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   Chapter 2 AN AMERICAN CONSUL

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 18217

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The nights in Dreiberg during September are often chill. The heavy mists from the mountain slip down the granite clifts and spread over the city, melting all sharp outlines, enfeebling the gas-lamps, and changing the moon, if there happens to be one, into something less than a moon and something more than a pewter disk. And so it was this night.

Carmichael, in order to finish his cigar on the little balcony fronting his window, found it necessary to put on his light overcoat, though he perfectly knew that he was in no manner forced to smoke on the balcony. But the truth was he wanted a clear vision of the palace and the lighted windows thereof, and of one in particular. He had no more sense than Tom-fool, the abetter of follies. She was as far removed from him as the most alien of the planets; but the magnet shall ever draw the needle, and a woman shall ever draw a man. He knew that it was impossible, that it grew more impossible day by day, and he railed at himself bitterly and satirically.

He sighed and teetered his legs. A sigh moves nothing forward, yet it is as essential as life itself. It is the safety-valve to every emotion; it is the last thing in laughter, the last thing in tears. One sighs in entering the world and in leaving it, perhaps in protest. A child sighs for the moon because it knows no better. Carmichael sighed for the Princess Hildegarde, understanding. It was sigh or curse, and the latter mode of expression wastes more vitality. Oh, yes; they made over him, as the world goes; they dined and wined him and elected him honorary member to their clubs; they patted him on the back and called him captain; but it was all in a negligent toleration that turned every pleasure into rust.

Arthur Carmichael was Irish. He was born in America, educated there and elsewhere, a little while in Paris, a little while at Bonn, and, like all Irishmen, he was baned with the wandering foot; for the man who is homeless by choice has a subtle poison in his blood. He was at Bonn when the Civil War came. He went back to America and threw himself into the fight with all the ardor that had made his forebears famous in the service of the worthless Stuarts. It wasn't a question with him of the mere love of fighting, of tossing the penny; he knew with which side he wished to fight. He joined the cavalry of the North, and hammered and fought his way to a captaincy. He was wounded five times and imprisoned twice. His right eye was still weak from the effects of a powder explosion; and whenever it bothered him he wore a single glass, abominating, as all soldiers do, the burden of spectacles. At the end of the conflict he returned to Washington.

And then the inherent curse put a hand on his shoulder; he must be moving. His parents were dead; there was no anchor, nor had lying ambition enmeshed him. There was a little property, the income from which was enough for his wants. Without any influence whatever, save his pleasing address and his wide education, he blarneyed the State Department out of a consulate. They sent him to Ehrenstein, at a salary not worth mentioning, with the diplomatic halo of dignity as a tail to the kite. He had been in the service some two years by now, and those who knew him well rather wondered at his sedative turn of mind. Two years in any one place was not in reckoning as regarded Carmichael; yet, here he was, caring neither for promotion nor exchange. So, then, all logical deductions simmered down to one: Cherchez la femme.

He knew that his case would never be tried in court nor settled out of it; and he realized that it would be far better to weigh anchor and set his course for other parts. But no man ever quite forsakes his dream-woman; and he had endued a princess with all the shining attributes of an angel, when, had he known it, she was only angelic.

The dreamer is invariably tripping over his illusions; and Carmichael was rather boyish in his dreams. What absurd romances he was always weaving round her! What exploits on her behalf! But never anything happened, and never was the grand duke called upon to offer his benediction.

It was all very foolish and romantic and impossible, and no one recognized this more readily than he. No American ever married a princess of a reigning house, and no American ever will. This law is as immovable as the law of gravitation. Still, man is master of his dreams, and he may do as he pleases in the confines of this small circle. Outside these temporary lapses, Carmichael was a keen, shrewd, far-sighted young man, close-lipped and observant, never forgetting faces, never forgetting benefits, loving a fight but never provoking one. So he and the world were friends. Diplomacy has its synonym in tact, and he was an able tactician, for all that an Irishman is generally likened to a bull in a china-shop.

"How the deuce will it end?"-musing half aloud. "I'll forget myself some day and trip so hard that they'll be asking Washington for my recall. I'll go over to the gardens and listen to the band. They are playing dirges to-night, and anything funereal will be a light and happy tonic to my present state of mind."

He was standing on the curb in front of the hotel, his decision still unrounded, when he noticed a closed carriage hard by the fountain in the Platz. The driver dozed on his box.

"Humph! There's a man who is never troubled with counting the fool's beads. Silver and copper are his gods and goddesses. Ha! a fare!"

A woman in black, thoroughly veiled and cloaked, came round from the opposite side of the fountain. She spoke to the driver, and he tumbled off the box, alive and hearty. There seemed to be a short interchange of words of mutual satisfaction. The lady stepped into the carriage, the driver woke up his ancient Bucephalus, and went clickety-clack down the K?nig Strasse toward the town.

To Carmichael it was less than an incident. He twirled his cane and walked toward the public gardens. Here he strolled about, watching the people, numerous but orderly, with a bright military patch here and there. The band struck up again, and he drifted with the crowd toward the pavilion. The penny-chairs were occupied, so he selected a spot off-side, near enough for all auditual purposes. One after another he carelessly scanned the faces of those nearest. He was something of an amateur physiognomist, but he seldom made the mistakes of the tyro.

Within a dozen feet of him, her arms folded across her breast, her eyes half shut in the luxury of the senses, stood the goose-girl. He smiled as he recalled the encounter of that afternoon. It was his habit to ride to the maneuvers every day, and several times he had noticed her, as well as any rider is able to notice a pedestrian. But that afternoon her beauty came home to him suddenly and unexpectedly. Had she been other than what she was, a woman well-gowned, for instance, riding in her carriage, his interest would have waned in the passing. But it had come with the same definite surprise as when one finds a rare and charming story in a dilapidated book.

"Why couldn't I have fallen in love with some one like this?" he cogitated.

With a friendly smile on his lips, he took a step toward her, but instantly paused. Colonel von Wallenstein of the general staff approached her from the other side, and Carmichael was curious to find out what that officer's object was. Wallenstein was a capital soldier, and a jolly fellow round a board, but beyond that Carmichael had no real liking for him. There were too many scented notes stuck in his pockets.

The colonel dropped his cigarette, leaned over Gretchen's shoulder and spoke a few words. At first she gave no heed. The colonel persisted. Without a word in reply, she resolutely sought the nearest policeman. Wallenstein, remaining where he was, laughed. Meantime the policeman frowned. It was incredible; his excellency could not possibly have intended any wrong, it was only a harmless pleasantry. Gretchen's lips quivered; the law of redress in Ebrenstein had no niche for the goose-girl.

"Good evening, colonel," said Carmichael pleasantly. "Why can't your bandmaster give us light opera once in a while?"

The colonel pulled his mustache in chagrin, but he did not give Carmichael the credit for bringing about this cheapening sense. For the time being Gretchen was freed from annoyance. The colonel certainly could not rush off to her and give this keen-eyed American an opportunity to witness a further rebuff.

"Light operas are rare at present," he replied, accepting his defeat amiably enough.

"Paris is full of them just now," continued Carmichael.

"Paris? Would you like a riot in the gardens?" asked the colonel, amused.

"A riot?" said Carmichael derisively. "Why, nothing short of a bombshell would cause a riot among your phlegmatic Germans."

"I believe you love your Paris better than your Dreiberg."

"Not a bit of doubt. And down in your heart you do, too. Think of the lights, the theaters, the cafés and the pretty women!" Carmichael's cane described a flo

urish as if to draw a picture of these things.

"Yes, yes," agreed the colonel reminiscently; "you are right. There is no other night equal to a Parisian night. Ach, Gott! But think of the mornings, think of the mornings!"-dolefully.

"On the contrary, let us not think of them!"-with a mock shudder.

And then a pretty woman rose from a chair near-by. She nodded brightly at the colonel, who bowed, excused himself to Carmichael, and made off after her.

"I believe I stepped on his toe that time," said Carmichael to himself.

Then he looked round for Gretchen. She was still at the side of the policeman. She had watched the scene between the two men, but was quite unconscious that it had been set for her benefit. She came back. Carmichael stepped confidently to her side and raised his hat.

"Did you get your geese together without mishap?" he asked.

The instinct of the child always remains with the woman. Gretchen smiled. This young man would be different, she knew.

"They were only frightened. But his highness"-eagerly-"was he very angry?"

"Angry? Not the least. He was amused. But he was nearly knocked off his horse. If you lived in America now, you might reap a goodly profit from that goose."

"America? How?"

"You could put him in a museum and exhibit him as an intimate friend of the grand duke of Ehrenstein."

But Gretchen did not laugh. It was a serious thing to talk lightly of so grand a person as the duke. Still, the magic word America, where the gold came from, flamed her curiosity.

"You are from America?"

"Yes."

"Are you rich?"

"In fancy, in dreams"-humorously.

"Oh! I thought they were all rich."

"Only one or two of us."

"Is it very large, this America?"

"France, Spain, Prussia would be lonesome if set down in America. Only Russia has anything to boast of."

"Did you fight in the war?"

"Yes. Do you like music?"

"Were you ever wounded?"

"A scratch or two, nothing to speak of. But do you like music?"

"Very, very much. When they play Beethoven, Bach, or Meyerbeer, ach, I seem to live in another country. I hear music in everything, in the leaves, the rain, the wind, the stream."

It seemed strange to him that he had not noticed it at first, the almost Hanoverian purity of her speech and the freedom with which she spoke. The average peasant is diffident, with a vocabulary of few words, ignorant of art or music or where the world lay.

"What is your name?"

"Gretchen."

"It is a good name; it is famous, too."

"Goethe used it."

"So he did." Carmichael ably concealed his surprise: "You have some one who reads to you?"

"No, Herr. I can read and write and do sums in addition."

He was willing to swear that she was making fun of him. Was she a simple goose-girl? Was she not something more, something deeper? War-clouds were forming in the skies; they might gather and strike at any time. And who but the French could produce such a woman spy? Ehrenstein was not Prussia, it was true; but the duchy with its twenty thousand troops was one of the many pulses that beat in unison with this man Bismarck's plans. Carmichael addressed her quickly in French, aiming to catch her off her guard.

"I do not speak French, Herr,"-honestly.

He was certainly puzzled, but a glance at her hands dissolved his doubts. These hands were used to toil, they were in no way disguised. No Frenchwoman would sacrifice her hands for her country; at least, not to this extent. Yet the two things in his mind would not readily cohese: a goose-girl who was familiar with the poets and composers.

"You have been to school?"

"After a manner. My teacher was a kind priest. But he never knew that, with knowledge, he was to open the gates of discontent."

"Then you are not happy with your lot?"

"Is any one, Herr?"-quietly. "And who might you be, and what might you be doing here in Dreiberg, riding with the grand duke?"

"I am the American consul."

Gretchen took a step back.

"Oh, it is nothing that will bite you," he added.

"But perhaps I have been disrespectful!"

"Pray, how?"

Gretchen found that she had no definite explanation to offer.

"What did Colonel Wallenstein say to you?"

"Nothing of importance. I am used to it. I am perfectly able to take care of myself," she answered.

"But he annoyed you."

"That is true," she admitted.

"What did the policeman say?"

"What would he say to a goose-girl?"

"Shall I speak to him?"

"Would it really do any good?"-skeptically.

"It might. The duke is friendly toward me, and I am certain he would not tolerate such conduct in his police."

"You would only make enemies for me; insolence would become persecution. I know. Yet, I thank you, Herr-"

"Carmichael. Now, listen, Gretchen; if at any time you are in trouble, you will find me at the Grand Hotel or at the consulate next door to the Black Eagle."

"I shall remember. Sometimes I work in the Black Eagle." And recollection rose in her mind of the old man who had given her the gold piece.

"Good night," he said.

"Thank you, Herr."

Gretchen extended her hand and Carmichael took it in his own, inspecting it.

"Why do you do that?"

"It is a good hand; it is strong, too."

"It has to be strong, Herr. Good night."

Carmichael raised his hat again, and Gretchen breathed contentedly as she saw him disappear in the crowd. That little act of courtesy made everything brighter. There was only one other who ever touched his hat to her respectfully. And as she stood there, dreaming over the unusual happenings of the day, she felt an arm slip through hers, gently but firmly, even with authority. Her head went round.

"Leo?" she whispered.

The young vintner whom Carmichael had pushed against the wall that day smiled from under the deep shade of his hat, drawn down well over his face.

"Gretchen, who was that speaking to you?"

"Herr Carmichael, the American consul."

"Carmichael!" The arm in Gretchen's stiffened.

"What is it, Leo?"

"Nothing. Only, I grow mad with rage when any of these gentlemen speak to you. Gentlemen! I know them all too well."

"This one means no harm."

"I would I were certain. Ah, how I love you!" he whispered.

Gretchen thrilled and drew his arm closely against her side.

"To me the world began but two weeks ago. I have just begun to live."

"I am glad," said Gretchen. "But listen."

The band was playing again.

"Sometimes I am jealous even of that."

"I love you none the less for loving it."

"I know; but I am sad and lonely to-night"-gloomily. "I want all your thoughts."

"Are they not always yours? And why should you be sad and miserable?"

"Why, indeed!"

"Leo, as much as I love you, there is always a shadow."

"What shadow?"

"It is always at night that I see you, rarely in the bright daytime. What do you do during the day? It is not yet vintage. What do you do?"

"Will you trust me a little longer, Gretchen, just a little longer?"

"Always, not a little longer, always. But wait till the music stops and I will tell you of my adventure."

"You have had an adventure?"-distrustfully.

"Yes. Be still."

There were tones in Gretchen's voice that the young vintner could never quite understand. There was a will little less than imperial, and often as he rebelled, he never failed to bow to it.

"What was this adventure?" he demanded, as the music stopped.

She told him about the geese, the grand duke, and the two crowns. He laughed, and she joined him, for it was amusing now.

The musicians were putting away their instruments, the crowd was melting, the attendants were stacking the chairs, so the two lovers went out of the gardens toward the town and the Krumerweg.

Meanwhile Carmichael had lectured the policeman, who was greatly disturbed.

"Your Excellency, I am sure Colonel von Wallenstein meant no harm."

"Are you truthfully sure?"

The policeman plucked at his beard nervously. "It is every man for himself, as your excellency knows. Had I spoken to the colonel, he would have had me broken."

"You could have appealed to the duke."

"Perhaps. I am sorry for the girl, but I have a family to take care of."

"Well, mark me; this little woman loves music; she comes here often. The next time she is annoyed by Wallenstein or any one else, you report it to me. I'll see that it reaches his highness."

"I shall gladly do that, your Excellency."

Carmichael left the gardens and wandered with aimless step. He was surprised to find that he was opposite the side gates to the royal gardens. His feet had followed the bent of his mind. Yet he did not cross the narrow side street. The sound of carriage wheels caused him to halt. He waited. The carriage he had seen by the fountain drew up before the gates, and the woman in black alighted. She spoke to the sentinel, who opened the gates and closed them. The veiled lady vanished abruptly beyond the shrubbery.

"I wonder who that was?" was Carmichael's internal question. "Bah! Some lady-in-waiting with an affair on hand."

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