Tales of Two Countries/The Battle of Waterloo
THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO.
Since it is not only entertaining in itself, but also consonant with use and wont, to be in love; and since in our innocent and moral society, one can so much the more safely indulge in these amatory diversions as one runs no risk of being disturbed either by vigilant fathers or pugnacious brothers; and, finally, since one can as easily get out of as get into our peculiarly Norwegian form of betrothal—a half-way house between marriage and free board in a good family—all these things considered, I say, it was not wonderful that Cousin Hans felt profoundly unhappy. For he was not the least in love.
He had long lived in expectation of being seized by a kind of delirious ecstasy, which, if experienced people are to be trusted, is the infallible symptom of true love. But as nothing of the sort had happened, although he was already in his second year at college, he said to himself: "After all, love is a lottery; if you want to win, you must at least table your stake. 'Lend Fortune a helping hand,' as they say in the lottery advertisements."
He looked about him diligently, and closely observed his own heart.
Like a fisher who sits with his line around his forefinger, watching for the least jerk, and wondering when the bite will come, so Cousin Hans held his breath whenever he saw a young lady, wondering whether he was now to feel that peculiar jerk which is well known to be inseparable from true love—that jerk which suddenly makes all the blood rush to the heart, and then sends it just as suddenly up into the head, and makes your face flush red to the very roots of your hair. But never a bite came. His hair had long ago flushed red to the roots, for Cousin Hans's hair could not be called brown; but his face remained as pale and as long as ever.
The poor fisherman was growing quite weary, when he one day strolled down to the esplanade. He seated himself on a bench and observed, with a contemptuous air, a squad of soldiers engaged in the invigorating exercise of standing on one leg in the full sunshine and wriggling their bodies so as to be roasted on both sides.
"Nonsense!" said Cousin Hans, indignantly; "it's certainly too dear a joke for a little country like ours to maintain acrobats of that sort. Didn't I see the other day that this so-called army requires 1500 boxes of shoe-blacking, 600 curry-combs, 3000 yards of gold-lace and 8640 brass buttons?— It would be better if we saved what we spend in gold-lace and brass buttons, and devoted our half-pence to popular enlightenment," said Cousin Hans.
For he was infected by the modern ideas, which are unfortunately beginning to make way among us, and which will infallibly end in overthrowing the whole existing fabric of society.
"Good-bye, then, for the present," said a lady's voice close behind him.
"Good-bye for the present, my dear," answered a deep, masculine voice.
Cousin Hans turned slowly, for it was a warm day. He discovered a military-looking old man in a close-buttoned black coat, with an order at his button-hole, a neckcloth twisted an incredible number of times around his throat, a well-brushed hat, and light trousers. The gentleman nodded to a young lady, who went off towards the town, and then continued his walk along the ramparts.
Weary of waiting as he was, Cousin Hans could not help following the young girl with his eyes as she hastened away. She was small and trim, and he observed with interest that she was one of the few women who do not make a little inward turn with the left foot as they lift it from the ground.
This was a great merit in the young man's eyes; for Cousin Hans was one of those sensitive, observant natures who are alone fitted really to appreciate a woman at her full value.
After a few steps the lady turned, no doubt in order to nod once again to the old officer; but by the merest chance her eyes met those of Cousin Hans.
At last occurred what he had so long been expecting: he felt the bite! His blood rushed about just in the proper way, he lost his breath, his head became hot, a cold shiver ran down his back, and he grew moist between the fingers. In short, all the symptoms supervened which, according to the testimony of poets and experienced prose writers, betoken real, true, genuine love.
There was, indeed, no time to be lost. He hastily snatched up his gloves, his stick, and his student's cap, which he had laid upon the bench, and set off after the lady across the esplanade and towards the town.
In the great, corrupt communities abroad this sort of thing is not allowable. There the conditions of life are so impure that a well-bred young man would never think of following a reputable woman. And the few reputable women there are in those nations, would be much discomposed to find themselves followed.
But in our pure and moral atmosphere we can, fortunately, permit our young people somewhat greater latitude, just on account of the strict propriety of our habits.
Cousin Hans, therefore, did not hesitate a moment in obeying the voice of his heart; and the young lady, who soon observed what havoc she had made with the glance designed for the old soldier, felt the situation piquant and not unpleasing.
The passers-by, who, of course, at once saw what was going on (be it observed that this is one of the few scenes of life in which the leading actors are quite unconscious of their audience), thought, for the most part, that the comedy was amusing to witness. They looked round and smiled to themselves; for they all knew that either it would lead to nothing, in which case it was only the most innocent of youthful amusements; or it would lead to an engagement, and an engagement is the most delightful thing in the world.
While they thus pursued their course at a fitting distance, now on the same sidewalk and now on opposite sides of the street, Cousin Hans had ample time for reflection.
As to the fact of his being in love he was quite clear. The symptoms were all there; he knew that he was in for it, in for real, true, genuine, love; and he was happy in the knowledge. Yes, so happy was Cousin Hans that he, who at other times was apt to stand upon his rights, accepted with a quiet, complacent smile all the jostlings and shoves, the smothered objurgations and other unpleasantnesses, which inevitably befall any one who rushes hastily along a crowded street, keeping his eyes fixed upon an object in front of him.
No—the love was obvious, indubitable. That settled, he tried to picture to himself the beloved one's, the heavenly creature's, mundane circumstances. And there was no great difficulty in that; she had been walking with her old father, had suddenly discovered that it was past twelve o'clock, and had hastily said good-bye for the present, in order to go home and see to the dinner. For she was doubtless domestic, this sweet creature, and evidently motherless.
The last conjecture was, perhaps, a result of the dread of mothers-in-law inculcated by all reputable authors; but it was none the less confident on that account. And now it only remained for Cousin Hans to discover, in the first place, where she lived, in the second place who she was, and in the third place how he could make her acquaintance.
Where she lived he would soon learn, for was she not on her way home? Who she was, he could easily find out from the neighbours. And as for making her acquaintance—good heavens! is not a little difficulty an indispensable part of a genuine romance?
Just as the chase was at its height, the quarry disappeared into a gate-way; and it was really high time, for, truth to tell, the hunter was rather exhausted.
He read with a certain relief the number, "34," over the gate, then went a few steps farther on, in order to throw any possible observer off the scent, and stopped beside a street-lamp to recover his breath. It was, as aforesaid, a warm day; and this, combined with his violent emotion, had thrown Hans into a strong perspiration. His toilet, too, had been disarranged by the reckless eagerness with which he had hurled himself into the chase.
He could not help smiling at himself, as he stood and wiped his face and neck, adjusted his necktie, and felt his collar, which had melted on the sunny side. But it was a blissful smile; he was in that frame of mind in which one sees, or at any rate apprehends, nothing of the external world; and he said to himself, half aloud, "Love endures every thing, accepts everything."
"And perspires freely," said a fat little gentleman, whose white waistcoat suddenly came within Cousin Hans's range of vision.
"Oh, is that you, uncle?" he said, a little abashed.
"Of course it is," answered Uncle Frederick. "I've left the shady side of the street expressly to save you from being roasted. Come along with me."
Thereupon he tried to drag his nephew with him, but Hans resisted. "Do you know who lives at No. 34, uncle?"
"Not in the least; but do let us get into the shade," said Uncle Frederick; for there were two things he could not endure: heat and laughter—the first on account of his corpulence, and the second on account of what he himself called "his apoplectic tendencies."
"By-the-bye," he said, when they reached the cool side of the street, and he had taken his nephew by the arm, "now that I think of it, I do know, quite well, who lives in No. 34; it's old Captain Schrappe."
"Do you know him?" asked Cousin Hans, anxiously.
"Yes, a little, just as half the town knows him, from having seen him on the esplanade, where he walks every day."
"Yes, that was just where I saw him," said his nephew. "What an interesting old gentleman he looks. I should like so much to have a talk with him."
"That wish you can easily gratify," answered Uncle Frederick. "You need only place yourself anywhere on the ramparts and begin drawing lines in the sand, then he'll come to you."
"Come to you?" said Cousin Hans.
"Yes, he'll come and talk to you. But you must be careful: he's dangerous."
"Eh?" said Cousin Hans.
"He was once very nearly the end of me."
"Ah!" said Cousin Hans.
"Yes, with his talk, you understand."
"Oh?" said Cousin Hans.
"You see, he has two stories," continued Uncle Frederick, "the one, about a sham fight in Sweden, is a good half-hour long. But the other, the battle of Waterloo, generally lasts from an hour and a half to two hours. I have heard it three times." And Uncle Frederick sighed deeply.
"Are they so very tedious, then, these stories?" asked Cousin Hans.
"Oh, they're well enough for once in a way," answered his uncle, "and if you should get into conversation with the captain, mark what I tell you: if you get off with the short story, the Swedish one, you have nothing to do but alternately to nod and shake your head. You'll soon pick up the lay of the land."
"The lay of the land?" said Cousin Hans.
"Yes, you must know that he draws the whole manœuvre for you in the sand; but it's easy enough to understand if only you keep your eye on A and B. There's only one point where you must be careful not to put your foot in it."
"Does he get impatient, then, if you don't understand?" asked Cousin Hans.
"No, quite the contrary; but if you show that you're not following, he begins at the beginning again, you see! The crucial point in the sham fight," continued his uncle, "is the movement made by the captain himself, in spite of the general's orders, which equally embarrassed both friends and foes. It was this stroke of genius, between ourselves, which forced them to give him the Order of the Sword, to induce him to retire. So when you come to this point, you must nod violently, and say: 'Of course—the only reasonable move—the key to the position.' Remember that—the key."
"The key," repeated Cousin Hans.
"But," said his uncle, looking at him with anticipatory compassion, "if, in your youthful love of adventure, you should bring on yourself the long story, the one about Waterloo, you must either keep quite silent or have all your wits about you. I once had to swallow the whole description over again, only because, in my eagerness to show how thoroughly I understood the situation, I happened to move Kellermann's dragoons instead of Milhaud's cuirassiers!"
"What do you mean by moving the dragoons, uncle?" asked Cousin Hans.
"Oh, you'll understand well enough, if you come in for the long one. But," added Uncle Frederick, in a solemn tone, "beware, I warn you, beware of Blücher!"
"Blücher?" said Cousin Hans.
"I won't say anything more. But what makes you wish to know about this old original? What on earth do you want with him?"
"Does he walk there every forenoon?" asked Hans.
"Every forenoon, from eleven to one, and every afternoon, from five to seven. But what interest—?"
"Has he many children?" interrupted Hans.
"Only one daughter; but what the deuce—?"
"Good-bye, uncle! I must get home to my books."
"Stop a bit! Aren't you going to Aunt Maren's this evening? She asked me to invite you."
"No, thanks, I haven't time," shouted Cousin Hans, who was alroady several paces away.
"There's to be a ladies' party—young ladies!" bawled Uncle Frederick; for he did not know what had come over his nephew.
But Hans shook his head with a peculiar energetic contempt, and disappeared round the corner.
"The deuce is in it," thought Uncle Frederick, "the boy is crazy, or—oh, I have it!—he's in love! He was standing here, babbling about love, when I found him—outside No. 34. And then his interest in old Schrappe! Can he be in love with Miss Betty? Oh, no," thought Uncle Frederick, shaking his head, as he, too, continued on his way, "I don't believe he has sense enough for that."
Cousin Hans did not eat much dinner that day. People in love never eat much, and, besides, he did not care for rissoles.
At last five o'clock struck. He had already taken up his position on the ramparts, whence he could survey the whole esplanade. Quite right: there came the black frock-coat, the light trousers, and the well-brushed hat.
Cousin Hans felt his heart palpitate a little. At first he attributed this to a sense of shame in thus craftily setting a trap for the good old captain. But he soon discovered that it was the sight of the beloved one's father that set his blood in a ferment. Thus reassured, he began, in accordance with Uncle Frederick's advice, to draw strokes and angles in the sand, attentively fixing his eyes, from time to time, upon the Castle of Akerhuus.
The whole esplanade was quiet and deserted. Cousin Hans could hear the captain's firm steps approaching; they came right up to him and stopped. Hans did not look up; the captain advanced two more paces and coughed. Hans drew a long and profoundly significant stroke with his stick, and then the old fellow could contain himself no longer.
"Aha, young gentleman," he said, in a friendly tone, taking off his hat, "are you making a plan of our fortifications?"
Cousin Hans assumed the look of one who is awakened from deep contemplation, and bowing politely, he answered with some embarrassment: "No, it's only a sort of habit I have of trying to take my bearings wherever I may be."
"An excellent habit, a most excellent habit," the captain exclaimed with warmth.
"It strengthens the memory," Cousin Hans remarked, modestly.
"Certainly, certainly, sir!" answered the captain, who was beginning to be much pleased by this modest young man.
"Especially in situations of any complexity," continued the modest young man, rubbing out his strokes with his foot.
"Just what I was going to say!" exclaimed the captain, delighted. "And, as you may well believe, drawings and plans are especially indispensable in military science. Look at a battle-field, for example."
"Ah, battles are altogether too intricate for me," Cousin Hans interrupted, with a smile of humility.
"Don't say that, sir!" answered the kindly old man.
"When once you have a bird's-eye view of the ground and of the positions of the armies, even a tolerably complicated battle can be made quite comprehensible.—This sand, now, that we have before us here, could very well be made to give us an idea, in miniature, of, for example, the battle of Waterloo."
"I have come in for the long one," thought Cousin Hans, "but never mind! I love her."
"Be so good as to take a seat on the bench here," continued the captain, whose heart was rejoiced at the thought of so intelligent a hearer, "and I shall try to give you in short outline a picture of that momentous and remarkable battle—if it interests you?"
"Many thanks, sir," answered Cousin Hans, "nothing could interest me more. But I'm afraid you'll find it terribly hard work to make it clear to a poor, ignorant civilian."
"By no means; the whole thing is quite simple and easy, if only you are first familiar with the lay of the land," the amiable old gentleman assured him, as he took his seat at Hans's side, and cast an inquiring glance around.
While they were thus seated, Cousin Hans examined the captain more closely, and he could not but admit that in spite of his sixty years, Captain Schrappe was still a handsome man. He wore his short, iron-grey moustaches a little turned up at the ends, which gave him a certain air of youthfulness. On the whole, he bore a strong resemblance to King Oscar the First on the old sixpenny-pieces.
And as the captain rose and began his dissertation, Cousin Hans decided in his own mind that he had every reason to be satisfied with his future father-in-law's exterior.
The captain took up a position in a corner of the ramparts, a few paces from the bench, whence he could point all around him with a stick. Cousin Hans followed what he said, closely, and took all possible trouble to ingratiate himself with his future father-in-law.
"We will suppose, then, that I am standing here at the farm of Belle-Alliance, where the Emperor has his headquarters; and to the north—fourteen miles from Waterloo—we have Brussels, that is to say, just about at the corner of the gymnastic school.
"The road there along the rampart is the highway leading to Brussels, and here," the captain rushed over the plain of Waterloo, "here in the grass we have the Forest of Soignies. On the highway to Brussels, and in front of the forest, the English are stationed—you must imagine the northern part of the battle-field somewhat higher than it is here. On Wellington's left wing, that is to say, to the eastward—here in the grass—we have the Château of Hougoumont; that must be marked," said the captain, looking about him.
The serviceable Cousin Hans at once found a stick, which was fixed in the ground at this important point.
"Excellent!" cried the captain, who saw that he had found an interested and imaginative listener. "You see it's from this side that we have to expect the Prussians."
Cousin Hans noticed that the captain picked up a stone and placed it in the grass with an air of mystery.
"Here at Hougoumont," the old man continued, "the battle began. It was Jerome who made the first attack. He took the wood; but the château held out, garrisoned by Wellington's best troops.
"In the meantime Napoleon, here at Belle-Alliance, was on the point of giving Marshal Ney orders to commence the main attack upon Wellington's centre, when he observed a column of troops approaching from the east, behind the bench, over there by the tree."
Cousin Hans looked round, and began to feel uneasy: could Blücher be here already?
"Blü—Blü—" he murmured, tentatively.
"It was Bülow," the captain fortunately went on, "who approached with thirty thousand Prussians. Napoleon made his arrangements hastily to meet this new enemy, never doubting that Grouchy, at any rate, was following close on the Prussians' heels.
"You see, the Emperor had on the previous day detached Marshal Grouchy with the whole right wing of the army, about fifty thousand men, to hold Blücher and Bülow in check. But Grouchy—but of course all this is familiar to you—" the captain broke off.
Cousin Hans nodded reassuringly.
"Ney, accordingly, began the attack with his usual intrepidity. But the English cavalry hurled themselves upon the Frenchmen, broke their ranks, and forced them back with the loss of two eagles and several cannons. Milhaud rushes to the rescue with his cuirassiers, and the Emperor himself, seeing the danger, puts spurs to his horse and gallops down the incline of Belle-Alliance."
Away rushed the captain, prancing like a horse, in his eagerness to show how the Emperor rode through thick and thin, rallied Ney's troops, and sent them forward to a fresh attack.
Whether it was that there lurked a bit of the poet in Cousin Hans, or that the captain's representation was really very vivid, or that—and this is probably the true explanation—he was in love with the captain's daughter, certain it is that Cousin Hans was quite carried away by the situation.
He no longer saw a queer old captain prancing sideways; he saw, through the cloud of smoke, the Emperor himself on his white horse with the black eyes, as we know it from the engravings. He tore away over hedge and ditch, over meadow and garden, his staff with difficulty keeping up with him. Cool and calm, he sat firmly in his saddle, with his half-unbuttoned grey coat, his white breeches, and his little hat, crosswise on his head. His face expressed neither weariness nor anxiety; smooth and pale as marble, it gave to the whole figure in the simple uniform on the white horse an exalted, almost a spectral, aspect.
Thus he swept on his course, this sanguinary little monster, who in three days had fought three battles. All hastened to clear the way for him, flying peasants, troops in reserve or advancing—aye, even the wounded and dying dragged themselves aside, and looked up at him with a mixture of terror and admiration, as he tore past them like a cold thunderbolt.
Scarcely had he shown himself among the soldiers before they all fell into order as though by magic, and a moment afterwards the undaunted Ney could once more vault into the saddle to renew the attack. And this time he bore down the English and established himself in the farm-house of La Haie-Sainte.
Napoleon is once more at Belle-Alliance.
"And now here comes Bülow from the east—under the bench here, you see—and the Emperor sends General Mouton to meet him. At half-past four (the battle had begun at one o'clock) Wellington attempts to drive Ney out of La Haie-Sainte. But Ney, who now saw that everything depended on obtaining possession of the ground in front of the wood—the sand here by the border of the grass," the captain threw his glove over to the spot indicated, "Ney, you see, calls up the reserve brigade of Milhaud's cuirassiers and hurls himself at the enemy.
"Presently his men were seen upon the heights, and already the people around the Emperor were shouting 'Victoire!'
"'It is an hour too late,' answered Napoleon.
"As he now saw that the Marshal in his new position was suffering much from the enemy's fire, he determined to go to his assistance, and, at the same time, to try to crush Wellington at one blow. He chose, for the execution of this plan, Kellermann's famous dragoons and the heavy cavalry of the guard. Now comes one of the crucial moments of the fight; you must come out here upon the battle-field!"
Cousin Hans at once rose from the bench and took the position the captain pointed out to him.
"Now you are Wellington!" Cousin Hans drew himself up. "You are standing there on the plain with the greater part of the English infantry. Here comes the whole of the French cavalry rushing down upon you; Milhaud has joined Kellermann; they form an illimitable multitude of horses, breast-plates, plumes, and shining weapons. Surround yourself with a square!"
Cousin Hans stood for a moment bewildered; but presently he understood the captain's meaning. He hastily drew a square of deep strokes around him in the sand.
"Right!" cried the captain, beaming, "Now the Frenchmen cut into the square; the ranks break, but join again, the cavalry wheels away and gathers for a fresh attack. Wellington has at every moment to surround himself with a new square.
"The French cavalry fight like lions: the proud memories of the Emperor's campaigns fill them with that confidence of victory which made his armies invincible. They fight for victory, for glory, for the French eagles, and for the little cold man who, they know, stands on the height behind them; whose eye follows every single man, who sees all, and forgets nothing.
"But to-day they have an enemy who is not easy to deal with. They stand where they stand, these Englishmen, and if they are forced a step backwards, they regain their position the next moment. They have no eagles and no Emperor; when they fight they think neither of military glory nor of revenge; but they think of home. The thought of never seeing again the oak-trees of Old England is the most melancholy an Englishman knows. Ah, no, there is one which is still worse: that of coming home dishonoured. And when they think that the proud fleet, which they know is lying to the northward waiting for them, would deny them the honour of a salute, and that Old England would not recognize her sons—then they grip their muskets tighter, they forget their wounds and their flowing blood; silent and grim, they clinch their teeth, and hold their post, and die like men."
Twenty times were the squares broken and reformed, and twelve thousand brave Englishmen fell. Cousin Hans could understand how Wellington wept, when he said, "Night or Blücher!"
The captain had in the meantime left Belle-Alliance, and was spying around in the grass behind the bench, while he continued his exposition which grew more and more vivid: "Wellington was now in reality beaten and a total defeat was inevitable," cried the captain in a sombre voice, "when this fellow appeared on the scene!" And as he said this, he kicked the stone which Cousin Hans had seen him concealing, so that it rolled in upon the field of battle.
"Now or never," thought Cousin Hans.
"Blücher!" he cried.
"Exactly!" answered the captain, "it's the old werewolf Blücher, who comes marching upon the field with his Prussians."
So Grouchy never came; there was Napoleon, deprived of his whole right wing, and facing 150,000 men. But with never-failing coolness he gives his orders for a great change of front.
But it was too late, and the odds were too vast.
Wellington, who, by Blücher's arrival, was enabled to bring his reserve into play, now ordered his whole army to advance. And yet once more the Allies were forced to pause for a moment by a furious charge led by Ney—the lion of the day.
"Do you see him there!" cried the captain, his eyes flashing.
And Cousin Hans saw him, the romantic hero, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of Moskwa, son of a cooper in Saarlouis, Marshal and Peer of France. He saw him rush onward at the head of his battalions—five horses had been shot under him—with his sword in his hand, his uniform torn to shreds, hatless, and with the blood streaming down his face.
And the battalions rallied and swept ahead; they followed their Prince of Moskwa, their saviour at the Beresina, into the hopeless struggle for the Emperor and for France. Little did they dream that, six months later, the King of France would have their dear prince shot as a traitor to his country in the gardens of the Luxembourg.
There he rushed around, rallying and directing his troops, until there was nothing more for the general to do; then he plied his sword like a common soldier until all was over, and he was carried away in the rout. For the French army fled.
The Emperor threw himself into the throng; but the terrible hubbub drowned his voice, and in the twilight no one knew the little man on the white horse.
Then he took his stand in a little square of his Old Guard, which still held out upon the plain; he would fain have ended his life on his last battle field. But his generals flocked around him, and the old grenadiers shouted: "Withdraw, Sire! Death will not have you."
They did not know that it was because the Emperor had forfeited his right to die as a French soldier. They led him half-resisting from the field; and, unknown in his own army, he rode away into the darkness of the night, having lost everything. "So ended the battle of Waterloo," said the captain, as he seated himself on the bench and arranged his neck-cloth.
—Cousin Hans thought with indignation of Uncle Frederick, who had spoken of Captain Schrappe in such a tone of superiority. He was, at least, a far more interesting personage than an old official mill-horse like Uncle Frederick.
Hans now went about and gathered up the gloves and other small objects which the generals, in the heat of the fight, had scattered over the battle-field to mark the positions; and, as he did so, he stumbled upon old Blücher. He picked him up and examined him carefully.
He was a hard lump of granite, knubbly as sugar-candy, which almost seemed to bear a personal resemblance to "Feldtmarschall Vorwärts." Hans turned to the captain with a polite bow.
"Will you allow me, captain, to keep this stone. It will be the best possible memento of this interesting and instructive conversation, for which I am really most grateful to you." And thereupon he put Blücher into his coat-tail pocket.
The captain assured him that it had been a real pleasure to him to observe the interest with which his young friend had followed the exposition. And this was nothing but the truth, for he was positively enraptured with Cousin Hans.
"Come and sit down now, young man. We deserve a little rest after a ten-hours' battle," he added, smiling.
Cousin Hans seated himself on the bench and felt his collar with some anxiety. Before coming out, he had put on the most fascinating one his wardrobe afforded. Fortunately, it had retained its stiffness; but he felt the force of Wellington's words: "Night or Blücher"—for it would not have held out much longer.
It was fortunate, too, that the warm afternoon sun had kept strollers away from the esplanade. Otherwise a considerable audience would probably have gathered around these two gentlemen, who went on gesticulating with their arms, and now and then prancing around.
They had had only one on-looker—the sentry who stands at the corner of the gymnastic-school.
His curiosity had enticed him much too far from his post, for he had marched several leagues along the highway from Brussels to Waterloo. The captain would certainly have called him to order long ago for this dereliction of duty but for the fact that the inquisitive private had been of great strategic importance. He represented, as he stood there, the whole of Wellington's reserve; and now that the battle was over the reserve retired in good order northward towards Brussels, and again took up le poste perdu at the corner of the gymnastic school.
"Suppose you come home and have some supper with me," said the captain; "my house is very quiet, but I think perhaps a young man of your character may have no great objection to passing an evening in a quiet family."
Cousin Hans's heart leaped high with joy; he accepted the invitation in the modest manner peculiar to him, and they were soon on their way to No. 34.
How curiously fortune favoured him to-day! Not many hours had passed since he saw her for the first time; and now, in the character of a special favourite of her father, he was hastening to pass the evening in her company.
The nearer they approached to No. 34, in the more life-like colours did the enchanting vision of Miss Schrappe stand before his eyes; the blonde hair curling over the forehead, the lithe figure, and then these roguish light-blue eyes!
His heart beat so that he could scarcely speak, and as they mounted the stair he had to take firm hold of the railing; his happiness made him almost dizzy.
In the parlour, a large corner-room, they found no one. The captain went out to summon his daughter, and Hans heard him calling, "Betty!"
Betty! What a lovely name, and how well it suited that lovely being!
The happy lover was already thinking how delightful it would be when he came home from his work at dinner-time, and could call out into the kitchen: "Betty! is dinner ready?"
At this moment the captain entered the room again with his daughter. She came straight up to Cousin Hans, took his hand, and bade him welcome.
But she added, "You must really excuse me deserting you again at once, for I am in the middle of a dish of buttered eggs, and that's no joke, I can tell you."
Thereupon she disappeared again; the captain also withdrew to prepare for the meal, and Cousin Hans was once more alone.
The whole meeting had not lasted many seconds, and yet it seemed to Cousin Hans that in these moments he had toppled from ledge to ledge, many fathoms down, into a deep, black pit. He supported himself with both hands against an old, high-backed easy-chair; he neither heard, saw, nor thought; but half mechanically he repeated to himself: "It was not she—it was not she!"
No, it was not she. The lady whom he had just seen, and who must consequently be Miss Schrappe, had not a trace of blonde hair curling over her brow. On the contrary, she had dark hair, smoothed down to both sides. Her eyes were not in the least roguish or light blue, but serious and dark grey—in short, she was as unlike the charmer as possible.
After his first paralysis, Cousin Hans's blood began to boil; a violent anguish seized him: he raged against the captain, against Miss Schrappe, against Uncle Frederick and Wellington, and the whole world.
He would smash the big mirror and all the furniture, and then jump out of the corner window; or he would take his hat and stick, rush down-stairs, leave the house, and never more set foot in it; or he would at least remain no longer than was absolutely necessary.
Little by little he became calmer, but a deep melancholy descended upon him. He had felt the unspeakable agony of disappointment in his first love, and when his eye fell on his own image in the mirror, he shook his head compassionately.
The captain now returned, well-brushed and spick and span. He opened a conversation about the politics of the day. It was with difficulty that Cousin Hans could even give short and common-place answers; it seemed as though all that had interested him in Captain Schrappe had entirely evaporated. And now Hans remembered that on the way home from the esplanade he had promised to give him the whole sham-fight in Sweden after supper.
"Will you come, please; supper is ready," said Miss Betty, opening the door into the dining-room, which was lighted with candles.
Cousin Hans could not help eating, for he was hungry; but he looked down at his plate and spoke little.
Thus the conversation was at first confined for the most part to the father and daughter. The captain, who thought that this bashful young man was embarrassed by Miss Betty's presence, wanted to give him time to collect himself.
"How is it you haven't invited Miss Beck this evening, since she's leaving town to-morrow?" said the old man. "You two could have entertained our guest with some duets."
"I asked her to stay, when she was here this afternoon; but she was engaged to a farewell party with some other people she knows."
Cousin Hans pricked up his ears; could this be the lady of the morning that they were speaking about?
"I told you she came down to the esplanade to say good-bye to me," continued the captain. "Poor girl! I'm really sorry for her."
There could no longer be any doubt.
"I beg your pardon—are you speaking of a lady with curly hair and large blue eyes?" asked Cousin Hans.
"Exactly," answered the captain, "do you know Miss Beck?"
"No," answered Hans, "it only occurred to me that it might be a lady I met down on the esplanade about twelve o'clock."
"No doubt it was she," said the captain. "A pretty girl, isn't she?"
"I thought her beautiful," answered Hans, with conviction. "Has she had any trouble?—I thought I heard you say—"
"Well, yes; you see she was engaged for some months—"
"Nine weeks," interrupted Miss Betty.
"Indeed! was that all? At any rate, her fiancé has just broken off the engagement, and that's why she is going away for a little while—very naturally—to some relations in the west-country, I think."
So she had been engaged—only for nine weeks, indeed—but still, it was a little disappointing. However, Cousin Hans understood human nature, and he had seen enough of her that morning to know that her feelings towards her recreant lover could not have been true love. So he said:
"If it's the lady I saw to-day, she seemed to take the matter pretty lightly."
"That's just what I blame her for," answered Miss Betty.
"Why so?" answered Cousin Hans, a little sharply; for, on the whole, he did not like the way in which the young lady made her remarks, "Would you have had her mope and pine away?"
"No, not at all," answered Miss Schrappe; "but, in my opinion, it would have shown more strength of character if she had felt more indignant at her fiancé's conduct."
"I should say, on the contrary, that it shows most admirable strength of character that she should bear no ill-will and feel no anger; for a woman’s strength lies in forgiveness," said Cousin Hans, who grew eloquent in defence of his lady-love.
Miss Betty thought that if people in general would show more indignation when an engagement was broken off, as so often happened, perhaps young people would be more cautious in these matters.
Cousin Hans, on the other hand, was of opinion that when a fiancé discovered, or even suspected, that he had made a mistake, and that what he had taken for love was not the real, true, and genuine article, he was not only bound to break off the engagement with all possible speed, but it was the positive duty of the other party, and of all friends and acquaintances, to excuse and forgive him, and to say as little as possible about the matter, in order that it might the sooner be forgotten.
Miss Betty answered hastily that she did not think it at all the right thing that young people should enter into experimental engagements while they keep a look-out for true love.
This remark greatly irritated Cousin Hans, but he had no time to reply, for at that moment the captain rose from the table.
There was something about Miss Schrappe that he really could not endure; and he was so much absorbed in this thought that, for a time, he almost forgot the melancholy intelligence that the beloved one—Miss Beck—was leaving town to-morrow.
He could not but admit that the captain's daughter was pretty, very pretty; she seemed to be both domestic and sensible, and it was clear that she devoted herself to her old father with touching tenderness. And yet Cousin Hans said to himself: "Poor thing, who would want to marry her?"
For she was entirely devoid of that charming helplessness which is so attractive in a young girl; when she spoke, it was with an almost odious repose and decision. She never came in with any of those fascinating half-finished sentences, such as "Oh, I don't know if you understand me—there are so few people that understand me—I don't know how to express what I mean; but I feel it so strongly." In short, there was about Miss Schrappe nothing of that vagueness and mystery which is woman's most exquisite charm.
Furthermore, he had a suspicion that she was "learned." And every one, surely, must agree with Cousin Hans that if a woman is to fulfil her mission in this life (that is to say, to be a man's wife) she ought clearly to have no other acquirements than those her husband wishes her to have, or himself confers upon her. Any other fund of knowledge must always be a dowry of exceedingly doubtful value.
Cousin Hans was in the most miserable of moods. It was only eight o'clock, and he did not think it would do to take his departure before half-past nine. The captain had already settled himself at the table, prepared to begin the sham-fight. There was no chance of escape, and Hans took a seat at his side.
Opposite to him sat Miss Betty, with her sewing, and with a book in front of her. He leaned forward and discovered that it was a German novel of the modern school.
It was precisely one of those works which Hans was wont to praise loudly when he developed his advanced views, coloured with a little dash of free thought. But to find this book here, in a lady's hands, and, what was more, in German (Hans had read it in a translation), was in the last degree unpleasing to him.
Accordingly, when Miss Betty asked if he liked the novel, he answered that it was one of the books which should only be read by men of ripened judgment and established principles, and that it was not at all suited for ladies.
He saw that the girl flushed, and he felt that he had been rude. But he was really feeling desperate, and, besides, there was something positively irritating in this superior little person.
He was intensely worried and bored; and, to fulfil the measure of his suffering, the captain began to make Battalion B advance "under cover of the night."
Cousin Hans now watched the captain moving match-boxes, penknives, and other small objects about the table. He nodded now and then, but he did not pay the slightest attention. He thought of the lovely Miss Beck, whom he was, perhaps, never to see again; and now and then he stole a glance at Miss Schrappe, to whom he had been so rude.
He gave a sudden start as the captain slapped him on the shoulder, with the words, "And it was this point that I was to occupy. What do you think of that?"
Uncle Frederick's words flashed across Cousin Hans's mind, and, nodding vehemently, he said: "Of course, the only thing to be done—the key to the position!"
The captain started back and became quite serious. But when he saw Cousin Hans's disconcerted expression, his good-nature got the upper hand, and he laughed and said:
"No, my dear sir! there you're quite mistaken. However," he added, with a quiet smile, "it's a mistake which you share with several of our highest military authorities. No, now let me show you the key to the position."
And then he began to demonstrate at large that the point which he had been ordered to occupy was quite without strategical importance; while, on the other hand, the movement which he made on his own responsibility placed the enemy in the direst embarrassment, and would have delayed the advance of Corps B by several hours.
Tired and dazed as Cousin Hans was, he could not help admiring the judicious course adopted by the military authorities towards Captain Schrappe, if, indeed, there was anything in Uncle Frederick's story about the Order of the Sword.
For if the captain's original manœuvre was, strategically speaking, a stroke of genius, it was undoubtedly right that he should receive a decoration. But, on the other hand, it was no less clear that the man who could suppose that in a sham-fight it was in the least desirable to delay or embarrass any one was quite out of place in an army like ours. He ought to have known that the true object of the manœuvres was to let the opposing armies, with their baggage and commissariat wagons, meet at a given time and in a given place, there to have a general picnic.
While Hans was buried in these thoughts, the captain finished the sham-fight. He was by no means so pleased with his listener as he had been upon the esplanade; he seemed, somehow, to have become absent-minded.
It was now nine o'clock; but, as Cousin Hans had made up his mind that he would hold out till half-past nine, he dragged through one of the longest half-hours that had ever come within his experience. The captain grew sleepy, Miss Betty gave short and dry answers; Hans had himself to provide the conversation—weary, out of temper, unhappy and love-sick as he was.
At last the clock was close upon half-past nine; he rose, explaining that he was accustomed to go early to bed, because he could read best when he got up at six o'clock.
"Well, well," said the captain, "do you call this going early to bed? I assure you I always turn in at nine o'clock."
Vexation on vexation! Hans said good-night hastily, and rushed down-stairs.
The captain accompanied him to the landing, candle in hand, and called after him cordially, "Good-night—happy to see you again."
"Thanks!" shouted Hans from below; but he vowed in his inmost soul that he would never set foot in that house again.—
—When the old man returned to the parlour, he found his daughter busy opening the windows.
"What are you doing that for?" asked the captain.
"I'm airing the room after him," answered Miss Betty.
"Come, come, Betty, you are really too hard upon him. But I must admit that the young gentleman did not improve upon closer acquaintance. I don't understand young people nowadays."
Thereupon the captain retired to his bedroom, after giving his daughter the usual evening exhortation, "Now don't sit up too long."
When she was left alone, Miss Betty put out the lamp, moved the flowers away from the corner window, and seated herself on the window-sill with her feet upon a chair.
On clear moonlight evenings she could descry a little strip of the fiord between two high houses. It was not much; but it was a glimpse of the great highway that leads to the south, and to foreign lands.
And her desires and longings flew away, following the same course which has wearied the wings of so many a longing—down the narrow fiord to the south where the horizon is wide, where the heart expands and the thoughts grow great and daring.
And Miss Betty sighed as she gazed at the little strip of the fiord which she could see between the two high houses.
—She gave no thought, as she sat there, to Cousin Hans; but he thought of Miss Schrappe as he passed with hasty steps up the street.
Never had he met a young lady who was less to his taste. The fact that he had been rude to her did not make him like her better. We are not inclined to find those people amiable who have been the occasion of misbehaviour on our own part. It was a sort of comfort to him to repeat to himself, "Who would want to marry her? "
Then his thoughts wandered to the charmer who was to leave town to-morrow. He realized his fate in all its bitterness, and he felt a great longing to pour forth the sorrow of his soul to a friend who could understand him.
But it was not easy to find a sympathetic friend at that time of night.
After all, Uncle Frederick was his confidant in many matters; he would look him up.
As he knew that Uncle Frederick was at Aunt Maren's, he betook himself towards the Palace in order to meet him on his way back from Homan's Town. He chose one of the narrow avenues on the right, which he knew to be his uncle's favourite route; and a little way up the hill he seated himself on a bench to wait.
It must be unusually lively at Aunt Maren's to make Uncle Frederick stop there until after ten. At last he seemed to discern a small white object far up the avenue; it was Uncle Frederick's white waistcoat approaching.
Hans rose from the bench and said very seriously, "Good-evening!"
Uncle Frederick was not at all fond of meeting solitary men in dark avenues; so it was a great relief to him to recognize his nephew.
"Oh, is it only you, Hans, old fellow?" he said cordially.
"What are you lying in ambush here for?"
"I was waiting for you," answered Hans, in a sombre tone of voice.
"Indeed? Is there anything wrong with you? Are you ill?"
"Don't ask me," answered Cousin Hans. This would at any other time have been enough to call forth a hail-storm of questions from Uncle Frederick.
But this evening he was so much taken up with his own experiences that for the moment he put his nephew's affairs aside.
"I can tell you, you were very foolish," he said, "not to go with me to Aunt Maren's. We have had such a jolly evening, I'm sure you would have enjoyed it. The fact is, it was a sort of farewell party in honour of a young lady who's leaving town to-morrow."
A horrible foreboding seized Cousin Hans.
"What was her name?" he shrieked, gripping his uncle by the arm.
"Ow!" cried his uncle, "Miss Beck."
Then Hans collapsed upon the bench.
But scarcely had he sunk down before he sprang up again, with a loud cry, and drew out of his coat-tail pocket a knubbly little object, which he hurled away far down the avenue.
"What's the matter with the boy?" cried Uncle Frederick, "What was that you threw away?"
"Oh, it was that confounded Blücher," answered Cousin Hans, almost in tears.
—Uncle Frederick scarcely found time to say, "Didn't I tell you to beware of Blücher?" when he burst into an alarming fit of laughter, which lasted from the Palace Hill far along Upper Fort Street.
|Gilbert and Rivington, Ld., St. John’s House, Clerkenwell, E.C.|
- The English word is used in the original
- In English in the original.