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   Chapter 11 THE SOCIALISTS

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 19120

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Hermann Breunner lived in the granite lodge, just within the eastern gates of the royal gardens. He was a widower and shared the ample lodge with the undergardeners and their families. He lived with them, but signally apart. They gave him as much respect as if he had been the duke himself. He was a lonely, taciturn man, deeply concerned with his work, and a botanical student of no mean order. No comrade helped him pass away an evening in the chimney-corner, pipe in hand and good cheer in the mug. This isolation was not accidental, it was Hermann's own selection. He was a man of brooding moods, and there was no laughter in his withered heart, though the false sound of it crossed his lips at infrequent intervals.

He adjusted his heavy spectacles and held the note slantingly toward the candle. A note or a letter was a singular event in Hermann's life. Not that he looked forward with eagerness to receive them, but that there was no one existing who cared enough about him to write. This note left by the porter of the Grand Hotel moved him with surprise. It requested that he present himself at eight o'clock at the office of the hotel and ask to be directed to the room of Hans Grumbach.

"Now, who is Hans Grumbach? I never knew or heard of a man of that name."

Nevertheless, he decided to go. Certainly this man Grumbach did not urge him without some definite purpose. He laid down his pipe, reached for his hat and coat-for in the lodge he generally went about in his shirt-sleeves-and went over to the hotel. The concierge, who knew Hermann, conducted him to room ten on the entresole. Hermann knocked. A voice bade him enter. Ah, it was the German-American, whose papers had puzzled his excellency.

"You wished to see me, Herr Grumbach?"

"Yes," said Grumbach, offering a chair.

Hermann accepted the courtesy with dignity. His host drew up another chair to the opposite side of the reading-table. The light overhead put both faces in a semishadow.

"You are Hermann Breunner," began Grumbach.

"Yes."

"You once had a brother named Hans."

Hermann grew rigid in his chair. "I have no brother," he replied, his voice dull and empty.

"Perhaps not now," continued Grumbach, "but you did have."

Hermann's head drooped. "My God, yes, I did have a brother; but he was a scoundrel."

Grumbach lighted a cigar. He did not offer one to Hermann, who would have refused it.

"Perhaps he was a scoundrel. He is-dead!" softly.

"God's will be done!" But Hermann's face turned lighter.

"As a boy he loved you."

"And did I not love him?" said Hermann fiercely. "Did I not worship that boy, who was to me more like a son than a brother? Had not all the brothers and sisters died but he? But you-who are you to recall these things?"

"I knew your brother; I knew him well. He was not a scoundrel; only weak. He went to America and became successful in business. He fought with the North in the war. He was not a coward; he did his fighting bravely and honorably."

"Oh, no; Hans could never, have been a coward; even his villainy required courage. But go on."

"He died facing the enemy, and his last words were of you. He begged your forgiveness; he implored that you forget that black moment. He was young, he said; and they offered him a thousand crowns. In a moment of despair he fell."

"Despair? Did he confess to you the crime he committed?"

"Yes."

"Did he tell you to whom he sold his honor?"

"That he never knew. A Gipsy from the hills came to him, so he said.

"From Jugendheit?"

"I say that he knew nothing. He believed that the Gipsy wanted her highness to hold for ransom. Hans spoke of a girl called Tekla."

"Tekla? Ah, yes; Hans was in love with that doll-face."

"Doll-face or not, Hans evidently loved her. She jilted him, and he did not care then what happened. His one desire was to leave Dreiberg. And this Gipsy brought the means and the opportunity."

"Not Jugendheit?"

"Who knows? Hans followed the band of Gipsies into the mountains. The real horror of his act did not come home to him till then. Ah, the remorse! But it was too late. They dressed the little one in rags. But when I ran away from them I took her little shoes and cloak and locket."

Hermann was on his feet!

Grumbach relighted his cigar which had gone out. The smoke wavered about his face and slowly ascended. His eyes were as bright and glowing as coals. He waited. He had made the slip without premeditation; but what was done was done. So he waited.

Hermann dropped his hands on the table and leaned forward.

"Is it you, Hans, and I did not know you?"

"It is I, brother."

"My God!" Hermann sank down weakly. The ceiling spun and the gaslight separated itself into a hundred flames. "You said he was dead!"

"So I am, to the world, to you, and to all who knew me," quietly.

"Why have you returned?"

Hans shrugged. "I don't know. Perhaps I am a fool; perhaps I am willing to pay the penalty of my crime. At least that was uppermost in my mind till I learned that her highness had been found."

"Hans, Hans, the duke has sworn to hang you!"

Hans laughed. "The rope is not made that will fit my neck. Will you denounce me, brother?"

"I?" Hermann shrank back in horror.

"Why not? Five thousand crowns still hang over me."

"Blood-money for me? No, Hans!"

"Besides, I have made a will. At my death you will be rich."

"Rich?"

"Yes, Hermann. I am worth two hundred thousand crowns."

Hermann breathed with effort. So many things had beaten upon his brain in the past ten minutes that he was dazed. His brother Hans alive and here, and rich?

"But riches are not everything."

"Sometimes they are little enough," Hans agreed.

"Why did you do it?" Hermann's voice was full of agony.

"Have I not told you, Hermann? There is nothing more to be added." Then, with rising passion: "Nothing more, now that my heart is blistered and scarred with regret and remorse. God knows that I have repented and repented. I went to war because I wanted to be killed. They shot me here, and here, and here, and this saber-cut would have split the skull of any other man. But it was willed that I should come back here."

"My poor brother! You must fly from here at once!"

"From what?" tranquilly.

"The chancellor is suspicious."

"I know that. But since you, my brother, failed to identify me, certainly his excellency will not. I shall make no slip as in your case. And you will not betray me when I tell you that I have returned principally to find out whence came those thousand crowns."

"Ah! Find that out, Hans; yes, yes!" Hermann began to look more like himself. "But what was your part?"

"Mine? I was to tell where her highness and her nurse were to be at a certain hour of the day. Nothing more was necessary. My running away was the expression of my guilt; otherwise they would never have connected me with the abduction."

"Have you any suspicions?"

"None. And remember, you must not know me, Hermann, no matter where we meet. I am sleepy." Hans rose.

And this, thought Hermann, his bewilderment gaining life once more, and this calm, unruffled man, whose hair was whiter than his own, a veteran of the bloodiest civil war in history, this prosperous mechanic, was his little brother Hans!

"Hans, have you no other greeting?" Hermann asked, spreading out his arms.

The wanderer's face beamed; and the brothers embraced.

"You forgive me, then, Hermann?"

"Must I not, little Hans? You are all that is left me of the blood. True, I swore that if ever I saw you again I should curse you."

The two stood back from each other, but with arms still entwined.

"Perhaps, Hans, I did not watch you closely enough in those days."

"And what has become of the principal cause?"

"The cause?"

"Tekla."

"Bah! She is fat and homely and the mother of seven squalling children."

"What a world! To think that Tekla should be at the bottom of all this tangle! What irony! I ruin my life, I break the heart of the grand duke, I nearly cause war between two friendly states-why? Tekla, now fat and homely and the mother of seven, would not marry me. The devil rides strange horses."

"Good night, Hans."

"Good night, Hermann, and God bless you for your forgiveness. Always come at night if you wish to see me, but do not come often; they might remark it."

A rap on the door startled them. Hans, a finger of warning on his lips, opened the door. Carmichael stood outside.

"Ah, Captain!" Hans took Carmichael by the hand and drew him into the room.

Carmichael, observing Hermann, was rather confused as to what to do.

"Good evening, Hermann," he said.

"Good evening, Herr Carmichael."

Hermann passed into the hail and softly closed the door after him. It was better that the American should not see the emotion which still illumined his face.

"What's the good word, Captain?" inquired Hans.

Carmichael put in a counter-query: "What was your brother doing here?"

"I have told him who I am."

"Was it wise?"

"Hermann sleeps soundly; he will talk neither in his sleep nor in his waking hours. He has forgiven me."

"For what?" thoughtlessly.

"The time for explanations has not yet come, Captain."

"Pardon me, Grumbach; I was not thinking. But I came to bring you the invitation to the military ball."

The broad white envelope, emblazoned with the royal arms, fascinated Hans, not by its resplendency, but by the possibilities which it afforded.

"Thank you; it was very goo

d of you."

"It was a pleasure, comrade. What do you say to an hour or two at the Black Eagle? We'll drown our sorrows together."

"Have you any sorrows, Captain?"

"Who hasn't? Life is a patchwork with the rounding-out pieces always missing. Come along. I'm lonesome to-night."

"So am I," said Hans.

The Black Eagle was lively as usual; and there were some familiar faces. The vintner was there and so was Gretchen. Carmichael hailed her.

"This is my last night here, Herr Carmichael," she said.

"Somebody has left you a fortune?" There was a jest in Carmichael's eyes.

"Yes," replied Gretchen, her lips unsmiling.

"The poor lady who lived on the top floor of my grandmother's house was rich. She left me a thousand crowns."

Carmichael and Grumbach: "A thousand crowns!"

"And what will you do with all that money?" asked Hans.

"I am going to study music."

"I thought you were going to be married soon," said Carmichael.

"Surely. But that will not hinder. I shall have enough for two." Gretchen saw no reason why she should tell them of the princess' generosity.

"But how does he take it?" asked Carmichael, with a motion of his head toward the vintner, half hidden behind a newspaper.

"He doesn't like the idea at all. But the Herr Direktor says that I am a singer, and that some day I shall be rich and famous."

"When that day comes I shall be there with many a brava!"

The vintner, who sat near enough to catch a bit of the conversation, scowled over the top of his paper. Carmichael eyed him mischievously. Gretchen picked up her coppers and went away.

"A beautiful girl," said Hans abstractedly. "She might be Hebe with no trouble at all."

Carmichael admired Hans. There was always some new phase in the character of this quiet and unassuming German. A plumber who was familiar with the classics was not an ordinary person. He raised his stein and Hans extended his. After that they smoked, with a word or two occasionally in comment.

At that day there was only one newspaper in Dreiberg. It was a dry and solid sheet, of four pages, devoted to court news, sciences, and agriculture. The vintner presently smoothed down the journal, opened his knife, and cut out a paragraph. Carmichael, following his movements slyly, wondered what he had seen to interest him to the point of preservation. The vintner crushed the remains of the sheet into a ball and dropped it to the floor. Then he finished his beer, rose, and proceeded toward the stairs leading to the rathskeller below. Down these he disappeared.

An idea came to Carmichael. He called a waitress and asked her to bring a copy of that day's paper. Meantime he recovered the vintner's paper, and when he finally put the two together, it was a simple matter to replace the missing cutting. Grumbach showed a mild interest over the procedure.

"Why do you do that, Captain?"

"A little idea I have; it may not amount to anything." But the American was puzzled over the cutting. There were two sides to it: which had interested the vintner? "Do you care for another beer?"

"No, I am tired and sleepy, Captain."

"All right; we'll go back to the hotel. There is nothing going on here to-night."

But Carmichael was mistaken for once.

A little time later Herr Goldberg harangued his fellow socialists bitterly. Gretchen's business in this society was to serve. They had selected her because they knew that she inclined toward the propaganda. Few spoke to her, outside of giving orders, and then kindly.

The rathskeller had several windows and doors. These led to the Biergarten, to the wine-cellar, and to an alley which had no opening on the street. The police had as yet never arrested anybody; but several times the police had dispersed Herr Goldberg and his disciples on account of the noise. The window which led to the blind alley was six feet from the floor, twice as broad as it was high, and unbarred. Under this window sat the vintner. He was a probationer, a novitiate; this was his second attendance. He liked to sit in the shadow and smile at Herr Goldberg's philosophy, which, summed up briefly, meant that the rich should divide with the poor and that the poor should hang on to what they had or got. It may have never occurred to Herr Goldberg that the poor were generally poor because of their incapabilities, their ignorance, and incompetence. To-night, however, there were variety and spice with his Jeremiad.

"Brothers, shall this thing take place? Shall the daughter of Ehrenstein become Jugendheit's vassal? Oh, how we have fallen! Where is the grand duke's pride we have heard so much about? Are we, then, afraid of Jugendheit?"

"No!" roared his auditors, banging their stems and tankards. The vintner joined the demonstration, banging his stein as lustily as the next one.

"Have you thought what this marriage will cost us in taxes?"

"What?"

"Thousands of crowns, thousands! Do we not always pay for the luxuries of the rich? Do not their pleasures grind us so much deeper into the dirt? Yes, we are the corn they grind. And shall we submit, like the dogs in Flanders, to become beasts of burden?"

"No, no!"

"I have a plan, brothers; it will show the duke to what desperation he has driven us at last. We will mob the Jugendheit embassy on the day of the wedding; we will tear it apart, brick by brick, stone by stone."

"Hurrah!" cried the noisy ones. They liked talk of this order. They knew it was only here that great things happened, the division of riches and mob-rule. Beer was cheaper by the keg.

The noise subsided. Gretchen spoke.

"Her serene highness will not marry the king of Jugendheit."

Every head swung round in her direction.

"What is that you say?" demanded Herr Goldberg.

Gretchen repeated her statement. It was the first time she had ever raised her voice in the councils.

"Oh, indeed!" said Goldberg, bowing with ridicule: "Since when did her serene highness make you her confidante?"

"Her serene highness told me so herself." Gretchen's eyes, which had held only mildness and good-will, now sparkled with contempt.

A roar of laughter went up, for the majority of them thought that Gretchen was indulging in a little pleasantry.

"Ho-ho! So you are on speaking terms with her highness?" Herr Goldberg laughed.

"Is there anything strange in this fact?" she asked, keeping her tones even.

The vintner made a sign to her, but she ignored it.

"Strange?" echoed Herr Goldberg, becoming furious at having the interest in himself thus diverted. "Since when did goose-girls and barmaids become on intimate terms with her serene highness?"

Gretchen pressed the vintner's arm to hold him in his chair.

"Does not your socialism teach that we are all equal?"

The vintner thumped with his stein in approval, and others imitated him. Goldberg was no ordinary fool. He sidestepped defeat by an assumption of frankness.

"Tell us about it. If I have spoken harshly it is only reasonable. Tell us under what circumstance you met her highness and how she happened to tell you this very important news. Every one knows that this marriage is to take place."

Gretchen nodded. "Nevertheless, her highness has changed her mind." And she recounted picturesquely her adventure in the royal gardens, and all hung on her words in a kind of maze. It was all very well to shout, "Down with royalty!" it was another matter to converse and shake bands with it.

"Hurrah!" shouted the vintner. "Long live her highness! Down with Jugendheit!"

There was a fine chorus.

And there was a fine tableau not down on the evening's program. A police officer and three assistants came down the stairs quietly.

"Let no one leave this room!" the officer said sternly.

The dramatic pause was succeeded by a babel of confusion. Chairs scraped, stems clattered, and the would-be liberators huddled together like so many sheep rounded up by a shepherd-dog.

"Ho, there! Stop him, you!"

It was the vintner who caused this cry; and the agility with which he scrambled through the window into the blind alley was an inspiration.

"After him!" yelled the officer. "He is probably the one rare bird in the bunch."

But they searched in vain.

Gretchen stared ruefully at the blank window.

Somehow this flight pained her; somehow it gave her the heartache to learn that her idol was afraid of such a thing as a policeman.

"Out into the street, every mother's son of you!" cried the officer angrily to the quaking socialists. "This is your last warning, Goldberg. The next time you go to prison for seditious teachings. Out with you!"

The socialists could not have emptied the cellar any quicker had there been a fire.

Gretchen alone remained. It was her duty to carry the steins up to the bar. The officer, rather thorough for his kind, studied the floor under the window. He found a cutting from a newspaper. This interested him.

"Do you know who this fellow was?" with a jerk of his head toward the window.

"He is Leopold Dietrich, a vintner, and we are soon to be married." There was a flaw in the usual sweetness of her voice.

"So? What made him run away like this?"

"He is new to Dreiberg. Perhaps he thought you were going to arrest every one. Oh, he has done nothing wrong; I am sure of that."

"There is one way to prove it."

"And what is that?"

"Ask him if he is not a spy from Jugendheit," roughly.

The steins clicked crisply in Gretchen's arms; one of them fell and broke at her feet.

* * *

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