A few friends were assembled at Baron Wilden's house for a little ball. Alfred and the officer were likewise present, and the Baron's young sister, an amiable girl, seemed extremely entertained. Miss Erhard too was in high spirits, and Michael, who was a spectator, could hardly conceive how she could move so nimbly in the Scotch reel. The dance was now over, and the corpulent host tumbled down exhausted upon a sopha.
— If it does not fairly make one young again, he cried; though it is hard work too. The deuce, my dear Miss Erhard, what bounds you can take! I should never have expected along with your piety so much elasticity. This is as I like it, when a way can be found to reconcile the heavenly with the earthly, for really the heart is cramped to death with that humility and meekness, unless it can now and then make a good start in mirth and pleasure. You seem to me quite a new creature, Miss Erhard, here in my house, I should not at all have known you again if I had not been sure that it was you.
The lively virgin seated herself by him and both looked on at the dancers. Alfred was paying great attention to Sophia, the Baron's sister, a circumstance which the Baron remarked not without satisfaction. The sideboards were abundantly supplied with refreshments, which were handed round by servants in rich liveries on silver plate.
— Is it not true? said the Baron, who perceived the complacent looks of his neighbour, with a leer: We do not lead here such a life as in the chateau yonder, where they sit for the most part all together, like Adam and Eve before the fall? High-flown phrases, apocalyptic sighs, and a marvellous tincture of ambrosial melancholy. Virtue and devotion the stuff, pious sentiment for a lining, and the whole turned up with contrition and penitence. No, a man must sin a bit, to be able to become a convert; is it not so, my highly esteemed young lady? Your legs do not ache sure? You make such a twitching with your mouth.
— No, said she, I was only trying to check a laugh at your strange expressions, for in fact you are an abominable sinner. I hope however that you will still repent.
— Time brings counsel, said the Baron: do you see, I have managed my matters prudently, I have committed a multitude of sins before hand in my youth, in order that, in my old age, I might have a pretty stock to repent of, and not be obliged, like many a devotee, to suck transgressions out of my fingers' ends, and make scruples of conscience for nothing and against nothing. O of that I have things to tell you some of these afternoons, that shall make you open both your eyes.
— But this sort of talk is sin again, answered the virgin.
— Come, cried the Baron, you must not examine my virtue through the microscope, else we shall never have done with each other; for with me every thing tends rather to the gross; my merits are as little refined as my vices. But see, how among all my guests Mr. von Boehmer is standing so solitary by the stove, and musing in the midst of the music! Lieutenant, pray come and take a dance with one of these ladies.
— I never dance, said the young officer, coming up to them: nor should I have come, had I not been invited by Miss Erhard; and it could never have occurred to me, that she had in view a dinning ball.
— Is it not said, that to the pure all things are pure? asked the lady with great unction.
Alfred, who had come up, answered:
— Certainly, that is the right view of the matter, and it would be droll enough, if M. von Wilden were to be converted by the lady, and she by our lively Baron. But you Ferdinand (addressing himself to the officer,) wear not a single holiday look on your dusky countenance.
— I am going away, he answered, to the Baroness, will you accompany me?
— No, my friend, answered the other, nor do I purpose ever troubling that circle again; for that ostentatious hypocrisy has of late become sufficiently clear to me. How thankful am I to the worthy man, who shook the bandage from my eyes!
— You mean Count Brandenstein? said his friend: You take then the part of the wicked against the pious, of sin against virtue?
— Let us drop this language now, replied Alfred, I feel myself, since I became acquainted with that person, more my own man.
— Do you know then, interrupted the Baron, any thing of the story? They say the savage, the American, is come, a spotted, copper-coloured man, with hair like scales or prickles. People say too, this wild animal would marry that froward girl Dorothea.
— Nothing is known for certain, said Alfred. The American will at all events be a man like all others, and consequently she will be more happy with him, than with Baron Wallen.
— Whom you are incapable of appreciating, cried the officer, as with a slight bow he withdrew.
— You think then, continued the Baron, a well-bred girl might live happily with such a sea-monster? But indeed in life a great many sorts of happiness must be consumed, that every one may get something to suit him; and they tell me, the pretty Dorothea is so ungodly, that perhaps the most ungodly cannibal is not too bad for her.
— You are misinformed, answered Alfred, and was on the point of beginning a story, when the good-natured Sophia came tripping up, to remind him that he had engaged her for the next quadrille. The Baron in the mean while drank, and promised Miss Erhard to dance the next Polish Waltz, or at all events the merry Turn Out with her.