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   Chapter 19 DISCLOSURES

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 10962

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The office of the American consulate in the Adlergasse ran from the front to the rear of the building. Carmichael's desk overlooked the street. But whenever a flying dream came to him he was wont to take his pipe to the chair by the rear window, whence he could view the lofty crests of the Jugendheit mountains. Directly below this window and running parallel with it was the Biergarten of the Black Eagle.

It is a quiet tonic to the mind to look off, to gaze at sunlit, cloud-embraced mountain peaks, Walter Pater to the contrary. Carmichael's mind that morning needed quiet, and so he came to this window; and with a smoldering pipe let himself to dreams. He was still in the uniform of the royal hunt, a meet having taken place that morning. He saw darling faces in the rugged outlines of the mountains, in the white clouds billowing across, in the patches of dazzling blue in between. Such is the fancy of a man in love!

His letter of resignation was on its way, but it would be in November before he heard definitely from the department. By that time the great snows would have blanketed the earth, and the nadir of his discontent would be reached. But what to do till that time? He could ride for some weeks, but riding without companionship was rather a lonesome affair. His own defiance of the chancellor had erected an impassable barrier between her highness and himself. They would watch him now, evade him, put small obstacles in his path, obstacles against which he could enter no reasonable complaint. A withered leaf, a glove, and a fan; these represented the sum of his romance.

Two figures moved in the garden beneath. At first he gave no attention to them. But when the two heads came together swiftly, and then separated, both smiling, he realized that he had witnessed a kiss. Ah, here was the opportunity; and, by the Lord Harry, he would not let it slip. If this fellow meant wrongly toward Gretchen-and how could he mean else?-he, Carmichael, would take the matter boldly in his hands to do some caning. He laughed. Here would be another souvenir; to have caned-

He jumped to his feet, dropped his pipe on the sill of the window, and made for his hat and sword-cane. The clerk went on with his writing. Nothing the consul did these days either alarmed or distracted him.

To gain the garden Carmichael would have to pass through the tavern. The first person he encountered was Colonel von Wallenstein. The sight of this gentleman changed his plans for the moment. He had a presentiment that this would became rather a complicated affair. He waited. Wallenstein spoke to Fr?u Bauer, who answered him with cold civility. She heartily despised this fine officer. Wallenstein twirled his mustache, laughed and went into the garden. Carmichael was in a quandary. What should he do?

Neither Gretchen nor the vintner saw Wallenstein, who remained quietly by the door. He watched them with an evil smile. He would teach this pretty fellow a lesson. After some deliberation he walked lightly toward the lovers. They did not hear him till he was almost upon them.

"A pretty picture!"

Gretchen colored and the vintner flushed, the one with dismay and the other with anger.

"A charming idyl!"

"Leave us, Gretchen," said the vintner, with a deceiving gentleness.

Gretchen started reluctantly down the path, her glance bravely before her. She knew that Wallenstein would not move; so she determined to go round him. She was not afraid to leave her vintner alone with this officer. But she miscalculated the colonel's reckless audacity. As she stepped off the path to go round him he grasped her rudely and kissed her on the cheek. She screamed as much in surprise as in anger.

And this scream brought Carmichael upon the scene. He was witness to the second kiss. He saw the vintner run forward and dash his fist into the soldier's face. Wallenstein, to whom such an assault was unexpected, fell back, hurt and blinded. The vintner, active as a cat, saw Carmichael coming on a run. He darted toward him, and before Carmichael could prevent him, dragged the sword-cane away. The blade, thin and pliant, flashed. And none too soon. The colonel had already drawn his saber.

"Save him!" Gretchen wrung her hands.

The two blades met spitefully, and there were method and science on both sides. But the sword-cane was no match for the broad, heavy saber. Half a dozen thrusts and parries convinced the colonel that the raging youth knew what he was doing. Down swooped the saber cuttingly. The blade of the sword-cane snapped like a pipe-stem. The vintner flung the broken part at the colonel's head. The latter dodged it and came on, and there was death's intent.

Meantime Carmichael had found a short hop-pole, and with this he took a hand in the contest. The pole was clumsy, but the tough wood was stronger than steel. He hit the saber with good-will. Back came the steel. The colonel did not care whom or what he struck at now. When Carmichael returned the compliment he swung his hop-pole as the old crusaders did their broadswords. And this made short work of the duel. The saber dropped uninjured, but the colonel's arm dangled at his side. He leaned back against the arbor, his teeth set in his lip, for he was in agony. Carmichael flung aside his primitive weapon, his anger abated none.

"You're a fine example of a soldier! Are you mad to attack a man this way? They will break you for this, or my name's not Carmichael.

You couldn't leave her in peace, could you? Well, those two kisses will prove expensive."

"I shall kill you for this!"

"Bah! I have fought more times than you have years to your counting," with good Yankee spirit. "But if you think I'll waste my time in fighting a duel with you, you're up the wrong tree."

"Go to the devil!"

"Not just at present; there's too much for me to do. But this is my advice to you: apply for a leave of absence and take the waters of Wiesbaden. They are good for choleric dispositions. Now, I return the compliment: go to the devil yourself, only choose a route that will not cross mine. That's all!"

Gretchen and the vintner had vanished. Carmichael agreed that it was the best thing for them to do. The vintner was no coward, but he was discreet. Somebody might ask questions. So Carmichael returned to the consulate, equally indifferent what the colonel did or where he went. Of the vintner he thought: "The hot-headed young fool, to risk his life like that!" He would see later what he meant in regard to Gretchen. Poor little goose-girl! They would find that there was one man interested enough in her welfare to stand by her. His hands yet stung from the contact of wood against steel, and his hair was damp at the edges. This was a bit of old war-times.

"Are you hurt, Excellency?" asked the clerk solicitously.

"Hurt?"

"Yes. I heard a woman scream and ran to the window. It was a good fight. But that fellow-ach! To run away and leave you, an outsider, to fight his battle!"

"He would have been sliced in two if I hadn't come to the front. A hop-pole isn't half bad. I'll bet that lady's man has a bad arm for some time to come. As for the vintner, he had good reasons for taking to his heels."

"Good reasons?" But there was a sly look in the clerk's eyes.

"No questions, if you please. And tell no one, mind, what has taken place."

"Very well, Excellency." And quietly the clerk returned to his table of figures. But later he intended to write a letter, unsigned, to his serene highness.

Carmichael, scowling, undertook to answer his mail, but not with any remarkable brilliancy or coherency.

And in this condition of mind Grumbach found him; Grumbach, accompanied by the old clock-mender from across the way, and a Gipsy Carmichael had never seen before.

"What's up, Hans?"

"Tell your clerk to leave us," said Grumbach, his face as barren of expression as a rock.

"Something serious, eh?" Carmichael dismissed the clerk, telling him to return after the noon hour. "Now, then," he said, "what is the trouble?"

"I have already spoken to you about it," Grumbach returned. "The matter has gone badly. But I am here to ask a favor, a great favor, one that will need all your diplomacy to gain for me."

"Ah"

"For myself I ask nothing. A horrible blunder has been made. You will go to the grand duke and ask immunity for this Gipsy and this clock-mender, as witnesses to the disclosure which I shall make to his highness. Without this immunity my lips will be sealed for ever. As I said, I ask nothing for myself, nothing. There has been a great blunder and a great wrong, too; but God sent me here to right it. Will you do this?"

"But I must know-," began Carmichael.

"You will know everything, once you obtain this concession from the duke."

"But why don't you want immunity for yourself?"

"There must be some one for the duke to punish," heroically; "otherwise he will refuse."

"Still, suppose I bargain for you, too?"

"When you tell him my name is Breunner there will be no bargaining."

"What has this clock-mender to do with the case?"

"He is Count von Arnsberg."

"By George! And this Gipsy?"

"The man who bribed me. Arnsberg is an innocent man; but this has to be proved, and you are going to help us prove it."

All this was in English; the Gipsy and the former chancellor understood little or nothing.

"I will do what I can, Hans, and I will let you know the result after dinner to-night."

"That will be enough. But unless he concedes, do not tell him our names. That would be ruin and nothing gained."

"You have me a bit dazed," Carmichael admitted. "I ought to know what this blunder is, to have something to stand on."

Grumbach shook his head. "Later every question will be answered. And remember, at this interview Herbeck must not be present. It will have to be broken to him gently."

"Very well; I promise to see his highness this afternoon."

Grumbach translated the substance of this dialogue to his companions. They approved. The three of them solemnly trooped out, leaving Carmichael bewildered. Alone, his mind searched a thousand channels, but these were blind and led nowhere. Blunder, wrong? What did Grumbach mean by that? What kind of a blunder, and who was innocently wronged? No use! And while he was thus racking his mind he heard steps on the stairs. These steps were hurried. The door above shut noisily.

"By George! I'll attend to that this minute. We'll see what stuff this yellow-haired boy is made of."

He mounted the stairs without sound. He grasped the handle of the door, boldly pushed it open, and entered, closing the door and placing his back against it.

The instant he saw the intruder the vintner snatched a pistol from the drawer in the table and leveled it at Carmichael.

"Surely your majesty will not shoot an old friend?"

"Surely your Majesty will not shoot an old friend?"

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