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The Wisdom of Father Brown By G. K. Chesterton Characters: 13400

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


It was during her first summer at Bar Harbor that the second determining experience of her life began, and it lasted for three years. She dwelt upon it to-night with humor, sadness, and, for a moment, thrilling regret, but without bitterness. That had passed long since.

She was virtual mistress of the house at Bar Harbor, and as the children had a trained nurse and a maid, besides many little friends, she had more leisure than in the city with her one day of complete detachment. She met Freiherr Franz von Nettelbeck when she was walking with her charges and he was strolling with the little girls of the Howland family. The introductions were informal, and as they fell naturally into German there was an immediate bond. Nettelbeck was an attaché of the German Embassy who preferred to spend his summers at Bar Harbor. He was of the fair type of German most familiar to Americans, with a fine slim military figure, deep fiery blue eyes and a lively mind. His golden hair and mustache stood up aggressively, and his carriage was exceeding haughty, but those were details too familiar to be counted against him by Gisela. Her rich brunette beauty was now as ripe as her tall full figure, and she was one of those women, rare in Germany, who could dress well on nothing at all. She too possessed a lively mind, and after her long New York winter was feeling her isolation. Her first interview (which included a long stroll and a canoe ride) with this young diplomat of her own land, visibly lifted her spirits, and she sang as she braided her heavy mass of hair that night.

Franz, like most unattached young Germans, was on the lookout for a soul-mate (which he was far too sophisticated to anticipate in matrimony), and this handsome, brilliant, subtly responsive, and wholly charming young woman of the only country worth mentioning entered his life when he too was lonely and rather bored. It was his third year in the United States of America and he did not like the life nor the people. Nevertheless, he was trying to make up his mind to pay court to Ann Howland, a young lady whose dashing beauty was somewhat overpoised by salient force of character and an uncompromisingly keen and direct mind, but whose fortune eclipsed by several millions that of the high-born maiden selected by his family.

Here was a heaven-sent interval, with intellectual companionship in addition to the game of the gods. Being a German girl, Gisela D?ring would be aware that he could not marry out of his class, unless the plebeian pill were heavily gilded. To do him justice, he would not have married the wealthiest plebeian in Germany. An American: that was another matter. If there were such a thing as an aristocracy in this absurd country which pretended to be a democracy and whose "society" was erected upon the visible and screaming American dollar, no doubt Miss Howland belonged to the highest rank. In Germany she would have been a princess-probably of a mediatized house, and, he confessed it amiably enough, she looked the part more unapologetically than several he could mention.

So did Gisela D?ring. He sighed that a woman who would have graced the court of his Kaiser should have been tossed by a bungling fate into the rank and file of the good German people; so laudably content to play their insignificant part in their country's magnificent destiny.

Gisela never told him the truth. Sometimes, irritated by his subtle arrogance, she was tempted. Also consuming love tempted her. But of what use? She was without fortune and he must add to his. He had a limited income and expensive tastes, and when a young nobleman in the diplomatic service marries he must take a house and live with a certain amount of state. Moreover, he intended to be an ambassador before he was forty-five, and he was justified in his ambitions, for he was exceptionally clever and his rise had been rapid. But now he was care-free and young, and love was his right.

Gisela understood him perfectly. Not only was she of his class, but her brother Karl had madly loved a girl in a chocolate shop and wept tempestuously beside her bed while their father slept. He married philosophically when his hour struck.

But if she understood she was also romantic. She forgot her vow to live alone, her mother's advice, and dreamed of a moment of overwhelming madness which would sweep them both up to the little church on the mountain. There, like a true heroine of old-time fiction, she would announce her own name at the altar. This moment, however, did not arrive. Nettelbeck, too, was romantic, but his head was as level within as it was flat behind. He never went near the church on the mountain.

There was no surface lovemaking during the first two summers, or in the winter following the second summer, when he came over from Washington on her Wednesday as often as he could, and they had luncheon and tea in byway restaurants. They were both fascinated by the game, and they had an infinite number of things to talk about, for their minds were really congenial. They disputed with fire and fury. It was a part of Gisela's dormant genius to grasp instinctively the psychology of foreign nations, and before she had been in the United States a year she understood it far better than Nettelbeck ever would. Even if he had despised it less he would have lavished all the resources of his wit upon a country so different from Germany in every phase that it must necessarily be negligible save as a future colony of Prussia, if only for the pleasure of seeing Gisela's long eyes open and flash, the dusky red in her cheeks burn crimson and her bosom heave at his "junker narrow-mindedness and stupid arrogance"-; "a stupidity that will be the ruin of Germany in the end!" she exclaimed one day in a sudden moment of illumination, for, as a matter of fact, she had given little thought to politics. However, she recalled her typical papa.

Of course they talked their German souls inside out. At least Nettelbeck did. As time went on, Gisela used her frankness as a mask while her soul dodged in panic. She believed him to be lightly and agreeably in love with her (she had witnessed many summer flirtations at Bar Harbor, and been laid siege to by more than one young American, idle, enterprising, charming and quite irresponsible), and she was appalled at her own capacity for love and suffering, the complete rout of her theories, based on harsh experience, before the ancient instinct to unleash her womanhood at any cost.

She plunged into a serious study of the country, which she had heretofore absorbed with her avid mental conduits, and read innumerable newspapers, magazines, elucidating l

iterature of all sorts, besides the best histories of the nation and the illuminating biographies of its distinguished men in politics and the arts. She was deeply responsive to the freedom of the individual in this great whirling heterogeneous land, and as her duties at any time were the reverse of onerous, it was imperative to keep her consciousness as detached from her inner life as possible.

But at the back of her mind was always the haunting terror that he never would come again, that he was really more attracted to Ann Howland than he knew; and of all American women whom Gisela had met she admired Miss Howland pre?minently. She was not only beautiful in the grand manner but she possessed intellect as distinguished from the surface "brightness" of so many of her countrywomen, and had made a deep impression upon even the superlatively educated German girl when they had chanced to meet and talk at children's picnics at Bar Harbor, or when the triumphant young beauty ran up to the nursery in town to bring a message to the little Bolands from her sisters. It was true that hers was not the seductive type of beauty, that her large gray eyes were cool and appraising, her fine skin quite without color, and her soft abundant hair little darker than Franz's own, but she could be feminine and charming when she chose and she would be a wife in whom even a German would experience a secret and swelling pride.

What chance had she-she-Gisela D?ring?

There were days and weeks, during that second winter, when she was tormented by a sort of sub-hysteria, a stifled voice in the region of her heart threatening to force its way out and shriek. There were times when she gave way to despair, and thought of her vigorous youth with a shudder, and at other times she was so angry and humiliated at her surrender and secret chaos, that she was on the point more than once of breaking definitely with Franz Nettelbeck, or even of going back to Germany. If he missed a Wednesday, or failed to write, she slipped out of the house at night and paced Central Park for hours, fighting her rebellious nerves with her pride and the strong independent will that she had believed would enable her to leap lightly over every pitfall in life.

Then he would come and her spirits would soar, her whole awakened being possessed by a sort of reckless fury, a desperate resolve to enjoy the meager portion of happiness allotted to her by an always grudging fate; and for a few days after he left she would give herself up to blissful and extravagant dreams.

But Nettelbeck was by no means lightly in love with Gisela D?ring. During the third summer, partly owing to the increased independence of her growing charges, partly to his own expert management, they met in long solitudes seldom disturbed. Gisela dismissed fears, ignored the inevitable end, plunged headlong and was wildly happy. Nettelbeck was an ardent and absorbed lover, for he knew that his time was short, and he was determined to have one perfect memory in his secret life that the woman who bore his name should never violate. Miss Howland had meted him the portion his dilatoriness invited and married a fine upstanding young American whose career was in Washington; and his family had peremptorily commanded him to return in the spring (with the Kaiser's permission, a mandate in itself) and marry the patient Baronin Irma Hammorw?rth.

And so for a summer and a winter they were happy.

Gisela averted her mind tonight from the parting with something of the almost forgotten panic. She had never dared to dwell upon it, nor on the month that followed. Her powerful will had rebelled finally and she had fought down and out of her consciously functioning mind the details of her tragic passion, and even reveled arrogantly in the sensation of deliverance from the slavery of love. Simultaneously she was swept off to see the great natural wonders of the American continent and they had intoned the requiem.

The following autumn she returned to Germany and paid her mother another brief visit.

There all was well. Frau von Niebuhr, who had not developed a white hair and whose Viennese maid was a magician in the matter of gowns and complexion, was enjoying life and had a daring salon; that is to say gatherings in which all the men did not wear uniforms nor prefix the sacred von. She drew the line at bad manners, but otherwise all (and of any nation) who had distinguished themselves, or possessed the priceless gift of personality, were welcome there; and although she lived to be amused and make up what she had lost during thirty unspeakable years, she progressed inevitably in keenness of insight and breadth of vision. She had become a student of politics and stared into the future with deepening apprehension, but of this she gave not a hint to Gisela. Mariette was her closest friend and only confidante. Mariette was now living in Berlin, and amusing herself in ways Frau von Niebuhr disapproved, mainly because she thought it wiser to banish men from one's inner life altogether; but, true to her code, she forebore remonstrance.

Lili, having discovered that her voice was not for grand opera, had philosophically descended to the concert stage and was excitedly happy in her success and independence. Elsa was a Red Cross nurse.

Gisela met Franz von Nettelbeck at a court function and had her little revenge. He was furious, and vowed, quite audibly, that he would never forgive her. But Gisela was merely disturbed lest the Obersthofmeisterin who stood but three feet away overhear his caustic remarks. Distinguished professors (without their wives) might go to court as a reward for shedding added luster upon the German Empire, but lesser mortals who had received payment for services rendered might not. Her independent mother, still a favorite, for she was exceeding discreet, would have incurred the imperial displeasure if the truth were known. However, the incident passed unnoticed, and Franz, whatever his shortcomings, was a gentleman and kept her secret.

The scene at the palace had been brilliant and sustaining and she had received much personal homage, for she was looking very beautiful and radiant, and the little adventure had been incense to her pride (moreover the young Freifrau von Nettelbeck, whom she saw on his arm later, was an insignificant little hausfrau); but when she was in her room after midnight she realized grimly that if she had not done her work so well during that terrible month in New York and buried her sex heart, she should once more be beating the floor or the wall with her impotent hands. But the knowledge of her immunity made her a little sad.

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