MoboReader> Literature > The Goose Girl

   Chapter 12 LOVE'S DOUBTS

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 14385

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Gretchen, troubled in heart and mind over the strange event of the night, walked slowly home, her head inclined, her arms swinging listlessly at her side. A spy, this man to whom she had joyously given the flower of her heart and soul? There was some mistake; there must be some mistake. She shivered; for the word spy carried with it all there was in deceit, treachery, cunning. In war time she knew that spies were necessary, that brave men took perilous hazards, without reward, without renown; but in times of peace nothing but opprobrium covered the word. A political scavenger, the man she loved? No; there was some mistake. The bit of newspaper cutting did not worry her. Anybody might have been curious about the doings of the king of Jugendheit and his uncle the prince regent. Because the king hunted in Bavaria with the crown prince, and his uncle conferred with the king of Prussia in Berlin, it did not necessarily follow that Leopold Dietrich was a spy. Gretchen was just. She would hear his defense before she judged him.

Marking the first crook in the Krumerweg was an ancient lamp hanging from the side of the wall. The candle in this lamp burned night and day, through winter's storms and summer's balms. The flame dimmed and glowed, a kindly reminder in the gloom. It was a shrine to the Virgin Mary; and before this Gretchen paused, offering a silent prayer that the Holy Mother preserve this dream of hers.

A footstep from behind caused her to start. The vintner took her roughly in his arms and kissed her many times.

Her heart shook within her, but she did not surrender her purpose under these caresses. She freed herself energetically and stood a little away from him, panting and star-eyed.

"Gretchen?"

She did not speak.

"What is it?"

"You ask?"

"Was it a crime, then, to jump out of the window?" He laughed.

Gretchen's face grew sterner. "Were you afraid?"

"For a moment. I have never run afoul the police. I thought perhaps we were all to be arrested."

"Well, and what then?"

"What then? Uncomfortable quarters in stone rooms. I preferred discretion to valor."

"Perhaps you did not care to have the police ask you questions?"

"What is all this about?" He pulled her toward him so that he could look into her eyes.

"What is the matter? Answer!"

"Are you not a spy from Jugendheit?" thinly.

He flung aside her hand. "So! The first doubt that enters your ear finds harbor there. A spy from Jugendheit; that is a police suggestion, and you believed it!"

"Do you deny it?" Gretchen was not cowed by his anger, which her own evenly matched.

"Yes," proudly, snatching his hat from his head and throwing it violently at her feet; "yes, I deny it. I am not a spy from any country; I have not sold the right to look any man in the eye."

"I have asked you many questions," she replied, "but you are always laughing. It is a pleasant way to avoid answering. I have given you my heart and all its secrets. Have you opened yours as frankly?"

To meet anger with logic and sense is the simplest way to overcome it. The vintner saw himself at bay. He stooped to recover his hat, not so much to regain it but to steal time to conjure up some way out.

"Gretchen, here under the Virgin I swear to you that I love you as a man loves but once in his life. If I were rich, I would gladly fling these riches to the wind for your sake. If I were a king, I'd barter my crown for a smile and a kiss. I have done no wrong; I have committed no crime. But you must have proof; so be it. We will go together to the police-bureau and settle this doubt once and for all."

"When?" Gretchen's heart was growing warm again.

"Now, to-night, while they are hunting for me."

"Forgive me!" brokenly.

"Come!"

"No, Leopold, this test is not necessary."

"I insist. This thing must be righted publicly."

"And I was thinking that the man I loved was a coward!"

"I am braver than you dream, Gretchen." And in truth he was, for he was about to set forth for the lion's den, and only amazing cleverness could extricate him. Man never enters upon the foolhardy unless it be to dazzle a woman. And the vintner's love for Gretchen was no passing thing. "Let us hurry; it is growing late. They will be shutting off the lights before we return."

The police-bureau was far away, but the distance was nothing to these healthy young people.

They progressed at a smart pace and in less than twenty minutes they arrived. It was Gretchen who drew back fearfully.

"After all, will it not be foolish?" she suggested.

"They will be searching for me," he answered.

"It will be easier if I present myself. It will bear testimony that I am innocent of any wrong."

"I will go in with you," determinedly.

The police officer, or, to be more particular, the sub-chief of the bureau, received them with ill-concealed surprise.

"I have learned that you are seeking me," said the vintner, taking off his cap. His yellow curls waved about his forehead in moist profusion.

Immediately the sub-chief did not know what to say. This was out of the ordinary, conspicuously so. There was little precedent by which to act in a case like this. So in order to appear that nothing could destroy his official poise, he let the two stand before his desk while he sorted some papers.

"You are not a native of Dreiberg," he began.

"No, Herr; I am from Bavaria. If you will look into your records you will find that my papers were presented two or three weeks ago."

"Let me see them."

The vintner's passports were produced. The sub-chief compared them to the corresponding number in his book. There was nothing wrong about them.

"I do not recollect seeing you here before."

"It was one of your assistants who originally went over the papers."

"What is your business?"

"I am a vintner by trade, Herr."

"And are there not plenty of vineyards in Bavaria?"

"We vintners," with an easy gesture, "are of a roving disposition. I have been all along the Rhine and the Moselle. I prefer grapes to hops."

"But why Dreiberg? The best vineyards are south."

"Who can say where we shall go next? Dreiberg seemed good enough for me," with a shy glance at Gretchen.

"Why did you jump out of the window?"

"I was frightened at first, Herr. I did not know that you merely dispersed meetings. I believed that we were all to be arrested. Such measures are in force in Munich."

"You accused him of being a Jugendheit spy," broke in Gretchen, who was growing impatient under these questions, which seemed to go nowhere in particular.

"You be silent," warned the sub-chief.

"I am here because of that accusation," said the vintner.

"What have you to say?"

"I deny it."

"That is easy to do. But can you prove it?"

"It is for you to prove, Herr."

"Read this."

It was the cutting. The vintner read it, his brows drawn together in a puzzled frown. He turned the slip over carelessly. The sub-chief's eyes bored into him like gimlets.

"I can make nothing of this, Herr. When I cut this out of the paper it was to preserve the notice on the other side." The vintner returned the cutting.

T

he sub-chief read aloud:

"Vintners and presses and pruners wanted for the season. Find and liberal compensation. Apply, Holtz."

Gretchen laughed joyously; the vintner grinned; the sub-chief swore under his breath.

"The devil fly away with you both!" he cried, making the best of his chagrin. "And when you marry, don't invite me to the wedding."

After they had gone, however, he called for an assistant.

"Did you see that young vintner?"

"Yes."

"Follow him, night and day. Find out where he lives and what he does; and ransack his room if possible. He is either an innocent man or a sleek rascal. Report to me this time each night."

"And the girl?"

"Don't trouble about her. She is under the patronage of her serene highness. She's as right as a die. It's the man. He was too easy; he didn't show enough concern. An ordinary vintner would have been frightened. This fellow smiled."

"And if I find out anything suspicious?"

"Arrest him out of hand and bring him here at once."

Alone once more the sub-chief studied the cutting with official thoroughness. He was finally convinced, by the regularity of the line on the printed side as compared with the irregularity of the line on the advertising side, that the vintner had lied. And yet there was no proof that he had.

"This young fellow will go far," he mused, with reluctant admiration.

On reaching the street Gretchen gave rein to her laughter. What promised to be a tragedy was only a farce. The vintner laughed, too, but Momus would have criticized his laughter.

The night was not done yet; there were still some more surprises in store for the vintner. As they turned into the Krumerweg they almost ran into Carmichael. What was the American consul doing in this part of the town, so near midnight? Carmichael recognized them both. He lifted his hat, but the vintner cavalierly refused to respond.

"Herr Carmichael!" said Gretchen. "And what are you doing here this time of the night?"

"I have been on a fool's errand," urbanely.

"And who sent you?"

"The god of fools himself, I guess. I am looking for a kind of ghost, a specter in black that leaves the palace early in the evening and returns late, whose destination has invariably been forty Krumerweg."

The vintner started.

"My house?" cried Gretchen.

"Yours? Perhaps you can dispel this phantom?" said Carmichael.

Gretchen was silent.

"Oh! You know something. Who is she?"

"A lady who comes on a charitable errand. But now she will come no more."

"And why not?"

"The object of her visits is gone," Gretchen answered sadly.

"My luck!" exclaimed Carmichael ruefully.

"I am always building houses of cards. I don't suppose I shall ever reform."

"Are you not afraid to walk about in this part of the town so late?" put in the vintner, who was impatient to be gone.

"Afraid? Of what? Thieves? Bah, my little man, I carry a sword-stick, and moreover I know how to use it tolerably well. Good night." And he swung along easily, whistling an air from The Barber of Seville.

The insolence in Carmichael's tone set the vintner's ears a-burning, but he swallowed his wrath.

"I like him," Gretchen declared, as she stopped before the house.

"Why?" jealously.

"Because he is always like that; pleasant, never ruffled, kindly. He will make a good husband to some woman."

The vintner shrugged. He was not patient to-night.

"Who is this mysterious woman?"

"I am not free to tell you."

"Oh!"

"Leopold, what is the matter with you to-night? You act like a boy."

"Perhaps the police muddle is to blame. Besides, every time I see this man Carmichael I feel like a baited dog."

"In Heaven's name, why?"

"Nothing that I can remember. But I have asked you a question."

"And I have declined to answer that question. All my secrets are yours, but this one is another's."

"Is it her highness?"

Gretchen fingered the latch suggestively.

"I am wrong, Gretchen; you are right. Kiss me!"

She liked the tone; she liked the kisses, too, though they hurt.

"Good night, my man!" she whispered.

"Good night, my woman! To-morrow night at eight."

He turned and ran lightly and swiftly up the street. Gretchen remained standing in the doorway till she could see him no more. Why should he run like that? She raised the latch and went inside.

From the opposite doorway a mountaineer, a carter, a butcher, and a baker stepped cautiously forth.

"He heard something," said the mountaineer. "He has ears like a rat for hearing. What a pretty picture!" cynically. "All the world loves a lover-sometimes. Touching scene!"

No one replied; no one was expected to reply; more than that, no one cared to court the fury which lay thinly disguised in the mountaineer's tones.

"To-morrow night; you heard what he said. I am growing weary of this play. You will stop him on his way to yonder house. A closed carriage will be at hand. Before he enters, remember. She watches him too long when he leaves. Fool!"

The quartet stole along in the darkness, noiselessly and secretly.

The vintner had indeed heard something. He knew not what this noise was, but it was enough to set his heels to flying. A phase had developed in his character that defied analysis; suspicion, suspicion of daylight, of night, of shadows moving by walls, of footsteps behind. Only a little while ago he had walked free-hearted and careless. This growing habit of skulking was gall and wormwood. Once in his room, which was directly over the office of the American consulate, he fell into a chair, inert and breathless. What a night! What a series of adventures!

"Only a month ago I was a boy. I am a man now, for I know what it is to suffer. Gretchen, dear Gretchen, I am a black scoundrel! But if I break your heart I shall break my own along with it. I wonder how much longer it will last. But for that vintner's notice I should have been lost."

By and by he lighted a candle. The room held a cot, a table, and two chairs. The vintner's wardrobe consisted of a small pack thrown carelessly into a corner. Out of the drawer in the table he took several papers and burned them. The ashes he cast out of the window. He knew something about police methods; they were by no means all through with him. Ah! A patch of white paper, just inside the door, caught his eye. He fetched it to the candle. What he read forced the color from his cheeks and his hands were touched with transient palsy.

"The devil! What shall I do now?" he muttered, thoroughly dismayed.

What indeed should he do? Which way should he move? How long had he been in Dreiberg? Ah, that would be rich! What a joke! It would afford him a smile in his old age. Carmichael, Carmichael! The vintner chuckled softly as he scribbled this note:

"If Herr Carmichael would learn the secret of number forty Krumerweg, let him attire himself as a vintner and be in the Krumerweg at eight o'clock to-night."

"So there is a trap, and I am to beware of a mountaineer, a carter, a butcher, and a baker? Thanks, Scharfenstein, my friend, thanks! You are watching over me."

He blew out his candle and went to bed.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top