Saxe Holm's Stories, Second Series/A Four-Leaved Clover
A FOUR-LEAVED CLOVER.
SERGEANT KARL REUTNER had never found a four-leaved clover. He had often looked for them—at home in Bavaria, in the green meadows at the foot of the giant glacier Watzman, and in America, on the sunny prairies of Illinois. But he had never found one. "It is luck; I shall not have luck before I find the four leaf of clover," he had said, half jesting, many a time, to himself or to gay comrades. And in his secret heart he was not without a shadow of superstition about it. It had again and again happened that some one by his side had stooped and picked a four-leaved clover, upon which he was just on the point of treading, while his eyes were searching eagerly for it. It did seem as if Karl could never see the magic little leaf, and why should this not mean some thing? Whence came the world-wide belief in the spell, if it were merely an idle fancy?
But now Karl Reutner was to find his four leaved clover. There it was, gently waving in the wind, not two feet away from his eyes. Karl was lying low on the ground. He was not looking for four-leaved clover; he was listening with every faculty sharply concentrated, waiting for a sound which seemed to him inexplicably delayed. He was lying in a trench before Gettysburg, and he was impatient for the order to fire.
The gentle summer breeze stirred the grass blades on the upper edge of the trench, and parting them, showed one tall four-leaved clover. With an exclamation of delight, Karl dropped his musket, picked the clover, fastened it in the band of his cap, and lifting up the cap, imprudently waved it to the right and left, calling down the line: "Good luck, boys! The four leaf of clover!"
The next Karl knew, it was night—dark, starless, chilly night. He was alone; a dreadful silence, broken now and then by more dreadful groans, reigned all around. He was naked; he could not move; terrible pains were racking his breast. Something was firmly clutched in his right hand, but he could not lift his arm to see what it was; neither could he unclasp his hand.
The battle of Gettysburg was over, and Karl was shot through the lungs. "Good luck, boys! The four leaf of clover!" had been his last words, hardly spoken before the waving cap had proved a mark for a rebel sharp-shooter, and Karl had fallen back apparently dead.
No time then for one comrade to help another. In a few moments more his company had gone, leaving behind many of its brave fellows wounded, dying, dead. In the night Karl had been stripped by rebel prowlers, and left for dead. Only his cap remained; that was so firmly clutched in his right hand, they could not take it from him. Withered, drooping above the tarnished gilt wreath on the band, hung the four-leaved clover; but Karl could not see it. He remembered it, however, and as he struggled in his feverish half delirium to recall the last moments before he fell, he muttered to himself: "The four leaf of clover brought this of luck; bad luck to begin."
The feeble sounds caught the ear of a party of rebels, searching for their wounded. As the dark lantern flashed its slender ray of light upon Karl's figure, and the rebel officer saw the United States badge on the cap, he turned away. But at Karl's voice and the broken English: "Water! For God's love, one water!" he turned back. The blue eyes and the yellow hair had a spell in them for the dark-haired Southerner. There had been a Gretchen once with whom he had roamed many a moonlight night, in Heidelberg. Her eyes and her hair, and the pretty broken English she had learned from him, were like these.
"Pick him up, boys; he 'll count for one, damn him!" were the words under which he hid his sudden sympathy from the angry and resentful men who obeyed his orders. But afterward he went many times secretly to the ambulance to see if that yellow-haired German boy were still alive, and were covered by blankets.
Of the terrible journey to Libby Prison Karl knew nothing. A few days after it he came again, slowly and painfully, to his consciousness, as he had that first night on the battle-field, like one awakening from a frightful and confused dream. He was on the damp dungeon floor; a pretense of a pallet beneath him. When he tried to speak, a strange, gurgling sound filled his throat.
"Better not try to talk," said the surgeon, who happened to be standing near.
"Am I dying?" said Karl.
"No, not just yet," laughed the brutal surgeon; but you won't last long. Our boys have n't left you any lungs."
It was too true. The bullet had gone through both lungs. In one there was a hole into which a man might put his fist. Karl shut his eyes and again the vision of the waving clover leaf floated before them. He fell asleep, and dreamed that he was lying in a field filled with four-leaved clovers, and that a beautiful, dark-haired girl was gathering them and bringing them to him by handfuls. When he waked he saw a kind face bending over him, and felt something pressed between his lips. One of his fellow prisoners was trying to feed him with bread soaked in wine. Ah, the heroes of Libby Prison! Almost all those who came out alive from that hell of tortures, did so because other men had freely spent their lives for them.
All Karl's fellow prisoners loved him. His fair face, beautiful blue eyes, and golden-brown hair, his broken English, and his pathetic patience, appealed to every heart. Every man saved the soft part of his bread for him; and on this, with occasionally a few drops of wine, he lived—that is, he did not die; but he did not gain; the wound did not heal, and each day his strength grew less and less, long after it had seemed that he could not be weaker and live. But hope never forsook him. The four-leaved clover, folded in a bit of paper, was hid in the lining of his cap. Sometimes he took it out, showed it to the prisoners, and told them the story.
"It has brought to me such bad luck, you see; but I think it shall bring one luck better; it is a true sign; there is time yet."
The men shrugged their shoulders. They thought Karl a little weakened in intellect by his sufferings; but they did not contradict him.
Three months later Karl was again lying on the ground at midnight, alone, helpless. An exchange of prisoners had been arranged, and he, with most of his friends, had been carried to City Point. They arrived there at five in the afternoon. The sun was still high and hot, and Karl being one of the feeblest of the prisoners was laid behind an old hogshead, for shade. Boat load after boat load pushed off from the wharf; but he was not taken. He could not speak except in the faintest whisper; he could not move; there he lay, utterly helpless, hearing all the stir and bustle of the loading of the boats, then the plashing of the oars, then the silence, then the return of the boats, more bustle, more departures, and then the dreadful silence again.
He had been laid in such a position that he could see nothing but the planks of the hogshead. It was old and decayed, and rats were crawling in and out of it. They crawled and ran over Karl, and he could not stir. The sun went down; the twilight deepened into darkness. The last boat had gone; in an agony almost maddening Karl lay listening for the oars, and trying to persuade himself that it was not yet too late for one more boat to come back.
A cold wind blew off the water; he had nothing over him but a bit of ragged carpet; under his head an old army coat rolled up for a pillow.
A rebel soldier came by and tried to take this away. Karl spoke no word, but lifted his eyes and looked him full in the face. The man dropped his hold of the overcoat, and walked away. Eight o'clock,—nine,—ten, no sound on the deserted wharf except the dull thud of the waves against its bides, and the occasional splash of a fierce rat, swimming away. But Karl heard nothing. He had swooned. The fatigue of the trip, the exposure to the air, the long day without food, and still more the utter loss of hope, had drained his last strength. However, in after days, recalling this terrible night, he always said, "I not once my four leaf of clover forget. I say to myself, it is the luck to go to Heaven that it have bring me; and yet all the time, I know in my heart that I am not to die; that I have luck in the over world yet."
Karl was right. By one of those inexplicable but uncontrollable impulses, on which the life and the death of man have so often hung, the young officer, who had had charge of moving the prisoners from the wharf to the transport, was led to return once more to make sure that no man had been left behind.
Karl was not the only one. There were two others who had been laid, as he was, in the shade, and out of sight, and who had been too weak to call for help. It was nearly midnight when these three unconscious and apparently dying men were carried on board the ship. The other two soon revived, but Karl knew nothing until he had been for two days tenderly nursed in one of the Philadelphia hospitals. Even then he had only a half consciousness of himself, or his surroundings. Fever had set in; he was delirious a great part of the time, for two months; and when he was not, his broken English, and his frequent reference to the "four leaf of clover," prevented the nurses from believing him fully sane.
At last one blessed Sunday, there came to the hospital a young lady who spoke German. At the first sound of the broken syllables, she went quickly to his bedside, and saying to the nurse, "I can speak to this poor fellow in his own language;" she said a few words to Karl in German. The effect was magical.
He lifted himself up suddenly in bed, and exclaiming "Ach mein Gott," poured out such a flood of incoherent, grateful, bewildered German that the best of scholars need not have been ashamed at failing to comprehend him. Karl had found a friend. Every day she went to see him,—carried him the food he needed, found out from him the names of his friends, and wrote letters to them in German.
One day he said to her: "You cannot be my girl of the four leaf of clover. You have eyes like the heaven, like mine; but her eyes were like eyes of a deer that is afraid."
Then he told the story of the clover, and showed her the creased and faded leaf.
It seemed almost a miracle that the fragile, crumbling little thing should not have been lost to all these months. But no Roman Catholic devotee ever clung more superstitiously to a relic than did Karl Reutner to his "four leaf of clover."
Often in his delirious attacks he would call for it, and not be pacified until the nurses, who had learnt to humor the whim, would put the paper into his hand. Now that he was better, he kept it carefully in the inner compartment of his pocket-book, and rarely took it out. It was enough to look in and see that it was safe.
Karl's only relatives in this country were a brother and sister who lived in Chicago. The brother was a manufacturer of fringes, buttons, and small trimmings, and the sister had married an engraver, also a German. They were industrious working-people, preserving in their new homes all the simple-hearted ways of their life in the old world. When Karl was drafted for the war, they had tried in vain to induce him to let them put their little savings together to buy a substitute for him. "No, no, I will not have it," he said; "my life is no more than another man's life that it should be saved. There are brothers and sisters to all. I have no wife; it is the men without wives that must go to fight." On these two simple house holds the news from Gettysburg fell with crushing weight.
"Karl Reutner, killed;" only three words, and there were long columns of names with the same bitter word following them. But into few houses was carried greater sorrow than into these. Wilheim Reutner and Karl were twins. From their babyhood they had never been separated, had never disagreed. Together they had come to the new world to seek their fortunes; together they had slowly built up the business which their father had followed in Berlin; they lived together; and Wilhelm's babies knew no difference in love and care between their uncle Karl and their father. The sister was much younger; Wilhelm and Karl had laid by their first earnings to bring her out to join them, and for some years they had all lived in one family in such peace and happiness as are not often seen among laboring people of American birth. No thought of discontent, no dream of ambition for a higher position, entered their heads. Home love, comfort, industry, and honesty—these were the watchwords of their lives, the key-notes of all their actions. When Wilhelm and Annette were married, there was no change in this atmosphere of content and industry, except an immeasurable increase of happiness as child after child came, bringing the ineffable sunshine of babyhood into the two households.
Just before the sad news of Karl's death, a new and very great element of enjoyment had been introduced into Wilhelm's family. Margaret Warren had come to live in his house.
Margaret Warren was the daughter of a Congregationalist minister. Her life had been passed in small country villages in the Western States. She had known privations, hardships, discomforts of all sorts; her father was a gentleman and a scholar, and wretchedly out of place in the pioneer western life; he did not understand the people; the people misinterpreted him; his heart was full of love for their souls, and a burning desire to bring them to Christ; but he wounded their self love, and they offended his instincts, at every step; the consequence was, that he found himself at a middle age with an invalid wife and six children, a disappointed, unsuccessful man. Margaret was the eldest daughter, and for the first fourteen years of her life, her father's constant companion. The only unalloyed pleasure he had was in the careful training of her mind. Margaret Warren was, at sixteen, a rare girl; she was far better fitted than most boys are, to enter college. But all this learning did not in the least unfit her for practical duties. She was her mother's stay as well as her father s delight; she understood housekeeping as well as she did Greek, and found as true a pleasure in contriving how to make a garment out of slender material, as in demonstrating a problem in Euclid. Until her seventeenth year she had been unflaggingly brave, hopeful, content, in this hard life. But as she saw the years slowly making all the burdens heavier her mother growing feebler, the family growing larger, she began to ask herself what the end would be; and she found no answer to the question. A vague feeling, that she herself ought to find some way of making her mother and her five little brothers and sisters more comfortable, haunted her thoughts by night and day. She saw the secret of her father's failure more clearly than the most discontented of his parishioners ever saw it. She knew things could never be any better. Oh, why did papa ever undertake to preach," she said to herself, over and over; her affectionate reverence for him made her feel guilty in the thought. Yet it pressed upon her more and more heavily.
"Each place we go to is a little poorer than the one before it," she repeated, "and yet, each year we need a little more money instead of less; and mamma is growing weaker and more tired every day. If I could only get a good school I could earn as much money as papa does by preaching. I know I could teach well; and then I could learn too." Unconsciously to herself, the desire for a wider knowledge and experience of life entered largely into Margaret s desire to be a teacher. She had uncommon executive ability, and, without knowing it, was beginning to be cramped by her limited sphere.
Through the help of a clergyman in Chicago, an old class-mate of Mr. Warren's, Margaret realized her dream. It was a bitter day for the little household in the parsonage when she left them. With tears streaming down their cheeks the children clung to her, and her mother was pale and speech less with grief; but Margaret bravely kept back all traces of her own sorrow, and went away with a smiling face. The next day she wrote to her mother:—
"Dear, precious, tired Mamma; it would break my heart to think of you working away without me to help you, and when I recall your face on the door-step yesterday, if I were not home up by an instinct that I shall very soon help you much more than I could at home. Only think, I can already send you seventy-five dollars every quarter—half as much as papa's salary; and I know I shall very soon save a great deal more."
Margaret was right. Such a teacher as she had only to be known to be recognized. Her text-book training had been singularly thorough and accurate, but this was the least of her qualifications as a teacher. In the first place she loved children with all her heart; in the second place, she loved nature and truth with the passion of a devotee. That life could be dull to a human being was a mystery to her; every new discovery in art or science was a stimulus and delight to her; the simplest every day fact had significance and beauty to her; her own existence was rich, full, harmonious, and out of her abundance she gave unconsciously far more than she dreamed to every being that came in contact with her. There was not a pupil in her school who was not more or less electrified by her enthusiasm and love. The standard of scholarship was rapidly raised; but this was a less test of her power than the elevation and stimulus given to the whole moral tone of the school in which she taught. Teachers as well as pupils were lifted to a higher plane by intercourse with her.
At the end of two years Margaret was the principal of the highest school in the city, at a salary nearly twice as large as her father's. But her ambition was not yet satisfied. She longed to be at the head of a school of her own, where she should be untrammeled in all respects, and free to carry out her own theories. This was her one air-castle, and, with a view to this, she planned all her life. Three hours every day she spent in hard study or reading. Only the best of constitutions could have borne such a strain; but Margaret had come, on her mother's side, of an indomitable New England stock. It was in carrying out this scheme of educating herself more perfectly that Margaret had come to live in Wilhelm Reutner's house. Wilhelm's two little daughters had been in her first school. They were singularly gentle and well-bred children, and held themselves always a little aloof from their companions. One day Margaret discovered accidentally that they spoke both German and French fluently. "How is this, little ones," she said; "who taught you so many languages?
"Oh, papa always speaks to us in German, and mamma in French," said they.
"And Uncle Karl too," added the youngest, with a sad face. "Uncle Karl that has gone to the war."
That afternoon Margaret walked home with the children from school. As they drew near a block of small two-story wooden houses, Margaret's eye was attracted by two balconies full of flowers. "Oh, how lovely!" she exclaimed.
"That's our house. Those are Uncle Karl's flowers," cried both the children in a breath; "we take all the care of them now he has gone. He said we might."
The front of the little house was like a terraced garden. Margaret had never seen anything like it. Every window-sill had its box of flowers, and above the door was a balcony full to overflowing of geraniums, nasturtiums, fuchsias, and white flox. Margaret stood for so long a time looking at them that the children grew impatient, and pulled her with gentle force into the house.
Annette came forward with a shy, sweet courtesy to meet the unexpected guest.
"We talk your name very much, Mademoiselle," she said; "to see you will be to the father a happiness." Then Wilhelm thanked her with warm fervor for her goodness to the children, and before he had finished speaking, the children, who had disappeared upon entering the house, came running back with their hands full of scarlet, yellow, and white blossoms, and showered them upon Margaret's lap.
"But my children, my children!" remonstrated their mother.
"Uncle Karl said we might pick always some for a pretty lady," cried they; "and is not the teacher pretty? Did we not tell you she looked like the Madonna?"
"It was not the first time that Margaret's face had been compared to that of the Sistine Madonna; always, however, with a qualification, for that calm and placid Madonna had far less joy in her face than was in Margaret Warren's bright countenance.
"Yes, the children say rightly, young lady. They have done well to bring you the flowers, as our far away Karl would have done," said Wilhelm, gravely, still standing before Margaret.
Margaret felt as if she were in a dream. She had come expecting to find two plain, honest working people, to whom she could without difficulty say that she would like to come and board in their family for the sake of learning to speak German and French. Instead, she felt as if she had been received by a prince and princess in disguise: so subtle a power have noble thoughts, simplicity of heart, and love of beauty to invest men and women with a dignity greater than splendor can give.
Margaret made stammering words of her request. It was received with great surprise, but with the same dignified simplicity of demeanor and speech.
"We have never thought that a stranger could come under our roof, and pay for the food," said Annette, with a shade of pride in her voice; and it might be that our living would displease you."
"The teacher is not as a stranger, when Annettechen and Mariska so love her," said Wilhelm, who was on Margaret's side from the beginning. "But do you remember, young lady, that you have never known such ways as are our ways? It would be a great shame to my heart if you were not at ease in my house; and we can not change."
With every word that Wilhelm and Annette spoke, Margaret grew more and more anxious to carry her point.
"It is you who do not know," she said, "how very simply and plainly I have always lived at home, and it is so that I would wish to live even if I had much money. My father is a poor minister; my mother has never, in all her life, had so pretty a home as this."
And Margaret sighed, as she looked around at the picturesque little sitting-room; its white porcelain stove was now converted into a sort of altar, holding two high candlesticks, made out of the polished horns of antelopes—a crimson candle in one, and a yellow one in the other, and between the two a square stone jar of dark, blue and gray Flemish ware, filled with white amaranths. Low oaken chests, simply but quaintly carved, stood on each side the stove, and a row of tiles, maroon colored and white, with pictures of storks, and herons, and edelweiss flowers, and pine trees on them, was above each chest. The furniture was all of oak, old and dark. It had belonged to Annette's mother, in Lorraine. The floor was of yellow pine, bright and shining, and gay braided rugs, with borders of tufted worsted balls, covered the greater part of it. Flowers filled every window, and on the walls were prints of Albert Durer, of Teniers, of Holbein, of Raphael—cheap prints, but rendering the masters works truthfully. In one corner stood a large violoncello, and in another, above a shelf filled with music, hung a violin case wreathed with ever greens. This was Karl's. In the other two corners were odd oaken cabinets with glass doors, and a figure of St. Nicholas on the top. On the shelves were wax and glass and wooden toys. These were the Christmas gifts of many years. The whole room was like a bit of the quiet German Tyrol set in the centre of the bustling and breathless American city; but Margaret did not know this. She only felt a bewildered sense of repose and delight and wonder, mixed with a yearning recognition of the beautiful life which must be lived in this simple home.
When Annette heard that Margaret's father was a poor pastor, her face lighted up. "My mother also was the daughter of a pastor," she said; and is it then that the good pastors are poor in this country also?" Annette had thus far known only rich and prosperous ones in the rich and prosperous city.
Wilhelm, also, felt that a barrier was removed between him and the "teacher" when he heard that she had lived as a daughter lives, in the home of a poor country pastor. He no longer feared that she could not be content in his house; and his heart had been strangely warm towards Margaret from the first moment.
"There is Karl's room, which would be sunny and warm, if it were not too small," he said inquiringly, turning to Annette.
"And the big closet with a window—would it not be that the teacher could use when she would study? said Annette, who remembered the little room in which her grandfather had kept his few books, and sat when he was writing, and must not be interrupted.
Margaret's face flushed with pleasure. The matter was evidently settled. It was already beginning to be a matter of hospitality in these kindly hearts, and the only question was how they could make her happiest and most comfortable. The children danced with joy, and taking Margaret's hands in theirs, they drew her towards the stairway, saying:
"Come, see Uncle Karl's room; it is the nicest in the house."
It was, indeed, a lovely room, with its one window looking out on the great blue lake.
"It is too small," said Annette, as she stood with Margaret on the threshold; "but there is also this closet," and she threw open a door into a second still smaller room, also with one window to the east.
"Oh!" exclaimed Margaret. "Can you spare them both? That will be perfect. My good friends, I cannot thank you enough."
Wilhelm looked at Margaret with a steadfast, half-dreamy gaze. The German nature is a strangely magnetic one, under all its phlegmatic and prosaic exterior.
"I have a belief that it is I and my house who are laid under debt by you, teacher," he said, with singular earnestness.
So it was settled that Margaret should come to live with the Reutners, and should have Karl's room till he returned from the war.
She wished to come at once, but Wilhelm insisted on a week's interval. Annette looked puzzled; she knew of no reason for the delay; but Wilhelm was firm, and Margaret did not press the matter.
Seven days later, when Margaret went home again, with Annettechen and Mariska,—this time really going home,—she hardly knew the little rooms. Wilhelm had painted the walls of a soft gray; he had taken away the closet door, made the door-way into an arch, and hung it with curtains of plain gray cloth, of the same shade as the walls. A narrow strip of plain crimson paper bordered the rooms; a set of plain book shelves on the wall were edged with the same crimson paper. A small table, with a crimson cloth, and a comfortable arm-chair, also of crimson, stood in the room which had been called the closet. Under each window he had put a larger balcony shelf, and filled it with gay flowers, such as were on the shelves below.
Margaret's eyes filled with tears. She turned, and saw Wilhelm and Annette standing behind her, their faces glowing with welcome and hope that she would be pleased.
"Do not try to say that you like it, teacher," said Wilhelm; "we see in your eyes that you are more glad than we had hoped we could make you." And with a delicacy which touched Margaret even more deeply than she had been touched by the adorning of her rooms, he drew Annette away, and left her alone.
One month from this day, Wilhelm, Annette, and Margaret were sitting alone in the little sitting-room. The children had gone to bed. It was a sultry evening. Annette had put out the large lamp, and Wilhelm was reading the newspaper by the light of a candle in one of the Tyrolean candlesticks. Suddenly he groaned aloud, dropped the candlestick, and fell back in his chair. The candle was extinguished, and they were left in darkness. Helplessly the two women groped for another light, Wilhelm's heavy breathing terrifying them more and more every moment, and poor Annette crying:—
"Wilhelm, oh, my Wilhelm! He is dead! He's dead!"
Wilhelm Reutner was a strong and robust man. It was the first time in his life that he had ever lost his consciousness. But the fatal words, "Karl Reutner—killed," had flashed upon his eyes with an indescribable shock of surprise and anguish. He had not known that Karl's regiment was at Gettysburg. He was reading the accounts of the battle with no especial interest, and it was by accident that he had glanced at the lists of killed and wounded. When he came to himself he gasped out, "Karl, Karl!" and then fainted again.
"Oh! our Karl is killed!" cried Annette; "it will kill my Wilhelm, too;" and she fell on her knees, clasping her husband's head to her bosom, and calling: "But, Wilhelm, thou hast the little ones, and thou hast me. Oh, do not die, darling!"
He soon revived, but could not speak. He turned most piteous looks first at Annette, then at Margaret.
"Yes, Mr. Reutner," said Margaret, who had taken up the paper, and saw the name, "we know it, too. It is your dear brother's name. But you must remember that these lists are often wrong. A great many people have been reported killed who have been only taken prisoners. I do not believe your brother is dead."
Wilhelm groaned. Hope could find no place in his heart. "Oh why did I not compel him to stay at home?" he said. "What is this cursed country to us that we should die for it?"
"Oh! yes," sobbed Annette, "we all knelt to Karl! Wilhelm had tears like the rain on his face, to beseech that he would let us pay that another man should go; but he said that the man with no wife should go to the fight, and he was angry at the last, even with Wilhelm.
"I think your brother was very right," said Margaret quietly, taking Wilhelm's hand in hers; "if he were my own brother, even if he had been killed, I should still rejoice that he had been noble enough to give his life for the right."
"For the Fatherland, yes," said Wilhelm; "but not for this land we need not to love. It is not anything to us, except that we must live. We are Germans; we are not of your blood;" and Wilhelm looked almost fiercely at Margaret.
"All men are of one blood, when the fight is that all men may be free, my friend," said Margaret, still more quietly, with a voice trembling with sympathy, and yet firm with enthusiasm. "Whatever land it had been which first began the fight for freedom to all, I would send my brothers to die under its banners. I would go myself! But I do not believe your Karl is dead. I cannot tell why I have so strong a feeling that he is still alive, but I have no doubt of it—none!"
Margaret's hopefulness was not shared by Wilhelm. He refused to listen to any of her suggestions. Weeks later a letter came from Karl's friend, Gustave Boehmer, who was in the same company, and was lying in the trench, next to Karl when he was shot. Wilhelm read the letter aloud, without a tear or a sob, and said, turning to Margaret, "You see the brother's knowledge was more sure than the stranger's. I knew in that first second that my Karl was gone."
A black ribbon was twined in the evergreen wreath on Karl's violin, a wreath of white immortelles put around Karl's picture on the wall, and the little, grief-stricken household went on with its daily life, brave and resigned. But Wilhelm Reutner's face was altered from that day; night after night the little children gazed wistfully into his eyes, missing the joyous look from his smile and the merry ring from his voice. Night after night poor Annette had cried as she had cried on the night when the sad news came, "Liebling, thou hast the little ones and thou hast me: do not die for the love of Karl." And Wilhelm answered, "Be patient, I had not thought it could be so hard. The good God will make it easier, in time. It must be that the twin bond is strong after death as it is before birth. I feel my Karl all the while more near than when he was alive."
On the wall of Karl's room, now Margaret's, there hung an oval picture of the beautiful Königsee Lake in Bavaria. On the margin of the print was drawn, in rough crayon, a girl's head. It was a spirited drawing, and the head had great beauty. Around the picture was a wreath of edelweiss. Annette had told Margaret that this head was the portrait of a young girl in Ischl whom Karl had loved when they were little more than children. She had died just before Karl and Wilhelm had set out for America, and this rough and unfinished sketch, drawn by Karl one day, half in sport, when they were sailing on the Königsee, was the only memento he had of her. The edelweiss flowers Karl had gathered on the very glacier of the Watzman, the day before he bade good-by to his home.
Ever since Margaret had occupied the room, she had found a special fascination in this picture; but now she was conscious of a new magnetism in it. Every morning the first rays of the rising sun slanted across this picture, bringing out into full relief each line of the girl's head, and still more, every fine, velvety fibre of the snowy petals of the edelweiss. The picture hung at the foot of the bed, and sometimes when Margaret first opened her eyes and saw this golden light on the lake and the girl's face and the edelweiss wreath, she fancied that there were rhythmic sounds in the light; that she heard voices fainter than faintest whispers, and yet clear and distinct as flute notes in the air, speaking words she did not understand. She grew almost afraid of the picture; it seemed a link be tween her and the unseen world. Yet she never believed that the link was with Karl. It was with the unknown maiden of Ischl; the immortal Love Blossoms seemed to bind it, to symbolize it, and in the tremulous sunlight to utter it. Margaret was not superstitious, and she had not a touch of sentimentalism in her nature; but it was out of her power to shake off the influence of this picture. "Königsee" floated through her brain, even in school hours, like the refrain of a song; when she looked off into the sky, the clouds took shapes like the shape of the sides of the Königsee, and whenever she gazed on the blue lake, she found her fancy walling it in with mountains, like those which walled Königsee. By night she dreamed of sailing in shadowy boats, with the shadowy maiden, on Königsee; and she waked from these dreams only to find the sunbeams on her wall lighting up the shadowy maiden's head, and making golden bars across the water of Königsee. The young maiden of Ischl had loved Karl Reutner very much; she loved him still; else, whence came this thrilling personality in the mute picture record of her and of the sunny day when she and her lover had sailed on Königsee! Had Karl gone to her? Had her love drawn and lifted him up, past the stars, and over the golden wall of Heaven? Were they together now?
Constantly Margaret asked herself these questions, and constantly one answer came. "No! Karl is alive." Ah, well must the shadowy maiden of Ischl have loved Karl! Well does she love him still. Else, how does she always and ever, through the mute picture record of that summer day on Königsee, say to Margaret, "Karl is not dead! Karl will come home?"
Six months had passed. Karl's name was oftener spoken now in his home. Wilhelm could bear the sound. The faithful little children still called their geraniums and fuchsias and roses "Uncle Karl's flowers," and laid the fairest buds and blossoms by the "teacher's" plate at breakfast. Margaret was as thoroughly at home in the family as she could have been in her own father's house, and yet there was a shade of reverential deference in Wilhelm's and Annette's manner towards her, and in their regard for her. They loved her as a sister, but it was as they would love a sister who had become a princess. To their simple and unlearned souls her acquirements seemed greater than they really were, and a certain unconscious reticence of nature which Margaret had, in spite of all her overflowing enthusiasm and frankness, surrounded her with a barrier of personal dignity which every one felt, and which no one ventured to disregard.
On New Year's night Margaret returned home late from a party. As she drew near the house she saw to her surprise a bright light burning in the sitting-room. Fearing that some one was ill, she opened the door of the room quickly; a strange sight met her eyes. Wilhelm was on his knees, his face uplifted, and tears streaming down his cheeks. Annette stood opposite him, with her hands clasped, looking at him with an expression of unspeakable rapture. Neither of them spoke as Margaret approached.
"Oh, what is it? What has happened?" exclaimed Margaret, too terrified by their strange attitudes to see that their expression was one of great joy, and not of grief.
Wilhelm stretched one hand towards the table, and his lips moved, but no sound came from them. Annette turned to the table, took up a letter, and gave it to Margaret, saying, "Karl! Karl! He is alive. He comes home."
Margaret sank into a chair. Strong as her instinct had been that Karl was not dead, the certainty came to her with almost as great a shock of surprise as it had come to his brother and sister.
The letter was from Karl's friend, the young lady in the Philadelphia Hospital. It was long and full, giving an account of all that Karl had suffered in the months in Libby Prison, of his almost miraculous preservation at City Point, and of his present convalescence. At the close she said:—
"The surgeon says that if Karl has no drawbacks he will be well enough to come home in a month. He most earnestly advises that you do not come here. Karl is absolutely comfortable, and wants for nothing; the excitement of talking would do him great harm. He himself begs that you will not come. I will see him every day, and write to you every week."
At the bottom of the sheet Karl had written:—
"Beloveds, do not come to me. I will the sooner come to you. God be praised.
Grief has no tears like joy. A stranger would have supposed for the next few days that the whole household was in sorrow. Everybody's face was red with weeping. Nobody could speak in a steady voice. Wilhelm sat silent, by the hour, looking into the fire, and wiping his eyes.
"Oh, Miss Margaret," he said; "Oh teacher, taught of some angel, why did I not believe you? Why is it that you, who have not known our Karl, should be the one to be told, and not I?"
Margaret was on the point of telling him that the maiden of Ischl had told her because she found her sleeping in Karl's room. But a vague shame sealed her lips. She need not have hesitated. It would not have seemed a strange or an incredible thing to Wilhelm Reutner.
The next letters were not so cheering. The excitement of hearing, even by letter, from his friends, had caused a slight relapse of Karl's fever, and the physician now thought that it might be six weeks before he could safely travel. It was a hard thing for Wilhelm to sit quietly at home and wait for so many days. Only Margaret's influence withheld him from going to Philadelphia at once.
"I need not to see him," he said; "I could go each day to the door and ask if he is better. No hurt could be to him in that; it would not be so hard for me as is this to stay here; and the doctors do not always know the right; no one can do for my Karl so as I can do."
"But, Mr. Reutner," urged Margaret, "you do not dream how much harder it would be for you to bear not seeing him, there; it is almost more than you can bear here, three days' journey from him; if he were in the next room, nobody could keep you out; and then if he were to have another fever from the excitement of seeing you, you would never forgive yourself; and it might kill him. He must be very weak."
This last fear restrained Wilhelm. "Yes, if it were to hurt him. That would not be love!" he said over and over to himself, and tried to keep his heart and hands busy in making preparations for Karl's comfort after his return; but the days seemed longer and longer to him, and his face again grew worn and haggard, almost as much as it had in the first few weeks after the news of Karl's death.
One night he sprang up from the tea-table, saying, "Annette, come to the theatre! I cannot sit in this room, thinking how it will be when Karl is again in his corner with the violin. I wish we could live in another house till he is here. It will never be done, these two months!"
After they had gone, Margaret drew her chair in front of the fire, and fell into a long reverie, a strange thing for her to do. She reviewed her whole life; first as the eldest daughter in the poor minister's household; then as the unknown teacher in the great city; now the instructress, highly esteemed, sought after by people of culture conscious of influence and power, having in a great measure realized her early dreams. But the early dreams had been succeeded by later ones no less vivid, no less alluring. Margaret Warren had in her nature a vein of intense ambition. It was not a vulgar craving for power as power; it was rather that a consciousness of power craved room, craved action. Her studies, her reading, had opened to her new worlds, and made life seem to her more and more a vista upon which she had as yet barely entered.
Her æsthetic sense was fast developing into a passion which must have food; beauty in little things, beauty in great things, beauty perpetually she was learning to demand. A verse of Keats could so stimulate her, so lift her into delight, that she would find jarring and offense in things which her practical good sense told her were as true, as harmonious in their way as the color and rhythm of Keats's peerless lines. She recalled herself constantly; she reproached herself constantly; she said sternly to herself many a time, "Dignity and truth are the same in all ages. This Wilhelm here is great; and Annette, and the children, they are representative. Socrates knew no more than they live, each year, each hour, in their simplicity. If I dwelt in a court, the king could be, after all, only a man. All knowledge is open to me, I have but to take it. What do I want?" But that she did want Margaret knew very well. She wanted the delights of the companionship of the very wisest and highest men, the delight of the sight and sound and sense of utmost beauty, and still more, the delight of feeling in herself the wisdom, the beauty, the elevation. It was partly a noble, and partly an ignoble craving; partly selfish and partly pure; but stirred and kindled and fed by such lofty enthusiasms and purposes, that Margaret must be called a noble woman even in her discontent.
She was roused from her reverie by sounds of strange voices in the hall. As she laid her hand on the door to open it, it was thrown violently open, and she had barely time to spring back, when she found herself clasped in the arms of a tall man, and kissed on cheeks, forehead, eyes, lips, neck.
She was so stunned, so bewildered, she could not speak; also, strong arms held her so tightly that she had no breath, and the first words came from the servant, who ran into the room, calling vociferously, "Howly Vargin, but it 's not the misthress, at all, at all, that yee 's kissin'. It 's the tacher, sir—och, Miss Margaret, it 's the mistress he is a takin ye for."
That was a moment not to be forgotten. In the dim fire-light, Karl and Margaret having disentangled themselves, stood for a second looking blankly in each other's faces: Karl, the picture of inexpressible chagrin and confusion; Margaret, scarlet with excitement. But her strong sense of the ludicrous soon conquered every other feeling, and, with laughing eyes, she said, "Never mind, Mr. Karl, I will give them all to Annette as soon as she comes home, and I am very glad to see you back, indeed I am," she added, stretching out both her hands to him; "we did not look for you for weeks yet."
As she took his hands in hers she felt that they were cold as ice, and saw that his face was turning white. His strength of a moment before was only the passing strength of a great excitement. He had set out against the advice of his physicians and nurses, had journeyed day and night, and now the false strength given by the desire to be at home was fast ebbing away.
"Oh, pray lie down, Mr. Reutner, you look very ill," exclaimed Margaret; and she led him like a little child, to the lounge. Like a little child he lay down upon it, and looked up in her face, while with the servant's help, she took off his heavy wrappings. Then he shut his eyes, and murmured, "The four leaf of clover."
Margaret was terrified. She thought he was delirious; she dared not be left alone with him, and yet she felt that she ought to send for a physician, She bathed his forehead; she chafed his hands; she looked helplessly into the servant's face, saying, "Oh Mary, what shall we do?" At the sound of her voice Karl opened his eyes, and said, feebly, "Do not have fear. I will rest. That is all, and if there is wine, it will make me strong." Then he looked long into Margaret's face with a strange, unseeing gaze, and murmured again, as he shut his eyes:—
"The four leaf of clover. It have come true."
When Wilhelm and Annette returned, they found Karl asleep on the sofa, and Margaret siting close by his side, her face pale and full of distress. It had been a terrible hour for her. As soon as she saw Wilhelm and Annette, she burst into tears, exclaiming, "Oh, thank God, you have come; he is not quite in his senses, and I have not known what to do!"
Hardly daring to breathe, lest they should waken the sleeper, the three sat motionless for an hour.
At Karl's first movement, Wilhelm threw himself on his knees, and clasped him to his heart; no word was spoken but the two men sobbed like women. While they were in each other's arms Margaret stole softly away.
When Karl looked up he said, "The four leaf of clover, where has she gone?" Wilhelm did not understand the first words, but replied simply to the last, "She has gone to her room. It is the good teacher, Miss Margaret; she lives with us. You will love her as we all do."
The next morning, when Margaret came into the sitting-room, Karl, still lying on the lounge, fixed his blue eyes steadily on her face, and said abruptly, "It was then that I so frightened you, to make your cheeks so white, last night. To-day they are red, like red lilies and white lilies in one field," and the blue eyes dwelt on the face till the red lilies had driven all the white lilies away.
Margaret passed her hand impatiently across her cheek. "Oh, I always have color," she said. It did not please her that Wilhelm Reutner's brother should have looked at her in that manner. In a second more, her kindliness of heart triumphed over the slight unworthiness of resentment, and going nearer him, she added, "I was indeed very much frightened about you last night. You seemed very ill, and I was all alone with Mary. I hope you are better; you look better."
Karl's eyes had fallen to the ground. As clearly as if it had been written in letters on Margaret's brow, he had read her first thought, and had been pained.
"Yes, I am better; I am well. It is the home which could cure me," he said, in a tone whose grave simplicity was like Wilhelm's, and had in it an inexpressible charm.
In a moment more, he said, earnestly, "Have you ever found one four leaf of clover?" and, taking out his pocket-book, he turned its leaves over slowly, searching for something.
"Oh dear," thought Margaret, "he is certainly crazy. That was what he was talking about last night. Poor fellow!"
"Oh, yes, Mr. Reutner," she replied. "Four-leaved clovers are very common. I have often found whole handfuls of them."
"I thought you had. And have you ever one dream at night that you find the hands full of them, and give them to some one?"
Margaret looked puzzled, and was about to reply, when Wilhelm and the children entered the room. Karl laid a little folded paper, which he had held in his hand, back into the pocket-book, and opened his arms to the children, who sprang into them, and covered him with kisses until he was forced to cry out for mercy.
All day long Margaret was haunted by the words, and the voice in which they were spoken, "Have you ever found one four leaf of clover?" "What could he have meant?" she thought. "He does not seem in the least like a crazy man. I wonder what he had in that paper;" and more than once, the scholars received irrelevant answers to their questions, because their beautiful teacher's thoughts were full of this perplexing memory.
That night the mystery was cleared up. After the children had gone to bed, Karl told the story of the four-leaved clover, and took from his pocket book the little relic leaf. Wilhelm took it in his hands, and looked at it with stern eyes.
"But why dost thou keep it, my Karl? Ach, it has cost thee dear!"
Karl reached his hand out hastily, as if to rescue the leaf.
"But it have bring me home," he said. "I will keep it so long as I live," and as he laid it back in the pocket-book, he smiled with the smile of one who recalls a bliss known only to himself.
It was indeed the "home which could cure." Karl grew better hour by hour. The wound healed, and, although the physicians said that the lungs must always be weak, Karl was in two months a strong man.
Margaret did not grow wonted to his presence in the family. It disturbed her, she hardly knew how, or why, and she chided herself often for the unreasonable feeling. Since that first morning, when with his blue eyes blazing with admiration, he had compared her cheeks to red lilies, he had never by word or glance betrayed any feeling other than the respectful affection with which his brother and sister treated her. His eyes met hers with the same clear, steady response that Wilhelm's always did, and he listened to her words with a simple reverence like that the children showed her. Often when she was speaking, he sat with his head slightly bowed, his eyes fixed on the ground; and an expression of rapt attention; it was as a man might listen to the words of a priestess. Sometimes when he looked earnestly at her, there was, for a second, a beseeching and remorseful look, as of one who implored forgiveness; but the look was gone so quickly that Margaret never fathomed its meaning, and no one else saw it.
Margaret often wished that Karl had not come home; and yet, she never said this to herself without being in the same instant conscious that in numberless, and in some hardly definable ways, her comfort had been much increased since his return. Karl had seen more of the world than Wilhelm and Annette, and had, moreover, a curious faculty of divining Margaret's preferences and tastes.
"The teacher would like this, or that," he had said to Annette, again and again; and Annette had replied, "How dost thou know? Has the teacher said it to thee? She was pleased before." But when Karl had carried his point, Annette always found that there came in a few days, a strong expression of grateful pleasure from Margaret.
And so the spring and the summer wore away, and the winter came back, and the long months had brought no apparent change in Wilhelm Reutner's house. But deep down in one heart under that roof, were working forces mightier, subtler than any which had ripened the spring into the summer, and the summer into the garnered harvest of autumn. Karl Reutner loved Margaret Warren. His love was so entirely without any hope of return, that it partook of the nature of the passion of a spiritual devotee, and was lifted to a plane of almost superhuman unselfishness. To say that he never thought of Margaret as a man thinks of a woman who might be his wife, would not be true. Margaret was a very beautiful woman; and Karl Reutner was a man in whose veins ran blood both strong and pure; he could not hear the rustle of Margaret's gown without a faster beat to his pulse. Yet, when he thought of Margaret's possible wifehood, it was never of her wifehood to him. He could not forbear thinking what wifehood, what motherhood would be to her; he could not forbear thinking what it would be to a man, if Margaret were to put her arms around him; he could not forbear thinking how Margaret would look with her child at her breast. But it was as a man might think, kneeling before the holiest of Raphael's Madonnas. His sole desire in life was that Margaret should have happiness. Each smallest trifle in which he could add to that happiness, was a joy unspeakable; that she seemed content, even glad in the quiet home life which he shared, was a blessing so great, that even one day of it could almost be food for a lifetime, it seemed to him. The thought that it could not always be thus, he resolutely put away. But from the thought of asking Margaret to be his,—Karl Reutner's,—wife, his very soul would have recoiled as it would from a blasphemy.
And yet the day came when Margaret found herself obliged to say to him that she could not love him.
It was a strange chance which brought it about.
Karl's love of flowers was a passion such as only Germans know. How, in addition to all the hours he devoted to his business, he found hours enough to make flowers grow in every window-seat, nook and ledge in and outside of the house was a marvel. But he did, and the little house was known far and wide for its blossoms. Margaret's sitting-room was a conservatory; as soon as a plant showed signs of decay it was removed, and replaced by a vigorous one. Bloom succeeded bloom; in season and out of season she was never without flowers of red and of white.
One Saturday in February, a year from the day Karl had come home, Margaret was sitting alone in her room. It had snowed, and the day had been dreary; at sunset the sky cleared, and a beautiful rosy glow spread over the lake. Margaret sat watching it, and wondering, as all lonely people have hours of wondering, why, since the world is so thronged with its millions, there need ever be one lonely man or woman. Some one knocked at the door so gently that she thought it was one of the children, and answered without looking around. The door opened, but no one spoke. Margaret turned her head; there stood Karl, holding in his hands an oblong box of daisies in full blossom. He had been for weeks coaxing and crowding the little things until there was a thicket of the dainty nodding disks, pink, white, red, and the green leaves also crowding thick and bright. The box was surrounded by a fine lattice work, painted white, which came up like a paling, two inches above the top of the box, so that one could fancy it a mound in an English garden fenced in with white.
"It is for you, Miss Margaret. Where shall I set it," said Karl.
"Oh, Mr. Reutner, you are too kind," exclaimed Margaret, her face crimson with pleasure. "It is the loveliest thing I ever saw," and she bent her face down close to the daisies, still held in Karl's hands.
Margaret had never been so near to Karl before. The rosy lake and sky, and snowy clouds made of the window-panes behind her a background such as Raphael never painted. Her beaming face and thrilling presence lifted Karl to heights of exaltation, and, placing the daisy-box on the floor at her feet, he said, "They are but daisies, beautiful Miss Margaret; that was the fitting flower, for it is like my love for you. It is low on the ground, but it would bloom for you always, and you will not forbid that they should live always in your room?" And for the second time Margaret saw the blue eyes kindle as they kindled when he had told her her cheeks were like red lilies.
Margaret grew more crimson still. No words came to her lips.
It seemed as ruthless to hurt this man's love as to trample on a daisy. Yet Karl Reutner must be made to understand that there could be no thought of love between him and her. Even in that glorified moment, when he stood before her, tall, strong, upright, fair as an old Saxon viking with his golden beard and blue eyes, and pure, she well knew, as Adam in Eden, Margaret Warren remembered that Karl Reutner was beneath her in what the world calls station. There was a shade of something not wholly kind in the very kindness and gentleness with which she said:
"But, Mr. Reutner, I cannot let you give me the daisies to mean that. I am so sorry, so grieved to pain you, but I must be true."
Margaret's eyes filled with tears as she saw the look of distress on Karl's face. He stooped to pick up the box without saying a word. Margaret's heart could not bear this.
"But, Mr. Reutner, you need not take the daisies away. I would love to have them in my room, now that you understand me. You were so good to make them grow like this for me. They will be beautiful all winter," and Margaret laid her hand gently and caressingly on the edge of the box.
"Oh, Miss Margaret, I thank you," said Karl, in a very low voice. "You need not to fear that the daisies should say words to you, if you are willing that they live at your feet. They have but eyes; they will not speak. You will let them stay?"
"Oh, yes, indeed I will," replied Margaret, trying to speak in a natural voice, as if it were an every-day gift, and making room for them on a little stand by the window. Then, while Karl was arranging the box and the saucer, she went on talking with a forced rapidity and earnestness of manner.
Karl listened as one who only partly heard the words. When she stopped he said in his old, grave, calm tone, lifting his eyes to hers steadily as usual: "Thank you, Miss Margaret," and left the room.
Margaret burst into tears. She was very unhappy and utterly perplexed.
"Whoever heard of a man's thanking a woman like that, and going away looking so content and glad when she had just told him she could not marry him!" said Margaret to herself, "and what is to become of me now? I cannot live in the house with him any longer; it will not be kind; I must go away. Oh, I wish he had never come home," and Margaret threw herself on the bed and cried herself to sleep.
When Annette knocked at the door to ask why she did not come down to tea, Margaret roused herself from her heavy sleep, and looked into Annette's face with a bewildered expression of distress. She could not remember at first what had happened. In a second it all flashed into her mind, and burying her face in the pillow she groaned aloud. Annette was frightened. She had never seen the "teacher" lose self-control. She thought she must be very ill.
"Oh, Miss Margaret, what have you? It is a fever"—for Margaret's face was of a scarlet color. "Karl must bring the doctor," exclaimed Annette.
"No, no, Mrs. Reutner," cried Margaret. "I beg you will not say a word to any one. I am not ill. I have slept too heavily. I will not come down-stairs to-night, but I shall be well to-morrow."
It was the first time that Margaret's chair at the table had been vacant. Annette's explanation of her absence did not lessen the sense of gloom which every one felt.
Margaret ill! It was incredible.
"She have never looked so beautiful as I saw her not three hours ago," said Karl incredulously.
Something in his tone fell strangely on Wilhelm's ear. He turned a keen, quick look upon his brother's face; but Karl met it with one open as day, in which nothing could be read except unfeigned anxiety and wonder.
When Annette went to Margaret's room later in the evening, Margaret's fact was pale, and all traces of feverish excitement had passed away. She had had two hours of hard struggle with herself; but she had resolved that she must seek another home, and, having come to this resolution, she wished to lose no time in carrying it out.
"Sit down, dear Mrs. Reutner," she said, "I must have a little talk with you."
Annette looked uneasy. She had never seen Margaret look as she looked now. She knew that bad news was coming.
"My dear, good, kind friend, I must go away from you," said Margaret, and her voice trembled.
Annette gazed speechlessly into Margaret's face.
"Oh, Miss Margaret, what is it? Is it that you must go home?"
Margaret shook her head. "No, Mrs. Reutner, I have no expectation of leaving Chicago; but I must find another home. It is not best for me to live in your house any longer."
Great tears rolled down Annette's face, and she sobbed: "Oh, Miss Margaret, is it nothing we can do to make all better for you. It will break the father's heart and the little ones'. Will you not tell us? We have much more money now; we can buy all for you, if you will only show us how it is to be;" and Annette cried heartily.
Margaret was distressed. It seemed disloyal to Karl to give her reason; cruel to Annette and Wilhelm to withhold it. She remained silent for some time. Annette sobbed again a few broken words; "Miss Margaret, you do not know what it is to the house that you are in it. Karl said, only yesterday, that you were the good angel to each one in the house. Tell us, Miss Margaret. Is it that you must have larger rooms? Wilhelm will build all you want,—one, two, more."
The mention of Karl's name gave Margaret more strength to proceed.
"I will tell you, my kind friend," she said, "the real truth. It is for your brother that I must go away. He loves me; he told me so this afternoon; and it is not delicate or kind after that for me to live in the same house with him. I shall never be so happy anywhere else. Nobody will make me so comfortable, and I am very, very sorry to go away; but I must," and Margaret, in her turn, was very near crying.
Annette had dried her tears, sprung to her feet, and now stood gazing at Margaret with such stupefaction in her face that Margaret could scarcely keep from smiling in spite of her distress.
"Karl—tell you he love you—to be his wife?" gasped Annette. "Oh, Miss Margaret, it has been a mistake. Karl has never told you that; Karl could not."
"I am not likely to be mistaken, Mrs. Reutner," she said, a little coldly. "I regret it more than I can say. But it is so, and I must go away."
Annette seemed like one in a dream. She was in haste to be gone. She replied at random to all Margaret said, and at last sobbed afresh:—
"Oh, Miss Margaret, I must go now. To-morrow I will hear you again. I think not that the good God sent you to our house to take you away like this;" and Annette was gone.
Wilhelm and Karl were seated in the dining room, smoking. Annette, with streaming eyes entered the room, and hurrying breathlessly to Karl, exclaimed:—
"How daredst thou to ask the teacher to be thy wife? It was thou that hast made her ill, and she will go away from our house because of thee, and—" Annette stopped for lack of breath, and because the two men had both sprung to their feet, and were gesticulating violently,—Karl with an angry voice.
"God in Heaven! What dost thou take me for, Annette? Dost thou not know I would as soon ask one of the angels in Paradise to be wife to me? Who has told thee this tale?"
And Wilhelm, "Annette, art thou mad, or dost thou think Karl is a madman?"
Annette looked tremblingly from one to the other. She herself had felt like this when Margaret had first told her. In a hesitating voice she began:—
"But Miss Margaret has said that thou—"
Before she could finish her sentence, Karl's face, white as the face of a dead man, was bent close to hers, and Karl's voice, strange, husky, was saying, in slow, gasping syllables:—
Annette nodded, too terrified to speak.
Karl strode to the door, and opened it. Annette ran to hold him back, but Wilhelm restrained her. In that short moment Wilhelm had understood all. "He must speak to her," he said; "let him go. It must be told to her. She has mistaken; it was not that Karl asked her to marry him. But he has let her to know that he has worship for her. And she need not be angry for my Karl's love, if he ask nothing," added Wilhelm, proudly; but his head sank on his breast, and he said, in a low tone to himself: "Oh, my poor Karl; my poor Karl!"
Margaret knew Karl's step. As she heard it rapidly drawing near her door, her heart beat and her cheeks flushed. What had Annette said? What new distress and embarrassment were coming to her now? Almost she resolved not to admit him, But Karl forestalled that intention. Knocking lightly on the door, he spoke at the same instant:—
"Miss Margaret, for God's sake, I ask to come and speak to you one minute,—only one minute; it must be."
The anguish in his voice moved Margaret strangely. She opened the door.
Karl entered almost staggering, and with his hands clasped:—
"Oh, mine God," he exclaimed, "give it to me what I shall say! Miss Margaret, beautiful Miss Margaret, angel of God, I did only ask that the love and the daisies should lie together under your feet. I could die here before you in one second, if you do not believe that never, no never, in all this world, I could have asked you what you have said to Annette. You are to me as if I saw you in Heaven; you are angel of God in my brother's house. If you go away because I have said such love as this, then will I, too, go, and never shall my Wilhelm see my face again, so help me, my God!"
Before Karl had spoken three words, Margaret divined all. Shame, resentment, perplexity, and unspeakable distress mingled of all three, were in her face. She could not speak. This man, then, had never dreamed of asking her to be his wife. True, he acknowledged the utmost devotion for her, and more than implied that the reason he could not ask her to marry him was that he revered her as an angel of God; but the mortifying fact remained that she had not only rejected a man who had not asked her to take him as a husband, but she had told the matter, and compelled him to come and undeceive her. It was a bitter thing. Margaret could not speak; she could not look up.
Karl went on, more calmly: "Beautiful Miss Margaret, it will come that you forgive me when you have thought. And you would have seen that it was only the love like the daisy, at the feet, if you had come down-stairs before you had spoken, you would have seen that you need not to go away. It is not kind to the daisy that there be no more sun."
Margaret could not speak. Karl walked slowly to the door. As he opened it, Margaret sprang towards him, and holding out her hand, said:—
"Forgive me, Mr. Reutner. That is the only word I can say."
Karl took her hand in his, looked at it with no more trace of earthly passion in his eyes than if it were the hand of a shrined saint, lifted it to his forehead, bowed, and was gone.
Now was Margaret's distress complete. Turn which way she would, she saw only perplexity and mortification. Mingled with it all was a new, strange feeling in regard to Karl, which she could not define to herself. He had never looked so manly as when he stood before her, saying, "So help me, my God!" It was the only moment in which he had ever, in her presence, seemed stronger than she. Usually his great love bound him as with withes, and laid him helpless at her feet.
A low hum of voices came to Margaret's ears from the room below. Karl and Wilhelm were talking earnestly. Only too vividly Margaret's fancy pictured what they were saying. She walked the floor; she wrung her hands; she was too wretched to shed a tear. Deep down to its very depths her proud heart was humiliated. It was a kind heart, too, spite of its pride; a loving and a grateful heart; and it was sorely wounded to have brought such sorrow to friends.
An hour passed; all grew quiet down-stairs. Margaret still walked the floor. Suddenly she heard soft steps outside her door; a low knock, and Annette's voice said, entreatingly: "Dear Miss Margaret, may Wilhelm come and speak to you?"
Margaret threw the door open instantly. She was so wretched, so perplexed, that she was glad of any help from any source. She had already thought of Wilhelm, and wished that his clear-eyed and tender wisdom could in some way be brought to bear on this distressing problem.
"Miss Margaret," said Wilhelm, very quietly, "it is not much that I can say. A grief has come to us all; but that cannot now be changed: that is as if it were past; and if you will only stay in our house it can become as if it had not been. It is no shame to you that my brother have seen that you are more beautiful and good than any other woman. It is so that any man must see, Miss Margaret. I, also, who am the father in the house, I have said to Annette all this year that you are one good angel. And I could kneel to pray you to stay. I know my Karl. It is not with him as you think. It is only a joy to him that you stay, as it is to me and to Annette. And he will keep the vow he have vowed. If you go he will go away for ever. Give to us our brother, oh, Miss Margaret," and tears stood in Wilhelm's eyes.
"Mr. Reutner," said Margaret, very earnestly, "do you truly believe that it will do your brother no harm, I mean, cause him no pain to live with me as before?"
Wilhelm fixed his eyes on the floor in silence for some seconds. Then he said:—
"Miss Margaret, that you are content, are glad, is joy to Karl and to us. So long as you find to be content, glad in our house, it is great joy. When you are more glad in your own house that will be greatest joy to Karl, to us. There will come the year when Karl will have wife and house as I. He has the great father heart which must have the children to love. You will do his life no harm. To have seen that you are God's angel shall be only light to him, not cloud. I know my Karl. Oh, Miss Margaret, will you not for one month try if it cannot be?"
So Margaret promised to stay. The first meeting with Karl was what she most dreaded; but it was over almost before she knew that it was near, and Karl's beautiful simplicity of nature made it easier than could have been foreseen.
He was standing alone in the window of the drawing-room when she went to breakfast the next morning. He had just broken a beautiful tea-rose from its stem, and was about to lay it on her plate. As she crossed the threshold he went towards her, holding it out, and saying:—
"You are like a new guest in our house to-day. Oh, Miss Margaret, let the rose tell to you how we all thank God that you have come."
The tone, the look, were calmly, gravely, affectionate as ever. The old life was taken up again, the stormy break in it put away forever. Margaret's heart leaped with a sudden rapture in the consciousness that she still had the same quiet, peaceful, dear home as before.
Again the spring and the summer wore away, and the winter came, and no change was visible in Wilhelm Reutner's household. No change visible! But ah! beneath its surface had again been at work far deeper forces than those which ripen spring into summer, and summer into the garnered harvest of autumn.
Margaret loved Karl! What subtle triumphs love knows how to win for his own! Karl Reutner's heart had no more hope in it now than it had a year before; no less now than then, it would have seemed to him like blasphemy to ask Margaret Warren to be his wife: yet there were days when Margaret could not see daisies without tears, so bitterly did her heart ache to recall the hour in which she had rejected the love which they had once symbolized to her.
It was hard to tell how this love had come. Its growth had been as slow, as uninterrupted, as immutable, as unsuspected as the silent growth of crystals deep hidden in chambers of stone. It was long before Margaret had dreamed of it, and very long before she had admitted it to herself. She wrestled with it bravely; it was against her will, she did not choose to love Karl Reutner. She was no less proud a woman this year than last. She had no less dreams and purposes for the future and to be the wife of Karl Reutner was not among them. Nevertheless it had come to pass that his presence meant happiness to her, and his absence meant a vague sense of discomfort and loss. Vainly she asked herself why. Reason was silent. The great interest of her life had been,—still was,—in books, in study, in progress in the broadest sense. Karl Reutner had not studied, had not read; he cared more for the laughing eyes of a happy child than for all the discoveries of a century. To him flowers were events; a blue sky, and a bright sun, and smiles at home were life.
The new world of which he had glimpses through Margaret's conversation,—the world of history, the world of art, the world of science,—seemed to him very great, very glorious. He kindled at mention of noble deeds, at descriptions of stirring scenes; but it was partly because Margaret found the scenes and events thrilling, and he always returned to his flowers and his music with a sense of rest.
Sometimes when playing one of Mozart's early sonatas, so divine in its simplicity and sweetness and strength, he would say, "Ah, Miss Margaret, it is only the simple tones which can speak the truest. Listen to this;" and while Margaret listened, it would seem to her that the world and its kingdoms had all floated away in space.
"To be very good, and to make that all are happy, Miss Margaret, is that not enough?" he said one day. He had grown nearer her, and dared to speak as he could not have spoken a year ago. "Is not that enough? Why must the little men think they can understand all? This world is not for that. It is that we are made pure in this. There comes another world for the rest. That is my creed, Miss Margaret."
But Karl did not add the rest of his creed, which was, that Margaret had the light of both worlds in her soul.
Often Margaret felt abashed before the spirituality of this man's nature; often she thought, while she looked at him, that he had indeed entered the kingdom of God by becoming "as a little child." Then again, the worldly, the ambitious side of her nature gained the ascendency, and she said, "This is a merely material life he leads after all; day's work after day's work, and a peasant's song at the end! What have I in common with him?" Oh, very stoutly the carnal heart of Margaret Warren wrestled with the angel which was seeking a home in it. But the angel was the stronger. More and more clearly shone the celestial light; more and more clearly Margaret saw the celestial face.
It was a year and a day since Karl came home. Margaret had looked forward to the anniversary day with mingled dread and hope. The pretty daisy-box had long ago been taken away from her room; the daisies had bloomed their day out, and died, and other flowers had taken their place. Margaret wondered if Karl would give her another such token. Except for the deep yearning desire in her heart that he should so do, she would have known that nothing was less likely than that he should do anything on that day to remind her of its being an anniversary. The day passed without even an allusion from any one to the past. In all hearts there was too sore a memory of the last year. Margaret felt this keenly. "Alien that I am in this house," she thought, "I make it impossible for them to keep the festivals of their love. Two years since Karl came home—only two years and it seems to me that it is a life-time."
It was near sunset. A rosy glow was suffusing the lake, and Margaret sat again at her window watching it. Again came a low knock at her door, and again she answered without turning her head, and Karl entered.
"Miss Margaret," he said, "may I come and talk with you? It is that I wish that we all go to another house to live. This is not as it should be; it is small. I have talked much with Wilhelm, and I can pay all the money, but he will not. He is wrong; and will not you, Miss Margaret, help me to make that he sees the truth? For the little ones, when they are large, it will be that they must know more people; this place is not right. And you too, Miss Margaret, it is always grief to me that your rooms are so small. You should have large rooms and many windows for the south sun until night."
Margaret glanced lovingly round the rooms.
"I love these little rooms," she said, impulsively; "I should be very sorry to leave them." As she spoke, a sudden memory of the daisy-box flashed into her mind. Her eyes filled with tears, and she could not hide them.
Karl stretched out both hands with an eager gesture, exclaiming, "But Miss Margaret, Miss Margaret, it shall not be, if it is pain to you. I did not dream that you would be sorry to go. I will no more say."
"It is not that, Mr. Reutner," said Margaret, "not at all. I believe it would be better for all to have a larger house; I did not mean that I would be really unwilling to leave these rooms; I was thinking of something else," and again the tears filled her eyes.
"Oh, Miss Margaret!" cried Karl. He had never seen tears in her eyes before. The sight unmanned him. His "Oh, Miss Margaret!" was a cry from the very depths of his heart.
The hour had come. Who keeps calendar for the flowers that each blossom bides its time, and blooms at its fated second by sun, by moon, by star, or by breeze! Who keeps calendar for hearts?
The hour had come. Margaret looked full into Karl's face, and said in a low voice, "I was thinking of a year ago yesterday, Mr. Reutner; and I was so sorry for having made you unhappy then."
Astonishment and wounded feeling struggled on Karl's features for a second. That Margaret should voluntarily allude to that bitter day seemed heartless indeed. In the next second, something in her face smote on his sight, dazzling, bewildering, terrifying him. The celestial light in her heart shone through her eyes.
Karl gave one piercing look, piercing as if he were seeking to read some farthest star,—then sank slowly on his knees, buried his face in Margaret's lap, and spoke no word. Margaret laid one hand lightly on his head. Tremblingly he took it, lifted his head, still without looking into her face, and laid his cheek down on the firm soft palm.
Karl Reutner could not speak. He did not distinctly know whether he were alive. With her free hand, Margaret stroked his hair as she might that of a tired child. An ineffable peace filled her soul.
At last, Karl said, very slowly, almost stammeringly, without lifting his head, "Miss Margaret, beautiful angel of God, I cannot look in your eyes; to see them again would make my heart stop to beat. Will you let that I go away from you now, out under the sky? When I can come back, even if it is a long time, may I come to you?"
Margaret bent her head and whispered, "yes, Karl."
He stooped still lower, kissed the hem of the gown on whose folds he had been kneeling, and then without one look at Margaret, went slowly out of the room. When he came back, the twilight was nearly over; stars were beginning to shine in the sky; Margaret had not moved from her seat; the door stood still ajar as he had left it; softly, so softly, that his steps could hardly be heard, he crossed the room, and stood, silent, before her; then he lifted his hands high above her head, and opening them, let fall a shwer of daisies: on her neck, bosom, lap, feet, everywhere, rested the fragrant blossoms.
"Now you will let that they tell you all," he said; "now you will let that they lie at your feet."
His tone was grave and calm; his looks were grave and calm: but his eyes shone with such joy, such rapture, that Margaret, in her turn, found it hard to meet them.
An hour later, when Karl and Margaret went into the dining-room, hand in hand, Wilhelm and Annette gazed at them for a moment in speechless wonder. Then Annette ran out of the room sobbing. Wilhelm said aloud: "God be praised!" Then walking swiftly towards them, he looked first into Margaret's face, then into Karl's, and exclaimed again: "God be praised."
"Wilhelm," said Margaret, "will you, too, forgive me for the day I made sad for you a year ago? Karl has forgiven it."
Wilhelm's answer was a look. Then he fell on Karl's neck, and was not ashamed of the tears that would come. Not often do two men love as did these twin brothers.
It all seemed to Wilhelm and Annette impossible, incredible. Their eyes followed Karl, followed Margaret with an expression which was half joy and half fear. But to Karl and Margaret the new happiness seemed strangely natural, assured. Like a crystal hidden in stone, it had grown, and now that the store had been broken open, and the crystal set free, every ray of the sun that fell on it was multiplied, and the brilliant light seemed only inevitable.
Later in the evening Karl put a ring upon Margaret's finger. It was dark, and she could not see the design.
"Could you promise not to see till the sunlight should come to-morrow?" said Karl. "I would like that the sun should light it up first for your eyes."
Margaret smiled. "Oh, foolish Karl! I will try not to look; but you ask a great deal."
Karl turned the ring round and round on the finger, as Margaret's hand lay in his.
"I have a long time had this ring,—more than one year. It was to be for you if I died, or if you were to be married to——" Karl could not now pronounce the words "another man." He went on: "I thought that then you would wear it and not be angry. I not once thought I could put it on for you with my own hand;" and Karl lifted both Margaret's hands, covered them with kisses, laid them against his cheek, on his forehead, on his heart.
It was strange to see this lover, in these few hours, already so free from fear. His child-like simplicity of nature was the secret of it. Knowing Margaret to be his own, he joyed in her as he joyed in sunlight. He took the delights of seeing and touching her, as freely as he would bask under the blue sky. He could no more feel restraint from one than from the other.
"Karl, if you really do not want me to see the ring, you must roll a tiny bit of paper round it," said Margaret. "It feels very large."
"Yes, it is large. It could not be small to tell what it tells," replied Karl, rolling a fine tissue paper carefully over and under it, and twisting it firmly. "Mine own, mine own," he said, kissing the hand and the ring, "when the to-morrow sun shines from the lake to your bed, lift your hand in the light and look."
When the "to-morrow sun" first shone on Margaret's bed, Margaret was asleep. When she waked, the room was flooded with yellow light. Dimly at first, like memories of dreams, came the recollections of her new happiness; then clearer and clearer in triumphant joy. She raised her left hand in the great yellow sunbeams, which seemed to make a golden pathway from the very sky to her bed. Slowly she unwound the rosy tissue paper from her ring. A low cry of astonishment broke from her lips. She had never seen anything so beautiful. On a broad gold band was curled a tiny thread like stem, bearing a four-leaved clover of dark green enamel. The edge of each leaf was set thick with diamonds, and the lines down the centre were marked by diamonds, so small, as to be little more than shining points. Margaret's second thought was one of dismay. "Oh, the wicked Karl! To spend so much money! It would almost furnish our little house. What shall I do with such a ring as this?"
But surprises were in store for Margaret. When she gently reproached Karl for having spent so much money on the ring, his face flushed, and he hesitated a moment before replying. Then he said, with inexpressible sweetness, taking both her hands in his, "My Margaret, I have much money. I was glad before, for Wilhelm, and the little ones. But now that I can make all beautiful for you, I so much thank God. It was a chance that I have it. I know not how to find it, as your people do. It was the land."
Karl Reutner was indeed a rich man. Lands which he had bought a few years before, for, as he said, "such little of money," were now a fortune in themselves. And it was in consequence of this increase of his wealth that he had so earnestly besought his brother Wilhelm to let him provide a new home for the family.
"But now, my Margaret, it shall be for you," he said. "I hope that there shall be enough that you have all things you have ever had dream of."
Margaret sighed. Almost she regretted this wealth. It was not thus she had pictured her life with Karl. But her love of beauty, of culture, of art, was too strong for her to be long reluctant that the fullness of life should come to her.
"Oh Karl! Karl!" she said, "I cannot believe that I am to have you, and all else in life besides. Dear one, I do not deserve it."
Karl was lying at her feet, his head resting on her knees, as he had bowed it when he first knew that she loved him; only that now he dared to gaze steadily into her eyes. He did not reply for some moments, then he said:—
"The good God knows, my Margaret. Perhaps there will come sorrow for you, if it needs for his Heaven that you be more of angel than you are. But for my love, that is only like the daisies. It is enough that it can make a beautiful ground where you walk."
Since these things which I have written, many years have gone by, and have not yet brought sorrow to Margaret. The windows of her beautiful home look out on the blue lake; and into the nursery where her golden-haired children sleep, the morning sun sends its first beams, as it used to send them into her tiny room, in Wilhelm Reutner's house.
On the wall of Margaret's own room hangs the picture of Königsee, and the head of the shadowy maiden of Ischl still wreathed with edelweiss blossoms.
"I love her, my Karl. She told me that thou wert not dead. She is glad of thy joy each hour," Margaret often says.
On the right hand of the portrait of Königsee, framed in velvet and ivory, and also wreathed by edelweiss blossoms, hangs an oval of soft gray surface, on which is a tiny and faded and crumpled clover, "the four leaf of clover;"—"which saved my papa's life," little Karl says, pointing to it with his chubby finger, "my papa says so." When little Karl is older he will understand better. This too is wreathed with edelweiss blossoms, fresher and whiter than the others. Margaret also has sailed with Karl on the Königsee, and she gathered these edelweiss flowers on the edge of the Watzman glacier.
Above these hangs a quaint old bit of heraldry. It is the coat of arms of the Whitson family, and belonged to Margaret's grandmother, who was a Whitson, and well-to-do, years ago in England. It is an odd thing, and to some minds much more than an odd thing, that this old coat of arms should be an oak tree in a clover field, and that there should be a tale how once when a sorely pressed king of England was escaping from his pursuers he came to a field of purple clover, with an oak tree in its centre; and that a churl Whitson, to whom the field belonged, and who chanced to be mowing it that day, helped the king up into the oak tree, and lied bravely to the pursuers, saying that no man had passed that way; so the king, grateful for his life, gave lands to the churl, and the right to a crest bearing the oak and the clover.
This, I say, is an odd thing, and to some people more than an odd thing. To Karl Reutner, for instance, who is so impressed by it, that he has had garlands of oak and clover leaves carved on the cradle in which all his babies sleep; garlands of oak and clover leaves carved over the doors and windows of his wife's room; garlands of oak and clover leaves wrought on silver and on glass to hold choice fruits and wines; and wrought of gold and gems in many a dainty device for his wife to wear. And those who look closely at these garlands find that there is not one without a four-leaved clover.