If Youth But Knew/Roses of Trianon

pp. 293–306.


STEVEN LEE, Count Waldorf-Kilmansegg—Englishman by education and in virtue of maternal heritage; Austrian subject by paternal descendance and tenure of Silesian lands—a young man of usually fastidious and epicurean tastes, chose to linger for some reason (incomprehensible to his valet) in God-forsaken, out-of-the-way corners of Westphalia, this April in the year of wars 1813. Instead of making for the gay capital of King Jerome and enjoying himself "like a gentleman," he hung about the outskirts of the Thuringian Forest and haunted the inns of half-deserted townships, poverty-stricken villages on the high Imperial road.

While the postilions and the above-mentioned valet cursed the thin wine and the gross fare, while the horses of the travelling-chaise fretted the hours away in unworthy stables, their lord and master took solitary rambles on foot, as if in search of no one knew what, only to return, haughty as usual, weary and discontented.

When a halt was ordered for the night in the hamlet of Wellenshausen, instead of pushing on to the decent town of Halberstadt, valet Franz felt the situation more than his lively Viennese spirit could endure and vowed he would resign.

He tapped his forehead significantly as the Count strolled out of the vine-grown guest-house into the street, looking up and down in his singular, expectant fashion.

"'Tis question of a maiden," said postilion Peter, grimacing over his mug, "or else the devil's in it."

Further than this their diagnosis of the master's state of mind could not go.

Albeit on the skirt of the low lands the village was yet of the mountain; riding, so to speak, a bold buttress of the distant wooded range, and sheltered to the north by an imposing crag, that rose, pinnacle-like and so detached and huge that it would have seemed inaccessible but for the strong-house on its summit. From the flank of this mount a torrent of black waters, strangely cold at all times, born in some mysterious and dreaded cavern of the rocks, rushed foaming brown and, noisily, cut the village in two on its way to the plain.

Steven Lee gazed upwards at the Burg, frowning of aspect at most times, but just now, as it caught the rays of a sinking sun on its narrow windows, shining rosily into the valleys; his fancy was wafted up to the height on a wing of airy romance, when a clamour of children's voices turned his attention in a new direction.

A string of ragged urchins was rushing towards the torrent. Over the bridge a man's figure was approaching at a swinging pace. It stopped for a moment on the summit of the rough stone arch, and the notes of a fiddle, in lively measure, rose above the children's shouts and the roar of the waters. Dancing, singing, leaping, catching at his coat-tails, they surrounded the musician and followed him. He advanced like the magic piper of the legend.

Steven stood still in the middle of the way; a gleam was in his eye, the sunset radiance on his smiling face.

The player came up to him and greeted him with a bow, his fiddle still at his chin the while he finished his measure.

"We have met before," said he.

"And I well-nigh despaired of our meeting again," returned the Count with some show of emotion. "Your music has been running in my head—implacably—all these days. I think you must have bewitched me."

There was a note almost of reproach in his voice; and yet he blushed, as he spoke, as if ashamed of his own affability to a wandering musician.

"Why," said the other cruelly, "I fear you're but a dull lad. Great Apollo—could we change places, I would need no old man's company! Nay, now, children, let a gentleman speak to a gentleman——" He paused in a moment's meditation, looked through the inn gateway, then glanced up swiftly at the distant towering strong-house. "Is it possible your Lordship has chosen this barren ville for a stage? I see your horses being unharnessed yonder. Will you bid me to supper … comrade?"

He looped his threadbare sleeve into Steven's fine broadcloth. The urchins shouted with laughter.

The young Count frowned, started: then, with sudden sweetness, submitted.

Presently he sat (to the respectful astonishment of the host of the "Silver Stork") in the dim inn room, facing his guest. The fiddler was a strange-looking man nearing the half-century of life, thin and erect of figure, clear-cut of feature; in attire distinctive through all its poverty: knee-breeches of homespun, brass-buckled shoes, coarse linen shirt-collar open at the sinewy throat, and tangled silver grey hair tied up in the queue of twenty years syne; sadly poor to all appearance, though not without some quality of hidden refinement. A man with deep-set, wide eyes, melancholy and dreamy when they were not fiercely mocking. Count Kilmansegg, in fact, and not without a sense of embarrassment, was entertaining the wandering rogue of a musician known to the countryside as Fiddle-Hans.

"Well, sir," the fiddler said, "I cannot congratulate you! The bread is sour. Sour is not the word for the wine. I have good teeth, but truly this sausage baffles them. I am unappeased." He struck his lean middle. "I shall have no spirit to play another note to-night. (Keep your curses for better uses, friend; they will not sweeten the cup.) Now," said be, luxuriously stretching out his legs and gazing at them with a musing air, "I could have done with a capon, methinks, and a beaker of ripe old Burgundy. What say you, have you supped? Nay. Neither have I. Come, Sir Count, I invite your seriousness to an entertainment where nothing short of the best cellar and the fairest lady of the countryside will satisfy us."

"Sidonia leaned eagerly out across her aunt's shoulder."
Then, gazing at Steven's bewildered countenance for a while in silence, he went on with sudden earnestness. "The high-born English lady and the estimable Austrian nobleman, who are jointly responsible, as I understand, for your existence, have spoilt the dish for want of a little spice. Heavens, sir! have you never a smile in you, never spark for the humorous side of things? Why, youth itself should be the laughter of life. Come with me—you have much to learn."

And leaving the meal further unheeded, he took the young man by the arm and led him to the door. The village was now all in grey shadow, but the strong-house on the height still glowed like a ruby. Pointing to it: "I brought you once," said the vagrant, "into somewhat low company. That was the story of our first meeting. To-night, if you will, I shall bring you into high."

"Lord Gemini!" exclaimed the landlord, who had been hanging open-mouthed, ready for the roar at Fiddle-Hans' humour; "up yonder—where the Burgrave locks up his lady?"

"Even so," said the hungry fiddler imperturbably. "And you must lend your donkey and little Georgi, and see that the nobleman's valise is safely conveyed upwards. For yonder we spend the night."

The idea seemed beyond a joke; and yet, on an imperial gesture of the vagrant, the host of the "Silver Stork" withdrew without further parley to carry out the order.

"Don't make a fool of me," whispered Steven in his singular adviser's ear.

"Why, 'tis the wisdom of youth to be foolish—'tis your privilege to be foolish with grace. O, could you but learn that …!" interrupted the other impatiently. "Not to-night, dear children, but to-morrow … to-morrow you shall dance your feet off. I am a great person to-night; I am supping in the old Burg."

"O!" said the children, who had gathered like sparrows on their fiddler's reappearance. "O!" And awestruck they scattered.

"That Fiddle-Hans …!" said the landlord, as by and by he watched his guests depart. "He bewitches all, great and small. But this is a strong one. … There they go. Maybe they'll never come back!" He had the inherited village terror of the menace of the Burg. "Dungeons up there, and trap-doors, and none ever the wiser. O Lord Gemini!"

"Sidonia," said the lady up in the turret-room, "I will not endure it!"

As this remark was made at least five times a day, the hearer was perhaps less impressed than the desperate air of the speaker demanded.

"I will throw myself from the window," continued the Burgravine, carefully propping her plump elbows on the stone sill to gaze down with safety.

"If you'd only come sometimes and walk with me!" said little Sidonia, smiling.

"Walk, child? Your uncle knew well what he was doing when he stuck me up on this diabolic crag. I have not a pair of shoes that would last me half way down. And the very looking at the road up to this place! O"—she covered her eyes with her and and shuddered—"it makes me reel with giddiness!"

"It was lovely in the forest," said Sidonia. "The strawberry flowers are coming out, and——"

"Strawberry flowers! Alas! is that what you ought to think of at your age? You, too—'tis monstrous cruelty!"

"The fawns are growing and are so sweet——"

"Fawns! 'Tis a lover should be sweet to you. As for me—O, woe!"

Sidonia, slight, slim, and sun-kissed as a young woodland thing herself, grew crimson behind her aunt's dejected head.

"Why—why, then, does Uncle Ludovic keep us here?" she queried.

Uncle Ludovic's lady flounced round in her chair, her eyes darting flames, a flood of words rising to her cherry lip.

"Why? Because, having spent most of his life in studying our sex, he flatters himself now upon a wide experience of our frailties. Because, having so often proved how easy it is to break the marriage vow, he can put no confidence in another's keeping it. Because," and her bosom heaved with indignation, "Cassel is the most amusing spot at this moment in the whole of Europe, and no husband who respects himself can take his pleasure with any comfort, if he does not feel that his wife is correspondingly bored."

"But uncle has his Chancellor's duty," said Sidonia, after pondering awhile upon these enlightening remarks.

"Chancellor's duties!" The lady drummed on the diamond panes. "O, yes, my love. King Jerome requires onerous duties of his ministers, and I've no doubt that Ludovic performs his con amore." Suddenly her fingers ceased their angry tune. She swung back the window a trifle wider and leaned out further than she had ventured upon her threat of suicide. "Look, look!" she cried in altered tones. "Do you see, child? There are two men coming up the road with a pack-horse. No, 'tis a donkey!"

Sidonia leaned eagerly out across her aunt's shoulder. They were but a pair of children of different ages, when all was said and done.

"'Tis the gardener and the shepherd," opined she.

"O, yes, the very outline of humpback John and the swing of bandy Peperl!" (This was sarcastic.) "To the hangman with these evening mists! Now—now, see, a gentleman, or I'm a goose-girl—a young man, or I'm a grandmother!"

"Why, 'tis Fiddle-Hans!" exclaimed the lady's niece in amazement. But it was not, surely, the sight of Fiddle-Hans which brought such crimson to her cheek.

"And who may Fiddle-Hans be?" cried the Burgravine.

"The roadside player," said the girl. "Surely you have heard of him? If he were young and wore a plume or a dagger, people would call him a troubadour. And his music—ah! it moves the heart like——"

"Why, the creature's a beggar, child!" interrupted the lady. "But the other——" She ran away from the window in great fluster. "It's quite clear, my dear, that you and I shall have company at last. O, for once I will be mistress here! Call Elise! Get you into a decent gown, for Heaven's sake! My rose taffeta—it shall be my rose taffeta. And you? Wear anything but white at your peril!"

"The Lord Burgrave is not in the Castle. The gracious Lady Burgravine never receives visitor." Thus Martin the gatekeeper, thrusting his ugly head out of the vasistas.

The last of the sunlight had faded. Grey and sheer rose the Burg walls and turrets above the visitors' heads; sheer and grey fell the mountain-side away at their feet.

"Mark now, sir, for here are we bock in the Middle Ages," whispered Fiddle-Hans to his companion. Aloud he cried to the porter, who was slowly withdrawing his countenance: "Half a minute, friend, and let us examine your statement. That the Lord Burgrave is away, I am aware; but that your lady does not receive has still to be proved. How if we two come upon the invitation of the Burgrave himself?"

Through the gathering gloom Steven peered at the musician's mocking features. Martin the porter stared in silence for a moment; then, with a great groaning of bars and grinding of keys, set the great door ajar—not to admit them, indeed, but that he might stare the closer.

"Martin," pursued the fiddler gravely, "your name had better have been Thomas, for you are born an unbeliever."

"My orders are," said Martin in surly tones, "to admit no one."

"Fellow," said the fiddler, "a servant's orders, I take it, are not like the Ten Commandments, but subject to variations according to another's pleasure. What if I tell you that, knowing your master——"

"You? Know my master!" The porter's teeth showed like an old dog's in a grin, half scorn, half doubt.

"Aye, we have but recently parted. By the same token, friend, he is now at Halberstadt, and will be here to-morrow. Meanwhile, as it is damp and night falls, admit us to your stone hall and let us sit, for you will be wise to gaze at us awhile longer before you take upon yourself to drive off Burgrave's friend and the Burgravine's kinsman from doors to which they have been invited. Look at that gentleman. There is a gentleman for you, from the crown of his noble head to the sole of his high-born foot! And look at me. Ah, you know me! Fiddle-Hans, am I not? Beware, Martin, great people have their disguises—as you and I know."

The shot told, and Martin showed signs of agitation and yielding. Fiddle-Hans, keeping him under the mockery of his glance, pursued his argumentative advantage:


"'Half a minute, friend, and let us examine your statement.'"

"Now, cease scratching that grey stubble, and I will tell thee what to do to save thee from a false step. Go thou to the gracious lady and ask her if her lord has not advised her of the probable visit of two travellers, and request of her whether, these two gentlemen having presented themselves, it is not her wish, in obedience to her lord, that they should be admitted. Meanwhile, we shall wait here on this stone bench, and I shall beguile my noble companion's weariness with a little air of music."

The porter withdrew slowly without another word, but not without casting backward glances of doubt upon the new-comers.

"How do you dare?" asked Steven, fixing almost awestruck eyes upon Fiddle Hans, who, nursing his instrument upon one knee, was coolly winding up the string.

"Dare? I?" He twanged the cord, shook his head, and fell to screwing again. "Why should I not dare? What have I to fear? What have I to lose? We are sure of a welcome, I tell you, of a supper, and a good joke."

"Your magnificent audacity!" said Steven, sitting gingerly down at the end of the bench and looking at the other's lean figure, as if it had been that of the Prince of Lies himself. "Positively, I myself could hardly believe you were not speaking the truth."

"And so I was," said the other composedly. "Not one word but was solemn verity."

"O, but stay! How come I to be kinsman to the Burgravine?"

"You are Austrian," quoth the musician, "so is she, as I happen to know. Both the finest flower of the Empire's aristocracy. If you're not related, somewhere, I'll eat my fiddle."

"Upon my word!" ejaculated Steven, opening his eyes very wide. "I suppose it is on the same kind of plea that you have your acquaintance with the Burgrave—an intimate acquaintance?"

"Intimate. I have said so. The Burgrave of Wellenshausen is a type that is true to itself."

"And he has invited us to visit the Burg?" Steven's tones broke into mirth.

"Indubitably." The player raised his fiddle and drew a long note from it that was a musical mockery of the young man's high key. "The husband who locks up a light-hearted wife alone in an inaccessible tower invites in terms most positive every gentleman of heart and spirit in the country to come and console her. M. de Wellenshausen is at Halberstadt—I was playing at the Crown Hotel—he will be here to-morrow. And he said to me: 'Friend'—mark you, Friend—'you must come and play that tune at my castle.' He's fond of music, you see. 'Twas a promise. And the only person who will lie in the whole matter to-day is the noble lady Burgravine. She is dying by inches of ennui and she will—be quite certain of it!—she will assure the porter that our visit has indeed been announced to her. 'Tis to be regretted, but such is the way of women who bore themselves in lonely strong-houses."

He caught his fiddle to his breast, and liquid melody flowed out into the empty hall and went echoing away down long passages and up into vaulted roofs. Like curious rabbits from a warren, now a scullion popped a head out of some dark corner, now a rosy wench half opened a side door and peeped out smiling. There awoke all about the sleepy castle a sound of skirmishing and tittering; now a patter of bare feet; now the tramp of boots that no precautions could hush. At length the majestic form of the major-domo appeared before the vagrants, magnificent in his silver chains and silk stockings. Fiddle-Hans hushed his music and leaned over to Steven to whisper in his ear—

"See, he has been putting on his grand garb of ceremony to deliver his lady's little lie."

"The high-bom one, my mistress, had not expected you before to-morrow," said the butler, with a deep bow to Steven. He cast a fishlike eye of astonishment upon the fiddler, but nevertheless pursued: "Will your Honour follow me to your apartment?" Again he stared at the musician, who nimbly rose and bowed.

"My Honour will also follow," he said blandly. "Our valise is on the donkey's back, at the door; see to it."

If Fiddle-Hans were surprised at his own success, it was only the humorous twitch of his eyebrows that betrayed the fact. He was of those, apparently, whose talent for seizing opportunities would almost evoke the belief that they have created them.

"Comrades should share and share alike," said he presently, laying down Steven's brush, which he had been wielding dexterously on his own wild locks—"lend me a black riband for my queue—it is out of mode, but I am of the old stock. I have been shaved à velours to-day—'twas an inspiration! A cloud of powder would complete me, but you new century bucks know not of these refinements. Let me see. … I think that black suit of yours so neatly folded in the corner of our valise is perhaps what would best become my gravity. Yes. And a ruffled shirt. … Thank you. Ah! … And those violet silk stockings."

Steven stood hypnotised.

"Your eyes will positively drop out," said the fiddler, "if you stare any more." He drew a snuff-box from his discarded coat and tapped it with his finger: "A pinch is but a poor thing, if a man has not a ruffle to his wrist," he said, and was not ill-pleased to see how Steven marvelled at the grace with which he swung his borrowed laces, the air with which he flipped an invisible atom from his cuff. He took a step as though his legs had never known but silk. Steven's suit, if a little large, hung on his figure with a notable fitness.

"As I live!" cried Count Waldorf-Kilmansegg, with a loud laugh of discovery, "a gentleman, after all!"

Fiddle-Hans drew his black brows together with his swift frown.

"Entered Sidonia, almost at a run."
"Your equal, you mean, doubtless," said be drily. "You do me too great honour." Then hie eyes softened again, as in his turn he surveyed his companion.

"Come," said he, "I would give all my superior years, after all, for some of your youthful disabilities. I cherish no illusions as to which of us the fair Bulgravine will deem the better worth her notice."

And, indeed, when the two were ushered into the long, dim, tapestry-hung saloon, the bright eyes of the lady of the Castle merely swept Fiddle-Hans, amazingly distinguished as he was in his borrowed plumes, to rest with complacency on the youth who followed him.

Steven held his head high, after the fashion of your shy, self-conscious fellow. But his head being one upon which Nature had set a noble stamp, this became it well. If there was pride in the arch of his eyebrow and the curl of his lip. there was likewise race to justify it. Betty, the Burgravine, could note as much between two flickers of her long eyelashes; note, too, that, thank goodness, he wore none of those new, odious Cossack-trousers, but kept to the fashion which made it worth while for a man to have a good line to his leg; note, furthermore, that plum-colour frac, maize waistcoat, and dove-grey kerseymeres make excellent harmony with rose taffeta. The lady had been created for Courts, and even now—perched like an eaglet in the old mountain burg—moved in a gay, trifling atmosphere of her own. Steven, who had also been constructed for the high places of life, felt, as he returned her gaze, that he was in his element once more.

"The gentlemen!" announced Niklaus with a nervous giggle. He knew Fiddle-Hans—as who did not that belonged to the countryside? But familiarity had not so far bred contempt, and neither he nor his compeers ever ventured to question anything the mysterious being chose to do. Had the fiddler desired himself to be announced as Archangel Michael, or Prince Lucifer, the Emperor Napoleon, or the Wandering Jew, Niklaus would scarcely have been surprised.

The rose-red lady advanced a sweet little sandal and made a profound curtsy. Her classic top-knot of curls was richly dark, and so was the velvet of her cheek; but as she looked up slowly from her inclination, Steven was quite startled to find that her eyes opened blue as forget-me-nots.

"Gentlemen!" ejaculated she, translating Niklaus' clumsy Saxon German into tripping French—it being the tone of German Courts to speak French. The blue flowers of her eyes widened in surprise upon Fiddle-Hans. She had not known there were two gentlemen when she looked forth from the window: only the goodly youth and his roadside guide. But this elderly person was a gentleman, no doubt about that, and a fine one, too. Only, so old!

And now he took the lead, as became his years.

"Madame la Burgravine," responded he; and even Steven, in spite of Anglo-Austrian ear, could note the exquisite purity of his Gallic accent, "permit two travellers to express their gratitude for the generous alacrity with which you have granted them hospitality. We had lost our way——"

"Lost your way?" interrupted the lady; and an irrepressible smile curved her lips upwards.

"Yes, madam," pursued the other imperturbably; "and, with the night coming on in this wild and mountainous district. Heaven knows what might not have happened to us!"

"I know not what your destination may be, sir," answered she, drawing back with a faint air of haughtiness, "but surely yours is a strange itinerary that took an isolated crag on the road."

"Madam," said he, "we gave ourselves infinite pains to attain this height."

The glance towards herself, the touch at his heart, the bow, made of these words a delicate compliment. The line of her mouth began once more to waver. "To have gone down again, madam, would have been impossible. Our itinerary, as you say, is perhaps difficult to explain. If I were to tell you that we took a wrong turning, my friend here would correct me, for he is convinced, madam, it was the right turning, since it brought him to your feet."

Here Steven could do nothing but bow. This he did, however, with such youthful grace and so ardent a look, that his hostess melted outright into smiles.

"Sir," said she to him somewhat coyly; and the young man felt he had been eloquent indeed.

"Count Steven Lee Waldorf-Kilmansegg," introduced Fiddle-Hans, with a courtly wave of his arm.

"Lee. … Waldorf?" quoth she vivaciously.

"Steven Lee in England, Kilmansegg in Austria," said the fiddler blandly.

"O my beloved Austria!" she exclaimed, and the forget-me-not eyes became suffused with the tear of sensibility.

"Waldorf-Kilmansegg of Waldeck," enumerated the master of ceremonies; while Steven stood in dignity, conscious of his honours.

"Then we are cousins!" She clapped her soft palms; the rising emotion was forgotten in laughter. "Positively we are cousins. I am Schwartzenberg—Betty von Schwartzenberg—and my mother's cousin, Rezy Lutzof, married Tony Kilmansegg. You are welcome, my cousin," said she, and held out her hand. He kissed it ceremoniously, and she, bending forward, sketched a butterfly salute on his forehead. It was the custom in his father's country; but he had lived long in England, and it had grown unfamiliar. His heart contracted with a delicious spasm, and the blood sang in his ears.

Before he knew what he was doing, he found himself holding the taper fingers close, found his lips upon them again.

Perhaps the lady was displeased; but if so, she cloaked the fact with a very pretty blush and, as they drew apart, there could be no doubt but that the young visitor's position was established.

She looked expectantly then towards the elder of her guests.

He stood watching them with benevolent gaze, tapping his snuff-box, one leg becomingly advanced; and she waited to hear a no less fine-sounding introduction. But as the waiting was prolonged to almost a hint of awkwardness:

"Will you not," said she, "Cousin Kilmansegg, return Monsieur's good offices?"

It was Count Steven's turn to blush.

"My friend," said the fiddler, after enjoying the poor youth's agony with a relentless eye for a second or two, "has been content to accept my companionship as entertaining and useful to himself without inquiring into my ancestry. But such indulgence, my gracious hostess, I cannot claim of you. Through all the noble blood that flows in your veins, there mingles, of course, still a drop of Mother Eve's. Permit me to make myself known to you as Jean, Seigneur de la Viole, Marquis de Grand-Chemin—to lay but a couple of my poor titles at your feet."

She pondered awhile, nibbling her little finger, her delicate eyebrows wrought as if in effort of memory. Then she said with gravity:

"Your name, sir, has an ancient sound."

"Madam," he responded, "I would not boast, but there is none more ancient in our world."

Over again she pondered, looking down at the tip of her sandal. The blue eyes took stock afresh, and, thereupon, sunshine chased the gathering cloud from her face. With the air of one making up her mind to be amused without questioning:

"You are welcome too," she said, "monsieur—my guest."

"Ah, madam," responded he, "pity that this, the fairest of my titles, must needs be the most fleeting!"

Tying a blue riband into a hasty knot as she came, entered Sidonia, almost at a run. All this time she had been striving to turn her heavy fair tresses into the fashionable top-knot—with what result her aunt's first glance of pity told her but too clearly.

She halted in her rapid advance and stood, blushing like a schoolgirl, unable to lift her eyes.

"Child," said the Burgravine, "here is my cousin, Count Kilmansegg, who could not pass by his kinswoman in exile without personally inquiring after her well-being." When Sidonia ventured a stealthy look, it was to find, O bitter moment! that she was unrecognised. Yet they had met before. "And this gentleman——" pursued her aunt with a small, sarcastic smile.

The girl, bewildered, had begun her second curtsy, when she stopped herself with a cry of utter amazement:

"The Geigel-Onkel!"

"Madam," intervened the fiddler gravely, addressing the Burgravine, "that is another of my honours—to young people who love my viol, I am the Geigel-Onkel."

"Here," said the lady with equal gravity, addressing her niece in a meaning tone, "the gentleman will be known as Monsieur de la Viole."

"Marquis de Grand-Chemin," insistently added the vagrant, with his grand bow.

"Marquis de Grand-Chemin," admitted the lady. Nevertheless, it was the arm of her cousin, the mere Count, that she took to conduct her to the dining-apartment.

The servants had retired: Master Fiddle-Hans' promised supper-party was over. It had been to the full as succulent, as elegant, as he had foretold. And now, holding the stem of a long, cut-glass beaker between his second and third finger, he was gazing abstractedly at the noble wine. Where were his thoughts, and why was he so dull all at once, with flower and silver before him, crystal and fine porcelain? With the ruby waiting in his cup—the ruby of that noble "Clos Vougeot" before which Bonaparte, the republican, on his way to Italy, had made his soldiers halt and present arms as to the prince of vintages! Fiddle-Hans, who could sing over a hard crust by the dusty roadside, and give thanks for the water of the mountain stream! Had he had his violin to his hand now, its music would have been of tears.

His eye moved. It rested first on the fresh, briar-rose face of the young girl, with a strange look of tenderness; then it fell upon the Burgravine. Her plump, olive shoulders half out of her rosy gown, her exquisite little doll-face thrust forward—the whole of her an altar to admiration—she was offering herself in eagerness, in ecstasy, to the fire that was beginning to kindle in the hitherto decorous countenance of the youth opposite to her. And as the musician noted, he frowned and his lips curled into contempt. Then his gaze sought Steven. He saw the flush upon the boy's cheek and the light in his eye; and his frown grew deeper. This base flame was none of his kindling.

He turned in his chair and looked again keenly at the silent girl. There was something austere in the mantle of pride and shyness in which she had wrapped herself.

"Little Miss Sidonia!" said he softly. She flashed a quick glance at him, and her eyes filled. "Shall I make you some music?" His face relaxed into tenderness again as he spoke.

She nodded. The corners of her mouth quivered; if she had said a word, she must nave burst into sobs.

"She but put a pillow under his head," thought the fiddler, "and that was enough to make the flower of love blossom! Ah, youth! Poor little heart!" Once more he regarded the other pair, who were now whispering.

"After the feast, the dance; what say you?" he cried.

"O, the dance, the dance!" exclaimed the Burgravine, leaping to her feet. What a woman, what a puppet, to have a man's honour in her keeping!

"Then I will play to you," went on Fiddle-Hans. And, grinning, Niklaus was despatched for his violin.

"It shall be a minuet," said the player after a pause, on the echo of a sigh.

Then the Marquis de Grand-Chemin waved his bow with a flourish. The ruffles at his wrists flew, he took a step with a grace; it was as if a fragrance from dead Trianon roses were wafted in between the barbarous Gothic tapestries of the Burg.

"It is the dance of great ladies and fine gentlemen," he said, beginning a melody of older days, mingled of archness and subtle melancholy. And playing, he went on, his words winding themselves, with a kind of lilt of their own, into the garland of sounds. "You, sir, bow with your hand on your heart. You take her hand and you look into her eyes. 'Ah!' say you, eloquent though silent, 'to hold those delicate finger-tips, madam, through life … to have the rapture of your sweet company … then indeed would every step be music!' 'O, sir' (says she in the same language), 'you confound me!' And with this she sinks from you into a curtsy that is all dignity, all grace. Again you bow—of a verity you did not deserve her! But what is this? Her hand is in yours again. O, this time you draw closer to her … you hold her little hand aloft! The satin of her gown whispers to your damask -her shoulder touches yours … you wheel, her from right to left—with what pride, Heavens! what respect! You turn her lovely form, by the merest hint of your adoring fingers, from that side to this, that all may see, and see again, the prize that has fallen to your lot. …"

"We do not dance the minuet in our days," interrupted Steven with bashful resentment.

John of the Viol's delicate measures, that had rung half humorous, half pathetic, wholly sweet, as memories of past delights must ever be, ceased abruptly. He gave the young man a dark look as he held his bow aloft.

"No," said he, "you are right. The minuet has gone to the guillotine. France has brought new dances into fashion: Ça ira, Ça ira, Dansons la carmagnole!" His face grew terrible as he struck the notes of the bloodstained gutter-song into his strings. "New dances for France, that she may dance to her death!"

"Fie, the ugly tune!" said Countess Betty. No shadow of the musician's tragic passion was reflected upon her face. "Monsieur le Marquis, play us a waltz!" She caught joyfully at her own suggestion as a child its cowslip ball. "A waltz, a waltz! Beau Cousin of Kilmansegg, they tell me 'tis the rage. A pin for your old minuets!"

"A waltz be it!" said Fiddle-Hans. Anger was upon him, and he made his violin chant it, setting it and the brutal irony of the "Ça ira!" to the rhythm of a fantastic waltz. "Twirl, vapid heart and empty head! Hold her, prance round with her, feel your goat's legs growing, you who might have lifted your head with the gods and known the matchless rapture of the heights! Is it for this that you are young?"

Faster and faster went the music, fevered, with mad, shrill skirl, and faster the whirling. Beau Cousin began to pant. He held Belle Cousine so close to him that she, too, scarce could breathe. Loose flew her hair—one little sleeve almost broke across the heaving shoulder. Sidonia could look no longer; she turned to the window and leaned her hot cheek against the pane, staring at the stars with burning eyes. Something clutched at her heart and throat with a fierce grip.


"Faster and faster went the music, and faster the whirling.

Without warning, Fiddle-Hans brought his bow across his strings with a tearing sound and, as if a sharp sword had fallen between them, the dancers fell apart, astonished and not a little confused.

Steven staggered and caught at the chair behind him. The Burgrave's lady put a hand to her dishevelled tresses and then to the laces at her bosom, and grew scarlet: brow and cheek, throat and shoulder.

"You no longer dance the minuet?" said Fiddle-Hans, with a little laugh, picking at his now placid strings; and Steven thought that the man had the laugh of a devil and that it was echoed by his instrument. "O, you have a thousand reasons, sir, and so has madam, for the waltz is a fuller measure. Gracious lady, you are out of breath. May I sit beside you awhile? And you, sir, will you not expound the first principles of this—this graceful and elegant pastime to Mademoiselle yonder, whose youth has yet to learn the new fashion. Is it not right, Bulgravine, that these young things, after all, should draw together, while you and I look on—you, the staid, married woman, I, the old man?"

She answered him not, save by a look of wondering offence.

"Ah, madam," he went on, as he sat down beside her, "and you are angry with your lord and master because he shuts you up in this strong-house? But, good Heaven, 'tis the proof of his loving appreciation of your value!"

"O, aye!" she answered in high contempt, "'tis a sign of vast affection, doubtless."

"Madam, he lays his treasure where thieves cannot attain it. At least, poor man, so he fondly trusts!"

"And therefore the unhappy treasure is to be consumed by moth and rust," retorted the lady.

"Madam," said the fiddler in a low voice, "I understand that the owner of the treasure had reason to fear a more indelible stain——"

"How dare you?" she flashed upon him. But he was picking his violin with a pensive air. Then he suddenly looked up at her and smiled.

"Ah! most gracious one, if I were the happy possessor of a bird of such brilliant plumage as yourself, I would——" he paused.

"You would what? Pray proceed." She was waiting for her triumph.

"I would open wide all the doors and bid it fly."

And then she called to him again: "How dare you?" And so insulted was she that there came a sob into her throat.

"You see," said he, drawing an accompaniment of whispering notes to his words, "that, after all, it is monsieur your husband's point of view that you think the more complimentary."

"He should trust me," she whimpered.

"Madam, who knows?" he responded, "stranger things have come to pass. Some day, perhaps, the bird will not crave for flight—it may cling to the nest——" His fingers moved delicately, the bow swung with the gentle pliancy of some green bough of spring—it was a measure of engaging rhythm and playfulness; yet soft, soft as, under the eaves, the swallow's note at dawn.

Fascinated, she cried, under her breath: "What is it?"

He answered her: "A cradle song …" and stopped.

His own face had altered indescribably. His restless eye had grown fixed and wistful. Little Madame de Wellenshausen hung her head, and the gathering tears fell.

Whilst Fiddle-Hans thus engaged his hostess, Steven Lee, with slow steps, had gone across the room to the girlish figure by the window. He had grown to believe that this Fiddle-Hans had some uncanny power by which he enforced his will, after the fashion of that Mesmer of whom one had heard so much.

Sidonia turned upon him, with a sudden jerk of her chin, a flash of her eye, as he halted beside her. Upon which he exclaimed in amazement:

"Why, great Heavens, you are the girl of the forest-house!"

"You have not, I think, sir," she answered him, "eyes that see quick or far—'tis, no doubt, your town-breeding." The colour was slowly fading from her cheeks. She held herself very stiff and proud. But he was still all eager over his discovery.

"You brought me your pillow," said he, "when I lay hurt in the forest."

"I would have done the same to a sick dog," said she.

"You cried over me when you thought I was dead," exclaimed Steven, stung by her contempt.

"Had I known you better, sir——"

Her eyes were bright and hard, her lip was a curve of scorn, and her chin a tilted defiance. But all at once he saw that, under the close-clinging fabric of her short-waisted gown, her heart was beating like a madly frightened bird in the fowler's net. The knot of blue ribands upon her bosom danced with its fluttering. And there came upon him a desire, at once tender and cruel, to feel that beating heart beneath his hand. He gave a short laugh.

"Shall I teach you the waltz?" he said, leaning forward. "It is quite easy—just my arm about you, and the music does the rest."

She shrank back with a look that would have blasted him if it could.

"Do not dare to touch me!" Though her heart palpitated into her very voice, she held her head high as the hind in the forest., and went on: "I might have danced that minuet, as Fiddle-Hans put it into music. But I don't like your manner of dancing, sir, nor your English manners at all. It would be best if people stayed in their own country."

And then, while he stood, as if her childish hand had struck him, she passed from him and paused for a moment before her aunt and the fiddler, who were now sitting together in a strange silence. And with the brief remark, "I am going to sleep," she went proudly from the room.

Fiddle-Hans had shaken off his musing fit. He laughed out loud,

"What, comrade, won't Mademoiselle learn the waltz from you, after so pretty a display?"

Madame looked down at her feet, as they peeped side by side from the hem of her garment, looking, the little humbugs, the pink of innocent propriety. She was subdued, even frightened, and her heart was stirred within her.

"Our evening is finished," said the Marquis de Grand-Chemin, rising with his great air. "Madam, this gentleman and I must march out with the dawn. Permit us now to offer you our respectful gratitude, and retire."

She held out her hand, and he took the lips of her fingers and bowed low. She curtsied. They might have been in his minuet, but it was with the music left out.

"Good-bye, my cousin," she said timidly. And "Good-bye," said he. They stood stiffly before each other, like two children found at fault. She was longing to tell him that it must not be "Good-bye" between her and him. But the fiddler's eye was upon her.

Steven felt the world very flat, even on a mountain strong-house, as he sat down in the state bedroom and began with a yawn to unwind the folds of his stock. Next door the fiddler had locked himself in. He had not spoken to his companion since they had entered their apartment. Steven Lee, Count Waldorf-Kilmansegg, felt that he was in disgrace.

Suddenly Fiddle-Hans flung back the separating door and walked in. He was once more clad in his own shabby suit, and across his arms carried the borrowed raiment.

One by one he laid them down neatly in his companion's valise, rolling up the violet silk stockings at the last.

"Continue," said he, "my friend, to develop the growth of those goat legs of yours. It will save you in hosiery."

"Upon my soul," cried the young man, "I don't understand what you mean!" But his cheek crimsoned.

{{Img float|file=If youth but knew 2.5--you disgraced me to-night.jpg |width=300px |align=left |cap="'You disgraced me to-night.'" "You disgraced me to-night," said Fiddle-Hans. "What, sir! I have the kindness to bring you up here that you may snatch a delicate, Courtlike comedy from a lost century, and you turn it into a gross latter-day romp. I bring you from an ale-house into a castle, but you mast needs drag your Teniers with you and spoil my Watteau! I play yon a minuet, but what appeals to you is to clutch, and gambade, and——"

"You made the music, man," interrupted Steven, sulky as a schoolboy. "And it was she who asked for a waltz!"

"Mon Dieu!" went on the fiddler passionately: "it may be that we were no better as to morals, in my youth, than you are nowadays, but at least we took our pleasures like gentlemen. If we plucked a rose, we did it with a grace, between two fingers, not with the fist. We did not seize a lady round the body and prance her like a milkmaid; what favours we took, we bent the knee to receive. O, sir, how little fragrance remains in the flower you mangle thus in our grasp! Three things there are, young man, that he who understands life must touch with fingers of gossamer: a subtle pleasantry, a lady's discretion, the illusions of a young heart. Yon have laid brute hands on all three to-night. Fie! you have spoiled my evening."

The contrast between the man in his humble clothes and the arrogant culture of his speech suddenly struck Steven to such a degree that he forgot to be angry at being rated, in his eagerness to catch further self-betrayal from the fantastic enigma. Become aware of the other's eye and expectant smile, the fiddler broke off abruptly and, for the first time in their acquaintance, looked disconcerted. Then he gave a good-humoured laugh, and his brow cleared.

"Blind, blind!" he said. "Why, was she not worthy of one look, the child in her virginal grace? When I came across you again, to-day, under the shadow of the Burg, my heart leaped like a little hare. I told myself I knew whom you were seeking. 'Youth finds out the way to youth,' said I in my fond mind. I believed you had traced her—the Romance that Fortune brought across your path in the forest. It was but cloud-building, but a spring fancy in an old man's dreams—the lad in whom I had taken a passing interest, the little maid I have grown to love. Why, you did not even recognise her! Yet she held your head on her knees when you were hurt! You were a knight to her, all gallant; and now——"

"She is an ill-mannered child," said Steven.

"She is as lovely as the woods at dawn—young, reluctant, mysterious, chill. When I approach her, it is with my hat in my hand. If I were young like you, I should kneel to her. The set of her head, the line of her little throat——" His voice grew suddenly husky. "Her little throat …" he repeated. And Steven, he knew not why, had an impression of a sadness so piercing that he dropped his eyes and dared not look at Fiddle-Hans again.

After a while, with a change of voice—

"I will wake you at sunrise," said the musician. "I have promised the children to play for them before school; and I must see you safely to the foot of the hill, ere we part, Count Comrade, having brought you up so high, or Heaven knows what all might not be in store for you!"

And very unwilling was Steven Lee to rise after a poor night; and very ill-humoured was he as they set out at last, with their donkey, breakfastless, together. There was no joy or mystery in the morn; it gave them but white mists that wet like rain and clung close as they descended.

The fiddler was silent, absorbed in his own thought, and paid small heed to the youth's moodiness.

As they crossed the bridge, a travelling-chaise came through the haze towards them, passed them at full thunder, and drew up with a clatter some hundred yards beyond. Fiddle-Hans smiled sardonically.

"There goes Bluebeard, the Burgrave, to surprise his fond little wife. He is a trifle earlier on the road than I thought. Did I not do well to hurry your toilet? Who knows, you might have been hurried in still more disagreeable fashion. Well, the episode is over; and though you have much disappointed me, young sir——"

"But what will she tell him about our visit?" interrupted Steven with some anxiety.

Fiddle-Hans remained silent for a few paces.

"That," be said at last, "is a matter for illimitable fancy. …"