine_."

"Good Heavens, what will it avail if you loose my bonds and at the same
time cut an artery so that I bleed to death? No, no, you cannot be so
cruel. You cannot be in earnest. Omnipotent Father--you did not say it,
take back the words. Lord, forgive her, she does not know what she is
doing! Oh, take back those words--I will not believe that my wife, my
dear wife, can be so wicked!"

"Moderate your expressions! I guarantee my standpoint; ask whom you
choose, you will hear that we are not married!"

Freyer rushed up to her and seized her by the shoulders, shaking her as
a tempest shakes a young birch-tree. "Not married--do you know then
what you are!" He waited vainly for an answer, he seemed fairly crazed.
"Shall I tell you, shall I? Then for nine years you were a----"

"Do not finish!" shrieked the countess, wrenching herself with a
desperate effort from the terrible embrace and hurling him from her.

"Yes, I will finish, and you deserve that the whole world should hear
and point the finger of scorn at you. I ought to shout to all the winds
of Heaven that the Countess Wildenau, who is too proud to be called a
poor man's wife, was not too proud to be his----"

"Traitor, ungrateful, dishonorable traitor! Is this your return for my
love? Take a knife and thrust it into my heart, it would be more seemly
than to threaten me with degradation!" She drew herself up to her full
height and raised her hand as if to take an oath: "Accursed be the hour
I raised you from the dust to my side. Curses on the false humanity
which strove to efface the distinctions of rank, curses on the murmur
of 'the eternal rights of man' which removes the fetters from
brutishness, that it may set its foot upon the neck of culture! It is
like the child which opens the door to the whining wolf to be torn to
pieces by the brute. Yes, take yourself out of my life, gloomy shadow
which I conjured from those seething depths in which ruin is wrought
for us--take yourself away, you have no longer any part in me!--Your
right is doubly, trebly forfeited, your spell is broken, your strength
recoils from the shield of a noble spirit, under whose protection I
stand. Dare to lay hands on me again and--you will insult the betrothed
bride of the Duke of Barnheim and must account to him."

A cry--a heavy fall--Freyer lay senseless.

The countess timidly stroked the pallid face--a strange memory stole
over her--thus he lay prostrate on the ground when he was nailed to the
cross. She could not help looking at him again and again: Oh, that all
this should be a lie! Those features--that noble brow, on which the
majesty of suffering was throned--the very image of the Saviour! Yet
only an image, a mask! She looked away, she would gaze no longer, she
would not again fall a victim to the old delusion--she would not let
herself be softened by the wonderful, delusive face! But what was she
to do? If she called her servants, she would be the talk of the whole
city on the morrow. She must aid him, try to restore him to
consciousness alone. Yet if she now roused him from the merciful
stupor, if the grief and rage which had overwhelmed him should break
forth again--would he not murder her? Was it strange that she remained
so calm in the presence of this thought? A contemptuous indifference to
death had taken possession of her. "If he kills me, he has a right to
do so."

She was too lofty to shun punishment which she had deserved, though it
were her death. So she awaited her fate.

She brought a little bottle filled with a pungent essence from her
sleeping-room, and poured a few drops into his mouth. It was long ere
he gave any sign of life--it seemed as though the soul was reluctant to
awake, as if it would not return to consciousness. At last he opened
his eyes;--they rested as coldly on the little trembling hand which was
busied about him as if he had never clasped it, never kissed it, never
pressed it to his throbbing heart. The storm had spent its fury--he was
calm!

The countess had again been mistaken in him, as usual--his conduct was
always unlike her anticipations. He rose as quickly as his strength
permitted, passed his hand over his disordered hair, and looked for his
hat: "I beg your pardon for having startled you--forget this scene,
which I might have spared you and myself, had I known what I do now. I
deeply lament that the error which clouded your life has lasted so
long!"

"Yes," she said, and the words fell from her lips with the sharp sound
of a diamond cutting glass: "Yes, it was not _worth_ it!"

Freyer turned and gave her one last look--she felt it through her
lowered lids. She had sunk on the sofa and fixed her eyes on the
ground. A death-like chill ran through her limbs--she waited in her
position as if paralysed. All was still for a moment, then she heard a
light step cross the soft carpet of the room--and when she looked up,
the door had closed behind Joseph Freyer.



                             CHAPTER XXIX.

                         IN THE DESERTED HOUSE.


The night had passed, day was shining through the closed curtains--but
Countess Wildenau still sat in the same spot where Freyer had left her.
Yes, he had gone "silently, noiselessly as a shadow"--perhaps vanished
from her life, as he had said! She did not know what she felt, she
would fain have relieved her stupor by tears, but she dared not
weep--why should she? Everything was proceeding exactly as she wished.
True, she had been harsh, too severe and harsh, and words had been
uttered by both which neither could forgive the other! Yet it was
to be expected that the bond between them would not be sundered without
a storm--why was her heart so heavy, as if some misfortune had
happened--greater than aught which could befall her. Tears! What would
the duke think? It would be an injustice to him. And it was not true
that she felt anything; she had no emotion whatever, neither for the
vanished man nor for the duke! Honor--honor was the only thing which
could still be saved! But--his sudden silence when she mentioned her
betrothal to the duke--his going thus, without a farewell--without a
word! He despised her--she was no longer worthy of him. That was the
cause of his sudden calmness. There was a crushing grandeur and dignity
in this calmness after the outbursts of fierce despair. The latter
expressed a conflict, the former a victory--and _she_ was vanquished,
hers was the shame, the pangs of conscience, and a strange,
inexplicable grief.

So she sat pondering all night long, always imagining that she had seen
what she had not witnessed, the last look he had fixed upon her, and
then--his noiseless walk through the room. It seemed as though time had
stopped at that moment, and she was compelled, all through the night,
to experience that _one_ instant!

Some one tapped lightly on the door, and the maid entered with a
haggard face. "I only wanted to ask," she said, in a weary, faint tone,
"whether I might go to bed a little while. I have waited all night long
for Your Highness to ring--"

"Why, have you been waiting for me?" said the countess, rising slowly
from the sofa. "I did not know it was so late. What time is it?"

"Nearly six o'clock. But Your Highness looks so pale! Will you not
permit me to put you to bed?"

"Yes, my good Nannie, take me to my bedroom. I cannot walk, my feet are
numb."

"You should lie down at once and try to get warm. You are as cold as
ice!" And the maid, really alarmed by the helplessness of her usually
haughty mistress, helped the drooping figure to her room.

The countess allowed herself to be undressed without resistance,
sitting on the edge of the bed as if paralysed and waiting for the maid
to lift her in. "I thank you," she said in a more gentle tone than the
woman had ever heard from her lips, as the maid voluntarily rubbed the
soles of her feet. Her head instantly sank upon the pillows, which bore
a large embroidered monogram, surmounted by a coronet. When her feet at
last grew warm, she seemed to fall asleep, and the maid left the room.
But Madeleine von Wildenau was not asleep, she was merely exhausted,
and, while her body rested, she constantly beheld _one_ image, felt
_one_ grief.

The maid had determined not to rouse her mistress, and left her
undisturbed.

At last, late in the morning, the weary woman sank into an uneasy
slumber, whence she did not wake until the sun was high in the heavens.

When she opened her eyes, she felt as if she was paralysed in every
limb, but attributed this to the terrible impressions of the previous
day, which would have shaken even the strongest nature.

She rang the bell for the maid and rose. She walked slowly, it is true,
and with great effort--but she _did_ walk. After she had been dressed
and her breakfast was served she wrote:

"The footman Franz is dismissed for rude treatment of the steward
Freyer, and is not to appear in my presence again. The intendant is to
settle the matter of wages.

                                          "Countess Wildenau."

Another servant now brought in a letter on a silver tray.

The countess' hand trembled as she took it--the envelope was one of
those commonly used by Freyer, but the writing was not his.

"Is any one waiting for an answer?" she asked in a hollow tone.

"No, Your Highness, it was brought by a Griess woodcutter."

The countess opened the letter--it was from the maid-servant at the
hunting castle, and contained only the news that the steward had left
suddenly and the servants did not know what to do.

The countess sat motionless for a moment unable to utter a word.
Everything seemed whirling around her in a dizzy circle, she saw
nothing save dimly, as if through a veil, the servant clearing away the
breakfast.

"Let old Martin put the horses in the carriage," she said, hoarsely, at
last.

How the minutes passed before she entered it--how it was possible for
her to assume, in the presence of the maid, the quiet bearing of the
mistress of the estate, who "must see that things were going on right,"
she did not know. Now she sat with compressed lips, holding her breath
that she might seem calm in her own eyes. What will she find on the
height? Two graves of the past, and the empty abode of a former
happiness. She fancied that a dark wing brushed by the carriage window,
as if the death angel were flying by with the cup of wormwood of which
Freyer had once spoken!

She had a horror of the deserted house, the spectres of solitude and
grief, which the vanished man might have left behind. When a house is
dead, it must be closed by the last survivor, and this is always a
sorrowful task. But if he himself has driven love forth, he will cross
the deserted threshold with a lagging step, for the ghost of his own
act will stare at him everywhere from the silent rooms.

Evening had closed in, and the shadows of the mountain were already
gathering around the house, from whose windows no loving eye greeted
her. The carriage stopped. No one came to meet her--everything was
lifeless and deserted. Her heart sank as she alighted.

"Martin--drive to the stable and see if you can find the maid servant,"
said the countess in a low tone, as if afraid of rousing some shape of
horror. Martin did not utter a word, his good natured face was
unusually grave as he drove off around the house in the direction of
the stables.

The countess stood alone before the locked door. The evening wind swept
through the trees and shook the boughs of the pines. A few broken
branches swayed and nodded like crippled arms; they were the ones from
which Freyer had taken the evergreen for the child's coffin. At that
time they were stiff with ice, now the sap, softened by the Spring
rain, was dripping from them. Did she understand what the boughs were
trying to tell her? Were her cheeks wet by the rain or by tears? She
did not know. She only felt unutterably deserted. She stood on the
moss-grown steps, shut out from her own house, and no voice answered
her call.

A cross towered above the tree-tops, it was on the steeple of the old
chapel where they both lay--Josepha and the child. A bird of prey
soared aloft from it and then vanished in the neighboring grove to
shield its plumage from the rain. It had its nest there.

Now all was still again--as if dead, only the cloud rising above the
wood poured its contents on the Spring earth. At last footsteps
approached. It was the girl bringing the keys.

"I beg the countess' pardon--I did not expect Your Highness so late, I
was in the stable unlocking the door," she said. Then she handed her
the bunch of keys. "This one with the label is the key of the steward's
room, he made me promise not to give it to anybody except the countess,
if she should come again."

"Bring a light--it is growing dark," replied the countess, entering the
sitting-room.

"I hope Your Highness will excuse it," said the girl. "Everything is
still just as it was left after the funerals of Josepha and the child.
Herr Freyer wouldn't allow me to clear anything away." She left the
room to get a lamp. There lay the dry pine branches, there stood the
crucifix with the candles, which had burned low in their sockets.
_This_ for weeks had been his sole companionship. Poor, forsaken one!
cried a voice in the countess' heart, and a shudder ran through her
limbs as she saw on the sofa a black pall left from Josepha's funeral.
It seemed as if it were Josepha herself lying there, as if the black
form must rise at her entrance and approach threateningly. Horror
seized her, and she hurried out to meet the girl who was coming with a
light. The steward's room was one story higher, adjoining her own
apartments. She went up the stairs with an uncertain tread, leaving the
girl below. She needed no witness for what she expected to find there.

She thrust the key into the lock with a trembling hand and opened the
door. Sorrowful duty! Wherever she turned in this house of mourning,
she was under the ban of her own guilt. Wherever she entered one of the
empty rooms, it seemed as if whispering, wailing spirits separated and
crept into the corners--to watch until the moment came when they could
rush forth as an avenging army.

At her entrance the movement was communicated through all the boards of
the old floor until it really seemed as if viewless feet were walking
by her side. For a moment she stood still, holding her breath--she had
never before noticed this effect of her own steps, she had never been
here _alone_. Her sleeping-room was beside her husband's--the door
stood open--he must have been in there to bid farewell before going
away. She moved hesitatingly a few steps forward and cast a timid
glance within. The two beds, standing side by side, looked like two
coffins. She felt as if she beheld her own corpse lying there--the
corpse of the former Countess Wildenau, Freyer's wife. The woman
standing here now was a different person--and her murderess! Yet she
grieved for her and still felt her griefs and her death-struggle. She
hastily closed and bolted the door--as if the dead woman within might
come out and call her to an account.

Then she turned her dragging steps toward Freyer's writing-desk, for
that is always the tabernacle where a lonely soul conceals its secrets.
And--there lay a large envelope bearing the address: "To the Countess
Wildenau. To be opened by her own hands!"

She placed the lamp on the table, and sat down to read. She no longer
dreaded the ghosts of her own acts--_he_ was with her and though he had
raged yesterday in the madness of his anguish--he would protect her!

She opened the envelope. Two papers fell into her hands. Her marriage
certificate and a paper in Freyer's writing. The lamp burned unsteadily
and smoked, or were her eyes dim? Now she no longer saw the mistakes in
writing, now she saw between the clumsy characters a noble, grieving
soul which had gazed at her yesterday from a pair of dark eyes--for the
last time! Clasping her hands over the sheet, she leaned her head upon
them like a penitent Magdalene upon the gospel. It was to her also a
gospel--of pain and love. It ran as follows:

"Countess:

"I bid you an affectionate farewell, and enclose the marriage
certificate, that you may have no fear of my causing you any annoyance
by it--

"Everything else which I owe to your kindness I restore, as I can make
no farther use of it. I am sincerely sorry that you were disappointed
in me--I told you that I was not He whom I personated, but a poor,
plain man, but you would not believe it, and made the experiment with
me. It was a great misfortune for both. For you can never be happy, on
account of the sin you wish to commit against me. I will pray God to
release you from me--in a way which will spare you from taking this
heavy sin upon you--but I have still one act of penance to perform
toward my home, to which I have been faithless, that it may still
forgive me in this life. I hear that the Passion Play cannot be
performed in Ammergau next summer, because there is no Christus--that
would be terrible for our poor parish! I will try whether I can help
them out of the difficulty if they will receive me and not repulse me
as befits the renegade." (Here the writing was blurred by tears) "Only
wait, for the welfare of your own soul, until the performances are
over, and I have done my duty to the community. Then God will be
merciful and open a way for us all.

                              "Your grateful

                                              "Joseph Freyer.

"Postscript:--If it is possible, forgive me for all I did to offend you
yesterday."

There, in brief, untutored words was depicted the martyrdom of a soul,
which had passed through the school of suffering to the utmost
perfection! The most eloquent, polished description of his feelings
would have had less power to touch the countess' heart than these
simple, trite expressions--she herself could not have explained why it
was the helplessness of the uncultured man who had trusted to her
generosity, which spoke from these lines with an unconscious reproach,
which pierced deeper than any complaint. And she had no answer to this
reproach, save the tears which now flowed constantly from her eyes.

Laying her head upon the page, she wept--at last wept.

She remained long in this attitude. A sorrowful peace surrounded her,
nothing stirred within or without, the spirits seemed reconciled by
what they now beheld. The dead Countess Wildenau in the next room had
risen noiselessly, she was no longer there! She was flying far--far
beyond the mountains--seeking--seeking the lost husband, the poor,
innocent husband, who had resigned for her sake all that constitutes
human happiness and human dignity, anxious for one thing only, her
deliverance from what, in his childlike view of religion, he could not
fail to consider a heavy, unforgivable sin! She was flying through a
broad portal in the air--it was the rainbow formed of the tears of love
shed by sundered human hearts for thousands of years. Even so looked
the rainbow, which had arched above her head when she stood on the peak
with the royal son of the mountains, high above the embers of the
forest, through which he had borne her, ruling the flames. They had
spared him--but _she_ had had no pity--they had crouched at his feet
like fiery lions before their tamer, but the woman for whom he had
fought trampled on him. Yet above them arched the rainbow, the symbol
of peace and reconciliation, and under _this_ she had made the oath
which she now intended to break. The dead Countess Wildenau, however,
saw the gleaming bow again, and was soaring through it to her husband,
for she had no further knowledge of earthly things, she knew only the
old, long denied, all-conquering love!

Suddenly the clock on the writing-table began to strike, the penitent
dreamer started. It was striking nine. The clock was still going--he
had wound it. It was a gift from her. He had left all her gifts, he
wrote. That would be terrible. Surely he had not gone without any
means? The key of the writing-table was in the lock. She opened the
drawer. There lay all his papers, books, the rest of the housekeeping
money, and accounts, all in the most conscientious order, and beside
them--oh, that she must see it--a little purse containing his savings
and a savings-bank book, which she herself had once jestingly pressed
upon him. The little book was wrapped in paper, on which was written:
"To keep the graves of my dear ones in Countess Wildenau's chapel."

"Oh, you great, noble heart, which I never understood!" sobbed the
guilty woman, restoring the little volume to its place.

But she could not rest, she must search on and on, she must know
whether he had left her as a beggar? Against the wall beside the
writing-table, stood a costly old armoire, richly ornamented, which had
seen many generations of the Prankenbergs come and pass away. Madeleine
von Wildenau turned the lock with an effort--there hung all his
clothing, just as he had received it from her or purchased it with his
own wages; nothing was missing save the poor little coat, hat and cane,
with which he had left Ammergau with the owner of a fortune numbering
millions. He had wandered forth again as poor as he had come.

Sinking on her knees, she buried her face, overwhelmed with grief and
shame, in her clasped hands.

"Freyer, Freyer, I did not want this--not this!" Now the long repressed
grief which she had inflicted upon herself burst forth unrestrained.
Here she could shriek it out; here no one heard her. "Oh, that you
should leave me thus--unreconciled, without a farewell, with an aching
heart--not even protected from want! And I let you go without one kind
word--I did not even return your last glance. Was it possible that I
could do it?"

The old Prankenberg lion on the coat of arms on the armoire had
doubtless seen many mourners scan the garments whose owners rested
under the sod--but no one of all the women of that failing race had
wept so bitterly over the contents of the armoire--as this last of her
name.

The candle had burned low in the socket, a star glinting through the
torn clouds shone through the uncurtained windows. Beyond the forest
the first flashes of spring lightning darted to and fro.

Madeleine von Wildenau rose and stood for a while in the middle of the
room, pondering. What did she want here? She had nothing more to find
in the empty house. The dead Countess Wildenau was once more sleeping
in the adjoining room, and the living one no longer belonged to
herself. Was it, could it be true, that she had thrust out the peaceful
inmate of this house? Thrust him forever from the modest home she had
established for him? "Husband, father of my child, where are you?" No
answer! He was no longer hers! He had risen from the humiliation she
inflicted upon him, he had stripped off the robe of servitude, and gone
forth, scorning her and all else--a poor but free man!

She must return to the slavery of her own guilt and of prosaic
existence, while he went farther and farther away, like a vanishing
star. She felt that her strength was failing, she must go, or she would
sink dying in this place of woe--alone without aid or care.

She folded the marriage certificate and Freyer's letter together, and
without another glance around the room--the ghost of her awakened
conscience was stirring again, she took the dying candle and hurried
down. The steps again creaked behind her, as though some one was
following her downstairs. She had ordered the carriage at nine, it must
have been waiting a long time. Her foot faltered at the door of the
sitting-room, but she passed on--it was impossible for her to enter it
again--she called--but the maid-servant had gone to her work in the
stables--nothing save her own trembling voice echoed back through the
passages. She went out. The carriage was standing at the side of the
house. The rain had ceased, the forest was slumbering and all the
creatures which animated it by day with it.

The countess locked the door. "Now interweave your boughs and shut it
in!" she said to the briers and pines which stood closely around it.
"Spread out your branches and compass it with an impenetrable hedge
that no one may find it. The Sleeping Beauty who slumbers here--nothing
must ever rouse!"



                              CHAPTER XXX.

                           THE "WIESHERRLE."


High above the rushing Wildbach, where the stream bursts through the
crumbling rocks and in its fierce rush sends heavy stones grinding over
one another--a man lay on the damp cliff which trembled under the shock
of the falling masses of water. The rough precipices, dripping with
spray, pressed close about him, shutting him into the cool, moss-grown
ravine, through which no patch of blue sky was visible, no sunbeam
stole.

Here the wanderer, deceived in everything, lay resting on his way home.
With his head propped on his hand, he gazed steadfastly down into the
swirl of the foaming, misty, ceaseless rush of the falling water! On
the rock before him lay a small memorandum book, in which he was slowly
writing sorrowful words, just as they welled from his soul--slowly and
sluggishly, as the resin oozes from the gashed trees. Wherever a human
heart receives a deep, fatal wound, the poetry latent in the blood of
the people streams from the hurt. All our sorrowful old folk-songs are
such drops of the heart's blood of the people. The son of a race of
mountaineers who sung their griefs and joys was composing his own
mournful wayfaring ballad for not one of those which he knew and
cherished in his memory expressed the unutterable grief he experienced.
He did not know how he wrote it--he was ignorant of rhyme and metre.
When he finished, that is, when he had said all he felt, it seemed as
though the song had flown to him, as the seed of some plant is blown
upon a barren cliff, takes root, and grows there.

But now, after he had created the form of the verses, he first realized
the full extent of his misery!

Hiding the little book in his pocket, he rose to follow the toilsome
path he was seeking high among the mountains where there were only a
few scattered homesteads, and he met no human being.

While Countess Wildenau in the deserted hunting-castle was weeping over
the cast-off garments with which he had flung aside the form of a
servant, the free man was striding over the heights, fanned by the
night-breeze, lashed by the rain in his thin coat--free--but also free
to be exposed to grief, to the elements--to hunger! Free--but so free
that he had not even a roof beneath which to shelter his head within
four protecting walls.


           "Both love and faith have fled for aye,
            Like chaff by wild winds swept away--
            Naught, naught is left me here below
            Save keen remorse and endless woe.

           "No home have I on the wide earth--
            A ragged beggar fare I forth,
            In midnight gloom, by tempests met,
            Broken my staff, my star has set.

           "With raiment tattered by the sleet,
            My brain scorched by the sun's fierce heat,
            My heart torn by a human hand,
            A shadow--I glide through the land.

           "Homeward I turn, white is my hair,
            Of love and faith my life is bare--
            Whoe'er beholds me makes the sign
            Of the cross--God save a fate like mine."


So the melancholy melody echoed through the darkness of the night, from
peak to peak along the road from the Griess to Ammergau. And wherever
it sounded, the birds flew startled from the trees deeper into the
forest, the deer fled into the thickets and listened, the child in the
cradle started and wept in its sleep. The dogs in the lonely courtyards
barked loudly.

"That was no human voice, it was a shot deer or an owl"--the peasants
said to their trembling wives, listening for a time to the ghostly,
wailing notes dying faintly away till all was still once more--and the
spectre had passed. But when morning dawned and the time came when the
matin bells drove all evil spirits away the song, too, ceased, and only
its prophecy came true. Whoever recognized in the emaciated man, with
hollow eyes and cheeks, the Christus-Freyer of Ammergau, doubtless made
the sign of the cross in terror, exclaiming: "Heaven preserve us!" But
the lighter it grew, the farther he plunged into the forest. He was
ashamed to be seen! His gait grew more and more feeble, his garments
more shabby by his long walk in the rain and wind.

He still had a few pennies in his pocket--the exact sum he possessed
when he left Ammergau. He was keeping them for a night's lodgings,
which he must take once during the twenty-four hours. He could have
reached Ammergau easily by noon--but he did not want to enter it in
broad day as a ragged beggar. So he rested by day and walked at night.

At a venerable old inn, the "Shield," on the road from Steingaden to
Ammergau, he asked one of the servants if he might lie a few hours on
the straw to rest. The latter hesitated before granting permission--the
man looked so doubtful. At last he said: "Well, I won't refuse you, but
see that you carry nothing off when you go away from here."

Freyer made no reply. The wrath which had made him hurl the lackey from
the countess' door, no longer surged within him--now it was his home
which was punishing him, speaking to him in her rude accents--let her
say what she would, he accepted it as a son receives a reproof from a
mother. He hung his drenched coat to dry in the sun, which now shone
warmly again, then slipped into the barn and lay down on the hay. A
refreshing slumber embraced him, poverty and humility took the
sorrowing soul into their maternal arms, as a poor man picks up the
withered blossom the rich one has carelessly flung aside, and carrying
it home makes it bloom again.

Rest, weary soul! You no longer need to stretch and distort the noble
proportions of your existence to fit them to relations to which they
were not born. You need be nothing more than you are, a child of the
people, suckled by the sacred breast of nature and can always return
there without being ashamed of it. Poverty and lowliness extend their
protecting mantle over you and hide you from the looks of scorn and
contempt which rend your heart.

A peaceful expression rested upon the sleeper's face, but his breathing
was deep and labored as if some powerful feeling was stirring his soul
under the quiet repose of slumber and from beneath his closed lids
stole a tear.

During several hours the exhausted body lay between sleeping and
waking, unconscious grief and comfort.

Opposite, "on the Wies" fifteen minutes walk from the "Shield," a bell
rang in the church where the pilgrims went. There an ancient Christ
"our Lord of the Wies," called simply "the Wiesherrle," carved from
mouldering, painted wood, was hung from the cross by chains which
rattled when the image was laughed at incredulously, and with real
hair, which constantly grew again when an impious hand cut it. At times
of special visitation it could sweat blood, and hundreds journeyed to
the "Wies," trustfully seeking the wonder-working "Wiesherrle." It was
a terrible image of suffering, and the first sight of the scourged
body and visage contorted by pain caused an involuntary thrill of
horror--increased by the black beard and long hair, such as often grows
in the graves of the dead. The face stared fixedly at the beholder with
its glassy eyes, as if to say: "Do you believe in me?" The emaciated
body was so lifelike, that it might have been an embalmed corpse placed
erect. But the horror vanished when one gazed for a while, for an
expression of patience rested on the uncanny face, the lashes of the
fixed eyes began to quiver, the image became instinct with life, the
chains swayed slightly, and the drops of blood again grew liquid. Why
should they not? The heart, which loves forever can also, to the eye of
faith, bleed forever. Hundreds of wax limbs and silver hearts,
consecrated bones and other anomalies bore witness to past calamities
where the Wiesherrle had lent its aid. But he could also be angry, as
the rattling of his chains showed, and this gave him a somewhat
spectral, demoniac aspect.

Under the protection of this strange image of Christ, whose power
extended over the whole mountain plateau, the living image of Christ
lay unconscious. Then the vesper-bells, ringing from the church, roused
him. He hastily started up and, in doing so, struck against the block
where the wood was split. A chain flung upon it fell. Freyer raised and
held it a moment before replacing it on the block, thinking of the
scourging in the Passion Play.

"Heavens, the Wiesherrle!" shrieked a terrified voice, and the door
leading into the barn, which had been softly opened, was hurriedly
shut.

"Father, father, come quick--the Wiesherrle is in the barn!"--screamed
some one in deadly fright.

"Silly girl," Freyer heard a man say. "Are you crazy? What are you
talking about?"

"Really, Father, on my soul; just go there. The Wiesherrle is standing
in the middle of the hay. I saw him. By our Lord and the Holy Cross.
Amen!"

Freyer heard the girl sink heavily on the bench by the stove. The
father answered angrily: "Silly thing, silly thing!" and went to the
door in his hob-nailed shoes. "Is any one in here?" he asked. But as
Freyer approached, the peasant himself almost started back in terror:
"Good Lord, who are you? Why do you startle folks so? Can't you speak?"

"I asked the man if I might rest there, and then I fell asleep."

"I don't see why you should be so lazy, turning night into day.
Tramp on, and sleep off your drunkenness somewhere else! I want no
miracles--and no Wiesherrle in my house."

"I'll pay for everything," said Freyer humbly, almost beseechingly,
holding out his little stock of ready money, for he was overpowered
with hunger and thirst.

"What do I care for your pennies!" growled the tavern keeper angrily,
closing the door.

There stood the hapless man, in whom the girl's soul had recognized
with awe the martyred Christ, but whom the rude peasant turned from his
door as a vagrant--hungry and thirsty, worn almost unto death, and with
a walk of five hours before him. He took his hat and his staff, hung
his dry coat over his shoulder, and left the barn.

As he went out he heard the last notes of the vesper-bell, and felt a
yearning to go to Him for whom he had been mistaken, it seemed as if He
were calling in the echoing bells: "Come to me, I have comfort for
you." He struck into the forest path that led to the Wiesherrle. The
white walls of the church soon appeared and he stepped within, where
the showy, antiquated style of the last century mingled with the crude
notions of the mountaineers for and by whom it was built.

Skulls, skeletons of saints, chubby-cheeked cupids, cruel martyrdoms,
and Arcadian shepherdesses, nude penitents and fiends dragging them
down into the depths, lambs of heaven and dogs of hell were all in
motley confusion! Above the chaotic medley arched on fantastic columns
the huge dome with a gate of heaven painted in perspective, which,
according to the beholder's standpoint rose or sank, was foreshortened
or the opposite.

A wreath of lucernes beautifully ornamented, through which the blue sky
peeped and swallows building their nests flew in and out, formed as it
were the jewel in the architecture of the cornice. Even the eye of God
was not lacking, a tarnished bit of mirror inserted above the pulpit in
the centre of golden rays, and intended to flash when the sun shone on
it.

And there in a glass shrine directly beneath all the tinsel rubbish, on
the gilded carving of the high altar, the poor, plain little Wiesherrle
hung in chains. The two, the wooden image of God, and the one of flesh
and blood, confronted each other--the Christ of the Ammergau Play
greeted the Christ of the Wies. It is true, they did resemble each
other, like suffering and pain. Freyer knelt long before the Wiesherrle
and what they confided to each other was heard only by the God in whose
service and by whose power they wrought miracles--each in his own way.

"You are happy," said the Wiesherrle. "Happier than I! Human hands
created and faith animated me; where that is lacking, I am a mere
dead wooden puppet, only fit to be flung into the fire. But you were
created by God, you live and breathe, can move and act--and highest of
all--_suffer_ like Him whom we represent. I envy you!"

"Yes!" cried Freyer; "You are right; _to suffer_ like Christ is highest
of all! My God, I thank Thee that I suffer."

This was the comfort the Wiesherrle had for his sorely tried brother.
It was a simple thought, but it gave him strength to bear everything.
It is always believed that a great grief requires a great consolation.
This is not true, the poorer the man is, the more value the smallest
gift has for him, and the more wretched he is--the smallest comfort! To
the husbandman whose crops have been destroyed by hail, it would be no
comfort to receive the gift of a blossom, which would bring rapture to
the sultry attic chamber of a sick man.

In a great misfortune we often ask: "What gave the person strength to
endure it?" It was nothing save these trivial comforts which only the
unhappy know. The soul lamenting the loss of a loved one while many
others are left is not comforted when the lifeless figure of a martyr
preaches patience--but to the desolate one, who no longer has aught
which speaks to him, the lifeless wooden image becomes a friend and its
mute language a consolation.

Beside the altar stood an alms-box. The gifts for which it was intended
were meant for repairs on the church and the preservation of the
Wiesherrle, who sometimes needed a new cloth about his loins. Freyer
flung into it the few coins which the innkeeper had disdained, because
he looked like the Wiesherrle, now they should go to him. He felt as if
he should need no more money all his life, as if the comfort he had
here received raised him far above earthly need and care.

Twilight was gathering, the sun had sunk behind the blue peaks of the
Pfrontner mountains, and now the hour struck--the sacred hour of the
return home.

Already he felt with joy the throbbing of the pulses of his home, a
mysterious connection between this place and distant Ammergau. And he
was right: Childish as was the representation of the divine ideal, it
was, nevertheless, the rippling of one of those hidden springs of faith
which blend in the Passion Play, forming the great stream of belief
which is to supply a thirsting world. As on a barren height, amid
tangled thickets, we often greet with delight the low murmur of a
hidden brook which in the valley below becomes the mighty artery of our
native soil, so the returning wanderer hurried on longingly toward the
mysterious spring which led him to the mother's heart. But his knees
trembled, human nature asserted its rights. He must eat or he would
fall fainting. But where could food be had? The last pennies were in
the alms-box--he could not have taken them out again, even had he
wished it. There was no way save to ask some one--for bread. He dragged
himself wearily to the parsonage--he would try there, the priest would
be less startled by the "Wiesherrle" than the peasant. Thrice he
attempted to pull the bell, but very gently. He fancied the whole world
could hear that he was ringing--to beg. Yet, if it did not sound, no
one would open the door. At last, with as much effort as though he was
pulling the bell-rope in the church steeple, he rang. The bell echoed
shrilly. The pastor's old cook appeared.

Freyer raised his hat. "Might I ask you for a piece of bread?" he
murmured softly, and the tall figure seemed to droop lower with every
word.

The cook, who was never allowed to turn a beggar from the door, eyed
him a moment with mingled pity and anxiety. "Directly," she answered,
and went in search of something, but prudently closed the door, leaving
him outside as we do with suspicious individuals. Freyer waited, hat in
hand. The evening breeze swept chill across the lofty mountain plateau
and blew his hair around his uncovered head. At last the cook came,
bringing him some soup and a bit of bread. Freyer thanked her, and ate
it! When he had finished he gave the little dish back to the woman--but
his hand trembled so that he almost let it fall and his brow was damp.
Then he thanked her again, but without raising his eyes, and quietly
pursued his way.



                             CHAPTER XXXI.

                            THE RETURN HOME.


The "Wies" towered like an island from amid a grey sea of clouds. All
the mountains of Trauchgau and Pfront, Allgau and Tyrol, which surround
it like distant shores and cliffs, had vanished in the mist. The
windows in the comfortable tavern were lighted and a fire was blazing
on the hearth. One little lamp after another shone from the quiet
farm-houses.

The lonely church now lay silent! Silent, too, was the Wiesherrle in
his glass shrine, while the wayfarer pressed steadily down through the
mist toward home and the cross! Freyer moved on more and more swiftly
across the hill-sides and through the woods till he reached the path
leading down the mountain to the "Halb-Ammer," which flowed at its
base. Gradually he emerged from the strata of mist, and now a faint ray
of moonlight fell upon his path.

Hour after hour he pursued his way. One after another the lights in the
houses were extinguished. The world sank into slumber, and the villages
were wrapped in silence.

In the churches only the ever-burning lamps still blazed, and he made
them his resting-places.

The clock in the church steeple of Altenau struck twelve as he passed
through. A belated tippler approached him with the reeling step of a
drunkard, but started back when he saw his face, staring after him with
dull bewildered eyes as if he beheld some spectre of the night.

"An image of horror I glide through the land!" Freyer murmured softly.
To-night he did not sing his song. This evening his pain was soothed,
his soul was preparing for another pæan--on the cross!

Now the little church of Kappel appeared before him on its green hill,
like a pious sign-post pointing the way to Ammergau. But patches of
snow still lingered amid the pale green of the Spring foliage, for it
is late ere the Winter is conquered by the milder season and the keen
wind swept down the broad highway, making the wayfarer's teeth chatter
with cold. He felt that his vital warmth was nearly exhausted, he had
walked two days with no hot food. For the soup at the parsonage that
day was merely lukewarm--he stood still a moment, surely he had dreamed
that! He could not have begged for bread? Yes, it was even so. A tremor
shook his limbs: Have you fallen so low? He tried to button his thin
coat--his fingers were stiff with cold. Ten years ago when he left
Ammergau, it was midsummer--now winter still reigned on the heights.
"Only let me not perish on the highway," he prayed, "only let me reach
home."

It was now bright cold moonlight, all the outlines of the mountains
stood forth distinctly, the familiar contours of the Ammergau peaks
became more and more visible.

Now he stood on the Ammer bridge where what might be termed the suburb
of Ammergau, the hamlet of Lower Ammergau, begins. The moon-lit river
led the eye in a straight line to the centre of the Ammer valley--there
lay the sacred mountains of his home--the vast side scenes of the most
gigantic stage in the world, the Kofel with its cross, and the other
peaks. Opposite on the left the quiet chapel of St. Gregory amid
boundless meadows, beside the fall of the Leine, the Ammer's wilder
sister. There he had watched his horses when a boy, down near the
chapel where the blue gentians had garlanded his head when he flung
himself on the grass, intoxicated by his own exuberant youth and
abundance of life.

He extended his arms as if he would fain embrace the whole infinite
scene: "Home, home, your lost son is returning--receive him. Do not
fall, ye mountains, and bury the beloved valley ere I reach it!"

One last effort, one short hour's walk. Hold out, wearied one, this one
hour more!

The highway from Lower Ammergau stretched endlessly toward the goal. On
the right was the forest, on the left the fields where grew thousands
of meadow blossoms, the Eden of his childhood where a blue lake once
lured him, so blue that he imagined it was reflecting a patch of the
sky, but when he reached it, instead of water, he beheld a field of
forget-me-nots!

Oh, memories of childhood--reconciling angel of the tortured soul!
There stands the cross on the boundary with the thorny bush whence
Christ's crown was cut.

"How will you fare, will the community receive you, admit you to the
blissful union of home powers, if you sacrifice your heart's blood for
it?" Freyer asked himself, and it seemed as if some cloud, some dark
foreboding came between him and his home. "Well for him who no longer
expects his reward from this world. What are men? They are all
variable, variable and weak! Thou alone art the same. Thou who dost
create the miracle from our midst--and thou, sacred soil of our
ancestors, ye mountains from whose peaks blows the strengthening breath
which animates our sublime work--it is not _human beings_, but ye who
are home!"

Now the goal was gained--he was there! Before him in the moonlight lay
the Passion Theatre--the consecrated space where once for hours he was
permitted to feel himself a God.

The poor, cast off man, deceived in all things, flung himself down,
kissed the earth, and laid a handful of it on his head, as though it
were the hand of a mother--while from his soul gushed like a song sung
by his own weeping guardian angel,


                 "Thy soil I kiss, beloved home,
                    Which erst my fathers' feet have trod,
                  Where the good seed devoutly sown
                    Sprang forth at the command of God!
                  Thy lap fain would I rest upon,
                    Though faithlessly from thee I fled
                  Still thy chains draw thy wand'ring son
                    Oh! mother, back where'er his feet may tread.
                  And though no ray of light, no star,
                    Illumes the future--and its gloom,
                  Thou wilt not grudge, after life's war,
                    A clod of earth upon my tomb."


He rested his head thus a long time on the cold earth, but he no longer
felt it. It seemed as though the soul had consumed the last power of
the exhausted body--and bursting its fetters blazed forth like an
aureole. "Hosanna, hosanna!" rang through the air, and the earth
trembled under the tramp of thousands. On they came in a long
procession bearing palm-branches, the shades of the fathers--the old
actors in the Passion Play from its commencement, and all who had lived
and died for the cross since the time of Christ!

"Hosanna, hosanna to him who died on the cross. Many are called, but
few chosen. But you belong to us!" sang the chorus of martyrs till the
notes rang through earth and Heaven. "Hosanna, hosanna to him who
suffers and bleeds for the sins of the world."

Freyer raised his head. The moon had gone behind a cloud, and white
mists were gathering over the fields.

He rose, shivering with cold. His thin coat was damp with the night
frost which had melted on his uncovered breast, and his feet were sore,
for his shoes were worn out by the long walk.

He still fancied he could hear, far away in the infinite distance, the
chorus of the Hosanna to the Crucified! And raising his arms to heaven,
he cried: "Oh, my Redeemer and Master, so long as Thou dost need me to
show the world Thy face--let me live--then take pity on me and let me
die on the cross! Die for the sins of one, as Thou didst die for the
sins of the world." He opened the door leading to the stage. There in
the dim moonlight lay the old cross. Sobbing aloud, he embraced it,
pressing to his breast the hard wood which had supported him and now,
as of yore, was surrounded by the mysterious powers, which so strongly
attracted him.

"Oh, had I been but faithful to thee," he lamented, "all the blessings
of this world--even were it the greatest happiness, would not outweigh
thee. Now I am thine--praise thyself with me and bear me upward, high
above all earthly woe."

The clock in the church steeple struck three. He must still live and
suffer, for he knew that no one could play the Christus as he did,
because no one bore the Redeemer's image in his heart like him.
But--could he go farther? His strength had failed, he felt it with
burdened breast. He took up his hat and staff, and tottered out. Where
should he go? To Ludwig Gross, the only person to whom he was not
ashamed to show himself in his wretchedness.

Now for the first time he realized that he could scarcely move farther.
Yet it must be done, he could not lie there.

Step by step he dragged himself in his torn shoes along the rough
village street. When half way down he heard music and singing
alternating with cries and laughter, echoing from the tavern. It was a
wedding, and they were preparing to escort the bride and groom home--he
learned this from the talk of some of the lads who came out. Was he
really in Ammergau? His soul was yet thrilling with emotion at the
sight of the home for which he had so long yearned and now--this
contrast! Yet it was natural, they could not all devote themselves to
their task with the same fervor. Yet it doubly wounded the man who bore
in his heart such a solemn earnestness of conviction. He glided
noiselessly along in the shadow of the houses, that no one should see
him.

Did not the carousers notice that their Christ was passing in beggar's
garb? Did they not feel the gaze bent on them from the shadow through
the lighted window, silently asking: "Are these the descendants of
those ancestors whose glorified spirits had just greeted the returning
son of Ammergau?"

The unhappy wanderer's step passed by unheard, and now Freyer turned
into the side street, where his friend's house stood--the luckless
house where his doom began.

It was not quite half-past three. The confused noise did not reach the
quiet street. The house, shaded by its broad, projecting roof, lay as
if wrapped in slumber. Except during the passion Ludwig always slept in
the room on the ground floor, formerly occupied by the countess. Freyer
tapped lightly on the shutter, but his heart was beating so violently
that he could scarcely hear whether any one was moving within.

If his friend should not be there, had gone away on a journey, or
moved--what should he do then? He had had no communication with him,
and only heard once through Josepha that old Andreas Gross was dead. He
knocked again. Ludwig was the only person whom he could trust--if he
had lost him, all would be over.

But no--there was a movement within--the well-known voice asked
sleepily: "Who is there?"

"Ludwig, open the window--it is I--Freyer!" he called under his breath.

The shutters were flung back. "Freyer--is it possible? Wait, Joseph,
wait, I'll admit you." He heard his friend hurriedly dressing--two
minutes after the door opened. Not a word was exchanged between the
two men. Ludwig grasped Freyer's hand and drew him into the house.
"Freyer--you--am I dreaming? You here--what brings you? I'll have a
light directly." His hand trembled with excitement as he lighted a
candle. Freyer stood timidly at the door. The room grew bright, the
rays streamed full on Freyer. Ludwig started back in horror. "Merciful
Heaven, how you look!"

The friends long stood face to face, unable to utter a word, Freyer
still holding his hat in his hand. Ludwig's keen eye glided over the
emaciated form, the shabby coat, the torn shoes. "Freyer, Freyer, what
has befallen you? My poor friend, do you return to me _thus_?" With
unutterable grief he clasped the unfortunate man in his arms.

Freyer could scarcely speak, his tongue refused to obey his will. "If I
could rest a little while," he faltered.

"Yes, come, come and lie down on my bed--I have slept as much as I
wish. I shall not lie down again," replied Ludwig, trembling with
mingled pity and alarm, as he drew off his friend's miserable rags as
quickly as possible. Then leading him to his own bed, he gently pressed
him down upon it. He would not weary the exhausted man with questions,
he saw that Freyer was no longer master of himself. His condition told
his friend enough.

"You--are--kind!" stammered Freyer. "Oh, I have learned something in
the outside world."

"What--what have you learned?" asked Ludwig.

A strange smile flitted over Freyer's face: "_To beg._"

His friend shuddered. "Don't talk any more now--you need rest!" he said
in a low, soothing tone, wrapping the chilled body in warm coverlets.
But a flash of noble indignation sparkled in his eyes, and his pale
lips could not restrain the words: "I will ask no questions--but
whoever sent you home to us must answer for it to God."

The other did not hear, or if he did his thoughts were too confused to
understand.

"Freyer! Only tell me what I can do to strengthen you. I'll make a
fire, and give you anything to eat that you would like."

"Whatever--you--have!" Freyer gasped with much difficulty.

"May God help us--he is starving." Ludwig could scarcely control his
tears. "Keep quiet--I'll come presently and bring you something!" he
said, hurrying out to get all the modest larder contained. He would not
wake his sisters--this was no theme for feminine gossip. He soon
prepared with his own hands a simple bread porridge into which he broke
a couple of eggs, he had nothing else--but at least it was warm food.
When he took it to his friend Freyer had grown so weak that he could
scarcely hold the spoon, but the nourishment evidently did him good.

"Now sleep!" said Ludwig. "Day is dawning. I'll go down to the village
and see if I can get you some boots and another coat."

A mute look of gratitude from Freyer rewarded the faithful care, then
his eyes closed, and his friend gazed at him with deep melancholy.



                             CHAPTER XXXII.

                            TO THE VILLAGE.


The burgomaster's house, with its elaborate fresco, "Christ before
Pilate," still stood without any signs of life in the grey dawn. The
burgomaster was asleep. He had been ill very frequently. It seemed
as if the attack brought on by Freyer's flight had given him his
death-blow, he had never rallied from it. And as his body could not
recuperate, his mind could never regain its tone.

When Ludwig Gross' violent ring disturbed the morning silence of the
house the burgomaster's wife opened the door with a face by no means
expressive of pleasure. "My husband is still asleep!" she said to the
drawing-master.

"Yes, I cannot help it, you must wake him. I've important business!"

The anxious wife still demurred, but the burgomaster appeared at the
top of the staircase. "What is it? I am always to be seen if there is
anything urgent. Good morning; go into the sitting-room. I'll come
directly."

Ludwig Gross entered the low-ceiled but cheerful apartment, where
flowers bloomed in every window. Against the wall was the ancient glass
cupboard, the show piece of furniture in every well-to-do Ammergau
household, where were treasured the wife's bridal wreath and the
husband's goblet, the wedding gifts--cups with gilt inscriptions: "In
perpetual remembrance," which belonged to the wife and prizes won in
shooting matches, or gifts from visitors to the Passion Play, the
property of the husband. In the ivy-grown niche in the corner of the
room was an ancient crucifix--below it a wooden bench with a table, on
which lay writing materials. On the pier-table between the widows were
a couple of images of saints, and a pile of play-bills of the
rehearsals which the burgomaster was arranging. Against the opposite
wall stood a four-legged piece of furniture covered with black leather,
called "the sofa," and close by the huge tiled stove, behind which
the burgomaster's wife had set the milk "to thicken." Near by was a
wall-cupboard with a small writing-desk, and lastly a beautifully
polished winding staircase which led through a hole in the ceiling
directly into the sleeping-room, and was the seat of the family cat.
This was the home of a great intellect, which reached far beyond these
narrow bounds and to which the great epochs of the Passion Play were
the only sphere in which it could really live, where it had a wide
field for its talents and ambition--where it could find compensation
for the ten years prose of petty, narrow circumstances. But the
intervals of ten years were too long, and the elderly man was gradually
losing the elasticity and enthusiasm which could bear him beyond the
deprivations of a decade. He tried all sorts of ventures in order at
least to escape the petty troubles of poverty, but they were
unsuccessful and thereby he only became burdened the more. Thus in the
strife with realism, constantly holding aloft the standard of the
ideal, involved in inward and outward contradictions, the hapless man
was wearing himself out--like most of the natives of Ammergau.

"Well, what is it?" he now asked, entering the room. "Sit down."

"Don't be vexed, but you know my husband must have his coffee, or he
will be ill." The burgomaster's wife brought in the breakfast and set
it on the table before him. "Don't let it get cold," she said
warningly, then prudently retreated, even taking the cat with her, that
the gentlemen might be entirely alone and undisturbed.

"Drink it, pray drink it," urged Ludwig, and waited until the
burgomaster had finished his scanty breakfast; which was quickly done.
"Well? What is it!" asked the latter, pushing his cup aside.

"I have news for you: Freyer is here!"

"Ah!" The burgomaster started, and an ominous flush crimsoned his face.
His hand trembled nervously as he smoothed his hair, once so beautiful,
now grey. "Freyer--! How did he get here?"

"I don't know--the question died on my lips when I saw him."

"Why?"

"Oh, he is such a spectacle, ill, half starved--in rags, an _Ecce
homo_! I thought my heart would break when I saw him."

"Aha--so Nemesis is here already."

"Oh! do not speak so. Such a Nemesis is too cruel! I do not know what
has befallen him--I could ask no questions, but I do know that Freyer
has done nothing which deserves such a punishment. You can have no idea
of the man's condition. He is lying at home--unable to move a limb."

The burgomaster shrugged his shoulders. "What have I to do with it? You
know that I never sympathize with self-created sorrows."

"You need not, only you must help me obtain some means of livelihood
for the unfortunate man. He still has his share of the receipts of the
last Passion Play. He was not present at the distribution, but he
played the Christus from May until August--to the best of my
recollection his portion was between seven and eight hundred marks."

"Quite right. But as he had run away and moreover very generously
bequeathed all his property to the poor--I could not suppose that I
must save the sum for a rainy day, and that he would so soon be in the
position of becoming a burden upon the community!"

"What did you do with the money?"

"Don't you know? I divided it with the rest."

Ludwig stamped his foot. "Oh, Heaven? that was my only hope! But he
must have assistance, he has neither clothing nor shoes! I haven't a
penny in the house except what we need for food. He cannot be seen
in these garments, he would rather die. We cannot expose him to
mockery--we must respect ourselves in him, he was the best Christus we
ever had, and though the play was interrupted by him, we owe him a
greater success and a larger revenue than we formerly obtained during a
whole season. And, in return, should we allow him to go with empty
hands--like the poet in Schiller's division of the earth, because he
came too late?"

"Yes." The burgomaster twisted his moustache with his thin fingers: "I
am sorry for him--but the thing is done and cannot be changed."

"It must be changed, the people must return the money!" cried the
drawing-master vehemently.

The burgomaster looked at him with his keen eyes, half veiled by their
drooping lids. "Ask them," he said calmly and coldly. "Go and get
it--if it can be had."

Ludwig bit his lips. "Then something must be done by the parish."

"That requires an agreement of the whole parish."

"Call a meeting then."

"Hm, hm!" The burgomaster smiled: "That is no easy matter. What do you
think the people will answer, if I say: 'Herr Freyer ran away from us,
interrupted the performances, made us lose about 100,000 marks,
discredited the Passion Play in our own eyes and those of the world,
and asks in return the payment of 800 marks from the parish treasury?"

Ludwig let his arms fall in hopeless despair. "Then I don't know what
to do--I must support my helpless old sisters. I cannot maintain him,
too, or I would ask no one's aid. I think it should be a point of honor
with us Ammergau people not to leave a member of the parish in the
lurch, when he returns home poor and needy, especially a man like
Freyer, whom we have more cause to thank than to reproach, say what you
will. We are not a penal institution."

"No, nor an asylum."

"Well, we need be neither, but merely a community of free men, who
should be solely ruled by the thought of love, but unfortunately have
long ceased to be so."

The burgomaster leaned quietly back in his chair, the drawing-master
became more and more heated, as the other remained cold.

"You always take refuge behind the parish, when you don't _wish_ to do
anything--but when you _desire_ it, the parish never stands in your
way!"

The burgomaster pressed his hand to his brow, as if thinking wearied
him. He belonged to the class of men whose hearts are in their heads.
If anything made his heart ache, it disturbed his brain too. He
remained silent a long time while Ludwig paced up and down the room,
trembling with excitement. At last, not without a touch of bitter
humor, he said:

"I am well aware of that, you always say so whenever I do anything that
does not suit you. I should like to see what would become of you, with
your contradictory, impulsive artist nature, to-day 'Hosanna' and
to-morrow 'Crucify Him,' if I did not maintain calmness and steadiness
for you. If I, who bear the responsibility of acting, changed my
opinions as quickly as you do and converted each of your momentary
impulses into an act--I ought at least to possess the power to
kill to-day, and to-morrow, when you repented, restore the person to
life. Ten years ago, when Freyer left us in the lurch for the sake
of a love affair, and dealt a blow to all we held sacred--you threw
yourself into my arms and wept on my breast over the enormity of his
deed--now--because I am not instantly touched by a few rags and
tatters, and the woe-begone air of a penitent recovering from a moral
debauch, you will weep on your friend's bosom over the harshness and
want of feeling of the burgomaster! I'm used to it. I know you
hotspurs."

He drew a pair of boots from under the stove. "There--I am the owner of
just two pairs of boots. You can take one to your protégé, that he may
at least appear before me in a respectable fashion to discuss the
matter! I don't do it at the cost of the parish, however. And I can
give you an old coat too--I was going to send it to my Anton, but, no
matter! Only I beg you not to tell him from whom the articles come, or
he will hate me because I was in a situation to help _him_--instead of
he _me_."

"Oh, how little you know him!" cried Ludwig.

The burgomaster smiled. "I know the Ammergau people--and he is one of
them!"

"I thank you in his name," said Ludwig, instantly appeased.

"Yes, you see you thank me for that, yet it is the least important
thing. This is merely a private act of charity which I might show any
rascal I pitied. But when I, as burgomaster, rigidly guard the honor of
Ammergau and consider whom I recommend to public sympathy, you reproach
me for it! Before I call a parish meeting and answer for him
officially, I must know whether he is worthy of it, and what his
condition is." He again pressed his hand to his head. "Send him to me
at the office--then we will see."

Ludwig held out his hand. "No offence, surely we know how we feel
toward each other."

When the drawing-master had gone, the burgomaster drew a long breath
and remained for some time absorbed in thought. Then he glanced at the
clock, not to learn the hour but to ascertain whether the conversation
had lasted long enough to account for his headache and exhaustion. The
result did not seem to soothe him. "Where will this end?"

His wife looked in "Well, Father, what is it?"

The burgomaster took his hat. "Freyer is here!"

"Good Heavens!" She clasped her hands in amazement.

"Yes, it was a great excitement to me. Tell Anastasia, that she may not
learn the news from strangers. She has long been resigned, but of
course this will move her deeply! And above all, don't let anything be
said about it in the shop, I don't want the tidings to get abroad in
the village, at least through us. Farewell!"

The burgomaster's family enjoyed a small prerogative: the salt
monopoly, and a little provision store where the tireless industry of
the self-sacrificing wife collected a few groschen, "If I don't make
something--who will?" she used to say, with a keen thrust at her
husband's absence of economy. So the burgomaster did not mention his
extravagance in connection with the boots and coat. He could not bear
even just reproaches now. "A man was often compelled to exceed his
means in a position like his"--but women did not understand that.
Therefore, as usual, he fled from domestic lectures to the inaccessible
regions of his office.

The burgomaster's sister no longer lived in the same house. As she grew
older, she had moved into one near the church which she inherited from
her mother, where she lived quietly alone.

"Yes, who's to run over to Stasi," lamented the burgomaster's wife,
"when we all have our hands full. As if she wouldn't hear it soon
enough. He'll never marry her! Rosel, Rosel!"

The burgomaster's youngest daughter, the predestined Mary of the
future, came in from the shop.

"Run up to your aunt and tell her that Herr Freyer has come back, your
father says so!"

"Will he play the Christus again?" asked the child.

"How do I know--your father didn't say! Perhaps so--they have no one.
Oh dear, this Passion Play will be your father's death!"

The shop-bell, pleasantest of sounds to the anxious woman,
rang--customers must not be kept waiting, even for a little package of
coffee. She hurried into the shop, and Rosel to her aunt Stasi.

This was a good day to the burgomaster's worthy wife. The whole village
bought something, in order to learn something about the interesting
event which the Gross sisters, of course, had told early in the
morning. And, as the burgomaster's wife maintained absolute silence,
what the people did not know they invented--and of course the worst and
most improbable things. Ere noon the wildest rumors were in
circulation, and parties had formed who disputed vehemently over them.

The burgomaster's wife was in the utmost distress. Everybody wanted
information from her, and how easily she might let slip some incautious
remark! In her task of keeping silence, she actually forgot that she
really had nothing at all to conceal--because she knew nothing herself.
Yet the fear of having said a word too much oppressed the conscientious
woman so sorely that afterward, much to her husband's benefit, she was
remarkably patient and spared him the usual reproach of not having
thought of his wife and children, when she discovered that he had given
away his boots and coat!--

Thus in the strange little village the loftiest and the lowliest things
always go hand in hand. But the noble often succumbs to the petty, when
it lacks the power to rise above it.



                            CHAPTER XXXIII.

                            RECEIVED AGAIN.


All through the morning the street where Ludwig's house stood was
crowded with people. Toward noon a whisper ran through the throng: "He
is coming!" and Freyer appeared. Many pressed forward curiously but
shrank back again as Freyer drew near. "Good Heavens, how he looks!"

Freyer tottered past them, raising his hat in greeting, but spite of
his modest bearing and simple garb he seemed to have become so
aristocratic a gentleman, that no one ventured to accost him. Something
emanating from him inspired reverence, as if--in the presence of the
dead. He was dead--at least to the world. The people felt this and the
gossip suddenly ceased--the parties formed in an envious or malicious
spirit were reconciled.

"He won't live long!" This was the magic spell which soothed all
contention. If he had any sin on his conscience, he would soon atone
for it, if he had more money than the rest, he must soon "leave it
behind," and if he desired to take a part he could not keep it long!
Only the children who meanwhile had grown into tall lads and lasses ran
trustfully to meet him, holding out their hands with the grace and
charm peculiar to the Ammergau children. And because the grown people
followed him, the little ones did the same. He stopped and talked with
them, recognizing and calling by name each of the older ones, while
their bright eyes gazed searchingly into his, as sunbeams pierce dark
caverns. "Have you been ill, Herr Freyer?"

"No, my dear children--or yes, as people may regard it, but I shall get
well with you!" And, clasping half a dozen of the little hands in his,
he walked on with them.

"Will you play the divine friend of children with us again?" asked one
of the larger girls beseechingly.

"When Christmas comes, we will all play it again!" A strange smile
transfigured Freyer's features, and tears filled his eyes.

"Will you stay with us now?" they asked.

"Yes!" It was only a single word, but the children felt that it was a
vow, and the little band pressed closer and closer around him: "Yes,
now you must never go away!"

Freyer lifted a little boy in his arms and hid his face on the child's
breast: "No, _never_, _never_ more!"

A solemn silence reigned for a moment. The grief of a pure heart is
sacred, and a child's soul feels the sacredness. The little group
passed quietly through the village, and the children formed a
protecting guard around him, so that the grown people could not hurt
him with curious questions. The children showed their parents that
peace must dwell between him and them--for the Ammergau people knew
that in their children dwelt the true spirit which they had lost to a
greater or less degree in the struggle for existence. The _children_
had adopted him--now he was again at home in Ammergau; no parish
meeting was needed to give him the rights of citizenship.

The little procession reached the town-hall. Freyer put the child he
was carrying on the ground--it did not want to leave him. The grown
people feared him, but the children considered him their own property
and were reluctant to give him up. Not until after long persuasion
would they let him enter. As he ascended the familiar stairs his heart
throbbed so violently that he was obliged to lean against the wall. A
long breath, a few steps more--then a walk through the empty council
room to the office, a low knock, the well-known "come in!"--and he
stood before the burgomaster. It is not the custom among the people of
Ammergau to rise when receiving each other. "Good-morning!" said the
burgomaster, keeping his seat as if to finish some pressing task--but
really because he was struggling for composure: "Directly!"

Freyer remained standing at the door.

The burgomaster went on writing. A furtive glance surveyed the figure
in his coat and shoes--but he did not raise his eyes to Freyer's face,
the latter would have seen it. At last he gained sufficient composure
to speak, and now feigned to be aware for the first time of the
new-comer's identity. "Ah, Herr Freyer!" he said, and the eyes of the
two men met. It was a sad sight to both.

The burgomaster, once so strong and stately, aged, shrunken,
prematurely worn. Freyer an image of suffering which was almost
startling.

"Herr Burgomaster, I do not know--whether I may still venture--"

"Pray take a chair, Herr Freyer," said the burgomaster.

Freyer did so, and sat down at some distance.

"You do not seem to have prospered very well," said the other, less to
learn the truth than to commence conversation.

"You doubtless see that."

"Yes----! I could have wished that matters had resulted differently!"

Both were silent, overpowered by emotion. At the end of a few minutes
the burgomaster continued in a low tone: "I meant so well by you--it is
a pity--!"

"Yes, you have _much_ to forgive me, no one knows that better than
I--but you will not reject a penitent man, if he wishes to make amends
for the wrong."

The burgomaster rubbed his forehead: "I do not reject you, but--I have
already told the drawing-master, I only regret that I can do nothing
for you. You are not ill--I cannot support you from the fund for the
sick and it will be difficult to accomplish anything with the parish."

"Oh, Herr Burgomaster, I never expected to be supported. Only, when I
arrived yesterday I was so weary that I could explain nothing to
Ludwig, otherwise he would surely have spared you and me the step which
his great sympathy induced him to take. The clothing with which you
have helped me out of embarrassment for the moment, I will gratefully
accept as _loaned_, but I hope to repay you later."

"Pray let us say no more about it!" answered the burgomaster, waving
his hand.

"Yes! For it can only shame me if you generously bestow material
aid--and yet cherish resentment against me in your heart for the wrong
I have done. What my sick soul most needs is reconciliation with you
and my home. And for that I _can_ ask."

"I am not implacable, Herr Freyer! You have done me no personal
wrong--you have merely injured the cause which lies nearest to my heart
of anything in the world. This is a grief, which must be fought down,
but for which I cannot hold you responsible, though it cost me health
and life. I feel no personal rancor for what had no personal intention.
If a man flings a stone at the image of a saint and unintentionally
strikes me on the temple, I shall not make him responsible for
that--but for having aimed at something which was sacred to others. To
_punish_ him for it I shall leave to a higher judge."

"Permit me to remain silent. You must regard the matter thus from your
standpoint, and I can show you no better one. The right of defense is
denied me. Only I would fain defend myself against the reproach that
what is sacred to others is not to me. Precisely because it is sacred
to me--perhaps more sacred than to others, I have sinned against it."

"That is a contradiction which I do not understand!"

"And I cannot explain!"

"Well, it is not my business to pry into your secrets and judge your
motives. I am not your confessor. I told you that I left God to judge
such things. My duty as burgomaster requires me to aid any member of
the parish to the best of my ability in matters pertaining to earning a
livelihood. If you will give me your confidence, I am ready to aid you
with advice and action. I don't know what you wish to do. You gave your
little property to our poor--do you wish to take it back?"

"Oh, never, Herr Burgomaster, I never take back what I give," replied
Freyer.

"But you will then find it difficult, more difficult than others, to
support yourself," the burgomaster continued. "You went to the
carving-school too late to earn your bread by wood-carving. You know no
trade--you are too well educated to pursue more menial occupations,
such as those of a day-laborer, street-sweeper, etc.--and you would be
too proud to live at the expense of the parish, even if we could find a
way of securing a maintenance for you. It is really very difficult, one
does not know what to say. Perhaps a messenger's place might be
had--the carrier from Linderhof has been ill a long time."

"Have no anxiety on that score, Herr Burgomaster. During my absence, I
devoted my leisure time mainly to drawing and modelling. I also read a
great deal, especially scientific works, so that I believe I could
support myself by carving, if I keep my health. If that fails, I'll
turn wood-cutter. The forest will be best for me. That gives me no
anxiety."

The burgomaster again rubbed his forehead. "Perhaps if the indignation
roused by your desertion has subsided, it may be possible to give you
employment at the Passion Theatre as superintendent, assistant, or in
the wardrobe room."

Freyer rose, a burning blush crimsoned his face, instantly
followed by a deathlike pallor. "You are not in earnest, Herr
Burgomaster--I--render menial service in the Passion--I? Then woe
betide the home which turns her sons from her threshold with mockery
and disgrace, when they seek her with the yearning and repentance of
mature manhood."

Freyer covered his face with his hands, grief robbed him of speech.

The burgomaster gave him a moment's time to calm himself. "Yes, Herr
Freyer, but tell me, do you expect, after all that has occurred, to be
made the Christus?"

"What else should I expect? For what other purpose should _I_ come here
than to aid the community in need, for my dead cousin Josepha received
a letter from one of our relatives here, stating that you had no
Christus and did not know what to do. It seemed to me like a summons
from Heaven and I knew at that moment where my place was allotted. Life
had no farther value for me--one thought only sustained me, to be
something to my _home_, to repair the injury I had done her, atone for
the sin I had committed--and this time I should have accomplished it. I
walked night and day, with one desire in my heart, one goal before my
eyes, and now--to be rejected thus--oh, it is too much, it is the last
blow!"

"Herr Freyer--I am extremely sorry, and can understand how it must
wound you, yet you must see yourself that we cannot instantly give a
man who voluntarily, not to say _wilfully_, deserted us and remained
absent so long that he has become a stranger, the most important part
in the Play when want forces him to again seek a livelihood in
Ammergau."

"I am become a stranger because I remained absent ten years? May God
forgive you, Herr Burgomaster. We must both render an account to Him of
our fulfilment of His sacred mission--He will then decide which of us
treasured His image more deeply in his heart--you here--or I in the
world outside."

"That is very beautiful and sounds very noble--but, Herr Freyer, you
_prove_ nothing by your appeal to God, He is patient and the day which
must bring this decision is, I hope, still far distant from you and
myself!"

"It is perhaps nearer to me than you suppose, Herr Burgomaster!"

"Such phrases touch women, but not men, Herr Freyer!"

Freyer straightened himself like a bent bush which suddenly shakes off
the snow that burdened it. "I have not desired to touch any one, my
conscience is clear, and I do not need to appeal to your compassion. A
person may be ill and feeble enough to long for sympathy, without
intending to profit by it. I thought that I might let my heart speak,
that I should be understood here. I was mistaken. It is not _I_ who
have become estranged from my home--home has grown alienated from me
and you, as the ruling power in the community, who might mediate
between us, sever the last bond which united me to it. Answer for it
one day to Ammergau, if you expel those who would shed their heart's
blood for you, and to whom the cause of the Passion Play is still an
earnest one."

"Oh, Herr Freyer, it would be sad indeed if we were compelled to seek
earnest supporters of our cause in the ranks of the deserters--who
abandoned us from selfish motives."

"Herr Burgomaster!--" Freyer reflected a moment--it was difficult to
fathom what was passing in his mind--it seemed as if he were gathering
strength from the inmost depths of his heart to answer this accusation.
"It is a delicate matter to speak in allegories, where deeds are
concerned--you began it out of courtesy to me--and I will continue from
the same motive, though figurative language is not to my taste--we
strike a mark in life without having aimed! But to keep to your simile:
I have only deserted in my own person, if you choose to call it so, and
have now voluntarily returned--But you, Herr Burgomaster, how have you
guarded, in my absence, the fortress entrusted to your care?"

The burgomaster flushed crimson, but his composure remained unshaken:
"Well?"

"You have opened your gates to the most dangerous foes, to everything
which cannot fail to destroy the good old Ammergau customs; you have
done everything to attract strangers and help Ammergau in a business
way--it was well meant in the material sense--but not in the ideal one
which you emphasize so rigidly in my case! The more you open Ammergau
to the influences of the outside world, the more the simplicity, the
piety, the temperance will vanish, without which no great work of faith
like the Passion Play is possible. The world has a keen appreciation of
truth--the world believes in us because we ourselves believe in it--as
soon as we progress so far in civilization that it becomes a farce to
our minds, we are lost, for then it will be a farce to the world also.
You intend to secure in the Landrath the cutting of a road through the
Ettal Mountain. That would be a great feat--one might say: 'Faith
removes mountains,' for on account of the Passion Play consent would
perhaps be granted, then your name, down to the latest times, would be
mentioned in the history of Ammergau with gratitude and praise. But do
you know what you will have done? You will have let down the drawbridge
to the mortal foe of everything for which you battle, removed the wall
which protected the individuality of Ammergau and amid all the changes
of the times, the equalizing power of progress, has kept it that
miracle of faith to which the world makes pilgrimages. For a time the
world will come in still greater throngs by the easier road--but in a
few decades it will no longer find the Ammergau it seeks--its flood
will have submerged it, washed it away, and a new, prosperous, politic
population will move upon the ruins of a vanished time and a buried
tradition.

"Freyer!" The burgomaster was evidently moved: "You see the matter in
too dark colors--we are still the old people of Ammergau and God will
help us to remain so."

"No, you are so no longer. Already there are traces of a different,
more practical view of life--of so-called progress. I read to-day at
Ludwig's the play-bills of the practise theatre which you have
established during the last ten years since the Passion Play! Herr
Burgomaster, have you kept in view the seriousness of the mission of
Ammergau when you made the actors of the Passion buffoons?"

"Freyer!" The burgomaster drew himself up haughtily.

"Well, Herr Burgomaster, have you performed no farces, or at least
comic popular plays? Was the Carver of Ammergau--which for two years
you had _publicly_ performed on the consecrated ground of the Passion
Theatre, adapted to keep the impression of the Passion Play in the
souls of the people of Ammergau? No--the last tear of remembrance which
might have lingered would be dried by the exuberant mirth, which once
roused would only too willingly exchange the uncomfortable tiara for
the lighter fool's cap! And you gave the world this spectacle, Herr
Burgomaster, you showed the personators of the story of our Lord and
Saviour's sufferings in this guise to the strangers, who came, still
full of reverence, to see the altar--on which the sacred fire had
smouldered into smoke! I know you will answer that you wished to give
the people a little breathing space after the terrible earnestness of
the Passion Play and, from your standpoint, this was prudent, for you
will be the gainer if the community is cheerful under your rule. Happy
people are more easily governed than grave, thoughtful ones! I admit
that you have no other desire than to make the people happy according
to your idea, and that your whole ambition is to leave Ammergau great
and rich. But, Herr Burgomaster, you cannot harmonize the two objects
of showing the world, with convincing truth, the sublime religion of
pain and resignation, and living in ease and careless frivolity. The
divine favor cannot be purchased without the sacrifice of pleasure and
personal comfort, otherwise we are merely performing a puppet show with
God, and His blessing will be withdrawn."

Freyer paused and stood gazing into vacancy with folded arms.

The burgomaster watched him calmly a long time. "I have listened to you
quietly because your view of the matter interested me. It is the idea
of an enthusiast, a character becoming more and more rare in our
prosaic times. But pardon me--I can give it only a subjective value.
According to your theory, I must keep Ammergau, as a bit of the Middle
Ages, from any contact with the outside world, rob it of every aid in
the advancement of its industrial and material interests in order, as
it were, to prepare the unfortunate people, by want and trouble, to be
worthy representatives of the Passion. This would be admirable if,
instead of Burgomaster of Ammergau, I were Grand Master of an Order for
the practice of spiritual asceticism--and Ammergau were a Trappist
monastery. But as burgomaster of a secular community, I must first of
all provide for its prosperity, and that this would produce too much
luxury there is not, as yet, unfortunately, the slightest prospect! My
task as chief magistrate of a place is first to render it as great,
rich, and happy as possible, that is a direct obligation to the village
and an indirect one to the State. Not until I have satisfied _this_ can
I consider the more ideal side of my office--in my capacity as director
of the Passion Play. But even there I have no authority to exercise any
moral constraint in the sense of your noble--but fanatical and
unpractical view. You must have had bitter experiences, Herr Freyer,
that you hold earthly blessings so cheap, and you must not expect to
convert simple-hearted people, who enjoy their lives and their work, to
these pessimistic views, as if we could serve our God only with a
troubled mind. We must let a people, as well as a single person, retain
its individuality. I want to rear no hypocrites, and I cannot force
martyrdom on any one, in order to represent the Passion Play more
naturally. Such things cannot be enforced."

"For that very reason you need people who will do them voluntarily! And
though, thank Heaven, they still exist in Ammergau, you have not such
an over supply that you need repel those who would fain increase the
little band. Believe me, I have lived in closer communion with my home
in the outside world than if I had remained here and been swayed by the
various opposing streams of our brothers' active lives! Do you know
where the idea of the Passion Play reveals itself in its full beauty?
Not here in Ammergau--but in the world outside--as the gas does not
give its light where it is prepared, but at a distance. Therefore, I
think you ought not to measure a son of Ammergau's claim according to
the time he has spent here, but according to the feeling he cherishes
for Ammergau, and in this sense even _the stranger_ may be a better
representative of Ammergau than the natives of the village themselves."

"Yes, Freyer, you are right--but--_one_ frank word deserves another.
You have surprised and touched me--but although I am compelled to make
many concessions to circumstances and the spirit of the times, which
are in contradiction to my own views and involve me in conflicts with
myself, of which you younger men probably have no idea--nothing in the
world will induce me to be faithless to my principles in matters
connected with the Passion. Forgive the harsh words, Freyer, but I must
say it: Your actions do not agree with the principles you have just
uttered, and you cannot make this contradiction appear plausible to any
one. Who will credit the sincerity of your moral rigor after you have
lived nine years in an equivocal relation with the lady with whom you
left us? Freyer, a man who has done _that_--can no longer personate the
Christ."

Freyer stood silent as a statue.

The burgomaster held out his hand--"You see that I cannot act
otherwise; do you not? Rather let the Play die out utterly than a
Christus on whom rests a stain. So long as you cannot vindicate
yourself--"

Freyer drew himself proudly: "And that I will never do!"

"You must renounce it."

"Yes, I must renounce it. Farewell, Herr Burgomaster!"

Freyer bowed and left the room--he was paler than when he entered, but
no sound betrayed the mortal anguish gnawing at his heart. The
burgomaster, too, was painfully moved. His poor head was burning--he
was sorry for Freyer, but he could not do otherwise.

Just as Freyer reached the door, a man hurried in with a letter, Freyer
recognized the large well-known chirography on the envelope as he
passed--Countess Wildenau's handwriting. His brain reeled, and he was
compelled to cling to the door post. The burgomaster noticed it.
"Please sit down a moment, Herr Freyer--the letter is addressed to me,
but will probably concern you."

The man retired. Freyer stood irresolute.

The burgomaster read the contents of the note at a glance, then handed
it to Freyer.

"Thank you--I do not read letters which are not directed to me."

"Very well, then I must tell you. The Countess Wildenau, not having
your address, requests me to take charge of a considerable sum of money
which I am to invest for you in landed property or in stocks, according
to my own judgment. You were not to hear of it until the gift had been
legally attested. But I deem it my duty to inform you of this."

Freyer stood calmly before him, with a clear, steadfast gaze. "I cannot
be forced to accept a gift if I do not desire it, can I?"

"Certainly not."

"Then please write to the countess that I can accept neither gifts nor
any kind of assistance from--strangers, and that you, as well as I,
will positively decline every attempt to show her generosity in this
way."

"Freyer!" cried the burgomaster, "will you not some day repent the
pride which rejects a fortune thus flung into your lap?"

"I am not proud--I begged my bread on my way here, Herr
Burgomaster--and if there were no other means of livelihood, I would
not be ashamed to accept the crust the poorest man would share with
me--but from Countess Wildenau I will receive nothing--I would rather
starve."

The burgomaster sprang from his chair and approached him. His gaunt
figure was trembling with emotion, his weary eyes flashed with
enthusiasm, he extended his arms: "Freyer--now you belong to us once
more--_now_ you shall again play the Christus."

Silently, in unutterable, mournful happiness, Freyer sank upon the
burgomaster's breast.

His home was appeased.



                             CHAPTER XXXIV.

                        AT DAISENBERGER's GRAVE.


It was high noon. The children were at school, the grown people had
gone to their work. The village was silent and no one stopped Freyer as
he hurried down the broad old "Aussergasse," as the main street of the
place was called, with its painted houses, toward the graveyard and the
church.

In the cemetery beside the church stands a simple monument with a
bronze bust. An unlovely head with all sorts of lines, as if nature had
intentionally given this soul an ugly husk, out of wrath that it was
not to be hers, that she could not have as much power over it as over
other dust-born mortals--for this soul belonged to Heaven, earth had no
share in it. But no matter how nature strove to disfigure it, its pure
beauty shone through the physical covering so radiantly that even
mortal eyes perceived only the beauty and overlooked the ugliness.

This soul, which might also be called the soul of Ammergau, for it
cherished the whole population of the village, lived for the people,
gave them all and kept nothing for itself--this noble spirit, to whom
the gratitude of the survivors, and they embraced the whole community,
had created a monument, was Alois Daisenberger--the reformer of the
Passion Play.

It is a peculiar phenomenon that the people of Ammergau, in contrast to
all others, are grateful only for intellectual gifts while they punish
physical benefits with scorn. It offends their pride to be compelled to
accept such trifling donations and they cherish a suspicion that the
donor may boast of his benefits. Whoever has not the self-denial to
allay this suspicion by enduring all sorts of humiliations and affronts
must not try to aid the Ammergau villagers. He who has done any _good_
deed has accomplished _nothing_--not until he has atoned for it, as
though it were something evil, does he lend it its proper value and
appease the offended pride of the recipient.

This was the case with Daisenberger. He bore with saintly patience all
the angularities and oddities of these strange characters--and they
honored him as a saint for it. He had the eye of genius for the natural
talent, a heart for the sufferings, appreciation of the intellectual
grandeur of these people. And he gave security for it--for no worldly
honor, no bishopric which was offered could lure him away. What was it
that outweighed everything with which church and government desired to
honor him? Whoever stands in the quiet graveyard, fanned by the keen
mountain air which brings from the village stray notes of a requiem
that is being practised, surrounded by snow-clad mountain-peaks gazing
dreamily down on the little mound with its tiny cross, whoever gazes at
the monument with its massive head, looking down upon the village from
beneath a garland of fresh blue gentians, is overwhelmed by a mournful
suspicion that here is concealed a secret in which a great intellect
could find the satisfaction of its life! But it seems as if the key
rested in Daisenberger's grave.

To this grave Freyer hastened. The first errand of the returned
personator of Christ was to his author! The solitary grave lay
forgotten by the world. It is a genuine work of faith and love when the
author vanishes in his creation and leaves the honor to God. The whole
world flocks to the Passion Play--but no one thinks of him who created
for it the form which renders it available for the present time. It is
the "Oberammergau," not the "Daisenberger" Passion Play.

He gave to the people of Ammergau not only his life and powers--but
also that which a man is most loth to resign--his fame. He was one to
whom earth could neither give anything, nor take anything away.
Therefore there were few who visited his grave in the little Ammergau
churchyard. The grace and beauty of his grand and noble artist soul
weave viewless garlands for it.

Freyer knelt in mute devotion beside the grave and prayed, not for
himself, not even for him who was one of the host of the blessed, but
to him, that he might sanctify his people and strengthen them with the
sacred earnestness of their task. The longer he gazed at the iron, yet
gentle face, without seeing any change in the familiar features, which
had once smiled so kindly at him when he uttered for the first time the
words expelling the money-changers from the temple--the greater became
his grief, as if the soul of his people had died with Daisenberger, as
if Ammergau were only a graveyard and he the sole mourner.

"Oh, great, noble soul, which had room for a world, and yet confined
yourself to this narrow valley in order to create in it for us a world
of love--here lies your unworthy Christus moistening with his tears the
stone which no angel will roll away that we may touch your transfigured
body and say, give us thy spirit!"

Then, as if the metal mouth from which he implored an answer spoke with
a brazen tongue, a bell echoed solemnly on the air. It was twelve
o'clock. What the voice said could not be clothed in words. It had
exhorted him when, in baptism, he was received into the covenant of Him
whom he was chosen to personate--it had consoled him when, a weeping
boy, he followed his father's bier, it had threatened him when on
Sunday with his schoolmates, he pulled too violently at the bell-rope,
it had warned him when he had lingered high up on the peaks of the
Kofel or Laaber searching for Alpine roses or, shouting exultantly,
climbing after chamois. A smile flitted over his face as he thought of
those days! And then--then that very bell had pealed resonantly, like a
voice from another world, on the morning of the Passion, at the hour
when he stood in the robes of the Christ behind the curtain with the
others to repeat the Lord's Prayer before the performance--the lofty,
fervent prayer that God would aid them, that all might go well "for His
honor." And again it had rung solemnly and sweetly, when he saw the
beautiful woman praying at dawn in the garden--to the imaginary God,
which he was _not_. Then it seemed as if the bell burst--there was a
shrill discord, a keen pang through brain and heart. Oh, memory--the
past! Angel and fiend at once--why do you conjure up your visions
before one dedicated to the cross and to death, why do you rouse the
longing for what is irrevocably lost? Freyer, groaning aloud, rested
his damp brow against the cold stone, and the bronze bust, as if in
pity, dropped a blue gentian from its garland on the penitent's head
with a light touch, like a kiss from spirit lips. He took it and placed
it in his pocketbook beside the child's fair curl--the only thing left
him of all his vanished happiness.

Then a hand was laid on his shoulder: "I thank you--that _this_ was
your first visit." The sexton stood before him: "I see that you have
remained a true son of Ammergau. May God be with you!"

Freyer's tears fell as he grasped the extended hand. "Oh, noble blood
of Daisenberger, thank you a thousand times. And you, true son of
Ammergau--nephew of our dead guardian angel, tell me in his name, will
you receive me again in your midst and in the sacred work?"

"I do not know what you have done and experienced," said the sexton,
gazing at him with his large, loyal brown eyes. "I only saw you at a
distance, praying beside my uncle's grave, and I thought that whoever
did that could not be lost to us. By this dear grave, I give you my
hand. Will you work with me, live, and if need be die for the sacred
will of this dead man, for our great task, as he cherished it in his
heart?"

"Yes and amen!"

"Then may God bless you."

The two men looked earnestly and loyally into each other's eyes, and
their hands clasped across the consecrated mound, as though taking an
oath.

Suddenly a woman, still beautiful though somewhat beyond youth,
appeared, moving with dignified cordiality toward Freyer: "Good-day,
Herr Freyer; do you remember me?" she said in a quiet, musical voice,
holding out her hand.

"Mary!" cried Freyer, clasping it. "Anastasia, why should I not
remember you? How do you do? But why do you call me Herr Freyer? Have
we become strangers?"

"I thought I ought not to use the old form of speech, you have been
away so long, and"--she paused an instant, looking at him with a
pitying glance, as if to say: "And are so unhappy." For delicate
natures respect misfortune more than rank and wealth, and the sufferer
is sacred to them.

The sexton looked at the clock: "I must go, the vesper service begins
again at one o'clock. Farewell till we meet again. Are you coming to
the gymnasium this evening?"

"Hardly--I am not very well. But we shall see each other soon. Are you
married now? I have not asked--"

The sexton's face beamed with joy. "Yes, indeed, and well married. I
have a good wife. You'll see her when you call on me."

"A good wife--you are a happy man!" said Freyer in a low tone.

"She has a great deal to do just now for the little one."

"Ah--you have a child, too!"

"And such a beautiful one!" added Anastasia. "A lovely little girl! She
will be a Mary some day. But the sexton's wife is spoiling her, she
hardly lets her out of her arms."

"A good mother--that must be beautiful!" said Freyer, with a strange
expression, as if speaking in a dream. Then he pressed his friend's
hand and turned to go.

"Will you not bid me good bye, too?" asked Anastasia. The sexton sadly
made a sign behind Freyer's back, as if to say: "he has suffered
sorely!" and went into his church.

Freyer turned quickly. "Yes, I forgot, my Mary. I am rude, am I not?"

"No--not rude--only unhappy!" said Anastasia, while a pitying look
rested upon his emaciated face.

"Yes!" replied Freyer, lowering his lids as if he did not wish her to
read in his eyes _how_ unhappy. But she saw it nevertheless. For a
time the couple stood beside Daisenberger's grave. "If _he_ were only
alive--he would know what would help you."

Freyer shook his head. "If Christ Himself should come from Heaven, He
could not help me, at least except through my faith in Him."

"Joseph, will you not go home with me? Look down yonder, there is my
house. It is very pretty; come with me. I shall consider it an honor if
you will stop there!" She led the way. Freyer involuntarily followed,
and they soon reached the little house.

"Then you no longer live with your brother, the burgomaster?"

"Oh, no! After I grew older I longed for rest and solitude, and at my
sister-in-law's there is always so much bustle on account of the shop
and the children--one hears so many painful things said--" She paused
in embarrassment. Then opening the door into the little garden, they
went to the rear of the house where they could sit on a bench
undisturbed.

"What you heard was undoubtedly about me, and you could not endure it.
You faithful soul--was not that the reason you left your relatives and
lived alone?" said Freyer, seating himself. "Be frank--were you not
obliged to hear many things against me, till you at last doubted your
old schoolmate?"

"Yes--many evil things were said of you and the princess--but I never
believed them. I do not know what happened, but whatever it was, _you_
did nothing wrong."

"Mary, where did you obtain this confidence?"

"Why," she answered smiling, "surely I know my son--and what mother
would distrust her _child_?"

Freyer was deeply moved: "Oh, you virgin mother. Marvel of Heaven, when
in the outside world a mother abandoned her own child--here a child was
maturing into a mother for me, a mother who would have compassion on
the deserted one. Mary, pure maid-servant of God, how have I deserved
this mercy?"

"I always gave you a mother's love, from the time we played together,
and I have mourned for you as a mother all the nine years. But I
believed in you and hoped that you would some day return and close your
old mother's eyes and, though twenty years had passed, I should not
have ceased to hope. I was right, and you have come! Ah! I would
not let myself dream that I should ever play with you again in the
Passion--ever hold my Christus in my arms and support his weary head
when he is taken down from the cross. That happiness transcends every
other joy! True, I am an old maid now, and I wonder that they should
let me take the part again. I am thirty-nine, you know, rather old for
the Mary, yet I think it will be more natural, for Mary, too, was old
when Christ was crucified!"

"Thirty-nine, and still unmarried--such a beautiful creature--how did
that happen, Mary?"

She smiled: "Oh, I did not wish to marry any one.--I could not care for
any one as I did for my Christus!"

"Great Heaven, is this on my conscience too? A whole life wasted in
silent hope, love, and fidelity to me--smiling and unreproachful! This
soul might have been mine, this flower bloomed for me in the quiet home
valley, and I left it to wither while searing heart and brain in the
outside world. Mary, I will not believe that you have lost your life
for my sake--you are still so beautiful, you will yet love and be happy
at some good man's side."

"Oh, no, what fancy have you taken into your head! That was over long
ago," she answered gayly. "I am a year older than you--too old for a
woman. Look, when the hair is grey, one no longer thinks of marrying."
And pushing back her thick brown hair from her temples, she showed
beneath white locks--as white as snow!

"Oh, you have grown grey, perhaps for me--!" he said, deeply moved.

"Yes, maternal cares age one early."

He flung himself in the grass before her, unable to speak. She passed
her hand gently over his bowed head: "Ah, if my poor son had only
returned a happy man--how my heart would have rejoiced. If you had
brought back a dear wife from the city, I would have helped her, done
the rough work to which she was not accustomed--and if you had had a
child, how I would have watched and tended it! If it had been a boy, we
would have trained him to be the Christus--would we not? Then for
twenty years he could have played it--your image."

Freyer started as though the words had pierced his inmost soul. She did
not suspect it, and went on: "Then perhaps the Christus might have
descended from child to grandchild in your family--that would have been
beautiful."

He made no reply; a low sob escaped his breast.

"I have often imagined such things during the long years when I sat
alone through the winter evenings! But unfortunately it has not
resulted so! You return a poor lonely man--and silver threads are
shining in _your_ hair too. When I look at them, I long to weep. What
did those wicked strangers in the outside world do to you, my poor
Joseph, that you are so pale and ill? It seems as if they had crucified
you and taken you down from the cross ere life had wholly departed; and
now you could neither live nor die, but moved about like one half dead.
I fancy I can see your secret wounds, your poor heart pierced by the
spear! Oh, my suffering child, rest your head once more on the knee of
her who would give her heart's blood for you!" She gently drew his head
down and placing one hand under it, like a soft cushion, lovingly
stroked his forehead as if to wipe away the blood-stains of the crown
of thorns, while tear after tear fell from her long lashes on her
son--the son of a virgin mother.

Silence reigned around them--there was a rustling sound above their
heads as if the wind was blowing through palms and cedars--a weeping
willow spread its boughs above them, and from the churchyard wall the
milkwort nodded a mute greeting from Golgotha.



                             CHAPTER XXXV.

                             THE WATCHWORD.


While the lost son of Ammergau was quietly and sadly permitting the
miracle of his home to produce its effect upon him, and rising from one
revelation to another along the steep path which again led him to the
cross, the countess was languishing in the oppressive atmosphere of the
capital and its relations.

Three days had passed since the parting from Freyer, but she scarcely
knew it! She lived behind her closed curtains and in the evenings
sat in the light of lamps subdued by opalescent shades, as if in a
never-changing white night, in which there could be neither dusk nor
dawn. And it was the same in her soul. Reason--cold, joyless reason,
with its calm, monotonous light, now ruled her, she had exhausted all
the forces of grief in those farewell hours. For grief, too, is a force
which can be exhausted, and then the soul will rest in indifference.
Everything was now the same to her. The sacrifice and the cost of the
sacrifice. What did the world contain that was worth trouble and
anxiety? Nothing! Everything she had hoped for on earth had proved
false--false and treacherous. Life had kept its promise to her in
nothing; there was no happiness, only he who had no desires was
happy--a happiness no better than death! And she had not even reached
that stage! She still wanted so many things: honor, power, beauty, and
luxury, which only wealth procures--and therefore this also.

Now she flung herself into the arms of beauty--"seeking in it the
divine" and the man who offered her his hand in aid would understand
how to obtain for her, with taste and care, the last thing she expected
from life--pleasure! Civilization had claimed her again, she was the
woman of the century, a product of civilization! She desired nothing
more. A marriage of convenience with a clever, aristocratic man, with
whom she would become a patron of art and learning; a life of amusement
and pleasurable occupation she now regarded as the normal one, and the
only one to be desired.

While Freyer, among his own people, was returning to primitiveness and
simplicity, she was constantly departing farther from it, repelled and
terrified by the phenomena with which Nature, battling for her eternal
rights, confronted her. For Nature is a tender mother only to him who
deals honestly with her--woe betide him who would trifle with her--she
shows him her terrible earnestness.

"Only despise reason and learning, the highest powers of mankind!" How
often the Mephistopheles within her soul had jeeringly cried. Yes, he
was right--she was punished for having despised and misunderstood the
value of the work of civilization at which mankind had toiled for
years. She would atone for it. She had turned in a circle, the wheel
had almost crushed her, but at least she was glad to have reached the
same spot whence she started ten years ago. At least so she believed!

In this mood the duke found her on his return from Prankenberg.

"Good news, the danger is over! The old pastor was prudent enough to
die with the secret!" he cried, radiant with joy, as he entered.

"Nothing was to be found! There is nothing in the church record! The
Wildenaus have no proof and can do nothing unless Herr Freyer plays us
a trick with the marriage certificate--"

"That anxiety is needless!" replied the countess, taking from her
writing-table the little package containing Freyer's farewell note, the
marriage certificate, and the account-book. "There, read it."

Her face wore a strange expression as she handed it to him, a look as
if she were accusing him of having tempted her to murder an innocent
person. She was pale and there was something hostile, reproachful, in
her attitude.

The duke glanced through the papers. "This is strange," he said very
gravely: "Is the man so great--or so small?"

"So great!" she murmured under her breath.

"Hm! I should not have expected it of him. Is this no farce? Has he
really gone?"

"Yes! And here is something else." She gave him the burgomaster's
letter: "This is the answer I received to-day to my offer to provide
for Freyer's future."

"If this is really greatness--then--" the prince drew a long breath as
if he could not find the right word: "Then--I don't know whether we
have done right."

The countess felt as if a thunderbolt had struck her. "_You_ say
that--_you_?"

The duke rose and paced up and down the room. "I always tell the truth.
If this man was capable of such an act--then--I reproach myself, for he
deserved better treatment than to be flung overboard in this way, and
we have incurred a great responsibility."

"Good Heavens, and you say this now, when it is too late!" groaned the
unhappy woman.

"Be calm. The fault is _mine_--not yours. I will assume the whole
responsibility--but it oppresses me the more heavily because, ever
since I went to Prankenberg, I have been haunted by the question
whether this was really necessary? My object was first of all to save
you. In this respect I have nothing for which to reproach myself. But
I overestimated your danger and undervalued Freyer. I did not know
him--now that I do my motive dissolves into nothing."

He cast another glance at Freyer's farewell note and shook his head:
"It is hard to understand! What must it have cost thus at one blow to
resign everything that was dear, give up without conditions the papers
which at least would have made him a rich man--and all without one
complaint, without any boastfulness, simply, naturally! Madeleine, it
is overwhelming--it is _shameful_ to us."

The countess covered her face. Both remained silent a long time.

The duke still gazed at the letter. Then, resting his head on his hand
and looking fixedly into vacancy, he said: "There is a constraining
power about this man, which draws us all into its spell and compels us
not to fall behind him in generosity. But--how is this to be done? He
cannot be reached by ordinary means. I am beginning now to understand
_what_ bound you to him, and unfortunately I must admit that, with the
knowledge, my guilt increases. My justification lay only in the
misunderstanding of what now forces itself upon me as an undeniable
fact--that Freyer was not so unworthy of you, Madeleine, as I
believed!" He read the inscription on the little bank book: "To keep
the graves of my dear ones!" and was silent for a time as if something
choked his utterance: "How he must have suffered--! When I think how
_I_ love you, though you have never been mine--and he once called you
his--resigned you and went away, with death in his heart! Oh, you
women! Madeleine, how could you do this in cold blood? If it had been
for love of me--but that illusion vanished long ago."

"Condemned--condemned by you!" moaned the countess in terror.

"I do not condemn you, Madeleine, I only marvel that you could do it,
if you knew the man as he is."

"I did not know him in this guise," said the countess proudly. "But--I
will not be less honest than you, Duke, I am not sure that I could have
done it, had I known him as I do _now_."

The duke passed his handkerchief across his brow, which was already
somewhat bald. "One thing is certain--we owe the man some reparation.
Something must be done."

"What shall we do? He will refuse anything we offer--though it were
myself. That is evident from the burgomaster's letter." She closed her
eyes to keep back the tears. "All is vain--he can never forgive me."

"No, he certainly cannot do that. But the man is worthy of having us
fulfill the only wish he has expressed to you--"

"And that is?"

"To defer our marriage until the first anguish of his grief has had
time to pass away."

The countess drew a long breath, as if relieved of a heavy burden:
"Duke, that is generous and noble!"

"If you had been legally wedded and were obliged to be legally
divorced, we could not be united in less than a year. Let us show the
poor man the honor of regarding him as your lawfully wedded husband and
pay him the same consideration as if he were. That is all we can do for
him at present, and I shall make it a point of honor to atone, by this
sacrifice, in some degree for the heavy responsibility which is
undeniably mine and which, as an honest man, I neither can nor desire
to conceal from myself."

He went to her and held out his hand. "I see by your radiant eyes,
Countess, that this does not cost you the sacrifice which it does me--I
will not pretend to be more unselfish than I am, for I hope by means of
it to gain in your esteem what I lose in happiness by this time of
delay!"

He kissed her hand with a sorrowful expression which she had never seen
in him before. "Permit me to take leave of you for to-day, I have an
engagement with Prince Hohenheim. To-morrow we will discuss the matter
farther. _Bon soir_!"

The countess was alone. An engagement with Prince Hohenheim! When had
an engagement with any one taken precedence--of her? Duke Emil was
using pretexts. She could not deceive herself, he was--not really cold,
but chilled. What a terrible reproach to her! What neither time, nor
any of her great or trivial errors had accomplished, what had not
happened even when she preferred a poor low-born man to the rich
noble--occurred now, when she rejected the former--for the latter.

Many a person does not realize the strength of his own moral power, and
how it will baffle the most crafty calculation. Every tragical result
of a sin is merely the vengeance of these moral forces, which the
criminal had undervalued when he planned the deed. This was the case
with the duke. He had advised a breach with Freyer--advised it with the
unselfish intention of saving her, but when the countess followed his
advice and he saw by Freyer's conduct _what_ a heart she had broken, he
could not instantly love the woman who had been cruel enough to do an
act which he could not pardon himself for having counselled.

Madeleine Wildenau suspected this, though not to its full extent. The
duke was far too chivalrous to think for a moment of breaking his
plighted troth, or letting her believe that he repented it. But the
delay which he proposed as an atonement to the man whom they had
injured, said enough. Must _all_ abandon her--every bridge on which she
stepped break? Had she lost by her act even the man of whom she was
sure--surer than of anything else in the world! How terrible then this
deed must have been! Madeleine von Wildenau blushed for herself.

Yet as there are certain traits in feminine nature which are the last a
woman gives up, she now hated Freyer, hated him from a spirit of
contradiction to the duke, who espoused his cause. And as the feminine
nature desires above all things else that which is denied, she now
longed to bind the duke again because she felt the danger of losing
him. The fugitive must be stopped--the sport might perhaps lend her
charmless, wretched life a certain interest. An unsatisfactory one, it
is true, for even if she won him again--what then? What would she have
in him? Could he be anything more to her than a pleasant companion
who would restore her lost power and position? She glanced at her
mirror--it showed her a woman of thirty-eight, rouged to seem ten years
younger--but beneath this rouge were haggard cheeks. She could not
conceal from herself that art would not suffice much longer--she
had faded--her life was drawing toward evening, age spared no one!
But--when she no longer possessed youth and beauty, when the time came
that only the moral value of existence remained, what would she have
then? To what could she look back--in what find satisfaction, peace?
Society? It was always the same, with its good and evil qualities. To
one who entered into an ethical relation with it, it contained besides
its apparent superficiality boundless treasures and resources. "The
snow is hard enough to bear," people say in the mountains when, in the
early Spring, the loose masses have melted into a firm crust. Thus,
under the various streams, now cold, now warm, the surface of society
melts and forms that smooth icy rind of form over which the light-foot
glides carelessly, unconscious that beneath the thin surface are hidden
depths in which the philosopher and psychologist find material enough
for the study of a whole life. But when everything which could serve
the purposes of amusement was exhausted, the countess' interest in
society also failed. Once before she had felt a loathing for it, when
she was younger than now--how would it be when she was an old woman?
The arts? Already their spell had been broken and she had fled to
Nature, because she could no longer believe in their beautiful lies.

The sciences? They were least suited to afford pleasure! Had she not
grown so weary of her amateur toying with their serious investigations
that she fled, longing for a revelation, to the childish miracles of
Oberammergau? Aye--she was again, after the lapse of ten years,
standing in the selfsame spot, seeking her God as in the days when she
fancied she had found His footprints. The trace proved delusive, and
must she now begin again where ten years before she ended in weariness
and discontent? Must she, who imagined that she had embraced the true
essence, return to searching, doubting? No, the flower cannot go back
into the closed bud; the feeling which caused the disappointment
impelled onward to truth! Love for God had once unfolded, and though
the object proved deceptive--the _feeling_ was true, and struggled to
find its goal as persistently as the flower seeks the sun after it has
long vanished behind clouds. But had she missed her way because she
thought she had reached the _goal_ too _soon_? She had followed the
trace no longer, but left it in anger--discouragement, at the first
disappointment! What if the path which led her to Ammergau was the
_right_ one? And the guide along it _had_ been sent by God? What if she
had turned from the path because it was too long and toilsome, rejected
the guide because he did not instantly bring God near to her impatient
heart, and she must henceforth wander aimlessly without consolation or
hope? And when the day of final settlement came, what imperishable
goods would she possess? When the hour arrived which no mortal can
escape, what could aid her in the last terror, save the consciousness
of dwelling in the love of God, of going out of love to love--out of
longing to fulfillment? She had rejected love, she had turned back in
the path of longing and contented herself with earthly joys--and when
she left the world she would have nothing, for the soul which does not
seek, will not find! A life which has not fulfilled its moral task is
not _finished_, only _broken off_, death to it is merely _destruction_,
not _completion_.

The miserable woman flung herself down before the mirror which showed
her the transitoriness of everything earthly and, for the first time in
her life, looked the last question in the face and read no answer
save--despair.

"Help my weakness, oh God!" she pleaded. "Help me upward to Thee. Show
me the way--send me an angel, or write Thy will on the border of the
clouds, work a miracle, oh Lord, for a despairing soul!" Thus she
awaited the announcement of the divine will in flaming characters and
angel tongues--and did not notice that a poor little banished household
sprite was standing beside her, gazing beseechingly at her with tearful
eyes because it had the word which would aid her, the watchword which
she could find nowhere--only a simple phrase: _the fulfillment of
duty!_ Yet because it was as simple and unassuming as the genius which
brought it, it remained unheeded by the proud, vain woman who, in her
arrogance, spite of the humiliations she had endured, imagined that her
salvation needed a messenger from Heaven of apocalyptic form and power.



                             CHAPTER XXXVI.

                               MEMORIES.


Amid conflicts such as those just described, the countess lived,
passing from one stage of development to another and unconsciously
growing older--mentally maturing. Several weeks had now passed since
her parting with Freyer, but the apathy with which, from that hour, she
had regarded all external things still remained. She left the duke to
arrange the affair with the Wildenaus, which, a short time ago, she had
considered of sufficient importance to sacrifice Freyer. She admired
the duke's tact and cleverness, but it seemed as if he were not acting
for her but for some other person.

When he brought the news that the Wildenaus, owing to the obstinacy of
the witness Martin, had given up their plan of a legal prosecution on
the ground of Josepha's deposition, and were ready for an amicable
settlement--she did not rejoice over anything save the old servant's
fidelity; everything else she accepted as a just recompense of fate in
return for an _unwarrantably_ high price she had paid.

She was not annoyed because obliged to pay those whom she had injured a
sum so large as considerably to lessen her income. She did not care for
the result; her father was now a dying man and the vast sums he had
used were again at her disposal. After all--what did it matter? If she
married the duke in a year, she would be obliged to give up the whole
property! But--need she marry him, if the Wildenaus could prove nothing
against her? She sank into a dull reverie. But when the duke mentioned
the cousins' desire for the little hunting-castle, life suddenly woke
in her again. "Never, never!" she cried, while a burning blush
crimsoned her face: "Rather all my possessions than that!" A flood of
tears suddenly dissolved her unnatural torpor.

"But, dearest Madeleine, you will never live there again!" said the
duke consolingly.

"No--neither I nor any living mortal will enter it again; but,
Duke--must I say it? There sleeps my child; there sleeps the dream of
my heart--it is the mausoleum of my love! No, leave me that--no
stranger's foot must desecrate it! I will do anything, will give
the Wildenaus twice, thrice as much; they may choose any of my
estates--only not that one, and even if I marry you, when I must resign
everything, I will ask you to buy it from my cousins, and you will not
refuse my first request?"

The prince gazed at her long and earnestly; for the first time a ray of
the old love shone in his eyes. "Do you know that I have never seen you
so beautiful as at this moment? Now your own soul looks out from your
eyes! Now I absolve you from everything. Forgive me--I was mistaken in
you, but this impulse teaches me that you are still yourself. It does
me good!"

"Oh, Duke! There is little merit, when the living was not allowed his
rightful place--to secure it to the dead!"

"Well, it is at least an act of atonement. Madeleine, there cannot be
more joy in Heaven over the sinner who repents than I felt just now at
your words. Yes, my poor friend, you shall keep the scene of your
happiness and your grief untouched--I will assure you of it, and will
arrange it with the Wildenaus."

"Duke! Oh, you are the best, the noblest of men!" she exclaimed,
smiling through her tears: "Do you know that I love you as I never did
before? I thought it perfectly natural that you could not love me as
you saw me during those days. I felt it, though you did not intend to
let me see it."

She had not meant to assume it, but these words expressed the charming
artlessness which had formerly rendered her so irresistible, and the
longer the duke had missed it, the less he was armed against the spell.

"Madeleine!" he held out his arms--and she--did she know how it
happened? Was it gratitude, the wish to make at least _one_ person
happy? She threw herself on his breast--for the first time he held her
in his embrace. Surely she was his betrothed bride! But she had not
thought of what happened now. The duke's lips sought hers--she could
not resist like a girl of sixteen, he would have considered it foolish
coquetry. So she was forced to submit.

"_Honi soit qui mal y pense!_" he murmured, kissing her brow, her
hair--and her lips. But when she felt his lips press hers, it suddenly
seemed as though some one was saying dose beside her: "_You!_" It was
the word Freyer always uttered when he embraced her, as though he knew
of nothing better or higher than that one word, in which he expressed
the whole strength of his emotion! "You--you!" echoed constantly in her
ears with that sweet, wild fervor which seemed to threaten: "the next
instant you will be consumed in my ardor." Again he stood before her
with his dark flaming eyes and the overwhelming earnestness of a mighty
passion, which shadowed his pale brow as the approaching thunder-storm
clouded the snow-clad peaks of his mountains. And she compared it with
the light, easy tenderness, the "_honi soi qui mal y pense_" of the
trained squire of dames who was pressing his first kiss upon her
lips--and she loathed the stranger. She released herself with a sudden
movement, approached the window and looked out. As she gazed, she
fancied she saw the dark figure of the deserted one, illumined by the
crimson glare of the forest conflagration, holding out his hand with a
divinely royal gesture to raise and shelter her on his breast. Once
more she beheld him gaze calmly down at the charred timber and heard
him say smiling: "The wood was mine."

Then--then she beheld in the distant East a sultry room, shaded by gay
awnings, surrounded by rustling palm-trees, palm-trees, which drew
their sustenance from the soil on which the Redeemer's blood once
flowed. He sat beside the bed of the mother of a new-born child,
whispering sweet, earnest words--and the mother was she herself, the
babe was his.

Then she beheld this same man kneeling by the coffin of a child, the
rigid, death-white face buried under his raven locks. It was the child
born on the consecrated soil of the burning East, which she had left to
pine in the cold breath of the Western winter. She withdrew from it the
mother-heart, in which the tender plant of the South might have gained
warmth. She had left that father's child to die.

Yet he did not complain; uttered no reproach--he remained silent.

She saw him become more and more solitary and silent. The manly beauty
wasted, his strength failed--at last she saw him noiselessly cross
the carpeted floor of this very room and close the door behind him
never to return! No, no, it could not be--all that had happened was
false--nothing was true save that he was the father of her child, her
husband, and no one else could ever be that, even though she was
separated from him for ever.

"Duke!" she cried, imploringly. "Leave me to myself. I do not
understand my own feelings--I feel as if arraigned before the judgment
seat of God. Let me take counsel with my own heart--forgive me I am a
variable, capricious woman--one mood to-day and another to-morrow; have
patience with me, I entreat you."

The duke looked gravely at her, and answered, nodding: "I
understand--or rather--I am afraid to understand!"

"Duke, I am not suited to marry. Let the elderly woman go her way
alone--I believe I can never again be happy. I long only for rest and
solitude."

"You need rest and composure. I will give you time and wait your
decision, which can now be absolutely untrammelled, since your business
affairs are settled and the peril is over."

"Do not be angry with me, Duke--and do not misunderstand me--oh
Heaven--you might think that I had only given my promise in the dread
of poverty and disgrace and now that the peril was past, repented."

The duke hesitated a moment. Then he said in a low, firm tone: "Surely
you know that I am the man of sober reason, who is surprised by
nothing. '_Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner_.' So act without
regard to me, as your own feeling dictates." He held out his hand:
"There was a time when I seriously believed that we might be happy
together. That is now past--you will destroy no illusion, if you assert
the contrary."

"Perhaps not even a sincere desire of the heart?" replied the countess,
smiling.

The duke became deeply earnest. "That suggestion is out of place
here.--Am I to wound you from gallantry and increase the measure of
your self-reproaches by showing you that I suffer? Or tell a falsehood
to lessen your responsibility? We will let all that rest. If you want
me, send for me. Meanwhile, as your faithful attorney, I will arrange
the matter of the hunting castle."

"Duke--how petty I am in your presence--how noble you are!"

"That is saying far too much, Countess! I am content, if you can bear
me witness that at least I have not made myself ridiculous." He left
the room--cold, courteous, stoical as ever!

Madeleine von Wildenau hurried to the window and flung it open. "Pour
in, light and air, mighty consolers--ah, now I breathe, I live again!"

Once more she could freely show her face, had no occasion to conceal
herself. The danger of a "scandal" was over, thanks to the lack of
proof. She need no longer shun the Wildenaus--old Martin was faithful
and her husband, the most dangerous witness, had gone, disappeared. Now
she had nothing more to dread; she was free, mistress of her fortune,
mistress of her will, she breathed once more as if new-born.

Liberty, yes, _this_ was happiness. She believed that she had found it
at last! And she would enjoy it. She need not reproach herself for
breaking her troth to the prince, he had told her so--if thereby she
could appease the avenging spirits of her deed to Freyer, they must
have the sacrifice! True, to be reigning duchess of a country was a
lofty position; but--could she purchase it at the cost of being the
wife of a man whom she did not love? Why not? Was she a child?--a
foolish girl? A crown was at stake--and should she allow sentimental
scruples to force her to sacrifice it to the memory of an irrevocably
lost happiness?

She shook her head, as if she wanted to shake off a bandage. She was
ill from the long days spent in darkness and confinement like a
criminal. That was the cause of these whims. Up and out into the open
air, where she would again find healthy blood and healthy thoughts.

She rang the bell, a new servant appeared.

"My arrival can now be announced. Tell Martin to bring the carriage
round, I will go to drive."

"Very well, Your Highness."

She seemed to have escaped from a ban. She had never known liberty.
Until she married the Count von Wildenau she had been under the control
of a governess. Then, in her marriage with the self-willed old man she
was a slave, and she had scarcely been a widow ere she forged new
fetters for herself. Now, for the first time, she could taste liberty.
The decision was not pressing. The cool stoic who had waited so long
would not lose patience at the last moment--so she could still do what
she would.

So the heart, struggling against the unloved husband, deceived the
ambitious, calculating reason which aspired to a crown.

The carriage drove up. It was delightful to hear a pair of spirited
horses stamping before a handsome equipage, to be assisted to enter by
a liveried servant and to be able to say: "This is yours once more!"
The only shadow which disturbed her was that on Martin's face, a shadow
resting there since she had last visited her castle of the Sleeping
Beauty. She well knew for whom the old man was grieving. It was a
perpetual reproach and she avoided talking with him, from a certain
sense of diffidence. She could justify herself to the keen intelligence
of the duke--to the simplicity of this plain man she could not; she
felt it.

It was a delightful May evening. A sea of warm air and spring perfumes
surrounded her, and crowds thronged the streets, enjoying the evening,
after their toilsome work, as if they had just waked from their winter
sleep. On the corners groups paused before huge placards which they
eagerly studied, one pushing another away. What could it be?

Then old Martin, as if intentionally, drove close to the sidewalk,
where the people stood in line out to the street before those posters.
There was a little movement in the throng; people turned to look at the
splendid equipage, thus leaving the placard exposed. The countess read
it--the blood congealed in her veins--there, in large letters, stood
the words: "Oberammergau Passion Play." What did it mean? She leaned
back in the carriage, feeling as if she must shriek aloud with
homesickness, with agonized longing for those vanished days of a great
blissful delusion! Again she beheld the marvellous play. Again the
divine sufferer appeared to the world--the mere name on that wretched
placard was already exerting its spell, for the pedestrians, pausing on
their errands, stopped before it by hundreds, as if they had never read
the words "Passion Play" before! And the man who helped create this
miracle, to which a world was again devoutly pilgrimaging, had been
clasped in her arms--had loved her, been loyally devoted to her, to her
alone, and she had disdained him! Now he was again bringing the
salvation of the divine word and miracle--she alone was shut out, she
had forfeited it by her own fault. She was--as in his wonderful gift of
divination he had once said--one of the foolish virgins who had burned
her oil, and now the heavenly bridegroom was coming, but she stood
alone in the darkness while the others were revelling at the banquet.

The rattle of wheels and the trampling of the crowds about her were
deafening, and it was fortunate, for, in the confused uproar, the cry
which escaped the tortured heart of the proud lady in the coroneted
carriage died away unheard. Lilacs and roses--why do you send forth so
intoxicating a fragrance, why do you still bloom? Can you have the
heart to smile at a world in which there is such anguish? But lilacs,
roses, and a beautiful May-sun laughed on, the world was devoutly
preparing for the great pilgrimage to Oberammergau. She only was
exiled, and returned to her stone palace, alone, hopeless--with
infinite desolation in her heart.

A note from the duke awaited her. He took his leave for a few weeks, in
order to give her time to understand her own heart clearly. Now she was
utterly alone.



                            CHAPTER XXXVII.

                          THE MEASURE IS FULL.


From that day the countess showed an unwonted degree of interest in the
newspapers. The first question when she waked in the morning was for
the papers. But the maid noticed that she opened only the pages
containing the reports from Oberammergau.

"Your Highness seems to be very much interested in the Passion Play,"
the woman ventured to remark.

The countess blushed, and her "yes" was so curt and repellent that the
maid was alarmed at her own presumption.

One thing, however, was certain--her mistress, after reading these
reports, always looked pale and worn.

And in truth the unhappy woman, while reading the descriptions of this
year's performances, felt as if she were drinking a cup of wormwood
drop by drop. Freyer's name was echoing throughout the world. Not only
did the daily press occupy itself with him--but grave men, æsthetes of
high rank, found his acting so interesting that they wrote pamphlets
about it and made it the subject of scientific treatises. The countess
read them all. Freyer was described as the type in which art, nature,
and religion joined hands in the utmost harmony! "As he himself stands
above the laws of theatrical routine, he raises us far above what we
term stage effect, as it were into a loftier sphere. He does not
act--he is the Christ! The power of his glance, the spirituality of the
whole figure, and an indefinable spell of the noblest sorrow which
pervades his whole person, are things which cannot be counterfeited,
which are no play, but truth. We believe what he says, because we feel
that this man's soul does not belong to this world, that its own
individual life has entered into his part. Because he thinks, feels,
and lives not as Joseph Freyer, but as the Christus--is the source of
the impression which borders upon the supernatural."

Madeleine von Wildenau had just read these words, which cut her to the
heart. Ah, when strangers--critics--men said such things--surely she
had no cause to be ashamed. Who would reproach her, a weak,
enthusiastic woman, for yielding to this spell? Surely no one--rather
she would be blamed for not having arrested the charm, for having, with
a profane hand, destroyed the marvel that approached her, favoring her
above the thousands who gazed at it in devout reverence!

She leaned her head on her hand and gazed mournfully out of the window
at which she sat. They had now been playing six weeks in Oberammergau.
It was June. The gardens of the opposite palace were in their fullest
leafage; and the birds singing in the trees lured her out. Her eyes
followed a little swallow flying toward the mountains. "Oh, mountain
air and blue gentians--earthly Paradise!" she sighed! What was she
doing here in the hot city when all were flying to the mountains, she
saw no society, and the duke had gone away. She, too, ought to have
left long before. But where should she go? She could not visit
Oberammergau, and she cared for no other spot--it seemed as though the
whole world contained no other place of abode than this one village
with its gay little houses and low windows--as if in all the world
there were no mountains, and no mountain air save in Ammergau. A few
burning tears ran down her cheeks. Doubtless there was mountain air,
there were mountain peaks higher, more beautiful than in Ammergau, but
nowhere else could be found the same capacity for enjoying the
magnificence of nature! Everywhere there is a church, a religion, but
nowhere so religious an atmosphere as there.

"Oh, my lost Paradise, my soul greets you with all the anguish of the
exiled mother of my sex and my sin!" she sighed.

And yet, what was Eve's sin to hers? Eve at least atoned in love and
faith with the man whom she tempted to sin. Therefore God could forgive
her and send to the race which sprung from her fall a messenger of
reconciliation. Eve was a wife and a mother. But she, what was she? Not
even that! She had abandoned her husband and lived in splendor and
luxury while he grieved alone. She had given him only one child, and
even to that had acted no mother's part, and finally had thrust him out
into poverty and sorrow, and led a life of wealth and leisure, while he
earned his bread by the sweat of his brow. No, the mother of sin was a
martyr compared to her, a martyr to the nature which _she_ denied, and
therefore she was shut out from the bond of peace and pity which Eve's
atonement secured.

Some one knocked. The countess started from her reverie. The servant
announced that His Highness' nurses had sent for her; they thought
death was near.

"I will come at once!" she answered.

The prince lived near the Wildenau Palace, and she reached him in a few
minutes.

The sick man's mind was clearer than it had been for several months.
The watery effusions in the brain which had clouded his consciousness
had been temporarily absorbed, and he could control his thoughts. For
the first time he held out his hand to his daughter: "Are you there, my
child?"

It touched her strangely, and she knelt by his side. "Yes, father!"

He stroked her hair with a kindly, though dull expression: "Are you
well?"

"In body, yes papa! I thank you."

"Are you happy?"

The countess, who had never in her life perceived any token of paternal
affection in his manner, was deeply moved by this first sign of
affection in the hour of parting. She strove to find some soothing
reply which would not be false and yet satisfy his feeble reasoning
powers; but he had again forgotten the question.

"Are you married?" he asked again, as if he had been absent a long
time, and saw his daughter to-day for the first time.

The nurses withdrew into the next room.

The father and daughter were alone. Meantime his memory seemed to be
following some clue.

"Where is your husband?"

"Which one?" asked the countess, greatly agitated. "Wildenau?"

"No, no--the--the other one; let him come!" He put out his hand
gropingly, as if he expected some one to clasp it: "Say farewell--"

"Father," sobbed the countess, laying the seeking hand gently back on
the coverlet. "He cannot bid you farewell, he is not here!"

"Why not? I should have been glad to see him--son-in-law--grandson--no
one here?"

"Father--poor father!" The countess could say no mare. Laying her head
on the side of her father's bed, she wept bitterly.

"Hm, hm!" murmured the invalid, and a glance of intelligence suddenly
flashed from his dull eyes at his daughter. "My child, are you
weeping?" He reflected a short time, then his mind seemed to grow clear
again.

"Oh, yes. No one must know! Foolish weaknesses! Tell him I sincerely
ask his pardon; he must forgive me. Prejudiced, old--! I am very sorry.
Can't you send for him?"

"Oh, papa, I would gladly bring him, but it is too late--he has gone
away!"

"Ah! then I shall not see him again. I am near my end."

The countess could not speak, but pressed her lips to her father's cold
hand.

"Don't grieve; you will lose nothing in me; be happy. I spent a great
deal of money for you--women, gaming, dinners, what value are they
all?" He made a gesture of loathing: "What are they now?"

A chill ran through his veins, and his breath grew short and labored.
"I'm curious to see how it looks up there!" He pondered for a time. "If
you knew of any sensible pastor, you might send for him; such men often
_do_ know something."

"Certainly, father!"

The countess hurried into the next room and ordered a priest to be sent
for to give extreme unction.

"You wish to confess and take the communion too, do you not, papa?"

"Why yes; one doesn't wish to take the old rubbish when starting on the
great journey. We don't carry our soiled linen with us when we travel.
I have much on my conscience, Magdalena--my child--most of all, sins
committed against you! Don't bear your foolish old father ill-will for
it."

"No, father, I swear it by the memory of this hour!"

"And your husband"--he shook his head--"he is not here; it's a pity!"

Then he said no more but lay quietly, absorbed in his own thoughts,
till the priest came.

Madeleine withdrew during the confession. What was passing in her mind
during that hour she herself could not understand. She only knew that
her father's inquiry in his dying hour for his despised, disowned
son-in-law was the keenest reproach which had been addressed to her.

The sacred ceremony was over, and the priest had left the house.

The sick man lay with a calm, pleasant expression on his face, which
had never rested there before. Madeleine sat down by the bed and took
his hand; he gratefully returned her gentle pressure.

"How do you feel, dear father?" she asked gently.

"Very comfortable, dear child."

"Have you made your peace with God?"

"I hope so, my child! So far as He will be gracious to an old sinner
like me." He raised his eyes with an earnest, trustful look, then a
long--agonizing death struggle came on. But he held his daughter's hand
firmly in his own, and she spent the whole night at his bedside without
stirring, resolute and faithful--the first fulfillment of duty in her
whole life.

The struggle continued until the next noon ere the daughter could close
her father's eyes. A number of pressing business matters were now to be
arranged, which detained her in the house of mourning until the
evening, and made her sorely miss her thoughtful friend, the duke. At
last, at nine o'clock, she returned to her palace, wearied almost unto
death.

The footman handed her a card: "The gentleman has been here twice
to-day and wished to see Your Highness on very urgent business. He was
going to leave by the last train, but decided to stay in order to see
you. He will try again after nine o'clock--"

The countess carried the card to the gas jet and read: "Ludwig Gross,
drawing-teacher." Her hand trembled so violently that she almost
dropped it. "When the gentleman comes, admit him!" She was obliged to
cling to the balustrade as she went upstairs, she was so giddy.
Scarcely had she reached her boudoir when she heard the lower bell
ring--then footsteps, a familiar voice--some one knocked as he had done
ten years ago in the Gross House; but the man whom he then brought,
nothing would ever bring again.

She did not speak, her voice failed, but she opened the door
herself--Ludwig Gross stood before her. Both gazed at each other a long
time in silence. Both were struggling for composure and for words, and
from the cheeks of both every drop of blood had vanished. The countess
held out her hand, but he did not seem to see it. She pointed to a
chair, and said in a hollow tone: "Sit down," at the same time sinking
upon a divan opposite.

"I will not disturb you long, Your Highness!" Ludwig answered, seating
himself a long distance off.

"If you disturbed me, I should not have received you."

Ludwig felt the reproof conveyed in the words for the hostility of his
manner, but he could not help it.

"Perhaps Your Highness remembers a certain Freyer?"

"Herr Gross, that question is an insult, but I admit that, from your
standpoint, you have a right to ask it. At any rate, Freyer did not
commission you to do so."

"No, Countess, for he does not know that I am here; if he did, he would
have prevented it. I beg your pardon, if I perform my mission somewhat
clumsily! I know it is unseemly to meddle with relations of which one
is ignorant, for Freyer's reserve allowed me no insight into these. But
here there is danger in delay, and where a human life is at stake,
every other consideration must be silent. I have never been able to
learn any particulars from Freyer. I only know that he was away nine
years, as it was rumored, with you, and that he returned a beggar!"

"That, Herr Gross, is no fault of mine."

"Not that, Countess, but it must be _your_ fault alone which has caused
relations so unnatural that Freyer was ashamed to accept from you even
the well-earned payment for his labor."

"You are right there, Herr Gross."

"And that would be the least, Countess, but he has returned, not only a
beggar, but a lost man."

"Ludwig!"

"Yes, Countess. That is the reason I determined, after consulting with
the burgomaster, to come here and talk with you, if you will allow it."

"Speak, for Heaven's sake; what has befallen him?"

"Freyer is ill, Countess."

"But, how can that be? He is acting the Christus every week and
delighting the world?"

"Yes, that is just it! He acts, as a candle burns down while it
shines--it is no longer the phosphorescence of genius, it is a light
which feeds on his own life and consumes it."

"Merciful God!"

"And he _wishes_ to die--that is unmistakable--that is why it is so
hard to aid him. He will heed no counsel, follow no advice of the
physician, do nothing which might benefit him. Now matters have gone so
far that the doctor told us yesterday he might fall dead upon the stage
at any hour--and we ought not to allow him to go on playing! But he
cannot be prevented. He desires nothing more than death."

"What is the matter?" asked the pale lips of the countess.

"A severe case of heart disease, Countess, which might be arrested for
several years by means of careful nursing, perfect rest, and
strengthening food; but he has no means to obtain the better
nourishment his condition requires, because he is too proud to be a
burden on any one, and he lacks the ease of mind necessary to relieve
his heart. Nursing is out of the question--he occupies, having given
his own home to the poor when he left Ammergau, as you know, a
miserable, damp room in a wretched tavern, just outside the village,
and wanders about the mountains day and night. Of course speedy death
is inevitable--hastened, moreover, by the exertions demanded by his
part."

Ludwig Gross rose. "I do not know how you estimate the value of a poor
man's life, Countess," he said bitterly--"I have merely done my duty by
informing you of my friend's condition. The rest I must leave to you."

"Great Heaven! What shall I do! He rejects everything I offer. Perhaps
you do not know that I gave him a fortune and he refused it."

Ludwig Gross fixed an annihilating glance upon her. "If you know no
other way of rendering aid here save by _money_--I have nothing more to
say."

He bowed slightly and left the room without waiting for an answer.

"Ludwig!" she called: "Hear me!"

He had gone--he was right--did she deserve anything better? No--no! She
stood in the middle of the room a moment as if dazed. Her heart
throbbed almost to bursting. "Has it gone so far! I have left the man
from whose lips I drew the last breath of life to starve and languish.
I allowed the heart on which I have so often rested to pine within
dark, gloomy walls, bleed and break in silent suffering. Murderess, did
you hear it? He is lost, through your sin! Oh, God, where is the crime
which I have not committed--where is there a more miserable creature? I
have murdered the most innocent, misunderstood the noblest, repulsed
the most faithful, abused the most sacred, and for what?" She sank
prostrate. The measure was full--was running over.--The angel with the
cup of wormwood had overtaken her, as Freyer had prophesied and was
holding to her lips the bitter chalice of her own guilt, which she must
drain, drop by drop. But now this guilt had matured, grown to its full
size, and stood before her, grinning at her with the jeer of madness.

"Wings--oh, God, lend me wings! While I am doubting and despairing
here--it may be too late--the terrible thing may have happened--he may
have died, unreconciled, with the awful reproach in his heart! Wings,
wings, oh God!" She started up and flew to the bell with the speed of
thought. "Send for the head-groom at once!" Then she hurried into the
chamber, where the maid was arranging her garments for the night. "Pack
as quickly as possible whatever I shall need for a journey of two or
three days--or weeks--I don't know myself."

"Evening or street costumes?" asked the maid, startled by her mistress'
appearance. "Street dresses!"

Meantime the head-groom had come. She hastened into the boudoir: "Have
relays of horses saddled and sent forward at once--it is after ten
o'clock--there is no train to Weilheim--but I must reach Oberammergau
to-night! Martin is to drive, send on four relays--I will give you four
hours start--the men must be off within ten minutes--I will go at two
o'clock--I shall arrive there at seven."

"Your Excellency, that is scarcely possible"--the man ventured to say.

"I did not ask whether it was possible--I told you that it _must_ be
done, if it kills all my horses. Quick, rouse the whole stable--every
one must help. I shall wait at the window until I see the men ride
away."

The man bowed silently, he knew that opposition was futile, but he
muttered under his breath: "To ruin six of her best horses in one
night--just for the sake of that man in Ammergau, she ought to be put
under guardianship."

The courtyard was instantly astir, men were shouting and running to and
fro. The stable-doors were thrown open, lanterns flashed hither and
thither, the trampling and neighing of horses were heard, the noise and
haste seemed as if the wild huntsman was setting off on his terrible
ride through the starless night.

The countess stood, watch in hand, at the lighted window, and the
figure of their mistress above spurred every one to the utmost haste.
In a few minutes the horses for the relays were saddled and the grooms
rode out of the courtyard.

"The victoria with the pair of blacks must be ready at two," the
head-groom said to old Martin. "You must keep a sharp look-out--I don't
see how you will manage--those fiery creatures in that light carriage."

The countess heard it at the window, but she paid no heed. If only she
could fly there with the light carriage, the fiery horses, as her heart
desired. Forward--was her only thought.

"Must I go, too?" asked the maid, pale with fright.

"No, I shall need no one." The countess now shut the windows and went
to her writing-desk, for there was much to be done within the few short
hours. Her father's funeral--sending the announcements--all these
things must now be entrusted to others and a representative must be
found among the relatives to fill her own place. She assigned as a
pretext the necessity of taking a short journey for a day or two,
adding that she did not yet know whether she could return in time for
the funeral of the prince. Her pen fairly flew over the paper, and she
finally wrote a brief note to the duke, in which she told him nothing
except her father's death. The four hours slipped rapidly away, and as
the clock struck two the victoria drove to the door.

The countess was already standing there. The lamps at the entrance
shone brightly, but even brighter was old Martin's face, as he curbed
the spirited animals with a firm hand.

"To Ammergau, Martin!" said the countess significantly, as she entered
the equipage.

"Hi! But I'll drive now!" cried the old man, joyously, not suspecting
the sorrowful state of affairs, and off dashed the steeds as though
spurred by their mistress' fears--while guilt and remorse accompanied
her with the heavy flight of destiny.



                            CHAPTER XXXVIII.

                        ON THE WAY TO THE CROSS.


It was Sunday. Again the throngs surged around the Passion Theatre,
more devout, more numerous than ever.

Slowly, as if his feet could scarcely support him, a tall figure,
strangely like one who no longer belongs to the number of the living,
tottered through the crowd to the door of the dressing-room, while all
reverently made way for him, yet every one perceived that it must be
the Christus! Whoever met his eye shuddered as if the incarnation of
woe had passed, as if he had seen the face of the god of sorrow.

Eight o'clock had struck, the cannon had announced the commencement of
the play, the waiting throng pressed in, crowding each other, and the
doors were closed.

Outside of the theatre it was silent and empty. The carriages had
driven away. The people who could get no tickets had dispersed. Only
the venders of photographs and eatables still sat in their booths,
listening idly and sleepily to the notes of the music, which came in
subdued tones through the board partition.

Suddenly the ground trembled slightly under the wheels of a carriage
driven at furious speed. A pair of horses covered with foam appeared in
the distance--in a few seconds a dusty victoria stopped before the
Passion Theatre.

"St, st!" said one of the box-tenders, appearing at the top of the
stairs and hurrying down to prevent farther disturbance.

"Can I get a ticket?" asked the lady in the carriage.

"I am very sorry--but unfortunately every seat is filled."

"Oh, Heaven! I lost an hour--one of the horses met with an accident, I
have driven all night--I beg you--I _must_ get in!"

The box-tender shrugged his shoulders. "Unfortunately it is
impossible!" he said with an offensively lofty manner.

"I am not accustomed to find anything which I desire impossible, so far
as it depends upon human beings to fulfill it," she answered haughtily.
"I will pay any price, no matter whether it is a thousand marks, more
or less--if you will get me even the poorest seat within the walls."

"It is not a question of price!" was the smiling answer. "If we had the
smallest space, we could have disposed of it a hundred times over
to-day."

"Then take me on the stage."

"Oh, it is no use to speak of that--no matter who might come--no one is
allowed there."

"Then announce me to the burgomaster--I will give you my card."

"I am very sorry, but I have no admittance to the stage during the
performance. In the long intermission at twelve o'clock you might be
announced, but not before."

The countess' heart throbbed faster and faster. She could hear the
notes of the music, she fancied she could distinguish the different
voices, yet she was not permitted to enter. Now came the shouts of
"Hosanna!"--yes, distinctly--that was the entry into Jerusalem, those
were the exulting throngs who attended him. If she could only look
through a chink--! Now, now it was still--then a voice--oh! she would
recognize those tones among thousands. A draught of air bore them to
her through the cracks in the walls. Yes, that was he; a tremor ran
through every limb--he was speaking.

The world hung on his lips, joy was in every eye, comfort in every
heart--within was salvation and she must stand without and could not go
to her own husband. But he was not her husband, that had been her own
wish. Now it was granted!

The "foolish virgin" outside the door burst into tears like a child.

The man who had just refused her request so coldly, pitied her: "If I
only knew how to help you, I would do so gladly," he said thoughtfully.
"I'll tell you! If it is so important come during the intermission, but
on _foot_, without attracting attention, to the rear entrance of the
stage--then I'll try to smuggle you in, even if it is only into the
passage for the chorus!"

"Oh, sir, I thank you!" said the countess with the look which a lost
soul might give to the angel who opened the gates of Paradise.

"I will be there punctually at twelve. Don't you think I might speak to
Herr Freyer during the intermission?" she asked timidly.

A smile of sorrowful pity flitted over the man's face. "Oh, he speaks
to no one. We are rejoiced every time that he is able to get through
the performance."

"Alas! is he so ill?"

"Yes," replied the man in a tone very low as if he feared the very air
might hear, "very ill."

Then he went up the stairs again to his post.

"Where shall we drive now?" asked Martin.

The countess was obliged to reflect a short time ere she answered. "I
think it would be best--to try to find a lodging somewhere--" she said
hesitatingly, still listening to the sounds from the theatre to learn
what was passing within, what scene they were playing--who was
speaking? "Drive slowly, Martin--" she begged. She was in no hurry now:
"Stop!" she called as Martin started; she had just heard a voice that
sounded like _his_! Martin made the horses move very slowly as he drove
on. Thus, at the most tardy pace, they passed around the Passion
Theatre and then in the opposite direction toward the village. At the
exit from the square an official notification was posted: "No Monday
performances will be given hereafter; Herr Freyer's health will not
permit him to play two days in succession."

The countess pressed her clasped hands upon her quivering heart. "Bear
it--it must be borne--it is your own fault, now suffer!"

A stranger in a private carriage, who was looking for lodgings on the
day everybody else was going away, was a welcome apparition in the
village. At every house to which she drove the occupants who remained
in it hastened to welcome her, but none of the rooms pleased her. For a
moment she thought of going to the drawing-master's, but there also the
quarters were too low and narrow--and she could not deceive herself,
the tie between her and Ludwig Gross was sundered--he could not forgive
what she had done to his friend; she avoided him as though he were her
judge. And besides--she wanted quiet rooms, where an invalid could
rest, and these were not easy to find now.

At last she discovered them. A plain house, surrounded by foliage, in a
secluded street, which had only two rooms on the ground floor, where
they could live wholly unseen and unheard. They were plain apartments,
but the ceilings were not too low, and the sunbeams shone through the
chinks of the green shutters with a warm, yet subdued light. A
peaceful, cheerful shelter.

She hired them for an indefinite time, and quickly made an agreement
with the elderly woman to whom they belonged. There was a little
kitchen also, and the woman was willing to do the cooking. So for the
next few days at least she had a comfortable home, and now would to
Heaven that she might not occupy it in despair.

"Well, now Your Highness is nicely settled," said old Martin, when the
housewife opened the shutters, and he glanced down from his box into
the pretty room: "I should like such a little home myself."

The countess ordered the luggage to be brought in.

"Where shall I put up, Your Highness?"

"Go to the old post-house, Martin!"

"Shan't I take you to the Passion Theatre?"

"No, you heard that I must walk there." Martin shook his head--this
seemed to him almost too humiliating to his proud mistress. But he did
not venture to make any comment, and drove off, pondering over his own
thoughts.

It was nine o'clock. Three hours before the long intermission. What
might not happen during that time? Could she wait, would not anxiety
kill her or rob her of her senses? But nothing could be done, she
_must_ wait. She could not hasten the hour on which depended life and
death, deliverance or doom.--The nocturnal ride, the fright occasioned
by the fiery horses which had upset the carriage and forced her to walk
to the next relay and thus lose a precious hour, her agitation beside
her father's sick bed, now asserted themselves, and she lay down on one
of the neat white beds in the room and used the time to rest and
recover her strength a little. She was only a feeble woman, and the
valiant spirit which had so long created its own law and battled for
it, was too powerful for a woman's feeble frame. It was fortunate that
she was compelled to take this rest, or she would have succumbed. A
restless slumber took possession of her at intervals, from which she
started to look at the clock and mournfully convince herself that not
more than five minutes had elapsed.

The old woman brought in a cup of coffee, which she pressed upon her.
No food had passed her lips since the day before, and the warm drink
somewhat revived her. But the rapid throbbing of her heart soon
prevented her remaining in bed, and rising, she busied herself a little
in unpacking--the first time in her life that she had ever performed
such work. She remembered how she had wept ten years ago in the Gross
house, because she was left without a maid.

At last the time of torture was over. The clock struck quarter to
twelve. She put on her hat, though it was still far too early, but she
could not bear to stay in the room. She wished at least to be near the
theatre. When she reached the door her breath failed, and she was
obliged to stop and calm herself. Then, summoning all her courage, she
raised her eyes to Heaven, and murmuring: "In God's name," went to meet
the terrible uncertainty.

Now she repented that she did not use the carriage--she could scarcely
move. It seemed at every step as if she were sinking into the earth
instead of advancing, as if she should never reach the goal, as if the
road stretched longer and longer before her. A burning noonday sun
blazed down upon her head, the perspiration stood on her forehead
and her lips were parched, her feet were swollen and lame from the
night-watch at her father's bedside and the exhausting journey which
had followed it. At last, with much effort she reached the theatre. The
first part of the performance was just over--throngs of people were
pouring out of the sultry atmosphere into the open air and hurrying to
get their dinners. But every face wore a look of the deepest emotion
and sorrow--on every lip was the one word: "Freyer!" The countess stole
through the throngs like a criminal, holding her sunshade lower and
drawing her veil more closely over her face. Only let her escape
recognition now, avoid meeting any one who would speak to her--this was
her mortal dread. If she could only render herself invisible! With the
utmost exertion she forced her way through, and now she could at least
take breath after the stifling pressure. But everything around her
was now so bare, she was so exposed as she crossed the broad open
space--she felt as though she were the target for every curious eye
among the spectators. She clenched her teeth in her embarrassment--it
was fairly running the gauntlet. She could no longer think or feel
anything except a desire that the earth would swallow her. At last,
tottering, trembling, almost overcome by heat and haste, she reached
the welcome shade on the northern side of the theatre and stopped, this
was her goal. Leaning against the wall, she half concealed herself
behind a post at the door. Women carrying baskets passed her; they were
admitted because they were bringing their husbands' food. They glanced
curiously at the dusty stranger leaning wearily behind the door. "Who
can she be? Somebody who isn't quite right, that's certain!" The
tortured woman read this query on every face. Here, too, she was in a
pillory. Oh, power and rank--before the wooden fence surrounding the
great drama of Christian thought, you crumble and are nothing save what
you are in and through love!

The Countess Wildenau waited humbly at the door of the Passion Theatre
until the compassionate box-opener should come to admit her.

How long she stood there she did not know. Burning drops fell from brow
and eyes, but she endured it like a suffering penitent. This was _her_
way to the cross.

The clock struck one. The flood was surging back from the village: "Oh,
God, save me!" she prayed, trembling; her agony had reached its height.
But now the man could not come until everyone was seated.

And Freyer, what was he doing in his dressing-room, which she knew he
never left during an intermission? Was he resting or eating some
strengthening food? Probably one of the women who passed had taken him
something? She envied the poor women with their baskets because they
were permitted to do their duty.

Then--she scarcely dared to believe it--the box-opener came running
out.

"I've kept you waiting a long time, haven't I? But every one has had
his hands full. Now come quick!"

He slipped stealthily forward, beckoning to her to follow, and led her
through by-ways and dark corners, often concealing her with his own
person when anyone approached. The signal for raising the curtain was
given just as they reached a hidden corner in the proscenium, where the
chorus entered. "Sit down there on the stool," he whispered. "You can't
see much, it is true, but you can hear everything. It's not a good
place, yet it's better than nothing."

"Certainly!" replied the countess, breathlessly; she could not see,
coming from the bright sunshine into the dusky space; she sank half
fainting on the stool to which he pointed; she was on the stage of the
Passion, near Freyer! True, she said to herself, that he must not be
permitted to suspect it, lest he should be unable to finish his task;
but at least she was near him--her fate was approaching its
fulfillment.

"You have done me a priceless service; I thank you." She pressed a bank
note into the man's hand.

"No, no; I did it gladly," he answered, noiselessly retreating.

The exhausted woman closed her eyes and rested a few minutes from the
torture she had endured. The chorus entered, and opened the drama
again, a tableau followed, then the High Priest and Annas appeared in
the balcony of his house, Judas soon entered, but everything passed
before her like a dream. She could not see what was occurring on her
side of the stage.

Thus lost in thought, she leaned back in her dark corner, forgetting
the present in what the next hours would bring, failing to hear even
the hosannas. But now a voice startled her from her torpor.--"I
spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue and in the
temple--"

Merciful Heaven, it was he! She could not see him, the side scenes
concealed him; but what a feeling! His voice, which had so often
spoken to her words of love, entreaty, warning, lastly of wrath and
despair--without heed from her, without waking an echo in her cold
heart, now pealed like an angel's message into the dark corner
where she sat concealed like a lost soul that had forfeited the sight
of the Redeemer! She listened eagerly to the marvellous tones of the
words no longer addressed to her while the speaker's face remained
concealed--the face on which, in mortal dread, she might have read the
runes engraved by pain, and learned whether they meant life or death?
And yet, at least she was near him; so near that she thought he must
hear the throbbing of her own heart.

"Bear patiently; do not disturb him in his sacred fulfillment of duty.
It will soon be over!"

The play seemed endlessly long to her impatient heart. Christ was
dragged from trial to trial. The mockery, the scourging, the
condemnation--the tortured woman shared them all with him as she had
done the first time, but to-day it was like a blind person. She had not
yet succeeded in seeing him, he always stood so that she could never
catch a glimpse of his face. Would he hold out? She fancied that his
voice grew weaker hour by hour. And she dared not tend him, dared not
offer him any strengthening drink, dared not wipe the moisture from his
brow. She heard the audience weeping and sobbing--the scene of bearing
the cross was at hand!

The sky had darkened, and heavy sultry clouds hung low, forming natural
soffits to the open front stage, as if Heaven desired to conceal it
from the curious gods, that they might not see what was passing to-day.

Mary and John--the women of Jerusalem and Simon of Cyrene assembled,
waiting in anxious suspense for the coming of the Christ. Anastasia was
again personating Mary, the countess instantly recognized her pure,
clear tones, and the meeting in the fields ten years before came back
to her mind--not without a throb of jealous emotion. Now a movement
among the audience announced the approach of the procession--of the
cross! This time the actors came from the opposite direction and upon
the front stage. Every vein in her body was throbbing, her brain
whirled, she struggled to maintain her composure; at last she was to
see him for the first time!

"It is he, oh God!--it is my son!" cried Mary. Christ stepped upon the
stage, laden with the cross. It was acting no longer, it was reality.

His feet could scarcely support him under the burden, panting for
breath, he dragged himself to the proscenium. The countess uttered a
low cry of alarm; she fancied that she was looking into the eyes of a
dying man, so ghastly was his appearance. But he had heard the
exclamation and, raising his head, looked at her, his emaciated face
quivered--he tottered, fell--he _was obliged_ to fall; it was in his
part.

The countess shuddered--it was too natural!

"He can go no farther," said the executioner. "Here, strengthen
yourself." The captain handed him the flask, but he did not take it.
"You won't drink? Then drive him forward."

The executioners shook him roughly, but Freyer did not stir--he _ought_
not to move yet.

Simon of Cyrene took the cross on his shoulders, and now the
Christ should have risen, but he still lay prostrate. The cue was
given--repeated--a pause followed--a few of the calmer ones began to
improvise, the man who was personating; the executioner stooped and
shook him, another tried to raise him--in vain. An uneasy movement ran
through the audience--the actors gathered around and gazed at him. "He
is dead! It has come upon us!" ran in accents of horror from lip to
lip.

An indescribable confusion followed. The audience rose tumultuously
from the seats. Caiaphas, the burgomaster, ordered in a low tone: "To
the central stage--every one! Quick--and then drop the curtain!" But no
one heard him: He bent over the senseless figure. "It is only an attack
of faintness," he called to the audience, but the excitement could no
longer be allayed--all were pressing across the orchestra to the stage.

The countess could bear it no longer--rank and station, the
thousands of curious eyes to which she would expose herself were all
forgotten--there is a cosmopolitanism which unites mortals in a common
brotherhood more closely than anything else--a mutual sorrow.

"Freyer, Freyer!" she shrieked in tones that thrilled every nerve of
the bystanders: "Do not die--oh, do not die!" Rushing upon the stage,
she threw herself on her knees beside the unconscious form.

"Ladies and gentlemen--I must beg you to clear the stage"--shouted
Caiaphas to the throng, and turning to the countess, whom he
recognized, added: "Countess Wildenau--I can permit no stranger to
enter, I _must_ beg you to withdraw."

She drew herself up to her full height, composed and lofty--an
indescribable dignity pervaded her whole bearing: "I have a right to be
here--I am his wife!"



                             CHAPTER XXXIX.

                          STATIONS OF SORROW.


"I am his wife!" Heaven and earth have heard it. She had conquered. The
tremendous deed, fear of which had led her to the verge of crime--love
had now done in a _single_ moment without conflict or delay. There was
joy in heaven and on earth over the penitent sinner! And all the
viewless powers which watch the way to the cross, wherever any human
being treads it; all the angels, the guardian spirits of the now
interrupted Play hastened to aid the new Magdalene, that she might
climb the Mount of Calvary to the Hill of Golgotha. And as if the
heavenly hosts were rushing down to accompany this bearer of the cross
a gust of wind suddenly swept through the open space across the stage
and over the audience, and the palms rustled in the breeze, the palaces
of Jerusalem tottered, and the painted curtains swayed in the air. This
one gust of wind had rent the threatening clouds so that the sun sent
down a slanting brilliant ray like the dawn of light when chaos began
to disappear!

A light rain which, in the golden streaks, glittered like dusty pearls
fell, settling the dust and dispelling the sultriness of the parched
earth.

Silence had fallen upon the people on the stage and in the audience,
and as a scorched flower thirstily expands to the cooling dew, the sick
man's lips parted and eagerly inhaled the damp, refreshing air.

"Oh--he lives!" said the countess in a tone as sweet as any mother ever
murmured at the bedside of a child whom she had believed dead, any
bride on the breast of her wounded lover.

[Illustration: "_I have a right to be here--I am his wife!_"]

"He lives, oh, he lives!" all the spectators repeated.

Meanwhile the physician had come and examined the sufferer, who had
been placed on a couch formed of cloaks and shawls: "It is a severe
attack of heart disease. The patient must be taken to better lodgings
than he has hitherto occupied. This condition needs the most careful
nursing to avoid the danger. I have repeatedly called attention to it,
but always in vain."

"It will be different now, Doctor!" said the countess. "I have already
secured rooms, and beg to be allowed to move him there."

"The Countess!" she suddenly heard a voice exclaim behind her--and when
she glanced around, Ludwig Gross stood before her in speechless
amazement.

"Can it be? I have just arrived by the train from Munich--but I did not
see--"

"I suppose so--I drove here last night. But do not call me Countess any
longer, Herr Gross--my name is Magdalena Freyer." The drawing-master
made no reply, but knelt beside the sick man, who was beginning to
breathe faintly and bent over him a long time: "If only it is not too
late!" he muttered bitterly, still unappeased.

The burgomaster approached the countess and held out his hand, gazing
into her eyes with deep emotion. "Such an act can never be too late.
Even if it can no longer benefit the individual, it is still a
contribution to the moral treasure of the world," he said consolingly.

"I thank you. You are very kind!" she answered, tears springing to her
eyes.

A litter had now been obtained and the physician ordered the sufferer
to be lifted gently and laid upon it: "We will first take him to the
dressing-room, and give him some food before carrying him home."

The countess had mentioned the street: "It is some little distance to
the house."

The command was obeyed and the litter was carried to the dressing-room.
The friends followed with the countess. On the way a woman timidly
joined her and gazed at her with large, sparkling eyes: "I don't know
whether you remember me? I only wanted to tell you how glad I am that
you are here? Oh, how well he has deserved it!"

"Mary!" said the countess, shamed and overpowered by the charm of this
most unselfish soul, clasping both her hands: "Mary--Mother of God!"
And her head sank on her companion's virgin breast Anastasia passed her
arm affectionately around her and supported her as they moved on.

"Yes, we two must hold together, like Mary and Magdalene! We will aid
each other--it is very hard, but our two saints had no easier lot. And
if I can help in any way--" They had reached the dressing-room, the
group paused, the countess pressed Anastasia's hand: "Yes, we will hold
together, Mary!" Then she hastened to her husband's side--but the
doctor motioned to her to keep at a distance that the sudden sight of
her might not harm the sick man when he recovered his consciousness. He
felt his pulse: "Scarcely fifty beats--I must give an injection of
ether."

He drew the little apparatus from his pocket, thrust the needle into
Freyer's arm and injected a little of the stimulating fluid. The
bystanders awaited the result in breathless suspense: "Bring wine,
eggs, bouillon, anything you can get--only something strong, which will
increase the action of the heart."

The drawing-master hurried off. The pastor, who had just heard of the
occurrence, now entered: "Is the sacrament to be administered?" he
asked.

"No, there is no fear of so speedy an end," the physician answered.
"Rest is the most imperative necessity." The burgomaster led the pastor
to the countess: "This is Herr Freyer's wife, who has just publicly
acknowledged her marriage," he said in a low tone: "Countess Wildenau!"

"Ah, ah--these are certainly remarkable events. Well, I can only hope
that God will reward such love," the priest replied with delicate tact:
"You have made a great sacrifice, Countess."

"Oh, if you knew--" she paused. "Hark--he is recovering his
consciousness!" She clasped her hands and bent forward to listen--"may
God help us now."

"How do you feel, Herr Freyer?" asked the doctor.

"Tolerably well, Doctor! Are you weeping, Mary? Did I frighten you?" He
beckoned to her and she hastened to his side.

The countess' eyes grew dim as he whispered something to Anastasia.

This was the torture of the damned--Mary might be near him, his
first glance, his first words were hers, while she, his wife, stood
banished, at a distance! And she had made him suffer this torture for
years--without compassion. "Oh, God, Thou art just, and Thy scales
weigh exactly!" But the all-wise Father does not only punish--He also
shows mercy.

"Where is she?" Anastasia repeated his words in a clear, joyous tone:
"You thought you saw her in the passage through which the chorus
passed. Oh, you must have been mistaken!" she added at a sign from the
physician.

"Yes, you are right, how could she be there--it is impossible."

The countess tried to move forward, but the physician authoritatively
stopped her.

The burgomaster gently approached him. "My dear Freyer--what could I do
for you, have you no wish?"

"Nothing except to die! I would willingly have played until the end of
the performances--for your sake--but I am content."

The drawing-master brought in the food which the physician had ordered.

The latter went to him with a glass of champagne. "Drink this, Herr
Freyer; it will do you good, and then you can eat something."

But the sick man did not touch the glass: "Oh, no, I will take nothing
more."

"Why not? You must eat something, or you will not recover."

"I cannot"

"Certainly you can."

"Very well, I _will_ not."

"Freyer," cried Ludwig beseechingly, "don't be obstinate--what fancy
have you taken into your head?" And he again vainly offered the
strengthening draught.

"Shall I live if I drink it?" asked Freyer.

"Certainly,"

"Then I will not take it."

"Not even if I entreat you, Freyer?" asked the burgomaster.

"Oh, do not torture me--do not force me to live longer!" pleaded Freyer
with a heart-rending expression. "If you knew what I have suffered--you
would not grudge the release which God now sends me! I have vowed to be
faithful to my duty until death--did I not, sexton, on Daisenberger's
grave? I have held out as long as I could--now let me die quietly."

"Oh, my friend!" said the sexton, "must we lose you?" The strong man
was weeping like a child. "Live for _us_, if not for yourself."

"No, sexton, if God calls me, I must not linger--for I have still
another duty. I have _lived_ for you--I must _die_ for another."

"But, Herr Freyer!" said the pastor kindly, "suppose that this other
person should not be benefitted by your death?"

Freyer looked as if he did not understand him.

"If this other of whom you speak--had come--to nurse and stay with
you?" the pastor continued.

Freyer raised himself a little--a blissful presentiment flitted over
his face like the coming of dawn.

"Suppose that your eyes did _not_ deceive you?" the burgomaster now
added gently.

"Am I not dreaming--was it true--was it possible?"

"If you don't excite yourself and will keep perfectly calm," said the
physician, "I will bring--your wife!"

"My--wife? You are driving me mad. I have no wife."

"No wife--you have _no wife_?" cried a voice as if from the depths of
an ocean of love and anguish, as the unhappy woman who had forced her
own husband to disown her, sank sobbing before him.

A cry--"my dove!" and his head drooped on her breast

A breathless silence pervaded the room. Every one's hands were clasped
in silent prayer. No one knew whether the moment was fraught with life
or death.

But it was to bring life--for the Christus must not die on the way to
the cross, and Mary Magdalene must still climb to its foot--the last,
steepest portion--that her destiny might be fulfilled.

The husband and wife were whispering together. The others modestly drew
back.

"And you wish to die? It was not enough that you vanished from my life
like a shadow--you wish to go out of the world also?" she sobbed. "Do
you believe that I could then find rest on earth or in Heaven?"

"Oh, dear one, I am happy. Let me die--I have prayed for it always! God
has mercifully granted it. When I am out of the world you will be a
widow, and can marry another without committing a sin."

"Oh, Heaven--Joseph! I will marry no other--I love no one save you."

He smiled mournfully: "You love me now because I am dying--had I lived,
you would have gone onward in the path of sin--and been lost. No, my
child, I must die, that you may learn, by my little sacrifice, to
understand the great atonement of Christ. I must sacrifice myself for
you, as Christ sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind."

"Oh, that is not needed. God has taken the will for the deed, and given
it the same power. Your lofty, patient suffering has conquered me. You
need not die. I mistook you for what you were not--a God, and did not
perceive what you _were_. Now I do know it. Forgive my folly. To save
me you need be nothing save a man--a genuine, noble, lovable man, as
you are--then no God will be required."

"Do you believe that?" Freyer looked at her with a divine expression:
"Do you believe you could be content with a _mortal man_! No, my child,
the same disappointment would follow as before. The flame that blazes
within your soul does not feed upon earthly matter. You need a God, and
your great heart will not rest until you have found Him. Therefore be
comforted: The false Christ will vanish and the true one will rise from
His grave."

"No, do not wrong me so, do not die, let me not atone for my sin to the
dead, but to the living! Oh, do not be cruel--do not punish me so
harshly. You are silent! You are growing paler still! Ah, you will go
and leave me standing _alone_ half way along the road, unable either to
move forward or back! Joseph, I have broken every bond with the duke,
have cast aside everything which separated us--have become a poor,
helpless woman, and you will abandon me--now, when I have given you my
whole existence, when I am nothing but your wife."

Freyer raised himself.

"Give me the wine--now I long to live." A universal movement of delight
ran through the group of friends, and the countess held the foaming cup
to his lips and supported his head with one hand, that he might drink.
Then she gave him a little food and arranged him in a more comfortable
position. "Come, let your wife nurse you!" she said so tenderly that
all the listeners were touched. Then she laid a cooling bandage on his
brow. "Ah, that does me good!" he said, but his eyes rested steadily on
hers and he seemed to be alluding to something other than the external
remedies, though these quickly produced their effect. His breathing
gradually became more regular, his eyes closed, weakness asserted
itself, but he slept soundly and quietly.

The physician withdrew to soothe the strangers waiting outside by an
encouraging report. Only Freyer's friends and the pastor remained. The
countess rose from beside the sleeper's couch and stretched her arms
towards Heaven: "Lend him to me, Merciful God! I have forfeited my
right to him--I say it in the presence of all these witnesses--but
be merciful and lend him to me long enough for me to atone for my
sin--that I may not be doomed to the torture of eternal remorse!" She
spoke in a low tone in order not to rouse the slumberer, but in a voice
which could be distinctly heard by the others. Her hands were clasped
convulsively, her eyes were raised as if to pierce to the presence of
God--her noble bearing expressed the energy of despair, striving with
eternity for the space of a moment.

"Oh, God--oh, God, leave him with me! Hold back Thy avenging
hand--grant a respite. Omnipotent One, first witness my
atonement--first try whether I may not be saved by mercy! Friends,
friends, pray with me!"

She clasped their hands as if imploring help. Her strength was failing.
Trembling, she sank beside Ludwig, and pressed her forehead, bedewed
with cold perspiration, against his arm.

All bared their heads and prayed in a low tone. Madeleine's breast
heaved in mortal anguish and, almost stifled by her suppressed tears,
she could only falter, half unconsciously: "Have pity upon us!"

Meanwhile the doctor had made all necessary preparations and was
waiting for the patient to wake in order to remove him to his home.

The murmured prayers had ceased and the friends gathered silently
around the bed. The countess again knelt beside the invalid, clasping
him in a gentle embrace. Her tears were now checked lest she might
disturb him, but they continued to flow in her heart. Her lips rested
on his hand in a long kiss--the hand which had once supported and
guided her now lay pale and thin on the coverlet, as if it would never
more have strength to clasp hers with a loving pressure.

"Are you weeping, dear wife?"

That voice! She raised her head, but could not meet the eyes which
gazed at her so tenderly. Dared _she_, the condemned one, enjoy the
bliss of that look? No, never! And, without raising an eyelash, she hid
her guilty brow with unutterable tenderness upon his breast. The feeble
hand was raised and gently stroked her cheek, touching it as lightly as
a withered leaf.

"Do not weep!" he whispered with the voice of a consoling angel: "Be
calm--God is good, He will be merciful to us also."

Oh, trumpet of the Judgment Day, what is thy blare to the sinner,
compared to the gentle words of pardoning love from a wounded breast?

The countess was overpowered by the mild, merciful judgment.--

A living lane had formed in front of the theatre. He was to be carried
home, rumor said, and the people were waiting in a dense throng to see
him. At last a movement ran through the ranks. "He is coming! Is he
alive? Yes, they say he is!"

Slowly and carefully the men bore out the litter on which he lay, pale
and motionless as a dead man. The pastor walked on one side, and on the
other, steadying his head, the countess. She could scarcely walk, but
she did not avert her eyes from him.

As on the way to Golgotha, low sobs greeted the little procession. "Oh,
dear, poor fellow! Ah, just one look, one touch of the hand," the
people pleaded. "Wait just one moment."

As if by a single impulse the bearers halted and the people pressed
forward with throbbing hearts, modestly, reverently touching the
hanging coverlet, and gazing at him with tearful eyes full of
unutterable grief.

The countess, with a beautiful impulse of humanity, gently drew his
hand from under the wraps and held it to the sorrowing spectators who
had waited so long, that they might kiss it--and every one who could
get near enough eagerly drank from the proffered beaker of love.
Grateful eyes followed the countess and she felt their benediction with
the joy of the saints when God lends their acts the power of divine
grace. She was now a beggar, yet never before had she been rich enough
to bestow such alms: "Yes, kiss his hand--he deserves it!" she
whispered, and her eyes beamed with a love which was not of this earth,
yet which blended _her_, the world, and everything it contained into a
single, vast, fraternal community!

Freyer smiled at her--and now she bore the sweet, tender gaze, for she
felt as if a time might come when she would again deserve it.

At last they reached the pretty quiet house where she had that morning
hired lodgings for him and herself. Mourning love had followed him to
the spot, the throng had increased so that the bearers could scarcely
get in with the litter. "Farewell--poor sufferer, may God be with you,"
fell from every lip as he was borne in and the door closed behind him.

The spacious room on the lower floor received the invalid. The landlady
had hurriedly prepared the bed and he was laid in it. As the soft
pillows arranged by careful hands yielded to the weary form, and his
wife bent over him, supporting his head on her arm--he glanced joyously
around the circle, unable to think or say anything except: "Oh, how
comfortable I am!" They turned away to hide their emotion.

The countess laid her head on the pillow beside him, no longer
restraining her tears, and murmuring in his ear: "Angel, you modest,
forgiving, loving angel!" She was silent--forcing herself to repress
the language of her heart, for the cry of her remorse might disturb the
feeble invalid. Yet he felt what moved her, he had always read her
inmost soul so long as she loved him--not until strangers came between
them did he fail to comprehend her. Now he felt what she must suffer in
her remorse and pitied her torture, he thought only of how he might
console her. But this moved her more than all the reproaches he had a
right to make, for the greater, the more noble his nature revealed
itself to be the greater her guilt became!

The friends were to take turns in helping the countess watch the
invalid through the night, and now left him. The doctor said that there
was no immediate danger and went away to get more medicines. When all
had gone, she knelt beside the bed and said softly, "Now I am yours! I
do not ask whether you will forgive me, for I see that you have already
done so--I ask only whether you will again take the condemned,
sin-laden woman to your heart? In my deed today I chose the fate of
poverty. I can offer you nothing more in worldly wealth, I can only
provide you with a simple home, work for you, nurse you, and atone by
lifelong love and fidelity for the wrong I have done you. Will you be
content with that?"

Freyer drew her toward him with all his feeble strength. Tears of
unutterable happiness were trickling down his cheeks. "I thank Thee,
God, Thou has given her to me to-day for the first time! Come, my
wife--place your fate trustfully in God's hands and your dear heart in
mine, and all will be well. He will be merciful and suffer me to live a
few years that I may work for you, not you for me. Oh, blissful words,
work for my wife, they make me well again. And now, while we are alone,
the first sacred kiss of conjugal love!"

He tried to raise his head, but she pressed it with gentle violence
back upon the pillow. "No, you must keep perfectly quiet. Imagine that
you are a marble statue--and let me kiss you. Remain cold and let all
the fervor of a repentant, loving heart pour itself upon you." She
stooped and touched his pale mouth gently, almost timidly, with her
quivering lips.

"Oh, that was again an angel's kiss!" he murmured, clasping his hands
over the head bowed in penitent humility.



                              CHAPTER XL.

                             NEAR THE GOAL.


From that hour Magdalena Freyer never left her husband's bedside.
Though friends came in turn to share the night-watches, she remained
with them. After a few days the doctor said that unless an attack of
weakness supervened, the danger was over for the present, though he did
not conceal from her that the disease was incurable. She clasped her
hands and answered: "I will consider every day that I am permitted to
keep him a boon, and submissively accept what God sends."

After that time she always showed her husband a smiling face, and
he--perfectly aware of his condition--practiced the same loving
deception toward her. Thus they continued to live in the salutary
school of the most rigid self-control--she, bearing with dignity a sad
fate for which she herself was to blame--he in the happiness of that
passive heroism of Christianity, which goes with a smile to meet death
for others! An atmosphere of cheerfulness surrounded this sick-bed,
which can be understood only by one who has watched for months beside
the couch of incurable disease, and felt the gratitude with which every
delay of the catastrophe, every apparent improvement is greeted--the
quiet delight afforded by every little relief given the beloved
sufferer, every smile which shows us he feels somewhat easier.

This cup of anguish the penitent woman now drained to the dregs. True,
a friendly genius always stood beside it to comfort her: the hope that,
though not fully recovered, he might still be spared to her. "How many
thousands who have heart disease, with care and nursing live to grow
old." This thought sustained her. Yet the ceaseless anxiety and
sleepless nights exhausted her strength. Her cheeks grew hollow, dark
circles surrounded her eyes, but she did not heed it.

"I still please my husband!" she said smiling, in reply to all
entreaties to spare herself on account of her altered appearance.

"My dove!" Freyer said one evening, when Ludwig came for the
night-watch: "Now I must show a husband's authority and command you to
take some rest, you cannot go on in this way."

"Oh! never mind me--if I should die for you, what would it matter?
Would it not be a just atonement?"

"No--that would be no atonement," he said tenderly, pushing back the
light fringe of curls that shaded her brow, as if he wished to read her
thoughts on it: "My child, you must _live_ for me--that is your
atonement. Do you think you would do anything good if you expiated your
fault by death and said: 'There you have my life for yours, now we are
quits, you have no farther claim upon me!' Would that be love, my
dove?"

He drew her gently toward him: "Or would you prefer that we should be
quits _thus_, and that I should desire no other expiation from you than
your death?" She threw her arms around him, clasping him in a closer
and closer embrace. There was no need of speech, the happy, blissful
throbbing of her heart gave sufficient answer. He kissed her on the
forehead: "Now sleep, beloved wife and rest--do it for my sake, that I
may have a fresh, happy wife!"

She rose as obediently as a child, but it was hard for her, and she
nodded longingly from the door as if a boundless, hopeless distance
already divided them.

"Ludwig!" said Freyer, gazing after her in delight: "Ludwig, _is_ this
love?"

"Yes, by Heaven!" replied his friend, deeply moved: "Happy man, I would
bear all your sorrows--for one hour like this!"

"Have you now forgiven what she did to me?"

"Yes, from my very soul!"

"Magdalena," cried Freyer. "Come in again--you must know it before you
sleep--Ludwig is reconciled to you."

"Ludwig," said the countess: "my strict, noble friend, I thank you."

Leading him to the invalid, she placed their hands together. "Now we
are again united, and everything is just as it was ten years ago--only
I have become a different person, and a new and higher life is
beginning for me."

She pressed a kiss upon the brow of her husband and friend, as if to
seal a vow, then left them alone.

"Oh, Ludwig, if I could see you so happy!"

"Do not be troubled--whoever has experienced this hour with you, needs
nothing for himself," he answered, an expression of the loftiest, most
unselfish joy on his pallid face.

The countess, before retiring, sent for Martin who was still in
Oberammergau, awaiting her orders, and went out into the garden that
Freyer might not hear them talking in the next room. "Martin," she said
with quiet dignity, though there was a slight tremor in her voice, "it
is time for me to give some thought to worldly matters. During the last
few days I could do nothing but devote myself to the sick bed. Drive
home, my good Martin, and give the carriage and horses to the
Wildenaus. Tell them what has happened, if they do not yet know it, I
cannot write now. Meanwhile, you faithful old servant, tell them to
take all I have--my jewels, my palace, my whole private fortune. Only I
should like--for the sake of my sick husband--to have them leave me,
for humanity's sake, enough to get him what he needs for his recovery!"
here her voice failed.

"Countess--"

"Oh, don't call me that!"

"Yes--for the countess will always be what she is, even as Herr
Freyer's wife! I only wanted to say. Your Highness, that I wouldn't do
that. If I were you, I wouldn't give _them_ a single kind word. I'll
take back the carriage and horses and say that they can have everything
which belongs to you. But I won't beg for my Countess! I think it would
be less disgrace if you should condescend to accept something from a
plain man like myself, who would consider it an honor and whom you
needn't thank! I--" he laughed awkwardly: "I only want to say, if you
won't take offence--that I bargained for a little house to-day. But I
did it in your name, so that Your Highness needn't be ashamed to live
with me! I haven't any kith and kin and--and it will belong to you."

"Martin, Martin!" the proud woman humbly bent her head. "Be it so! You
shall help me, if all else abandons me. I will accept it as a loan from
you. I can paint--I will try to earn something, perhaps from one of the
fashion journals, to which I have always subscribed. The maid once told
me I might earn my living by it--it was a prophecy! So I can, God
willing, repay you at some future day."

"Oh, we won't talk about that!" cried Martin joyously, kissing the
countess' hands.

"If I may have a little room under the roof for myself--we'll call it
the interest. And I have something to spare besides, for--you must eat,
too."

The countess covered her face with her trembling hands.

"Now I'll drive home and in Your Highness' name throw carriage, horses,
and all the rest of the rubbish at the Wildenaus' feet--then I'll come
back and bring something nice for our invalid which can't be had
here--and my livery, for Sundays and holidays, so that we can make a
good appearance! And I'll look after the garden and house, and--do
whatever else you need. Oh, I've never been so happy in my life!"

He left her, and the countess stood gazing after him a long time,
deeply shamed by the simple fidelity of the old man, who wished to wear
her livery and be her servant, while he was really her benefactor: In
truth--high or low--human nature is common to all. Martin returned:
"Doesn't Your Highness wish to bid farewell to the horses? Shan't I
drive past, or will it make you feel too badly?"

"Beautiful creatures," a tone of melancholy echoed in her voice as she
spoke: "No, Martin, I don't want to see them again."

"Yes, yes--!" Martin had understood her, and pitied her more than for
anything else, for it seemed to him the hardest of sacrifices to part
with such beautiful horses.

The countess remained alone in the little garden. The stars were
shining above her head. She thought of the diamond stars which she had
once flung to Freyer in false atonement, to place in the dead child's
coffin--if she had them now to use their value to support her sick
husband--_that_ would be the fitting atonement.

"Only do not let _him_ starve, oh, God! If I were forced to see him
starve! Oh, God!--spare me that, if it can be!" she prayed, her eyes
uplifted with anxious care to the glittering star-strewn vault.

"How is he?" a woman's figure suddenly emerged from the shadow at her
side.

"Oh, Mary--Anastasia!"

"How is he?"

"Better, I think! He was very cheerful this evening!--"

"And you, Frau Freyer--how is it with you? It is hard, is it not? There
are things to which we must become accustomed."

"Yes."

"I can understand. But do not lose confidence--God is always with us.
And--I will pray to the Virgin Mary, whom I have so often personated!
But if there is need of anything where _human power_ can aid, I may
help, may I not?"

"Mary--angel, be my teacher--sister!"

"No, _mother_!" said Anastasia smiling: "For if Freyer is my son, you
must be my daughter. Oh, you two poor hearts, I am and shall now remain
your mother, Mary!"

"Mother Mary!"--the countess repeated, and the two women held each
other in a loving embrace.----

The week was drawing to a close, and the burgomaster was now obliged to
consider the question of the distribution of parts. He found the
patient out of bed and wearing a very cheerful, hopeful expression.

"I don't know, Herr Freyer, whether I can venture to discuss my
important business with you," he began timidly.

"Oh--I understand--you wish to know when I can play again? Next
Sunday."

"You are not in earnest?" said the burgomaster, almost startled.

"Not in earnest? Herr Burgomaster, what would be the value of all my
oaths, if I should now retreat like a coward? Do you think I would
break my word to you a second time, so long as I had breath in my
body?"

"Certainly not, so long as it is in your power to hold out. But this
time you _cannot_! Ask the doctor--he will not allow it so soon."

"Am I to ask _him_, when the question concerns the most sacred duty? I
will consult him about my life--but my duties are more than my life.
Only thus can I atone for the old sin which ten years ago made me a
renegade."

"And you say this now--when you are so happy?"

"Herr Burgomaster," replied Freyer with lofty serenity: "A man who has
once been so happy and so miserable as I, learns to view life from a
different standpoint! No joy enraptures, no misfortune terrifies him.
Everything to which we give these names is fluctuating, and only _one_
happiness is certain: to do one's duty--until death!"

"Herr Freyer! That is a noble thought, but if your wife should hear
it--would she agree?"

"Surely, for she thinks as I do--if she did not, we should never have
been united--she would never have cast aside wealth, rank, power, and
all worldly advantages to live with me in exile. Do you believe she did
so for any earthly cause? She thinks so--but I know better: The cross
allured her--as it does all who come in contact with it."

"What are you saying about the cross?" asked the countess, entering the
room: "Good-morning, Friend Burgomaster!"

"My wife! He will not believe that you would permit me to play the
Christus again--even should it cost my life?"

The countess turned pale with terror. "Oh, Heaven, are you thinking of
doing so?"

"Yes"--replied the burgomaster: "He will not be dissuaded from it!"

"Joseph!" said the countess mournfully: "Will you inflict this grief
upon me--now, when you have scarcely recovered?"

"I assure you that I have played the Christus when I felt far worse
than I do now--thanks to your self-sacrificing care, dear wife."

Tears filled the countess' eyes, and she remained silent.

"My dove, do we not understand each other?"

"Yes "--she said after a long, silent struggle: "Do it, my beloved
husband--give yourself to God, as I resign you to Him. He has only
loaned you to me, I dare not keep you from Him, if He desires to show
Himself again to the world in your form! I will cherish and tend and
watch over you, that you may endure it! And when you are taken down
from the cross, I will rub your strained limbs and bedew your burning
brow with the tears of all the sorrows Mary and Magdalene suffered for
the Crucified One, and--when you have rested and again raise your eyes
to mine with a smile, I will rest your head upon my breast in the
blissful feeling that you are no God Who will ascend to Heaven--but a
man, a tender, beloved man, and--_my own_. Oh, God cannot destroy such
happiness, and if He does, He will only draw you to Himself, that I may
therefore long the more fervently for you, for Him, Who is the source
of _all_ love--then--" her voice was stifled by tears as she laid her
head on his breast--"then your wife will not murmur, but wait silently
and patiently till she can follow you." Leaning on his breast, she wept
softly, clasping him in her arms that he might not be torn from her.

"Dear wife," he answered gently, and the wonderfully musical voice
trembled with the most sacred emotion, "we will accept whatever God
sends--loyal to the cross--you and I, beloved, high-hearted woman! Do
not weep, my dove! Being loyal to the cross does not mean only to be
patient--it means also to be strong! Does not the soldier go bravely to
death for an earthly king, and should not I joyfully peril my life for
my _God_?"

"Yes, my husband you are right, I will be strong. Go, then, holy
warrior, into the battle for the ideal and put yourself at the disposal
of your brave fellow combatants!" She slowly withdrew her arms from his
neck as if taking a long, reluctant farewell.

The burgomaster resolutely approached. "We people of Ammergau must bow
to this sacred zeal. This is indeed a grandeur which conquers death!
Whoever sees this effect of our modest Play on souls like yours cannot
be mistaken in believing that the power which works such miracles does
not emanate from men, and must proceed from a God. But as He is a God
of love. He will not accept your sacrifice. Freyer must not take the
part which might cost him his life. We will find a Christus elsewhere
and thus manage for this time."

Freyer fixed his eyes mournfully on the ground. "Now the crown has
indeed fallen from my head! God has no longer accepted me--I am shut
out from the sacred work!"

The burgomaster placed his wife in his arms: "Let it be your task now
to guard this soul and lead it to its destination--this, too, is a
sacred work!"

"Yes, and amen!" said Freyer.

                               *   *   *

The ex-countess and the former Christus, both divested of their
temporary dignity, verified his words, attaining in humility true
dignity! Freyer rallied under the care of his beloved wife, and they
used the respite allotted to them by leading a life filled with labor,
sacrifice, and gratitude toward God.

"You ask me, dear friend," the countess wrote a year later to the Duke
of Barnheim, "whether you can assist me in any way? I thank you for the
loyal friendship, but must decline the noble offer. Contentment does
not depend upon what we have, but what we need, and I have that, for my
wants are few. This is because I have obtained blessings, which
formerly I never possessed and which render me independent of
everything else. Much as God has taken from me. He has bestowed in
exchange three precious gifts: contempt for the vanities of the world,
appreciation of the little pleasures of life, and recognition of the
real worth of human beings. I am not even so poor as you imagine. My
faithful old Martin, who will never leave me, helped me out of the
first necessity. Afterwards the Wildenaus' were induced to give up my
private property, jewels, dresses, and works of art, and their value
proved sufficient to pay Martin for the little house he had purchased
for me and to establish for my husband a small shop for the sale of
wood-carving, so that he need not be dependent upon others. When he
works industriously--which he is only too anxious to do at the cost of
his delicate health--we can live without anxiety, though, of course,
very simply. I know how many of my former acquaintances would shudder
at the thought of such a prosaic existence! To them I would say that I
have learned not to seek poetry in life, but to place it there. Yes,
tell the mocking world that Countess Wildenau lives by her husband's
labor and is not ashamed of it! My friend! To throw away a fortune for
love of a woman is nothing--but to toil year in and year out, with
tireless fidelity and sacrifice, to earn a wife's daily bread in the
sweat of one's brow, _is_ something! Do you know what it is to a woman
to owe her life daily to her beloved husband? An indescribable
happiness! You, my friend, would have bestowed a principality upon me,
and I should have accepted it as my rightful tribute, without owing you
any special gratitude--but the hand which _toils_ for me I kiss every
evening with a thrill of grateful reverence.

"So do not grieve for me! Wed the lovable and charming Princess Amalie
of whom you wrote, and should you ever come with your young wife into
the vicinity of the little house surrounded by rustling firs, under the
shadow of the Kofel, I should be cordially glad to welcome you.

"Farewell! May you be as happy, my noble friend, as you deserve, and
leave to me my poverty and my _wealth_. You see that the phantom has
become reality--the ideal is attained.

                       "Your old friend

                                         "Magdalena Freyer."

When the duke received this letter his valet saw him, for the first
time in his life, weep bitterly.



                              CONCLUSION.

                        FROM ILLUSION TO TRUTH.


For ten years God granted the loving wife her husband's life, it seemed
as if he had entirely recovered. At last the day came when He required
it again. For the third time the community offered Freyer the part of
the Christus. He was still a handsome man, and spite of his forty-eight
years, as slender as a youth, while his spiritual expression, chaste
and lofty--rendered him more than ever an ideal representative of
Christ God bestowed upon him the full cup of the perfection of his
destiny, and it was completed as he had longed. Not on a sick-bed
succumbing to lingering disease--but high on the cross, as victor over
pain and death. God had granted him the grace of at last completing the
task--he had held out this time until the final performance--then, when
they took him down from the cross for the last time under the falling
leaves, amid the first snow of the late autumn--he did not wake again.
On the cross the noble heart had ceased to beat, he had entered
into the peace of Him Whom he personated--passed from illusion to
truth--from the _copy_ to the _prototype_.

Never did mortal die a happier death, never did a more beautiful smile
of contentment rest upon the face of a corpse.

"It is finished! You have done in your way what your model did in His,
you have sealed the sacred lesson of love by your death, my husband!"
said the pallid woman who pressed the last kiss upon his lips.

The semblance had become reality, and Mary Magdalene was weeping beside
her Redeemer's corpse.

On the third day after the crucifixion, when the true Christ had risen,
Freyer was borne to his grave.

But, like the ph[oe]nix from its ashes, on that day the real Christ
rose from the humble sepulchre for the penitent.

"When wilt thou appear to me in the spring garden, Redeeming Love?" she
had once asked. Now she was--in the autumn garden--beside the grave of
all happiness.

When the coffin had been lowered and the pall-bearers approached the
worn, drooping widow, the burgomaster asked: "Where do you intend to
live now, Madame?"

"Where, except in Ammergau, here--where his foot has marked for me the
path to God? Oh, my Gethsemane!"

"But," said the pastor, "will you exile yourself forever in this quiet
village? Do you not wish to return to your own circle and the world of
culture? You have surely atoned sufficiently."

"Atoned? No, your Reverence, not atoned, for the _highest happiness_ is
no atonement--expiation is beginning _now_." She turned toward the
Christ which hung on the wall of the church, not far from the grave,
and extending her arms toward it murmured: "Now I have _nothing_ save
_Thee_! Thou hast conquered--idea of Christianity, thy power is
eternal!"----

The cloud of tears hung heavily over Ammergau, falling from time to
time in damp showers.

Evening had closed in. Through the lighted windows of the ground floor
of a little house, surrounded by rustling pines, two women were
visible, Mary and Magdalena. The latter was kneeling before the
"Mother" whose clasped hands were laid upon her head in comfort and
benediction.

The lamps in the low-roofed houses of the village were gradually
lighted. The peasants again sat in their ragged blouses on the carvers'
benches, toiling, sacrificing, and bearing their lot of poverty and
humility, proud in the consciousness that every ten years there will be
a return of the moment which strips off the yoke and lays the purple on
their shoulders, the moment when in their midst the miracle is again
performed which spreads victoriously throughout a penitent world--the
moment which brings to weary, despairing humanity peace and
atonement--_on the cross_.



                               FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: "Chips from a German Workshop." Vol. I. "Essays on the
Science of Religion."]

[Footnote 2: A dish made of flour and water fried in hot lard, but so
soft that it is necessary to serve and eat it with a spoon.]

[Footnote 3: A drama. Hamerling is better known in America as the
author of his famous novel "Aspasia."]

[Footnote 4: Part of these lines of Caedmon were put into modern
English by Robert Spence Watson.]

[Footnote 5: Frey is the god of peace. When its Mythological
significance was lost, it became an epithet of honor for princes and is
found frequently applied to our Lord and God the Father.]



                                THE END.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "On the Cross - A Romance of the Passion Play at Oberammergau" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home