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   Chapter 6 AT THE BLACK EAGLE

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 16655

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The day promised to be mild. There was not a cloud anywhere, and the morning mists had risen from the valleys. It was good to stand in the sunshine which seemed to draw forth all the vagaries and weariness of sleep from the mind and body. Hans Grumbach shook himself gratefully. He was standing on the curb in front of the Grand Hotel, his back to the sun. It was nine o'clock. The broad K?nig Strasse shone, the white stone of the palaces glared, the fountains glistened, and the coloring tree tops scintillated like the head-dress of an Indian prince. Hans was short but strongly built; a mild blue-eyed German, smooth-faced, ruddy-cheeked, white-haired, with a brown button of a nose. He drank his beer with the best of them, but it never got so far as his nose save from the outside. His suit was tight-fitting, but the checks were ample, and the watch-chain a little too heavy, and the huge garnet on his third finger was not in good taste. But what's the odds? Grumbach was satisfied, and it's one's own satisfaction that counts most.

Presently two police officers came along and went into the hotel. Grumbach turned with a sigh and followed them. Doubtless they had come to look over his passports. And this happened to be the case.

The senior officer unfolded the precious document.

"It is not yet viséed by your consul," said the officer.

"I arrived late last night. I shall see him this morning," replied Grumbach.

"You were not born in America?"

"Oh, no; I came from Bavaria."

"At what age?"

"I was twenty."

"Did you go to America with your parents?"

"No. I was alone."

"You still have your permit to leave Bavaria?"

"I believe so; I am not certain. I never thought in those days I should become rich enough to travel."

The word that tingled with gold soothed the suspicious ear of the officer.

"What is your business in America?"

"I am a plumber, now retired."

"And your business here?"

"Simply pleasure."

"You are forty?" said the officer, referring to the passports.

"Yes."

"This is rather young to retire from business."

"Not in America," easily.

"True, everybody grows rich there, with gold mines popping open at one's feet. It must be a great country." The officer sighed as he refolded the documents. "As soon as these are approved by his excellency the American consul, kindly have a porter bring them over to the bureau of police. It will be only a matter of form. I shall return them at once."

Grumbach produced a Louis Napoleon which was then as now acceptable that side of the Rhine. It was not done with pomposity, but rather with the exuberance of a man whose purse and letter of credit possess an assuring circumference.

"Drink a bottle, you and your comrade," he said.

This the officer promised to do forthwith. He returned the passports, put a hand to his cap respectfully and, followed by his assistant, walked off briskly.

Grumbach took off his derby and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. This moisture had not been wrung forth by any atmospheric effect. From the top of his forehead to the cowlick on the back of his head ran a broad white scar. At one time or another Grumbach had been on the ragged edge of the long journey. He went out of doors. There is nothing like sunshine to tonic the ebbing courage.

Coming up the thoroughfare, with a dash of spirit and color, was a small troop of horses. The sunlight broke upon the steel and silver. A waiter, cleaning off the little iron tables on the sidewalk, paused. The riders passed, all but two in splendid uniforms. Grumbach watched them till they disappeared into the palace courtyard. He called to the waiter.

"Who are they?"

"The grand duke and some of his staff, Herr."

"The grand duke? Who was the gentleman in civilian clothes?"

"That was his excellency, Herr Carmichael, the American consul."

"Very good. And the young lady?"

"Her serene highness, the Princess Hildegarde."

"Bring me a glass of beer," said Grumbach, sinking down at a table. A thousand questions surged against his lips, but he kept them shut with all the stolidity of his native blood. When the waiter set the beer down before him, he said: "Where does Herr Carmichael live?"

"The consulate is in the Adlergasse. He himself lives here at the Grand Hotel. Ach! He is a great man, Herr Carmichael."

"So?"

"A friend of the grand duke, a friend of her serene highness, liked everywhere, a fine shot and a great fencer, and rides a horse as if he were sewn to the saddle. And all the ladies admire him because he dances."

"So he dances? Quite a lady's man." To Grumbach a man who danced was a lady's man, something to be held in contempt.

"You would not call him a lady's man, if you mean he wastes his time on them."

"But you say he dances?"

"Ach, Gott! Don't we all dance to some tune or other?" cried the waiter philosophically.

"You are right; different music, different jigs. Take the coppers."

"Thanks, Herr." The waiter continued his work.

So Herr Carmichael lived here. That would be convenient. Grumbach decided to wait for him. He had seen enough of men to know if he could trust the consul. He glared at the amber-gold in the glass, took a vigorous swallow, and smacked his lips. A sentimental old fool; he was neither more nor less.

The wait for Carmichael was short. The American consul came along with energetic stride. He had been to the earlier maneuvers, and aside from coffee and bacon he had had no breakfast. The ride and the cold air of morning had made him ravenous. Grumbach rose and caught Carmichael by the arm.

"Your pardon, sir," he said in good English, "but you are Mr. Carmichael, the American consul?"

"I am."

"Will you kindly look over my papers?" Grumbach asked.

"You are from the United States?" Then Carmichael remembered that this must be the compatriot who arrived the night before. "I shall be very glad to see you in the Adlergasse at half after ten. It is one flight up, next door to the Black Eagle. Any one will show you the way. I haven't breakfasted yet, and I can not transact any business in these dusty clothes. Good morning."

Grumbach liked the consul's smile. More than that, he recognized instantly that this handsome young man was a gentleman. The inherent respect for caste had not been beaten out of Grumbach's blood; he had come from a brood in a peasant's hovel. To him the word gentleman would always signify birth and good clothes; what the heart and mind were did not matter much.

He had more than an hour to idle away, so he wandered through the park, admiring the freshness of the green, the well-kept flower-beds, the crisp hedges, and the clean graveled paths. There was nothing like it back there in America. They hadn't the time there; everybody was in the market, speculating in bubbles. He admired the snowy fountains, too, and the doves that darted in and out of the wind-blown spray. There was nothing like this in America, either. He was not belittling; he was only making comparisons. He knew that he would be far happier in his adopted country, which would accomplish all these beautiful things farther on.

He looked up heavenward, where the three bergs shouldered the dazzling snow into the blue. This impressed him more than all else; that little wrinkle in the middle berg's ice had been there when he was a boy. Nothing had changed in Dreiberg save the K?nig Strasse, whose cobbles had been replaced by smooth blocks of wood. At times he sent swift but uncertain glances toward the palaces. He longed to peer through the great iron fence, but he smothered this desire. He would find out what he wanted to know when he met Carmichael at the consulate. Here the bell in the cathedral struck the tenth hour; not a semitone had this voice of bronze changed in all these years. It was good to be here in Dreiberg again. Should he ask the way to the Adlergasse? Perhaps this would be wiser. So he put the question to a policeman. The officer politely gave him a detailed route.

"Follow these directions and you will have no trouble in finding the Adlergasse."

"Much obliged."

Trouble? Scarcely! He had put out his first protest against the world in the Adlergasse, forty years since. He came to a stand before the old tavern. Not ev

en the sign had been painted anew, though the oak board was a trifle paler and there was a little more rust on the hinges. Many a time he had fought with the various pot-boys. He wondered if there were any pot-boys inside now. He noted the dingy consulate sign, then started up the dark and narrow stairs. The consulate door stood open.

A clerk, native to Ehrenstein, was writing at a table. At a desk by the window sat Carmichael, deep in a volume of Dumas. No one ever hurried here; no one ever had palpitation of the heart over business. The clerk lifted his head.

"Mr. Carmichael?" said Grumbach in English.

The clerk indicated with his pen toward the individual by the window. Carmichael read on. Grumbach had assimilated some Americanisms. He went boldly over and seated himself in the chair at the side of the desk. With a sigh Carmichael left Porthos in the grotto of Locmaria.

"I am Mr. Grumbach. I spoke to you this morning about my passports. Will you kindly look them over?"

Carmichael took the papers, frowning slightly. Grumbach laid his derby on his knees. The consul went over the papers, viséed them, and handed them to their owner.

"You will have no trouble going about with those," Carmichael said listlessly. "How long will you be in Dreiberg?"

"I do not know," said Grumbach truthfully.

"Is there anything I can do for you?"

"There is only one thing," answered Grumbach, "but you may object, and I shall not blame you if you do. It will be a great favor."

"What do you wish?" more listlessly.

"An invitation to the military ball at the palace, after the maneuvers," quietly.

Carmichael sat up. He had not expected so large an order as this.

"I am afraid you are asking something impossible for me to obtain," he replied coldly, thumbing the leaves of his book.

"Ah, Mr. Carmichael, it is very important that I should be there."

"Explain."

"I can give you no explanations. I wish to attend this ball. I do not care to meet the grand duke or any one else. Put me in the gallery where I shall not be noticed. That is all I ask of you."

"That might be done. But you have roused my curiosity. Your request is out of the ordinary. You have some purpose?"

"A perfectly harmless one," said Grumbach, mopping his forehead.

This movement brought Carmichael's eye to the scar. Grumbach acknowledged the stare by running his finger along the subject.

"I came near passing in my checks the day I got that," he volunteered. "Everybody looks at it when I take off my hat. I've tried tonics, but the hair won't grow there."

"Where did you get it?"

"At Gettysburg."

"Gettysburg?" with a lively facial change. "You were in the war?"

"All through it."

Carmichael was no longer indifferent. He gave his hand.

"I've got a few scars myself. What regiment?"

"The-- th cavalry, New York."

"What troop?" with growing excitement.

"C troop."

"I was captain of B troop in the same regiment. Hurrah! Work's over for the day. Come along with me, Grumbach, and we'll talk it over down-stairs in the Black Eagle. You're a godsend. C troop! Hanged if the world doesn't move things about oddly. I was in the hospital myself after Gettysburg; a ball in the leg. And I've rheumatism even now when a damp spell comes."

So down to the tavern they went, and there they talked the battles over, sundry tankards interpolating. It was "Do you remember this?" and, "Do you recall that?" with diagrams drawn in beer on the oaken table.

"But there's one thing, my boy," said Carmichael.

"What's that?"

"The odds were on our side, or we'd be fighting yet."

"That we would. The poor devils were always hungry when we whipped them badly."

"But you're from this side of the water?"

"Yes; went over when I was twenty-two." Grumbach sucked his pipe stolidly.

"What part of Germany?"

"Bavaria; it is so written in my passports."

"Munich?"

Grumbach circled the room. All the near tables were vacant. The Black Eagle was generally a lonely place till late in the afternoon. Grumbach touched the scar tenderly. Could he trust this man? Could he trust any one in the world? The impulse came to trust Carmichael, and he did not disregard it.

"I was born in this very street," he whispered.

"Here?"

"Sh! Not so loud! Yes, in this very street. But if the police knew, I wouldn't be worth that!"-with a snap of the fingers. "My passports, my American citizenship, they would be worthless. You know that."

"But what does this all mean? What have you done that you can't come back here openly?" Here was a mystery. This man with the kindly face and frank eyes could be no ordinary criminal. "Can I help you in any way?"

"No; no one can help me."

"But why did you come back? You were safe enough in New York."

"Who can say what a man will do? Don't question me. Let be. I have said too much already. Some day perhaps I shall tell you why. When I went away I was thin and pale and had yellow hair. To-day I am fat, gray-headed; I have made money. Who will recognize me now? No one."

"But your name?"

Grumbach laughed unmusically. "Grumbach is as good as another. Listen. You are my comrade now; we have shed our blood on the same field. There is no tie stronger than that. When I left Dreiberg there was a reward of a thousand crowns for me. Dead or alive, preferably dead."

Carmichael was plainly bewildered. He tried to recall the past history of Ehrenstein which would offer a niche for this inoffensive-looking German. He was blocked.

"Dead or alive," he repeated.

"So."

"You were mad to return."

"I know it. But I had to come; I couldn't help it. Oh, don't look like that! I never hurt anybody, unless it was in battle"-na?vely. "Ask no more, my friend. I promise to tell you when the right time comes. Now, will you get me that invitation to the gallery at the military ball?"

"I will, if you will give me your word, as a soldier, as a comrade in arms, that you have no other purpose than to look at the people."

"As God is my judge"-solemnly-"that is all I wish to do. Now, what has happened since I went away? I have dared to ask questions of no one."

Carmichael gave him a brief summary of events, principal among which was the amazing restoration of the Princess Hildegarde. When he had finished, Grumbach remained dumb and motionless for a time.

"And what is her serene highness like?"

To describe the Princess Hildegarde was not only an easy task, but a pleasant one to Carmichael, and if he embroidered this description here and there, Grumbach was too deeply concerned with the essential points to notice these variations in the theme.

"So she is gentle and beautiful? Why not? Ach! You should have seen her mother. She was the most beautiful woman in all Germany, and she sang like one of those Italian nightingales. I recall her when I was a boy. I would gladly have died at a word from her. All loved her. The king of Jugendheit wanted her, but she loved the grand duke. So the Princess Hildegarde has come back to her own? God is good!" And Grumbach bent his head reverently.

"Well," said Carmichael, beckoning to the waitress, and paying the score, "if any trouble rises, send for me. You don't look like a man who has done anything very bad." He offered his hand again.

Grumbach pressed it firmly, and there was a moisture in his eyes.

Together they returned to the Grand Hotel for lunch. On the way neither talked very much. They were both thinking of the same thing, but from avenues diametrically opposed. Grumbach declined Carmichael's invitation to lunch, and immediately sought his own room.

Once there, he closed the shutters so as to admit but half the day's light, and opened his battered trunk. From the false bottom, which had successfully eluded the vigilance of a dozen frontiers, he took out a small bundle. This he opened carefully, his eyes blurring. Mad fool that he had been! How many times had he gazed at these trinkets in these sixteen or more years? How often had he uttered lamentations over them? How many times had the talons of remorse gashed his heart?

Two little yellow shoes, so small that they lay on his palm as lightly as two butterflies; a little cloak trimmed with ermine; a golden locket shaped like a heart!

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