MoboReader> Literature > The Goose Girl

   Chapter 17 AFTER THE VINTAGE

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 14767

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The ducal vineyards covered some forty acres of rich hillside. All day long the sun beat squarely upon the clustering fruit. A low rambling building of stone covered the presses and bottling departments, and was within comparatively easy distance of the city. During the vintage several hundred men and women found employment. The grand duke derived a comfortable private revenue from these wines, the Tokay being scarcely inferior to that made in Hungary. There was a large brewery besides, which supplied all the near-by cities and towns. The German noble, be he king, duke, or baron, has always been more or less a merchant; and it did not embarrass the grand duke of Ehrenstein in the least to see his coat of arms burnt into oaken wine-casks.

A former steward had full charge of the business, personally hiring and paying the help and supervising the various branches. He was a gruff old fellow, just and honest; and once you entered his employ he was as much a martinet as any captain at sea. The low cunning of the peasant never eluded his watchful eye. He knew to the last pound of grapes how much wine there should be, how much beer to the last measure of hops.

The entrance to the vineyards was made through a small lodge where the ducal vintner lived, and kept his books and moneys till such time as he should be required to place them before the proper official.

Upon this brave morning, the one following the ball at the palace, the vintner was reclining against the outside wall of the gates, smoking his china-pipe and generally at peace with the world. The bloom was early upon the grape, work was begun, and the vintage promised to be exceptionally fine. Through a drifting cloud of smoke he discerned a solitary figure approaching from the direction of Dreiberg, a youthful figure, buoyant of step, and confident. Herr Hoffman was rather interested. Ordinarily the peasant who came to this gate had his hat in his hand and his feet were laggard. Not so this youth. He paused at the gate and inspected the old man highly.

"Herr Hoffman?"

"Yes."

"I want work."

"So? What can you do?" He was a clean youngster, this, but there was something in his eyes that vaguely disturbed the head vintner. It was like mockery more than anything else. The youth recounted his abilities, and Hoffman was gracious enough to admit that he seemed to know what he was talking about.

"I have a letter to you also."

"Ach! We shall be properly introduced now," said Hoffman, growling. "Let me see it."

He saw it, but with starting eyes. There was, then, something new under the sun? A picker of grapes, recommended by a princess! He turned the letter inside out, but found no illumination.

"Du lieber Gott! You are Leopold Dietrich?"

"Yes, Herr."

"How did you come by this letter?"

"Her serene highness is patron to Gretchen, the goose-girl, at whose request the recommendation was given me."

This altered matters. "Follow me," said Hoffman.

The two entered the office.

"Can you write?"

"A little, Herr."

"Then write your name on this piece of paper and that. Each night you will present yours with the number of pounds, which will be credited to you. You must bring it back each morning. If you lose it you will be paid nothing for your labor."

Dietrich wrote his name twice. It was rather hard work, for he screwed up his mouth and cramped his fingers. Still, Hoffman was not wholly satisfied with his eyes.

"Gottlieb," he said to one of the men, "take him to terrace ninety-eight. That hasn't been touched yet. We'll see what sort of workman he is." He spoke to Dietrich again. "What is Gretchen to you?" For Hoffman knew Gretchen; many a time she had filled her basket and drawn her crowns.

"She is my sweetheart, Herr." And there was no mockery in the youth's eyes as he said this.

"Take him along, Gottlieb. You will have no further use for this letter from her highness, so I'll keep it and frame it and hang it in the office." Which showed that Hoffman himself had had lessons in the gentle art of mockery.

Terrace ninety-eight was given over to small grapes; thus, many bunches had to be picked to fill the basket. But Dietrich went to work with a will. His fingers were deft and his knife was sharp; and by midsun he had turned his sixth basket, which was fair work, considering.

As Hoffman did not feed his employees, Dietrich was obliged to beg from his co-workers. Very willingly they shared with him their coarse bread and onions. He ate the bread and stuffed the onions in his pocket. There was no idling. As soon as the frugal meal was over, the peasants trooped away to their respective terraces. Once more the youth was alone. He set down his basket and laughed. Was there ever such a fine world? Had there ever been a more likable adventure? The very danger of it was the spice which gave it flavor. He stretched out his arms as if to embrace this world which appeared so rosal, so joyous to his imagination.

"Thanks, thanks! You have given me youth, and I accept it," he said aloud, perhaps addressing that mutable goddess who presides over all follies. "Regret it in my old age? Not I! I shall have lived for one short month. Youth was given to us to enjoy, and I propose to press the grape to the final drop. And when I grow old this adventure shall be the tonic to wipe out many wrinkles of care. A mad fling, a brimming cup, one short merry month-and then, the reckoning! How I hate the thought!"

He sobered; the laughter went out of his eyes and face. Changeful twenty, where so many paths reach out into the great world, paths straight and narrow, of devious turnings which end at precipices, of blind alleys which lead nowhere and close in behind!

"I love her, I love her!" His face grew bright again, and the wooing blood ran tingling in his veins. "Am I a thief, a scoundrelly thief, because I have that right common to all men, to love one woman? Some day I shall suffer for this; some day my heart shall ache; so be it!"

The sun began the downward circle; the shadows crept eastward and imperceptibly grew longer; a gray tone settled under the stones at his feet. Sometimes he sang, sometimes he stood dreaming. His fingers were growing sore and sticky and there was a twinge in his back as he shouldered his eighth basket and scrambled down to the man who weighed the pick. He was beginning his ninth when he saw Gretchen coming along the purple aisle. She waved a hand in welcome, and he sheathed his knife. No more work this day for him. He waited.

"What a beautiful day!" said Gretchen, with a happy laugh.

"Aye, what a day for love!"

"And work!"

"Kiss me!"

"When you fill that basket."

"Not before?"

"Not even a little one," mischief in her glance. Out came the knife and the vintner plied himself furiously. Gretchen had a knife of her own, and she joined him. They laughed gaily. Snip, snip; bunch by bunch the contents of the basket grew.

"There!" he said at last. "That's what I call work; but it is worth it. Now!"

Gretchen saw that it would be futile to hold him off longer; what she would not give he would of a surety take. So she put her hands behind her back, closed her eyes, and raised her chin. He kissed not only the lovely mouth, but the eyes and cheeks and hair.

"Gretchen, you are as good and beautiful as an angel."

"What are angels like?"

"An angel is the most beautiful woman a poet can describe or imagine."

"Then there are no men angels?"

"Only Gabriel; at least I never heard of any other."

"Then I do not want to be an angel. I had rather be what I am. Besides, angels do not have tempers; they do not long for things they should not have; they have no sweethearts." She caught him roughly by the arms. "Ah, if anything should happen to you, I should die! It seems as though I had a hundred hearts and that they had all melted into one for love of you. Do men love as women love? Is it everything and all things, or only an incident? I would give up my soul to you if you asked for it."

"I ask only for your love, Gretchen; only that." And he pressed her hands. "All men are rogues, more or less. There are so many currents and eddies entering into a man's life. It is made up of a thousand variant interests. No, man's love is never like a woman's. But remember this, Gretchen, I loved you the best I knew how, as a man loves but once, honorably as it was possible, purely and dearly."

The shade of trouble crossed her face. "Why are you always talking like that? Do I not know that you love me? Have I not my dowry, and are we not to be married after the vintage?"

"But your singing?"

"Singing? Why, my voice belongs to you; for your sake I wish to be great, for no other reason."

He ripped a bunch of grapes from the vine, a thing no careful vintner should do, and held it toward her.

"Have you ever heard of the kissing cherries?" he asked.

She shook her head. He explained.

"This bunch will do very well."

He took one grape at the bottom in his teeth. Gingerly Gretchen did the same. Their lips met in a smothered laughter. Then they tried it again.

And this Watteau picture met the gaze of two persons on the terrace below. The empurpling face of one threatened an explosion, but the smiling face of the other restrained this vocal thunder. The old head vintner kicked a stone savagely, and at this rattling noise Gretchen and her lover turned. They beheld the steward, and peering over his shoulder the amused countenance of the Princess Hildegarde.

"You-" began the steward, no longer able to contain himself.

"Patience, Hoffman!" warned her highness. Then she laughed blithely. It was such a charming picture, and never had she seen a handsomer pair of bucolic lovers. A sudden pang drove the merriment from her face. Ah, but she envied Gretchen! For the peasant there was freedom, there was the chosen mate; but for the princess-

"Your hat, scoundrel!" cried Hoffman.

The vintner snatched off his hat apologetically and swung it round on the tips of his fingers.

"Is this the way you work?"

"I have picked nine baskets."

"You should have picked twelve."

It interested her highness to note that this handsome young fellow was not afraid of the head vintner. So this was Gretchen's lover? He was really handsome; there was nothing coarse about his features or figure. And presently she realized that he was returning her scrutiny with interest. He had never seen her highness at close range before, and he now saw that Gretchen was more beautiful only because he saw her through the eyes of a lover.

The pause was broken by Gretchen.

"Pardon, Highness!"

"For what, Gretchen?"

"For not having seen your approach."

"That was my fault, not yours. When is the wedding?"

"After the vintage, Highness."

Her highness then spoke to the bridegroom-elect. "You will be good to her?"

"Who could help it, your Highness?"

The pronoun struck her oddly, for peasants as a usual thing never used it in addressing the nobility.

"Well, on the day of the wedding I will stand sponsor to you both. And good luck go with you. Come, Hoffman; my horse will be restive and my men impatient."

She passed down the aisle, and the head vintner followed, wagging his head. He was not at all satisfied with that tableau. He employed men to work; he wanted no love-affairs inside his vineyards. As for her highness, she had come for the sole purpose of seeing Gretchen's lover; and it occurred to her that the really desirable men were generally unencumbered by titles.

"He will discharge me," said the young vintner gloomily.

"He will not dare," returned Gretchen. "We have done nothing wrong. Her highness will stand by us. It must be five o'clock," looking at the sun.

"In that case, no more work for the day."

He swung the basket to his shoulder, and the sun, flashing upon its contents, turned the bloomy globes into dull rubies. He presented his card at the office and was duly credited with three crowns, which, according to Gretchen, was a fine day's work. Hoffman said nothing about dismissal.

"Come day after to-morrow; to-morrow is a feast-day. You are always having feast-days when work begins. All summer long you loaf about, but the minute you start to work you must find excuses to lay off. Clear out, both of you!"

"Work at last," said Dietrich, as he and Gretchen started for the city. "If I can get a position in the brewery for the winter I shall be rich."

"Oh, the beautiful world!"

"Do you recall the first day I met you?" he asked.

"Yes. A little more and that dog would have killed the big gander. What little things bring about big ones! When I walked into the city that day, had any one told me that I should fall in love, I should have laughed."

"And I!"

Arm in arm they went on. Sometimes Gretchen sang; often he put her hand to his lips. By and by they came abreast of an old Gipsy. He wore a coat of Joseph's, and his face was as lined as a frost-bitten apple. But his eyes were keen and undimmed, and he walked confidently and erect, like a man who has always lived in the open.

"Will you tell me how to find the Adlergasse?" he asked in broken German. His accent was that of a Magyar. He had a smattering of a dozen tongues at his command, for in his time he had crossed and recrossed the Danube, the Rhine, and the Rhone.

They carelessly gave him specific directions and passed on. He followed grimly, like fate, whose agent he was, though long delayed. When he reached the Adlergasse he looked for a sign. He came to a stop in front of the dingy shop of the clock-mender. He went inside, and the ancient clock-mender looked up from his work, for he was always working.

He rose wearily and asked what he could do for his customer. His eyes were bothering him, so the fact that the man was a Gipsy did not at first impress him.

The Gipsy smiled mysteriously and laid a hand on his heart.

"Who are you?" sharply demanded the clock-mender.

"Who I am does not matter. I am he whom you seek."

"God in Heaven!" The bony hands of the clock-mender shot out and clutched the other's coat in a grip which shook, so intense was it. The Gipsy released himself slowly. "But first show me your pretty crowns and the paper which will give me immunity from the police. I know something about you. You never break your word. That is why I came. Your crowns, as you offered, and immunity; then I speak."

"Man, I can give you the crowns, but God knows I have no longer the power to give you immunity."

"So?"

The Gipsy shouldered his bundle.

"For God's sake, wait!" begged the clock-mender.

But the Gipsy walked out, unheeding.

* * *

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