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   Chapter 7 AN ELDER BROTHER

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 19084

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Grumbach was very fond of music, and in America there were never any bands except at political meetings or at the head of processions; and that wasn't the sort of music he preferred. There was nothing at the Opera, so he decided to spend the earlier part of the evening in the public gardens. He was lonely; he had always been lonely. Men who carry depressing secrets generally are. He searched covertly among the many faces for one that was familiar, but he saw none; and he was at once glad, and sorry. Yes, there was one face; the rubicund countenance of the bandmaster. It was older, more wrinkled, but it was the same. How many years had the old fellow swung the baton? At least thirty years. In his boyhood days Grumbach had put that brilliant uniform side by side with the grand duke's. As it was impossible for him ever to become a duke, his ambition had been to arrive at the next greatest thing-the bandmaster. As he neared the pavilion he laughed silently and grimly. To have grown wealthy as a master plumber instead! So much for ambition!

Subsequently he found himself standing beside a young vintner and his peasant sweetheart. Their hands secretly met and locked behind their backs. Grumbach sighed. Never would he know aught of this double love. This Eden would never have any gate for him to push aside. He would always go his way alone.

The girl turned her head. Seeing Grumbach, she loosened the vintner's hand.

"Do not mind me, girl," said Grumbach, his face broadening.

The girl laughed easily and without confusion. Her companion, however, flushed under his tan, and a scowl ran over his forehead.

The band struck up, and the little comedy was forgotten. But Grumbach could not see anything except the girl's face, the fresh, exquisite turn of her profile. Once his eye wandered rather guiltily. Her figure was in keeping with her face. Then he saw the little wooden shoes. Ah, well, as long as kings surrounded themselves with armies and with pomp, there would always be wooden shoes. The band was playing Les Huguenots, and the girl hummed the air.

"Do not go there to-night, Gretchen," said the vintner.

"It is a crown."

"I will give you two if you will not go," the vintner urged.

"Foolish boy, what good would that do? We need every crown we have or can get, if we are to be married soon. And you have not gone to work yet. And every day costs you a crown to live, and more, for all I know. You spend a crown as carelessly as if all you had to do was to pick them off the vines. Crowns are hard to get."

"When one is happy, one does not stop to bother about crowns," he said impatiently.

"But will such happiness last? Shall we not be happier as our crowns accumulate, to ward off sickness and hunger? Must I teach you economy?"

"I shall apply for work to-morrow and waste no more crowns, my heart." The vintner's hand again sought hers, and he sent Grumbach a look which said: "Smile if you dare!"

But Grumbach did not smile. He was too sad. He fell into a dream, and the music faded in his ear and the lights of the pavilion grew dim. He was a boy again, and he was carrying posies to the pretty little fr?ulein in the Adlergasse. Dreams never last, and sometimes they are rudely interrupted.

A hand was put upon his shoulder authoritatively. The police officer who had examined his passports that morning stood at Grumbach's elbow.

"Herr Grumbach," he said quietly, "his excellency the chancellor has directed me to bring you at once to the palace."

"To the palace?" Grumbach's face was expressive of great astonishment. The officer saw nothing out of the ordinary in this expression. Any foreigner would have been seized with confusion under like circumstances. "To the palace?" Grumbach repeated. "My passports were wrong in some respect?"

"Oh, no, Herr; they were correct."

Grumbach roused his mind energetically. He forced down the fast beating of his heart, banished the astonishment from his face, and even brought a smile to his lips.

"But whatever can the chancellor want of me?"

"That is not my business. I was simply sent to find you. His excellency is always interested in German-Americans. It may be that he wishes to ask what the future is there in America. We have more in Dreiberg than we can reasonably take care of."

"In the prisons?"

The officer laughed. "There and elsewhere."

"Is that right?" asked Grumbach, now thoroughly on guard.

"It may not be right to ship our criminals over there, but it is considered very good politics."

"Shall we go at once? I never expected to enter the palace of the grand duke of Ehrenstein," Grumbach added. "It will be something to tell of when I go back to America."

The only thing that reassured him was the presence of one officer. When they came for a man on a serious charge, in Ehrenstein, they came in pairs or fours. So then, there could be pending nothing vital to his liberty or his incognito. Besides, his papers were all right, and now there would be Carmichael to fall back on.

"The palace is lighted up," was Grumbach's comment as the two passed the sentry outside the gates.

"The duke gives the dinner to the diplomatic corps to-night."

"A fine thing to be a diplomat."

"I myself prefer fighting in the open. Diplomats? Their very precious hides are never anywhere near the wars they bring about. No, no; this way. We go in at the side."

"You'll have to guide me. Yes, these diplomats. Men like you and me do all the work. I was in the Civil War in America."

"That was a great fight," remarked the officer. "I should like to have been there."

"Four years; pretty long. Do you know Herr Carmichael?"

"The American consul? Oh, yes."

"He and I fought in the same regiment."

"Then you saw some pretty battles."

Grumbach took off his hat. "See that?"

"Gott! That must have been an ugly one."

"Almost crossed over when I got it. Is this the door?"

"Yes. I'll put you in snugly. You will probably have to wait for his excellency. But you'll have me for company till he appears."

Grumbach entered the palace with a brave heart and a steady mind.

* * *

The grand duke had a warm place in his heart for the diplomatic corps. He liked to see them gathered round his table, their uniforms glittering with orders and decorations. It was always a night of wits; and he sprang a hundred traps for comedy's sake, but these astonishing linguists seldom if ever blundered into one of them. They were eternally vigilant. It was no trifling matter to swing the thought from German into French or Italian or Hungarian; but they were seasoned veterans in the game, all save Carmichael, who spoke only French and German fluently. The duke, however, never tried needlessly to embarrass him. He admired Carmichael's mental agility. Never he thrust so keenly that the American was found lacking in an effective though simple parry.

"Your highness must recollect that I am not familiar with that tongue."

"Pardon me, Herr Captain!"

But there was always a twinkle in the ducal eye and an answering smile in the consul's.

The somber black of Carmichael's evening dress stood out conspicuously among the blue and green and red uniforms. Etiquette compelled him to wear silk stockings, but that was the single concession on his part. He wore no orders. An order of the third or fourth class held no allurement. Nothing less than the Golden Fleece would have interested him, and the grand duke himself could not boast of this rare and distinguished order. In truth, Carmichael coveted nothing but a medal for valor, and his own country had not yet come to recognize the usefulness of such a distinction.

All round him sat ministers or ambassadors; he alone represented a consulate. So his place at the table was honorary rather than diplomatic. It was his lively humorous personality the grand duke admired, not his representations.

The duke sat at the head of the table and her serene highness at the foot; and it was by the force of his brilliant wit that the princess did not hold in perpetuity the court at her end of the table. For a German princess of that time she was highly accomplished; she was ardent, whimsical, with a flashing mentality which rounded out and perfected her physical loveliness. Above and beyond all this, she had suffered, she had felt the pangs of poverty, the smart of unrecognized merit; she had been one of the people, and her sympathies would always be with them, for she knew what those about her only vaguely knew, the patience, the unmurmuring bravery of the poor. Never would she become sated with power so long as it gave her the right to aid the people. Never a new tax was levied that she did not lighten it in some manner; never an oppressive law was promulgated that she did not soften its severity. And so the populace loved her, for it did not take the people long to find out what she was trying to do for them. And perhaps they loved her because she had lived the greater part of her young life as one of them.

To-night there was love in the duke's eyes as he looked down the table's length; there was love in the old chancellor's eyes, too; and in Carmichael's. And there was love in her eyes as she gazed back at the two old men. But who could read her eyes whenever they roved in Carmichael's direction? Not even Gretchen's grandmother, who lived in the Krumerweg.

"Gentlemen," said the duke, rising and holding up his glass, "this night I give you a toast which I believe

will be agreeable to all of you, especially to his excellency, Baron von Steinbock of Jugendheit. What is past is past; a new regime begins this night." He paused. All eyes were focused upon him in wonder. Only Baron von Steinbock displayed no more than ordinary interest. "I give you," resumed the duke, "her serene highness and his majesty, Frederick of Jugendheit!"

The princess grew delicately pale as the men and women sprang to their feet. Every hand swept toward her, holding a glass. She had surrendered that morning. Not because she wished to be a queen, not because she cared to bring about an alliance between the two countries; no, it was because she was afraid and had burned the bridge behind her.

The tan thinned on Carmichael's face, but his hand was steady. Never would he forget the tableau. She sat still in her chair, her lids drooped, but a proud lift to her chin. The collar of pearls round her neck had scarce more luster than her shoulders. How red her lips seemed against the whiteness of her skin! Beautiful to him beyond all dreams of beauty. God send another war and let him die in the heart of it, fighting! To dream lies as he had done this twelvemonth, to break his heart over the moon! He sat his glass down untouched, happily unobserved. He was in misery; he wanted to be alone.

"Long live her majesty!" thundered the chancellor. He, too, was pale, but the fire of great things burned in his eyes and his lank form took upon itself a transient majesty.

In the ball-room the princess was surrounded; everybody flattered her; congratulated her, and complimented her. All agreed that it was a great political stroke. And indeed it was, but none of them knew how great.

Carmichael was among the last to approach her. By this time he had his voice and nerves under control. Without apparent volition they walked down the stairs which led to the conservatory.

"I thought perhaps you had forgotten me," she said.

"I thought you had forgotten me," she said.

"Forget your highness? Do not give me credit for such an impossibility." He bowed over her hand and brushed it with his lips, for she was almost royal now. "Your highness will be happy. It is written." He stepped back slowly.

"Have you the gift of prescience?"

"In this instance. You will be a great queen."

"Who knows?" dreamily. "When I recall what I have gone through, all this seems like an enchantment out of a fairy-book, and that I must soon wake up in my garret in Dresden."

If only it might be an enchantment! he thought. If only he might find her as the grim old chancellor had found her, in a garret! What?

"Why did you do that?" she asked quickly.

"I do not understand."

"You shrugged."

"I beg your highness' pardon!" flushing. "I was not conscious of such rudeness."

"That is not answering my question."

"I beg of your highness-"

"My highness commands!" But her voice was gentle.

"It was a momentary dream I had; and the thought of its utter impossibility caused me to shrug. I assure your highness that it was a philosophical shrug, such as the Stoics were wont to indulge in." He spoke lightly. Only his eyes were serious.

"And this dream; was there not a woman in it?"

"Oh, no; there was only an angel."

She knew that it was not proper to question him in this manner; but neither her heart nor her mind were formal to-night.

"You interest me; you always interest me. You have seen so many wonderful things. And now it is angels."

"Only one, your Highness." This was daring. "But perhaps I am putting my foot where angels fear to tread," which was still more daring.

"Angels ought not to be afraid of anything." She laughed; there was a pain and a joy in the sound of it. She read his heart as one might read a written line.

"Dreams are always unfinished things," he said, getting back on safer ground.

"What is she like, this angel?" forcing him upon dangerous ground again wilfully.

"Who may describe an angel one has seen only in a golden dream?"

"You will not tell me?"

"I dare not!" His eyes sought hers unflinchingly. This moment he was mad, and had not the chancellor and Baron von Steinbock came up, Heaven only knew what further madness would have unbridled his tongue.

"Your Highness," began the benign voice of the chancellor, "the baron desires, in the name of his august master, to open the ball with you. Behold my fairy-wand," gaily. "This night I have made you a queen."

"Can you make me happy also?" said she, so low that only the chancellor heard her.

"I shall try. Ah, Herr Captain," with a friendly jerk of his head toward Carmichael; "will you do me the honor to join me in my cabinet, quarter of an hour hence?"

"I shall be there, your Excellency." Carmichael was uneasy. He was not certain how much the chancellor had heard.

"A little diplomatic business in which I shall need your assistance," supplemented the chancellor.

Carmichael, instead of loitering uselessly in the ball-room, at once sought the chancellor's cabinet. He wanted to be alone. He made known his business to the chancellor's valet who admitted him. He stopped just across the threshold. To his surprise the room was already tenanted. Grumbach and a police officer!

"Why, Grumbach, what are you doing here?" cried Carmichael.

"Waiting for his excellency. We have been here something past an hour."

"What's the trouble?" Carmichael inquired.

"Your excellency knows as much as I do," said the officer, who was in fact no less than the sub-chief of the bureau.

"And I am in the dark, also," said Grumbach, twirling his hat.

Carmichael walked about, studying the many curios. Occasionally Grumbach wiped his forehead, and, absently, the inner rim of his hat. Perhaps the three of them waited twenty minutes; then the chancellor came in. He bowed cordially and drew chairs about his desk. He placed Grumbach in the full glare of the lamp. Carmichael and the sub-chief were in the half-light. The chancellor was last to seat himself.

"Herr Grumbach," said the chancellor in a mild tone, "I should like to see your papers."

"My passports, your Excellency?"

"Yes."

Grumbach laid them on the desk imperturbably. The chancellor struck the bell. His valet answered immediately.

"Send Breunner, the head gardener, at once."

"He is in the anteroom, Excellency."

"Tell him to come in."

The chancellor shot a piercing glance at Grumbach, but the latter was studying the mural decorations.

Carmichael sat tight in his chair, curious to learn what it was all about. Breunner entered. He was thin and partly bald and quite fifty.

"Breunner, her highness will need many flowers to-morrow. See to it that they are cut in the morning."

"It shall be done, Excellency."

The chancellor turned to the passports.

"There is only one question, Herr Grumbach. It says here that you were a native of Bavaria before going to America. How long ago did you leave Bavaria?"

"A good many years, your Excellency." Grumbach inspected the label in his hat.

"You have, of course, retained your Bavarian passport?"

Carmichael was now leaning forward in his chair, deeply interested. He saw that the chancellor was watching Grumbach as a cat watches a mouse-hole.

Grumbach brought forth a bulky wallet. The edges of Bank of England notes could be seen, of fat denominations.

"Here it is, your Excellency; a little ragged, but readable still."

The chancellor went over it carefully.

"Herr Captain, do you know this compatriot?"

"We fought side by side in the American war. I saw no irregularity in his papers. I am rather astonished to see him here and not at the police bureau, if any question has arisen over his passports."

"Fought side by side," the chancellor repeated thoughtfully. "Then he is no stranger to you?"

"I do not say that. We were, however, in the same cavalry, only in different troops. Grumbach, you have your honorable discharge with you?"

Grumbach went into his wallet still again. This document the chancellor read with an interest foreign to the affair under his hand. Presently he laughed softly. Why, he could not readily have told.

"I am sorry, Herr Grumbach. All this unnecessary trouble simply because of the word Bavaria."

"No trouble at all, your Excellency," restoring his papers. "I have seen the inside of a real palace, and I never expected such an honor."

"How long will you be making your visit?"

"Only a few days, your Excellency. Then I shall proceed to Bavaria."

"Your excellency has no further orders?" said the head gardener patiently.

"Good Heaven, Breunner, I had forgotten all about you! There is nothing more. Gentlemen, your pardon for having detained you so long. Herr Captain, you will return with me to the ball-room?"

"If your excellency will excuse me, no. I am tired. I shall return to the hotel with Herr Grumbach."

"As you please. Good night."

The three left the cabinet under various emotions. The sub-chief bowed himself off at the gates, and Carmichael and Grumbach crossed the Platz leisurely.

"How did you come by that Bavarian passport?" asked Carmichael abruptly.

"It is a forgery, my friend, but his excellency will never find that out."

"You have me all at sea. Why did he bring in the head gardener and leave him standing there all that while?"

"He had a sound purpose, but it fell. The head gardener did not recognize me."

"Do you know him?"

"Yes. He is my elder brother."

* * *

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