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Beginning, And End by Paul Heyse

 

In the deep bay window of an otherwise brilliantly lighted saloon, a single candle, supported by the arms of a winged figure in chased silver, shed its faint lustre.

This soft shade was increased by broad-leaved plants, the last blossoms of the season, and by a slender palm-tree whose delicate branches arched gracefully above the entrance of this dusky bower. Two chairs stood beside each other in the background, inviting to repose, out only one of them was occupied.

The slender figure of a young woman reclined in it, her head supported by her arm. Those who suspected her of retiring from the gay company to this verdant hiding-place in order to attract attention or cause a search to be made for her wronged her. She thought not of the effect produced by the delicate half shade of the palm-tree on her pure white brow, nor of the soft moonshine-like reflex of the candlelight on the shining waves of her dark hair. Neither did she take advantage of the solitude around her, whilst a girlish voice was heard singing to the piano at the further end of the room, to indulge in those reveries which in the summer time of life so often take their abode underneath the closed eyelids. In a word, she slumbered. The music to which she had at first dreamily listened, had at last lulled her to sleep like a tired child. She did not even awake when the song being ended, the old gentlemen around applauded encouragingly, the piano stool was pushed back, and the hum of the interrupted conversation again sounded through the saloon with renewed vivacity.

No one came to disturb her; she was a stranger in this society, and besides there was a certain expression of grave reserve in her countenance which did not encourage new acquaintances.

It was her fate to be considered proud. She knew it, but the little effort she made to dispel this error arose more from indifference than contempt. A familiar voice which addressed her by her name at last aroused her. She opened her eyes in some confusion and saw the master of the house standing before her, and by his side a stranger whose forehead reached up to the branches of the palm-tree.

“Allow me to interrupt your meditation. Madam,” said the host with a smile. “I here present to you my friend, and cousin Valentine, who only returned to Germany a few weeks ago, and a few hours since became my guest. We must now try to retain him, and who could undertake this task with more success than our fair country women.”

He had long left them and, still they remained opposite each other without a word of greeting. His eyes were fixed on the red rose which adorned her hair, and only a slight movement among the palm leaves betrayed that the blood rushed vehemently through his veins.

The lady's face was raised towards him with an earnest expression, as if she were trying to solve a problem. Was the veil which sleep had thrown over her eyes, not yet removed? Was this meeting only the vision of a dream. But no, could a dream have the power of changing, as time had done, the well known features before her; of thinning the curly hair, and of drawing those lines above the eye-brows which she had noticed at the first glance?

The longer he delayed in addressing her, the deeper grew the blush that suffused her cheek. Several times her lips parted as if to speak, but still she remained silent, and fixed her eyes on the ground. Her fan slid on the carpet. He did not pick it up.

At last he said, “Madam Eugenie, permit me to call you so, for I have just arrived here and have omitted to ask our host for your husband's name; how strangely we meet in this life. I am truly astonished at my want of presentiment which never foretold me by a sign from heaven or from earth that I should find you here.”

“A special motive caused me to undertake this journey,” she hastily said. “I intend to put my son to school and I am told that there is one here in which he will be well taken care of. I arrived to-day after having spent a sleepless night in the carriage, and I must confess to you that just as you came up, weak human nature, against all good breeding, was on the point of making up for lost time. I tell you this because the cool, and absent way in which I received you must have seemed strange to so old a friend.”

She stretched out her hand to him. “I thank you,” he replied, and his face brightened, “for having remembered my small claim on your friendship. Pray continue to treat me on the old footing, and resume your repose, which I unfortunately disturbed. I will take care that no one enters the bower: I can keep watch behind this palm-tree.”

She laughed. “No, I did not mean that. I am only too tired to converse with perfect strangers. Come, sit down by me, if you will be satisfied with my good intentions, and tell me how the past, and the present have fared with you.”

“You will best be able to judge for yourself how it has fared with me when I confide to you my situation at the present moment. My friend has only invited me here for the sake of marrying me. He regards it as a duty. What do you say to that? In what a sad state must not that man be whose friends consider it their duty to render him harmless?”

“You alarm me,” she replied with a smile. “When I first knew you, you were, if not actually harmless, at least far from causing so much mischief that you had to be laid in chains for the sake of the public safety.”

“You are deriding me, Madam. Ah that talent of yours, how well I know it. This time however your darts did not touch me. My charitable cousin fears not for others, but for my own safety. He believes that if I continue to reside alone in the old castle which I have bought; abandoned to my own crotchets, only occupied in catching hares and helping the peasants in their agricultural affairs, which I do not myself understand, that I should sooner or later lose the little sense which he kindly presumes is left to me. You see he wishes to treat me homeopathically, dispersing one folly by another. Perhaps he is right. Those who have proved themselves incapable of regulating their lives properly, should be grateful, should they not, to their friends for taking the trouble off their hands, and quietly follow their advice; but I fancy sometimes that their kind intentions have come too late for me.”

“Too late? I must combat that assertion. Fourteen years have passed since we last met, and if you did not then make yourself younger than you were, you can hardly now have reached the prime of life.”

“Make myself younger! Good heavens! to do just the contrary would then have conduced more to my interests. But of what are you reminding me Eugénie?”

“Is your betrothed young, handsome amiable?” she quickly resumed; “I would not ask these questions which imply a doubt, if you had not told me that you had authorized your friend to dispose of your heart, and in these matters friends are not always to be relied on.”

“You greatly wrong our most amiable host,” he said laughingly; “Not only are these cardinal virtues not wanting, but all three of them are three times combined.”

“Three times?”

“I mean in three different samples, as I have been told; so it will be difficult to choose.”

“And each of the three young ladies is desperately in love with you? Then a twofold catastrophe is inevitable.”

“Up to this hour none of my destined brides know of my existence. Their father——”

“So they are sisters?”

“Yes. A fair, an auburn, and a dark haired one. You see there is no possibility of escape; Every taste is provided for. Early to-morrow the merciless disposer of my heart, and hand takes me in his carriage, and delivers me over to my destiny. They live in L——not quite four hours drive from this. Horse dealing is to be the pretext. The father who is the doctor of that small town, has a thorough-bred grey Arab in his stables.”

“You go forth as Saul the son of Kish. I hope you may return like him with a kingdom.”

“If you but knew,” he said pensively, “how little I covet that dignity: is not a king fettered by his duties? To-day I am still free, so I take the liberty of sitting down beside you, and of talking with you of that happy time when I too was held captive, but by enchanting fetters.”

She remained silent while he threw himself into the second arm-chair, and turned it so that he could see nothing of the company in the saloon; but only the plants before him, and the charming face of the young woman, lighted up by the solitary candle. Meanwhile the mistress of the house had sat down to the piano, and began to play a waltz; and soon the light branches of the palm-tree trembled in the whirlwind caused by the passing couples. Eugénie silently watched the gay scene before her. With her left hand she played with a gold chain, and in the right, held carelessly a large bouquet on her lap.

Valentine stedfastly gazed at her; when she observed it, she took up the nosegay and buried her face in it. “You think it somewhat indiscreet on my part,” he said, “that I sit before you, as though I were admiring a fine painting; but is it not pardonable if I gaze with astonishment on that soft bloom which remains as fresh as though hardly a day had passed since our last meeting. If I banished from my mind the thought that fourteen years have gone over my head, and that I may be a married man to-morrow, I might easily delude myself into the belief that I am sitting in the conservatory of your parent's house, and have just laid aside the book in which I had been reading aloud to you, who were meanwhile watching the gnats dancing on the pond, or the falling of the leaves. In reality however, only youth can give us those hours of enraptured extasy, that entire blending of the soul with the soul of nature, when we are freed from the fetters of our own individuality only to be united, like a plant, all the more closely with the elements. When I walked home, still entranced, after one of those evenings, I felt as if I were carried along the poplar alley, as a feather is borne by the breeze. In later years we often call that feeling sentimentality, but even now I cannot laugh at it.”

“If I smiled at it in those days, I now feel as if I ought to apologize for it. We girls are taught by our education to watch over our sentiments, and to be cautious in our enthusiasms. Now I may confess to you that I often only wished for Cora to disturb our reading hour by her barking, or for Frederick to summon us to tea, because I could no longer restrain my tears.”

“You always had the firmer character of the two. The cement which has consolidated my nature has only grown hard in the bracing atmosphere of a stirring, and active life. But the names you have just uttered, what remembrances they bring back to me! My friend, and my enemy, Frederick, and Cora. That dear old Frederick. I know that he heartily pitied me, a feeling which is said to be rare between rivals. You cannot be ignorant of the feelings with which you inspired him. He worshipped you as devotedly as a gardener, a servant, can worship his young mistress. He looked on his case as still more hopeless than mine, though with regard to our social position, his was by far the more settled of the two. The quiet sympathy of hopelessness united us. Often when he had come to fetch us from the conservatory and you were skipping before us after your dog, and overtaking it, would catch it up in your arms, and kiss it, he would turn to me with jealous wrath, and say: 'Now, can you understand. Master Valentine, what pleasure our young lady can find in hugging that stupid brute?' With an indignant shake of his head; the hair of which he always arranged carefully, since he served at table, and could offer you the dishes. If you confess the truth, you will own that you only fondled that ugly creature for the sake of driving us distracted.”

“Do not speak ill of the dead,” rejoined Eugénie. “Cora sleeps the sleep of death, not far from the pond where the bench stands underneath the elm-tree; do you remember it?”

“How could I have forgotten it? Was it not on that bench that I fastened your skates, when we started on that skating expedition with your cousin Lucy. How is your cousin getting on?”

“She is now a fine lady, with a large family. If she only knew that I have met you here! Not more than a month ago we were talking of you. She has a kind remembrance of you, and has not forgotten that bright winter's afternoon, when we first initiated you in the art of skating, and she maintains that you squeezed her hand on that occasion with more ardour than your later behaviour warranted. Since then a shade of fickleness darkens the otherwise favourable recollection she has of you.”

“Good heavens!” he exclaimed laughing; “so the most harmless cannot escape suspicion. To be sure I was not wholly guiltless, but as it so often happens I must suffer for another sin than that which I really committed. When you both held my hands to guide my first steps on the slippery plain, I longed to express more to you by the firm pressure of my hand than the mere desire not to fall. But you were always inaccessible to any intelligence of that kind. You will now bear me witness that I need not reproach myself with regard to little Lucy. Ah! I still remember it all as if it had been yesterday! I still feel the glow which rushed through my veins, in spite of the cold December wind; the enrapturing touch of your hand, which seemed to linger with me for weeks after. Do not be displeased,” he continued, “at my speaking so freely of all this. We are no longer the same and can now talk of these things as though they had occurred to some one else. Is it not an innocent pleasure if I now tell you what so often hung on my lips in those days, and was always repressed by that unlucky timidity of mine. We now meet as good comrades do after having settled a debt.”

“And which of us is the creditor?” she asked. “Both of us,” he replied. “Do you not think that I too have some right to that title? If you but knew what trouble you have caused me; how long your image stood between me, and every enjoyment of life. But you must have guessed it. When I used to watch for you on your way to your drawing lesson, when my heart beat at the sight of your checked cloak, and grey hat—and when I passed you with all the equanimity I could muster, happy in having been allowed to salute you, did the unfortunate fate of the poor lad who so humbly bowed to you never smite your conscience?”

“You are greatly mistaken my dear friend,” she said, with a charming look of merriment. “I blushed whenever I met any one in that attire which I fancied gave me the appearance of a scarecrow. The cloak had long passed out of fashion, but my mother thought it good enough for the drawing lesson. How many tears of mortified vanity have I not dried with a corner of that detested garment.”

He laughed. “You see how widely our natures differ. Fate did wisely in separating us. I for my part on my travels through the world vainly sought for a similar cloak which seemed to me to be the essence of all that is beautiful. In France I once remarked at some distance the same kind of checked stuff. I rushed after it, but found to my disappointment that the wearer in no way resembled the lady of my thoughts. Since that time I am inclined to believe that it was the wearer and not the garment which haunted the dreams of my youth.”

During this conversation the music had continued and the air in the apartment became hot and oppressive. The young woman agitated her fan, and inhaled with parted lips the refreshing breeze from it. She reminded her friend of a remark he had once read in a French book on the affinity existing between certain blue eyes, and certain glittering teeth. He told her so. “You see,” he continued, “how freely I take advantage of the privilege of friendship, telling you every thought which crosses my mind, I make up for my long silence, and you will not take it amiss. Truly it seems that Providence intends to make me a good husband and father as on the eve of the important step I am about to take it relieves my mind from all anxiety regarding it. If I had not met you, I should never, even in the midst of every domestic felicity, have been able to rid myself of the fear that some day or other you would appear, and turn my head as you did years ago. Now that you know my intentions and that we have placed our friendship on a warm, and steady footing, I can start on to-morrow's expedition in search of a wife, with an easy heart.”

They had both risen, and now admired the flowers. “How beautiful this candelabra is,” she remarked. “Fortuna subjected by man, and made to give him light.”

“I believe it to represent the goddess of victory. The ball on which fortune glides from us, is wanting here, but Victory remains faithful to the daring.”

“In that case Victory by serving you on the eve of your expedition, foretells you good luck.”

“I see you doubt my courage Madam. Certainly you above all others have a right to do so. But this time I hope to manage my affairs better than I did fourteen years ago. I intend to challenge my fortune, be it good, or bad, and force an answer from it. If she smiles on me, I promise you that to you first, I shall be the herald of my heroic achievement. But enough of myself as a topic; as yet you have told me nothing of your own life, and how the years have passed with you. I could not muster courage to make enquiries about you. After I heard that you were married, I studiously avoided every place where tidings of you could reach me. I am even unacquainted with the name of your husband. Will you introduce me to him. He probably has accompanied you here?”

“I lost my husband seven years ago.”

He started—“My son is all that is left to me,” she resumed, “and I must now part with him. He has become quite unruly from staying with my mother in the country, and even if I could find a tutor who knew how to manage him, I should be sorry to see him pass the merry time of youth without any companions of his own age.”

“I long to see him,” he hastily said, without lifting his eyes from the flowers in her hand. “So he has lost his father; poor child! When he has grown up you must send him on a visit to me. I will take him out hunting, give him my horses to ride, and if he should fall in love with my daughter, why in that case the beginning and the end would once more be united, although in a different manner from what I blind mortal, once dreamt. Would you consent to the match Eugénie?” and he stretched out his hand to her.

“With all due regard to the future father-in-law of my son,” she replied gaily. “I should wish first to see the young lady herself, especially as you cannot even answer for her mother.”

“Of course you must approve of the mother; I should never think of marrying her, if she had the misfortune to displease you! The wisest course would be!”—

The conversation was here interrupted by a young man, who hesitatingly approached the embrasure of the window, with the intention of inviting the lady to dance. She declined, alleging the fatigue of her night journey as an excuse, and then she left the bower, and mingled with the rest of the company. Valentine who had remained standing by the palm-tree, watched her figure amongst the others, and now and then he fancied he heard her voice. It appeared to him as if he had forgotten some question of importance, and he tried to recall it to his mind. At last he remembered that he ought to have enquired for her mother. He went in search of her to repair his neglect but he could not find her either in the saloon or in the adjoining rooms. She had disappeared.

                     * * * * *

It was on the second day after this meeting; a dense morning fog still filled the street but the air above was clear, and promised a sunny day, that in one of the rooms of the hotel, Eugénie sat at a writing-table, an unfinished letter lying before her. Her folded hands rested on the paper, and her thoughts strayed far away from the contents of those lines.

Now and then when a step was heard in the passage, she started up, and listened, but they always passed the door, and she remained alone.

Why did all her thoughts revert to the past, to that particular walk in the garden where the sunflowers and china asters grew, and the small fruit-trees threw long shadows across the cabbage beds. The sun was shining through the high hedge but the air did not resound with the song of birds. To-morrow when the day waned, she would be far away from this homely spot, and when she returned, the fruit-trees would be bare, and snow would cover the ground. The young student who walked by her side and was digging holes in the gravel with the point of her parasol, was fully aware of this. He had seen the travelling carriage in the courtyard, and watched Frederick fastening the valise on the box. When people start on a journey, who can tell if they will return, or at least return the same as they went, Is it not expedient then to exchange one's last bequests, especially if each is disposed to bequeath body and soul to the other.

If he had but known how highly he ought to value her condescension in leading the way to this remote and solitary corner of the garden. As she walked along, she upbraided herself with having thus far made advances to him. But she would not take a step further, now it was his turn to forward matters, and if he did not, she would never forgive herself for having done so much to loosen his tongue. For it had a high opinion of the dignity of its sex, this young head of seventeen, and if the unfortunate youth by her side, had choked with mute respect, she would not have spoken a word to help him. Was not this walk sufficiently secluded, and the sun at their backs; was it not the only time she had ever walked with him in the kitchen garden, and above all, had he not seen the travelling carriage in the yard.

On no account, however, was he to perceive that she had contrived all this for his sake. She talked eagerly of the approaching journey, expressed her pleasure at seeing her cousins again, and laughingly described every one of them.

They had reached the end of the walk, and had looked over the hedge, but he became more and more laconic. At last he quite ceased talking and she too became silent. Feelings of passion and mortification rose in her breast, and nearly choked her. Then she suddenly turned towards him, and colouring deeply said: “Let us now go back; and give me my parasol. I shall want it on my journey, and you will break it to pieces. I must hasten home, as I still have many things to pack. Do you know that I quite shudder when I think of how much my intellectual refinement will retrograde during my absence. I shall hardly remember the English kings in Shakespear's works, which you have taken so much trouble to impress on my mind. It is a pity, but what can I do? My cousins are not such pedants as you are. If I return—but who can tell whether my aunt will not keep me through the winter. Well, it may be a long time before we can resume our studies and if I pass my examination badly, this long absence must plead for me.”

More than a year passed before they met again—When the morning arrived, the travelling carriage was ready to start and the ladies sitting in it, he approached the door of it and offered a bouquet. The mother accepted it with many thanks. Eugénie nodded gaily to him, and gave him her gloved hand. He did not see her pale face, and swollen eyes behind her thick veil. He closed the door and bowed. As the carriage drove away, Frederic turned once more towards Valentine, and across his honest face there passed an expression of pity for his less fortunate rival.

This had been in autumn. When they returned in the middle of winter, Valentine had left the town; he was occupied at a small court of justice in the country. Only in the following summer he once again rang the well known bell at the garden gate. On being told that the house was full of visitors, cousins, and others who were strangers to him, he charged the servant with a message that he would return another time; but a cold bow from her mother whom he met in the streets next day, showed him that he should not find all as he had hoped; so he never returned.

Was his absence regretted? Who could solve the enigma on Eugénie's pale face, when three years later, she married the man her mother had chosen for her. But now when her thoughts wandered back from the letter before her to those days of old, the words of a pensive song resounded in her heart: “There was a time when happiness was mine to give and take etc.”——

The clattering of swift hoofs was now heard in the street, and she flew to the window. A horseman on a beautiful grey Arab galloped through the thick fog which closed behind him. Clouds of steam arose from the reeking nostrils of the horse.

With an agitated glow in her eyes, she watched the proud and manly bearing of the rider, and the ease with which he managed his restless horse.

What a difference between this chivalrous firmness, and the soft pensive manner of his youth. Still she had recognized at their first meeting, that his heart had lost none of its fresh bloom; it was developed not changed. Had he this time divested himself of his former timidity, and spoken the binding words? She shuddered at the thought.

Rapid steps were now heard ascending the stairs. Her habitual self-command did not forsake her, and when Valentine entered the room, her face was calm in spite of the quick beating of her heart. She met him with a smile, and offered him her hand. “Good morning,” she said: “so you have kindly kept your promise! The triumphant prancing of your horse has already apprised me that you return crowned with success.”

“Eugénie,” he replied, “you must highly value my visit of to-day, for I have made it in spite of my conviction that you will have a good laugh at my expense. My only acquisition by yesterday's expedition is this horse which I paid for in ready money, and this apple which I stole.” And he laid a fine wax-like apple on the table. “I do not hold the booty obtained by your campaign so very despicable. I understand nothing about horses, but as you doubtless obtained the apple from the hands of your chosen one”——

“If I had but reached that point,” he resumed despondingly; “the rest would be easy enough. You are greatly mistaken, however, if you are inwardly accusing me of having been again wanting in courage. It was the superfluity of it which in this case hindered my success. Upon my word, I would, without the slightest hesitation, have made a declaration to each of the three young ladies, one after the other.”

“What a pretty disaster you would have caused.” “I never expected anything of you but an ironical pity. Still—you may judge from this how thoroughly perplexed I am—I turn to you for help.”

“You expect more of me than with the best intentions I can give you.”

“Ah, but you can help me Eugénie. Now listen and I will give you an account of it all. My friend, and I spent a whole day in their company.”

“That is either a very long, or a very short time as you take it.”

“You are right. The time is long enough to fall in love with all three sisters, and much too short to decide which of them is to be preferred. The only way would be to take the whole batch from the nest.”

“Are the nestlings so unfledged that they would submit to that?”

“To tell the truth I never thought of that. The chief thing for me is to get so enraptured with one of the sisters, that she should banish the other two from my mind. But at my age it is difficult to grow enthusiastic.”

“Then all three are equally irresistible?”

“Quite so, all of them made to be kissed, and each of them a different style of beauty; so that when one sees them together one feels that one could never be satisfied with only one of them.”

“Your account is given in too vague and extravagant terms. I wish to have it in proper order, and with every detail. First then comes the fair, then the auburn, then the dark one; or how do they follow in age?”

“I don't know.”

“Well, then we will arrange them according to size, and begin with the smallest. Is it the auburn haired young lady?”

“I really cannot tell.”

“You seem to have employed your time badly, or was it the triple fascination which had such power over your feelings from the first, that your senses left you?”

“Certainly I cannot excuse myself on that score,” he replied laughing. “I do not remember a more disagreeable sensation than I had yesterday on my way to L——A visit to the dentist is a pleasure trip compared to it. Several times I was on the point of jumping out of the carriage, but then I reflected that my cousin's horses would soon have overtaken me, and then I should have been delivered over ignominiously into the hands of my evil destiny. For on this point, my friend, who is in every other respect so yielding, knows no mercy. So I plucked up courage, and thinking over all the evil that had ever befallen me in the course of my life I tried to find comfort by repeating that in fact it all amounted very much to the same thing. At last we arrived. I had stipulated from the beginning that my cousin should not say a word of my real purpose, either to the father, or to the young ladies. The doctor was not at home when we first arrived, so we only found the sisters of fate in the neatest of dresses, fresh and charming like three rose buds on one stalk. Yes in truth they equalled the three graces, and their manners too were far from being provincial. I could not tire of looking at them.”

“The beginning seems promising.”

“When they perceived us, they left their several domestic occupations, and ran to meet my cousin. Then arose a delightful trio of merry girlish voices around us. Of course my share of their words, and looks of greeting, was at first only what civility demanded, and I was quite contented with this, as it gave me a good opportunity of quietly observing them. When I first entered the room, and perceived the dark haired young lady, who looked up from her work with large and wondering eyes, I said to myself; This is the one, I always had a prediliction for dark hair. The next moment however, I again wavered at the sight of the fair haired one, whose voice is as clear as a bird's, and her skin as white as the cherry blossom. Then the auburn haired one entered, grace and modesty personified. You will understand, that under these circumstances my countenance did not wear a very intelligent expression. However I was soon on very good terms with the three young ladies, and when they conducted me to the stables to show me the horse, I even took the liberty of lifting the fair one on its back, and led it about in the courtyard.”

“Then it is the fair one.”

“Not exactly; I only gave her a ride because she was the most courageous, and appeared to be very familiar with the grey Arab. She sat on his back with folded arms as calmly as if she had been on her sofa, whereas the auburn haired one clung to the mane with a charming timidity.”

“So all three had to display their horsemanship; at least you can now judge of the weight of your future wife.”

“No, the dark haired one was not put to the test. Their father had now joined us. He turned them out of the stable-yard, and charged them to provide for our dinner. Then we soon settled the bargain, and ratified it by a bottle of good Heidelberg wine. The doctor pleased me. He is just the sort of man one would desire for a father-in-law. Besides he is a good sportsman, an excellent judge of horses, and the best chess player in the neighbourhood.”

“In that case your young wife will pass very amusing evenings.”

“If it ever comes to that. But as I said before I lost my time, and opportunities, in a most inexcusable manner. In the afternoon we walked through the town to see the old castle in which the former king gave great entertainments, but under the present government it is quite deserted. The place where the orange-trees stood is now turned into an orchard. It was a pretty sight to see the delicious looking apples, and pears lying carefully assorted in great heaps on the green grass; and I never inhaled a more refreshing odour than was diffused over the spot. So we walked along; the three sisters in front with light straw hats and all dressed alike; then we three behind them. While I was examining them, the thought struck me that I was now in the same position as that prince who while keeping his father's flocks, was suddenly called on to award the prize of beauty to one of the three goddesses.”

“So you appropriated to yourself this apple, hoping to extricate yourself from your embarrassment by a symbolical allusion.”

“I certainly put it in my pocket with that intention; and as we rambled through the old park, and now one of the sisters, and now another walked beside me on the narrow path, I several times felt fully convinced that just this girl was the right one and I secretly grasped the apple. Then again when one of the others turned round towards me, or some word or sound of laughter reached me I hastily replaced it. So I did not dispose of it, and have brought it back with me.

“Is it not provoking Eugénie, that when love was at hand courage was wanting, and now that I have gained courage, love is not forthcoming.”

“You must not despair at the outset,” she said, encouragingly. “Your first attempt was not so very bad. Rome was not built in a day, neither can you expect to found your domestic felicity in so short a time. Are their names all equally pleasing to you? I lay much stress upon names, and can easily understand the feelings of that dauphin who would not wed a woman called Uracca.”

“That cannot decide me either,” he answered, despondingly. “Anna, Claire, and Mary, I know not which I prefer. No, my kind friend, I now look to you for assistance.”

“To me, I cannot guess how I can be of use to you in this intricate affair.”

“It is certainly a great favour which I require from your friendship,” he replied with some hesitation. He had now risen, and had taken the apple in his hand. He threw it several times into the air, caught it again, and finally replaced it on the table. “You see,” he resumed, “when after having passed a very restless night, I mounted my horse—my cousin had driven back the same evening—and as I rode through the fog in the frosty morning air, it occurred to me what a strange co-incidence, it was that just before deciding on the most important step of my life, I should meet you once more; you the only one who really knows me, and in whom I could freely confide, were anything wanting to your knowledge of my character. I recalled to mind all your kindness to me, and also all the harm you have done me, and I felt convinced that you really were my debtor, and owed me some reparation for all my misfortunes, and privations. What I further thought, Eugénie!——Well, that is not to the purpose now.—So I devised a plan which I hope you will not mar.”

“What is it?” she asked absently.

“Would you consent to get into a carriage with me, and accompany me to L——? I would take you to the doctor's house, and then you could see the three girls side by side. The one to whom you gave this apple would become my wife. I solemnly promise you that I will not raise the slightest objection to your choice.”

“You cannot give me full powers, and I could not accept them in such a case.”

“And why so? I am quite convinced that I could be tolerably happy with any one of them; indeed, for that matter, if I did not think it presumptuous, I might simply write down their names, throw them into my hat, and draw my lot with closed eyes. It could not be a great prize, that has passed for ever; at least many things would have to be changed; but at all events I should not draw a blank. But why should it be hazarded, why should you think the responsibility so great, if I consult you as the friend of my youth, with the firm conviction that a clever woman can more easily fathom the depth of a girl's character, than a man ever can.”

“But even if I consented to your adventurous scheme, under what pretence would you introduce me to the family?”

“I have also considered this point,” he said, striking with his whip the many coloured pattern of the carpet. “I introduce you to the good people as my betrothed. In this way we are sure to obtain our end, for every girl, even the most undesigning, in the presence of a bachelor endeavours to shew herself in the best light. They are daughters of Eve. But if I return to them as one already disposed of we shall easily be able to find out which of the sisters has been acting a part and, perhaps, I may even discover that one of them has secretly monopolized my heart. Surprise often brings to light the true character.”

He glanced at Eugénie who stood before him with an air of quiet deliberation. She had let him come to the end of his proposal, but now she shook her head.

“Think of some other plan, Valentine. I cannot consent to this one.”

“There is no danger in it.”

“Possibly, but I am neither skilled enough, nor do I feel inclined to act that part, and were I suddenly to drop the mask my embarrassment could hardly exceed yours.”

“Consent at least to assume the character of a sister.”

She considered for a while. “If I agree to this,” she said at last, “I only do so for the sake of proving how little I can help you. The qualities in a girl, which please or displease an old woman, are totally different from those which seem important to a man. I confess that curiosity has a share in my decision, and above all the fear of your cousin, who would never forgive me if I did not further his philanthropic plans on your behalf.”

“I thank you,” he exclaimed joyously, taking her hand and kissing it. “Now I am free from all anxiety. A true friend is certainly one of the greatest blessings under heaven. I will go this moment to the landlord, and order a carriage.”

“Your wooer's wings must submit however to some delay. Or do you expect me to perform the part you have forced upon me in my morning dress and cap?”

“In truth,” he replied, “I never noticed that. In my opinion you might boldly drive to L——in your present attire. The hair so pushed back under your cap, shows your fair temples to advantage, I am enabled again to admire those unruly meshes in your neck which in former days ensnared my poor heart, like a fish struggling in a net.”

She held up her finger threateningly, and then said, while a sudden blush suffused her face: “Take care, else I will betray you to your future bride. Your triple courtship, however, excuses the disregard with which you treat the toilette of an old friend. Here are some books; amuse yourself in the meantime; I will be back presently.”

She disappeared into the adjoining room and closed the door behind her.

He approached the table on which the apple lay, and after pensively gazing at it for a while, he suddenly gave it an angry push, which sent it flying over the edge of the table, and rolling across the carpet. He sighed, and as if to rouse himself struck his hand with his whip till it smarted. He then mechanically took up one of the books which lay in the corner of the sofa. It was a volume of Mörike's poems, and they exercised on him their powerful charm. He forgot all around him, and drawn on from page to page was soon completely absorbed in “The moonlit path of love once sacred.”

Suddenly the door from the passage opened and a lad of about ten years rushed into the room.

“Mother,” he cried, “will you allow me——Why to be sure she is not here,” he then said to himself, and turned his sharp clear eyes inquiringly on the stranger. “Come here, my boy,” said Valentine stretching out his hand to him. “Your mother is dressing in the next room. What is your name?”

“Fred is my name.”

“Won't you give me your hand, Fred?”

The lad hesitated. “Who are you?” he asked partly embarrassed, partly defiant.

“I am an old acquaintance of your mother's. She will not object to your giving me your hand. So, that is right. Will you come to see me some day? I have four handsome horses in my stables. I will give you a small gun, and will take you out shooting with me. The first hare you shoot, you shall bring to your mother.”

The boy's eyes sparkled, but suddenly he became thoughtful, and said, “I should like it very much, but I must go to school. This is my last holiday, and the two sons of the head-master have just invited me to go into the fields with them to fly a kite.”

“Well, then you will come to see me in the vacation time. Would you like that, Frederick?”

“Yes, if my mother permits it.”

“Go, and ask her, my dear boy. We will become fast friends, won't we?”

The lad nodded. Valentine took him up and kissed him. Then his mother called him into her room; and Valentine heard him, as he eagerly repeated what the strange gentleman had said to him. “He gave me a kiss,” continued the boy. “Why does he love from the first moment he sees me?”

They continued the conversation in an under tone, and then the boy left his mother's room by another door.

Valentine approached the window, and watched him as he left the house, and joined his two playfellows, who had been waiting below for him. His fair straight hair hung in masses about his shoulders; his round childish face beamed underneath the border of his cap. Yet the man at the window seemed to find no pleasure in the sight.

When Eugénie, dressed for the drive, entered the room, she found him still in the same position. She wore a dark green hat with a waving black feather, and a short grey cloak which closely fitted her fine figure. “I am ready, my friend,” she said; “let us get into the carriage?”

He looked up in confusion. “The carriage?” he asked.

“Yes, the carriage which I suppose you ordered long ago.”

“I confess,” he replied, “that I have not yet done so. I did not expect you to be dressed so soon.”

“You are certainly the first man to complain of that. Well, so it seems that I must provide for our departure.”

She rung the bell and ordered a carriage. Whilst her orders were being executed, Valentine remained standing near the window, and attentively examined the arabesques on the curtain. He perceived that she stooped to pick up the apple, but did not anticipate her.

“Well, I think you ought to treat this fine apple with more respect,” she said jestingly. “You see it has been already injured by its heavy fall.”

“Perhaps it were best Eugénie to leave it where it is. The reluctant shudder of yesterday is already coming over me. Why must I try my luck at L——Why should it be one of the three sisters. Possibly I need not look so far to find what I desire.”

“You ought to be ashamed of your vacillation,” she answered with comical solemnity. “Is this the courage you boasted of? Come, rouse your spirits, and replace the stolen apple in your pocket. The sin you have committed by this theft, can only be expiated by the more difficult task of stealing the heart of one of the sisters. Come, I hear the carriage driving to the door. You have excited my curiosity, and I shall not rest till it is satisfied.”

When the carriage had left the town, and was rolling smoothly along the even road, Valentine broke the silence. “I have become acquainted with your son, Eugénie,” he said.

“You must praise him to me,” she hastily returned; “I am a very proud mother, he is the very image of his father.”

“I thought so,” he resumed. “The face seemed strange to me. I only recognized the mouth. This mouth is strikingly like yours, Eugénie.”

She turned away towards the carriage window, and her eyes wandered over the landscape, which had now contracted, so as to form a narrow valley surrounded on both sides by steep vineyards. The mist had entirely cleared away, and the wet tendrils and leaves of the vines sparkled in the bright sunlight. The river bordered with willows, and alders flowed smoothly by the road side, and small barges glided rapidly along the current. Nothing is so refreshing and enlivening as a drive on a fine autumn day. Valentine experienced its charm and soon resumed the conversation. He enquired after the health of her mother, and after a while Eugénie began to speak of her husband. “You would have been his friend, Valentine,” she gravely said. “He was an excellent man, and a brave officer and he had a profound and unaffected admiration for all that is good and beautiful. Those who did not know him intimately thought him cold and indifferent, but inwardly, he was full of generous warmth which he kept for his family, his friends and those who were in want. My mother still grieves for him, as she grieved for my father. I hope that Frederick will some day resemble him in every respect.”

Valentine was silent for a long time. At last he asked, without looking at his companion, “Have you never thought of choosing a second husband among the many suitors who no doubt have surrounded you?”

“No, my dear friend,” she answered quietly. “Passions have never troubled me, and a marriage founded on esteem—it always is a lucky chance if one does not repent of it afterwards.”

They had now reached a turn in the valley, and the unexpected change of scene interrupted the conversation. On the left hand where the vine covered hills receded from the river, lay a small town, the industry of whose inhabitants was testified by the smoking chimnies of many factories, and the roaring and clashing of the water engines.

A broad stone bridge led across the river, and high above the old gable roofed houses, rose the graceful edifice of a gothic church, whose perforated spire of delicate fret-work with the ornamented cross at the top, projected boldly into the clear blue sky, and was surrounded by swarms of pigeons.

“This is C——” said the coachman, pulling up his horses for a moment, and pointing towards the town with the end of his whip.

“Drive over the bridge,” cried Valentine; “we wish to visit that beautiful cathedral before we proceed on our journey.”

Eugénie looked at him enquiringly. “Let me manage it all,” continued Valentine, turning to her. “We are sure of reaching the doctor's house in good time, so I propose that we rest here awhile, climb up to that steeple, and dine at the inn of the place; by this plan we shall not arrive just as my future father-in-law is sitting down to dinner. To-night there is full moon, so that our drive back, though somewhat late, will not be the less pleasant.”

“Be it so,” she replied, “I only stipulate that the rest of our plan remain as we had first agreed upon, and that the valiant knight does not seek a pretext to keep the apple again in his own pocket.”

He laughingly promised it on his honour as a knight.

The carriage had now stopped before the cathedral. They got out and desired the old portal to be opened for them. The grey-haired door-keeper slowly led them through the lofty nave and aisles, coughing and gasping at every step.

“The dank air of the church is not good for you, old lady,” remarked Valentine. “Have you not a grandchild, who could serve in your stead, as a guide to strangers? You ought to sit basking in the sun. Go, and leave us to find the way by ourselves.”

“Showing the church is all well enough,” replied the old woman, “but I can no longer drag myself up the steep stairs of the steeple; so if the lady and gentleman wish to climb up there, they will have to go by themselves. You cannot miss the way; one flight of steps follows the other, till you reach the upper gallery; once there, you will have had enough of it.”

Valentine looked at Eugénie. “Shall we try?” he asked. She nodded, so they passed through the narrow portal, guarded by two dragons hewn in stone and they began their ascent; leaving their old conductress below. Up there the scanty warmth, and light of the autumnal sun could not penetrate, and the dim cool twilight which prevailed, inclined them to silence. As they ascended the winding stairs, Valentine watched the little feet, which so nimbly mounted the steps before him. He felt as if he could not but follow them, even if they chose to venture out on the steep roof, which now and then was to be seen through the apertures. He heaved an involuntary sigh. She stopped on one of the landing places, and turning looked smilingly at him. “You are out of breath it seems.”

“On the contrary, I feel as if I had too much of it,” he replied.

“Do not squander it, methinks you will yet want it. See how high above the world we are already, and still the gallery over the nave is much higher.”

“I believe you are in fact leading me straight to heaven, Eugénie.”

“Gently, gently, you must first deserve it,” she replied laughingly.

“And if I carry it by storm?”

“It remains to be seen whether you are as exempt from giddiness, as such a titanic achievement would require. But I would rather you now walked before me; for the stairs grow narrower, and narrower, and I fear I shall lose courage if I see no one in front of me.”

He complied with her wish, and pensively ascended the steps before her. Only the rustling of her dress against the wall told him that she was still behind him. So they reached the first gallery which ran round the base of the spire, and entered the interior part of it. “Don't let us stop here,” she said, “I will not look around me, till we have reached to the very top. Meanwhile we can admire what is above us. Look how curiously, this pointed airy tent of stone closes around us; a cool bower. It is a pity that the wooden pillar which supports the small upper staircase, somewhat disfigures it, and mars the effect of this beautiful sculptured rosace. But to be sure without it, we could not reach the very point of the spire. Come now, let us proceed in our ascent.”

They soon stood beside each other on the aerial summit, and gazed with exulting awe into the fathomless depth below them. The numberless denticulations and ornamented pinnacles of the cathedral, the hundreds of chimnies and roofs, the neat market-place with its quaint looking old town-hail, the swarms of people in the streets, every thing appeared small, strange, and silent as if it were a world of pigmies. At a little distance the river basked in the sun, resembling a silver snake, and its ripples glittered like scales in the light. Further down the valley in the grey distance, above the vineyards rose the clear and cloudless outlines of blue and purple hills. As they stood beside each other, and leant over the stone parapet, he gazed intently at her purely cut profile, which she had heedlessly exposed to the sun. Her eyes were still fixed on the world below her; the wind had dishevelled her long hair and the loosened tresses brushed Valentine's cheek. She did not notice it; her parted lips eagerly inhaled the freshening breeze, her delicate nostrils dilated, and the blood flowed more rapidly through her blue veins.

“Are we not amply repaid for the fatiguing ascent,” she asked. “How beautiful it is here. The further we are separated from our fellow creatures the dearer to our hearts they become. I can easily imagine that if a fierce misanthrope filled with animosity and hate were to ascend to these heights, with the intention of precipitating himself over the parapet, he would be suddenly softened and converted, after looking on these humble roofs, underneath which thousands of people bear the sufferings and toils of this life, and are contented if they can only see the sun, and the sky, and the golden cross on their steeple.”

“There certainly is a purifying virtue in the air of higher regions,” he replied in a low voice. “We are freed from the oppression of daily petty considerations and customs, and are drawn nearer to the Creator. We feel as if we were called to rise above the world, part of which we survey at our feet. Even the most faint-hearted must feel the wings of his soul expand, and that which he dared not utter or even think in the midst of the din, and cares of every day life, here spontaneously flows from his heart to his lips.”

Suddenly the sound of trumpets and flutes reached them from below, and they saw a band of music followed by a crowd, slowly advancing in solemn procession, as it issued out of one of the narrow streets, and marched across the market-place. The brass of the instruments sparkled in the sun and some of the people wore bouquets in their hats. “Apparently a wedding,” remarked Valentine. “But where is the bride?” interposed Eugénie. “It rather seems to me to be one of those expeditions which now daily proceed to the vintage accompanied by singing and music. But you have just mentioned weddings; that reminds me of the great aim of our excursion. Come let us descend.” He appeared not to have heard her. “Eugénie,” he said, “if we had stood up here fourteen years ago, all would have been different.”

“Who can say if it would have been better. I am inclined to think that all that happens to us is well, and for our good.”

He had pulled out the apple, and held it before him on the stone parapet.

“Do you really believe that Eugénie?”

“Yes, I do.”

“And if I had told you then, what escaped from my lips, the first evening we again met, what would have been your answer?”

“That question, is a matter of conscience, my dear friend,” she replied, carelessly, “which even up here a hundred feet above the every day world you are not justified in asking. Before I could give you a clear and concise answer, I should have to read through some chapters in the book of my life, which I have not perused for many a year.” “And that truly is a trouble which I cannot expect you to take,” he replied in a pained, harsh tone. “Besides it would be useless labour as the writing must have long since faded. I forgot that though the chapters in my book, end in a blank, yours have a continuation.” Saying these words he leant over the parapet, and the apple he held in his hand rolled as if by accident over the edge. In its fall it struck one of the many pinnacles which surrounded the spire, and broke into several pieces, which flew, describing wide curves, into the street.

“What have you done Valentine?” exclaimed Eugénie; “where shall we be able to steal another apple? Only fruits of stone can be plucked here. But now let us hasten down.”

“You are right,” he replied, indifferently, “here every thing is of stone; I did not think of that.” Then he remained silent till they reached the streets. The gloom however, which had settled on his countenance, could not hold out against the unconstrained gaiety of his companion. His brow cleared before they had taken many steps on their way to the inn. She had taken his arm through the narrow tortuous streets, her cloak, which in the warm sunshine had become too heavy for her, hung loosely from her shoulders. As they walked along, they joked merrily at the smell of the new wine, which met them at the entrance of every cellar and courtyard and even pervaded the precincts of the old dilapidated church, and at the large vats which obstructed their way.

When they reached the inn, the hour of the table d'hôte had passed, so they sat down alone in the large room, at a small table, where they were amply provided with the best wine of the country; but Eugénie wished for a bottle of that year's vintage. She said she longed to taste that beverage the scent of which she had so abundantly enjoyed during her walk—

When she had tasted it, she praised the sweet and turbid drink.

“It resembles first love,” remarked Valentine, “beware of its strength; it will turn your head.”

“At my age there is no danger of that,” she replied, smiling. “I am an old woman already, and take my daily nap after dinner. To-day this bad habit will be of great service to me.”

She then retired to a room prepared for her, and Valentine remained alone in company of the wine and his thoughts. The uneasiness of the morning had passed, and he no longer pondered on what would be the end of all this. The voice of a good genius secretly whispered in his ear that fate now smiled on him. He looked around, as if to ascertain that no one was near, and then hastily took a sip from Eugénie's glass, with the devout superstition that it would help him to divine her thoughts. As however no enlightenment on this point was vouchsafed him, he consoled himself with the thought that without doubt, she was asleep at that moment, and so could think of nothing. He represented her to himself reclining on the sofa, her small feet crossed, and her head drooping on her shoulder. A sensation of happiness thrilled through him; he felt as if he must hasten upstairs, kneel before the fair sleeper, and press her hand to his lips. But he soon rejected this thought, lighted a cigar and patiently waited for Eugénie's appearance. It certainly seemed as if the new wine had confirmed its reputation, for more than an hour passed before the door was opened, and his fair companion re-appeared.

“Good morning,” she exclaimed, “how long have I slept? truly this wine though it seems so harmless, is even in its cradle as powerful as an offspring of the gods. It will be late before we reach the home of your fair ones.”

“We never can reach it late enough,” he replied, laughing. “Think of what you promised me on your honour as a knight,” she said, with a menacing gesture, “and hasten our departure. What a careless mother I am, instead of spending my poor boy's last holiday with him, I stroll about the country making the acquaintance of new wine, and old churches.”

In spite of Valentine's efforts to hasten their departure the day had waned before they reached their destination. The fog had gathered again, when the carriage slowly ascended the hill on which the town was built, and rattled over the bad pavement. Valentine lifted Eugénie from the carriage when it stopped at the inn, and silently walked by her side through the streets to the doctor's house. She remarked that he was greatly agitated, and she almost felt pity for him, but they had already mounted the stone steps which led up to the neat little house, the knocker had sounded, and a moment afterwards the door was opened by a stout little man with large gold spectacles.

“Why, what's this!” cried the merry old gentleman, pushing back his spectacles. “What gives me the unexpected pleasure of seeing you so soon again? I hope there is nothing wrong about the horse——but I see you have brought company with you, and I have left you standing out there in this rude manner. You must excuse me, fair lady; you see we are still barbarians in this remote corner of the world. I beg you will honour, my humble roof. But now tell me seriously my dear friend is there anything the matter with Almansor? Unfortunately you will find no one but myself at home, my dear Madam; my daughters will be inconsolable when they hear that during their absence——but I will send for them this very moment; but stop a bit! why confound me, I remember now, I have already sent for them, they will be here in a few minutes. To the left Madam if you please, will you kindly walk in here, most honoured guests?”

They entered the room, the door of which the lively little man had opened for them. In the centre stood a table laid for four, on which there were cold viands and a bottle of new wine. The whole was lighted up by the faint twilight which stole through the window. “Now you can judge for yourself, my most honoured friend, how we are treated by our children,” resumed the doctor. “Those naughty girls of mine run away, and leave their papa to wait for his supper. We will play them a trick however, nothing but the empty dishes, shall they find on their return. But what a fool I am, inviting you to supper without considering that this scanty meal is in no way fit for such charming visitors. Unfortunately the cook is gone to summon them, so there is no one to——But please to be seated at least, take off your hat and cloak, and make yourself comfortable—Welcome to L——most honoured lady. Now my friend do tell me has the horse?”——

“I can relieve your mind on that point my dear doctor,” Valentine at last interposed. “I value Almansor's excellent qualities more than ever, since he has found favour in the eyes of my betrothed, to whom I have the pleasure of introducing you.” Eugénie bowed to their amazed host. She checked the words which had risen to her lips, and only a severe look reproved Valentine for this arbitrary assertion, so contrary to their treaty.

Had the little doctor entertained other hopes since yesterday's visit? Had he attached greater importance to it than mere horse-dealing?—With a low bow he stammered forth his congratulations, and thanked Valentine for honouring him with this visit. However he soon recovered his jovial equanimity and laughingly said: “Well, you are the most complete hypocrite and false hearted friend! Did you not on this very spot abuse matrimony so vehemently, that you even alarmed, and terrified such an old widower as I am? and then to come next day accompanied by your betrothed——Well, she certainly is bewitching enough to convert a heathen.—Pardon me, pardon me, Madam.”

Valentine laughed. “I can assure you, doctor; that none but you are responsible, if after all my yesterday's heresy has been retracted.”

“I? you are joking.”

“No, I am speaking in good earnest. For you have, or rather your horse has been of great assistance to me in winning this fair lady's hand. This morning when mounted on Almansor, I rode up to the window behind which stood my beloved one, the sight melted the hardness of her heart, and she acknowledged herself conquered. Hardly had I recovered my senses, which were somewhat confused by this unexpected victory than I declared that you should be the first person to hear of our engagement, so we ordered a carriage and drove to L——and now permit your grateful and overjoyed friend to embrace you.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the delighted doctor, “my fancy for horses has caused me many vexations, but this master-stroke of Almansor's makes ample amends for it all. No my dear young lady, you need not take it amiss that your betrothed has divulged your secret. I esteem you all the more highly since I find that you acknowledge a man to be only complete on horseback. Now leave it all to me, my eye ranges all over the country, and if some day I should find a lady's horse worthy of cantering by the side of Almansor——”

“It shall be mine; let us shake hands over it, doctor, and the first time I ride with my wife, you shall accompany us.”

“Agreed,” cried the little man, and energetically shook hands with his guest. “But where are those girls, confound them; just when all is ready to celebrate this happy event they are wanting.”

“Are your daughters on a visit in the town?” asked Eugénie.

“Yes, my dear young lady, they have been invited to one of the autumnal grape gatherings, by a friend of mine, who has daughters of the same age. I have no doubt, that the affair will finish off with a dance; however I exercised my paternal authority, and strictly enjoined them to come home before evening. I will not again allow them to dance at this season of the year, for every time they have done so, they have brought home bad colds. Now they will miss you delightful visit, and it serves the disobedient hussies quite right—but they really must come I will have them fetched home instantly! halloo Henry!” he shouted to a farm-servant, whom he had seen passing, from the window; “just run over to the Kitzinger garden and tell Margaret to bring them home immediately. Now you see,” he continued, turning to his guests, who sat side by side on the sofa without looking at each other, “how little respect a father enjoys. You must educate your children with more severity. Ah! if my wife still lived, it would all be different.”

Eugénie blushed and remained silent, but Valentine exclaimed: “No, no Doctor, don't disturb your daughters in their merry making. It is true that I have praised them so much to my dear Eugénie that she will not leave L——without having made their acquaintance, but there will be time for that to-morrow, for the moon does not make its appearance, and I hear that we shall be well provided for at the inn of the Crown.”—“Are you not of my opinion darling,” he said turning to Eugénie, and suddenly approaching his lips to hers.

“Valentine,” said the young woman, and drew back quickly, “you seem to have forgotten what you promised me.”—“Now what do you say to that Doctor? She reminds me of my promise, and does not keep hers. Eugénie have you not vowed to agree to all my wishes, and are you justified in refusing a kiss to your betrothed. Come now let us seal our engagement as students seal their fellowship. We have not yet done so.”

“That is right!” exclaimed their host. “This is only new wine, but in the cellar....”

“Don't trouble yourself my dear friend; is not new wine sweet, turbid, and intoxicating like first love. And you must know. Doctor, that the fair charmer before you has been worshipped by me from the time I entered college and though fate parted us in later days. 'Old love fades not,' as the people say, and you know that 'the voice of the people, is the voice of the gods.' So we will perform the sacred act with none other but new wine. Fill your glass. Doctor!”

He had risen with these words and again turned towards Eugénie, with two full glasses in his hand. She sat on the sofa suffused with blushes, and her eyes fixed on the ground. Maidenly confusion sealed her lips, she tried to speak, but could not utter a word, so she took the glass mechanically. He then knelt before her, twined his arm within hers after the fashion of the students and emptied his glass at one draught. She took a sip from hers with half averted face. Valentine then threw away his glass and kissed her lips.[5]

“That's right,” said the doctor. “You need not blush fair lady, if an old man like myself is present at so solemn an act. All I ask as a reward for my good offices, is that I should be permitted to assist at the wedding.”

Valentine silently nodded, and remained standing for a while before her, pensively gazing on her calm brow.

“My dear Doctor,” he then began, “you must make some allowance for two people who are nearly out of their senses with joy. It is no trifling matter, I assure my dear friend, when one's betrothal is only of a few hours standing; particularly as this cruel lady love of mine tormented me so relentlessly with her wicked tricks, and her apparent indifference struck me dumb, and made me feel as timorous as a bashful youth. It was so years ago, when she was still in her mother's house, and I used often to think that I should no longer be able to stand it, but must plunge into the water to cool my smarting wounds. Then when we again met after many years of separation she was just the same. How often, by some jesting word has she not checked the confession which hovered on my lips, that my feelings for her had remained unaltered; and who knows how all would have turned out, had it not been for you, my dear Doctor. Now, however, you see she has quite changed, and you would never believe how much of subtleness and womanly art lies hidden beneath those demure eyelids.”

“Nay, you calumniate me, dear Valentine,” she said, and raised her beautiful moist eyes to his. “It is only natural that I should not show my feelings so openly here, in a house which is yet strange to me, though it may not appear so to you.”

“And whose is the fault, if not mine,” cried the doctor, “or rather of those disobedient damsels who leave all the duties of a host to me.” “Well, where are they? what are they about, why are they not with you Margaret?” he angrily asked the cook who had now entered the room.

“You see. Sir, the master and mistress of the house pressed the young ladies to stay for the evening,” replied the old woman staring at the two visitors with wondering eyes. “They promised that the young ladies should not dance too much, and Miss Clara thought that if I put it in that light to you Sir!...”

“Deuce take it,” cried the doctor, in a passion, “but they must come home immediately!”

“Nay, my dear Doctor,” Eugénie said, entreatingly. “Pray do not burthen our consciences with this cruelty.”

“Heaven forbid,” Valentine hastily added. “Tomorrow there will be time enough.”

“Well, let us go after them,” proposed the doctor, “what do you say to closing this eventful day with a dance?”

“Are we not better here,” replied Valentine, “we do not know your friends, and would greatly prefer remaining another hour under your hospitable roof if you will permit us to do so. Is it not so Eugénie?”

She nodded. The old gentleman then rubbed his hands delightedly, and declared that he had not felt so pleased for many a year. He sent the maid into the cellar and the larder and made her bring all that was to be found in the house, in spite of the entreaties of his visitors not to make so much ado for them. When they were at last sitting gaily and comfortably together, the doctor exclaimed with a look of satisfaction: “Now if the girls but knew what they have missed by their disobedience!”

Valentine smilingly looked at Eugénie who had now completely recovered her usual calm demeanour and gave with composure her opinion on the subject of the future arrangement of their life, which Valentine had proposed, and played her part admirably.

When the clock struck ten, she arose. “I am afraid, we can await your daughters no longer;” she said, “to-morrow, when they have rested after their dancing we will return.”

“I will not detain you,” replied the doctor, “for I verily believe that they will not come home, till I go and fetch them myself. That is the way they treat their old father. I will forgive them, however, this time an account of the pleasure they have procured me of having your society all to myself. But I rely on your promise to return to-morrow, and perhaps, you will understand my paternal weakness when you see these naughty daughters of mine.”

So they all set forth; the doctor had insisted on accompanying them to the door of the hotel; there he left them, and they silently followed the waiter who carried the light before them. He opened two adjoining rooms and after wishing them good night disappeared.

Valentine stretched out his hand to Eugénie. She pressed it, and said calmly, looking up at him,

“Good night to you, my dear friend, sleep well, and au revoir to-morrow.”

Then she entered her room and closed the door behind her.

After remaining quiet for some time he knocked gently at the door which separated the two rooms.

“Eugénie,” he whispered.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Your good night of before, was against our treaty.”

“Against what treaty?”

“That which we solemnly ratified with the doctor's new wine.”

“I think we have had enough of this acting I only agreed to the pledge because I thought it lay in my part.”

“Can we not continue in earnest, what we began in jest. At all events it was a solemn vow made before witnesses.”

“Well, then I will make up for it to-morrow morning, and now once more good night.” But no movement showed that she had turned from the door. So after a pause Valentine began again,

“And all the rest may I not consider it as true?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, all that we acted this evening.”

“That is a good deal.”

“Eugénie.”

“Well.”

“Can that be too much which alone can give me back the life and happiness you have taken from me a thousand times?”

“When I consider....”

“Oh, Eugénie, say that I may throw myself at your feet, that I may kneel before you. Do open the door—!”

“Gently, gently, my dear friend. You certainly deserve some punishment. What! is this all your courage? You can only speak out what weighs on your mind behind the shelter of a closed door! I will bet anything that you have even put out the light hoping that the darkness may give you confidence. You dare not acknowledge your love for me in the face of day. You are a poor hero indeed. But I will now confess to you that I have owed you a grudge for many a year.”

“You are jesting again, Eugénie.”

“No, this time I am thoroughly in earnest. If in former years you had as little courage as now, why at all events could you not have been as cunning. Was there no door then behind which you could have owned to me what now comes too late!”

“Too late? No, Eugénie; where are the years that separate us from that time? Is it not the same timid lad of those days who now stands here, and implores you to lighten the darkness around him with a heavenly ray from your eyes. Can you leave me to despair?”

He waited some time for an answer. Suddenly the door was noiselessly opened, and she stood before him smiling, but with tears in her eyes.

“One kiss freely given you, as a token of forgiveness for all you have made me suffer,” she said.

He folded her in his arms and she softly passed her hand across his brow, saying: “Here, there are many lines, but our hearts are still fresh and youthful, and to-morrow we will begin life anew where we left it off fourteen years ago.”

She pressed her lips to his, and with his arm round her waist, he led her to the window. The moon had dispersed the fog, and a gentle autumnal breeze wafted the scent of the grapes through the open casement.

“Let US drive back to-night, my darling,” she said. “I could not sleep now, and the air is quite mild. Go, while you order the carriage, I will write a few lines to the doctor, and tell him not to expect us to-morrow: Is it true, Valentine, can it be true, that we have at last told each other what we knew years ago?”—

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: A part of Switzerland on the frontiers of Italy.—The Translator.]

[Footnote 2: Not the Lombardy poplar, but the populus Alba, or Abele tree, which is wide spreading.—The Translator.]

[Footnote 3: Name of a proménade at Meran.—The Translator.]

[Footnote 4: Lauben. A provincial term for arcades.—The Translator.]

[Footnote 5: This is an old custom at the German universities when a new comer enters the Fellowship—they call it “Brüderschaft trinken.”—The Translator.]

 
 
 

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