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   Chapter 18 A WHITE SCAR

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 12421

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Two days later, in the afternoon.

"Grumbach," said Carmichael, "what the deuce were you looking at the other night, with those opera-glasses?"

"At the ball?" Grumbach pressed down the ash in his pipe and brushed his thumb on his sleeve. "I was looking into the past."

"With a pair of opera-glasses?"

"Yes." Grumbach was perfectly serious.

"Oh, pshaw! You were following her highness with them. I want to know why."

"She is beautiful."

"You made a promise to me not long ago."

"I did?" non-committally.

"Yes. Soon I shall be shaking the dust of Dreiberg, and I want to know beforehand what this Chinese puzzle is. What did you do that compelled your flight from Ehrenstein?"

Grumbach's pipe hung pendulent in his hand. He swung it to and fro absently.

"I am waiting. Remember, you are an American citizen, for all that you were born here. If anything should happen to you, I must know the whole story in order to help you. You know that you may trust me."

"It isn't that, Captain. I have grown to like you in these few days."

"What has that to do with it?" impatiently.

"Nothing, perhaps. Only, if I tell you, you will not be my friend."

"Nonsense! What you did sixteen years ago doesn't matter now. It is enough for me that you fought in my regiment, and that you were a brave soldier."

"Those opera-glasses; it was an idea. Well, since you will know. I was a gardener's boy. I worked under my brother Hermann. I used to ask the nurse, who had charge of her serene highness, where she would go each day. Then I'd cut flowers and meet them on the road somewhere and give the bouquet to the child. There was never any escort; a footman and a driver. The little one was always greatly pleased, and she would call me Hans. I was in love those days." Grumbach laughed with bitterness. "Yes, even I. Her name was Tekla, and she was a jade. I wanted to run away, but I had no money. I had already secured a passport; no matter how. It was the first affair, and I was desperately hurt. One day a Gipsy came to me. I shall always know him by the yellow spot in one of his black eyes. I was given a thousand crowns to tell him which road her highness was to be driven over the next day. As I said, I was mad with love. Why a Gipsy should want to know where her highness was going to ride was of no consequence to me. I told him. I was to get the money the same night. It was thus that her highness was stolen; it was thus that I became accessory before the fact, as the lawyers say. Flight with a band of Magyar Gipsies; weary days in the mountains, with detachments of troops scouring the whole duchy. Finally I escaped. A fortune was offered for the immediate return of the child. At the time I believed that it was an abduction for ransom. But no one ever came forward for the reward. There was a price on my head when it was known that I had fled." Grumbach stared into his pipe without seeing anything.

"And no one ever came for the reward? That is strange. Was immunity promised?" asked Carmichael.

"It was inferred, but not literally promised."

"Fear kept them away."

"Perhaps. And there is Arnsberg."

"Was he guilty?"

"I never saw his hand anywhere."

"So this is the story! Well, when a man's in love he is, more or less, in the clutch of temporary insanity." Carmichael's tone wasn't exactly cheery.

"Insanity! Then you do not judge me harshly?"

"No, Hans. I've a wild streak in me also. But what I can't understand is why you return and put your head in the lion's mouth. The police will stumble on something. I tell you frankly that if you are arrested I could do little or nothing for you. The United States protects only harmless political outcasts. Yours is a crime such as nullifies your citizenship, and any government would be compelled, according to the terms of treaty, to send you back here, if the demand was made for your extradition."

"I know all that," Grumbach replied, dumping the ash into his palm and casting it into the paper-basket.

"I suppose that when conscience drives we must go on. But the princess has been found. The best thing you can do is to put your passports into immediate use and return to the States. You can do no good here."

"Maybe." Grumbach refilled his pipe, lighted it, and without saying more went out and down into the street.

Carmichael watched him through the window. Cloud after cloud of smoke ran wavering behind the exile. He was smoking like one deeply perturbed.

"He's a queer codger, and it's a queer story. I don't believe I have heard it all, either. What was he really hunting for with those glasses? I give it up."

He was not angry with Grumbach; rather he seemed to be drawn to him more closely than ever. Mad with love. That was the phrase. He conned it over and over; mad with love. That excused many things. How strangely the chess-men were moved! Had Grumbach not assisted in the abduction, her highness would in all probability have grown up as other princesses, artificial, cold, reserved, seldom touched by the fires of animated thought or action. In fact, had things been otherwise, he never would have ridden with her highness in the freshness of the morning-or fallen in love with her. By rights he ought to curse Grumbach; but for him he would still be captain of his heart. Mad with love! There was no doubt of it. And the phrase rang in his ear for some time.

Grumbach was indeed perturbed, and this sensation was the result of what he had not told his friend. Gott! What was going on? He hadn't the least idea where his footsteps were leading him. He went on, his teeth set strongly on the horn mouthpiece of his pipe, his hands jammed in his pockets. And after a time he woke. He was in the Adlergasse. And of all that happy, noisy family, only he and Hermann left! In one of the open doorways, for it was warm, a final caress of vanishing summer, he saw a fat, youngish woman knitting woolen hose. Two or three children sprawled about her knees. There was that petulance of lip and forehead which marked the dissatisfaction of the coquette married.

"Tekla!" Grumbach murmured.

He was not conscious that he had paused, but the woman was.

She eyed him with the mild indifference of the bovine. Then she dropped her glance and the shining needles clicked afresh. Grumbach forced his step onward. And for this! He laughed discordantly. The woman looked up again wonderingly. Now, why should this stranger laugh all by himself like that?

Hans saw the sign of the Black Eagle, and directed his steps thitherward. He sat down and ordered a beer, drinking it quickly. He repeated the order, but he did not touch the second glass. He threw back the lid and stared at the creamy froth as a seer stares at his ball of crystal. Carmichael was right; he was a doddering fool. What was done was done, and a thousand consciences would not right it. And what right had conscience to drag him back to Ehrenstein, where he had known the bitterest and happiest moments of his life? And yet, rail as he might at this invisible restraint called conscience, he saw God's direction in this return. Only he, Hans Grumbach, knew and one other. And that other, who?

Fat, Tekla was fat; and he had treasured the fair picture of her youth these long years! Well, there was an end to that. Little fat Tekla, to have nearly overturned a duchy, and never a bit the wiser! And then Hans became aware of voices close at hand, for he sat near the bar.

"Yes, Fr?u, he is at work in the grand duke's vineyards. And think, the first day he picked nine baskets."

"That is good. But I know many a one who can pick their twelve. And you are to be married when the vintage is done? You will make a fine wife, Gretchen."

"And he, a fine husband."

"And you will bring him a dowry, too. But his own people; what does he say of them?"

"He has no parents; only an uncle, who doesn't count. We shall live with grandmother and pay her rent."

"And you are wearing a new dress," admiringly.

Gretchen preened herself. Hans dropped the lid of his stein and pushed it away. His heart always warmed at the sight of this goose~girl. So she had a dowry and was going to be married? He felt of his wallet, and a kindly thought came into being. He counted down the small change for the beer, slid back his chair, and sauntered to the bar. Gretchen recognized him, and the recognition brought a smile to her face.

"Good day to you, Herr," was her greeting.

"When is the wedding?"

Gretchen blushed.

"I should like to come to it."

"You will be welcome, Herr."

"And may I bring along a little present?"

"If it so please you. I must be going," she added to Fr?u Bauer.

"May I walk along with you?" asked Hans.

"If you wish," diffidently.

So Grumbach walked with her to the Krumerweg, and he asked her many questions, and some of her answers surprised him.

"Never knew father or mother?"

"No, Herr. I am only a foundling who fell into kind hands. This is where I live."

"And if I should ask to come in?"

"But I shall be too busy to talk. This is bread-day," evasively.

"I promise to sit very quiet in a chair."

Her laughter rippled; she was always close to that expression. "You are a funny man. Come in, then; but mind, you will be dusty with flour when you leave."

"I will undertake that risk," he replied, with a seriousness not in tune with the comedy of the situation.

Into the kitchen she led him. She was moved with curiosity. Why should any man wish to see a woman knead bread?

"Sit there, Herr." And she pointed to a stool at the left of the table. The sunlight came in through the window, and an aureola appeared above her beautiful head. "Have you never seen a woman knead flour?"

"Not for many years," said Hans, thinking of his mother.

Gretchen deliberately rolled up her sleeves and began work.

There are three things which human growth never changes: the lines in the hand, the shape of the ear, and scars. The head grows, and the general features enlarge to their predestined mold, but these three things remain. Upon Gretchen's left arm, otherwise perfection, there was a white scar, rough and uneven, more like an ancient burn than anything else. Grumbach's eyes rested upon the scar and became fixed.

"Where did you get that?" he asked. He spoke with a strange calm.

"The scar? I do not remember. Grandmother says that when I was little I must have been burned."

"Gott!"

"What did you say, Herr?"

"Nothing. You can't remember? Think!" tensely now.

"What's all this nonsense about?" she cried, with a nervous laugh. "It's only a scar."

She went on with the kneading. She patted the dough into four squares. These she placed on the oven-stove. She wiped her hands on a cloth for that purpose, and sighed contentedly.

"There! It's a fine mystery, isn't it?"

"Yes." But Grumbach was shaking as with ague.

"What is the matter, Herr?" with concern.

"I grow dizzy like this sometimes. It doesn't amount to anything."

Gretchen turned down her sleeves. "You must go now, for I have other work."

"And so have I, Gretchen."

He gained the street, but how he never knew. He floated. Objects near at hand were shadowy and unusual. A great calm suddenly winged down upon him, and the world became clear, clear as his purpose, his courage, his duty. They might shoot or hang him, as they saw fit; this would not deter him. It might be truthfully said that he blundered back to the Grand Hotel. He must lay the whole matter before Carmichael. There lay his one hope. Carmichael should be his ambassador. But, God in Heaven, where should he begin? How?

The Gipsy, standing in the center of the walk, did not see Grumbach, for he was looking toward the palaces, a kind of whimsical mockery in his dark eyes. Grumbach, even more oblivious, crashed into him.

Grumbach stammered an apology, and the other replied in his peculiar dialect that no harm had been done. The jar, however, had roused Hans out of his tragic musings. There was a glint of yellow in the Gipsy's eye, a flaw in the iris. Hans gave a cry.

"You? I find you at this moment, of all others?"

The Gipsy retreated. "I do not know you. It is a mistake."

"But I know you," whispered Hans. "And you will know me when I tell you that I am the gardener's boy you ruined some sixteen years ago!"

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