The forenoon bells were sounding from the high cathedral. Over the wide square in front of it were men and women walking to and fro, carriages rolling along, and priests proceeding to their various churches. Ferdinand was standing on the broad stair, with his eyes over the multitude, looking at them as they came up to attend the service. The sunshine glittered on the white stones, all were seeking shelter from the heat. He alone had stood for a long time leaning on a pillar, amid the burning beams, without regarding them; for he was lost in the remembrances which mounted up within his mind. He was calling back his bygone life; and inspiring his soul with the feeling which had penetrated all his being, and swallowed up every other wish in itself. At the same hour, in the past year, had he been standing here, looking at the women and the maidens coming to mass; with indifferent heart, and smiling face, he had viewed the variegated procession; many a kind look had roguishly met his, and many a virgin cheek had blushed; his busy eye had observed the pretty feet, how they mounted the steps, and how the wavering robe fell more or less aside, to let the dainty little ankles come to sight. Then a youthful form had crossed the square: clad in black; slender, and of noble mien, her eyes modestly cast down before her, carelessly she hovered up the steps with lovely grace; the silken robe lay round that fairest of forms, and rocked itself as in music about the moving limbs; she was mounting the highest step, when by chance she raised her head, and struck his eye with a ray of the purest azure. He was pierced as if by lightning. Her foot caught the robe; and quickly as he darted towards her, he could not prevent her having, for a moment, in the most charming posture, lain kneeling at his feet. He raised her; she did not look at him, she was all one blush; nor did she answer his inquiry whether she was hurt. He followed her into the church: his soul saw nothing but the image of that form kneeling before him, and that loveliest of bosoms bent towards him. Next day he visited the threshold of the church again; for him that spot was consecrated ground. He had been intending to pursue his travels, his friends were expecting him impatiently at home; but from henceforth his native country was here, his heart and its wishes were inverted. He saw her often, she did not shun him; yet it was but for a few separate and stolen moments; for her wealthy family observed her strictly, and still more a powerful and jealous bridegroom. They mutually confessed their love, but knew not what to do; for he was a stranger, and could offer his beloved no such splendid fortune as she was entitled to expect. He now felt his poverty; yet when he reflected on his former way of life, it seemed to him that he was passing rich; for his existence was rendered holy, his heart floated for ever in the fairest emotion; Nature was now become his friend, and her beauty lay revealed to him; he felt himself no longer alien from worship and religion; and he now crossed this threshold, and the mysterious dimness of the temple, with far other feelings than in former days of levity. He withdrew from his acquaintances, and lived only to love. When he walked through her street, and saw her at the window, he was happy for the day. He had often spoken to her in the dusk of the evening; her garden was adjacent to a friend’s, who, however, did not know his secret. Thus a year had passed away.
All these scenes of his new existence again moved through his remembrance. He raised his eyes; that noble form was even then gliding over the square; she shone out of the confused multitude like a sun. A lovely music sounded in his longing heart; and as she approached, he retired into the church. He offered her the holy water; her white fingers trembled as they touched his, she bowed with grateful kindness. He followed her, and knelt down near her. His whole heart was melting in sadness and love; it seemed to him as if, from the wounds of longing, his being were bleeding away in fervent prayers; every word of the priest went through him, every tone of the music poured new devotion into his bosom; his lips quivered, as the fair maiden pressed the crucifix of her rosary to her ruby mouth. How dim had been his apprehension of this Faith and this Love before! The priest elevated the Host, and the bell sounded; she bowed more humbly, and crossed her breast; and, like a flash, it struck through all his powers and feelings, and the image on the altar seemed alive, and the coloured dimness of the windows as a light of paradise; tears flowed fast from his eyes, and allayed the swelling fervour of his heart.
The service was concluded. He again offered her the consecrated font; they spoke some words, and she withdrew. He stayed behind, in order to excite no notice; he looked after her till the hem of her garment vanished round the corner; and he felt like the wanderer, weary and astray, from whom, in the thick forest, the last gleam of the setting sun departs. He awoke from his dream, as an old withered hand slapped him on the shoulder, and some one called him by name.
He started back, and recognised his friend, the testy old Albert, who lived apart from men, and whose solitary house was open to Ferdinand alone: “Do you remember our engagement?” said the hoarse husky voice. “O yes,” said Ferdinand: “and will you perform your promise today?”
“This very hour,” replied the other, “if you like to follow me.”
They walked through the city to a remote street, and there entered a large edifice. “Today,” said the old man, “you must push through with me into my most solitary chamber, that we may not be disturbed.” They passed through many rooms, then along some stairs; they wound their way through passages: and Ferdinand, who had thought himself familiar with the house, was now astonished at the multitude of apartments, and the singular arrangement of the spacious building; but still more that the old man, a bachelor, and without family, should inhabit it by himself, with a few servants, and never let out any part of the superfluous room to strangers. Albert at length unbolted the door, and said: “Now, here is the place.” They entered a large high chamber, hung round with red damask, which was trimmed with golden listings; the chairs were of the same stuff; and, through heavy red silk curtains covering the windows, came a purple light. “Wait a little,” said the old man, and went into another room. Ferdinand took up some books: he found them to contain strange unintelligible characters, circles and lines, with many curious plates; and from the little he could read, they seemed to be works on alchemy; he was aware already that the old man had the reputation of a gold-maker. A lute was lying on the table, singularly overlaid with mother-of-pearl, and coloured wood; and representing birds and flowers in very splendid forms. The star in the middle was a large piece of mother-of-pearl, worked in the most skilful manner into many intersecting circular figures, almost like the centre of a window in a Gothic church. “You are looking at my instrument,” said Albert, coming back; “it is two hundred years old: I brought it with me as a memorial of my journey into Spain. But let us leave all that, and do you take a seat.”
They sat down beside the table, which was likewise covered with a red cloth; and the old man placed upon it something which was carefully wrapped up. “From pity to your youth,” he began, “I promised lately to predict to you whether you could ever become happy or not; and this promise I will in the present hour perform, though you hold the matter only as a jest. You need not be alarmed; for what I purpose will take place without danger; no dread invocations shall be made by me, nor shall any horrid apparition terrify your senses. The business I am on may fail in two ways: either if you do not love so truly as you have been willing to persuade me; for then my labour is in vain, and nothing will disclose itself; or, if you shall disturb the oracle and destroy it by a useless question, or a hasty movement, should you leave your seat and dissipate the figure; you must therefore promise me to keep yourself quite still.”
Ferdinand gave his word, and the old man unfolded from its cloths the packet he had placed on the table. It was a golden goblet, of very skilful and beautiful workmanship. Round its broad foot ran a garland of flowers, intertwined with myrtles, and various other leaves and fruits, worked out in high chasing with dim and with brilliant gold. A corresponding ring, but still richer, with figures of children, and wild little animals playing with them, or flying from them, wound itself about the middle of the cup. The bowl was beautifully turned; it bent itself back at the top as if to meet the lips; and within, the gold sparkled with a red glow. Old Albert placed the cup between him and the youth, whom he then beckoned to come nearer. “Do you not feel something,” said he, “when your eye loses itself in this splendour?”
“Yes,” answered Ferdinand, “this brightness glances into my inmost heart; I might almost say I felt it like a kiss in my longing bosom.”
“It is right, then!” said the old man. “Now let not your eyes wander any more, but fix them steadfastly on the glittering of this gold, and think as intensely as you can of the woman whom you love.”
Both sat quiet for a while, looking earnestly upon the gleaming cup. Ere long, however, Albert, with mute gestures, began, at first slowly, then faster, and at last in rapid movements, to whirl his outstretched finger in a constant circle round the glitter of the bowl. Then he paused, and recommenced his circles in the opposite direction. After this had lasted for a little, Ferdinand began to think he heard the sound of music; it came as from without, in some distant street, but soon the tones approached, they quivered more distinctly through the air; and at last no doubt remained with him that they were flowing from the hollow of the cup. The music became stronger, and of such piercing power, that the young man’s heart was throbbing to the notes, and tears were flowing from his eyes. Busily old Albert’s hand now moved in various lines across the mouth of the goblet; and it seemed as if sparks were issuing from his fingers, and darting in forked courses to the gold, and tinkling as they met it. The glittering points increased; and followed, as if strung on threads, the movements of his finger to and fro; they shone with various hues, and crowded more and more together till they joined in unbroken lines. And now it seemed as if the old man, in the red dusk, were stretching a wondrous net over the gleaming gold; for he drew the beams this way and that at pleasure, and wove up with them the opening of the bowl; they obeyed him, and remained there like a cover, wavering to and fro, and playing into one another. Having so fixed them, he again described the circle round the rim; the music then moved off, grew fainter and fainter, and at last died away. While the tones departed, the sparkling net quivered to and fro as in pain. In its increasing agitation it broke in pieces; and the beaming threads rained down in drops into the cup; but as the drops fell, there arose from them a ruddy cloud, which moved within itself in manifold eddies, and mounted over the brim like foam. A bright point darted with exceeding swiftness through the cloudy circle, and began to form the Image in the midst of it. On a sudden there looked out from the vapour as it were an eye; over this came a playing and curling as of golden locks; and soon there went a soft blush up and down the shadow, and Ferdinand beheld the smiling face of his beloved, the blue eyes, the tender cheeks, the fair red mouth. The head waved to and fro; rose clearer and more visible upon the slim white neck, and nodded towards the enraptured youth. Old Albert still kept casting circles round the cup; and out of it emerged the glancing shoulders; and as the fair form mounted more and more from its golden couch, and bent in lovely kindness this way and that, the soft curved parted breasts appeared, and on their summits two loveliest rose-buds glancing with sweet secret red. Ferdinand fancied he felt the breath, as the beloved form bent waving towards him, and almost touched him with its glowing lips; in his rapture he forgot his promise and himself; he started up and clasped that ruby mouth to him with a kiss, and meant to seize those lovely arms, and lift the enrapturing form from its golden prison. Instantly a violent trembling quivered through the lovely shape; the head and body broke away as in a thousand lines; and a rose was lying at the bottom of the goblet, in whose redness that sweet smile still seemed to play. The longing young man caught it and pressed it to his lips; and in his burning ardour it withered and melted into air.
“Thou hast kept thy promise badly,” said the old man, with an angry tone; “thou hast none but thyself to blame.” He again wrapped up the goblet, drew aside the curtains, and opened a window: the clear daylight broke in; and Ferdinand, in sadness, and with many fruitless excuses, left old Albert still in anger.
In an agitated mood, he hastened through the streets of the city. Without the gate, he sat down beneath the trees. She had told him in the morning that she was to go that night, with some relations, to the country. Intoxicated with love, he rose, he sat, he wandered in the wood: that fair kind form was still before him, as it flowed and mounted from the glowing gold; he looked that she would now step forth to meet him in the splendour of her beauty, and again that loveliest image broke away in pieces from his eyes; and he was indignant at himself that, by his restless passion and the tumult of his senses, he should have destroyed the shape, and perhaps his hopes, forever.
As the walk, in the afternoon, became crowded, he withdrew deeper into the thickets; but he still kept the distant highway in his eye; and every coach that issued from the gate was carefully examined by him.
The night approached. The setting sun was throwing forth its red splendour, when from the gate rushed out the richly gilded coach, gleaming with a fiery brightness in the glow of evening. He hastened towards it. Her eye had already seized him. Kindly and smilingly she leaned her glittering bosom from the window; he caught her soft salutation and signal; he was standing by the coach, her full look fell on his, and as she drew back to move away, the rose which had adorned her bosom flew out, and lay at his feet. He lifted it, and kissed it; and he felt as if it presaged to him that he should not see his loved one any more, that now his happiness had faded away from him forever.
Hurried steps were passing up stairs and down; the whole house was in commotion; all was bustle and tumult, preparing for the great festivities of the morrow. The mother was the gladdest and most active; the bride heeded nothing, but retired into her chamber to meditate upon her changing destiny. The family were still looking for their elder son, the captain, with his wife; and for two elder daughters, with their husbands: Leopold, the younger, was maliciously busied in increasing the disorder, and deepening the tumult; perplexing all, while he pretended to be furthering it. Agatha, his still unmarried sister, was in vain endeavouring to make him reasonable, and persuade him simply to do nothing, and to let the rest have peace; but her mother said: “Never mind him and his folly; for today a little more or less of it amounts to nothing; only this I beg of one and all of you, that as I have so much to think about already, you would trouble me with no fresh tidings, unless it be of something that especially concerns us. I care not whether any one have let some china fall, whether one spoon or two spoons are wanting, whether any of the stranger servants have been breaking windows; with all such freaks as these, I beg you would not vex me by recounting them. Were these days of tumult over, we will reckon matters; not till then.”
“Bravely spoken, mother!” cried her son; “these sentiments are worthy of a governor. And if it chance that any of the maids should break her neck; the cook get tipsy, or set the chimney on fire; the butler, for joy, let all the malmsey run upon the floor, or down his throat, you shall not hear a word of such small tricks. If, indeed, an earthquake were to overset the house! that, my dear mother, could not be kept secret.”
“When will he leave his folly!” said the mother: “What must thy sisters think, when they find thee every jot as riotous as when they left thee two years ago?”
“They must do justice to my force of character,” said Leopold, “and grant that I am not so changeable as they or their husbands, who have altered so much within these few years, and so little to their advantage.”
The bridegroom now entered, and inquired for the bride. Her maid was sent to call her. “Has Leopold made my request to you, my dear mother?” said he.
“I did, forsooth!” said Leopold. “There is such confusion here among us, not one of them can think a reasonable thought.”
The bride entered, and the young pair joyfully saluted one another. “The request I meant,” continued the bridegroom, “is this: That you would not take it ill, if I should bring another guest into your house, which, in truth, is full enough already.”
“You are aware yourself,” replied the mother, “that extensive as it is, I could scarcely find another chamber.”
“Notwithstanding, I have partly managed it already,” cried Leopold; “I have had the large apartment furbished up.”
“Why, that is quite a miserable place,” replied the mother; “for many years it has been nothing but a lumber-room.”
“But it is splendidly repaired,” said Leopold; “and our friend, for whom it is intended, does not mind such matters, he desires nothing but our love. Besides, he has no wife, and likes to be alone; it is the very place for him. We have had enough of trouble in persuading him to come, and show himself again among his fellow-creatures.”
“Not your dismal conjuror and gold-maker, certainly?” cried Agatha.
“No other,” said the bridegroom, “if you will still call him so.”
“Then do not let him, mother,” said the sister. “What should a man like that do here? I have seen him on the street with Leopold, and I was positively frightened at his face. The old sinner, too, almost never goes to church; he loves neither God nor man; and it cannot come to good to bring such infidels under the roof, on a solemnity like this. Who knows what may be the consequence!”
“To hear her talk!” said Leopold, in anger. “Thou condemnest without knowing him; and because the cut of his nose does not please thee, and he is no longer young and handsome, thou concludest him a wizard, and a servant of the Devil.”
“Grant a place in your house, dear mother,” said the bridegroom, “to our old friend, and let him take a part in our general joy. He seems, my dear Agatha, to have endured much suffering, which has rendered him distrustful and misanthropic; he avoids all society, his only exceptions are Leopold and myself. I owe him much; it was he that first gave my mind a good direction; nay, I may say, it is he alone that has rendered me perhaps worthy of my Julia’s love.”
“He lends me all his books,” continued Leopold; “and, what is more, his old manuscripts; and what is more still, his money, on my bare word. He is a man of the most christian turn, my little sister. And who knows, when thou hast seen him better, whether thou wilt not throw off thy coyness, and take a fancy to him, ugly as he now appears to thee?”
“Well, bring him to us,” said the mother; “I have had to hear so much of him from Leopold already, that I have a curiosity to be acquainted with him. Only you must answer for it, that I cannot lodge him better.”
Meantime strangers were announced. They were members of the family, the married daughters, and the officer; they had brought their children with them. The good old lady was delighted to behold her grandsons; all was welcoming, and joyful talk; and Leopold and the bridegroom, having also given and received their greeting, went away to seek their ancient melancholic friend.
The latter lived most part of the year in the country, about a league from town; but he also kept a little dwelling for himself in a garden near the gate. Here, by chance, the young men had become acquainted with him. They now found him in a coffee-house, where they had previously agreed to meet. As the evening had come on, they brought him, after some little conversation, directly to the house.
The stranger met a kindly welcome from the mother; the daughters stood a little more aloof from him. Agatha especially was shy, and carefully avoided his looks. But the first general compliments were scarcely over, when the old man’s eye appeared to settle on the bride, who had entered the apartment later; he seemed as if transported, and it was observed that he was struggling to conceal a tear. The bridegroom rejoiced in his joy, and happening sometime after to be standing with him by a side at the window, he took his hand, and asked him: “Now, what think you of my lovely Julia? Is she not an angel?”
“O my friend!” replied the old man, with emotion, “such grace and beauty I have never seen; or rather, I should say (for that expression was not just), she is so fair, so ravishing, so heavenly, that I feel as if I had long known her; as if she were to me, utter stranger though she is, the most familiar form of my imagination, some shape which had always been an inmate of my heart.”
“I understand you,” said the young man: “yes, the truly beautiful, the great and sublime, when it overpowers us with astonishment and admiration, still does not surprise us as a thing foreign, never heard of, never seen; but, on the other hand, our own inmost nature in such moments becomes clear to us, our deepest remembrances are awakened, our dearest feelings made alive.”
The stranger, during supper, mixed but little in the conversation; his looks were fixed on the bride, so earnestly and constantly, that she at last became embarrassed and alarmed. The captain told of a campaign which he had served in; the rich merchant of his speculations and the bad times; the country gentleman of the improvements which he meant to make in his estate.
Supper being done, the bridegroom took his leave, returning for the last time to his lonely chamber; for in future it was settled that the married pair were to live in the mother’s house, their chambers were already furnished. The company dispersed, and Leopold conducted the stranger to his room. “You will excuse us,” said he, as they went along, “for having been obliged to lodge you rather far away, and not so comfortably as our mother wished; but you see, yourself, how numerous our family is, and more relations are to come tomorrow. For one thing, you will not run away from us; there is no finding of your course through this enormous house.”
They went through several passages, and Leopold at last took leave, and bade his guest good-night. The servant placed two wax-lights on the table; then asked the stranger whether he should help him to undress, and as the latter waived his help in that particular, he also went away, and the stranger found himself alone.
“How does it chance, then,” said he, walking up and down, “that this Image springs so vividly from my heart today? I forgot the long past, and thought I saw herself. I was again young, and her voice sounded as of old; I thought I was awakening from a heavy dream; but no, I am now awake, and those fair moments were but a sweet delusion.”
He was too restless to sleep; he looked at some pictures on the walls, and then round on the chamber. “Today,” cried he, “all is so familiar to me, I could almost fancy I had known this house and this apartment of old.” He tried to settle his remembrances, and lifted some large books which were standing in a corner. As he turned their leaves, he shook his head. A lute-case was leaning on the wall; he opened it, and found a strange old instrument, time-worn, and without the strings. “No, I am not mistaken!” cried he, in astonishment; “this lute is too remarkable; it is the Spanish lute of my long-departed friend, old Albert! Here are his magic books; this is the chamber where he raised for me that blissful vision; the red of the tapestry is faded, its golden hem is become dim; but strangely vivid in my heart is all pertaining to those hours. It was for this the fear went over me as I was coming hither, through these long complicated passages where Leopold conducted me. O Heaven! On this very table did the Shape rise budding forth, and grow up as if watered and refreshed by the redness of the gold. The same image smiled upon me here, which has almost driven me crazy in the hall tonight; in that hall where I have walked so often in trustful speech with Albert!”
He undressed, but slept very little. Early in the morning he was up, and looking at the room again; he opened the window, and the same gardens and buildings were lying before him as of old, only many other houses had been built since then. “Forty years have vanished,” sighed he, “since that afternoon; and every day of those bright times has a longer life than all the intervening space.”
He was called to the company. The morning passed in varied talk: at last the bride entered in her marriage-dress. As the old man noticed her, he fell into a state of agitation, such that every one observed it. They proceeded to the church, and the marriage-ceremony was performed. The party was again at home, when Leopold inquired: “Now, mother, how do you like our friend, the good morose old gentleman?”
“I had figured him, by your description,” said she, “much more frightful; he is mild and sympathetic, and might gain from one an honest trust in him.”
“Trust?” cried Agatha; “in these burning frightful eyes, these thousandfold wrinkles, that pale sunk mouth, that strange laugh of his, which looks and sounds so mockingly? No; God keep me from such friends! If evil spirits ever take the shape of men, they must assume some shape like this.”
“Perhaps a younger and more handsome one,” replied the mother; “but I cannot recognise the good old man in thy description. One easily observes that he is of a violent temperament, and has inured himself to lock up his feelings in his own bosom; perhaps, too, as Leopold was saying, he may have encountered many miseries; so he is grown mistrustful, and has lost that simple openness, which is especially the portion of the happy.”
The rest of the party entered, and broke off their conversation. Dinner was served up; and the stranger sat between Agatha and the rich merchant. When the toasts were beginning, Leopold cried out: “Now, stop a little, worthy friends; we must have the golden goblet down for this, then let it travel round.”
He was rising, but his mother beckoned him to keep his seat: “Thou wilt not find it,” said she, “for the plate is all stowed elsewhere.” She walked out rapidly to seek it herself.
“How brisk and busy is our good old lady still!” observed the merchant. “See how nimbly she can move, with all her breadth and weight, and reckoning sixty by this time of day. Her face is always bright and joyful, and today she is particularly happy, for she sees herself made young again in Julia.”
The stranger gave assent, and the lady entered with the goblet. It was filled with wine, and began to circulate, each toasting what was dearest and most precious to him. Julia gave the welfare of her husband, he the love of his fair Julia; and thus did every one as it became his turn. The mother lingered, as the goblet came to her.
“Come, quick with it,” said the captain, somewhat hastily and rudely; “we know, you reckon all men faithless, and not one among them worthy of a woman’s love. What, then, is dearest to you?”
His mother looked at him, while the mildness of her brow was on a sudden overspread with angry seriousness. “Since my son,” said she, “knows me so well, and can judge my mind so rigorously, let me be permitted not to speak what I was thinking of, and let him endeavour, by a life of constant love, to falsify what he gives out as my opinion.” She pushed the goblet on, without drinking, and the company was for a while embarrassed and disturbed.
“It is reported,” said the merchant, in a whisper, turning to the stranger, “that she did not love her husband; but another, who proved faithless to her. She was then, it seems, the finest woman in the city.”
When the cup reached Ferdinand, he gazed upon it with astonishment; for it was the very goblet out of which old Albert had called forth to him the lovely shadow. He looked in upon the gold, and the waving of the wine; his hand shook; it would not have surprised him, if from the magic bowl that glowing Form had again mounted up, and brought with it his vanished youth. “No!” said he, after some time, half-aloud, “it is wine that is gleaming here!”
“Ay, what else?” cried the merchant, laughing: “Drink and be merry.”
A thrill of terror passed over the old man; he pronounced the name “Francesca” in a vehement tone, and set the goblet to his lips. The mother cast upon him an inquiring and astonished look.
“Whence is this bright goblet?” said Ferdinand, who also felt ashamed of his embarrassment.
“Many years ago, long ere I was born,” said Leopold, “my father bought it, with this house and all its furniture, from an old solitary bachelor; a silent man, whom the neighbours thought a dealer in the Black Art.”
The stranger did not say that he had known this old man; for his whole being was too much perplexed, too like an enigmatic dream, to let the rest look into it, even from afar.
The cloth being withdrawn, he was left alone with the mother, as the young ones had retired to make ready for the ball. “Sit down by me,” said the mother; “we will rest, for our dancing years are past; and if it is not rude, allow me to inquire whether you have seen our goblet elsewhere, or what it was that moved you so intensely?”
“O my lady,” said the old man, “pardon my foolish violence and emotion; but ever since I crossed your threshold, I feel as if I were no longer myself; every moment I forget that my head is gray, that the hearts which loved me are dead. Your beautiful daughter, who is now celebrating the gladdest day of her existence, is so like a maiden whom I knew and adored in my youth, that I could reckon it a miracle. Like, did I say? No, she is not like; it is she herself! In this house, too, I have often been; and once I became acquainted with this cup in a manner I shall not forget.” Here he told her his adventure. “On the evening of that day,” concluded he “in the park, I saw my loved one for the last time, as she was passing in her coach. A rose fell from her bosom; this I gathered; she herself was lost to me, for she proved faithless, and soon after married.”
“God in Heaven!” cried the lady, violently moved, and starting up, “thou art not Ferdinand?”
“It is my name,” replied he.
“I am Francesca,” said the lady.
They sprang forward to embrace, then started suddenly back. Each viewed the other with investigating looks: both strove again to evolve from the ruins of Time those lineaments which of old they had known and loved in one another; and as, in dark tempestuous nights, amid the flight of black clouds, there are moments when solitary stars ambiguously twinkle forth, to disappear next instant, so to these two was there shown now and then from the eyes, from the brow and lips, the transitory gleam of some well-known feature; and it seemed as if their Youth stood in the distance, weeping smiles. He bowed down, and kissed her hand, while two big drops rolled from his eyes. They then embraced each other cordially.
“Is thy wife dead?” inquired she.
“I was never married,” sobbed the other.
“Heavens!” cried she, wringing her hands, “then it is I who have been faithless! But no, not faithless. On returning from the country, where I stayed two months, I heard from every one, thy friends as well as mine, that thou wert long ago gone home, and married in thy own country. They showed me the most convincing letters, they pressed me vehemently, they profited by my despondency, my indignation; and so it was that I gave my hand to another, a deserving husband; but my heart and my thoughts were always thine.”
“I never left this town,” said Ferdinand; “but after a while I heard that thou wert married. They wished to part us, and they have succeeded. Thou art a happy mother; I live in the past, and all thy children I will love as if they were my own. But how strange that we should never once have met!”
“I seldom went abroad,” said she; “and as my husband took another name, soon after we were married, from a property which he inherited, thou couldst have no suspicion that we were so near together.”
“I avoided men,” said Ferdinand, “and lived for solitude. Leopold is almost the only one that has attracted me, and led me out amongst my fellows. O my beloved friend, it is like a frightful spectre-story, to think how we lost, and have again found each other!”
As the young people entered, the two were dissolved in tears, and in the deepest emotion. Neither of them told what had occurred, the secret seemed too holy. But ever after, the old man was the friend of the house; and Death alone parted these two beings, who had found each other so strangely, to re-unite them in a short time, beyond the power of separation.