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   Chapter 13 A DAY DREAM

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 12767

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Colonel Von Wallenstein curled his mustaches. It was a happy thought that had taken him into the Adlergasse. This Gretchen had been haunting his dreams, and here she was, coming into his very arms, as it were. The sidewalk was narrow. Gretchen, casually noting that an officer stood in the way, sensibly veered into the road. But to her surprise the soldier left the sidewalk and planted himself in the middle of the road. There was no mistaking this second maneuver. The officer, whom she now recognized, was bent on intercepting her. She stopped, a cold fury in her heart.

To make sure, she essayed to go round. It was of no use. So she stopped again.

"Herr," she said quietly, "I wish to pass."

"That is possible, Gretchen."

It was nine o'clock in the morning. The Adlergasse was at this time deserted.

"Will you stand aside?"

"You have been haunting my dreams, Gretchen."

"That would be a pity. But I wish to pass."

"Presently. Do you know that you are the most beautiful being in all Dreiberg?"

"I am in a hurry," said Gretchen.

"There is plenty of time."

"Not to listen to foolish speeches."

"I am not going to let you pass till I have had a kiss."

"Ah!" Battle flamed up in Gretchen's eyes. Somewhere in the past, in some remote age, her forebears had been men-at-arms or knights in the crusades.

"You are very hard to please. Some women-"

"But what kind of women?" bitingly. "Not such as I should care to meet. Will you let me by peacefully?"

"After the toll, after the toll!"

Too late she started to run. He laughed and caught hold of her. Slowly but irresistibly he drew her toward his heart. The dead-white of her face should have warned him. With a supreme effort she freed herself and struck him across the face; and there was a man's strength in the flat of her hand. Quick as a flash she whirled round and ran up the street, he hot upon her heels. He was raging now with pain and chagrin. The one hope for Gretchen now lay in the Black Eagle; and into the tavern she darted excitedly.

"Fr?u Bauer," she cried, gasping as much in wrath as for lack of breath, "may I come behind your counter?"

"To be sure, child. Whatever is the matter?"

Wallenstein's entrance was answer sufficient. His hand, held against his stinging cheek, was telltale enough for the proprietress of the Black Eagle.

"Shame!" she cried. She knew her rights. She was not afraid to speak plainly to any officer in the duchy, however high he might be placed.

"I can not get at you there, Gretchen," said the colonel, giving to his voice that venom which the lady's man always has at hand when thwarted in his gallantries. "You will have to come hence presently."

"She shall stay here all day," declared Fr?u Bauer decidedly.

"I can wait." The colonel, now possessing two smarts, one to his cheek and one to his vanity, made for the door. But there was a bulk in the doorway formidable enough to be worth serious contemplation.

"What is going on here, little goose-girl?" asked the grizzled old man, folding his arms round his oak staff.

"Herr Colonel insulted me."

"Insulted you?" The colonel laughed boisterously. This was good; an officer insult a wench of this order! "Out of the way!" he snarled at the obstruction in the doorway.

"What did he try to do to you, Gretchen?"

"He tried to kiss me!"

"The man who tries to kiss a woman against her will is always at heart a coward," said the mountaineer.

The colonel seized the old man by the shoulder to push him aside. The other never so much as stirred. He put out one of his arms and clasped the colonel in such a manner that he gasped. He was in the clutch of a Carpathian bear.

"Well, my little soldier?" said the mountaineer, his voice even and not a vein showing in his neck.

"I will kill you for this!" breathed the colonel heavily.

"So?" The old man thrust him back several feet, without any visible exertion. He let his staff slide into his hand.

The moment the colonel felt himself liberated, he drew his saber and lunged toward his assailant. There was murder in his heart. The two women screamed. The old man laughed. He turned the thrust with his staff. The colonel, throwing caution to the four winds, surrendered to his rage. He struck again. The saber rang against the oak. This dexterity with the staff carried no warning to the enraged officer. He struck again and again. Then the old man struck back. The pain in the colonel's arm was excruciating. His saber rattled to the stone flooring. Before he could recover the weapon the victor had put his foot upon it. He was still smiling, as if the whole affair was a bit of pastime.

On his part the colonel's blood suddenly cooled. This was no accident; this meddling peasant had at some time or other held a saber in his hand and knew how to use it famously well. The colonel realized that he had played the fool nicely.

"My sword," he demanded, with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Will you sheathe it?" the old man asked mildly.

"Since it is of no particular use," bitterly.

"I could have broken it half a dozen times. Here, take it. But be wise in the future, and draw it only in the right."

The gall was bitter on the colonel's tongue, but his head was evenly balanced now. He jammed the blade into the scabbard.

"I should like a word or two with you outside," said the mountaineer.

"To what purpose?"

"To a good one, as you will learn."

The two of them went out. Gretchen, overcome, fell upon Fr?u Bauer's neck and wept soundly. The whole affair had been so sudden and appalling.

Outside the old man laid his hand on the colonel's arm.

"You must never bother her again."

"Must?"

"The very word. Listen, and do not be a fool because you have some authority on the general staff. You are Colonel von Wallenstein; you are something more besides."

"What do you infer?"

"I infer nothing. Now and then there happens strange leakage in the duke's affairs. The man is well paid. He is a gambler, and one is always reasonably certain that the gambler will be wanting money. Do you begin to understand me, or must I be more explicit?"

"Who are you?"

"Who I am is of no present consequence. But I know who and what you are. That is all-sufficient. If you behave yourself in the future, you will be allowed to continue in prospe

rity. But if you attempt to molest that girl again and I hear of it, there will be no more gold coming over the frontier from Jugendheit. Now, do you understand?"

"Yes." The colonel experienced a weakness in the knees.

"Go. But be advised and walk circumspectly." The speaker showed his back insolently, and re?ntered the Black Eagle.

The colonel, pale and distrait, stared at the empty door; and he saw in his mind's eye a squad of soldiers, a wall, a single volley, and a dishonored roll of earth. Military informers were given short shrift. It was not a matter of tearing off orders and buttons; it was death. Who was this terrible old man, with the mind of a serpent and the strength of a bear? The colonel went to the barracks, but his usual debonair was missing.

"I am going into the garden, Gretchen. Bring me a stein of brown." The mountaineer smiled genially.

"But I am not working here any more," said Gretchen.

"No?"

"She has had a fortune left her," said Fr?u Bauer.

"Well, well!" The mountaineer seemed vastly pleased. "And how much is this fortune?"

"Two thousand crowns." Gretchen was not sure, but to her there always seemed to be a secret laughter behind those clear eyes.

"Handsome! And what will you do now?"

"She is to study for the opera."

"Did I not prophesy it?" he cried jubilantly.

"Did I not say that some impresario would discover you and make your fortune?"

"There is plenty of work ahead," said Gretchen sagely.

"Always, no matter what we strive for. But a brave heart and a cheerful smile carry you half-way up the hill. Where were you going when this popinjay stopped you?"

"I was going to the clock-mender's for a clock he is repairing."

"I've nothing to do. I'll go with you. I've an idea that I should like to talk with you about a very important matter. Perhaps it would be easier to talk first and then go for the clock. If you have it you'll be watching it. Will you come into the garden with me now?"

"Yes, Herr." Gretchen would have gone anywhere with this strange man. He inspired confidence.

The garden was a snug little place; a few peach-trees and arbor-vines and vegetables, and tables and chairs on the brick walk.

"So you are going to become a prima donna?" he began, seating himself opposite her.

"I am going to try," she smiled. "What is it you wish to say to me?"

"I am wondering how to begin," looking at the blue sky.

"Is it difficult?"

"Yes, very."

"Then why bother?"

"Some things are written before we are born. And I must, in the order of things, read this writing to you."

"Begin," said Gretchen.

"Have you any dreams?"

"Yes," vaguely.

"I mean the kind one has in the daytime, the dreams when the eyes are wide open."

"Oh, yes!"

"Who has not dreamed of riding in carriages, of dressing in silks, of wearing rich ornaments?"

"Ah!" Gretchen clasped her hands and leaned on her elbows. "And there are palaces, too."

"To be sure." There was a long pause. "How would you like a dream of this kind to come true?"

"Do they ever come true?"

"In this particular case, I am a fairy. I know that I do not look it; still, I am. With one touch of my wand-this oak staff-I can bring you all these things you have dreamed about."

"But what would I do with carriages and jewels? I am only a goose-girl, and I am to be married."

"To that young rascal of a vintner?"

"He is not a rascal!" loyally.

"It will take but little to make him one," with an odd grimness.

Gretchen did not understand.

He resumed, "how would you like a little palace, with servants at your beck and call, with carriages to ride in, with silks and velvets to wear, and jewels to adorn your hair? How would you like these things? Eh? Never again to worry about your hands, never again to know the weariness of toil, to be mistress of swans instead of geese?"

A shadow fell upon Gretchen's face; the eagerness died out of her eyes.

"I do not understand you, Herr. By what right should I possess these things?"

"By the supreme right of beauty, beauty alone."

"Would it be-honest?"

For the first time he lowered his eyes. The clear crystal spirit in hers embarrassed him.

"Come, let us go for your clock," he said, rising. "I am an old fool. I forgot that one talks like this only to opera-dancers."

Then Gretchen understood. "I am all alone," she said; "I have had to fight my battles with these two hands."

"I am a black devil, Kindchen. Forget what I have said. You are worthy the brightest crown in Europe; but you wear a better one than that-goodness. If any one should ever make you unhappy, come to me. I will be your godfather. Will you forgive an old man who ought to have known better?"

There was such unmistakable honesty in his face and eyes that she did not hesitate, but placed her hand in his.

"Why did you ask all those questions?" she inquired.

"Perhaps it was only to test your strength. You are a brave and honest girl."

"And if trouble came," now smiling, "where should I find you?"

"I shall be near when it comes. Good fairies are always close at hand." He swept his hat from his head; ease and grace were in the movement; no irony, nothing but respect. "And do you love this vintner?"

"With all my heart."

"And he loves you?"

"Yes. His lips might lie, but not his eyes and the touch of his hand."

"So much the worse!" said the mountaineer inaudibly.

Gretchen had gone home with her clock; but still Herr Ludwig, as the mountaineer called himself, tarried in the dim and dusty shop. Clocks, old and new, broken and whole, clocks from the four ends of the world; and watches, thick and clumsy, thin and graceful, of gold and silver and pewter.

"Is there anything you want?" asked the clock-mender.

Herr Ludwig turned. How old this clock-mender was, how very old!

"Yes," he said. "I've a watch I should like you to look over." And he carelessly laid the beautiful time-piece on the worn wooden counter.

The clock-mender literally pounced upon it. "Where did you get a watch like this?" he demanded suspiciously.

"It is mine. You will find my name engraved inside the back lid."

The clock-mender pried open the case, adjusted his glass-and dropped it, shaking with terror.

"You?" he whispered.

"Sh!" said Herr Ludwig, putting a finger to his lips.

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