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Gay Hearts by Eduard Von Keyserling

(1909)

TRANSLATED BY BAYARD QUINCY MORGAN, PH.D.
Assistant Professor of German, University of Wisconsin

At Kadullen dinner was served in summer as early as four o'clock, so as to leave the evening clear for summer amusements. Then the afternoon light rested steadily on the extensive white garden-front and the three ponderous gables of the manor. In the rectilinear beds the stocks glinted like bright, wavy silk, and the scent of the box-hedges was warm and bitter. A servant stationed himself on the steps of the garden porch and rang a large bell as signal that it was time to dress for dinner.

The host, old Count Hamilcar of Wandl-Dux, was already completely dressed and came out into the garden with his guest, Professor von Pinitz. Count Hamilcar, very tall and slender in his black frock-coat, had a slight stoop. His Panama was pulled low on his forehead. The smooth-shaven face with the long, thin-lipped mouth had a touch of the ascetic, like those faces in which everything that life has inscribed upon them seems mitigated and as it were disavowed. With long strides he began to walk down the garden path. The professor could hardly keep step, for he was short and stout; his white vest was stretched tight over his round paunch, and his face was red and heated under the cinnamon-colored, stubbly whiskers. He was telling the count a remarkable dream he had had; this was his interest at present, for he intended to write a treatise on the theory of dreams, and the count was giving him the material which he too had once gathered on this subject. Count Hamilcar always had material gathered for the books which others planned to write, but had never written one himself.

“I never knew,” he was wont to say, “which one of my books to write, and so I never wrote any.”

“Imagine, then,” the professor was reporting, “I was at the house of my colleague Domnitz, in my dream, you know. Well, Domnitz laid both hands on my shoulders, put on a very solemn face, and said in a very deep voice, which he never has had, 'Colleague, I have found the basic, original form of beauty, simply beauty-in-itself.' I tell you, I felt it in all my limbs, a kind of fright or joy or emotion, I suppose, I was so near weeping. Those are sensations which we can only have in dreams. 'No, really,' I said, 'where is it?' 'There,' he said and why—and showed it to me.”

“He showed it to you?” asked the count, coming to a stop, “well—and how did it look?”

The professor squinted, as if to look sharply at some object. “It looked,” he said, “why, it really looked quite simple, you know. A narrow white slab like the gravestones in the Jewish cemeteries, a yard high, I guess, rounded at the top, and in the curve a face: the eyes simply two points, the nose a vertical stroke, the mouth a horizontal one—that was all. What do you say to that, ha?”

“Peculiar,” said the count, looking out into the garden over the professor's head.

“Yes, but the most wonderful part of it was,” continued the professor, lowering his voice as if speaking of very mysterious things, “that I at once said 'Ah yes,' for it was immediately obvious to me, and I knew that that was beauty-in-itself; yes, I felt as if I had really known it for a long time. How do you explain that?”

“Why, that is not easy,” replied the count a little absentmindedly, still looking out into the garden.

[Illustration: A PORTRAIT] Adolf Münzer

Yonder between the hollyhocks and the beds of mallow there were now signs of life. A bevy of young girls and men came down the path toward the house, light summer dresses and flannel suits and an eager whirl of voices. Now the professor also became silent and turned toward the newcomers. There were his two daughters, big girls in flaming pink batiste dresses and yellow sun-hats, both very heated. Both were laughing at once in a high, rather shrill soprano. Beside them walked Lieutenant von Rabitow of the Alexander Regiment, a little stiff-legged in his white tennis suit. The count's two nephews, Egon and Moritz of Hohenlicht, both students, both very fair, their hair parted all the way down to their necks, had stopped midway and were sparring with their racquets. Miss Demme, the governess, was chiding and pushing fourteen-year-old Erika before her, and Erika opposed her by moving but sluggishly her thin legs in their black stockings. The two old gentlemen complacently let this wave of youthful life swirl by them. Both smiled a little.

“Do you see, Professor, yonder is instantly obvious beauty, too, really beauty-in-itself,” resumed the count, pointing to a bed full of fat dark-red “Sultan of Zanzibar” roses, beside which his seventeen-year-old daughter Billy was standing.

It was very pretty to see the girl standing there by the roses in her light-blue summer dress, her round face pink and smiling and hatless. In the blinding sunshine her hair had a deep, warm brown like old port, and the whole picture was as richly colored as a flower-bed. Beside Billy stood Marion Bonnechose, the daughter of the French governess, who had been brought up with Billy; short and dark, with brown eyes too large for her lean, somewhat yellowish face, which were looking at Billy with watchful interest.

“Certainly,” said the professor, “Countess Sibyl is indubitably very beautiful, but the beauty-in-itself in my dream was simply a semicircular white tablet.”

The young people had disappeared in the house, and Billy and Marion also ran toward it, their hands full of red roses. The garden grew quiet again. The count threw his head back a little, and drew into his long white nose the scents of the late summer flowers, of ripe plums and early pears, with the expression of a gourmet drinking a delicious wine. From the tennis-court a last straggler came, Boris Dangellô. He walked slowly and thoughtfully with bowed head; only when he passed the two gentlemen he saluted them and his fine pale face smiled, but his eyes kept their brooding expression, as if they did not wish to disturb their own sentimental beauty.

“Also beauty,” remarked the professor. “Your nephew, Mr. von Dangellô, looks unusually well.”

But in this there was something that put out the count. “For a young person,” he said severely, “it is not advantageous to look so well: that diverts and detracts.”

“You think so,” murmured the professor, “I don't know, I have no experience in that line.”

They had now reached the end of the garden path, stood still a moment, and looked out over the garden gate upon the stubble-fields and cropped meadows. Behind them the woods formed a blue-black frame about the picture, yellow in the sunshine—that dense pine forest that extended unbroken to the Russian border.

“I do not know whether I am mistaken,” the professor began again, “but it seems to me as if good looks were more general in the present generation than in my youth. Nowadays every one looks well.”

“Possible,” replied the count, “but perhaps we are accountable for it, too. We now have the right perspective, and you know that pictures grow more beautiful when viewed from the right distance. But above all, Professor, we need that. In our old age we wish to have beautiful youth about us, we demand beauty of youth. That is very egoistic. We enjoy it at our ease. But poor youth. Do you think 'being beautiful' is easy? Beauty complicates destiny, imposes responsibilities, and above all it disturbs our seclusion. Imagine, Professor, that you were very beautiful. With every human being you encounter your face establishes some relation, affects him, forces itself upon him, speaks to him, whether you will or no. Beauty is a constant indiscretion. Would that be agreeable?”

“I ... I suppose I can't just imagine myself in that situation,” replied the professor.

The count smiled his restrained, somewhat crooked smile. “Yes, yes, we two have been spared these difficulties.”

Then they turned and walked back toward the house.

On the porch they found Countess Betty, Count Hamilcar's sister, who had been managing his household and bringing up his children ever since he became a widower. She was dressed in her imposing white lace burnous. The white face with its little pink cheeks looked very small under the great lace cap fashionable in the sixties. Aunt Betty was sitting as at a sick-bed beside the reclining chair on which her oldest niece Lisa had stretched herself. Lisa, the divorced wife of Prince Katakasianopulos, wearily leaned her head back and half closed her eyes. Short tangled brown curls hung into the delicate pale face in a kind of Ophelia-coiffure. She wore a black lace dress, for ever since the annulling of her marriage she liked to dress in black. She had made the acquaintance of her Greek at Biarritz, and had obstinately insisted on marrying him. But when Prince Katakasianopulos proved himself an impossible spouse, the family was happy to be rid of him again.

Lisa, however, had since then retained a tragic something which Aunt Betty treated as sickness and invested with the most solicitous care. The tutor, a stately Hanoverian, and Bob, the youngest of the family, had also appeared on the scene.

“How do you feel, Lady Princess?” asked the professor.

Lisa smiled faintly. “I thank you, a little weary.”

“We need rest,” opined Aunt Betty.

In the background Bob's unmannerly voice echoed, “Wary.”

The count looked discontentedly at his daughter. “For excessively lyrical nerves,” he said, “perhaps a little employment would be advisable.”

“Why, Hamilcar,” parried Aunt Betty.

Lisa raised her eyebrows resignedly and turned to the tutor to begin an amiable conversation: “Is it as hot as this in your home, too, Mr. Post?”

Upstairs Billy appeared at the door of the sun-parlor in a white dress with red roses at her belt, and as she came down the steps to the porch, all looked up at her and smiled involuntarily. She smiled too, as if bringing something pleasant. Bob voiced the general feeling by crying, “Today Billy looks first-class again.” Boris followed her and at once took possession of her, to talk to her in a low voice. He always spoke with ladies in that way, as if what he said were confidential.

All the inmates of the house were now assembled, except the professor's wife. She always kept people waiting.

“Oh yes, my wife,” remarked the professor, “she gives me sufficient proof that time is something subjective. She always has her own.”

At last she came, heated and with fluttering red cap-ribbons. They could go to dinner.

Count Hamilcar loved this situation: to sit at the head of the long table, look down the lines of young faces, and hear the buzzing of the lowered voices. That cheered him. Then he kept up the conversation, and tried to have it agreeable and harmonious. But today something like a discordant note came into it.

They were talking politics. The professor was a patriot and a National Liberal. He interrupted the consumption of his peas, seized a crouton with thumb and forefinger, gesticulated with it, and said enthusiastically,

“Now, if you please, in science I as a scholar follow reason and logic quite unreservedly, wherever they may lead me, but in politics it is different, there an important factor is added, an emotion, the love of the German fatherland. Understanding and logic must share the supremacy with love, no, what am I saying—they must be subordinate to love; yes, actually subordinate. So I too am quite ready to be at times illogical for love of the fatherland. Yes, my dear count, I am.”

He looked triumphantly about him and laughed.

“Surely, surely,” said the count, “it would be a bad thing anyway, if we were not now and then willing to be illogical.”

Here Boris bent forward and began to speak with his slightly singing Slavic accent and his trilled r:

“You are quite right, Professor, but it need not always be love, it can also be hate. To us Poles hate is sacred too.”

The count lifted his eyebrows and bent over his plate. “I have noticed,” he said with an acrimony that surprised them all, “that hate as an occupation blunts the intellect.”

Boris paled. He was about to flare up. “I beg your pardon, uncle,” he began, but then he shrugged his shoulders and smiled ironically. Both Billy and Marion, who sat opposite him, blushed and looked anxiously at him. The two children farther down the table snickered. There was an awkward pause, until the professor hastily began to speak again. Boris was silent, looked down with an injured expression, and refused all food. Billy and Marion had also lost all pleasure in eating, and were glad when the meal ended.

The sun was already shining quite aslant through the fruit-trees when coffee was served on the porch. Count Hamilcar smoked a cigarette and looked complacently down the garden, which was again teeming with life. At this hour his eyelids always grew a little heavy. Yonder along the box-hedge Boris and Billy were walking up and down. Boris was speaking eagerly, making large gestures with his slender white hand, so that his many rings sparkled in the sun. There was in this something that displeased the count, but he did not wish to be vexed while in this agreeable situation. But when he rose and went to his room to rest a little, he met his sister. He stopped, laid one finger along his nose, and said, “Betty, as I was going to say.”

“What then, Hamilcar,” said the old lady, bending her head very far back so as to look into her brother's eyes.

The count pointed through the window toward the box-hedge: “Those two out there, you ought to watch a little.”

“Oh, Hamilcar,” said Betty, “do let the young folks talk to each other. We were young once ourselves.”

Again the count smiled his restrained, crooked smile. “Certainly, Betty, we were young once, too, and it would surely be good if our children had their own advantage from this experience of ours. Polish brandy-eyes produce an unhealthy intoxication; we have had enough and to spare of the Greek variety. You ought to watch a little.”

With that he went into his room and stretched out on his sofa. He loved this half hour of rest. He closed his eyes. The windows were wide open. From the garden the voices came in to him, as they called, sought, and joined each other, and with them was the unwearying chirping of the field-crickets. “How busy they are at their work,” thought the count, “what a hurry they are in; it sounds as if each one were madly reeling the thread off a spool. How those spools hum, how feverish is the unrest in them.” He felt agreeably aloof from this unrest. As he dozed off, the voices seemed to withdraw, to become subdued. “Yes, yes, it must be so, the restless voices move away, die away, and then—quiet. Yes, it will be so—perhaps—we shall see.”

Below along the box-hedge, however, Boris and Billy were still walking up and down. Boris was talking passionately at Billy. He was quite pale with eloquence, and knew how to put a wonderfully unreserved pathos into his words.

“I know your father does not like me; he wishes to humiliate me. Of course we are not loved here in your land. We are the irksome ones all through history. Obstinate idealists are not loved. He who is born with a pain, he who is brought up for a pain, is uncongenial, I know. To be unhappy is out of date here among you, it is not comme il faut.”

“Oh, Boris, why do you talk so,” said Billy in a voice hoarse with emotion, “we people here, all of us, like you.”

Boris shrugged his shoulders. “All of us, good heavens, as if I cared about that. But you, Billy, I know you are good, you are for me,—but no, not as I understand it. Look, we Poles, all of us going about with a wound in our hearts, understand love differently. We demand a love which will take our side unconditionally, without a question, without looking around, which is wholly, wholly, wholly for us. But,” and Boris made a gesture as if he were casting a world from him, “but, where do we find such a love?”

The sun was now hanging above the fringe of forest, a raspberry-red disk. Billy stood still and looked wide-eyed at the sun. The dark blue of those eyes became bright with tears, and two tiny red suns were reflected in them.

“Oh, Boris, why must you talk so,” she struggled to say, “of course you know—what shall I do, what can I do?”

“You can do everything,” retorted Boris mysteriously.

Billy's heart swelled painfully with vast compassion for the handsome pale lad before her, and it really seemed to her at this moment as if she could do anything and everything for him.

The garden was now quite red with the light of evening. Everywhere the young girls and men were standing together, excited by the violent, many-colored light as by a festal illumination. Egon von Hohenlicht was making the professor's daughters laugh, always simultaneously. Moritz was walking about with Marion between the beds of stocks, and they were speaking of Billy. Even little Miss Demme and the stately Hanoverian were standing together a little to one side and whispering. Lisa had had the reclining chair carried out to the grass-plot under the pear-tree. There she lay motionless, as if she feared a movement might disarrange the lovely ruddy light that floated over her. Lieutenant von Rabitow had stretched out on the turf at her feet.

“Oh, how beautiful that is,” said Lisa with a softly plaintive melody in her voice, “seeing it thus, one would not believe that there is so much pain on this earth too.”

“Quite right,” remarked the lieutenant, “but we must not think of that. When I have taken my bath in the evening and finished my toilet, and go down into the street,—the restaurants are prettily lighted, and when I turn a corner sharply I bump into dear little giggling girls, and then I reflect a little and ask myself where I am going—why, then I drive out of my own head the thought of being on duty tomorrow, with recruits, et cetera.”

“I believe you are happy, Lieutenant von Rabitow,” said Lisa softly.

On the veranda, again, Countess Betty and Madame Bonnechose were sitting together, folding their hands in their laps and saying reverently, “Ah, la jeunesse, la chère jeunesse.

Only the two children were dissatisfied. Bob and Erika stood on the garden-walk, grumbling because there was no prospect of some amusement: a walk, or a general game.

“If all of them never do anything but get engaged,” said Bob, “then of course there's nothing doing. Boris takes possession of Billy as if she was Poland.”

“That won't do him any good,” remarked Erika, “papa is against the marriage, I know he is.”

The sun had set. From the forest and across the meadows came a damp breath that shook the branches of the old fruit-trees. Monotonous and plaintive was the singing of the peasant-girls walking down the dusky country-road.

Bob had achieved his general game. One person stood by a tree and counted, the others hid. Billy ran over to the dense barberry-bush. There it was dark, and one smelled the boards of an old wooden box that stood there, garden loam, and the sourish barberries. Billy was a little breathless, her heart beat so violently, she heard it beat: it sounded like soft steps running, hurry, hurry, toward an unknown goal. A great agitation made Billy shrink and shudder, such an agitation as makes the universally familiar things round about seem strange,—significant and as it were pregnant with secretly, noiselessly advancing events. Billy was ready for any experience. Boris' mellow voice seemed to raze all the barriers with which this child had been solicitously hedged in. Ah yes, to be able to share Boris' life, so full of great feelings and great words—this was what Billy now must have.

“Billy,” she heard a low voice in the darkness.

It was Boris. Billy was not surprised; she had felt him so passionately all this time that his presence seemed to her a matter of course.

“Yes, Boris,” she answered as softly.

He now stood quite close to her, she detected the strong, sweet perfume he liked to use.

“Billy,” he said, “I come to obtain certainty from you.” He was silent, but Billy could say nothing, and waited. The event whose noiseless advance she had felt now stood before her.

“Look, Billy,” continued Boris, and his voice sounded a trifle dry and pedagogical, “I must know whether you are in my life that on which I can absolutely rely. I cannot imagine my life without you, but for that very reason I must not delude myself, for if I should be deluded in this, it might be my destruction.”

He waited again.

“But Boris, you surely know—” began Billy, but he interrupted her irritably:

“No, I don't know, I can't know. You don't understand me, all that is quite different.”

Billy was ready to weep; the stern voice that challenged her out of the darkness was torturing her unspeakably. “I do understand, certainly I do. Why should I not understand you? Why do you say that? Go and talk to papa tomorrow: they are all getting engaged, why must it be so terribly sad in our case?” She was ready to weep; wearily she sat down on the old box. Then she heard Boris laugh softly, it was the quick, proud laugh with which he loved to conceal his agitation. Now he too sat down on the box, took Billy's hand, this cold girlish hand, into his own, as if it were something fragile and precious, and began to speak again.

“No, no, you don't understand me. Of course I shall speak with your father, for I want to be correct; but what good will it do?—your father hates me. I have always had to fight for my happiness, and that is what I want and you must want the same. Everything is immaterial, do you hear?—everything: only one thing matters, that you and I may be united. I see only you, and you must see only me, and what comes of it must not affect us, only you and I, you and I.” He was still speaking softly, but his voice resumed its passionately singing tone. He intoxicated himself again with his own words, his own Self. “If you cannot do that, then say so at once, for then it is better for me to go away, no matter what becomes of me. I can die, but to be deceived, that goes beyond my strength. Can you do it? Speak, speak!” And he pressed her hand and shook it.

“Yes, I can,” replied Billy obediently.

“Then,” continued Boris, “we are going toward each other on the same road: on both sides there are high walls and we can see nothing but this road, and you see me and I see you and we are going toward each other, that is all. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said Billy, and she actually saw this yellow road between the gray walls under a pale-gray sky, and two solitary figures going toward each other.

“It is immaterial,” said Boris, “whether our love is tragic, the only point is the love itself. We Poles cannot help it if we are born adventurers, history is to blame for that; but adventurers need absolutely reliable companions. Are you one? Speak.”

Now he drew her firmly to him and kissed her. The great words, her great compassion, these lips that kissed her, these hands that feverishly caught at her—all this hurt her. O dear, she thought, if only this were over. “Please,” she whispered, “go now.”

Boris at once released her, stood up, and said politely, “If you wish it. But Billy, I am afraid you are still holding quite aloof from me.”

“But I won't be aloof,” cried Billy tearfully, and now her tears did actually come. Boris stood there a moment in silence, then he softly said “Good night,” and left her. Billy remained sitting on the box, clapped her hands to her face, and wept. The night-dew was dripping among the barberry bushes. Somewhere out yonder a bat was whirring through the darkness, uttering its timid and infinitely lonely cry. Billy was cold, and she was frightened too. She felt as if something were advancing in the gloom that would take her and carry her away. But what could she do?—and anyway everything was immaterial now. She belonged to Boris with his beautiful, incomprehensible pain.

She heard steps; some one stood beside her.

“Billy, are you here?” It was Marion.

“Yes, Marion.”

“Are you crying?”

“Yes, I ... I am crying.”

Marion sat down on the box at Billy's side, also feeling very much like crying. Both were silent for a time, then Marion asked,

“Was he here?”

“Yes,” replied Billy.

“And did he,” continued Marion, “did he say anything? Are you engaged?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Billy opined, “but everything is very sad just the same.”

Again the two girls sat in silence side by side. Voices were heard out in the garden, some one called, “Billy! Marion!” and then it became quiet.

“Come,” said Billy, getting up, “but we won't join the others, for I don't want to see anybody, nor do I want any tea; we'll go up to our rooms without letting anybody see us.”

Over the roof of the house the moon had risen; the garden was suddenly alight and the shadows of the trees lay sharp and black on the moonlit paths. The two girls crept past the bushes along the box-hedge; from time to time they stood still and listened toward the veranda. There the others were sitting, and Billy heard the voice of the professor, then the voice of her father.

“Death, my dear Professor,” the latter was just saying, “is incomprehensible to us for this reason, that we apply to it the standards of life. It is the same as with dreams. Apply to a dream the standards of waking, and you will never find your way in it.”

“Good heavens,” whispered Billy scornfully, “they are talking about death.” Briskly the two girls slipped into the house. Upstairs in the gable were their rooms, side by side, and they had in common a large balcony which looked out on the garden. Billy's room was bright with moonlight, hence she did not light a light. “Has it come?” she asked Marion.

“Yes,” said Marion, “today in the mail,” and she fetched out a small package. By the light of the moon the two girls opened it; it contained a white china jar with “Anadyomenite” on the lid, and in it was a white salve which had a sweet odor of roses. “Here are directions, too,” said Marion: she held up a slip in the moonlight and read, “Spread a thin coat of the salve on the face and then expose it for half an hour to a soft light, preferably the light of the full moon. The skin becomes transparent, lily-white ...”

“Good, good,” interrupted Billy, “then let's begin.”

Silently and eagerly they went to work; carefully they coated their faces with the salve before the mirror, moved chairs out on to the balcony, sat there motionless, and looked up at the moon, which hung round and yellow over the tops of the old maples facing them. Only at long intervals did one of them say something.

“You know,” remarked Billy once, “he has very long eyelashes.” “Yes,” said Marion, “and they turn up a little.” Then they were silent again.

In the avenue of maples below, Boris was restlessly walking up and down. He was smoking cigarettes and thinking. He felt himself, he saw himself today with particular strength and clearness, he the beloved, beautiful youth with the tragic, exceptional fate. This caused him a solemn excitement. But he also knew that he owed himself a significant experience. Of course Billy was a part of it, that was settled, and now he was devising plans, busily composing the destiny of the beautiful, beloved youth. Occasionally he would stand still at the end of the avenue and look up at the house, up at the balcony on which the white figures of the two girls sat motionless, their shining faces turned toward the moon.

Yonder between the flowerbeds the Princess Katakasianopulos was slowly walking up and down, very slender in her black dress, very pale in the moonlight. But then, who saw it? She too felt herself to be a precious instrument of precious experiences. But where were they, for whom these experiences were destined? At the end of the garden-walk she stopped and looked pensively out upon the white mists that rose from the meadow. Once she had lived for a month in Athens with her husband. Perhaps she was yearning for Greece. Possible. But why was Boris walking up and down alone in the avenue of maples? and why did the lieutenant stay there with the others? She seemed to herself like a festival which stands in lonely splendor, and of which all those who are to celebrate it know nothing. But from the veranda the voice of Count Hamilcar, calmly talking on, rang out into the moonlight night. He was still explaining death to the professor.

A very bright August morning rested upon Kadullen. In the house it was still quiet. Only Countess Betty was going through the sunny rooms and pulling down the shades, for the day promised to be hot. Then she went out into the garden to cut roses. At times she paused in her work and squinted into the sunshine, looked over at the gardener's boys, or followed with her eyes the kitchen-maids, coming from the truck-garden with great baskets full of vegetables. On all sides this easy-going and well-regulated life was busily stirring. That made her feel good. When our own life gently begins to incline toward its end, we must warm ourselves at the strong young life of others, keep our hands full of great cool roses, and drink in with open lips the morning scent of this garden. Some one spoke to her from the maple-avenue yonder. Ah yes, that was Moritz, going down to the lake to bathe. The poor lad. Ever since he had fallen so desperately in love with Billy, he never was out of the water, was forever on his way to the lake. The dear children, how they loved each other and caused each other pain, and how pretty it all was. Aye, life, this beloved life. Query? will anything come about between the lieutenant and Elsa. Countess Betty was going to talk to Madame Bonnechose about it; she had a very keen eye for such matters. She gathered her roses together and went into the house.

She was astonished to find Boris in the living-room as early as this. In his suit of cream-colored silk, with the carnation-red belt, he sat in a chair waiting, pale, very handsome, and a trifle solemn.

“What? Up already, my boy?” said the old lady.

“Yes,” said Boris seriously, “I got up on purpose, for I sent to ask uncle whether he would see me directly after breakfast; I must speak to him.”

Countess Betty looked at her nephew uncertainly and a little anxiously. “Oh, that's it, well, why shouldn't he see you? But—what is it? Is it about ... about—”

Boris nodded:—“Yes, about Billy.”

“Dear Boris,” said the old lady, bending her head back a little so as to look her nephew in the eyes, “must that be, just at this time? It will excite Billy so—and your uncle, and me, and us all, and we have just been so happy and so jolly together. Can't you put it off?”

But Boris grew still more solemn: “I am sorry, dear aunt, that I must disturb the contentment here. That is, I fear, the part which I am once and for all destined to play,” and he laughed bitterly; “no, I am a kill-joy, but I do what I have to.”

“Oh, oh yes,” said Countess Betty anxiously, “well in that case—perhaps ail will be well. I will go right up to see Billy, for in any case she must stay in bed for the present; I will take her breakfast to her.” Busily she hurried away, and Boris again seated himself in his chair, pale and resolute, and waited.

When Boris was called to his uncle, he found the latter in his study, sitting by the window. He was smoking his morning cigar and looking out into the courtyard. There the agricultural work of the forenoon was actively going on. In the pond horses were being watered, quite shiny in the sun. Harvest wagons rolled past, bright yellow against the blue sky. The count turned carelessly toward his nephew, nodded to him, and then immediately looked out of the window again.

“Good morning, Boris,” he said; “you wanted to speak to me: very well, be seated, please.”

When Boris had seated himself, it was quite still in the room. He had prepared so many big words to say, but here in this room before this old man, whose thoughts seemed to be so far removed from all that concerned Boris, nothing of what he had prepared now seemed to be in keeping. “Is he really only interested in the passing harvest wagons,” thought Boris, “or is he maliciously shamming!”

“How that lad yonder lies on top of the load of barley,” the count now began, “lolling for all the world like a king. He really has the feeling of ownership now, even though not a straw belongs to him. He has more feeling of ownership at this moment than I have here at my window. Remarkable, isn't it?” He turned to Boris. As he noticed the tense expression on the pale face, he raised his eyebrows a little and remarked, “Oh, I remember, you wish to speak of yourself; I am listening.” Then he again looked out of the window.

“Yes, uncle,” said Boris, and his voice sounded vexed and quarrelsome, “I wanted to tell you that I ... I love Billy.”

The count pulled at his cigar and then said slowly and with marked nasal intonation,

“Certainly, that is comprehensible. That is natural. Perhaps many another lad will have the same experience. Billy is an unusually pretty young girl, and so young men fall in love with her; that has always been the way of the world.”

“But Billy loves me, too,” Boris resolutely jerked out.

His uncle looked at him sharply out of his gray eyes; the face kept its calm, only the nose seemed to grow still whiter: “My dear Boris, in my youth we too used to fall in love with young girls, and at times we doubtless said, 'I am in love with such or such a one,' but to say, 'This young girl is madly in love with me,'—that was not considered good taste in those days.”

Boris reddened, but he felt himself regaining his assurance, a certain agreeable combativeness warmed his heart. He could actually once more curl up his lips in that sad and proud smile, of which a lady had once said to him: “That is so pretty that it must be hard not to disappoint people later on.”

“Perhaps it is not good taste,” he said, “but there are crises in life when taste no longer has restraining force; I only meant to say that Billy and I have come to an agreement. I lack taste, very well, but only because I should like to be plain.”

“Oh, that is it,” rejoined Count Hamilcar, and the cigar trembled a little in his hand, “then I too shall have to be plain. As I have always taken an interest in you, I have frequently been called upon to help you out of all the difficulties in which your recklessness, or, to express myself less plainly, your interesting disposition has involved you. Then since you know all that I know of you, you will understand that for the happiness of my daughter I have not counted on you in any respect.”

Now Boris found his eloquence again, found again all the big words that he had got ready yesterday in the maple-avenue, and he had to rise from his chair to say them.

“I know all that you have done for me, uncle. I know my failings, too. But that is not what decides in this case. Billy's love for me is undeserved good fortune. Such happiness is always undeserved. But not to stretch out my hands toward it would be suicide for me, yes sheer suicide.”

“My dear boy,” interrupted the count, “the use of the word suicide as a rhetorical device should be urgently discouraged, in the interests of good taste.”

Boris grew impassioned, and his voice rose to a high key: “I care nothing for rhetorical devices or good taste. The matter at issue is my destiny, but that would of course be immaterial, immaterial to you. But Billy is concerned, Billy gives me my right, and even if I am reckless and unworthy and a bad match and unattractive, Billy's love is my right.”

He had finished and re-seated himself in his chair. That had relieved him. The count gently stroked his white nose and retorted,

“The right to fall in love with my daughter I cannot deny you, nor the right to ask me for the hand of my daughter, but what you just said sounded rather as if you were asking me in Billy's name for your own hand.”

“I wanted to be open and loyal toward you,” replied Boris.

“Oh, did you?” remarked the count. “You call it loyal, as a guest in my house, to 'come to an agreement,' as you call it, behind my back, with my seventeen-year-old daughter.”

“It was perhaps not correct,” said Boris wearily and with a superior air, “but good gracious, when anything so powerful takes possession here in the heart and here in the head, we simply give it utterance.”

Sharply and angrily the count rejoined, “A decent man keeps to himself nine-tenths of what passes through his head and heart.”

“You wish to insult me, uncle,” and Boris smiled his handsome melancholy smile, “very well, very well. Perhaps we Poles cannot keep our heads and hearts as well in check as you Germans; but that does not prevent us from being decent.”

“It costs little, my boy,” scoffed the count, “to lay our faults at our nation's door; it cannot defend itself. Moreover ...” He stopped, for his cigar had gone out; he lit it with much ceremony, and when he began to speak again the irritation was gone from his voice, and it had once more its contemplatively nasal tone. “The discussion here is probably fruitless, we are neither of us sufficiently objective in this matter. I therefore regret having to decline your proposal.”

Boris rose and bowed formally. “Then I presume I can go,” he said.

“Yes,” replied the count, “the subject is exhausted for now. It should be added that I must beg you to terminate your visit here today.”

Boris bowed again.

“Of course in the afternoon,” added the count.

“Thank you,” said Boris, and then walked out very erect.

Count Hamilcar took a long pull at his cigar and again looked out of the window. He wished to see another harvest wagon, and a lad lying sleepily on top of it in the hot yellow straw. In the yard behind a bush Marion had been standing the whole time, looking in through his window. Now that Boris was gone, she too ran toward the house. Youth on duty, reconnoitring against old age, thought the count. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes.

He was a little weary. Of course she would come at once. As he knew his daughter, she would not let herself miss the intoxication of loyalty, of confessing, of having courage to stand before the cruel father. Goodness, how life kept distributing the same old roles over and over. Disgusting. Now the door moved. He did not open his eyes: an unspeakable sluggishness made his eyelids heavy. He heard Billy enter the room, step up close to him, and stand still before him. Then he opened his eyes and smiled a little.

“Well, my daughter?” he asked, “come, sit down beside me.”

“No, papa,” replied Billy, “I had rather stand.”

“Very well, stand.”—He too had to stand when he delivered his speech, thought Count Hamilcar. Billy stood there in her white dress, red carnations at her belt, her arms hanging down, and the hands lightly clasped. Her face was pale and her eyes very bright. She looks resolute, flitted through the count's mind, Charlotte Corday at Marat's bath-tub.

“I simply wanted to say, papa,” began Billy, “that I am for Boris, that I am on his side. Even if you insult him and send him away, I am for him, I must be.”

She spoke calmly, only drawing the red carnations out of her belt and nervously pulling them to pieces the while.

The count nodded: “Surely, child, I expected nothing else. I fear we shall not convince each other. You will always see Boris otherwise than I see him. Our points of vision are simply too different. We cannot even hold the same opinion about what you are feeling. You consider it something lasting, even something eternal, h'm? And I—something transitory. Now I could appeal to my experience and say that I have seen more things pass away than you have. But you will object that what you are living through has never been experienced before, is unique. We cannot meet anywhere. So there is nothing left for it but the old and tried rule, that I decide and you obey. I am trustee of your life, and when you begin to be your own trustee, I must hand it over to you undiminished. But to throw in this Polish cousin I should regard as an unprofitable debiting of this capital intrusted to me.”

“But I prefer to have it debited and ... and ... and all you say, but with Boris,” cried Billy, angrily throwing her carnations on the floor.

The count shrugged his shoulders slightly. “Yes, my child, in this our views differ, as I say, and for the present my view is the prevailing one.”

Billy was silent. She now let her arms hang limply, her eyes grew quite round and clear, and into them came the strangest expression of helplessness, even of fear. “Then—then—” she struggled to say, “then I don't know.”

A boundless repugnance for his paternal rôle rose in the count; was it really his function to torture this lovely creature? But when he began to speak, his voice sounded even somewhat more cool and ironical:

“Go now, my daughter. Perhaps it will afford you some peace of mind to, think that for the pain which you are now feeling not you are responsible, but I. Life is rich in such little auxiliary hypotheses, as the professor would say, and why should we not use them.”

Billy no longer heard him; her clear eyes seemed to be staring out upon something at which they wondered and which frightened them. Then she suddenly faced about and left the room.

The count passed his hand over his face. A devilish feeling, sympathy. It is really a powerful physical ailment. Then he bent down and picked up the carnations which Billy had plucked to pieces. He wished to keep them in his hand.

On this sultry day even life in Kadullen was strangely tense. Everywhere people stood together in couples and whispered with serious faces. The professor's daughters sat a little neglected on the verandah, talking together in low voices. At times Egon joined them and flirted with them in a half-hearted, absent-minded way. Billy had withdrawn to her room, whither Countess Betty carried up quantities of raspberry-juice, and Marion was incessantly racing back and forth between the garden and Billy's room, carrying messages. No one was comfortable. Lisa walked around between the flower-beds under her red parasol. This love affair, in which she was to have no part, made her restless. The lieutenant had gone partridge-shooting. Of course, she had seen that in men; when there was a decision to make, or life became difficult in other ways, they always went shooting partridges. These poor creatures seemed to exist only for the purpose of helping mankind over difficult situations in life. Now she was looking for Boris, wishing to speak with him. Who could give the lovers better counsel than she. But he was not there. They said he had gone out into the meadow. Very well, then Lisa would have a conversation with Billy. But when Marion took this message to Billy, the latter became quite violent.

“No, she is not to come. What will she say, and she'll talk about her old Greek. The affair with her Katakasianopulos is altogether different from mine. Tell her that. She can't help me; nobody can help me.” And she buried her face in the pillows and wept. Marion stood helplessly before her. “And Boris has disappeared,” continued Billy's wail; “go to Moritz, tell him to find Boris and keep watch over him and stay with him. Go quickly.” Marion rushed down the stairs again.

She found Moritz in the park, stretched out lazy and woe-begone under a tree. He blinked sleepily at Marion as she delivered her message.

“Bah, keep watch over him,” he said, “what's going to happen to him? He's all right, and for all of me he can——”

“She wants it,” said Marion.

With a sigh Moritz raised himself, took his towel, which was lying on the ground beside him, hung it over his shoulder, and struck reluctantly into the path toward the meadow.

All over the cropped meadow cobwebs were glittering on the short grass. Swallows flitted quite low over the ground. The sun beat down pitilessly.

“Incredible,” murmured Moritz, “to have to look for this Polish narcissus in such a heat. Where's he likely to be? Probably lying here somewhere.”

He did actually find Boris lying flat on his back in the grass under a willow. When Moritz came to a stop before him, Boris looked at him indifferently and said, “What do you want?”

“I,” said Moritz, “I don't really want anything, but Billy sent me to keep watch over you.”

Boris did not answer, but looked up at the sky again. So Moritz also lay down in the grass. This handsome Pole in his yellow silk suit was unspeakably distasteful to him. How he lay there, as it were heavy and satiated with the admiration of all the beautiful women that were devoted to him. Moritz could have hit him. Yet he felt a craving to be near him, for there was something of Billy where Boris was: Boris knew about her, he was the stupid, hateful, locked door, behind which stood the only thing that Moritz now desired. To sit before that door was painful, but for now this pain was simply the only occupation left to him.

“Thoughtful?” remarked Moritz at last.

“Yes,” said Boris with his lyrical inflection, “he who is not yet done with his life has much to think over.”

Moritz laughed scornfully: “H'mp, you've managed to crowd a good lot into yours already.”

“Oh, I've hardly begun yet,” said Boris sleepily.

Moritz now reflected as to what he could say, then he began, “Tell me, how was that affair in Warsaw with the dancer Zucchetti? Didn't you have a liaison with her?”

But Boris was not vexed. “How was it? Why, how should I know that now. You don't remember things like that. You might just as well ask me about the bottle of champagne I drank on the twelfth of August three years ago. I don't know.” And comfortably, as if he were lying in bed, he turned over on his stomach in the grass, to let the sun warm his back.

“All right,” Moritz continued obstinately. “But you did enough crazy things on her account, so you must have loved her.”

“If you call that love in German,” responded Boris, “then I am sorry for your poor German language.”

“Is that so?” Moritz was provoked. “Then what is Polish love?”

“Polish love,” said Boris, yawning discreetly, “Polish love is something infinitely delicate. It needs no more than a movement or a word to change it so that there can be no talk of love any more, but—well, heavens—of anything else.” Boris raised himself up a little, closed his big eyes to tiny slits, and looked dreamily over toward the forest, which drew a very black line through all the brightness over yonder. “There was once a very beautiful woman. She was a neighbor of ours. I was on very good terms with her. She was accustomed to expect me at ten o'clock at night in her park. So far good. Once I was late, and instead of ten it had got to be a quarter of eleven. So when I got there and saw she was standing under a tree and had waited for me after all, I was glad, and at that moment I really loved her very much. But when I came closer she put on a severe expression and said, 'Well, you are punctual, I must say, and it is very chivalrous, too, to keep a lady waiting so long.' That sounded so pointed and tart and common, that there was no love left at all. 'A governess talking to a belated pupil,' I thought.”

“What did you do?” asked Moritz.

“I made a bow and said, 'Madam, I only came to inform you that I shall not come today.' Well, and then I went.”

Moritz shrugged his shoulders: “I don't see anything wonderful in that. That is the sort of thing you experience in order to tell about it afterward.”

“You experience nothing and you tell nothing,” concluded Boris, and he laid his head down on the grass again and pulled his hat over his eyes.

The two young men were silent; Boris seemed to be sleeping, Moritz sat leaning up against the trunk of the willow and looked out upon the plain, over which a uniform hum could be heard, the profoundly reassured activity of a sunny work-day. This made him sad and discouraged. He had a disagreeably distinct feeling that he himself was uninteresting and commonplace. The girls fell in love with others, unusual experiences existed for others; and even his sleek, pale-blond hair, his round face, his light-blue eyes seemed to cause him woe. And suddenly a very remote recollection came to him. He must have been a very small child as he sat with his nurse in the sunny garden-corner, yonder on the West Prussian estate. The old woman was asleep, her lean face reddened by the heat, and the air was full of a uniform, sleepy sound. The great burdock leaves, heated by the sun, discharged a strong sourish odor, and the child felt it to be something that would never change. But beyond the fence, from below in the village, the laughter and cries of children reached him from time to time, the children who had experiences.

Moritz started up. “Nonsense,” he murmured, and he leaned forward and began to shake Boris. “Here, don't sleep.”

“What is it,” asked Boris, “why this brutality?”

“Come and take a swim,” said Moritz.

“Swim?” repeated Boris, opening his eyes and looking sharply and reflectively at Moritz, as if trying to read something in him. “All right, let's go swimming,” he decided.

The lake was very blue, and full of hard, gently swaying lights. Between the horse-willows and the club-reeds wild ducks floated motionless, like shining metal objects.

“Pretty,” said Boris; “to climb down into this bowl of color is rather smart, sure enough.”

“Oh,” said Moritz ironically, “so you think the lake will be becoming to you.”

“Yes, it probably will,” said Boris, beginning to undress. “I suppose you swim very well?”

“Pretty well, and you?”

“I enjoy it very much,” Boris informed him, “but it excites me; I haven't the feeling that the water is friendly to me.”

“That means in German that you swim poorly,” Moritz dryly remarked.

Boris laughed: “Your German is particularly good.”

The water was lukewarm. It's like burying yourself in warm milk, thought Moritz, as he swam slowly into the flickering light. All sadness, all “these imbecilities” were gone, only a strong, quiet feeling of life warmed his limbs. He turned over on his back, wishing to let himself be deliriously and lazily rocked by the water, like the ducks. The dragon-flies lit on his breast, water-plants tickled his flesh as with small wet fingers, over him flapped gulls with wings of pale gray, and they looked down upon him and cried shrill notes at him, which sounded like the laughter of the professor's two daughters. “Billy, Billy,” he murmured. Now he could say it without pain, it was only the expression of deepest contentment. Then he thought of Boris, and raised his head a little. The devil, was the fellow crazy, to swim out so far. Boris's head popped up over yonder between the spangles of sunlight like a dark speck, but it was not advancing; now it had disappeared, now it was there again. With vigorous strokes Moritz began to swim to the spot, and got there just in time to catch Boris by the arm; enmeshed in a net of water-lilies and water-plantains, he was just rising again, his eyes weirdly wide and black in his bluish face. Moritz towed him away, and when he got to standing depth he took him in his arms to conduct him to the shore. He spoke kindly to him:

“Water swallowed, my boy, yes, that's the dickens when you get into that mess yonder. Wait, we'll be on dry land directly.”

Boris spat out the water and struggled for breath. Once on shore, he lay down in the grass; he felt a deadly exhaustion and closed his eyes. Moritz sat beside him and looked at him. Suddenly Boris raised himself up, threw his arms about his knees, and his strangely dark eyes, still wide with fear, looked straight ahead of him.

“Sleep, why don't you?” said Moritz kindly.

“I can't,” replied Boris; “as soon as I close my eyes, I feel as if those cursed smooth stems were winding around my legs again and dragging me under. The strangest feeling. I had the thought: 'Now comes dying;' but there was no time to think it, I felt such measureless torturing rage against those stems, against the water that was pressing me down, all banded together against one—something of that sort I must have felt.” He pondered awhile in silence, the handsome face quite pale and angry, then he suddenly smiled his proud, reckless smile. “So you have saved my life, brother,” he resumed.

Moritz shrugged his shoulders. “Oh, stuff,” he said.

“Yes, you have,” continued Boris. “You are my deliverer, and I thank you. But I should like to know one thing: you hate me, don't you?”

Moritz flushed: “A lot of hate I'm likely to have for you.”

“Of course you hate me,” asseverated Boris. “Now I should like to know, when you found me there in the last extremity, whether you didn't think: 'if I just look on now I'll be rid of him.' Or didn't you for a minute feel like laying your hand on my head and pressing down just a little? Eh?”

Moritz looked at Boris in amazement: “No, nobody thinks that sort of thing.”

Boris lay back again, his hands clasped behind his neck The excitement of what he had just gone through was still quivering in him and impelling him to speak, dreamily, a little as if intoxicated. “Oh really, nobody thinks of that!—what sort of people are you?—I thought of it the moment you suggested that we go swimming; after all, we don't have the catechism in our bodies by way of a soul. Doing, yes, that's another thing, lots of things you don't do, but thinking! I like to have a deed like that come very close to me. It is just as if we were for a moment permitted to take into our hands and hold some rare object that doesn't belong to us. And then it's so gloriously exciting, this suspense: shall you do it or not? We must seek such situations; but that's all one, I am grateful to you, it was very unpleasant down there. I never thought one would feel so alone in dying, just among water-plantains and the divers, that don't care anything about it. No, death must be undertaken in common. So I am very grateful to you for saving my life.”

“Don't mention it,” said Moritz indifferently while dressing.

“Yes, very grateful,” continued Boris, “we really ought to be friends from now on, close friends, you know.”

Moritz was now fully dressed. He stood still before Boris, looked down upon him with aversion, and said, “Just on account of that little bit of water you swallowed, no thanks.” Then he went.

The noon meal was sufficiently uncomfortable. Count Hamilcar and the professor did to be sure talk eagerly on remote subjects, as if nothing had happened, but Countess Betty smiled but absent-mindedly and thought of other matters. The only sensation was that Lisa had not appeared in black today, but was wearing a mallow-colored muslin dress with old-rose ribbons. Boris, very pale, conversed with her as formally as if he had just met her.

“Reception at the Queen of Poland's,” Bob whispered to Erika. The two children were unbearable today and had to be called to order again and again. Billy's chair remained empty. She was lying half undressed on the bed in her room upstairs, her disheveled hair falling into her hot face, and she was very impatient with Marion. Again and again Marion had to repeat what Boris had said. “I want to know it absolutely word for word and you don't tell me that way.”

“Yes, I do,” asseverated Marion, “it was like this: 'Tell Billy that it is better for us not to see each other again today, and we won't take leave of each other, either; she must wait, she will have word of me, and then my fate and hers will rest entirely in her hands.'”

“He certainly didn't say 'fate,' that isn't his style at all,” complained Billy, “and then decide—what shall I decide, oh dear, it's terrible. And you say Lisa had on her light-colored muslin today, what for? and of course Boris is furious because papa insulted him.” She flung herself back and forth as in a fever. “Do pull down the shades, this afternoon sun is sad enough to make you die; and you have an expression on your face as if you knew something that I don't know. Say it, then.”

“But I don't know anything,” averred Marion whimpering.

“Bah, then go, I don't want to see anybody. Bob can come, but he's the only one; he can be as naughty as he likes here—that will cheer me up.”

But when Bob came he was not naughty, but embarrassed. Billy in her excitement was strange and uncanny to him. So Billy sent him away too.

“Go, you're a stupid, tiresome boy.”

Bob went, but in the doorway he turned around aggrieved, and remarked, “I don't understand unhappy love at all.”

Now Billy lay there and listened to the sounds that went through the rooms below her, the voices and the slamming of doors, and she waited. That was her business now. For he had said so, poor injured, insulted Boris. When she thought of the wrong that had been done him, her heart swelled with impatient desire to do something for him, to show him and the world in general that she was for him, and him alone. The summer afternoon droned at the windows, the house grew quiet, and Billy felt as if in this sleepy hour she were quite alone with her excitement in a world that would not hear of excitement or of events. So she too kept still, her eyes raised to the ceiling. It seemed as if she had lain there an endless time before the sound came at last, the sound for which she had waited. She sat up. The rumbling of a carriage which stopped in the courtyard below, voices, the banging of doors, and again the rumble of the carriage, which grew fainter and fainter, and finally slowly died away. “He is gone,” she groaned, and sank back upon her pillows. Great tears rolled down her cheeks, but an inward tension had relaxed. Some one whom we love is riding away and we weep: that is at least comprehensible, and so she cried herself to sleep.

When Billy awoke, the room was ruddy with the evening light, voices came up from the garden, she heard the twins laughing, and on the porch her father was delivering a lecture for the professor's benefit. A fresh uneasiness about life came over Billy, and she got up to look out of the window. Yes, there was Lisa walking along in her bright muslin dress and eagerly haranguing the lieutenant, who walked a little stiff-legged beside her. Poor thing, thought Billy, she wants her love affair too. But Billy felt as if there were but one love affair in the world and that one her own: all the rest was simply bungling. Discontentedly she returned to her bed; she could not join the others down there yet. Where could Marion be!

When Marion came, she had to tell her story. How did he look as he rode away? How did he take leave of father? Of course Marion had not seen the things that really counted, but she brought a message. “But absolutely word for word, please,” Billy admonished her.

“Yes, certainly, this is what he said,” reported Marion: “Come tomorrow at noon to the linden that stands outside the fence at the end of the park. There Billy shall have news. Tell Billy that she alone has the decision.”

“Oh, dear,” wailed Billy, “this horrible decision again! What does he mean? What will be at the linden?”

And the two girls sat together and whispered about this mystery; they could not stop talking about it. In the room it grew dusky, and the mystery became steadily more threatening. Billy could endure it no longer and sent Marion away:

“Go, you keep saying the same thing. Send old Lohmann to me. She's the only one of you I can stand. Have her tell her old stories.”

“Lohmann came with her little yellow face under the black cap, and the hands contracted with gout. She was an old nurse-maid, who was now spending her old age in a small chamber in the basement, by sitting at the window behind her geraniums, and eating the bread of charity. The old woman cowered down at Billy's bed and began in a lamenting voice,

“Yes, our little countess is having a hard time, everybody has a hard time, there's nothing else for it;” but Billy interrupted her irritably: “But Lohmann, is that what I sent for you for. Tell your old stories, can't you, I can pity myself.”

And Lohmann recounted the stories she had told so often, how as a tiny girl she had taken milk and cheese to town with her mother, very early in the gray morning light. In winter it was very cold and they would warm themselves in a little tavern; other market women would be sitting there too, wrapped in heavy shawls like big balls of gray, and little Lohmann was given Warmbier, that was hot beer with milk and sugar. Billy saw all that, it was what she wanted to see, the little tavern full of those balls of gray; it smelled of damp wool and an overheated stove, and outside the windows was the blue cold twilight of the winter morning. That was sad and peaceful, and far, far removed from all puzzling decisions.

“I say, Lohmann,” and Billy started up, “Warmbier would be the only thing I could take now; go and make me some.”

Toilsomely the evening drew to its close. Lohmann had prepared Warmbier, but it tasted so bad that Billy could not drink it. Countess Betty and Madame Bonnechose came and sat beside Billy's bed, looked sympathetically at her, spoke of Billy's cough, of remedies, spoke cautiously about indifferent affairs, anxious not to touch upon anything dangerous; Billy was glad when they were all gone and the night began. She wanted to try sleeping, but in the stillness and darkness life again became very threatening, and dreary too, like numbers that have to be added up. When she did have a little nap, this adding and guessing continued, and in addition to it all she was forever having something to decide, and she did not know what or how. It was perhaps one o'clock when she awoke; no, she did not care to sleep, there was no pleasure in that. Through the hangings at the window a little pale light came in. She jumped out of bed to look out of the window: the moon was shining very brightly. Quiet and wakeful stood the fruit trees in the patches of turf, and the hollyhocks in the flowerbeds, and the moonlight laid a festive touch on the silent garden. Billy wanted to be out there. She dressed hurriedly and went to Marion's room to wake her:

“Marion, and you can sleep? I have not closed an eye, come, get up.”

“I just fell asleep a little,” said Marion in excuse, “what has happened? Where must we go?”

“We must go to the currant-bushes down in the garden,” said Billy.

Marion obediently got up and dressed. By way of the narrow back stairs the two girls reached the garden. Billy drew a deep breath; that was it, the damp, sweet breath of the flowers, and this improbable light which made the sky, the garden, and the meadow with its white mists all seem so endlessly vast,—this restored to her the intoxication without which she could not live now. Here she could once more think “Boris! Boris!” and feel that queer flaming heat in her blood which gave her courage to undertake anything. In the orchard the strawberry-beds, the gooseberry and currant bushes, were gray and glittering with dew, and from the kitchen garden the pot-herbs sent over their powerful odors; on the gravel paths dreaming toads were squatting. The girls went to a currant bush and silently began to eat the cool, moist berries.

“Yes, now it is different,” remarked Billy at last.

“How so?” asked Marion in a business-like tone.

“I feel,” said Billy, “as if everything were quite easy again, as if I could decide anything. I am not a bit afraid, and it can be as tragic as it likes.”

“Tragic,” remarked Marion a trifle indistinctly, for her mouth was full of currants, “tragic is like at the theatre.”

From the other side of the bush Billy's suppressed laughter was heard: “Why Marion!” Then Billy straightened up, held a bunch high against the moon, looked at it and said impressively, “Tragic is sad, but sad like his eyes, sad but still wonderfully beautiful, more beautiful than anything that is jolly.” Then she bent her head back and let the bunch glide slowly into her open mouth, and in this action she felt wholly magnificent, wholly beautiful, wholly a part of the moonlight night.

Gradually the moonlight lost in brightness, and a gray luminosity mingled with it and displaced it, a light which looked as if it were coming through dusty window-panes.

“The morning is coming,” said Billy seriously, “come, let us go.”

“Where to?” asked Marion.

“We'll wait for the sun,” decided Billy.

The two girls went to the end of the garden, where the meadow begins, and sat down on a bench. They were a trifle pale and shivered as they huddled together, but Billy sat quite erect none the less, her eyes large and wakeful, her lips as if ready for an excited smile. She still felt all the grateful solemnity of that sadness, which was after all wonderfully beautiful. The mists on the meadow became transparent, the sky turned almost white, a magpie began to chatter in the thicket, and a crow flew through the glassy twilight, very black and heavy. A dream-world, and Billy felt that surrender which we have in dreams, for dreams give us all possible miracles even without our aid. Then came color, a string of rose-red cloudlets laid themselves on the sky, over the black tops of the forest trees there came a shower of red, and then suddenly everything was full of the commotion of a purple and golden light. “Ah, there it is,” said Billy, and the two girls stared motionless and as if stupefied at the rising sun. But as the sun rose higher, and the colors all drowned in the uniform yellow light, Billy's face again grew serious and lined with care, for here was another day with its responsibilities and decisions. “Come,” said Billy to Marion, and they again crept into the house and up into her room.

“Shall we sleep now?” asked Marion.

“How can you think of it?” replied Billy; “at twelve you must be at the linden. Come sit down beside me.” She pulled up a chair for Marion; she herself climbed into bed, but sat up, leaning against the pillows. So the two children sat together; their eyes closed at times and then they slept, but as we doze in the train, constantly starting up again in fear of missing something. In the course of the morning Countess Betty knocked twice at the door, but she was not admitted. “No, no, we are sleeping,” was the word. When Lina the chambermaid came, she was given the order for breakfast. “A whole lot,” said Billy, “tea and eggs, ham, and bread, and a whole lot, do you hear?” She had a veritable traveler's appetite.

Soon Billy became very restless. She kept asking Marion over and over if it were not time, and it was only eleven o'clock when Marion was compelled to go down to the linden. Billy sat quietly in her bed with burning cheeks and folded hands, intent upon the strange tension of the spirit within her. Yes, it was all there, her powerful desire for Boris, the painful emotion at the thought of him, the courage for all possibilities, and the fear of what now must come. But again and again she felt the strangest alienation from the Billy who was feeling and experiencing all this. The familiar noises of the house reached her; down in the garden the twins were laughing, in the corridor Madame Bonnechose was scolding a maid, and at the open window of the lower story Lohmann was singing a hymn. But the Billy of the unhappy love, who was resolved not to obey her father, who had to decide, she belonged no more to this long-familiar life. But where was Marion? Billy raised her bare arms high above her head, wrung her hands, and groaned, “Oh dear, why doesn't she come!” At last steps came softly running down the corridor, and Marion appeared, heated and breathless. The two girls said nothing; Marion mutely handed Billy a letter, sat down, and stared anxiously at her. Billy had become quite calm, and now held the letter in her hand without opening it. “How was it?” she asked.

“There by the linden,” reported Marion in a low voice, “a little Jewish boy was standing. He had very large black eyes, two tightly twisted black curls hung down over his ears, and he wore a long coat like a grown man; he brought the letter. It was awfully weird.”

“Of course it was weird,” remarked Billy, and she leaned back among her pillows and prepared to open and read her letter.

Boris wrote. There was no heading. “Tonight,” the letter read, “at about midnight, I shall be down by the linden near the park, waiting. No one must know. On one side stands everything that you have till now regarded as your life, on the other I stand—decide. If you take me, then come. If you do not come, I shall forgive you and again walk in loneliness my dark road. We shall never meet again. To approach so great a happiness and then be obliged to forsake it again, is fatal.” There was also no signature. Billy dropped the letter; she did not need to decide, she knew that she would go to him. It seemed to her as if she scarcely had a voice in this, for the other, the alien Billy, was acting, and it was she who must go down by night to the lime-tree. Billy's glance fell upon Marion, whose eyes were fixed on her in boundless expectancy. Billy smiled and shook her head a little and said, “No, I can tell you nothing.” Marion did not answer, but her eyes filled with tears. She rose and crept softly out of the room; she was very unhappy. During the whole time she had felt as if Billy's love-affair were hers too; she had shared her love for Boris, the excitements and pains, she had felt herself loved in Billy's person, and now she was suddenly thrust aside and was again simply Marion Bonnechose, who was excluded from all the destinies awaiting countesses.

But activity and life came over Billy. She rang for Lina, asked for her new muslin dress with the pink carnation figure, and called for her coral necklace; and moreover she was friendly and talkative to the chambermaid. Lina had to tell her about the forester to whom she was provisionally engaged.

The day had grown very sultry, and in the west gray-blue clouds were piled up. “We shall have a thunderstorm,” said Count Hamilcar, as he stood on the porch steps and sniffed the hot air of the garden. Countess Betty stood beside him, bending her head to one side and blinking up at the clouds. Over the garden walks Bob and Billy were chasing each other. The count followed them with his eyes, then he turned to his sister: “The emotional crisis seems to be passing off nicely,” he remarked.

Countess Betty however looked frightened. “Oh dear, Hamilcar, I don't know, this merriment is not natural; I am so afraid for the child. Madame Bonnechose thinks too ...”

“Do not worry, dear Betty,” the count interrupted her, “whatever Madame Bonnechose may think. Young people like to regard love as a force, which is elemental, irrational, but irresistible; very well, then this force must simply be opposed by another force which may also pass for elemental, for irrational and irresistible. Well, dear Betty, to represent that force is now my role.” He smiled his wry, mocking smile, and went into the house to take his afternoon nap.

Billy was tired with running. “Enough,” she cried to Bob. She brushed the hair out of her hot face and thought a moment. What should she do now?—for she must do something, something, anything but keep still and look into the darkness that lay beyond this day. When little Miss Demme went past her, she took her arm, saying, “Come, let's eat plums and talk about Mr. Post.” But during these afternoon hours, when the sun rested upon the garden like a heavy, golden sleepiness, it was hard for Billy to keep alive the fever that she now required. Finally she went to hunt up Moritz and ask him to take her rowing on the pond in the garden.

“What, you and I?” asked Moritz, somewhat astonished and blushing.

“You and I, of course,” said Billy.

That seemed to be the right thing. Billy found it soothing to stretch out in a half reclining position in the bow of the boat, and have Moritz's heated, peaceful face before her, with the blue eyes that looked at her unswervingly with satisfied devotion. The water was very black; here and there a coating of green plants lay on top of it, which scraped softly along the keel of the boat. How wearily the old willows bent over the water, and a secure, contented uneventfulness dwelt here, an uneventfulness which made Billy weak and cowardly. Why can it not go on so, she thought. As the little crucians lie motionless on the surface of the water in the sunshine, only stirring their fins a little from time to time, just to feel they are alive,—that must feel good. But suddenly she had a recollection that was like a prick of conscience. She felt as if she were neglecting or betraying something. She started up.

“Row to shore,” she commanded. Moritz looked up in astonishment. “Yes, yes, to shore,” repeated Billy impatiently. And once on shore, when Moritz lifted her out of the boat, Billy felt that she must do something which would contradict the aristocratic calm of this quiet pond, the little crucians, and the old willows, something which would slap it in the face, and she bent forward and kissed Moritz. “But Billy, I don't understand,” stammered Moritz, turning a deep red, but Billy had gone.

The evening came, with tea on the porch. As the moon rose late, the garden lay there in profound darkness; the wall of clouds had risen higher in the sky, while the western sky was still covered with stars. At times the blue gleam of a lightning flash flicked across the garden, and a sudden gust shook at the trees, so that one could hear the fruit falling upon the turf in all directions. On the porch only the red tips of the burning cigars were visible, and the voices of the speakers took on something soft and reassured, as if they were trying to attune themselves to the dying sounds that were straying through the night.

Lisa was sitting beside the lieutenant and speaking of Greece. “You see, Marathon, what did Marathon use to be to me? A date, 490, I believe, but on that evening, with the evening glow falling across the plain, it sounds improbable, but I said to—to Katakasianopulos, I said, 'Katakasianopulos, I feel Miltiades here.'”

“Certainly, very remarkable,” said the lieutenant. He was now so passionately fond of hunting that he went out every day to shoot partridge; in the evenings he was very tired and could follow the conversation but feebly.

The professor was again talking with Count Hamilcar about dreams. “A dream is for us a reality like any other,” he opined.

“Yes,” rejoined the count somewhat indistinctly, for he did not remove his cigar from his mouth in speaking, “only a reality which we always cross out again on awaking. Those are experiences which we always throw into the wastebasket again.”

“Good, very good,” the professor continued eagerly, “but we do the same thing in our so-called waking life. When I awake, I look upon the dream with my waking eyes, and then it seems unreal to me; but these waking eyes are simply not focused for dreams. And then it is this way with all experiences: I firmly believe what I am experiencing at one moment, and the next moment I look back upon it and it seems to me unreal and false and I strike it out. So, if you please, the sky is now for me a great, beautiful hall, in which the many tiny shining lights are standing side by side and twinkling at each other in the pretty summer night. That is real: what is it to me that I may perhaps look at it tomorrow through a telescope, that is through an eye which was not intended for me, and find that it then looks very different. Look, a shooting-star. When the Lithuanians see a shooting-star, they say, 'Some one is going to see his girl.' Certainly, at this moment that shooting-star is for me somebody going to see his girl. That is my 'experience.' But, if you please, tomorrow I shall assuredly strike it out and think of asteroids or such things; but that doesn't prevent it for today from being for me some one going to see his girl, if you please.”

All had looked up at the sky and seen the star, which glided hurriedly through the darkness, passing other stars in a wide curve, as if trying to shun them, hastily and secretly.

“That striking out,” remarked Count Hamilcar, “if we could only do it just when we wished.”

Billy was still looking up at the stars. That about the star going to see his girl had suddenly restored to her the whole joyful impatience of her love-affair, and she felt as if she were one of that great secret company of those who are hastening here on earth silently and hurriedly through the night to meet their beloved.

Upstairs in her room Billy kissed Marion and said, “Tonight let us sleep, and sleep soundly. But Marion, don't look so at me, as if I had died.”

Marion tried to say something, but then stole anxiously and in silence from the room.

“Lina,” Betty directed the chambermaid, “tomorrow I wish to sleep late, and no one, do you hear?—no one must disturb me.”

Left alone, she began to walk up and down quietly and busily. She changed her clothes, putting on a brown cloth dress, put on her hat, wrapped herself in her rain-coat, took her umbrella, wrote on a slip of paper “I am with him” and laid it on her dressing-table, and then sat there like a traveler in a station waiting for her train. Outside it thundered at intervals. Downstairs in the sleeping house the old familiar voices of the clocks called to each other through the silent rooms.

Billy softly descended into the garden by way of the back stairs. Heavy clouds hung in the sky. Tonight the whole world was full of voices and sounds; a gust struck the trees and made them murmur with excitement. Withered leaves chased with a rustle along the path before Billy. Somewhere a window-shutter creaked, a branch groaned. It was as if an Event were straying through the gloom and waking the sleeping garden. Billy went very quickly, as quickly as in her childhood, when she had wished to pass through the dark living-room to the brightly lighted nursery. A flash darted across the sky and snatched the darkness, like a black coverlet, from the pond, from the willows pensively bending over the reeds, from the water-lilies lying quietly in all the blackness; but all this seemed as strange to Billy as if she had never seen it. She hastened farther, thinking and feeling but one thing: to be there by the lime-tree with him—there was security, there the storm would have been weathered. As she issued from the park, another flash illumined the landscape, and she saw a black figure, the pointed hood of the rain-coat drawn over the head, leaning against the trunk of the lime-tree.

“Boris!” Billy cried out.

“Hush,” answered Boris, “come.” He laid her arm in his and drew her away with him. They walked over a damp meadow, then along a field of barley, where a corncrake rattled excitedly as if giving a signal.

“Where are we going?” asked Billy in a low voice.

Boris stopped. “You ask?” he said; “if you are afraid, I will lead you back. I will lead you to the house, you may be sure; there is still time.”

“And you?” asked Billy hesitatingly.

“Ah, I!” replied Boris, and that sounded so sorrowful, so infinitely lonely, that Billy was again thrilled by that painful admiring compassion, which made her quite defenseless against Boris.

“No, no,” she cried, “let us go.”

They now crossed a piece of swampy land which was white with cotton-grass and softly smacked under their tread.

“That sounds,” remarked Billy, “like the kisses chambermaids talk about,” and she laughed at it. She felt strongly the need of laughing, of saying something jolly. Beyond the swamp the woods began. Boris stopped now and then to get his bearings in the darkness; he whistled once softly, and a whistle answered. At last they came on the forest road to a carriage; a man stood there—Billy saw this for an instant in the gleam of a flash of lightning, then again profound gloom. Boris spoke in an undertone with somebody; they were talking of the thunder-storm and bad roads. She heard horses rattle their harness, then Boris pushed her into the carriage, climbed in himself, slammed the door, and the conveyance slowly got in motion on the uneven forest-road.

[Illustration: THE GOSSIPS.] Friedrich Wahlte

The carriage was cramped and dark, the raised windows rattled softly, and beyond them lay the woods and the night like curtains of black velvet. At times lightning flashes abruptly cast a bluish light into this darkness. It began to rain heavily; a loud, uniform rushing sound enveloped the riding couple, and the drops drummed on the roof of the carriage and beat against the window-panes. Boris heaved a sigh, a deep sigh of contentment and relief. He drew Billy to him, pressed her tightly to him so that it almost pained her, and even shook her slightly.

“That's what I like, that's what I like!” he whispered. His voice no longer sounded tragic, but boyish and exuberant. And then he grew concerned: “But you are cold, of course; I have provided a cloak, I have provided everything.” He wrapped her in a great silk cloak which smelled faintly of musk. “That feels good, doesn't it?—that is the cloak of old Mrs. von Worsky. My friend Ladislas gave it to me; you know he lives there on the border in Padony with his old mother: a good lad! He has done much for us; he knows everybody there on the border, he has smoothed our paths for us, and perhaps we shall see him before the night is done. Is the cloak warm?”

“Yes,” said Billy, “but it smells of Madame Bonnechose.”

Boris was vexed. “Curse it! It must not smell of Madame Bonnechose; nothing must smell of your home. That is gone, dropped out of sight.”

“Across the border, you say?” asked Billy.

Boris's voice again took on a tortured accent as he replied, “Why—I don't know, don't ask me now—of course there's nothing else for you to do, everything will come out all right, but now we won't think at all. This is what I have longed for, this is what I had to have—I should have died if I had not had it—to sit here like this with you, close, close, and about us it is all quite dark and black; everything is gone, is blotted out, the stupid world beats on the carriage and cannot get in, and you and I are quite alone and have nothing to do but to be together. Do you feel that? Tell me.” And again he pressed her tightly to him and shook her slightly.

“Yes, I think so,” answered Billy, “but talk some more, talk some more like that.”

“Why, what is our whole life for,” pursued Boris, “but for such moments as these, when we can forget everything. Isn't it this for which we toil, for which we humble ourselves and borrow money, so that for a short time all burdens drop from us and we feel one thing and think one thing: Billy!” He kissed her very firmly on the lips. “You feel, don't you, everything dropping from you and becoming quite pale and unsubstantial, the tiresome garden at home, and Joseph with the dinner-bell, and the tea with bread and butter, and that Billy in the white dress, who could do nothing and have no thoughts? All that is unreal? and there is only one reality, and that is I. Tell me, do you feel that?”

Billy leaned her head against Boris's shoulder and closed her eyes. Certainly, all that was very far away, the garden, her room with the drawn curtains, the sleeping Marion, the old familiar voices of the clocks in the quiet rooms—all strange and unreal, as if it did not belong to her. But the carriage here with its cramped space and its darkness, the rushing of the rain, the rattle of the windowpanes, were they real? were the hands real that seized, pressed, and shook her as if she no longer belonged to herself, as if she belonged to another, the lips which were hotly pressed to hers, and this voice which spoke softly and passionately into the darkness? And she herself, who was she, with a body and a blood in which a strange fever was venturing forth. She felt the Billy that she had known and believed in melting away within her, and it seemed as if something which had heretofore held her were releasing her, and now she was drifting along and everything was immaterial, for after all that did not belong to her, that burning and fever which it was now her sole business to attend to and obey. Now they were both silent. The rain seemed to be growing heavier, and with ever increasing frequency the hasty light of the lightning flashes flickered across the black forest. The carriage only progressed with difficulty, shaking and rocking. A great weariness made Billy's limbs heavy, as if they did not belong to her, and imperceptibly she passed over into a dream-state, into that torturing somnolescence of first sleep in which the dream-figures approach us so importunately. It was the face of her father that suddenly rose before Billy, close before her, so close that the long white nose touched Billy's nose like something cold, and in the stern iron-gray eyes little golden points were moving, as always when he was angry. And she heard him speak in the calm, slightly nasal voice: “Yes, if this striking out were always possible,” he was saying. A loud peal of thunder made Billy start up; she did not know where she was, only something heavy and sad was burdening her. She was cold. Boris too had been startled awake beside her, and as if in fear he put out his hand toward her.

“We have been sleeping,” he said, “no, we can't do that, for if we do all sorts of things will come back, and above all the morning will come—that cursed light, how that creeps up on us.” They huddled together shivering. “It ought never to be day again, we ought to die now, oughtn't we?—in a lightning flash: suddenly a powerful blue radiance and then again this lovely warm darkness.”

Suddenly the carriage stopped. Boris let down the window and stuck out his head. Through the falling streams of rain a yellow light blinked; a dog barked furiously. “What is up?” cried Boris. Then he impatiently opened the carriage door and jumped out. Billy heard him talking excitedly; a growling male voice answered him, then another voice interposed, high and strident, with the amused ring of social intercourse, as if a gentleman were laughing at his own joke in the midst of a quadrille. Billy, left alone, was frightened, afraid of the darkness, of the voices outside, of what would happen and what she had done—the simple, painful fear of the little girl with a bad conscience. Boris opened the carriage door again. “Come,” said he, “we must get out, this fellow refuses to drive farther; they say the road is impossible, a bridge is smashed, and I don't know what all.” He helped Billy out of the carriage and led her through the puddles of water up some rickety steps.

“Careful, everything is rotten here.” Again the high, strident voice was speaking.

They entered a hall which smelled of smoke and onions, and thence a living-room in which they were met by heavy, over-heated air. It was light here, for two candles were burning on a table with a white cloth, and at one side over a small bar hung a smoking kerosene lamp. Billy blinked blindly at the light; the room seemed to be full of people. Some one took off her cloak, and the strident voice said, “Your eyes must first become accustomed to the splendor of Wolf's salon, Countess.”

“Sit down, sit down,” cried Boris, and thrust her across to the great black sofa which stood before the covered table.

Now Billy began to distinguish the figures in the room. There was a tall Jew with a black beard and flaming brown eyes; he was smiling quite sweetly. Children in their shirts crowded into the half-open door, and very large eyes, dark as balls of onyx, looked fixedly over at Billy from under tangled black hair. Behind the counter sat a Jewess, the false wig of red-brown hair pulled a little too far down on her forehead; her yellow, regular face and elongated brown eyes expressed a rigid, proud patience. Beside Boris stood a gentleman in riding-dress, wearing spurs on his boots; his fine, sharp-cut face was laughing, showing very white teeth under a small moustache, which sat on his upper lip like two inky black commas.

“My friend Ladislas Worsky,” said Boris introducing him, “that is a friend for you! He rode over here in all this weather only to see us and warn us against some bridge or other.”

Again Ladislas showed his white teeth. “Oh,” said he, “that is the merit of my old saddle-mare: she finds the way in all weathers and the blackest darkness, perhaps because she only has one eye. But, friend Wolf, on with the samovar and whatever else you have. Let your 'youthful blessings' withdraw, and make things a little cosy here; and Mother Wolf, assume a more amiable expression. Boris, old fellow, no dejection! Let us sit down to our souper.”

And he seated himself at the table, bent over toward Billy, looked at her with his shining eyes attentively and a trifle impudently, and began to converse, cheerful and polite, as if he were sitting in a salon.

Souper, oh well, what goes by that name; the delicacies of our friend Wolf we have no use for. Eggs at most: they are not penetrated by the Old Testament. And so I permitted myself to coax a cold chicken in secret from our old housekeeper at home and bring it with me.”

He unwrapped the chicken from a paper, laid it on the plate, and began to carve it, very neatly and correctly; a trifle too dainty and then again too flourishing were the motions of the white hands with the many sparkling rings. He spoke the while without ceasing of the weather, of the road, of the Jew Wolf, and Billy answered as if he were a young gentleman who was making his first visit and whom she had to receive.

“This piece, Countess, if you please,” he said, laying a chicken-wing on Billy's plate; “this is a Spanish fowl: my mother is interested in special breeds. But Boris, you are not saying anything, tu n'es pas en train, mon vieux, you are wrong, brother. You have every reason to be of good cheer, a tremendous lot of reason,” and he bowed slightly toward Billy, “but we'll manage that all right. Wolf, come here with some of your sinful champagne. You know, our friend Wolf always has champagne on tap, and uses it to bring happiness by secret routes to the barbarians beyond the border.”

Billy could not eat; the blue-and-white plates, the knives and forks, the tablecloth, were all repugnant to her. Yonder behind the counter the Jewess was still sitting, her yellow, regular face unmoved; the almond eyes looked at Billy indifferently, proudly, and patiently, seeming to say, “I endure you because I must.” These eyes tortured Billy, she felt as if she had never been so looked at. She forced herself to look away from those eyes, and to listen to Ladislas Worsky, who continued his conversation with ardor. Now he was speaking of literature:

“Bourget, oh yes, of course very fine, but he tries to analyze the female heart, like sticking butterflies on pins, but that is just the one thing in this world that cannot be analyzed. You do not know Bourget, Countess? Ah yes, young German ladies do not read novels, they read nothing but Schiller. Well, your Schiller ...”

Billy was grateful to him for thus entertaining her, for the hyper-elegance of his movements, for the white cuffs which he kept incessantly pulling out of his coat-sleeves, and for the slender, feminine, beringed hands. All this put something familiar, something homelike into this alien, hostile environment. Billy answered, laughed a little, endeavored to act as if she were sitting on the porch at Kadullen, even imitated a little the lady-of-the-world manners of her sister Lisa. The champagne was brought.

“There, a different expression, if you please, brother,” cried Ladislas to Boris, pouring out the wine. “But he is always that way,” turning to Billy, “je connais mon Boris. If something alters his program, his good humor is gone: he always used to spoil half of every Sunday for us with his bad humor, only because the next day was Monday. Well, that couldn't be helped. In our senior year we had a comrade named Andreijsky, you remember, Boris, a mad, merry fellow. All of a sudden he shoots himself. Why! There was talk of sickness and such things. No, I know he shot himself because the vacation was over, simply because the vacation was over, for he hated school like sin. Boris is just like that too.”

“I beg your pardon,” remarked Boris.

“There, there,” said Ladislas, “don't be vexed, brother, you have no cause for it. Tomorrow morning the bridge will be fixed again, and here you are in safety, in the most charming society, the happiest of men: so let us clink glasses, to your health, Countess! to the fulfilment of all wishes!”

They clinked glasses. Boris smiled faintly, and that stimulated Ladislas. “That's right, old boy. You see, Countess, I am such a harmless fellow that when I see somebody else happy it is like an intoxication to me. I never experience anything, but I feel as if this were my adventure, as if you and I, well, all one—” He sprang up from his chair, seized his glass, and began to sing:

               Champagne, when thou dost
               Set our blood whirling, etc.

He sang in a pleasant baritone and with theatrical flourishes. The Jew cried “bravo” and clapped softly. The swarm of Jewish children again appeared in the doorway, and looked into the room out of large, piercing eyes. Boris and Billy listened smiling, and only the face of the Jewess remained impassive, looking with weary scorn at the three yonder by the table.

The light-hearted strains of Mozart's melody filled the room as it were with something splendid and precious. Boris rocked lightly on his chair, beat time on the table with his fingers, and when Ladislas had finished he nodded and said, “Yes, yes, brother, that was the right choice.”

“Don't you say so?” cried Ladislas. He was so overjoyed at the effect of his song that he embraced Boris and kissed him on both cheeks. Then he again sat down at the table and filled the glasses. “Permit me, Countess,” he said, “to kiss your hand: I am so happy to be permitted to share this happiness here.”

Boris laughed a little compassionately. “That was always your forte, my good Ladislas. Sharing. Do you remember how you were forbidden wine for a time as a student, and still were always drunk on your soda-water sooner than we on our wine, out of sheer sympathy? You were born to be happy by proxy.”

“Bravo,” cried Ladislas, “un mot charmant. You are beginning to be witty again, thank heaven, and you have every reason to,—any one that stands like you on the high end of the see-saw, nor stands alone—quite the contrary.”

Boris grew serious again. “All very well, but perhaps we must talk business a little, after all.”

But Ladislas was outraged. “Mercy, brother! Why should we talk business! Why should we bore the Countess that way? And what is to be said?—everything is arranged, and everything will go smoothly; no, I know something better, we'll have a little game, here are some cards, I brought them with me. You play, Countess, do you not? Any game at all.”

No, Billy played no games, but she would look on; she begged the gentlemen to play. She leaned back against the sofa, the over-heated air and the wine making her head heavy, making her sleepy and quiet; Ladislas' “everything will go smoothly” rang agreeably in her ears. Of course, if only she could sleep now.

“Then a bit of écarté,” said Ladislas, shuffling the cards. “You see, Countess, I am very fond of cards. Why? Because card-games are symbolic. Cut, Boris, please.”

Billy could not help it, she put her hand to her mouth and yawned.

“You are weary, child,” said Boris, “lie down a while.”

“To be sure,” cried Ladislas, “everything has been provided for.” He jumped up and opened the door to a side room: “At your pleasure. But first, Countess, permit me to take leave of you: I shall ride away again at once, for I must be at home early, so that my mother shall find no traces of my nocturnal adventure.” He kissed Billy's hand: “I thank you, Countess, for the happiness of these hours.” There was so much feeling in his words that Billy was almost touched.

In the side room a candle was burning dimly on a commode. White and gilt china vases stood there full of paper roses, and on the wall hung a Jewish kissing-tablet. But most of the space in the room was taken up by two enormous beds, on which mountains of feather-beds towered high in red cotton cases.

“Yes, lie down,” said Boris, brushing his hand across Billy's hair, “Oh Billy, if you would feel as I do.”

“Why do you say that I don't,” answered Billy a trifle vexed, “that is unkind.”

“No, no, I am not unkind,” said Boris, “sleep now, I must discuss a number of things with Ladislas.”

Billy lay down on the bed and Boris went out. She heard the two young men talking outside; at first they seemed to be playing cards, then they whispered eagerly in the Polish language, rapidly and with many hissing sounds. Billy closed her eyes and lay there motionless, wishing to sleep, but it seemed to her as if something stood beside her, something threatening that was trying to steal up on her, and it seemed as if she must wake, as if she must be on her guard. Again she opened her eyes: the candle-flame was lightly stirred by a draught, somewhere in the house a child was whimpering,—a soft, unspeakably mournful sound,—and round about her lay the red feather-beds with their disagreeable voluptuous swellings, exhaling a sweetish odor of dust. They cast great shadows on the wall, and the round soft shapes quivered gently. Billy shook in boundless disgust: why was she here, what had she to do here? Ah yes, she loved Boris, that was it. Well, how had that been?—could she not feel it again, that hot sensation of compassion and longing which changed everything in her, gave her courage for all possibilities, and made the utterly impossible a matter of course. Even for that she was too tired now. She wanted to sleep now—somewhere where it would be quiet and secure and clean. She closed her eyes again, so as not to see this room, and tried to think of home, but these thoughts also gave her no rest, but pained her. So she wished to think of something quite peaceful, something that could make no reproaches: of the furniture in the sun-parlor, standing in the darkness under their white cotton covers, or of the great bouquets of flowers which were withering there in the vases, and showering their petals on the table with a very soft rustle. Yes, she would think of those, only of those things.

Yet she must have slept a little after all, for as she now started up it seemed to her as if she had been away somewhere where she was quite safe and where she heard familiar voices, and now she was again falling abruptly into this alien dream. It was still here, this room with the stuffy air, the walls with the gently quivering shadows, and the soft red cushions sat round about her waiting, as if they were still present and must be continued in her dreams. And then some one else stood there before the bed, quite motionless. It was Boris, but he too strangely alien and uncanny. The flickering light of the candle sent shadows driving across his face, and it seemed as if it were being distorted and only the dark specks of eyes were unswervingly fixed on her. Weary and discouraged Billy leaned back on the pillows and closed her eyes.

“What has happened,” she said quite softly.

“Nothing has happened,” answered Boris similarly.

“Is he gone?” queried Billy further.

“Yes, Ladislas is gone.”

“Why do you stand there so?”

When Boris did not answer, Billy repeated the question in a whimpering, wailing tone. Then she heard him sink down beside the bed. He flung his arms about her, she felt his face lying cold and heavy on her breast, and felt a strange quiver shake his body, as if he were weeping.

“Didn't you say everything would be all right?” said Billy, and again her voice sounded tearful and vexed. “Why don't you speak? I don't know anything, I thought I must be with you, and that is why I went with you. Didn't you say everything would be all right?”

Boris clung more tightly to Billy's arm and pulled himself up; the upper part of his body rested on her, his face quite close to hers, and now he kissed her with dry hungry lips.

“Yes,” he whispered, “everything will be well if you but wish it so. But I am so terribly afraid of one thing ...”

“You are afraid too,” replied Billy dully, “well, then—”

“No, listen,” continued Boris, and his whispers became strangely hot and passionate, “if you but will. I am afraid of tomorrow, when it grows gray and bright and we must do something and must be burdened with care, and people will come and everything will be so ugly, the others and we, and our love,—O Billy, I have never been able to endure the first morning after such a happiness—”

“Why, we can't help the morning's coming,” said Billy, still in her vexed tone.

“Oh yes, we can,” said Boris breathless with emotion, and his hands closed around Billy's shoulders so tightly that it hurt her. “We are together, aren't we?—and we can be so happy, so happy, that we shall not wish to see another morning. That we can do. You will see. Come, you and I, and then nothing but dying will be endurable.” He stammered this, bent down quite close to her, his face pale and ominous, and his hands pulling feverishly at Billy's dress.

“Why, how can we die?” responded Billy wearily.

“How—is all one,” answered Boris impatiently, “you will see, we cannot go on living then.”

Billy opened her eyes and looked at Boris keenly and anxiously. “Have you that terrible little revolver that you showed me in the garden at home, and that you said was your friend?” she asked.

“Yes, yes, but why speak of it,” replied Boris impatiently, “we are thinking only of ourselves now, of our happiness. Will you, tell me! We are together, each beside the other, and there is nothing here but us, and we had rather die than let anything else come near us.”

Billy raised herself a trifle, and pushed Boris's hands, which were ardently passing over her body, away from her like something irksome. Her eyes grew wide and bright with fear, but her lips quivered as in a mocking and slightly contemptuous smile: “Be happy—here among these ugly red cushions. Oh, please leave me now. You—you are like the rest of the things here, I am afraid of you too!”

Boris released Billy and raised himself up. Now he knelt beside the bed, dropped his arms limply, and gnawed at his under lip. His face wore an expression of grieved disappointment. Billy again leaned back on the pillows, turned her face to the wall, and closed her eyes. Motionless she lay there like a frightened child and listened intently for the slightest sound.

Boris was silent for a time, but once he said, “Why Billy,” and this was once more the voice she knew; something in it breathed upon her like the odorous exhalation of the garden at home, and the Boris she knew and the Billy she knew, and their love—all this was present again for a moment. She felt like turning around, but she only closed her eyes the tighter, knowing that if she opened them everything would be gone in spite of herself. She heard herself say, with a sullen, superior air, “Die?—no, certainly not. If that is all you can think of!”

Boris was silent again, and Billy waited in anxious suspense. Then she heard him get up, take a few steps, murmuring to himself, “Well, that's another thing, nothing to be done,” and then walked slowly and hesitatingly from the room. She could hear that he merely pulled the door to, and that he walked up and down in the adjoining room, stood still, poured something into a glass, and then walked up and down again. She listened attentively to the soft, restless creaking of those steps, listening with that agonizing wakefulness with which we follow something that threatens us, that is about to attack us. For this sound grew strangely expressive. Billy thought she could hear in it quick, angry words, a voice that discontentedly muttered abusive epithets to itself. Then when the rhythm of this voice changed, Billy held her breath with agitation. “Now he is walking on tiptoe,” she thought, “now he is approaching the door.” Boris cautiously reentered the room and stood still at the foot of the bed. She heard distinctly the faint clink of the charm on his watch-chain, then came utter stillness. Billy did not budge, but waited with the resignation we feel in dreams, upon which we unconsciously base the hope that waking will come and free us from the events of the dream.

Boris began to speak in a hollow, weary voice: “Of course you are not asleep. You are trying to deceive me. Do not let me disturb you, I pray! I never ask a second time. Either people understand me or they do not. You do not understand me: very well, very well, it is always the same story. You women never do understand.” He paused and it was strange enough to see how the girlish face with the closed eyes and the tightly clenched lips flushed and paled. “All that surprises me,” continued Boris, “is that you came here at all. To be proper, we do not need to come here. Yes, but that is always the way: we think that together we stand on a very high plane, high above everything small and foolish; we think that the great moment is coming now, for which we have been waiting a lifetime; and then it comes to naught again, one is alone after all, and you, you have stayed down below there in the world of—of—Madame Bonnechose.”

He was silent again, and Billy thought: “Was he laughing then?” There had been something in his voice that sounded like that. She pressed her eyelids more tightly together; not for the world would she have seen that sad and proud smile of which she had always been afraid, even at moments when she loved Boris most ardently. Boris took a few steps, then stood still again: “Only load myself with responsibility, and have nothing for it?—no thanks! Out of what could have been very beautiful and great you make something ugly and silly. That's a game I won't play. I don't understand being ridiculous, we Poles have no talent for that.” Again he paced awhile, again he waited; yes, he was waiting, Billy knew he was, but not for a moment did the thought come to her that she might open her eyes, speak to him, or call him back: she had but one idea, to lie quite still and not move, then perhaps this too would pass. Boris was now at the door; she heard the soft creaking of the rusty hinges, and on the threshold he stopped to say in a voice that sounded strangely alien and altered, the voice of a man who is all alone somewhere or other, and who is speaking to himself sadly and hopelessly, “No, not that, I am so tired of having nothing but misunderstandings to live for.” He went out and pulled the door to again, and Billy heard him stride to and fro in the adjoining room, and then fling himself on the old cracking sofa.

The thunderstorm was over, and a fine rain trickled down quietly and evenly, beating quite gently on the window-panes. Billy still lay there very quietly. Why should she move? Why should she open her eyes? Round about her was nothing that belonged to her, nothing that partook of her, nothing that she felt to be Life. A feeling of aloneness, never before experienced, took physical hold upon her, something that made her ill, that chilled her.

Boris had spoken in his strangely altered voice of being happy and dying. These words she had heard once before, at home among the currant bushes, but there it had had a different sound, there it had sounded sad and sultry and sweet; she had understood it there, and it seemed to her to be something possible and easy, if Boris wished it. But to die—here, that was incomprehensible and repulsive like everything else here: for that was just the result of this terribly puzzling feeling of loneliness which was icily creeping over her. She must lie here, and life was infinitely far away; she saw it like a spot quite yellow with sunshine, quite gay with autumn flowers, and familiar figures were passing through this sunshine: before the wash-house knelt the washwoman with her white apron, at the bed of carnations knelt the gardener with his yellow straw hat, and under the pear-tree stood her father, drawing the scent of the early pears and the plums into his long white nose.

Billy saw this, felt it, smelt it, and yet all of it was living without her: or rather, she herself was there, and she could see herself, also her love was there, Boris, and everything, but she could not cross over to join herself there. Billy raised herself, her eyes wide open, her mouth very red against the white face, and about her lips the resolute, obstinate lines which they were wont to assume when Billy felt that she must have something for which she longed.

She climbed softly out of the bed, crept to the unclosed door and peeped through the crack. Boris was lying asleep on the sofa. His tangled hair hung down on his forehead, and his pale face wore the grief-stricken and at the same time helpless expression with which sound sleep overspreads a face. On the table stood the champagne bottle and a half-emptied glass. The candle had burned very low, and the only sound in the room was a faint moaning that issued from Boris's half-open mouth, wailing and then changing to short, high-pitched, and as it were mocking sounds. Billy cautiously pulled the door shut. Then she bustled about, took her cloak and hat, went to the window, and opened it. The draught put out the candle; outside it still seemed dark, the rain was whispering in the gloom, the great pines were rustling, a deep, loud rustle, a glorious untrammeled breath from a breast of infinite capacity, and Billy too had to breathe, quite deeply, before she swung herself upon the window-sill and jumped out.

The wind drove the rain into her face and took her breath. One moment she stood there, bending forward slightly, like one who stands in the ocean waiting for a wave to break over him. Then she ran into the darkness with firm, obstinate steps. On the wet road lay a dull, dead light. Billy followed it. Water leaped up against her legs with a splash when she stepped into the puddles, and from her hat tiny cold rivulets trickled down inside the collar of her cloak. Everything was against her, everything that whispered, gurgled, snickered, and murmured round about her, was hostile. It was frightful, and she was frightened, but she had expected nothing else and she simply had to advance. And in doing so she found in herself something that she had never known there before, she found in herself the agitating feeling of angry watchfulness and as it were sullen curiosity, which are of the essence of courage. Thinking was impossible, she merely had to be on her guard. So she rushed on. The road now grew dark. The great pines murmured about her quite near at hand, and at times a wet branch struck at her or tried to catch her, whereupon she would thrust it from her fiercely and pugnaciously. A vast, dreamy resignation toward the lurking Unknown made her almost apathetic. At the same time it was queer enough that through all this time an image stood before her, trying to be felt and seen. She saw herself clearly as if she were walking by her own side: the slender figure in the brown rain-coat, the wet hat on her head, bending forward slightly and running along the unfamiliar black roads as resistlessly and unconsciously as a bullet hurled by a powerful hand, forward over the roots that treacherously placed themselves in her way, under the branches that tried to hold her fast and drenched her with water, past great dusky birds that whirred across the road, sending terrifying, wailing notes into the night. But that had to be, life outside the garden-gates of Kadullen was like that, and only thus could you fight your way back to those garden-gates. And it seemed to Billy as if she could feel that here in the gloomy world about her many such solitary figures were running down black roads, quickly, quickly. She felt so strongly the presence of these nocturnal comrades that they were uncanny and yet a trifle consoling to her. The road grew steadily clearer and more shiny, trees and bushes now stood out distinctly in a gray light, night-ravens flapped their wings: day was coming. But Billy did not look up. Though it was frightful to dream this dream, yet she was afraid to wake out of it. She knew that if she did, this fever of courage and of thoughtless resignation would forsake her, and that she would then have no strength left. Her head bowed low over the road, she rushed on; now she was in the midst of a white mist, then again she would be walking on moss like red and green velvet. It had grown remarkably still about her; rain and wind must have ceased. Suddenly she was walking all bathed in a ruddy light. She felt this light like something that causes pain, and she narrowed her eyes and bowed her head lower. Gradually the light became golden, there was a flaming radiance and flicker everywhere, and a humming began in the air, and a rustling in the moss. Billy felt how a busy life had awakened about her, and she walked faster: it was like a race with this Day, that was advancing so calmly and wakefully in all his glory.

How long Billy had walked this way she did not know, but it seemed an interminable time. The sun was already high in a pure blue sky and beat down pitilessly. Billy felt as if she must be carrying a very warm burden along with her, and moreover her feet grew so heavy, moving slowly and mechanically like things that did not belong to her; they were indifferent to her like everything else about her, and for her own feeling she was some strange thing that was being laboriously driven forward through the sunshine. Then suddenly, in a small forest clearing, she sank down on a mossy knoll in the glaring sun. It was delicious to stretch out her legs, to lay her back against the warm huckleberry bushes. There could be nothing nicer in life. Around the clearing stood young firs and pines, as shiny as metal, and so motionless that the drops which still hung here and there on their needles seemed frozen. Everything was motionless under this yellow light, the grass-blades, the moss-blossoms, and the little blue butterflies, and a bumble-bee crawled into the bell of a bennet and hung there as if enchanted. In the thicket a fox drew near, his head lowered to sniff the ground, and suddenly he too stood still without stirring a muscle and stared into space, his eyes transparent as green glass, spell-bound by the overpowering silence of the hour.

Billy sat there, and on her too was the burden of this motionlessness which was so soothing, this delicious intoxication of light, of silence, and of all the hot odors which the leaves, the pine-needles, and the great sun-basking mushrooms exhaled. She too stared into space, feeling how her eyes also grew as glassy bright as the eyes of yonder fox, and how everything in her merely existed to drink in the sunlit stillness. Now the cry of the jay rang out excitedly, as if he would waken some one whether or no. The fox was gone, and Billy also started up; then she leaned back, lifted her arms, stretched herself, and screwed up her face as if to cry. Something very beautiful was over. Painfully she got up: what was the use, she must go on in any case.

A wide forest road, covered with short grass, led her through a young fir-nursery, and when the road took a turn, a bit of heath lay before Billy, in the midst of which stood some cottages, standing there with their golden-brown timbers and silver-gray roofs like tiny, gleaming caskets on the red-blooming heath. Over there a cow was lowing in long-drawn, sleepy tones; a cock crowed; smoke rose straight from the chimney into the sky. Billy stopped short; all this moved her so powerfully, she did not know why; her eyes grew moist, and yet she could not but smile. She went straight toward the house; a low lattice fence inclosed a garden which Billy entered through the half open gate. Long beds of vegetables, gooseberry bushes. Here and there blue flowering chicory and dark red poppies laid flaming spots of color on the uniform brightness of the midday light. Beehives stood around everywhere. Before one of these a man was kneeling, busied with the bees. Billy went up to him; doubtless he heard the gravel crunch under her feet, and he raised his head: a small old face, looking as if it had been compressed in an upward direction, gazed at Billy calmly out of dull, very light blue eyes.

“Good morning,” said Billy.

“Good morning,” answered the man, holding his hands out cautiously before him, for they were thickly covered with bees as with golden-yellow velvet gloves. As Billy said nothing, he turned to his hive again.

“Am I far from Kadullen?” Billy began again.

“Three hours' walk,” answered the man without looking up.

Again both were silent. The strong scent of the potherbs in the garden-beds, the sourish smell of the honey, the faint buzzing of the bees, all this enveloped Billy like boundless, delicious indolence. “To rest here,” thought she.

“May I sit here?” she asked, pointing to a wheelbarrow which lay upturned on the gravel path. The old man merely nodded, as he cautiously stripped the bees from his hands, and Billy sat down, stretched out her feet, let her arms hang heavily, and sighed deeply: this was all she needed. Oh, it wasn't so hard to live, after all.

“You're the young lady at Kadullen?” the old man finally said again, “I often go there with honey. S'pose you're wet, hey?”

“Yes.”

“S'pose you've been out in the rain during the night, and now I s'pose you want to go home?”

Yes, Billy wanted to go home. The old man took off his straw hat and thoughtfully rubbed his hand over his bald, shiny pate. “We could hitch up,” he said. Then he turned toward the other side and cried, “Lina!” Over there before the little stable a red cow was standing, and in front of her squatted a girl in a blue linen dress, milking her. The girl got up slowly and a little laboriously, stood there a moment, screwed up her face at the sunlight, looked crossly over at Billy, and wiped her big red hands on her white apron.

“Come on,” said the old man.

So Lina came slowly along the vegetable beds; on the big, stout body perched a small head, with a puffy-cheeked, very heated childish face under a heavy mass of oily brown hair. She still kept her hands on her apron, as if wishing to conceal the fact that she was pregnant. She stopped short before Billy and asked ill-humoredly, “What is it, father?”

“Take the young lady in with you,” said the father, “put some dry clothes on her, and give her something to eat; afterward, young lady, we'll drive on.”

Lina turned and strode toward the house.

Billy got up to follow her, when the old man looked slyly at the two with a sidelong glance, pointed at his daughter with his thumb and said, “She's lost her good name too.” Lina looked back at Billy, passed the back of her hand across her eyes, and smiled faintly.

The living room into which Billy was conducted must have been freshly calcimined, for it seemed so surprisingly, glaringly white. The sunshine was so strangely heavy and honey-yellow as it rested on the red and white chintz covers of the furniture and the pine boards of the floor. Then, too, there was an eager, loud medley of bird-voices trying to outsing each other, for all over the ceiling and at the window hung canaries in cages; there were perhaps ten or twelve, and the little creatures, excited by the light, trilled as if they were intoxicated by their own singing.

“Oh, the birds,” said Billy surprised.

“Them!” said Lina peevishly, “they yelp all daylong.”

Billy had to sit down on the sofa, and Lina began to undress her. She drew off her shoes, then her stockings. “The little feet,” she murmured, “I can hold one of 'em in my hand like a little bird.” She was quite absorbed in her task, and talked to herself like a child playing quietly in a corner with its doll. “The lovely underwear, and wet through and through, and we have a skin like silk, there, there, and now comes the shirt, brand new it is, I made it for my wedding.”

“For your wedding!” asked Billy, who obeyed mechanically the big, careful hands.

“The wedding, well, that's all up now anyhow,” said Lina, bustling back and forth between her chests and Billy. “There, this dress here, it's a bit tight for me, for the young lady it'll be all right. Nope, it's too big after all, we'll have to pin it together,” and the two girls began to laugh at the loose dress, quite loudly, quite helplessly. Lina sat down, slapped her knees, and held her sides. The canaries tried to outsing the laughter of the girls. Now Billy was ready. She asked for a mirror, surveyed herself attentively, then put away the mirror satisfied and said, “Very good, your clothes are as soothing as smelling-salts.”

Lina went out to prepare something to eat, and Billy leaned back on the sofa and closed her eyes. Yes, she really felt as if she had put away with her clothes the cares and unrest of the former Billy. With the dotted blue and white linen dress, with the big collar and the coarse shirt that scratched her skin, it seemed as if she had imbibed something of the carefree, almost shameless peacefulness with which Lina had lazily and indolently moved her body, distorted by motherhood, along the vegetable beds of the garden.

Now Lina brought milk, a shiny, brown loaf, and a great deal of honey. Billy began to eat; at first with ravenous hunger, then slowly with enjoyment, almost with devotion: she could not remember ever having had anything taste so good to her.

When she was satisfied, she rested her arms heavily on the table. In these unwonted clothes she had an impulse to go through motions which were otherwise never characteristic of her, which perhaps were Lina's. Her cheeks were flushed again, her eyes shining, and impatience for life warmed her blood. Lina sat facing her, her hands laid flat on her knees, and looked at her steadily and patiently out of her small blue eyes.

“I think,” remarked Billy, “we will go and see the cow, the chickens, and the bees now.”

That was it: in this comical blue dress she felt like going about the farm outside; yes, she was convinced that she would be able to walk along between the vegetable beds quite as lazily and cheerfully as Lina. But when she stood up she felt that her legs were stiff and pained her.

“Oh, no, let us stay here,” she said, “and let us talk instead.”

But the calm of the big, heated girl facing her made her impatient. Could one not poke up this calm, as the child Billy had poked up the small, quiet ant-hills, so that they immediately teemed with excited life. “Are you not afraid?” asked Billy suddenly.

“Afraid?” answered Lina, “why? Oh, I see, you mean about that; naw, what is there to be afraid of?”

“But some die of it,” Billy went on probing.

Lina drew the back of her hand across her eyes and smiled faintly. “Yes, some die.” The two girls were silent for a time, listening to the clamor of the canaries. Then Lina began to ask in her deep, somewhat singing voice, “And yours is gone too?”

Billy blushed. “Yes, gone,” she murmured uncertainly.

Lina sighed. “Yes,” she said, “men are a cross, they always go away. That's what happens to all of us.”

Billy was silent, but it was like security and peace to her, this “us” which placed her in the ranks of the girls who with calmness and strength take the burden of life upon them.

The rumble of a wagon was heard outside. Immediately thereafter the old man appeared in the door with a whip in his hand, saying, “We can start now, young lady.” Billy had to put on a very large yellow straw hat, and then they drove away.

The little wagon rattled violently, the heavy white horse trotted along imperturbably, patiently shaking off the gadflies that circled about him. The little bells fastened to his harness tinkled a sleepily monotonous tune. For a time the wagon continued to roll through the fir nursery as between quiet blue walls, then the forest came to an end, and the high road was before them and broad fields. Over all of it lay a hot, pale yellow dust-film. The countryside seemed to Billy so awesomely bare. “We see no people,” she said.

The old man began to laugh softly and long. “'Cause it's Sunday. Ah yes, when we go walking by night we don't know what day it is any more, but that's the way with girls; Lina's got that far too.”

“Can't he marry her?” asked Billy timidly.

The old man struck angrily at his white horse. “Marry? Marry who? Where is the man to marry? Where is our handsome machinist at the saw-mill? 'Cause he's got yellow cat's-eyes, they all run after him. Anna at the watermill has come to it too now. Ye-ep, you can't stop it; soon as spring comes, the young hussies are out o' nights, as restless as the bees before a thunderstorm, and you can beat 'em, you can tie 'em, but in a jiffy—off they put. Now at this time o' year it don't happen so often,” added the old man with a sidelong glance at Billy.

She smiled. “Yes,” she thought, “in a spring night, when we grow as restless as the bees before a thunderstorm, then maybe there is this Being-happy and this Dying, that Boris was talking about, but there”—she shrank and shuddered: she did not even wish to think of it, she still had a long ride before her, and later she would think it all over. Good, good, but no thinking now, just listen to the sleepy tinkle of the little bells.

Gradually however the region became more familiar, here and there stood a farmer in Sunday coat among his fields, whose face Billy recalled, and finally Kadullen rose in the distance between the great trees of the park; a cool green spot in the sun-yellow land.

Billy drew herself up; she suddenly became quite wakeful; it was almost torturing, how abruptly all her dream world fell away from her and the former Billy was present once more with the responsibility for what she had done, with the fear and shame before all those people yonder. She saw distinctly Marion's eyes, Aunt Betty's helpless little face, and her father's severe white nose. They had probably found the slip of paper she had left behind. She tried to think what was on it. “I am with him.” Lord, how stupid that sounded! And now they were coming closer and closer to the house. If only she could get to her room unnoticed by way of the little staircase: no one would recognize her in Lina's clothes, and once upstairs in her room she would lock the door and let nobody in and sleep—sleep. Perhaps that would take some burden from her; perhaps when she then awoke everything would be different, everything better.

“Oh please,” she said, “we'll stop at the little gate in the park wall over there.”

The old man nodded indifferently, turned into the side road, and stopped before the small gate in the park wall. When Billy had got out, she stood still a moment and said hesitantly: “I suppose I must pay.”

“'s all right,” answered the old man with a bad grace, “I'm going to deliver some honey in the courtyard anyway.”

“But not right away,” pleaded Billy.

“I know, I know the game,” murmured the old man, “needn't tell me.”

Billy disappeared behind the gate. Cautiously she hurried up the little paths: everything was silent and unpeopled, and the house stood there as if asleep, with lowered blinds. Cautiously Billy approached the back stairs. From the windows of the servants' quarters resounded the long-drawn notes of a hymn: the servants were having their Sunday worship. Before the washhouse stood the washwoman, putting her hand to her eyes and looking out into the sunshine. Where had Billy just seen that? Oh yes, over yonder in her dream. Now she softly ran up the stairs, now she was in her room. Here too everything had waited for her unchanged, and the familiar scent of the room, the familiar light, all moved her so deeply that tears streamed down her face without effort or pain. She locked the door, hastily pulled off her clothes, and crept into her bed. Tears and sleep she craved, nothing else. Then when she awoke, simply to belong again to all this that had waited here for her so unchanged, so quietly and proudly.

Strange enough was the Sunday that had broken upon Kadullen. The news of Billy's return home spread quickly. The washwoman had told the butler, the butler reported it to Countess Betty, and then the old beekeeper came into the servants' room and told his story. He was taken to the Count and there cross-examined; but to no avail, for the affair remained as incompréhensible as before. Why had she gone away? What had happened? Marion was sent up to Billy's room, but reported that Billy would admit no one and wished to sleep. Full of trouble Countess Betty and Madame Bonnechose sat on the garden-steps beside Lisa, who had stretched herself out on a reclining chair, for she felt very weak from all these excitements. The two old ladies were silent: what should they say?—they no longer understood la chère jeunesse. Only Madame Bonnechose murmured from time to time, “C'est incomprehensible.” Countess Betty nodded, but Lisa would smile dreamily and say, “Understand?—Oh, I can understand it all.”

Mais chère little Lisa, dites-nous donc, ce que vous savez,” urged Madame Bonnechose.

Lisa shook her head. “There are things which we understand and yet for which there are no words. When I stood on the plain of Marathon with Katakasianopulos that time, it seemed to me as if I distinctly understood all the pain that was to come upon us, but express it—that I could not have done.”

“Ah, dear child,” said Countess Betty dejectedly, “that will not help us now.”

Marion came and reported once more that in Billy's room everything was quite still.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” sighed Countess Betty; she could not calmly sit still, so she rose and went over to see her brother.

Count Hamilcar lay in his room on the sofa; he was keeping his eyes shut, his face was strangely sallow, and the features seemed sharper and more pointed than usual. When his sister came to a stop before him, he opened his eyes and looked at her with a glance which had the indifference of a man who to be sure surveys us, but whose thoughts and dreams are very far from us.

“Still no certainty,” said Countess Betty whimperingly. “She admits nobody, saying she wants to sleep.”

“Let her sleep,” answered the count.

“Yes, but she might let us in,” wailed the old lady further, “what is all this? all these affairs? the whole house is whispering. The Professor's family will leave today and carry the story all over the country, and you, Hamilcar, you don't say anything either.”

The count raised himself slightly. “No, Betty,” he said, “I say nothing, because I know nothing. We cannot prevent others from talking, but we ought not to speak until there is need for it. Let the child sleep, then she shall tell you everything, and then, Betty, I shall say my say too. Will it soon be time for breakfast?”

“Oh, Hamilcar,” replied Countess Betty intimidated, “you surely won't come to breakfast, you are so unstrung.”

The count laid his finger along his nose and said sharply, “I shall come, and I hope it will be on time as usual. Also I did not hear you sing a hymn: did you not have the accustomed worship?”

“No, we were so excited, you see,” the old lady excused herself, but the count was dissatisfied.

“You are wrong, Betty, have your worship as you do every Sunday; but if I may request it, no reference to these happenings in the Bible reading or in the prayer, just ordinary devotions. It is not our fault that something has come in here which does not belong to us, but there is no reason why we should surrender to it: we insist on our way, and that ends it.”

Wearily the count leaned back and shut his eyes; his sister looked at him with alarm. “What ails you, Hamilcar?” she asked, “you are so pale.”

The count motioned impatiently with his hand. “I shall manage,” he said, “circulation and heart-beat simply won't listen to us, and the only trouble is that they are forever meddling with our affairs. There is an error here in the contract that we call our life. But for the rest, it is old age, Betty, just that, and that is after all comprehensible.”

Countess Betty softly left the room, and outside she said to Madame Bonnechose, much troubled, “Chère amie, my brother requires of us that we have devotions; there is nothing to be done, so please call the chamber-maids and the butler, ô ma chère, il est terriblement philosophe.

Life at Kadullen did not surrender; there were devotions, Count Hamilcar appeared at breakfast, pale and weary, but his conversation with the Professor did not falter. They spoke of the yellow race, and, as if even that were not sufficiently remote, of the Bismarck Archipelago. Embarrassed silence burdened the remaining company. Egon's and Moritz's places were vacant, for at the news of Billy's disappearance they had ridden away and were not back yet. Lisa rejected all food, and looked out and away over the heads of the breakfasters with her beautiful eyes. “Today Lisa is altogether in 'Marathon,'“ Bob whispered to Erika. Even Mr. Post and Miss Demme wore a serious, even somewhat proudly repellent mien. Mr. Post had said to Miss Demme before breakfast, “It is plain to see that this so-called aristocratic culture cannot hold its ground: there is much that is rotten at the core after all.” Whereupon Miss Demme, shaking her short curls, had answered, “There is simply a lack of inward freedom.”

After breakfast the professorial family drove away, taking a hasty and over-affectionate farewell. Countess Betty had tears in her eyes.

“I felt,” she said later, “as if Billy had died and they had just paid a visit of condolence.”

Then came the afternoon hours with the steady brightness of the mid-summer day, with the quiet flaming of the bright colors in the garden-beds, the Sunday lack of happenings, the troubled sitting-together-and-waiting.

“Oh dear, if you only know what you were waiting for,” sighed Countess Betty.

But upstairs behind the locked door lay the poor puzzle, and before the door stood Marion, her head leaning against it, her eyes too large for the small yellow face.

Once the quiet was disturbed by the hurrying hoof-beats of a horse; a rider galloped into the courtyard, dismounted and carried a letter in to Count Hamilcar, then rode away again, and once more Sunday stillness rested on the house.

“Now what is this new thing,” wailed Countess Betty, “Hamilcar doesn't say anything either; every one sits like a sphinx, guarding his own secret.”

And Lisa in her reclining chair said, lost in thought, “Even when they go and leave us they have something that pleads for help, as if they were trying to tell us: help me against myself.”

Qui? monsieur Boris?” asked Madame Bonnechose.

“No,” replied Lisa, “Katakasianopulos.”

Ah, ma chère, maintenant il ne s'agit pas de monsieur de Katakasianopulos,” said Madame Bonnechose with vexation.

At last after dinner, when the sun was already shining red above the rim of the forest, the news spread, “Marion is in Billy's room.”

Billy had slept very soundly. Now she was lying on her bed, her hands clasped behind her neck, her cheeks reddened, her eyes wonderfully bright. She looked searchingly up at Marion, who stood before her and gazed anxiously at her.

“First of all,” said Billy, “don't look at me as if I had died. You have eyes that can look at a person as if he were a spider.”

—“Oh Billy, that is only because you are so wonderfully beautiful this minute.”

Billy smiled a little: “Oh well, that may be so; sit down and tell your story.—So you found the slip?”

“Yes.”

“Of course you took it to Auntie and your mother?”

“Yes.”

“What did they say?”

“Mama said, 'la pauvre petite, elle est perdue.'”

“Ah, she said perdue. Do go on.” Marion was ready to cry. “Why, I don't know; Auntie went in to see your father. Your cousins rode away to look for you, and Moritz said, 'If I only had that Pole in reach of my pistol.' I made camomile tea for Auntie and Mama.”

“Marion, Marion,” Billy interrupted, “you're not much on story-telling.”

“No,” said Marion, “you know you are to do the telling.”

Billy grew serious: “Oh, I see, that is what they sent you here for; very well. Pull down the shades and sit down by the window and don't look at me.” She shut her eyes and her face took on a tortured expression. “I went away in the night, you know; I had to. And it was quite easy. I could not let him go away alone and insulted, I should have died for pity. And then we rode, and it rained and lightened, and finally we couldn't go any farther. We went into a little inn: one of Boris's friends was there, and an old Jew, and a Jewess sat there without moving and looked at me as people sometimes look at us in frightful dreams. Then we ate something and drank champagne, Boris's friend sang and the two men played cards; but that was when it began, everything grew different then, and quite sad, and I didn't understand any more why I was there. I went into the adjoining room and lay down on the bed. Everything smelled of dust and very bad perfume; there were terrible red cushions, a child cried somewhere, and everything was horribly ugly and sad. I never thought anything could be so ugly. Boris came in. He was quite strange too. Here among the barberries he had talked before about being happy and dying, but there, there it sounded awful. And he was angry and went out and I pretended to sleep. Tell me, Marion, could you love and be tragic, or be happy and die, when one of the fat green caterpillars that we are so afraid of falls on top of you and crawls over you and you can't pull it off you and it keeps on crawling over you? See, that is the way everything was there, everything. When all was still and Boris was sleeping, I jumped out of the window and ran and ran.”

“Don't you love him any more?” asked a timid voice from the window-niche.

Billy was silent a moment, then she cried passionately, “Marion, don't ask such questions. Yes, probably—of course I shall love him again, here. But I will not talk about it any more, and they are not to torment me. Go, tell them what you like, but for today I wish to be left in peace. Auntie can come and sit beside my bed, but she mustn't ask me anything, or mustn't talk about disagreeable things; she can tell about her youth if she likes.”

Billy turned her face to the wall, and Marion stole softly out of the room.

Twilight was already falling when Countess Betty timidly entered her brother's room. Count Hamilcar was sitting on his sofa, somewhat shrunken, and was looking out of the window. “Well, Betty,” he said without looking up.

[Illustration: LITTLE CURIOSITY] Jules Exter

The old lady stood still before him, supporting herself by her hands on the back of a chair; the pale face of her brother alarmed her, it looked so unapproachably angry, as if he were looking down at something he despised there outside the window.

“Well?” he said again.

“She has told Marion about it,” began Countess Betty, and she narrated in a low, faltering voice, with something queerly helpless in it. “The poor child,” she finished, “all alone in the night, what she suffered, the wicked fellow! What do you say, Hamilcar?”

“I?” he said, turning toward his sister. His words issued now with extreme clearness, sharp and nasal. “I say, Betty: What sort of beings are we rearing here?—why, they cannot live. Why, we simply cannot intrust to them the thing that we call life. A housemaid who steals out to the stable-boy and lets him seduce her knows what she is after; but what we are bringing up is little intoxicated ghosts that tremble with longing to haunt the outside world and cannot breathe when they get out there. That is what we are rearing, Betty.”

“I do not understand you, Hamilcar,” said the old lady, who had grown quite pale, “she is a child, she does not know, she will forget, the others will forget, everything will come out all right. God has shielded her.”

A faint flush rose into the count's pale face, and a powerful agitation made him a trifle breathless: “Our interesting gentleman has seen to it that she will not forget it, he has seen to it that this ridiculous tragedy will cling to the girl like an ugly sickness. He has deemed it proper to shoot himself yonder in the Jew's tavern—here.”

He held out to his sister a piece of paper which he had been holding in his fist all the time, and which he had crumpled into a little round ball. Countess Betty took this little ball; mechanically she unfolded the paper with trembling fingers, smoothed it out, and tried to read. There were a few lines from Ladislas Worsky announcing Boris's death. Inclosed was a little slip on which Boris had written, “To Billy. Then I shall go alone. Boris.”

Countess Betty let the paper drop on her knee and looked into space vacantly, almost blankly, and only when the count now burst into an angry laugh did she start up in terrible affright.

“That is a departure for you, eh?” he said, and now he spoke quickly and pantingly: “These are the people that spend their lives in standing like actors before the mirror and practising gestures for their audience. I love—how does that become me? I am unhappy, I die—how does that look, what will the others say to that? Death and life—a question of attire, and a pretty girl that loves us is also simply a part of our toilet, like a gardenia that we put into our button-hole: and we are bringing up our girls to be gardenias for such worthless fops. And then they call it Love; with that word they are fed and made drunk. A pretty estate this love and life and dying have reached, if they have come to be affairs for the nursery and for fops.” He broke off, for his agitation took his breath. He leaned back wearily and shut his eyes. Countess Betty wept quietly into her handkerchief. After a pause the count began again in his quiet, slow way, “Do not cry, Betty, I lost my temper, excuse me.”

Countess Betty lifted her tear-wet face to him and said beseechingly, “But she must not find it out today.”

Count Hamilcar shrugged his shoulders—“Today or tomorrow, that belongs to her and to us once and for all.”

Countess Betty rose, dried her eyes, and said, “How pale you are, Hamilcar, you ought to go to bed.”

Again the count smiled his restrained, kind smile: “Yes, Betty, I shall go to bed. In all our distress this expedient is always left to us.”

Again Billy had slept deeply and soundly. It must have been about midnight when she awoke; she felt rested and wakeful, and was hungry. Throughout the day she had crossly refused all food, now she reflected that she must eat. She resolved to go down to the housekeeper, Miss Runtze, and get something from her. Softly, so as not to waken Marion, she dressed and went down to the lower floor to knock at the housekeeper's door. It took Miss Runtze a long time to understand who was knocking, and when she did she was greatly alarmed. “Oh dear, Countess Billy! what is it? another misfortune? you want something to eat? Yes, yes, that's what comes when you won't eat anything all day.”

Scolding softly to herself she preceded Billy into the pantry. There some cold chicken and a little Madeira were found. Billy began to eat ravenously. As she took the glass and sipped the Madeira with puckered lips, she blinked over the brim of the glass at the housekeeper, who stood before her, the large face, heated from sleeping, closely framed by the white night-cap, the corners of the mouth drawn down severely and disapprovingly.

“Well, Runtze, what do you say to all this?” asked Billy.

“I was very sorry for it,” answered the housekeeper coldly and formally.

“Why?”

Runtze turned to the wooden frame on which the sausages hung, and began to stroke one of them gently with her hand. “Why, it's this way,” she said, “a countess must be like an almond that I have soaked well in hot water and slip out of its skin, beautiful and white.”

Billy had once more bent over her chicken-wing. “Oh, that is it,” she said as she ate, “but Bonnechose says, cette pauvre Runtze has had her own romance and her own unhappy love-affair.”

The corners of the housekeeper's mouth were drawn down still lower and more tartly. “In our station all sorts of things can happen: we love for a while and then again we don't and are at peace. But with our mistresses it is different. If there is a hole in the cover of the old sofa down in my room, I don't care, and some time when I have time I mend it; but the company rooms upstairs must be spick and span, and that's what I look out for every morning.”

“I believe he was a miller?” asked Billy in a businesslike tone.

“Yes, a miller.”

“Fair-haired?”

“No, red-haired.”

Billy, her hunger now appeased, leaned back in her chair. “Oh, red-haired, that's very pretty sometimes, and his face powdered with flour and the red hair with it. But I am done now.” She stood up. “I thank you, Runtze, your meal was very good.”

“That is the main thing,” said the woman, “you are in love, and then again you are not, but you always have to eat.”

Billy went out, but she did not feel like going back up to her room, which was so full of terrifying dreams. She walked down the corridor to the outside door which led into the garden. It was the hour at which she had been accustomed to go about of late anyway. Even to herself she seemed ghostly and uncanny. But the garden was delicious, homelike. A bit of a moon and very bright stars were in the sky. The mist had advanced from the meadow into the garden. It was creeping over the patches of turf and the beds. The flowers looked black, standing in the white mists. A very intense joy warmed Billy's heart as she found that this familiar reality had waited here for her and that she once more belonged to all this. She walked along the gravel paths, she passed her hand over the dew-laden tops of the roses and dahlias, she ate some of the currants, she stood under the barberry bushes and breathed in the moist, earthy smell that rose out of the old box there. But as she walked thus, a more powerful agitation came over her. All these spots spoke of Boris; she saw him and felt him again, and longing for him again made her wretched and sick. Slowly she had returned to the house, now she stood before the quietly sleepy garden-facade, saw Boris standing on the porch again, or coming down the garden-paths and looking into the evening sun with his dreamy eyes, and she again heard him speaking in his solemn, singing voice of the pain suffered for the mother-country. How could she go on living without all that? Suddenly it struck her that a kind of noiseless unrest was going through the sleeping house. There was light at Lisa's window, and behind the shades Lisa's shadow moved back and forth. Billy recognized distinctly the figure in the long nightdress, her loose hair hanging down her back. “Why doesn't she sleep,” she thought, “why is she walking around?—after all it's my love-affair, not hers.” But Aunt Betty's window next door was also lit up. And there was the shadow of Aunt Betty's big nightcap, too, and beside it another big nightcap. How the two nightcaps gently moved toward each other, swaying and quivering. Why weren't they sleeping, all of them? Was it on her account? And there on the other side, light there too, and behind the shades another shadow walking restlessly to and fro. Now the shadow approached the window, the shade was raised, the window opened, and Billy saw her father lean out: his hands tore open the shirt at his breast, and in the scanty moonlight his face seemed quite white, only the open mouth and eyes laying black shadows on it. So he stood there, drinking in the night air greedily and anxiously. Billy retreated behind the box-hedge. She was shivering with fear. Good heavens, what ailed them all! Was it not as if she had died and were now stealing about the house as a spirit, to see how all of them were mourning for her in there. Cautiously keeping to the shadows, she walked over to the avenue of maples. She felt impelled to look up from there at her balcony and the window of her room. On the bench facing her window some one was sitting asleep, his head drooping on his breast. It was Moritz. Billy stood still before him. The good lad, he had sat here and looked up at her window; the thought gave her the feeling of a delicious, warm shelter. Moritz grew restless, opened his eyes, and looked at her.

“Ah, you, Billy,” he said, as if he had expected her.

Billy smiled at him. “Have you been sitting here, Moritz, to look up at my window?”

“Yes,” answered Moritz crossly.

“That is nice,” said Billy. She sat down on the bench beside him and leaned slightly against his arm. “Do you still love me?”

“Yes,” said Moritz in the same cross tone, “but why should that matter to you?”

“Oh,” said Billy plaintively, “it is very important, for I feel as if I had died, and when a person is very much loved, then ... then I think he comes to life again.”

Moritz was silent a moment, and when he began to speak a great agitation made his voice hesitant and awkward. “Oh Billy, if I could help you.”

“How can you, Moritz?” answered Billy, and he could hear from her voice that she was weeping. “I—I—am longing so terribly for Boris.” The arm against which Billy was leaning trembled slightly; it was as if its muscles tightened.

“That—” hissed Moritz between clenched teeth, “you must not think of him ... how could he do that to you ... he had no right to die ... and not die that way, even if life had been twice as loathsome to him ... a man who loves doesn't do such a thing; that was base.”

For a moment it grew quite still. Moritz merely felt the girlish body lean a little more heavily on him. At last Billy began, and it sounded like the faint wail of a child: “Is he dead?”

“What, Billy, you didn't know—”

“Yes I did, I knew it, I feel now that I knew it all the time—and even over there when I came away from him.” She was silent a while, and it grew so still that they heard the night-dew trickling through the leaves. Suddenly Billy raised herself, stood before Moritz white and erect, brushed the hair from her forehead, while the moonlight rested on her face, which seemed queerly pale and calm, and said in almost a matter-of-fact tone, “Will you come along, Moritz?”

“Where to, Billy!”

“I must go to him, you can see that; I left him once before. He can't stay there alone in that terrible room. The Jewess is looking at him and the children are standing in the door. No, I will not forsake him again; but alone through the forest again—please, Moritz, come along.” She swayed slightly, propped herself on Moritz's shoulder, and then sank down quietly and heavily before him.—

Billy had been sick for a long time. Now it was a sunny September afternoon, and she was for the first time permitted to go out into the garden. On the patch of turf under the pear-tree Billy sat wrapped in shawls, her face haggard and transparently pale, and in her eyes the lazily relishing glance of the convalescent, who likes to let his eyes rest a long time upon objects. On the other grass-plot Lisa was lying in her reclining chair, and Madame Bonnechose sat beside her, knitting a red child's stocking. Countess Betty and Marion never stopped running along between the rows of dahlias to and from the house and the grass-plots. Count Hamilcar was taking his afternoon stroll. He walked slowly down the garden-path, leaning heavily on his cane; from time to time he stopped, sniffed the scent of the ripe fruit, the flowers, and the fading leaves, and put on a stern, angry face, for he was indeed vexed. Here lay these two beautiful creatures now, blighted by life, crumpled up, attacked from ambush. Why? Why this barbarity? Why this waste? He drew up his gray eyebrows discontentedly and blinked out at the fringe of forest which lay far away in a violet haze. Was it not perhaps a misunderstanding, his misunderstanding, this charming culture that he had carefully erected like a fence about himself and his dear ones? Could one learn how to live here? As he passed Lisa, he heard her say in her elegiac fashion,

“I do not believe that Billy can understand a great pain, or that she can enjoy it, for we must be able to enjoy even our pain.”

“Enjoy, ma chère, quelle idée,” said Madame Bonnechose, without looking up from her knitting.

The count passed on and came to a stop before Billy. “Well, how are you?” he asked a little sternly.

Billy flushed. “Thank you, papa, well. I wanted to tell you something.”

“Oh, you did.” The count sat down on a garden-chair facing his daughter and looked attentively at her.

“I wanted to ask you,” began Billy, looking up into the pear-tree, “I wanted to ask you if you have forgiven me.”

“Yes, certainly,” the count slowly replied, as if he had been given a problem to solve. “When we pardon some one, we wish by doing so to help him get over something he has experienced or done. In this case, of course, that is my liveliest wish.”

Billy leaned her head back satisfied, and gently moved it to and fro on her pillow as fever-patients are wont to do. “When we are sick,” she said, “time goes faster, I think; what went before the sickness lies so far away. It seems to me as if I had done so much during this time of sickness, and especially I have walked a great deal, always walking, always on the way, and always such wonderfully strange roads. I don't remember much of it all, I only know one thing: I was walking along a yellow country road and ahead of me some one was walking, and somebody ahead of her, and so on; there were many figures, and they were all wearing my brown rain-coat and my muslin dress with the pink carnation figure, in fact they were all Billys, and I knew the point was for me to catch up with the Billy that was ahead of me. That seemed very important to me.”

“H'm,” remarked the count, “an interesting dream. Those are our mirrored images that become emancipated in our dreams. And now,” he smiled at his daughter, “now you think you have caught that other Billy.”

Billy still kept looking up at the pear-tree, and gently rocked her head. “Now I am quite happy,” she said meditatively, “but perhaps I ought not to be. Lisa says that any one who has a great grief should stand before it like a soldier on guard.”

Count Hamilcar angrily thrust out his underlip and said sharply, “To stand before one's follies like a soldier on guard is certainly not commendable.”

Billy did not seem to hear him. She still kept on dreamily talking to the little golden-yellow pears that hung over her: “And to be faithless, to be faithless is so terribly villainous.”

The count bent forward, lifted his extended index finger in the sunshine, and said slowly and impressively, “My daughter, provision is made that we shall not be faithless, but remain true, to our sad or foolish experiences. They run after us in any case. Perhaps we are continually changing, and that is well. But the score always remains the same. To come back to your remarkable dream, when the one Billy has successfully caught the other Billy, you can be sure that the old Billy gives all the burdens she has had to carry to the new one to take with her. That is and must be so.”

“All—for ever,” said Billy under her breath, and she looked at her father with a glance of such helpless fear that he dropped his eyes, for a keen compassion caused him almost physical pain.

“Well, well,” he rejoined, “when there are as many Billys as you have before you, there cannot fail to be many pleasant things to take along.”

“Yes, don't you think lots of good things must still come?” cried Billy. The count looked up in surprise. He saw that Billy had raised her arms and clasped her hands over her head, and she was smiling a wonderfully expectant smile.

“Oh, that's it,” he murmured, “why, then, in that case—” He rose, brushed Billy's cheeks hastily with two fingers, and slowly walked back up the garden-path. Not much need for consolation in that quarter. This child was far ahead of him in her faith in life; there was nothing further for him to say. He sat down on the bench at the edge of the meadow, wishing to sun himself. How they loved life, these poor children, and how they trusted it! Yes, and life wants that: to be loved, so as to be cruel. Perhaps a good method, always supposing there is a purpose in it. He gently passed his hand over brow and eyes: if only sympathy were not so exhausting, always to share the lives of others, although—to be sure, three-fourths of our life lies somewhere in the lives of others. If we cannot share that, only one-fourth is left to us, and that is too little for intoxication, that is almost abstemiousness. Oh, very well, abstemiousness generally results in comprehension, only in this case comprehension is not so simple. He squeezed his eyelids together as if wishing to gather into his eyes and crush to powder the flaming gold of the afternoon light. How was that?—he was trying to recall a verse in Homer. His memory left him in the lurch, too: how does it go where Hector's soul is wailing aloud because it must give up its beloved life? He could not recall it. Poor devil, by the way, right out of the midst of his intoxication. One of the great flies now came flying past Count Hamilcar with softly buzzing wings. He went “brrr” with his lips and smiled a really cheerful smile as he watched how this queer bundle of gauzy wings and golden gossamer floated deliriously through the sunshine. “Mad with life,” he thought, “if all this only has some object. At any rate there is more chance for meaning than for the lack of it, although—if I am a digit in the great calculation, then to be sure I have a meaning, but that is no reason at all why the result under the black line must have a significance for me.” The point was to be a digit in the result under that line. However, thinking exhausted him. Why must we always think?—another prejudice. Let us not think, but breathe. He leaned back and opened his mouth a little. Breathing too might have been made an easier and simpler affair. He was cold, doubtless he would have to walk a little further; he tried to rise, but his legs would not carry him. He stretched out his long arms as if wishing to get an armful of sunshine, and his face assumed a vexed, anxious expression; then he fell back, became quite still, and collapsed, leaning a trifle crookedly over the arm of the bench in that weary movement which the first moment of death brings to man, before its chill severity comes. The sun was already low, bathing the mute figure in ruddy light, a gentle zephyr stirred a gray tuft of hair on the pale temple, and the big fly flew back again with a buzz past the white nose, motionless now. Round about, the ripe fruit fell heavily upon the turf, making the whir of the field-crickets cease for a moment. But yonder under the pear-tree sat Billy, looking into the evening sun with feverishly shining eyes, and still smiling her expectant, longing smile.

 
 
 

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