MoboReader > Literature > Withered Leaves. Vol. III.(of III)

   Chapter 1 PRIMAVERA.

Withered Leaves. Vol. III.(of III) By Rudolf von Gottschall Characters: 19076

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Primavera--in the midst of winter, which sketched its frozen pictures upon the window!

Primavera--and yet a midsummer of love, which had long since gathered the blossoms of spring for its transient enjoyment!

And Blanden wooed Giulia with a passion which, possessing no history of the past, asserting no prior right, only living in his recollections as if it were the fairy-like charm of a dream, will conquer her love for the bright day of the present; yes, for the endurance of a life time. He did not strive to obtain the renewal of former affection; she had from the very first resisted everything that could encourage such wooing; he was resolved to win her hand, and to defy those prejudices which could pronounce his union with a singer to be unsuitable.

But ardent as was his passion, much as her beauty, intellect, talent and her great knowledge of the world and of life fascinated him, he was yet by no means disposed blindly to follow his heart's inclination; he could even not suppress a soft warning voice of suspicion, which he was obliged to term ungrateful, because it was connected with their own former meeting--could this admired actress always have withstood the temptations that beset her upon her path of triumph?

Did not smiling Euphrosyne cast roses into her lap, as the goddess stood beside victory upon her car of triumph, decking her with laurels? How many phenomena of theatrical fame do but shine through a dim vapour which the repute of their evil habits of life spreads around them, and it was not Blanden's intention to guide one of these beauties, weary of adventures, into a haven of refuge.

In the town even her enemies did not attack her character; she possessed admirers, but she favoured none; all that Blanden learned there, spoke in favour of the singer, but this did not suffice him. During his travels he had formed many connections in the various capitals of Europe, in Paris and London, in Rome and Florence; everywhere he had friends and acquaintances who were familiar with art and theatrical life. Immediately after the performance of "Norma," when the thought first was kindled within him of calling this beautiful woman his own, he had written to all these people to obtain information as to the actress' life and character. Day by day the replies now came in; not one single letter contained an accusation, a shred of suspicion; the testimony that was given to the singer's private life was most brilliant. No scandal had contributed to the augmentation of her fame; she owed it entirely to her talent, of which all spoke with admiration.

Blanden dropped all suspicions, and the project of making Giulia his wife took still deeper root. He had reason to expect that she would be ready to resign the stage, as she had frequently lamented the disappointments to which she was daily more and more exposed in her artistic career; nor did she conceal a feeling, which caused her uneasiness, the conviction that the epoch of her glory was at an end, and that the decadence of her voice was making its announcement gently but perceptibly. Surely therefore was she often so melancholy; who would not, with a heavy heart, bear the claims of a day of reckoning as it crumbles from us one object of pride, one advantage after another, and with such cruel indifference sweeps away all the flowers of our life.

Primavera! But there is a spring-time of feeling, which time cannot kill. It was that which bound Giulia to the wintry provincial town, when she might have been celebrating her triumphs in the capitals of the south.

This it was that made her await the arrival of her friend with a palpitating heart, as she had once awaited him in the moonlight by Lago Maggiore; and if to her other admirers she made no secret of his visits; if she denied herself to them as soon as he was present, or received him at a time when she was inaccessible to others; in so doing she obeyed no decree of prudence which counselled her not to alienate her other enthusiastic friends by distinguishing the one; it was a necessity, a happiness for her to have him quite alone; happiness that might not be desecrated by contact with the world.

Blanden still exercised the same entrancing magic over her as in those days of unguarded devotion; she had remained true to him since that time, little as it was his right or her duty thus to continue faithful. His image alone accompanied her through life; all emotions to which she must give expression upon the stage were for him. She confessed it to him, and he uttered no doubt of such assurances. Blanden's person would account for such passion; it was distinguished and possessed of a peculiar charm. An enthusiast, a dreamer, as he had been from his youth upwards, he seemed to be one still, when, with half-closed languid eyes, he buried himself in the rich stores of his mental life; but then they would suddenly flash and open, and gleam with passion and manly power. In all else he was in perfect harmony; his figure symmetrical, the well-bred smile upon his lips, full of intellectual superiority; his conversation, in earnest and in jest, combined sweetness and charm. As Desdemona to Othello's tales, Giulia listened to the descriptions of the adventures which Blanden had met with in distant lands and oceans, he raised her imagination far above the painted decorations of theatrical life; she was susceptible to all the grandeur and beauty of nature, to all intellectual struggles; only the unrest and bustle of her artist's calling prevented her giving herself up to those mental enjoyments for which she longed now more fervently than formerly. To her it would have appeared unutterable bliss to belong entirely to the man in company with whom she might revel in such enjoyments; to the man who offered her a refuge from the tempests of stage life. With what just pride she would have borne the name with which that noble scion represented a family so esteemed in the world!

And yet--from out the past one shoal reared itself in her life: a shoal upon which all her proud dreams of a future should be wrecked.

In sleepless nights she meditated how she could guide her ship round that reef; her senses became confused in the rapid flight of thought from one possibility to another, which, clutched convulsively, never granted a firm hold; sometimes she rose to the daring venture of defying those rocks and trying if the high storm-lashed billows of her life would not bear her over. Her experiences upon the stage became daily more unpleasant, the enthusiasm of her adherents more disputed by steady opposition.

These were the results of Spiegeler's malicious condemnation.

On the other hand the poet Sch?ner prepared one slight pleasure for her; he who belonged to her warmest admirers, and two years ago had striven eagerly to gain her favour, but who had been rejected. For a long time he avoided all intercourse with her, but without bearing any ill-will remained one of her most zealous adorers. Now, when her enemies roused themselves, he sought her out again, and, like a troubadour, devoted his lyre to the noble lady. He read a poem to her, in which he sang of her as the primavera of Baltic winter, and at the same time attacked her opponents with epigrammatic arrows, and those mighty blows which he had acquired in the fencing-school of political poetry.

The poem appeared in the most important papers, and again increased the diminishing numbers of Giulia's followers. She was heartily grateful to him for it, because she perceived that his thoughts were noble and free from personal motives, that he but followed his own convictions.

The more retiringly Sch?ner behaved, the more obtrusive became Lieutenant Buschmann; he could not accustom himself to the idea that he must retire from so long a siege without success. The uniform friendliness of the singer seemed to him like scorn; from day to day he hoped for a more passionate return. Constantly renewed disappointment embittered him. His character was somewhat violent, he tolerated no barriers, and once when the singer, through her maid, refused him admittance on a morning call, he forced himself ruthlessly into her boudoir, and reproached her passionately.

It was the day after his visit to Frau Hecht's kitchen, when Blanden met the Italian again in the street. Arrested on the previous evening, Baluzzi was once more set free.

Blanden took advantage of this chance encounter to lead the conversation to the amber merchant. Giulia only vouchsafed meagre information; he was a distant connection of hers, who often importuned her with petitions, as he had once performed some great service out of gratitude for which she had taken him under her protection. Then she broke off the conversation, it was evidently an unwelcome subject. But she remained abstracted all the evening, and even confounded two Italian composers with whom she had been familiar from her youth upwards.

After a sleepless night, Giulia had a long conversation with her friend.

"It cannot go on so, Beate! The internal conflict consumes me. His claims become more and more unbounded; how happy I was when he, fettered by illness or misfortune of long duration, the veil of which he will not raise, remained in the interior of Russia; I breathed freely; now more than ever, I am in his bondage."

Beate shrugged her shoulders.

"Notwithstanding all your brilliant receipts, we shall be beggars again."

"Oh, that is not the worst! I would give up e

verything if I could purchase my freedom!"

"That is not his wish! He would spend everything at once; he also prefers to have a safe reserve for the future."

"Oh, there is a hell that binds us for evermore. Lasciate ogni speranza voi che entrale! You are clever and cunning, Beate! Try once more if you cannot set me free. I have no more ideas, no more plans! Whenever I ponder over it, my senses become desolate and dead. I stare into vacuity!"

"What can we do?--we must exercise patience. But if it continue thus, we shall have nothing left."

"Go to him, Beate! Pray, implore."

"To him! You ask no small matter. I should venture into a robber's cave, late at night--for at an earlier hour he could not be found--into a gambling hell, for I know he has opened one here!"

"You have already done much for me, make this sacrifice also."

"Oh, I am not afraid, and if I met a lion in the cage, I would pull his mane; he should do nothing to me. But he will reject my propositions as he has always done. Yes, even if I found proofs."

"Proofs! They will not give me back my freedom--yes, if he would, if he became a subject of this country--we could appeal to justice; it would even decide against the verdict of the church."

"Proofs never do any harm--who knows what may happen? Perhaps his speculations may some day oblige him to settle down here--then it would always be well to possess proofs that may be turned against him, but it will be difficult, almost impossible! However, I will venture to go and seek him this evening. Perhaps chance may favour me."

"A craving for happiness has come over me, so intense as to strain every nerve in my bosom. A glance at the smiling horizon brightens our souls--and yet tears stand in our eyes. We weep with a prescience of happiness which nevertheless appears to be unattainable. I do not know why the pictures of my life crowd like feverish visions around me. I seem to hear the sound of bells in the days of my childhood; I see myself, dressed, go with the other children over high hills to the pilgrims' chapel; then another bell ringing sounds in my ear. In those days I did not know that it was the death-knell of all my life! Then again I hear the exulting applause of many thousands, whom my song delights, and yet I would give it all up for one whispered word of love, of love that had the right to lasting happiness."

Giulia was to sing in the "Somnambula" on that evening; she felt in harmony with the part, to herself she often appeared to be walking in her sleep.

Blanden came after the close of the theatre, and was admitted; Beate hid her dark curls beneath a hood and begged Giulia for a dagger.

"I am going to the bandit, I must protect myself!"

Giulia started; a dagger always awoke gruesome recollections in her.

Blanden smiled, "Probably some masquerade?"

"Corpo di bacco," said Beate, "the mask is not wanting, but the fun is desperately poor."

She received the dagger from her friend, and was dismissed with a kiss.

Outside, Beate gave the maid instructions to be on the alert and to wait for her even if she should return late. Antonie listened to the directions with lowered eyelids and humble obedience, but at heart she had decided differently. She knew that Blanden would stay at least an hour, and if she should not disturb them, she would follow her own amusements quite as undisturbedly.

Exactly opposite, in the large hall, there was a people's ball, and Friederich, a cunning child of Berlin, servant to Lieutenant Buschmann, had invited her to dance there with him for a little while, and had promised to fetch her. All were pursuing their own pleasures, why should she alone pass the time in solitude?

Giulia was melancholy, Blanden in a softened mood.

Outside, jingled the bells of the sleighs, the winter sky, hard as steel, was covered with clouds, and heavy dense snow-flakes, which fell down soft as wool, proclaimed that the cold had diminished.

The room was so homelike. The tea, which with all its accompaniments, had been brought in by Antonie, who was then graciously dismissed, infused upon the table. The fire crackled on the hearth.

There was nothing to remind one of theatrical tinsel, everything bore the impress of domestic comfort, to which the busts of the great masters of art lent a radiance of idealism.

"Only the north knows this homelike comfort," said Blanden, "the Laplander in his smoky hut, the dweller in Kamskatka who has unharnessed his dogs, feel it more than the happy children of the south, who wander beneath palms."

"And more perhaps than we," added Giulia, "because as the crackling coals upon the hearth, so do fading dreams stir in our souls, and often burst once more into flames; of what use is this room's repose, if that in our hearts be wanting?"

"That repose is best found in genial companionship; words have not yet lost the spell of their magic power; familiar communication from lip to lip can absolve us, it is the secret of the confessional."

Giulia felt the truth of these words in her inmost heart; how everything within her urged her to such absolution, and yet--it could not be, 'twas vain!

Convulsive sobs overcame her, and Blanden was amazed at the intensity of the emotions which his passing remark had roused. How light her heart would have been if she could have imparted to her friend all that engrossed and tortured her day and night!

Yes, if he had only been a friend! But he should be more, be everything to her, and one candid word could destroy her whole future. Perhaps she might still succeed in breaking the evil magic to which she had succumbed. Thus silence must be maintained.

Together they read the recollections of Silvio Pellico; a deep impression was made upon them by the picture of an artist in chains and fetters--oh, those were not the worst which hung from the iron ring of a prison wall.

She displayed the greatest sympathy; to her it was as if the damp air wafted through the casemates of the Spielberg filled her life, too, with the same mouldy breath.

She spoke of the castle of Chillon; that little spot had filled her with intense sadness. There were plenty of dungeon towers for salamanders and frogs, but this tomb of freedom made such a deeply melancholy impression, surrounded as it is by the waves of a beautiful lake, and granting a view of the peaks, high as heaven, of the Savoy alps, which rise in the air like a fortress of liberty. It is this contrast that makes such a painful impression, and as if called forth by deepest emotions, she uttered the beautiful verse out of the "Ruins" by Anastatius Grün--

"Oh, shade of my freedom fly not so fast,

For thee my heart yearns and craves ever more,

Like a fugitive bird that has clang to a mast,

When lost to its sight is the far away shore."

Such ardent longing for liberty, for release, was shown in her recital of these lines, in the tone of her voice, it was like the cry of distress of a whole life, and at the same time the expression of utter devotion.

Blanden could not help it, he folded the beautiful woman to his heart, and pressed a glowing kiss upon her lips.

At that moment some one knocked, and simultaneously the door was thrown open.

Lieutenant Buschmann entered; disappointment and rage held him spell-bound, so that he stood as if rooted to the ground; his bold attack, upon which he had staked his last hope, had been shamefully frustrated, but at least he possessed the proof that Giulia favoured another, that her reserve was a lie.

His cheeks, always red, burned like fire, and he stamped his jingling spurs upon the floor.

Everything had commenced so hopefully. Antonie had gone to the ball with Friederich, and had entrusted the house and door key to the latter's care. Under some pretence the officer's cunning servant had left the ball for a short time, proceeded to his master's dwelling close by, and delivered up the key of the fortress to that master.

The game so far had succeeded, Friederich was once more dancing merrily with his unsuspicious partner.

Blanden sprang from the sofa, and stepped defiantly towards the intruder.

"Has this gentleman the right to intrude here?" he asked Giulia.

"No--by heaven, no! Only by force or cunning can he have obtained admission. Protect me from him!"

Giulia covered her face with her hands.

"Your conduct is shameless, sir!" cried Blanden to the officer.

"Not another word with you! But one word still with this lady, who has deceived us all; I owe it to the favour of chance that I have torn from her the mask with which she has passed before the world as an inexorable woman."

"You shall leave the room this moment," said Blanden with firm determination, "I have the right to bid you do so, because Signora Giulia Bollini--is engaged to me!"

With a loud cry, Giulia sank into the sofa cushions.

"Well, then, I congratulate you upon the Polter-abend,"[1] said Buschmann scornfully, as he turned upon his heels and left the room amid the clatter of his spurs.

"What have you done?" said Giulia, as she gazed at Blanden with large tearful eyes, her hand raised as if in protest, and sobbing with internal agitation.

"I will protect you against all the world," cried Blanden with, overwhelming emotion, "my Giulia, my betrothed!"

And she lay in his arms, half unconscious, acquiescent, infinitely blissful, and desperately defiant of fate.

"Come what may," whispered she, "I am yours."

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