Specimens of German Romance/Volume 3/The Blind Passenger

The original German story has not been identified.


You know, my friends,” began Count Felsen—Felsen was not his real name, but it is a very good name notwithstanding, and at all events it is better than Count A, or B, or any other mysterious initial, equally ungracious to the eye and ear;—“you know, my friends, that at times I take a fancy to odd adventures. A whim of this kind seized me,—it is now about five years ago—upon leaving my bed, in the town of ——, to enjoy the freshness of the morning. My walk led me by the post-house, where a new diligence was just about to take its first flight in the world, and I was suddenly smitten with the idea of riding in it—Why not?—My eye quickly ran over the passengers, already seated, and found them very decent-looking personages. Amongst them were two young women of the middle rank in society; but you must not fancy, as by your laugh you seem to do, that they were the incitements to the journey.” “But two beautiful women!” “Sirs, they were as ugly as Satan,—so ugly, that though the best places in the coach were vacant at their side, the two other travellers had seated themselves in a sort of basket that formed the hinder part of this new-fashioned vehicle. Of these, one seemed to be a young Ulpian, the other a disciple of Hippocrates, and both looking as gay as if neither law nor physic were mortal.

The coach was on the point of starting; I hastened, therefore, to take my place, not in my own name, indeed, but as Doctor Klep; the truth is, I began to be a little ashamed of my whim, but not a jot the more disposed on that account to give it up.

Whether I looked too wise, or not wise enough for a doctor, I cannot pretend to say, but it seems that my appearance did not answer my giving out; the clerk asked for my pass, and, on finding that I had none, shrugged his shoulders most mysteriously, when, as luck would have it, the letter-carrier entered. I gave him a wink, as I called out to him, “You are the very person! You know me well, and can testify for me that I am Doctor Klep?” The postman, moved no doubt by the recollection of past Christmas-boxes, and the hope of those in future, did not hesitate to say, “You may book that gentleman without fear, sir; I know him well.”

In a few minutes I was seated between the two uglies—we say, beauties, and why not uglies?—in a few minutes I was seated between the two uglies, who proved to be excessively polite,—nay, so polite, that for the sake of their character as well as my own, I determined to leave the coach at the next stage. The fates, however, had settled the matter otherwise, and seemed to be inclined for once to indulge my whim for odd adventures.

We had scarcely got quit of the town, when a young man, with a packet under his arm, called out, “Postboy!”

“If I thought the postmaster would not hear of it,” replied the postboy; “It’s only within these few days that the orders to take up no blind passengers have been reinforced. There’s plenty of room though,—and I suppose your passport is all right?”

The stranger pulled out a paper.

“Never mind,” said the postboy; “that will do; it was only for form’s sake; one often does not know,—but, get up—quick; quick; we must make haste.”

Highly indignant at the driver’s carelessness, I determined within myself to denounce him at the post-office immediately upon my return. It was only a short time before that a robbery and murder had been committed by a pretended blind passenger in a diligence, and our careless driver would not even look at the paper, which the stranger gave out for a passport!—Yet his appearance was that of a man who would risk all, having nothing to lose beyond a wretched existence. His gray coat of frieze, worn to the very last thread, would hardly have hung together upon his back, if he had not stuck in it as if in a sack. To travel with such a fellow in the night was by no means advisable, for it was at least possible, perhaps probable, that a gang of his companions was lurking in the woods for the booty, which he was to spy out for them. As if he himself felt the annoyance of his presence, he kept as far from me as possible, squeezing himself up in the remotest corner, but it was this very thing that now attracted me to him; my suspicions of him, or rather of his situation, began to dissipate, for it seemed that an evil-intentioned person would rather have kept at the side by the coach-door; in the dark corner where he sate there was no connexion with the country, and I now began to reproach myself for fancying evil, where perhaps there was nothing but misfortune, and that too, it might be, unmerited. My attention was more and more excited towards our new fellow-traveller; I observed him closely, and the very first glance made me ashamed of my previous suspicions; if ever a face expressed the dignity of man, it was his; sorrow and suffering, it is true, had dimmed the brilliance of youth, but had not destroyed it. In a word, my sudden disinclination to the young man as suddenly passed over into the opposite feeling.

At first he seemed to shun my gaze, but in a little time my evident good-will towards him established a sort of connexion between us. The village, at which I had intended to alight, was now long past. My short, and sometimes rude, answers had freed me from the gossip of the two uglies, who at length quite abandoned me, as was shown by the satiric pursing-up of their lips and the turning-up of their noses, and thus the coach became endurable, for the lawyer and the doctor, though more than sufficiently technical, talked upon subjects, which they understood, and which were not altogether without interest.

It was with no slight eagerness that I looked out for the village, where, according to the postboy’s declaration, we were to stop a short time. I wished to take that opportunity of making my blind companion some amends for my first suspicions, which I now felt to be perfectly groundless.

“Have I your leave, gentlemen?” exclaimed the postboy on arriving at the place in question. His politeness, however, was confined to words, for before any one could answer, he jumped off his horse, and left the care of the cattle to the ostler, who was standing before the inn in evident expectation of his coming.

All alighted except the man in the frieze coat. I, therefore, soon resumed my seat, intending to enter into conversation with him, when the postilion looked in at the window, and exclaimed, “You may get out, without any fear, if you choose; it does not signify here in Winzendorf, for no one here asks whether passengers are blind or not, so as they have money.”—

The stranger replied that he should stay in the coach.

“Then,” said the postboy, “I must beg you to remember the driver now, before we go any farther. It is an old ill-luck of mine that my blind passengers have no money, when they alight at the last stage.”

My face, I rather think, expressed my feelings, for the rascal continued, “Nothing is to be had for nothing, except death.”

The passenger took out a small leathern purse, which, it was visible, contained little more than the drink-money, made up of a few silver and copper coins, and these he gave to the driver, who touched his hat and retired.

“The insolence of these fellows is at times scarcely tolerable,” I exclaimed, turning round with sympathy to the poor blind stranger.

He smiled, and said, “With people of my sort it is always so, and custom reconciles us to any thing.”

As he said this, his face, his action, his tone, all inspired a lively interest. The young man was not born for such a condition of life, and certainly was not born in it.

“Do you travel far?” I asked.

“That depends upon circumstances!”—Not another word.

I tried again by other questions to carry the conversation a little farther, but his replies invariably brought me back to the point, from which we had started. I was thus more and more confirmed in my opinion that I had before me a man of no common order.

The driver now returned to his horses with a speed beyond all expectation, but though under ordinary circumstances such an event might be almost deemed a peculiar dispensation of providence, yet, situated as I was, it seemed a most unlucky accident. I could not abandon the stranger, without first learning whether any thing could or could not be done to better his condition; yet to offer him such assistance at once, without previous occasion leading to it, was hardly likely to be successful. I saw, therefore, no better remedy for the present than to go on another stage with the diligence, a resolution, which was no sooner adopted than I found occasion to repent it. The face of the stranger, as I took my place by him, expressed the darkest suspicion, and his replies to my questions were briefer and drier than before. Sometimes even his answers were confined to silent gestures.

As we passed a lone house upon the road a girl came out and called to the driver. In her hand was a mirror, which she delivered over to him with many injunctions for its safety, to which the man replied by as many protestations of his responsibility, and put it at once into the hands of the blind stranger, desiring him to take especial care of it. This last piece of insolence completely revolted me, and I demanded how he dared to ask such a thing.

“Dared!” he re-echoed with some surprise; “why the man’s blind, and those who can’t pay their way in the world must work their way.”

“Let me,—I entreat you,”—said the stranger, and frankly undertook the charge, which nothing but downright impudence could have imposed upon him. The other passengers eyed us both with smiles of contempt, and in particular the two young women, who had besides the pleasure of seeing the doctor and the lawyer at their side, a place which they had no doubt occupied from ennui of each other’s company.

The warmth of my indignation against the driver seemed to have inspired my cold neighbour with better feelings. It was now easy to enter into a conversation with him that was not to be broken off at the second word. By degrees, my sympathy with his fate got out of him that he was born of parents in good circumstances, but who had lost their all by the devastations of war, and were in as bad condition as himself. His immediate object was to seek a patron, from whom he hoped to obtain a decent appointment. On the name and place he was silent.

In the midst of our conversation he chanced to take his hand from the mirror, and an awkward movement of our opposite neighbour happening at the same moment, the glass fell, and was shivered to pieces. Our neighbour denied, and with reason, that the blame of the accident was his, while the driver was no less loud in his execrations; nor was there any peace till I promised to be responsible for the damage. In the course of this discussion the blind man learned my name, and thanked me heartily for my kindness, which he protested he should never forget, at the same time begging to know the place of my abode, where, he said, he hoped to see me shortly.

Upon my asking him in an under tone, whether I could do any thing to relieve his immediate necessities, he replied aloud, “I have only a trifle to solicit.” The openness of the reply annoyed me, and, I suppose, he perceived it, for he instantly added, “I am not ashamed to speak it out frankly, for who in our time does not know that there are many more unfortunate? I, at least, in such a dress, cannot deny my poverty; nor, indeed, is it any disgrace; and at all events it is honourable to any one who endeavours to alleviate it. This honour you have fully merited in showing so much kindness to a perfect stranger, and why should not I publicly avow it?”

This was Hebrew to the driver, who looked round upon us with a smile of wonder, and no doubt thought me more wealthy than wise. The blind man, however, took me at my word, so far as to beg for a few pieces of silver, which he immediately put into his purse, almost exhausted by the previous demand for drink-money. Henceforth our conversation grew more intimate, and on arriving at the last stage, I said as he alighted, “We will not part here, my friend;” and accordingly I took the same path, a measure which seemed to distress him much, though I could not guess the reason. I thought perhaps it might be some feeling of shame at his poor dress, and in truth the contrast had something strange in it; but however this might be, on our reaching the junction of two roads he suddenly exclaimed, “Here our ways separate; you are probably going to the next stage, whereas my road is through this wood to Rudendorf.”

“To Rudendorf?” I exclaimed.

“Yes, indeed; yonder it lies.”

“Then, troth, I can go a little farther with you. The owner of the estate is my intimate friend, and my best way of getting home again will be to borrow one of his horses. Do you know him?”

To my great satisfaction the stranger answered in the affirmative. This was putting the crown to my adventure; I was now like to learn who my companion really was, and I had more than a woman’s curiosity on the subject, but in the midst of my self-congratulations the stranger suddenly darted into the brush-wood and disappeared. At this unexpected action my old suspicions naturally awoke again; I began to have a dread of the wood, in which I found myself alone and unarmed; the devastating marches of the French emperor had here and there left behind deserters, who united at times with the ruined peasants in taking up the trade of robbery and murder. A fitter refuge for such gentry could not have been imagined, and perhaps the blind passenger was one of their spies; if so my sympathy with his distress was likely to find no pleasant recompense! Still when I thought of his face and manners,—and they had left a strong impression on me,—I could not believe that they were those of a robber. On the other hand, how often does villany shroud itself under a fair mask!—To exchange, however, uncertainty for the certain, I hastened to recover the footpath, and took my way to Rudendorf. There I was sure to learn what I ought to think of the man, who had claimed acquaintance with the owner of the estate, my friend, the Baron Wagen.

It so happened that the baron was just dismounting from his horse as I arrived. He had returned only a few weeks before from a tour through France and England, and this was our first meeting since his travels. In the joy of the interview the blind passenger was forgotten.

“Do you know,” said Wagen, “you come as if called for? It is scarcely an hour since your intended passed through Rudendorf.”

“Who?” I exclaimed in astonishment.

“Your intended, as I tell you. She is going with her aunt to the Spa, and I have just come from accompanying them a few miles on the way.”

Upon my expressing my surprise at this sudden resolution on the part of Eloisa, who on the preceding evening had not even thought of such a thing, Wagen replied, “Oh, you know the eternal restlessness of her aunt: this morning she received news of some intended festival at the Spa, and in an hour after they were on their way. I must warn you, too, that Eloisa is not particularly well pleased with you, having sent every where for you to no purpose. Be ready with a fair excuse, for she seemed to me to suspect your being engaged in some love adventure.”

“As to my having been engaged in an adventure, she is right; I have so; but love had nothing at all to do with it.”

I now proceeded to give an accurate description of the blind passenger, when Wagen assured me that he did not recollect ever having seen such a person. According to all appearances, then, my blind man belonged to a gang, which, it was probable, would soon fall into the hands of justice, and I had been seen in familiar conversation with him!—I had even followed him on leaving the diligence! The consequences were likely to be unpleasant, more especially as, according to Wagen’s assurance, a band of robbers had been lurking about in the country for some weeks. It was this, indeed, which had been the occasion of his accompanying Eloisa and her aunt so far upon their journey, and he could not help agreeing with me that the affair was likely to prove embarrassing. With such a prospect before me, the day at Rudendorf turned out much less agreeable than I had expected; I grew dull, morose, and taciturn.

“My friend,” said Wagen at last, “you annoy me more with your confounded silence, than if you were to burst out into a thousand extravagancies. But trust yourself to me; I’ll cure you of your whims.”

“Whither?” I exclaimed, as he started up; but he hurried out of the room without making any reply, leaving me in no good humour, either with him or myself. In a few minutes he returned.

“There is but one physician in the world for you, my friend. I have ordered the carriage to be got ready, and will go with you myself to the * * * Spa.”

My objections in regard to the want of dress for an absence of many days were quickly removed by the appearance of a travelling trunk, which was brought in by the servants. I then sought to excuse myself on the plea of my having left home without giving any one the least notice of any such intention. To this he replied by saying, “There are pen, ink, and paper, and in two hours the post goes out. Make haste, that we may get to the Spa early in the evening, or your new acquaintance else may give us to know in a most effectual manner the nature of his occupation.—Come, come; no hesitation,” he added, opening his writing-desk, and forcing me into a chair before it.

There was some appearance of truth in his reasoning. I acceded, and in another half hour we set off at a round trot, that brought us to the Spa by sunset, just as my intended and her aunt were on the point of going out for an evening walk. I jumped out of the carriage, and was received by Eloisa with a look of joyful surprise. But so much the darker was her frown, when the first feelings of surprise were over.

“Pray, where have you been hiding yourself?” she exclaimed. “I sent after you at seven o’clock this morning, and you were already out.”

“And high time, too, my love, for those who wish to catch up the beautiful morning, which even then is some hours beforehand with us.”

In the mean time Wagen had taken the aunt’s arm, and I walked behind them with Eloisa, full of vexation at her idle jealousy, and not a little sparing of my words in consequence. For a time she requited my brevity by a similar brevity on her part, till at last her curiosity to know where I had been overcame this monosyllabic resolution; but no sooner had she heard of my journey in the diligence than she half withdrew her arm, exclaiming, “There must have been some reason for so strange—a—a—a whim!”

“How now?” said Wagen, turning back with the aunt,—”is the humorist cured of his fancies?”

“The Count,” replied Eloisa, “seems to have sought his cure elsewhere.”

“Quarrelling again?” said the aunt—“Really you two will never agree till you are made one.”

This completed my indignation, though I had still sufficient mastery over myself to subdue the expression of it any farther than by the rising colour in my cheek; that I could not hinder. But such a remark from her! Who but herself was the cause of most of the quarrels between me and Eloisa, fanning the slightest spark of discord into a blaze? Who but herself had delayed our marriage, which, had it taken place, would have inevitably composed our principal differences? The fact is, she would much rather have had Eloisa for a companion all her life, than have seen her a wife, although a happy one.

“Come, Baron,” said Eloisa to Wagen, and in an instant was hanging on his arm, while the aunt took mine. I was willing, if possible, to gain over my secret enemy, and began to give her an account of my adventures, but found little grace in her eyes.

“I quite agree with Eloisa,” she said; “without some particular motive, you would hardly have made use of so improper a conveyance.”

This word improper angered me much—indeed more than there was any occasion for. I endeavoured to set her right in her ideas of propriety, and, in so doing, gave her, as she said, so bad an idea of myself, that she began to doubt whether propriety would allow of her having any farther intercourse with me; saying which, she walked off with a formal bow.

In about half an hour after, Wagen came to me at the hotel.

“My friend,” he exclaimed, “you have brought matters to a fine pass! The aunt has employed all her talents of strife-making against you, and I need not tell you they are of the first order. On the present occasion she seems to be more than usually triumphant; could I have suspected all this I never would have recommended your coming to the Spa to wash off your disgrace, for, as matters stand, you are in much worse repute than before your visit. Even my innocence has fallen into suspicion with them, from my having undertaken your defence too warmly.”

The demon of folly seems nowhere to have gained so complete an ascendancy as at these Spas and watering-places. For one real invalid there are at least ten in good health, who come only to eat, drink, or fool themselves into sickness. The fine mornings are slept away, while the moist evenings are chosen as the fittest time for enjoyment. Night-sleep, too, that best of all physicians, is for the most part neglected, and feasts and dancing and every sort of tumultuous pleasure occupy the hours of midnight, as was now to be the case; indeed, to carry the frenzy still higher, the ball was to be a masked ball. Wagen thought that since we were at the Spa, we might as well go through with it by becoming a party to this ball—a proposition which I would fain have scouted, for what pleasure could I expect from it?

“The less you expect,” replied Wagen jestingly, “the more easily you will be satisfied with what you really do find. And seriously, do you think our aunt will be absent?—You do not know the good lady; it is precisely on account of this masked ball that she is here, and if she be at the ball, it follows as a matter of course that Eloisa will be there too.”

I suffered myself to be persuaded. We sent for dominos, and presented ourselves when the room was already full. Enveloped in our mantles, we observed for a long time in silence the motley stream that rolled about us, and, for my part at least, without much sympathy. On a sudden Wagen jogged my elbow, and called my attention to a harlequin and columbine, who were just then entering. He had previously learned from Eloisa’s maid that such was to be the disguise of my intended and her aunt; a disguise that filled me with astonishment, which I could not help expressing to my friend—I allude of course to the aunt’s dress; to that of columbine there could be no objection.

“My good youth,” said Wagen, who was at the utmost a year and a half older than myself—“My dear youth, only wait till you get to my years, and these matters will cease to puzzle you. When a woman can no longer attract by sighs and looks, she endeavours to command attention by the singular and grotesque, and, to be candid, I never saw a harlequin of more grace and activity.”

So too the rest of the company seemed to think, for a thick crowd had collected about Eloisa and her aunt, who were dancing together. All were curious to know who the harlequin was.

The greater my anxiety to learn how Eloisa passed the evening, the more attentive it behoved me to be in preserving my incognito. In our present state of difference it would hardly be wise to let her see I followed her; and, Wagen having left me in pursuit of a fair Circassian, I retreated in an opposite direction, but not so far as to lose sight of my ladies. Unfortunately the crowd of masks grew so thick between us, that I was soon obliged to content myself with transient glimpses of columbine; and, as to Wagen, he did not return, although I would willingly have had him at my side to assist me in observing my fair enemies, indeed to serve as a sort of vice-spy.

I had now lost them, and after a long fruitless search, I found them again, the harlequin leaning upon the arm of a fantastic pantaloon, and columbine following them with a companion in a black domino and a prodigiously lofty feather in his hat. At this sight my heart began to beat quickly. My feet seemed to be attracted after them as if by a magnet; the stranger appeared to be engaged in very earnest conversation with her, and I could not help following close at their heels, even at the risk of being discovered. When once jealousy begins to speak, reason has no voice, but a lucky accident came to the assistance of poor reason; a sudden rush of the crowd divided me from the objects of my pursuit, and the general attention seemed to be concentrated towards a single point; this was a long funeral procession. It seemed as if the music had received a sign from one of the imaginary mourners, for no sooner was the coffin set down than the funeral measure ceased, and the band struck up a lively allegro. On the removal of the lid all pressed forward to the coffin, and the mourners retired as if to give way to the general curiosity. I was amongst the curious. Although no one dared to pronounce the name of the mask within the coffin, yet every one recognised in it the imitation of that fearful man, who was then the dread of Europe. The police pressed forward to possess themselves above all things of the mask in the coffin, but the laugh was loud and general, when the officers, deceived by the excellent imitation, darted upon the supposed man, and found that all their fury had been wasted upon a figure of straw. Their next impulse was to seize the coffin-bearers, and here too they were disappointed; no one was to be found except a few well-known common porters, who knew nothing of those that had fled. This affair vexed me considerably; the originators of it might, indeed, have satisfied their own petulance, but this sudden explosion of the popular feeling was likely to aggravate the evils under which the country was groaning. I entreated several of the masks, who were still unable to repress their feelings, to moderate themselves for fear of consequences.

At this moment the domino, whom I had seen a short time before with Eloisa, made his way through the crowd to me. He pressed a small, but heavy packet into my hand, and immediately disappeared. Eloisa then had recognised me, and this man was her envoy? On opening the packet I found precisely the same sum, and apparently the same coin, that I had given to the blind passenger, and in the lid of the box was written that an account would hereafter be demanded of me of the price paid for the broken looking-glass.

I had now a double interest in seeking out Eloisa, for who was this man that stood in such intimate relation with the more than doubtful passenger? I sought, however, a long time in vain for my columbine; the mask too with the white feather had disappeared. On a sudden I heard Eloisa’s voice from a small side room.

“Good heavens! sir,—what would you have of me?”

“You must unmask yourself,” replied a deep voice.

I went nearer to them. The dialogue was carried on in French, and the unmasked person, conversing with her, appeared to be a native of France.

“Why is this?” exclaimed the aunt indignantly. “A fine masked ball, indeed, where masks are compelled to avow themselves, who have committed no offence against decorum!”

“Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures,” replied the director of police; and, turning to Eloisa, he again asked, “With whom were you conversing?”

“A mask,” she replied, “as you may have seen yourself.”

“Tell me his name, and I shall not then require you to unmask.”

“He accosted me,” replied Eloisa, “as is the custom at such balls, and, as he appeared to be a respectable man, I allowed him to accompany me. On this very account I thought it only polite to wait till he himself chose to reveal his name, and I should imagine, in so doing, have acted with more propriety than you do, when you demand of me to put off an allowed incognito.

Another man, and, as it seemed, also of the police, drew the first aside and whispered something in his ear, while I took the opportunity of approaching Eloisa. This singular event removed at once all coldness. She said that she had recognised me on my entrance into the saloon, but assured me that the domino with the tall white feather was perfectly unknown to her. At the same time she proposed that I should mediate for herself and her aunt with the police officer, as neither of them would like to be known in their present dress. On turning round to comply with her request I observed the eyes of the Frenchman fixed steadfastly upon me, and it was plain enough that what the other whispered to him had reference to myself. I did not, however, the more hesitate to answer for the ladies.

“Sir,” replied the officer to this pledge, “in the first place I must request you to answer for yourself. The robber, who is now in question, thrust something into your hand before he disappeared. What was it?”

The word robber, emphatically pronounced, filled me with terror. It was probably the same then with whom I left the diligence, and I was right in my suspicions of his occupation. Eloisa, too, owing to this cursed whim of her aunt’s, had fallen into a doubtful connexion. My presence of mind was completely gone; so much the more keenly the Frenchman eyed me. In silence I gave him the box, and my increasing confusion, as I related to him the adventure with the blind man, augmented his suspicion. Nothing but some extraordinary good fortune could prevent him sending us to prison, seeing that we were perfect strangers. This extraordinary good fortune really did occur: Wagen came up to us, and, learning what had happened, passed his word for all of us to the inspector, who had, some time before, been quartered for many months on his estate. This sufficed to set us free for the present, though that freedom was uncertain, for the officer took our names and address; we were, besides, obliged to give him our word of honour, that, on quitting the Spa, we would return to our former place of abode, and not leave it before a full month had expired.

It was to be expected that the aunt would now be heartily tired of the Spa, and Eloisa and myself had never agreed with her so cordially in any thing before. Wagen, indeed, seemed to be fettered by some secret attraction to the ball-room, but he burst his chains like a hero. We hurried back to our lodgings, changed our clothes, and before the dawn were on our return home. By the middle of the day we were in Rudendorf.

The robber-history, if it did no other good, at least effected something in making the aunt more tolerable than usual; indeed she was deeper in the business than I had at first imagined. It was she who had first been accosted by the domino with the white feather, and that too at the time when, having just discovered me, she was naming my name and pointing me out to Eloisa. This name had led the domino to address her with inquiries respecting myself, to which she replied by referring him to his niece. He had not, however, spoken a word to her of our journey together in the diligence. This to me seemed natural enough, but I have no doubt that the aunt, in referring him to Eloisa, meant to make a diversion to my injury by means of this apparently distinguished suitor; as I said before, she never was a well-wisher of mine.

This common misfortune drew me and Eloisa together more closely than ever. At table, too, the aunt, who was now softened almost to tears, was pressed so warmly by us all, that she consented to let the marriage take place in a fortnight, and Wagen was invited by herself for the Sunday fixed upon for the nuptials. But neither this happy prospect, nor even the marriage itself, was able to make us quite calm. We were still under the surveillance of a foreign police, to whom our honour was pledged, and we might at any time be dragged off to be confronted with the robbers. Even after the expiration of the month we had that to fear, unless we quitted our present abode, and lived somewhere else for the future under assumed names. But this change was difficult of itself, not to speak of what might happen in the event of the strange history, in which we were concerned, being again brought forward, and our incognito discovered; our attempted concealment would certainly bring us into suspicion. Still less was Wagen’s consolation, that the police officer, from particular good-will to himself, would scarcely expose us to such a humiliation. The poor man might be compelled, quite contrary to his inclination, to submit us to a trial from our apparent connexion with this robber-history.

A year passed over, during which this subject had often come upon the carpet, as indeed was natural enough.

“I have spoken with a strange mask at a ball for the first and last time,” said Eloisa to me one afternoon.

“And, for the future, I will shun blind passengers like the pest,” I replied.

At this moment Wagen entered, or rather rushed in, breathless, and pale as death. Eloisa and I exchanged looks of terror; the same idea had taken possession of both.

“My dear friends,” began Wagen, “I must prepare you for an awkward business. The band of robbers in my part of the country have been taken up, and already, on the delations of the infamous captain, many an honest man has been submitted to his trial. Such an event must be in any way extremely painful to honourable minds, though we have at least this comfort; the judges, before whom the business is to come, are just, keen-sighted men, who must soon see the impossibility of our participation in any thing so dishonourable.”

We were not a little confounded at this news; every day, however, lessened our anxiety, and at length months had passed over without any summons, till on a sudden all recollection of the affair was lost in the general joy, which arose on the breaking of the fetters that foreigners had imposed upon our country. But the catastrophe was at hand, and that when we least expected it.

It was a fine summer evening, and I was sitting in my study, when Eloisa came in, anxiously announcing the appearance at our gate of a splendid equipage.

“The gentleman and lady have got out already,” she said.

“We shall learn from the servant who they are,” I replied, following her into the next room.

I was deceived, however, for, on the servant’s requesting the visitor’s name, we distinctly heard the answer, “An old acquaintance!”—and on his entrance I really thought that I had seen him before, though the recollection was imperfect.

“How!” said he, with great kindness in tone and manner, “do you so soon forget an old acquaintance?”

The order of the Golden Fleece, which he wore, amidst other decorations, caused me to wait in respectful silence for his farther explanation.

“Do you no longer recollect that I am your debtor for a broken looking-glass, and still more for your kindness to the blind man in the diligence? Your benevolence will never pass from my memory.”

It was indeed the blind passenger.

“What a transformation!” I exclaimed.

“Troublesome times,” he replied, “like these, must teach every prince that misfortune may strip him of the dress which he only owes to accident. When we met I had just escaped from the persecution of him who was then all-powerful, and but with extreme difficulty escaped. By a lucky chance I contrived to change all my ready money into jewels, which I carried about with me, unknown to any; for it was only the show of extreme poverty that could protect me from suspicion. Hence it was, that, after my escape by flight, I availed myself of your offer in the diligence, though I did not need it, making our fellow-passengers the witnesses of my gratitude. All this helped to keep up the appearance of distress, and it was by such appearance alone I could hope to save myself. At that time I did not dare to reveal my real circumstances even to you, and therefore it was that I escaped from you amongst the bushes in the neighbourhood of Rudendorf. Subsequently my heart almost betrayed me. This lady I knew was at the Spa, and there I hoped to meet her at the masked ball. A tall white feather was to be the mark of recognition. For a long time I walked about in the vain hope of being accosted by her, or by somebody in her employ, when on a sudden I heard your name, pronounced aloud; and this led me to seek the acquaintance of two ladies, one of whom, as I understand, is now your wife. I asked them after you, and the ladies pointed out a mask, to whom I subsequently paid a very small portion of the great debt I have contracted.

Unfortunately I failed altogether in my main purpose at the ball; for the enemy had seized the messenger who bore the letter to my intended. But immediately after leaving you I was warned, and just in good time, of my peril. I retired, and under various disguises arrived safely in Russia, since when I have fought in the war against the oppressor of Europe, and on its conclusion married my intended, the Princess of * * *. I myself am the Prince of * * *, and, as such, have to request a continuance of the friendship which you showed to the blind passenger in the diligence.”

The whole mystery was thus solved at once. The prince laughed on hearing that his sudden disappearance in the wood had drawn upon him the suspicion of being a common robber, a suspicion which seemed to be afterwards confirmed by the name robber from the police officer. This name arose from their choosing to consider the prince as implicated in the conspiracy of General Mallet, for he had been a short time before in Paris; or, if they did not really so consider him, they were willing that others should, as some excuse for the severity of his treatment. It is well known that all were then called robbers who did not believe in the proposition of might constituting right.

I need add nothing more than that this trifling adventure led to a real friendship, and that in another point I deemed myself much indebted to it. Who knows how long the malicious aunt might have put off my marriage with Eloisa, for she was dependent upon her, if the unpleasant adventure at the Spa had not led to the subsequent friendly dinner at Rudendorf?

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse