I was expected. That was very evident. An excited-looking Dienstmädchen opened the door, and on seeing me, greeted me as if I had been an old friend. I was presently rescued by Merrick, also looking agitated.
“Ho, Miss Wedderburn, at last you are here! How Miss Hallam has worried, to be sure.”
“I could not help it, I’m very sorry,” said I, following her upstairs—up a great many flights of stairs, as it seemed to me, till she ushered me into a sitting-room where I found Miss Hallam.
“Thank Heaven, child! you are here at last. I was beginning to think that if you did not come by this train, I must send some one to Köln to look after you.”
“By this train!” I repeated, blankly. “Miss Hallam—what—do you mean? There has been no other train.”
“Two; there was one at four and one at six. I can not tell you how uneasy I have been at your non-appearance.”
“Then—then—” I stammered, growing hot all over. “Oh, how horrible!”
“What is horrible?” she demanded. “And you must be starving. Merrick, go and see about something to eat for Miss Wedderburn. Now,” she added, as her maid left the room, “tell me what you have been doing.”
I told her everything, concealing nothing.
“Most annoying!” she remarked. “A gentleman, you say. My dear child, no gentleman would have done anything of the kind. I am very sorry for it all.”
“Miss Hallam,” I implored, almost in tears, “please do not tell any one what has happened to me. I will never be such a fool again. I know now—and you may trust me. But do not let any one know how—stupid I have been. I told you I was stupid—I told you several times. I am sure you must remember.”
“Oh, yes, I remember. We will say no more about it.”
“And the gray shawl,” said I.
“Merrick had it.”
I lifted my hands and shrugged my shoulders. “Just my luck,” I murmured, resignedly, as Merrick came in with a tray.
Miss Hallam, I noticed, continued to regard me now and then as I ate with but small appetite. I was too excited by what had passed, and by what I had just heard, to be hungry. I thought it kind, merciful, humane in her to promise to keep my secret and not expose my ignorance and stupidity to strangers.
“It is evident,” she remarked, “that you must at once begin to learn German, and then if you do get lost at a railway station again, you will be able to ask your way.”
Merrick shook her head with an inexpressibly bitter smile.
“I’d defy any one to learn this ’ere language, ma’am. They call an accident a Unglück; if any one could tell me what that means, I’d thank them, that’s all.”
“Don’t express your opinions, Merrick, unless you wish to seem deficient in understanding; but go and see that Miss Wedderburn has everything she wants—or rather everything that can be got—in her room. She is tired, and shall go to bed.”
I was only too glad to comply with this mandate, but it was long ere I slept. I kept hearing the organ in the cathedral, and that voice of the invisible singer—seeing the face beside me, and hearing the words, “Then you have decided that I am to be trusted?”
“And he was deceiving me all the time!” I thought, mournfully.
I breakfasted by myself the following morning, in a room called the speisesaal. I found I was late. When I came into the room, about nine o’clock, there was no one but myself to be seen. There was a long table with a white cloth upon it, and rows of the thickest cups and saucers it had ever been my fate to see, with distinct evidences that the chief part of the company had already breakfasted. Baskets full of Brödchen and pots of butter, a long India-rubber pipe coming from the gas to light a theemaschine—lots of cane-bottomed chairs, an open piano, two cages with canaries in them; the kettle gently simmering above the gas-flame; for the rest, silence and solitude.
I sat down, having found a clean cup and plate, and glanced timidly at the theemaschine, not daring to cope with its mysteries, until my doubts were relieved by the entrance of a young person with a trim little figure, a coquettishly cut and elaborately braided apron, and a white frilled morgenhaube upon her hair, surmounting her round, heavenward-aspiring visage.
“Guten morgen, Fräulein,” she said, as she marched up to the darkly mysterious theemaschine and began deftly to prepare coffee for me, and to push the Brödchen toward me. She began to talk to me in broken English, which was very pretty, and while I ate and drank, she industriously scraped little white roots at the same table. She told me she was Clara, the niece of Frau Steinmann, and that she was very glad to see me, but was very sorry I had had so long to wait in Köln yesterday. She liked my dress, and was it echt Englisch—also, how much did it cost?
She was a cheery little person, and I liked her. She seemed to like me too, and repeatedly said she was glad I had come. She liked dancing she said. Did I? And she had lately danced at a ball with some one who danced so well—aber, quite indescribably well. His name was Karl Linders, and he was, ach! really a remarkable person. A bright blush, and a little sigh accompanied the remark. Our eyes met, and from that moment Clara and I were very good friends.
I went upstairs again, and found that Miss Hallam proposed, during the forenoon, to go and find the Eye Hospital, where she was to see the oculist, and arrange for him to visit her, and shortly after eleven we set out.
The street that I had so dimly seen the night before, showed itself by daylight to be a fair, broad way. Down the middle, after the pleasant fashion of continental towns, was a broad walk, planted with two double rows of lindens, and on either side this lindenallee was the carriage road, private houses, shops, exhibitions, boarding-houses. In the middle, exactly opposite our dwelling, was the New Theater, just drawing to the close of its first season. I looked at it without thinking much about it. I had never been in a theater in my life, and the name was but a name to me.
Turning off from the pretty allee, and from the green Hofgarten which bounded it at one end, we entered a narrow, ill-paved street, the aspect of whose gutters and inhabitants alike excited my liveliest disgust. In this street was the Eye Hospital, as was presently testified to us by a board bearing the inscription, “Städtische Augenklinik.”
We were taken to a dimly lighted room in which many people were waiting, some with bandages over their eyes, others with all kinds of extraordinary spectacles on, which made them look like phantoms out of a bad dream—nearly all more or less blind, and the effect was surprisingly depressing.
Presently Miss Hallam and Merrick were admitted to an inner room, and I was left to await their return. My eye strayed over the different faces, and I felt a sensation of relief when I saw some one come in without either bandage or spectacles. The new-comer was a young man of middle height, and of proportions slight without being thin. There was nothing the matter with his eyes, unless perhaps a slight short-sightedness; he had, I thought, one of the gentlest, most attractive faces I had ever seen; boyishly open and innocent at the first glance; at the second, indued with a certain reticent calm and intellectual radiance which took away from the first youthfulness of his appearance. Soft, yet luminous brown eyes, loose brown hair hanging round his face, a certain manner which for me at least had a charm, were the characteristics of this young man. He carried a violin-case, removed his hat as he came in, and being seen by one of the young men who sat at desks, took names down, and attended to people in general, was called by him:
“Herr Helfen—Herr Friedhelm Helfen!”
“Ja—hier!” he answered, going up to the desk, upon which there ensued a lively conversation, though carried on in a low tone, after which the young man at the desk presented a white card to “Herr Friedhelm Helfen,” and the latter, with a pleasant “Adieu,” went out of the room again.
Miss Hallam and Merrick presently returned from the consulting-room, and we went out of the dark room into the street, which was filled with spring sunshine and warmth; a contrast something like that between Miss Hallam’s life and my own, I have thought since. Far before us, hurrying on, I saw the young man with the violin-case; he turned off by the theater, and went in at a side door.
An hour’s wandering in the Hofgarten—my first view of the Rhine—a dull, flat stream it looked, too. I have seen it since then in mightier flow. Then we came home, and it was decided that we should dine together with the rest of the company at one o’clock.
A bell rang at a few minutes past one. We went down-stairs, into the room in which I had already breakfasted, which, in general, was known as the saal. As I entered with Miss Hallam I was conscious that a knot of lads or young men stood aside to let us pass, and then giggled and scuffled behind the door before following us into the saal.
Two or three ladies were already seated, and an exceedingly stout lady ladled out soup at a side table, while Clara and a servant-woman carried the plates round to the different places. The stout lady turned as she saw us, and greeted us. She was Frau Steinmann, our hostess. She waited until the youths before spoken of had come in, and with a great deal of noise had seated themselves, when she began, aided by the soup-ladle, to introduce us all to each other.
We, it seemed, were to have the honor and privilege of being the only English ladies of the company. We were introduced to one or two others, and I was assigned a place by a lady introduced as Fräulein Anna Sartorius, a brunette, rather stout, with large dark eyes which looked at me in a way I did not like, a head of curly black hair cropped short, an odd, brusque manner, and a something peculiar, or, as she said, selten in her dress. This young lady sustained the introduction with self-possession and calm. It was otherwise with the young gentlemen, who appeared decidedly mixed. There were some half dozen of them in all—a couple of English, the rest German, Dutch, and Swedish. I had never been in company with so many nationalities before, and was impressed with my situation—needlessly so.
All these young gentlemen made bows which were, in their respective ways, triumphs of awkwardness, with the exception of one of our compatriots, who appeared to believe that himself and his manners were formed to charm and subdue the opposite sex. We then sat down, and Fräulein Sartorius immediately opened a conversation with me.
“Sprechen Sie Deutsch, Fräulein?” was her first venture, and having received my admission that I did not speak a word of it, she continued, in good English:
“Now I can talk to you without offending you. It is so dreadful when English people who don’t know German persist in thinking that they do. There was an English-woman here who always said wer when she meant where, and wo when she meant who. She said the sounds confused her.”
The boys giggled at this, but the joke was lost upon me.
“What is your name?” she continued; “I didn’t catch what Frau Steinmann said.”
“May Wedderburn,” I replied, angry with myself for blushing so excessively as I saw that all the boys held their spoons suspended, listening for my answer.
“May—das heisst Mai,” said she, turning to the assembled youths, who testified that they were aware of it, and the Dutch boy, Brinks, inquired, gutturally:
“You haf one zong in your language what calls itself, ‘Not always Mai,’ haf you not?”
“Yes,” said I, and all the boys began to giggle as if something clever had been said. Taken all in all, what tortures have I not suffered from those dreadful boys. Shy when they ought to have been bold, and bold where a modest retiringness would better have become them. Giggling inanely at everything and nothing. Noisy and vociferous among themselves or with inferiors; shy, awkward and blushing with ladies or in refined society—distressing my feeble efforts to talk to them by their silly explosions of laughter when one of them was addressed. They formed the bane of my life for some time.
“Will you let me paint you?” said Fräulein Sartorius, whose big eyes had been surveying me in a manner that made me nervous.
“Your likeness, I mean. You are very pretty, and we never see that color of hair here.”
“Are you a painter?”
“No, I’m only a Studentin yet; but I paint from models. Well, will you sit to me?”
“Oh, I don’t know. If I have time, perhaps.”
“What will you do to make you not have time?”
I did not feel disposed to gratify her curiosity, and said I did not know yet what I should do.
For a short time she asked no more questions, then
“Do you like town or country best?”
“I don’t know. I have never lived in a town.”
“Do you like amusements—concerts, and theater, and opera?”
“I don’t know,” I was reluctantly obliged to confess, for I saw that the assembled youths, though not looking at me openly, and apparently entirely engrossed with their dinners, were listening attentively to what passed.
“You don’t know,” repeated Fräulein Sartorius, quickly seeing through my thin assumption of indifference, and proceeding to draw me out as much as possible. I wished Adelaide had been there to beat her from the field. She would have done it better than I could.
“No; because I have never been to any.”
“Haven’t you? How odd! How very odd! Isn’t it strange?” she added, appealing to the boys. “Fräulein has never been to a theater or a concert.”
I disdained to remark that my words were being perverted, but the game instinct rose in me. Raising my voice a little, I remarked:
“It is evident that I have not enjoyed your advantages, but I trust that the gentlemen” (with a bow to the listening boys) “will make allowances for the difference between us.”
The young gentlemen burst into a chorus of delighted giggles, and Anna, shooting a rapid glance at me, made a slight grimace, but looked not at all displeased. I was, though, mightily; but, elate with victory, I turned to my compatriot at the other end of the table, and asked him at what time of the year Elberthal was pleasantest.
“Oh,” said he, “it’s always pleasant to me, but that’s owing to myself. I make it so.”
Just then, several of the other lads rose, pushing their chairs back with a great clatter, bowing to the assembled company, and saying “Gesegnete Mahlzeit!” as they went out.
“Why are they going, and what do they say?” I inquired of Miss Sartorius, who replied, quite amiably:
“They are students at the Realschule. They have to be there at two o’clock, and they say, ‘Blessed be the meal-time,’ as they go out.”
“Do they? How nice!” I could not help saying.
“Would you like to go for a walk this afternoon?” said she.
“Oh, very much!” I had exclaimed, before I remembered that I did not like her, and did not intend to like her. “If Miss Hallam can spare me,” I added.
“Oh, I think she will. I shall be ready at half past two; then we shall return for coffee at four. I will knock at your door at the time.”
On consulting Miss Hallam after dinner, I found she was quite willing for me to go out with Anna, and at the time appointed we set out.
Anna took me a tour round the town, showed me the lions, and gave me topographical details. She showed me the big, plain barrack, and the desert waste of the Exerzierplatz spreading before it. She did her best to entertain me, and I, with a childish prejudice against her abrupt manner, and the free, somewhat challenging look of her black eyes, was reserved, unresponsive, stupid. I took a prejudice against her—I own it—and for that and other sins committed against a woman who would have been my friend if I would have let her, I say humbly, Mea culpa!
“It seems a dull kind of a place,” said I.
“It need not be. You have advantages here which you can’t get everywhere. I have been here several years, and as I have no other home I rather think I shall live here.”
“You have a home, I suppose?”
“Brothers and sisters?”
“Two sisters,” I replied, mightily ruffled by what I chose to consider her curiosity and impertinence; though, when I looked at her, I saw what I could not but confess to be a real, and not unkind, interest in her plain face and big eyes.
“Ah! I have no brothers and sisters. I have only a little house in the country, and as I have always lived in a town, I don’t care for the country. It is so lonely. The people are so stupid too—not always though. You were offended with me at dinner, nicht wahr?”
“Oh, dear, no!” said I, very awkwardly and very untruly. The truth was, I did not like her, and was too young, too ignorant and gauche to try to smooth over my dislike. I did not know the pain I was giving, and if I had, should perhaps not have behaved differently.
“Doch!” she said, smiling. “But I did not know what a child you were, or I should have let you alone.”
More offended than ever, I maintained silence. If I were certainly touchy and ill to please, Fräulein Sartorius, it must be owned, did not know how to apologize gracefully. I have since, with wider knowledge of her country and its men and women, got to see that what made her so inharmonious was, that she had a woman’s form and a man’s disposition and love of freedom. As her countrywomen taken in the gross are the most utterly “in bonds” of any women in Europe, this spoiled her life in a manner which can not be understood here, where women in comparison are free as air, and gave no little of the brusqueness and roughness to her manner. In an enlightened English home she would have been an admirable, firm, clever woman; here she was that most dreadful of all abnormal growths—a woman with a will of her own.
“What do they do here?” I inquired, indifferently.
“Oh, many things. Though it is not a large town there is a School of Art, which brings many painters here. There are a hundred and fifty—besides students.”
“And you are a student?”
“Yes. One must have something to do—some carrière—though my countrywomen say not. I shall go away for a few months soon, but I am waiting for the last great concert. It will be the ‘Paradise Lost’ of Rubenstein.”
“Ah, yes!” said I, politely, but without interest. I had never heard of Rubenstein and the “Verlorenes Paradies.” Before the furor of 1876, how many scores of provincial English had?
“There is very much music here,” she continued. “Are you fond of it?”
“Ye-es. I can’t play much, but I can sing. I have come here partly to take singing lessons.”
“Who is the best teacher?” was my next ingenuous question.
“That depends upon what you want to learn. There are so many: violin, Clavier, that is piano, flute, ’cello, everything.”
“Oh!” I replied, and asked no more questions about music; but inquired if it were pleasant at Frau Steinmann’s.
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Is it pleasant anywhere? I don’t find many places pleasant, because I can not be a humbug, so others do not like me. But I believe some people like Elberthal very well. There is the theater—that makes another element. And there are the soldiers and Kaufleute—merchants, I mean, so you see there is variety, though it is a small place.”
“Ah, yes!” said I, looking about me as we passed down a very busy street, and I glanced to right and left with the image of Eugen Courvoisier ever distinctly if unconfessedly present to my mental view. Did he live at Elberthal? and if so, did he belong to any of those various callings? What was he? An artist who painted pictures for his bread? I thought that very probable. There was something free and artist-like in his manner, in his loose waving hair and in his keen susceptibility to beauty. I thought of his emotion at hearing that glorious Bach music. Or was he a musician—what Anna Sartorius called ein Musiker? But no. My ideas of musicians were somewhat hazy, not to say utterly chaotic; they embraced only two classes: those who performed or gave lessons, and those who composed. I had never formed to myself the faintest idea of a composer, and my experience of teachers and performers was limited to one specimen—Mr. Smythe, of Darton, whose method and performances would, as I have since learned, have made the hair of a musician stand horrent on end. No—I did not think he was a musician. An actor? Perish the thought, was my inevitable mental answer. How should I be able to make any better one? A soldier, then? At that moment we met a mounted captain of Uhlans, harness clanking, accouterments rattling. He was apparently an acquaintance of my companion, for he saluted with a grave politeness which sat well upon him. Decidedly Eugen Courvoisier had the air of a soldier. That accounted for all. No doubt he was a soldier. In my ignorance of the strictness of German military regulations as regards the wearing of uniform, I overlooked the fact that he had been in civilian’s dress, and remained delighted with my new idea; Captain Courvoisier. “What is the German for captain?” I inquired, abruptly.
“Thank you.” Hauptmann Eugen Courvoisier—a noble and a gallant title, and one which became him. “How much is a thaler?” was my next question.
“It is as much as three shillings in your money.”
“Oh, thank you,” said I, and did a little sum in my own mind. At that rate then, I owed Herr Courvoisier the sum of ten shillings. How glad I was to find it came within my means.
As I took off my things, I wondered when Herr Courvoisier would “make out his accounts.” I trusted soon.