If Youth But Knew/The Homing Bird

pp. 771–786.


IT was afternoon in Cassel, the capital of King Jerome's patchwork kingdom of Westphalia.

They stood facing each other in the half tawdry-French, half dowdy-German sitting-room. All inn-chambers have, no doubt, seen in their day much of the comedy, much of the tragedy of life; but the walls of the "Aigle Impérial" could scarce have held a stress of deeper passion than that which moved the two young lives, sport of perverse Fate, this day.

These two, who had married for love, but whom a woman's petty spite had succeeded in parting within an hour of their bridal, had met again; irresistibly yearning to each other, they were destined to be once more betrayed, this time by the very depth of their own feelings. Had they but avoided explanation! One touch of trembling hand on trembling hand, and all would have been said and all understood. But, alas! the fatal gift of speech has estranged more honest souls seeking each other than ever years of silence!

Count Steven Lee, of Waldorf-Kilmansegg, had come riding in great haste into the inn courtyard to seek his truant bride, and his heart was beating high with a love at once tender and ardent. But the first sight of Sidonia's face, marble white and set, seemed to freeze in his veins the warm tide that was rushing all to her. Yet, poor child, it was the very clamour of her own joy that made her steel herself to outward coldness, till she had measured him by his greeting, till she knew for certain if she dare be happy.

Thus they stood. Sidonia averted her eyes. She thought his arms would quickly enfold her once again. Her whole being swooned towards that moment. Nothing came to her, nothing held her, but an ever-increasing sense of chill, of desolation. The distant drum-beats and clarions of King Jerome's troops, marching to parade, the twitter of the birds in the courtyard, the coarse laughter of the grooms, floated in through the open window. She turned upon her husband of an hour with fierce inquiry: "What brings you here?" she cried.

The glow of expectancy had fallen quickly from Steven. His haughty English blood, his English traditions could ill brook challenge from one whose charm should have been womanliness, whose duty was submission. Enough of the Austrian had he in him, too, to take umbrage more quickly than the whole-born Briton. His tone was harsh as he made answer—

"Because it is time this folly should cease. Because you are my wife. Because you bear my name. Because your honour is mine. I will not have you running about the world—and in such a place as this, good Heavens!—under no better guard than that of Burgravine Betty."

The colour came and went in Sidonia's cheek. As the accent of contempt with which he pronounced her aunt's name smote her ear, she started, eyes afire.

"By all accounts," retorted she, striving to steady her voice, which throbbed to the beating of her heart, "you had been willing to trust Aunt Betty with your own honour. … Is it generous to speak of her like this?"

"Generous!" he echoed. Anger was now fairly upon him. "Will you teach me generosity, you who drove me away with insult, without giving me a chance to explain?—you, my bride!"

"Come, then. I am listening now. Explain." Her accents, her air were passionately peremptory.

Steven drew himself back with a proud movement; then he stood in silent, dark reflection.

One who had become his closest friend, though but a recent, chance acquaintance, and a mere vagabond musician at that, had advised him on this most crucial moment. The phrase was still ringing in his ears: "Tell her the naked truth."

Naked the truth was; ugly enough, in all conscience, to be convincing, if he could bring himself now to speak it: "Your Aunt Betty offered herself to me—threw herself upon my protection, I did not love her, but I had no choice."

Aye, it was all very well to say: "You are an honest lad. Tell the naked truth!" (Thus his vagrant mentor.) But if a gentleman have behind him long generations of gentlemen, each of whom has planned his life upon the conventional code of the point of honour among gentlemen, he cannot easily bring his lips to form the words that will betray a woman in relation to himself—be it for what is dearer than life.

The groom was washing the horse's legs in the courtyard below, and singing some lilt to clink of bucket and plashing of water. These two who faced each other, love and hate in their foolish hearts, had heard the tune in happier moments, upon the fiddle of wandering Hans. Poignantly it struck them.

"After all, Aunt Betty but told me the truth—if a little late—you have nothing to say," said Sidonia, between teeth clenched on a sob.

"Only this," said Steven, tossing back his scornful head—"that I command you, as your husband, to come with me now."

Sidonia pointed to the door.

"Herr Graf von Kilmansegg, I expect to hear from the Court to-day anent the annulment of that ill-considered ceremony which made me your wife. My lawyers will call upon you."


"My lawyers will call upon you."

"Madam," answered the Count, bowing in elegant rage, "I intend to take up my abode in this hotel. Therefore there will be no difficulty about my address. But annulments are not easily concluded without the consent of both parties."

He closed the door between them upon these words.

"He does not love me! He never loved me!" said Sidonia to her bursting heart. "It was all pride!"

But to know him near her—under the same roof—there was balm in that.

Little did the new guest guess, as he surveyed the chamber allotted to him at the "Aigle Impérial," that just beneath, Betty von Wellenshausen was in the midst of preparations of departure; that trunks were being packed, and all got ready for the immediate removal of herself, her niece, and their servants to the apartments within the Royal Palace, where the Burgrave, her husband, Chancellor to King Jerome, impatiently awaited them.

After striking his bargain with mine host, Steven went out to look for his road companion, Fiddle-Hans. Restless, he was anxious for movement and fresh air; profoundly troubled, he knew of no better help. He was prepared to be scolded by that erratic but uncompromising person for having woefully mismanaged the situation. On the other hand, he expected to be applauded for his sudden resolution of watching in person over his wife. Floating through the husband's incensed brain were vague plans of carrying off the obstinate little bride by force—a romantic exploit in which he could conceive Fiddle-Hans, the singer of youth and its madness, joining with enthusiasm.

The small brown town was filled with the most heterogeneous throng—Austrian and Italian hangers-on of the Court, French and Corsican adventurers, soldiers of as varied nationalities as were the uniforms of Jerome's fretful fancy; grenadiers, late of his brother, briefly royal of Holland, in their red coatees; wonderful blue hussars—French, most of them—very gallant, with a wealth of jangle, whether ahorse or afoot (these same wonderful blue hussars whom Steven had seen driven by the sheepskin Cossacks like wrack before the storm); dragons d'Espagne, green and orange, stern, lean, war-worn (unscrupulously intercepted, these, on their way to rejoin their imperial leader, and here disdainful of pinchbeck king and petty service); stolid Westphalian recruits lounging along the cobbles with the slouch of sullen discontent. Astounding diplomats slowly perambulating in astounding embroideries; academicians, too, with the green palms on coat-tail and cuff—for "Little Brother Jerome" still played at being as like big brother Napoleon as might be.

Market boors plodded by, blue-stockinged, crimson-waistcoated, and wide-hatted; shapeless country wenches tramped and fair ladies flashed past Steven reclining in coaches; and quite a swarm of lackeys, postilions, chasseurs, with all the insolence of the servants of dissolute masters, elbowed him aside, or appraised him with open comment. Had he not been so absorbed in his private anxiety, he might have noted, in spite of the superficial air of gaiety, bustle, and wealth, certain ominous signs of impending cataclysm around him—the swift passage here and there of an urgent courier; the grave countenances of some officials; the little groups, knotted together in by-streets, whispering, and dissolving at the first hint of approaching police; the singing defiance of the students; the sulky muteness of the poorer burghers; and, above all, the febrile, overstrained note in the very merriment of the ruling class itself. There was a tinkling of madcap-bells at the Palace of Jerome that rang into the town; no one within those walls had a mind to hearken to the reverberating echoes of Dresden and Leipzig.

Steven sought his fiddler friend persistently, yet in vain. Sore at heart, and out of temper besides, he returned to the "Aigle Impérial," to be greeted by the news that, mine host had that instant lost his best lodgers in the persons of the noble Burgravine and her niece the Baroness Sidonia von Wellenshausen.

Sidonia under the roof of Jerome!

There was a Court-concert that night at the Royal Palace, and it was in the music-room that Sidonia was by command presented to Jerome.

She dropped her curtsy; here was a king for whose royalty, in her sturdy patriotism and her inherited race tradition, she felt neither allegiance nor respect. As she drew herself up from the perfunctory obeisance, she looked him in the face and met a glance that gleamed and flickered upon her with will-o'-the-wisp flame. Turning aside from that offensive smile, Sidonia became conscious of the gaze of the King's Master of the Horse towering over his dapper little sovereign. Steady enough this; something like the glare with which the beast of prey regards his quarry. The girl's heart sank with a double terror.

"I am charmed," said the King, "to behold at last with my own eyes the young heiress of Wellenshausen, in whose lovely person, I am told, is vested so much of my territory."

This was spoken in German with a pronounced Gallic accent. Then Jerome lapsed into French to say caressingly—

"Mademoiselle de Wellenshausen is welcome at my Court."

Burgravine Betty, escorting her husband's niece into the presence, was quick to seize the fact that Jerome's glance had glinted past her—past Betty von Wellenshausen!—to appraise the gawky child. Her sparkling, olive face went rigid and grey with the strongest emotion of which she was capable—mortified vanity.

"Your Majesty mistakes," said Sidonia. Her voice sounded in her own ears as a mere childish pipe; yet it was firm and clear. "Your Majesty mistakes. I am Countess Lee von Waldorf zu Kilmansegg."

Outward decorum is the rule even at the most amateur Court, yet the sensation created by the announcement Sidonia could feel to her innermost nerve. The countenance of Jerome became as suddenly and threateningly overcast as that of a spoilt urchin thwarted. He flung a look of anger at his Chancellor. The veins swelled on the crimsoning forehead of Colonel d'Albignac, the Master of the Horse, Betty's spite broke forth.

"Your Majesty," she interposed shrilly, "has already received information of the true position of affairs. A piece of quixotic nonsense on the part of my cousin, Count Kilmansegg, an ill-considered undertaking to which this child would hold him bound, against all … against all proper pride, all feminine delicacy, and his own better judgment!"

She shot an arrow of fury at her niece; then she nudged the Burgrave, who instantly put in his deep bass—

"The deed of annulment is drawn up, sire."

Jerome's good humour returned. He rubbed his hands. In spite of all his royal assumptions, much of the exuberant gesture of the Corsican had stuck to him, to the infinite distaste of his stolid subjects.

"Il faut aller vite, vite, alors. We must make haste," he averred.

To make haste and enjoy was, indeed, the rule of Jerome's existence. Now, a Lent of unexampled rigour seemed inevitably drawing near him; and all the more vertiginous was his carnival. So vertiginous indeed, that, willingly blind though she was, the Queen, true German daughter of Würtemberg, had withdrawn from the tourbillon, giddy and panting, to take refuge at Napoleonshöhe till such time as her royal spouse would come to sober sense again.

Therefore was Sidonia's initiation to Court life presided over by the Sovereign only.

When the King had passed on, talking earnestly to the Burgrave, and Betty had taken voluble possession of Colonel d'Albignac, the little bride slipped away alone to a shaded corner of the great, over-decorated room. The pain of the wound her aunt's words had planted in her heart was at first so poignant that she had to rest and rally her strength, lest it should fail her altogether. Then her wits, naturally alert, and to-night abnormally stimulated, began to work. She was in danger—danger of what, she knew not. But it was something horrible, unspeakable. The looks the King and d'Albignac had cast upon her, the glance of odious intelligence they had then exchanged, her uncle's obsequious haste to disclaim her marriage, and her aunt's public insult, were as many lightning flashes showing the precipice yawning in the dark at her feet Not a friend had she in the world to whom she could turn—save the man who did not love her—and a poor, wandering musician, now probably far away on some Thurigian road, playing gay tunes to the rhythm of his own incurable melancholy. She pressed her hands against her burning eyeballs, for the brilliancy of the lights became unbearable. And as she stood leaning against the gilt pilaster, close to her, the orchestra, half hidden behind a bank of flowers, struck up a gay French air which added to her overwhelming sense of misery.

Her uncle's words, "The annulment deed is already drawn out," seemed to jig in her brain in time to the vulgar measure. It was almost the same phrase that she herself had flung at Steven—but now it bore a sound of cruel reality quite novel to her; and when a couple of horns took up the fiddles' theme, they seemed to be blaring to the world her own unutterable shame.

"A piece of quixotic nonsense to which she would hold him, against all proper pride all feminine delicacy and—and his own better judgment!"

How was it possible for anyone to be so abandoned, so helpless? Even the little furry things of the forest at home had their holes to which they could run and hide when they were hurt … the forest at home! With what longing did her soul yearn to the thought of the clean, green shelter, the scented pine-alleys, with long shadows cutting the yellow glades; to the great, sombre thickets where not even the most practised huntsman of the Revier could have tracked a little startled hind. … Dawn in the woods, with pipe of innocent birds waking up—violets, blinking dew, in the moss, and clean, tart breezes blowing free. … Eventide in the forest; the mild sun setting at the end of the valley, through the clearings, and the thrush chanting his last anthem on the topmost bough of the stone pine. … The scent of the wood-smoke from the forest-house, where foster-mother Friedel was preparing supper for her hungry sons, where all was so wholesome, so honest, so homelike; where at this moment—who knows?—kind Fiddle-Hans might be seated in the ingleglow, his strange music, lilt of joy and sorrow mingled, of humour and tenderness, floating out through the open door into the solemn forest-aisle. … Little Sidonia's thoughts began to wander from her own sorrow. She saw the sunrise in the forest, she felt the evening peace.

All at once, in her lonely corner, she started and opened her eyes; she brushed her hands across her wet lids. She was dreaming surely! And yet she could swear that the actual trill of the vagabond's violin was even now in the air, that its piercing sweetness and incomparable depth of sound were ringing in her ears.

"Allons voir danser la grande Jeanne" brayed the orchestra, but above the jigging and twiddling of fiddles, the mock laughter of the hautboy, above the infectious rhythm of flute and drum, came stealing in harmony, yet infinitely apart, the plaint of the mountain air, at once pathetic and happy, that had been known between her and the wanderer as her tune.

Surely, if she were not dreaming, then she was mad!

Suddenly, with crash and bang and roll of drum, La Grande Jeanne finished her dance—but, in half-muffled tone, a single violin went on; and above the sudden clamour of laughter and voices, Sidonia did plainly hear her tune calling her, insistent with all the urgency of a whispered message.

Scarcely aware of what she was doing, she left her hiding-place and went swiftly through the indifferent throng towards that call. With one exception the men of the orchestra had left their platform; and, behind a high group of palms, a solitary musician plied his bow softly, secretly, as if rehearsing to himself.

Sidonia pushed some branches apart. The player looked up. Their eyes met. Then she forgot to be astonished. She thought she had known it all along. He had come to save her. True friend!

"I knew it was you," she said. She laughed at him through the green palm-stems, her eyes sparkled. How could she ever have thought Fiddle-Hans would fail her at the moment of her need?

But Fiddle-Hans did not smile back. His face—so strange under powdered hair; over the mulberry uniform, bechained and besilvered, of Jerome's Court, orchestra—was very grave.

"Little Madame Sidonia," he said, "what are you doing here?" He spoke sadly, and under his unconscious fingers his violin gave a sad pizzicato accompaniment to the words.

Sidonia looked at him with her child-eyes. She was half-angry that he should find fault with her—the Geigel-Onkel who hitherto had always thought all she did perfect! And she was half pleased that he should dub her "Madame," instead of the time-honoured "Mamzell." Foolish Sidonia, clinging in her heart to the honour she outwardly repudiated!

"Do you know what sort of a place this is?" pursued the fiddler, with ever-increasing severity. "Do you know with what people you are surrounded? Have you not heard the common saying that if it be doubtful whether an honest woman—save the unhappy Queen—ever crossed these Palace doors, to a certainty no honest woman ever went forth from them? Why are you not with your husband?—with your husband?" he repeated sharply.


"'Why are you not with your husband?'"

Sidonia, who had hung her head, blushing, ashamed—for in truth she felt evil about her in every sensitive fibre—reared it on the last words.

"Geigel-Onkel!" she cried, "I have no husband, and you know it. That is past and done with." Then her heart began to heat very fast, and the smarting tears gathered in her eyes. "On pity, I will be no man's wife! I was wedded out of pity! I will have none of it! I would rather die!"

"O, death!" said the fiddler, and struck his strings so that they wailed—"death is the least of evils—nay, the release of a clean, proud soul. … that is joy. The worst end of life is not death. Beware, little madam!" He had another change of tone: never had Sidonia been rated with such incisive earnestness. "Why, what a child are you! Yet none so childish but that you know full well this is no child's mischief, but woman's danger! With what anxiety am I here to save you from yourself; at what trouble!. … Only that the rats are flying already from the falling house; only that I happened to meet the second violin of Jerome's orchestra, an acquaintance of old—a musical rat in full scuttle!—I might still be racking my brains for means to come near you! Here am I this hour, wearing the livery of the Upstart, not knowing if I shall be given the necessary minute for speech. The prisons are stuffed full to-night, and Jerome is afraid of me. Let but his eye, or that of his spies, turn this way and recognise me, and it is to the lock-up with Fiddle-Hans! O, then, what of Madame Sidonia? Back to your husband! You toss your head at me? It was through pride the Angel fell—and he was Star of the Morning!"

"I don't know what you mean," said Sidonia.

"Nay," said Fiddle-Hans; "you know too much already. Fie, what a dance will there be here before the house falls! Even now Jerome is plotting his last gratification. Did not his eye fall upon you? Your husband's name, his sacred Austrian nationality—these are your only safeguard. And that name you are not to keep long. You are to become Madame d'Albignac. The puppet King has very little time left, as his lieutenant knows, and he, d'Albignac, will be glad to save something out of the ruins. You are a prize to both—and they are amicably agreed."

"I don't understand," said Sidonia again. She went white, then red, trembled and caught at the prickly stem of the palm.

"Take me away with you!" she broke out of a sudden piteously. "Save me!"

"I cannot save you," answered the wanderer. His voice was harsh, yet it trembled; he drew a harsh chord from his string. "No one can save you but your husband. Go back to him."

Then he began to tune his fiddle with fury, for his fellow-players were straggling back. Some of them looked curiously at the fine lady who was speaking to their unknown comrade so familiarly. Sidonia turned. Many of the great company were looking at her, too. Right across the room she saw Jerome and his equerry still talking together; and, as they talked, their eyes (or so she fancied) ever and anon sought her.

Panic seized her. But even in panic, Sidonia was loyal. She must not speak again to Fiddle-Hans, lest she bring him into deeper danger. Fiddle-Hans her friend, the wild wanderer, in prison! In prison for her! That would be terrible.

She wheeled round; and then, like a hunted thing, pushed her way blindly through the throng, making for the shelter of the Chancellor's apartment. People nudged each other and whispered as she passed. At the door, an old lady, with white hair and a soft, pink-and-white face, detained her by the skirt.

"Who are you, my dear, and whither so fast?"

"O, please," panted the girl, "let me go! I am Sidonia of Kilmansegg." Even in her agitation she did not forget the name that was her shield. "I must go back to my aunt."

The old lady nodded.

"That is all right," she said. "There is nothing to be frightened at. And if you want any advice, my dear, or help, you have only to ask for Madame la Grande Maréchale—that is myself. I am very fond of girls."

Her voice was purring, her smile was comfortable. As she moved away, Sidonia felt vaguely reassured. If her own kindred failed her, there was yet salvation; salvation other than the inadmissible humiliation of that return to the man she loved, but who did not love her: all that cruel Fiddle-Hans would devise for her!

In the Chancellor's apartment she found bustle and confusion. Two footmen staggered past her, bringing in trunks. The Burgravine's maids were running to and fro with folded packets of lace and silk.

For a second Sidonia stared aghast; then her heart leaped: Betty had received some hint, and these preparations were for their departure—to carry her into safety. She burst into her aunt's room: yes, there was Betty, already engaged in donning a travelling garb, and ever and anon clapping jewels into their cases with fervid haste. She looked up, her olive face thunder-dark, as she recognised her niece.

"Did you look for me?" cried the girl. "It was Fiddle-Hans told me. How horrible it all is! I shall be ready in a minute! Where are we going?"

The Burgravine was silent for a second, fixing her with cold, blue eyes. Then she spoke, quietly and decisively—

"I am going back to Austria. I have done with Westphalia and all that belongs to it! I do not know what your plans may be, but they concern me no longer."

She closed the case she held in her hand; the little snap seemed to give final emphasis to her words. Sidonia stood bewildered.

"I have done with your Westphalia, my love," pursued the Burgravine with cheerful spite; "done with your uncle, my Bluebeard, en premier lieu, and with Jerome, that plebeian, that upstart!" Intense was the scorn with which she spoke the words: had not he glanced past her dainty personality to-night, to fix his royal favour upon a schoolgirl? Betty laughed. "Fortunately I have relations, and they summon me to quit cette canaille. O, I have been privately warned! They give your Jerome and his kingdom a week more of life, if so much. In Austria, Dieu merci, I shall be far away. I shall not see the fantoche's ridiculous fall!"

The young Countess of Waldorf-Kilmansegg stood stonily. Betty the Burgravine, running from place to place like a mouse, as she spoke, halted now in the middle of the room. Their eyes met; and their thoughts flashed at each other.

"And do you go alone?" asked Sidonia.

In her own ears her voice sounded strange; her heart was gripped as by iron fingers. Betty laughed again.

"Who knows?" she answered. "I may perchance find an escort. Count Waldorf-Kilmansegg will have signed, ere long, a certain precious document of yours, which I hear they bring him to-night. Then it will be Hop-là, postilion! with him also. He is my cousin," said pretty Betty demurely. "So, if I accept his protection, it will be perfectly right and proper."

Sidonia gave a sudden quiver, like a hind frightened. Then she turned and fled, even as flies the hind with the cruel hunt on her traces; and Betty's laugh pursued her like to the note of the horn.

She ran headlong down the passage and struck against the burly figure of no less a person than the Burgrave himself. The omen of trunks had not yet met his eye: he was in high good humour. Indeed, he was of those that have no scent for omens. His kinglet, but now, had promised him fresh territorial honour and rich reward, and he had no doubt of the royal power. There are those who would see the moving finger write, and never spell warning from the awful letters.

"Whither so fast, my maid?" he inquired, holding her not unkindly. She clang to him with sudden passion.

"O, Uncle Ludo, take me away from this place! Take me away to-night, this hour, at once! Let us go back to the dear old Burg!"

"Why, what is this?" He pushed her from him, good-humoured, bantering, fuddled with the royal Sillery. His sovereign and he had pledged a bumper to the heiress of Wellenshausen's altered prospects. "Na, na," said the Burgrave, and wagged his head jocosely. "Somebody would not be in such a hurry to run away if somebody knew what her old uncle had planned for her! Hey, my dear, that hasty marriage of yours was never more to my liking than to yours: and now we have a new husband for you. Aye, and a place at Court! Hey, little Sidonia! Such a fine husband, such a fine position!"

The girl raised her eyes and desperately scanned his empurpled countenance. Again the Burgrave archly shook his head, and laughter rumbled in his huge body. Aye, aye, it was the way of women to feign coyness, but men knew what was good for them. One must humour them from time to time, but never yield. She read something implacable in the stupidity of his eye. She thought of the old wild boars in the Fort: as well might she try to appeal to one of those!

He clutched her hands in his hot grasp; a faintness came over her.

"Aunt Betty is packing!" she cried wildly, inspired by woman's wit. "Don't you know?. … She is going back to Austria."

"What?" roared the Burgrave, and released her. He cantered sidelong down the passage to Betty's room.

"If you want help," had said the soft-voiced old lady, "ask for la Maréchale de la Cour.' If ever a poor daughter of Eve wanted help, it was surely Sidonia, standing between the Scylla of nameless evil and the Charybdis of dire humiliation.

It was not in her nature to hesitate; she paused but to catch up a travelling cloak in er room; then seeking the outer corridor again, bade the first valet on her way guide her to the apartment of Madame la Grande Maréchale. She would wait (thought the girl) for the great lady's return from festivity. There must be refuge where such gentle old age presided, and good counsel, and aid forthcoming on the morrow for her journey back to the Thuringian forest.

The Maréchale's apartments were on the ground floor, and Sidonia thought fortune favoured her when the porter informed her that the gracious one herself had that instant entered. Still more at ease felt she when the pretty old lady received her with open arms and cooing words of welcome—

"Ma belle enfant, this is well! I have presentiments. I expected you. That great bear of a Chancellor, your uncle, and the little minx of a wife he has. … (linnet-head, wasp-temper, ferret-heart—I know the kind! One look at her, ma chère, and I saw it all): that was no place for you. Nay, you wanted a friend, my dear, and it is well you came to me, very well." She nodded; and the fine bird-of-paradise plume in her gauzy turban quivered over her soft, white curls.

A second time that evening Sidonia had to struggle with rising tears, but these were tears of gratitude, of relief. Madame la Maréchale patted her on the shoulder, stooped to embrace her; there was a delicate atmosphere about her, of Parma powder and amber-scented laces.

"It is good, my child," she murmured, "to have a friend at Court—someone who knows the ways of it. Ma petite, you and I, we'll do great things together! Nay, but we will talk no more now. A little supper together? (Hein, ma belle enfant what have you eaten to-day?)"

She rang a silver bell, and a smart soubrette appeared; she stared with bold, black eyes at the visitor.

"Bettine, ma fllle," said the suave lady, "take … Mademoiselle into my chamber, and arrange me a little her coiffure before supper. You must be beautiful," she added, turning pleasantly again to Sidonia, "for I shall have a guest."

"Par ici, mademoiselle," said Bettine briefly. As she led Sidonia across the threshold of a violet-scented, violet-hued bower, the lady's dulcet tones called after her—

"And then return to me, ma fille. I have to speed thee with a little note."

"It is well, madam," answered the French girl, and closed the door.

Sidonia looked around, and then at the maid's hard face. It seemed to her as if a chasm had opened under her feet where she had thought to find firm footing. Her ears had been disagreeably struck by the word "Mademoiselle," and the emphasis that the old lady had placed on it. The reference to an expected visitor next filled her with inchoate suspicion, which the order concerning a note intensified. She now read an insolent meaning in Bettine's black eyes as they appraised her.

"Whom does your mistress expect to supper?" she asked with sharpness.

The girl shrugged her shoulders.

"Madame la Maréchale's supper-parties are very amusing," she replied familiarly. "Little soupers fins—very amusing, very discreet. The great thing is that Mademoiselle should be beautiful. Allons, we must off with this cloak. Will Mademoiselle sit down? O, que Mademoiselle est bien faite!. … Mais coifée (Mademoiselle forgives me?) in defiance of all common sense!"

Now Sidonia knew, before she had the certainty, into what a trap she had walked. And, with the clearness of her conviction, she also knew what she had to do. She sat down, silently, as bidden; and—while the odious touch of the Maréchale's maid played in her hair—made a steady inventory of the room. There was no door but the one leading back into the boudoir; great windows were curtained away behind the dressing-table.

"O, how much better is Mademoiselle like this!" cried Bettine, falling back to admire her work.

Sidonia gave her own reflection an anxious scrutiny. One word, one look, one sign of weakness, and her hastily formed plan might be frustrated. Beyond that possibility were the horrors upon which she could not look … upon which she would never look! For, at the worst, there was still a refuge. The fiddler's words—"The release of a clean, proud soul—that is joy!" came to her ever and again as upon a strain of his own music. And ever they brought her fresh strength and comfort.

"O, how beautiful is Mademoiselle!" cried Bettine again, this time with genuine enthusiasm. "Positively, it is flames she has in her glance, and no rouge could beat me the colour of those cheeks!"

"Bettine …!" rose the Maréchale's silver voice from the next room; and Sidonia, flinging herself into her part with the instinct of the defenceless, smiled gaily on the French girl as she bade her go.

"Mademoiselle will not forget 'tis I who has adorned her—when she is in power?" insinuated the Marechale's maid.

"I shall not forget," said Sidonia between her teeth.

When the door had been closed between them, she seized the handle. Fortunately the Maréchale liked discreet hinges, and Sidonia was able noiselessly to draw the door the necessary fraction of an inch apart, that she might listen. There was not a tremor in her hands; she held her breath lest a rustle of silk should betray her. Strong spirits rise to the great situation.

There was whispering within. The ear of the little heiress of Wellenshausen had been trained in forest glades, full of the small sounds of lesser lives. She caught a word here, a word there.

"… The note. … in his Majesty's own hands. … Thou has well understood, my girl?"

"Mais oui, madame."

Bettine's whisper carried far. But now the Maréchale made a softer communication, of which the listener could gather no import, and to which Bettine's answer gave no clue. It was emitted with a laugh: "O, no, Madame deceives herself—we are not so scared as all that, believe me!"

A dulcet titter joined the insolent note of the servant.

"At least the little bird is in the cage," said the Maréchale, as she laughed.

It was more than enough. Sidonia closed the door. She found a bolt which moved as willingly as all the rest under her fingers. … Then a frenzy of haste came upon her. The cloak over her pale dress—the hood over Bettine's fine coiffure! And now the window! People who shut up a little bird in a cage should make sure that the bars are close enough to keep it safe; for the bird has wings, and its heart beats towards freedom, towards the mate, towards the nest! The Maréchale's apartments were on the rez-de-chaussée; but had they been on the topmost floor, that window would yet have been the way of Sidonia's flight.

O, how deliciously the chill, pure air beat upon her face after that evil hothouse atmosphere! By the stillness and the fragrance, by the soft earth under her feet, she knew she had alighted into the Palace garden. It was a murky night, and the rain was falling; the distant lights of the park gates glimmered fitfully.

Sidonia had no idea whither to turn; but the intention of her heart was undeviating as the flight of the homing bird. There was only one refuge for her, only one place for her—her husband's breast. Her road was clear: she was going to Steven, and after that nothing would ever matter again.

"But had they been on the topmost floor, that window would yet have been the way of Sidonia's flight."
She set off running in the direction of the gateway lamps. In a minute her light ball-slippers were soaked with wet, clogged with mud; her narrow skirts clung against her silk stockings; now she brushed against low bushes, now nearly fell. She could run no more; she must grope her way. But presently her eyes became more accustomed to the dimness. The whiteness of an alley glimmered to her between rows of trees; it led down to the lights. Here on firm ground, she was able to make speed again, catching up her impeding skirts to free her flying feet. The gates were unlocked. There was not even a sentry in the box to challenge, as Sidonia slid by. Within the lodge rose song and laughter and clinking of glass. Like master, like man!

Though the street on which she emerged was paved, it was meagrely lighted, and contained but a few poor houses opposite the park walls. The road seemed to lead upwards towards the country, downwards towards the town. Almost without reflection, she took the downward turn, drawing the folds of her cloak more closely over her tell-tale garments, and the hood deeper round her face. Here she must go sedately, though the hammering of her own pulses seemed like the footsteps of relentless pursuers, and the mad impulse was to keep ever running from them. It had been to her as a nightmare upon her across the dark park, but the passage through the town was infinitely more terrible. She looked back on the close solitude as to a haven of shelter. Yet unfalteringly, steadily, she tramped on, along the mazes of dirty streets; now pausing to ask her way of some respectable-looking burgher-woman—sometimes kindly answered, sometimes rebuked as a good-for-nothing, sometimes jeered at for her muddy finery. Once a gang of students surrounded her, laughing and dancing, mocking her in garbled French; and she thought she must have died of terror. When, however, one of them caught her by the waist, her anger rose, and she reviled him in vigorous Thuringian; it was no true German who would insult a helpless woman! Whereat they all fell back from her, abashed and respectful, and she pursued her way with deliberate gait, though her heart was beating to suffocation.

Further on, for the length of a street, a man with a dark, outlandish face and gold rings in his ears followed her step by step: and that was the most awful moment of the night's journey. But in the shadow of a porch she marked the glint of a watchman's halbert; to him she went boldly and, in her dire strait, told him her story in the good mother tongue common to both, and begged him to guide her to the inn.

He listened to her in silence, his small, shrewd eyes searching her face, as she instinctively thrust it from the hood, that its pleading should abet her words.

Then, breaking forth into a bitter curse against the foreigner, he held out his hand and took hers as if she had been a child.

And like a child, she went gladly beside him, listening with a vague sense of comfort to the muttered words in which, in ever broader Thuringian dialect, he foretold the coming clean-out of honest Westphalia, the downfall of monkey-tyrants and the approaching good days, when decent women could walk unmolested through the streets of old Cassel, and true-minded Germans would come to their own again.

"I the Countess Kilmansegg," said Sidonia to the sleepy servant who came to meet her at the entrance of the "Aigle Impérial."

She was careless now of recognition, and flung back the hood from her fair, dishevelled head.

The man gaped at her. It was the "Mamzell Baroness." (The Burgravine had admitted no other title.) But the visitor's eye was imperious; without a word, he preceded her up the square, dark stairs, to the second-floor room. He would have knocked, but she dismissed him: "I will announce myself," she said.

The room was warm and light, but it was empty. Sidonia's heart seemed to empty itself, too, and become an aching void. She closed the door and sat down hopelessly. But, after a while, a sense of shelter, a physical, a moral warmth of comfort crept upon her. She marked that Steven's chattels were scattered around. No fear, then, but that he would return! The vague fragrance of the lavender scent he liked brought his presence suddenly and vividly to her. The little bride melted into tears. She was worn out; her aching feet were stinging as she held them against the warm porcelain of the stove. Her whole being seemed melted, her spirit broken; but there was a balm sweeter than triumph in this hour of her woman's surrender. All Betty's words, her gibes and threats, even what had seemed to be Steven's actual admissions, passed from her mind, as if washed away by these heating tears. There are moments when the soul can see beyond facts.

Presently the heat began to tell upon her exhausted frame. She felt herself floating away into vague little sleeps, to awake, her heart beating in her throat with reminiscences of past alarms. Thus she started at length from a vivid dream that the Burgrave and Betty, d'Albignac and Jerome, had tracked her and were carrying her back. She came to full consciousness of solitude, but could not still the wild fear of the nightmare … Betty's cunning was as a sleuth-hound—she would well know where to trace her … The man below had recognised her; it would be bootless to lock the door, for one thrust of the Burgrave's shoulder would dispose of sounder defences—Steven would return, and never know …! She rose trembling from her seat and looked round. Then a quaint and childish thought sprang into her brain; the great old German bed in the alcove was hung with curtains; she would creep into its inviting shelter and draw the yellow damask folds. There would she be safe as a bird in her nest behind the leaves—in a room within a room. And, hidden, she could listen for her husband's step.

Steven Lee came heavily up the stairs. For two hours, raging at the sound of distant revelry, he had paced the Palace hall, expecting an answer to his letter to the Burgrave demanding of him his wife. In the end he had only escaped arrest by the help of a good-natured official whose heart inclined towards the handsome young stranger with the generous purse and the pale, stricken face.

Helplessly he had drifted back to the "Aigle Impérial": perhaps Fiddle-Hans might have been inspired to seek him there! But a very different personality sat, awaiting his return and feeding patience with cognac, in the public salon.

It was d'Albignac, the King's Master of the Horse. At sight of Steven he sprang to his feet and saluted with a great air of cordiality, running over the Austrian's name and title, and announcing his own with glib affability.

"We have met before, sir," sternly said Steven, who was in fine humour for destruction.

"I think not," answered the equerry; his eyes had a red glitter which denied his smile. "I think not, M. le Comte. Ny, I am positive it is the first time I have had the pleasure of addressing you."

Steven shrugged his shoulders; "Have it so," he said contemptuously, and glanced at the bloated cheek against which his hand had once exulted. "After all, it is you who have the more striking cause to remember. What do you want with me?" he added with truly British bluntness.

D'Albignac's smile was stiff over his yellow teeth; his fingers twitched over the handle of papers he had pulled out of his sabretache. But the Master of the Horse had no illusions as to the length of Jerome's power; and that document, once properly endorsed, meant his own future prosperity. It was worth a minute's urbanity towards one whom otherwise it would have been relief to hew down.

"I have business with you—business of delicacy, sir; but yet, I trust, easily despatched. A short private conversation between us two." He cast a meaning look at the French officers playing piquet and tric-trac in their proximity.

"I can conceive no business," said Steven, "between us two, sir, but one. Nevertheless, come to my room. I can promise you that my answer will be of quick despatch."

So he walked up the ill-lit stairs, with d'Albignac clanking at his heels, and pushed his way into his bedchamber before him—the creature could not be treated otherwise than as the dog he was.

"Shut the door," said he, "and say your say."

Again d'Albignac successfully fought his own fury.

"A matter of delicacy, as I said, my dear sir. … Mademoiselle de Wellenshausen is, you are aware, now at the Palace?"

"Are you speaking of Countess Waldorf-Kilmansegg?" put in Steven briefly.

"Immaterial, now!" deprecated the other. "The marriage, I understand, is regretted on both sides. Your signature here, and we do the rest."

Steven listened with outward calmness.

"We?" echoed he. "What have you to say to this, Colonel d'Albignac?"

It is not always by weight of hand or stroke of sword that man can have his sweetest vengeance upon man. D'Albignac, as he replied, knew that he was at last paying off scores.

"The King," he said—"my King, His Majesty Jerome—takes an interest in the lady."

Steven felt suddenly as if the clasps of his cloak were strangling him. He tore them apart, falling back two or three steps, that he might fling the burden on the bed. He must have his limbs free. The grating voice went on—

"It is my Sovereign's desire that the young heiress of Wellenshausen should espouse a member of his households. And his choice has fallen upon your servant here—I may say the charming creature is not unwilling——"

Confusedly, through the humming of the blood in his ears, Steven heard. Mechanically he gathered his cloak into a bundle and pulled the damask curtain aside. Then he stood, silent, as if stricken, his back to his tormentor.

D'Albignac rubbed his hands together and chuckled. It was better than the most sounding return slap, better than feeling the easy steel run through flesh or grate against bone!

The cloak glided from Count Kilmansegg's arm. He closed the curtains deliberately and faced his visitor.

"If you will leave the deed, Colonel," said he, "I will peruse it to-night, and you can have it back in the morning."

He took the paper courteously from d'Albignac's hand. His face was paler than before; but there was a singular smile upon it, a singular light in the eyes.

"And it is the greatest heiress in Westphalia. What a morgue these Austrians have!" thought the Colonel, as he drew a noisy breath of laughter and relief. "The merest hint, it was enough!—Enchanted," he went on aloud, "my young friend, to find you so reasonable. I see you take me—— Ah, yes I these are sad times, and the soldier of fortune (such as I am) cannot afford to be squeamish. Hey! the King sups with Countess Kilmansegg. … Nay, shall we not say … Mademoiselle de Wellenshausen? … to-night, at this moment!"

Steven's smile flashed broadly a second. "He would grin on the rack," thought d'Albignac.

"A demain, Colonel," said Steven, "but not before noon, please."

His tone was quiet, even soft. He advanced without hurry towards his guest, tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and pointed to the door.

The two stood looking, eye into eye; and the brute rose again clamouring in d'Albignac's huge body. But something inscrutable in Steven's glance, its fire, almost its gaiety, made him quail. He felt that he was more than matched, and broke ground with a clumsy bow, a failure for irony. His great boots resounded down the wooden stairs.

Steven parted the curtains cautiously and stood looking down upon the sleeping figure.

So the bird had come home, after all! Sidonia lay like the weary child she was wrapped in so profound a slumber that even d'Albignac's noisy presence had failed to disturb her. Her slender arms were outflung, her hands faintly curled in an attitude of utter relaxation. Through parted lips her breath came as placidly as an infant's. The yellow hair sprang in tangled masses, aureole-like, round the little pale face. Never had her extreme youth so utterly betrayed itself. But how wan she seemed—how exhausted through all the placidity of her repose! The narrow satin skirts were mud-stained; one little silk-clad foot, outthrust, shoeless, was stained with mire—aye, and streaked with blood.

His child-wife …!

Over what rough ways had she come to him? Past what chasm, blacker, deeper, more relentless, than the Baron's oubliette?

Slowly, hardly wotting what he did, Steven went down on his knees beside her, unconsciously still clutching d'Albignac's paper. An infinite tide of love, of protecting tenderness flooded his whole being.

His child-wife!

The watchman was chaunting the tale of the midnight hour when a peremptory knock at the door was heard, and Fiddle-Hans broke in upon Steven. He halted for a second, though his mission was urgent, to wonder at the light on the young husband's face as the latter rose from his knees and came forward to greet him.

The musician had never thought so pure a joy could reach his desolation in this world. It was no surprise to him that Sidonia, waking, should thrust out a suddenly rosy face between the yellow curtains; he had known, through Steven's eyes, that the children he loved were together.

"Steven!" said Sidonia.


"'Ah, Sidonia …!'"

"Ah, Sidonia …!" cried Steven.

He ran to her. And, regardless of Fiddle-Hans, they clasped each other, the deed of annulment dropping between them.

"Now, children!" said Fiddle-Hans briskly—he was laughing, but the tears, which none had ever seen before in them, glittered in his eyes—"you will have plenty of time by and by; now it is haste, haste, haste! I have a carriage for you waiting below. Ha, little Madame Sidonia, laugh with me! It is the Burgravine's own carriage—nothing less. Nay, German wives do not so easily escape their husbands, even at Jerome's Court. My Lady Burgravine makes no journeying to-night, or ever, away from her lord! A berline and four good post-horses … 'twere pity to waste them! Quick, children! for I tell you night will not he over ere the storm break on this town!"

Sidonia had little preparation to make. She put on her cloak. From the depths of her hood, her pretty face looked inquiringly at Fiddle-Hans.

"Where are we going?" said she.

"Where?" echoed the wanderer, with a lilt in his voice as if to echoes of music. "Where, but to the forest—to the green arms that will hold your love so safely, so discreetly? To the forest-house, little madam, whither I once brought a youth who had missed his springtime and lost his way, that he might find them both!"

The fiddler sat on the box, and the horses went roundly. Sidonia lay on her husband's shoulder, half dreaming again, lulled by the drip of the rain without, the monotonous movement of the carriage, the rhythmic beat of the hoofs against the soft road. They had passed the inn of "The Three Ways," and the forest had taken them into its embrace, when she started suddenly with a faint cry—

"What was that?"

A dull booming still reverberated in her ears.

"That was cannon," said Steven, "It is the end of Jerome's kingdom!"

By sunset they reached the forest-house, where there was great marvel and welcome, and a fine supper in the raftered room. Afterwards they sat round the great hearth. And whenever they were not laughing and talking, the forest peace drew about the lovers and held them close, as Fiddle-Hans had prophesied. It was a blessed evening.

As the ruddy light played on the musician's face, it showed a strange serenity.

"You will always live with us, dear Fiddle-Hans," said Sidonia over and over again. And each time she said it, he smiled as if content.

"It was the melody of love, of farewell, of wandering."
Now, in the wonderful dawn of the forest, Steven awoke next morning, and though his heart was as a bird's in spring for happiness, yet was there a sense of trouble, of anxiety upon him which had seemed woven into his dreams.

The had left their window open to the moonlight, and it had flooded in upon them, but the dawn mystery without held aloof, veiled from sight like an Eastern bride. Thin grey vapours hung as a curtain before the open casement. Steven sat up, his pulses beating fast. He strained his ear: heard flutter of leaves, drip drip of dew, chirp of awakening birds … then a faint strain of music that seemed as if it passed through a dream. The melody drew more distinct, though still subdued; it rose, softly plaintive; it was joyous and yet sad, secret and yet an appeal. And through it all there was a rhythm as of restless feet: it was a melody of love, of farewell, of wandering. Fainter it grew and was lost once more in the whispers of the woods. It was silent at last, while still it seemed to sing.

A sudden pain gripped Steven's heart. He knew that Fiddle-Hans had gone.

Through the dim, wet woodland the musician tramped.

Already the scent of thrifty Mother Friedel's early fire was floating in the air: it greeted his nostrils with the call of the hearth; but he had resolutely turned his back upon the forest-house and the young happiness it sheltered. His work was done; and he must wander again, for solitude was all that God could give him on this earth; solitude and ceaseless movement to numb the pain in his heart. He felt very old and tired: his face was grey and stern as he set it for the high road.

All at once the dark forest-glade opened before him, and the land fell away towards the plain, all bathed in golden light.

Tue sun was rising in such radiance that it seemed to hold the promise of an Eternal Day.