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   Chapter 11 THE DECLARATION OF LOVE.

Andreas Hofer: An Historical Novel By L. Mühlbach Characters: 24255

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Eliza Wallner, after leaving her mother, had sped with the utmost rapidity through the back-door, across the yard, through the garden, out of the small gate leading to the meadow, down the foot-path, up the mountain-road, jumping from stone to stone, courageous and intrepid as a true daughter of the Tyrol. Now she stood at the portal of the castle, in front of which some of the Bavarian soldiers were lying in idle repose on a bench, while others in the side-wing of the castle allotted to them were looking out of the windows, and dreamily humming a Bavarian song, frequently interrupted by loud yawns.

Eliza walked past them with a slight greeting and entered the house. The old footman sitting in the hall received her kindly, and told her, in reply to her inquiry, that the castellan, old Baron von Hohenberg, had set out early in the morning for Salzburg to attend court, but that his daughter and her cousin, Captain Ulrich von Hohenberg, were lunching in the small dining-room up-stairs.

This was all the information Eliza needed; she nodded to the footman, and ascended the staircase quickly. The old footman did not follow her; he knew that it was unnecessary for him to announce beautiful Lizzie to his mistress, but that she always was welcome to her. He therefore sat down again quietly, and took up the wood-work with which he had been occupied before.

Eliza reached the dining-room and threw open the door with a hasty hand; a blissful smile then overspread her flushed face, for on the balcony yonder, behind the open glass door, she beheld the tall slender form of Captain Ulrich von Hohenberg. She heard him chatting and laughing gayly; and through the door she also saw her friend Elza von Hohenberg, who was listening to her cousin's words in smiling repose. Scarcely touching the floor with her feet, she hastened through the room.

"I assure you, cousin," said Elza at this moment, in her clear,

distinct voice, "I believe at times that she is the resuscitated

Maid of Orleans, and that she will perform heroic deeds one day. Oh,

I know my dear beautiful Eliza Wallner, and-"

"Don not speak of me, for I am listening to you," exclaimed Eliza, entering the balcony.

"Ah, my Lizzie," exclaimed Elza, rising and tenderly embracing her friend. "Have you come at length, my merry, beautiful lark?"

"Yes, I have, and I am glad that I am here," said Eliza and her large hazel eyes turned for a moment smilingly to the young officer, who, like his cousin, had risen on beholding Eliza Wallner. He did not utter a word of salutation; nevertheless, Eliza blushed on meeting his glance, and averted her eyes timidly from him, turning them toward the distant summits of the glaciers which were glittering around the horizon yonder in wonderful majesty.

"You are glad that you are here, my sweet child? Why did you not come at an earlier hour?" asked Elza. "You are always expected. My dear silent cousin, she is always expected, is she not? "

"Most assuredly she is," said the young captain, with a smile; "and she is as welcome as the first rose of May."

"How impudent you are!" exclaimed Miss Elza, laughing; "you bid my Lizzie welcome as the first rose of May, and yet I was here before her!"

"He means only the wild hedge-rose, Elza," said Eliza, smiling archly, "for you know very well that the beautiful and aristocratic roses do not yet bloom in May."

"Well, tell me, cousin, did you really intend to compare my darling here with a wild hedge-rose?" asked Elza.

"Do not answer, sir," exclaimed Eliza, eagerly. "You have blundered in trying to flatter me, and that is good. You will see at length that fine phrases amount to nothing, and that they are colors that fade in the sunshine. You had better speak frankly and honestly to me, for I have often told you I am a stupid daughter of the Tyrol, and do not know what to reply to such fine city phrases."

"But for all that you are not stupid, my beautiful Eliza," said Ulrich von Hohenberg. "In truth, I who compare you with a rose am not a liar, but he would be who should charge you with stupidity."

"But if I should, nevertheless, assert that I am stupid, whom would it concern?" asked Eliza, defiantly.

"Ah, there they are quarrelling again," exclaimed Elza, laughing. "Come to me, sweet Lizzie; sit down by my side on this bench and give me your hand. I am so glad that you are here, for it always seems to me as though I were a lonely orphan when my dearest Lizzie, with her pretty face and her merry laughter, is absent from me. But here, Lizzie, you must look upon me with due awe to-day, for to-day I am not only your friend and sister, but I am the castellan! My father will be absent four days, and I represent him here. He delegated his whole power to me, and intrusted me with all the keys. Treat me, therefore, with great respect, Lizzie."

"That is what I always do, Elza," said Lizzie, tenderly, pressing the slender white hand of her friend to her lips. "You are always my better self, and I obey you because I love you, and I love you because I obey you so gladly!"

"Well, then, I command you, Lizzie, to be our guest all day and stay with us until nightfall. Oh, no objections, Lizzie; if you love me, you must obey!"

"And I obey you willingly, Elza; only when my father sends for me, I must go, for you know we must not violate the fourth commandment; our worthy priest would never forgive us."

"When your father sends for you, Eliza, I shall myself go down to him and beg him to leave you here. Well, then, you belong to us for the whole day, and we will consider now how we shall spend this day. Cousin, do not stand there in silence all the time, staring at the glaciers, but look at us and propose quickly some excursion for us to make to-day."

"What could I propose?" asked the young officer, shrugging his shoulders.

"I submit rather silently and obediently to your proposals, for Miss Eliza would certainly reject all my proposals merely because I make them."

Eliza burst into merry laughter. "Elza, dearest Elza," she exclaimed," he calls me 'Miss Eliza!' No sir, let me tell you, a poor Tyrolese girl like me is no 'miss,' no aristocratic lady; people call me Lizzie, only Lizzie; do not forget that!"

"People here call her 'beautiful Lizzie,'" said the officer in a low voice, casting an admiring glance on the young girl.

"That does not concern you, sir," she replied, blushing like a crimson rose; "you do not belong to the people here, and you must not call me anything but Lizzie, do you hear? I think the notions which city folks entertain about beauty are different from those of peasants like us. We consider the daisy and the Alpine rose beautiful; though they are but small flowers, yet they suit us. However, the city folks laugh at our taste, and step recklessly on our flowers. They consider only the proud white lilies and the large gorgeous roses beautiful flowers. I do not belong to them, I am only a daisy; but my Elza likes this daisy and fastens me to her bosom, and I rest there so soft and sweetly."

She encircled Elza's neck with her arms, leaned her head against her breast, and looked tenderly up to her with her hazel gazelle eyes.

Elza bent over her and kissed her eyes and white forehead. Ulrich von Hohenberg looked at them both with a tender, ardent glance; then he averted his head to conceal the crimson glow suffusing his cheeks.

At this moment the door opened, and the castellan's overseer entered with an air of hurry and self-importance.

"Miss Elza," he said, "the wood-cutters have brought wood and are waiting for a receipt. Besides, the head dairy-woman wishes to see you about the butter which she is to send to town; and the cattle- dealer has arrived, and-"

"I am coming, I am coming," exclaimed the young lady, laughing. "Do you see, Lizzie, what an important person I am? But for me the whole machine would stand still and sink in ruins. Fortunately, I am equal to the occasion; and set the wheels in motion, and the machine can go on. You may stay here and consider how we are to amuse ourselves to-day. In the mean time I shall regulate our domestic affairs a little, and when I come back, you will inform me what pleasure you have devised for us to-day."

"No, Elza, let me go with you," begged Eliza, almost anxiously, "I shall assist you-"

"You cannot help me outside, Lizzie," said Elza, laughing; "but here you can take my place and be my cousin Ulrich's companion. Be merry, my dear children, until I come back!"

She nodded pleasantly to them, took the large bunch of keys from the table, and swinging it noisily in her hand, skipped through the room and out of the door.

Lizzie had followed her a few steps; then, as if arrested by a sudden thought, she paused and returned slowly to the balcony. She cast a quick glance on the officer, who was leaning against the wall on one side of the balcony, and, with his arms folded on his breast, did not avert his eyes from her.

Eliza gave a start and withdrew to the other side of the balcony. There she sat down on the bench like a timid little bird, and allowed her eyes to wander dreamily and thoughtfully over the landscape. And, indeed, the view which they enjoyed from the, balcony was wondrously beautiful. On one side extended the splendid valley, with its meadows clad in the freshest verdure of spring, its foaming white mountain-torrents, its houses and huts, which disappeared gradually in the violet mists bordering the horizon. On both sides of the valley rose the green wooded heights, interspersed here and there with small verdant pastures and clearings, on which handsome red cows were grazing or lying in majestic repose. Behind the clearings black pines and firs dotted the slopes, which, however, in their more elevated portions became more and more bare; where the trees ceased, appeared here and there again green pastures, and on them, gray and small, like birds' nests, the huts of the mountain cow-keepers, who, the most advanced sentinels, as it were, were guarding the frontiers where the war between nature and man commences, the frontiers of the snowy region and the world of glaciers. Behind the cow-keepers' huts flashed already masses of snow from several mountain-gorges; farther above, the snow had spread its white silver veils far and wide over all the mountain- peaks, so that they glittered and sparkled with indescribable beauty in the bright morning sun, and loomed like swans' necks up to the azure sky.

Below, in the foreground of the valley, at the foot of Castle Weissenstein, lay the village of Windisch-Matrey, with its scattering groups of handsome houses, from whose midst arose the church, with its tall, pointed steeple. From the standpoint which she occupied, Eliza was able to distinctly survey the market-place and its crowds of men, which, in the distance, resembled busy black ant-hills. She gazed upon them fixedly, and the small specks seemed to her practised eye like human forms; she thought she could distinguish several of them, and, among others, the tall and powerful form of her father; she thought-

"Eliza," said all at once a low voice by her side-"Eliza, you do not want to see me, then? You are still angry with me?"

She gave a start, and crimsoned, when, on looking up, she saw young Ulrich von Hohenberg standing close in front of her, and gazing at her with ardent and beseeching eyes.

"No, sir," she said, "I really did not see you."

"That is to say, Eliza, you are still angry with me?" he asked, eagerly. "You are silent, you avert your head. My God! Eliza, what did I do, then, to incur your anger?"

"Not much, perhaps, for city folks, but by far too much for a poor peasant-girl," she said, with eyes flashing proudly. "You told me you loved me, you tried forcibly to embrace and kiss me, and begged me to go up early in the morning to the yellow grotto, where you would wait for me. You told me further not to say a word about it to anybody; it should remain a secret between you and me, and I should not even mention it to th

e priest at the confessional. That was not honest of you, sir; nay, it was bad of you to try and persuade me to such mean things. It showed me that you cannot be a good man, and that your friendship for me is prompted by evil intentions."

"I do not feel any friendship for you, none whatever," said the young man ardently, seating himself by her side, seizing her hand in spite of her resistance, and pressing it to his heart. "I do not want to be your friend, my sweet, beautiful, wild Alpine rose; no, not your friend, but your lover. And I commence by loving you with intense ardor, by desiring and longing for nothing, and thinking of nothing but you alone. Oh, Eliza, believe me, I love you intensely- by far more than Elza, more than your parents, more than all your friends together."

"More, perhaps, but not better," she said, shaking her head, and gently withdrawing her hand from him.

"No, let me keep your hand!" he exclaimed hastily, seizing it again; "let me keep it, Eliza, for I tell you I love you better too than all the others; I love you with my soul, with my heart, with my blood, with my life! Oh, believe me, sweet, lovely child; believe me and give me your heart; follow me, and be mine-mine forevermore! I will give you a happy, brilliant, and beautiful existence; I will lay at your feet all the pleasures, enjoyments, and charms of this world-"

"Sir," interrupted Eliza, hastily, jumping up, and fixing her eyes upon him with a strange, ardent expression, "I hope I understand you right, and my ears do not deceive me? You offer me your hand? You want to marry me and make me your wife?"

The young man gave a slight start and dropped his eyes. Eliza saw it, and a sarcastic smile played round her lips. "Why do you not speak?" she said. "Reply to me. Did I understand you? Did you make serious proposals of marriage to me? Will you go down to my father this very day and say to him: 'Listen, sir. I, the aristocratic gentleman, I, Captain Ulrich von Hohenberg, want to marry your daughter Lizzie. I think this country girl, with her manners, her language and bearing, is well fitted to associate with my aristocratic and distinguished family, and my parents in Munich would be overjoyed if I should bring to them this Tyrolese girl as their daughter-in-law, and a brown cow and a white goat as her dower.' Tell me, sir, will you go down to my dear father, the innkeeper of Windisch-Matrey, and say that to him?"

"But, Eliza," sighed the young man, mournfully, "if you loved me only a little, you would not immediately think of marriage, but would forget every thing else, allow your whole past to sink into oblivion behind you, and think of nothing but the fact that I love you intensely, and that you return my love."

"But I do not admit at all that I love you," said Eliza, proudly; "on the contrary, you alone say and swear that you love me, and I reply that I do not believe you."

"And why do you not believe me, cruel, beautiful girl?"

"Because you utter so many fine phrases which amount to nothing at all. You tell me that you are very fond of me, but I think if you love any body with all your heart, you must be anxious to preserve him from misfortune, and do all you can to make him happy, even though it were at the expense of your own happiness. But you, sir, do not intend to make me happy; on the contrary, you are bent on plunging me into misery and disgrace, and that is the reason why I contend that you do not love me."

"Then you have a heart of stone," cried Ulrich von Hohenberg, despairingly; "you will not see what I am suffering, nor how intensely I love you."

"Sir," said she, smiling, "if I cannot comprehend it, pray explain to me how you love me."

"I love you as the most beautiful, lovely, and charming creature I have ever known and admired. I love you as a girl whose innocence, naturalness, and goodness, fill my heart with ecstasy and profound emotion; by whose side I should like to spend my whole life, and united with whom I should wish to seek for a lonely island of happiness to dream there-remote from the world, its prejudices and follies-a sweet, blissful love-life, from which only death would arouse us."

"Sir, if you really love me in this manner, you need not run away with me to seek elsewhere in foreign lands the 'lonely island of happiness,' as you call it, for in that case you would have it round you wherever we might be, and, above all things, here in our mountains. But, look, it is just as I said; you are desirous to find a 'lonely island of happiness'-that is to say, nobody is to find out that the aristocratic gentleman loves the poor Tyrolese girl, and that is the reason why you want us to hide in the mountains or elsewhere, and see if we can be happy without the blessing of the priest, our dear parents, and all other good men."

"Oh, Eliza, have mercy on me. I swear to you that I love you intensely; that I would be the happiest of men if I could marry you publicly and make you my wife in the face of the whole world, that- "

Eliza interrupted him by singing with a smiling air, and in a merry, ringing voice:

"Und a Bisserle Lieb' und a Bisserle Treu'

Und a Bisserle Falschheit ist all'zeit dabei!"

[Footnote:

"And a bit of love, and a bit of truth,

And a bit of falsehood, make life, forsooth!"]

"No, no falsehood," cried Ulrich, "only the irksome, terrible necessity, the-"

The loud crash of a rifle, finding an oft-repeated echo in the mountains, interrupted him. Eliza uttered a cry of dismay and jumped up.

"Jesus Maria!" she murmured in a low voice, "it is the signal. It has commenced!"

"What! What has commenced?" asked the young man, in surprise.

Eliza looked at him with confused and anxious eyes. "Nothing, oh, nothing at all," she said, in a tremulous voice. "Only-I mean"-she paused and looked with fixed attention down on the large place. She distinctly saw the groups moving rapidly to and fro, and then pouring with furious haste through the streets.

"They are coming up here," she murmured; and her eyes turned toward the wing of the castle on the side of the balcony, where the Bavarian soldiers had their quarters. The latter, however, apparently did not suspect the imminent danger. They were sitting at the windows and smoking or cleaning their muskets and uniforms. Eliza could hear them chatting and laughing in perfect tranquillity.

"Well, Eliza, beautiful, cruel girl," asked Ulrich von Hohenberg, "will you tell me what has suddenly excited you so strangely?"

"Nothing, sir, oh, nothing," she said; but then she leaned far over the railing of the balcony and stared down; she beheld four young Tyrolese sharpshooters running up the castle-hill at a furious rate, and the host of their comrades following them. The four who led the way now entered the court-yard, and reached with wild bounds the large door forming the entrance of the wing of the building occupied by the soldiers. With thundering noise they shut it, turned the large key which was in the lock, and drew it immediately out.

Two sharpshooters now ran up from the opposite side.

"We have locked the back-gate," they shouted exultingly.

"That door is locked too," replied the others, jubilantly. "They are all prisoners in the castle!"

"Sir," cried Eliza, drawing Ulrich von Hohenberg back from the balcony, "you may come with me into the dining-room; I must tell you something."

"No," he said, "I shall stay here and see what is the matter."

"What does this mean? More than fifty Tyrolese are entering the court-yard; and why did those mad young fellows lock the door upon my soldiers?"

"I suppose it is some mad freak of theirs, that is all," said Eliza, trembling. "Come, dear sir, leave the balcony and follow me into the room. I wish to tell you something-quite secretly, sir,-oh, come! I do not want heaven and God and the snow-clad mountains yonder to hear a word of it."

"Eliza," he exclaimed, transported, "how you smile, how you blush!

Oh, my God, what do you wish to say to me?"

She encircled his arm with her hands and drew him into the room. "Listen," she said, looking at him with imploring eyes, "if it is true that you love me give me a proof of it and swear that you will do what I shall request of you!"

"I love you, Eliza, and will prove it to you. I swear, therefore, to do what you shall request of me."

"Thank you, thank you," she exclaimed, joyfully. "Now come with me; I will conduct you under the roof; I know of a hiding-place there where no one will find you, and you will swear to me to stay there until I come to you with a suit of clothes which you will put on. Thereupon I shall conduct you in the dead of night into the mountains, and thus you will escape."

"Escape? Never! And why, then?"

"Sir, because the peasants will assassinate you if you remain."

The young officer burst into loud laughter. "They will assassinate me? Ah, I have my soldiers and my own arms, and am not afraid of the peasants. My soldiers would soon put down the insurgents if they should really rebel to-morrow."

"Sir, they will not wait until to-morrow; they have already risen; the insurrection has commenced this very hour. Oh, thank God, you did not find out what was going on; you felt so secure in your pride and despised the Tyrolese so much that you did not fear them. [Footnote: The Tyrolese kept the secret of their intended insurrection so well, and the Bavarians were so overbearing and careless, that they did not know anything about the plans of the insurgents until the day of the rising, and on that day they tried to levy contributions by force of arms.-See "Gallery of Heroes: Andreas Hofer," p. 50.] But I tell you now, the insurrection has broken out; the whole Tyrol is rising; all our people are in commotion from Innspruck down to Salzburg. You can no longer prevent or stifle it. You must submit. Save yourself, then, sir; you have sworn to grant my request, and you must keep your word."

"No, I cannot and will not! I must do my duty. Let me go, Eliza! I must go! I must go to my soldiers!"

"You can no longer reach them, for they have locked them up. Come, you must save yourself!"

She seized his arm with superhuman strength, and tried to draw him away, but he disengaged himself and rushed toward the door. But Eliza was quicker than he; she bounded forward like an angry lioness, and just as Ulrich was about to seize the knob, she stood before the door and pushed him back.

"I shall not permit you to leave the room," she cried. "You must kill me first; then you may go."

"Eliza, I cannot stay. I implore you, let me go out. My honor, my good name, are at stake. You say the peasants have risen in insurrection, my soldiers are locked up, and you think I could be cowardly and miserable enough to conceal myself and surrender my name to well-deserved disgrace? Let me go out, Eliza; have mercy upon me! Do not compel me to remove you forcibly from the door!"

"Ah," cried Eliza, with scornful laughter, "you think I will step back from the door and let you go to kill my father and my brothers? Listen, sir; you said you loved me. Give me a proof of it. Let me go out first, let me speak with my father only three words! Perhaps I may persuade him to release your soldiers and go home with his friends."

"Very well, I will prove to you that I love you. Go down, Eliza, speak with your father. I give you ten minutes' time; that is to say, I sacrifice to you ten minutes of my honor."

Eliza uttered a cry of joy; she encircled Ulrich's neck impetuously with her arms and imprinted a glowing kiss on his forehead.

"Farewell, sir," she whispered, "farewell, and God bless you!"

Then she pushed him back, hastened to the door, threw it open, and sprang out. She closed the door carefully behind her, locked it with a firm and quick hand, drew the key from the lock, and concealed it in her bosom.

"Holy Virgin, I thank Thee!" she exclaimed, joyfully. "He is saved, for the room has no other outlet, and the balcony is too high for him to jump down."

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