The Indiscretion Of Elsbeth
From: Selected Stories
The American paused. He had evidently lost his way. For the last half
hour he had been wandering in a medieval town, in a profound medieval
dream. Only a few days had elapsed since he had left the steamship that
carried him hither; and the accents of his own tongue, the idioms of
his own people, and the sympathetic community of New World tastes and
expressions still filled his mind until he woke up, or rather, as it
seemed to him, was falling asleep in the past of this Old World town
which had once held his ancestors. Although a republican, he had liked
to think of them in quaint distinctive garb, representing state and
importance--perhaps even aristocratic pre-eminence--content to let the
responsibility of such "bad eminence" rest with them entirely, but a
habit of conscientiousness and love for historic truth eventually led
him also to regard an honest BAUER standing beside his cattle in the
quaint market place, or a kindly-faced black-eyed DIENSTMADCHEN in a
doorway, with a timid, respectful interest, as a possible type of his
progenitors. For, unlike some of his traveling countrymen in Europe, he
was not a snob, and it struck him--as an American--that it was,
perhaps, better to think of his race as having improved than as having
degenerated. In these ingenuous meditations he had passed the long rows
of quaint, high houses, whose sagging roofs and unpatched dilapidations
were yet far removed from squalor, until he had reached the road
bordered by poplars, all so unlike his own country's waysides--and knew
that he had wandered far from his hotel.
He did not care, however, to retrace his steps and return by the way
he had come. There was, he reasoned, some other street or turning that
would eventually bring him to the market place and his hotel, and yet
extend his experience of the town. He turned at right angles into a
narrow grass lane, which was, however, as neatly kept and apparently as
public as the highway. A few moments' walking convinced him that it was
not a thoroughfare and that it led to the open gates of a park. This had
something of a public look, which suggested that his intrusion might be
at least a pardonable trespass, and he relied, like most strangers, on
the exonerating quality of a stranger's ignorance. The park lay in the
direction he wished to go, and yet it struck him as singular that a park
of such extent should be still allowed to occupy such valuable urban
space. Indeed, its length seemed to be illimitable as he wandered on,
until he became conscious that he must have again lost his way, and he
diverged toward the only boundary, a high, thickset hedge to the right,
whose line he had been following.
As he neared it he heard the sound of voices on the other side, speaking
in German, with which he was unfamiliar. Having, as yet, met no one, and
being now impressed with the fact that for a public place the park was
singularly deserted, he was conscious that his position was getting
serious, and he determined to take this only chance of inquiring his
way. The hedge was thinner in some places than in others, and at times
he could see not only the light through it but even the moving figures
of the speakers, and the occasional white flash of a summer gown. At
last he determined to penetrate it, and with little difficulty emerged
on the other side. But here he paused motionless. He found himself
behind a somewhat formal and symmetrical group of figures with their
backs toward him, but all stiffened into attitudes as motionless as his
own, and all gazing with a monotonous intensity in the direction of a
handsome building, which had been invisible above the hedge but which
now seemed to arise suddenly before him. Some of the figures were in
uniform. Immediately before him, but so slightly separated from
the others that he was enabled to see the house between her and her
companions, he was confronted by the pretty back, shoulders, and blond
braids of a young girl of twenty. Convinced that he had unwittingly
intruded upon some august ceremonial, he instantly slipped back into
the hedge, but so silently that his momentary presence was evidently
undetected. When he regained the park side he glanced back through
the interstices; there was no movement of the figures nor break in the
silence to indicate that his intrusion had been observed. With a long
breath of relief he hurried from the park.
It was late when he finally got back to his hotel. But his little modern
adventure had, I fear, quite outrun his previous medieval reflections,
and almost his first inquiry of the silver-chained porter in the
courtyard was in regard to the park. There was no public park in
Alstadt! The Herr possibly alluded to the Hof Gardens--the Schloss,
which was in the direction he indicated. The Schloss was the residency
of the hereditary Grand Duke. JA WOHL! He was stopping there with
several Hoheiten. There was naturally a party there--a family reunion.
But it was a private enclosure. At times, when the Grand Duke was "not in
residence," it was open to the public. In point of fact, at such times
tickets of admission were to be had at the hotel for fifty pfennige
each. There was not, of truth, much to see except a model farm and
dairy--the pretty toy of a previous Grand Duchess.
But he seemed destined to come into closer collision with the modern
life of Alstadt. On entering the hotel, wearied by his long walk, he
passed the landlord and a man in half-military uniform on the landing
near his room. As he entered his apartment he had a vague impression,
without exactly knowing why, that the landlord and the military
stranger had just left it. This feeling was deepened by the evident
disarrangement of certain articles in his unlocked portmanteau and the
disorganization of his writing case. A wave of indignation passed over
him. It was followed by a knock at the door, and the landlord blandly
appeared with the stranger.
"A thousand pardons," said the former, smilingly, "but Herr Sanderman,
the Ober-Inspector of Police, wishes to speak with you. I hope we are
"Not NOW," said the American, dryly.
The two exchanged a vacant and deprecating smile.
"I have to ask only a few formal questions," said the Ober-Inspector in
excellent but somewhat precise English, "to supplement the report which,
as a stranger, you may not know is required by the police from the
landlord in regard to the names and quality of his guests who are
foreign to the town. You have a passport?"
"I have," said the American still more dryly. "But I do not keep it in
an unlocked portmanteau or an open writing case."
"An admirable precaution," said Sanderman, with unmoved politeness.
"May I see it? Thanks," he added, glancing over the document which the
American produced from his pocket. "I see that you are a born American
citizen--and an earlier knowledge of that fact would have prevented
this little contretemps. You are aware, Mr. Hoffman, that your name is
"It was borne by my ancestors, who came from this country two centuries
ago," said Hoffman, curtly.
"We are indeed honored by your return to it," returned Sanderman
suavely, "but it was the circumstance of your name being a local one,
and the possibility of your still being a German citizen liable to
unperformed military duty, which has caused the trouble." His manner was
clearly civil and courteous, but Hoffman felt that all the time his own
face and features were undergoing a profound scrutiny from the speaker.
"And you are making sure that you will know me again?" said Hoffman,
with a smile.
"I trust, indeed, both," returned Sanderman, with a bow, "although
you will permit me to say that your description here," pointing to the
passport, "scarcely does you justice. ACH GOTT! it is the same in all
countries; the official eye is not that of the young DAMEN."
Hoffman, though not conceited, had not lived twenty years without
knowing that he was very good-looking, yet there was something in the
remark that caused him to color with a new uneasiness.
The Ober-Inspector rose with another bow, and moved toward the door. "I
hope you will let me make amends for this intrusion by doing anything I
can to render your visit here a pleasant one. Perhaps," he added, "it is
not for long."
But Hoffman evaded the evident question, as he resented what he imagined
was a possible sneer.
"I have not yet determined my movements," he said.
The Ober-Inspector brought his heels together in a somewhat stiffer
military salute and departed.
Nothing, however, could have exceeded the later almost servile urbanity
of the landlord, who seemed to have been proud of the official visit to
his guest. He was profuse in his attentions, and even introduced him to
a singularly artistic-looking man of middle age, wearing an order in his
buttonhole, whom he met casually in the hall.
"Our Court photographer," explained the landlord with some fervor,
"at whose studio, only a few houses distant, most of the Hoheiten and
Prinzessinen of Germany have sat for their likenesses."
"I should feel honored if the distinguished American Herr would give
me a visit," said the stranger gravely, as he gazed at Hoffman with an
intensity which recalled the previous scrutiny of the Police Inspector,
"and I would be charmed if he would avail himself of my poor skill to
transmit his picturesque features to my unique collection."
Hoffman returned a polite evasion to this invitation, although he was
conscious of being struck with this second examination of his face, and
the allusion to his personality.
The next morning the porter met him with a mysterious air. The Herr
would still like to see the Schloss? Hoffman, who had quite forgotten
his adventure in the park, looked vacant. JA WOHL--the Hof authorities
had no doubt heard of his visit and had intimated to the hotel
proprietor that he might have permission to visit the model farm and
dairy. As the American still looked indifferent the porter pointed out
with some importance that it was a Ducal courtesy not to be lightly
treated; that few, indeed, of the burghers themselves had ever been
admitted to this eccentric whim of the late Grand Duchess. He would, of
course, be silent about it; the Court would not like it known that they
had made an exception to their rules in favor of a foreigner; he would
enter quickly and boldly alone. There would be a housekeeper or a
dairymaid to show him over the place.
More amused at this important mystery over what he, as an American, was
inclined to classify as a "free pass" to a somewhat heavy "side show,"
he gravely accepted the permission, and the next morning after breakfast
set out to visit the model farm and dairy. Dismissing his driver, as
he had been instructed, Hoffman entered the gateway with a mingling of
expectancy and a certain amusement over the "boldness" which the
porter had suggested should characterize his entrance. Before him was
a beautifully kept lane bordered by arbored and trellised roses, which
seemed to sink into the distance. He was instinctively following it when
he became aware that he was mysteriously accompanied by a man in the
livery of a chasseur, who was walking among the trees almost abreast
of him, keeping pace with his step, and after the first introductory
military salute preserving a ceremonious silence. There was something
so ludicrous in this solemn procession toward a peaceful, rural industry
that by the time they had reached the bottom of the lane the American
had quite recovered his good humor. But here a new astonishment awaited
him. Nestling before him in a green amphitheater lay a little wooden
farm-yard and outbuildings, which irresistibly suggested that it had
been recently unpacked and set up from a box of Nuremberg toys. The
symmetrical trees, the galleried houses with preternaturally glazed
windows, even the spotty, disproportionately sized cows in the
white-fenced barnyards were all unreal, wooden and toylike.
Crossing a miniature bridge over a little stream, from which he was
quite prepared to hook metallic fish with a magnet their own size,
he looked about him for some real being to dispel the illusion. The
mysterious chasseur had disappeared. But under the arch of an arbor,
which seemed to be composed of silk ribbons, green glass, and pink
tissue paper, stood a quaint but delightful figure.
At first it seemed as if he had only dispelled one illusion for another.
For the figure before him might have been made of Dresden china--so
daintily delicate and unique it was in color and arrangement. It was
that of a young girl dressed in some forgotten medieval peasant garb
of velvet braids, silver-staylaced corsage, lace sleeves, and helmeted
metallic comb. But, after the Dresden method, the pale yellow of her
hair was repeated in her bodice, the pink of her cheeks was in the
roses of her chintz overskirt. The blue of her eyes was the blue of her
petticoat; the dazzling whiteness of her neck shone again in the
sleeves and stockings. Nevertheless she was real and human, for the
pink deepened in her cheeks as Hoffman's hat flew from his head, and she
recognized the civility with a grave little curtsy.
"You have come to see the dairy," she said in quaintly accurate English;
"I will show you the way."
"If you please," said Hoffman, gaily, "but--"
"But what?" she said, facing him suddenly with absolutely astonished
Hoffman looked into them so long that their frank wonder presently
contracted into an ominous mingling of restraint and resentment. Nothing
daunted, however, he went on:
"Couldn't we shake all that?"
The look of wonder returned. "Shake all that?" she repeated. "I do not
"Well! I'm not positively aching to see cows, and you must be sick of
showing them. I think, too, I've about sized the whole show. Wouldn't
it be better if we sat down in that arbor--supposing it won't fall
down--and you told me all about the lot? It would save you a heap of
trouble and keep your pretty frock cleaner than trapesing round. Of
course," he said, with a quick transition to the gentlest courtesy, "if
you're conscientious about this thing we'll go on and not spare a cow.
Consider me in it with you for the whole morning."
She looked at him again, and then suddenly broke into a charming laugh.
It revealed a set of strong white teeth, as well as a certain barbaric
trace in its cadence which civilized restraint had not entirely
"I suppose she really is a peasant, in spite of that pretty frock," he
said to himself as he laughed too.
But her face presently took a shade of reserve, and with a gentle but
singular significance she said:
"I think you must see the dairy."
Hoffman's hat was in his hand with a vivacity that tumbled the brown
curls on his forehead. "By all means," he said instantly, and began
walking by her side in modest but easy silence. Now that he thought her
a conscientious peasant he was quiet and respectful.
Presently she lifted her eyes, which, despite her gravity, had not
entirely lost their previous mirthfulness, and said:
"But you Americans--in your rich and prosperous country, with your large
lands and your great harvests--you must know all about farming."
"Never was in a dairy in my life," said Hoffman gravely. "I'm from
the city of New York, where the cows give swill milk, and are kept in
Her eyebrows contracted prettily in an effort to understand. Then she
apparently gave it up, and said with a slanting glint of mischief in her
"Then you come here like the other Americans in hope to see the Grand
Duke and Duchess and the Princesses?"
"No. The fact is I almost tumbled into a lot of 'em--standing like wax
figures--the other side of the park lodge, the other day--and got away
as soon as I could. I think I prefer the cows."
Her head was slightly turned away. He had to content himself with
looking down upon the strong feet in their serviceable but smartly
buckled shoes that uplifted her upright figure as she moved beside him.
"Of course," he added with boyish but unmistakable courtesy, "if it's
part of your show to trot out the family, why I'm in that, too. I dare
say you could make them interesting."
"But why," she said with her head still slightly turned away toward
a figure--a sturdy-looking woman, which, for the first time, Hoffman
perceived was walking in a line with them as the chasseur had done--"why
did you come here at all?"
"The first time was a fool accident," he returned frankly. "I was making
a short cut through what I thought was a public park. The second time
was because I had been rude to a Police Inspector whom I found going
through my things, but who apologized--as I suppose--by getting me an
invitation from the Grand Duke to come here, and I thought it only the
square thing to both of 'em to accept it. But I'm mighty glad I came;
I wouldn't have missed YOU for a thousand dollars. You see I haven't
struck anyone I cared to talk to since." Here he suddenly remarked that
she hadn't looked at him, and that the delicate whiteness of her neck
was quite suffused with pink, and stopped instantly. Presently he said
"Who's the chorus?"
"Yes. She's watching us as if she didn't quite approve, you know--just
as if she didn't catch on."
"She's the head housekeeper of the farm. Perhaps you would prefer to
have her show you the dairy; shall I call her?"
The figure in question was very short and stout, with voluminous
"Please don't; I'll stay without your setting that paperweight on me.
But here's the dairy. Don't let her come inside among those pans of
fresh milk with that smile, or there'll be trouble."
The young girl paused too, made a slight gesture with her hand, and the
figure passed on as they entered the dairy. It was beautifully clean and
fresh. With a persistence that he quickly recognized as mischievous and
ironical, and with his characteristic adaptability accepted with even
greater gravity and assumption of interest, she showed him all the
details. From thence they passed to the farmyard, where he hung with
breathless attention over the names of the cows and made her repeat
them. Although she was evidently familiar with the subject, he could see
that her zeal was fitful and impatient.
"Suppose we sit down," he said, pointing to an ostentatious rustic seat
in the center of the green.
"Sir down?" she repeated wonderingly. "What for?"
"To talk. We'll knock off and call it half a day."
"But if you are not looking at the farm you are, of course, going," she
"Am I? I don't think these particulars were in my invitation."
She again broke into a fit of laughter, and at the same time cast a
bright eye around the field.
"Come," he said gently, "there are no other sightseers waiting, and your
conscience is clear," and he moved toward the rustic seat.
"Certainly not--there," she added in a low voice.
They moved on slowly together to a copse of willows which overhung the
"You are not staying long in Alstadt?" she said.
"No; I only came to see the old town that my ancestors came from."
They were walking so close together that her skirt brushed his trousers,
but she suddenly drew away from him, and looking him fixedly in the eye
"Ah, you have relations here?"
"Yes, but they are dead two hundred years."
She laughed again with a slight expression of relief. They had entered
the copse and were walking in dense shadow when she suddenly stopped and
sat down upon a rustic bench. To his surprise he found that they were
"Tell me about these relatives," she said, slightly drawing aside her
skirt to make room for him on the seat.
He did not require a second invitation. He not only told her all about
his ancestral progenitors, but, I fear, even about those more recent and
more nearly related to him; about his own life, his vocation--he was a
clever newspaper correspondent with a roving commission--his ambitions,
his beliefs and his romance.
"And then, perhaps, of this visit--you will also make 'copy'?"
He smiled at her quick adaptation of his professional slang, but shook
"No," he said gravely. "No--this is YOU. The CHICAGO INTERVIEWER is big
pay and is rich, but it hasn't capital enough to buy you from me."
He gently slid his hand toward hers and slipped his fingers softly
around it. She made a slight movement of withdrawal, but even then--as
if in forgetfulness or indifference--permitted her hand to rest
unresponsively in his. It was scarcely an encouragement to gallantry,
neither was it a rejection of an unconscious familiarity.
"But you haven't told me about yourself," he said.
"Oh, I," she returned, with her first approach to coquetry in a laugh
and a sidelong glance, "of what importance is that to you? It is the
Grand Duchess and Her Highness the Princess that you Americans seek to
know. I am--what I am--as you see."
"You bet," said Hoffman with charming decision.
"You ARE, you know, and that's good enough for me, but I don't even know
She laughed again, and after a pause, said: "Elsbeth."
"But I couldn't call you by your first name on our first meeting, you
"Then you Americans are really so very formal--eh?" she said slyly,
looking at her imprisoned hand.
"Well, yes," returned Hoffman, disengaging it. "I suppose we are
respectful, or mean to be. But whom am I to inquire for? To write to?"
"You are neither to write nor inquire."
"What?" She had moved in her seat so as to half-face him with eyes in
which curiosity, mischief, and a certain seriousness alternated, but for
the first time seemed conscious of his hand, and accented her words with
a slight pressure.
"You are to return to your hotel presently, and say to your landlord:
'Pack up my luggage. I have finished with this old town and my
ancestors, and the Grand Duke, whom I do not care to see, and I shall
leave Alstadt tomorrow!'"
"Thank you! I don't catch on."
"Of what necessity should you? I have said it. That should be enough for
a chivalrous American like you." She again significantly looked down at
"If you mean that you know the extent of the favor you ask of me, I can
say no more," he said seriously; "but give me some reason for it."
"Ah so!" she said, with a slight shrug of her shoulders. "Then I must
tell you. You say you do not know the Grand Duke and Duchess. Well! THEY
KNOW YOU. The day before yesterday you were wandering in the park, as
you admit. You say, also, you got through the hedge and interrupted
some ceremony. That ceremony was not a Court function, Mr. Hoffman, but
something equally sacred--the photographing of the Ducal family
before the Schloss. You say that you instantly withdrew. But after the
photograph was taken the plate revealed a stranger standing actually
by the side of the Princess Alexandrine, and even taking the PAS of the
Grand Duke himself. That stranger was you!"
"And the picture was spoiled," said the American, with a quiet laugh.
"I should not say that," returned the lady, with a demure glance at her
companion's handsome face, "and I do not believe that the Princess--who
first saw the photograph--thought so either. But she is very young
and willful, and has the reputation of being very indiscreet, and
unfortunately she begged the photographer not to destroy the plate, but
to give it to her, and to say nothing about it, except that the plate
was defective, and to take another. Still it would have ended there if
her curiosity had not led her to confide a description of the stranger
to the Police Inspector, with the result you know."
"Then I am expected to leave town because I accidentally stumbled into a
family group that was being photographed?"
"Because a certain Princess was indiscreet enough to show her curiosity
about you," corrected the fair stranger.
"But look here! I'll apologize to the Princess, and offer to pay for the
"Then you do want to see the Princess?" said the young girl smiling;
"you are like the others."
"Bother the Princess! I want to see YOU. And I don't see how they can
prevent it if I choose to remain."
"Very easily. You will find that there is something wrong with your
passport, and you will be sent on to Pumpernickel for examination. You
will unwittingly transgress some of the laws of the town and be ordered
to leave it. You will be shadowed by the police until you quarrel with
them--like a free American--and you are conducted to the frontier.
Perhaps you will strike an officer who has insulted you, and then you
are finished on the spot."
The American's crest rose palpably until it cocked his straw hat over
"Suppose I am content to risk it--having first laid the whole matter and
its trivial cause before the American Minister, so that he could make it
hot for this whole caboodle of a country if they happened to 'down me.'
By Jove! I shouldn't mind being the martyr of an international episode
if they'd spare me long enough to let me get the first 'copy' over to
the other side." His eyes sparkled.
"You could expose them, but they would then deny the whole story, and
you have no evidence. They would demand to know your informant, and I
should be disgraced, and the Princess, who is already talked about,
made a subject of scandal. But no matter! It is right that an American's
independence shall not be interfered with."
She raised the hem of her handkerchief to her blue eyes and slightly
turned her head aside. Hoffman gently drew the handkerchief away, and in
so doing possessed himself of her other hand.
"Look here, Miss--Miss--Elsbeth. You know I wouldn't give you away,
whatever happened. But couldn't I get hold of that photographer--I saw
him, he wanted me to sit to him--and make him tell me?"
"He wanted you to sit to him," she said hurriedly, "and did you?"
"No," he replied. "He was a little too fresh and previous, though I
thought he fancied some resemblance in me to somebody else."
"Ah!" She said something to herself in German which he did not
understand, and then added aloud:
"You did well; he is a bad man, this photographer. Promise me you shall
not sit for him."
"How can I if I'm fired out of the place like this?" He added ruefully,
"But I'd like to make him give himself away to me somehow."
"He will not, and if he did he would deny it afterward. Do not go near
him nor see him. Be careful that he does not photograph you with his
instantaneous instrument when you are passing. Now you must go. I must
see the Princess."
"Let me go, too. I will explain it to her," said Hoffman.
She stopped, looked at him keenly, and attempted to withdraw her
hands. "Ah, then it IS so. It is the Princess you wish to see. You are
curious--you, too; you wish to see this lady who is interested in you. I
ought to have known it. You are all alike."
He met her gaze with laughing frankness, accepting her outburst as a
charming feminine weakness, half jealousy, half coquetry--but retained
"Nonsense," he said. "I wish to see her that I may have the right to see
you--that you shall not lose your place here through me; that I may come
"You must never come here again."
"Then you must come where I am. We will meet somewhere when you have
an afternoon off. You shall show me the town--the houses of my
ancestors--their tombs; possibly--if the Grand Duke rampages--the
probable site of my own."
She looked into his laughing eyes with her clear, stedfast, gravely
questioning blue ones. "Do not you Americans know that it is not the
fashion here, in Germany, for the young men and the young women to walk
together--unless they are VERLOBT?"
"Engaged." She nodded her head thrice: viciously, decidedly,
"So much the better."
"ACH GOTT!" She made a gesture of hopelessness at his incorrigibility,
and again attempted to withdraw her hands.
"I must go now."
"Well then, good-by."
It was easy to draw her closer by simply lowering her still captive
hands. Then he suddenly kissed her coldly startled lips, and instantly
released her. She as instantly vanished.
"Elsbeth," he called quickly. "Elsbeth!"
Her now really frightened face reappeared with a heightened color from
the dense foliage--quite to his astonishment.
"Hush," she said, with her finger on her lips. "Are you mad?"
"I only wanted to remind you to square me with the Princess," he laughed
as her head disappeared.
He strolled back toward the gate. Scarcely had he quitted the shrubbery
before the same chasseur made his appearance with precisely the same
salute; and, keeping exactly the same distance, accompanied him to the
gate. At the corner of the street he hailed a droshky and was driven to
The landlord came up smiling. He trusted that the Herr had greatly
enjoyed himself at the Schloss. It was a distinguished honor--in fact,
quite unprecedented. Hoffman, while he determined not to commit himself,
nor his late fair companion, was nevertheless anxious to learn something
more of her relations to the Schloss. So pretty, so characteristic, and
marked a figure must be well known to sightseers. Indeed, once or twice
the idea had crossed his mind with a slightly jealous twinge that left
him more conscious of the impression she had made on him than he had
deemed possible. He asked if the model farm and dairy were always shown
by the same attendants.
"ACH GOTT! no doubt, yes; His Royal Highness had quite a retinue when he
was in residence."
"And were these attendants in costume?"
"There was undoubtedly a livery for the servants."
Hoffman felt a slight republican irritation at the epithet--he knew not
why. But this costume was rather a historical one; surely it was not
entrusted to everyday menials--and he briefly described it.
His host's blank curiosity suddenly changed to a look of mysterious and
"ACH GOTT! yes!" He remembered now (with his finger on his nose) that
when there was a fest at the Schloss the farm and dairy were filled with
shepherdesses, in quaint costume worn by the ladies of the Grand Duke's
own theatrical company, who assumed the characters with great vivacity.
Surely it was the same, and the Grand Duke had treated the Herr to this
special courtesy. Yes--there was one pretty, blonde young lady--the
Fraulein Wimpfenbuttel, a most popular soubrette, who would play it to
the life! And the description fitted her to a hair! Ah, there was no
doubt of it; many persons, indeed, had been so deceived.
But happily, now that he had given him the wink, the Herr could
corroborate it himself by going to the theater tonight. Ah, it would be
a great joke--quite colossal! if he took a front seat where she could
see him. And the good man rubbed his hands in gleeful anticipation.
Hoffman had listened to him with a slow repugnance that was only equal
to his gradual conviction that the explanation was a true one, and
that he himself had been ridiculously deceived. The mystery of his fair
companion's costume, which he had accepted as part of the "show"; the
inconsistency of her manner and her evident occupation; her undeniable
wish to terminate the whole episode with that single interview;
her mingling of worldly aplomb and rustic innocence; her perfect
self-control and experienced acceptance of his gallantry under the
simulated attitude of simplicity--all now struck him as perfectly
comprehensible. He recalled the actress's inimitable touch in certain
picturesque realistic details in the dairy--which she had not spared
him; he recognized it now even in their bowered confidences (how like a
pretty ballet scene their whole interview on the rustic bench was!),
and it breathed through their entire conversation--to their theatrical
parting at the close! And the whole story of the photograph was, no
doubt, as pure a dramatic invention as the rest! The Princess's romantic
interest in him--that Princess who had never appeared (why had he not
detected the old, well-worn, sentimental situation here?)--was all a
part of it. The dark, mysterious hint of his persecution by the police
was a necessary culmination to the little farce. Thank Heaven! he had
not "risen" at the Princess, even if he had given himself away to the
clever actress in her own humble role. Then the humor of the whole
situation predominated and he laughed until the tears came to his eyes,
and his forgotten ancestors might have turned over in their graves
without his heeding them. And with this humanizing influence upon him he
went to the theater.
It was capacious even for the town, and although the performance was a
special one he had no difficulty in getting a whole box to himself. He
tried to avoid this public isolation by sitting close to the next box,
where there was a solitary occupant--an officer--apparently as lonely as
himself. He had made up his mind that when his fair deceiver appeared
he would let her see by his significant applause that he recognized her,
but bore no malice for the trick she had played on him. After all, he
had kissed her--he had no right to complain. If she should recognize
him, and this recognition led to a withdrawal of her prohibition, and
their better acquaintance, he would be a fool to cavil at her pleasant
artifice. Her vocation was certainly a more independent and original
one than that he had supposed; for its social quality and inequality he
cared nothing. He found himself longing for the glance of her calm blue
eyes, for the pleasant smile that broke the seriousness of her sweetly
restrained lips. There was no doubt that he should know her even as the
heroine of DER CZAR UND DER ZIMMERMANN on the bill before him. He was
becoming impatient. And the performance evidently was waiting. A stir
in the outer gallery, the clatter of sabers, the filing of uniforms
into the royal box, and a triumphant burst from the orchestra showed the
cause. As a few ladies and gentlemen in full evening dress emerged from
the background of uniforms and took their places in the front of the
box, Hoffman looked with some interest for the romantic Princess.
Suddenly he saw a face and shoulders in a glitter of diamonds that
startled him, and then a glance that transfixed him.
He leaned over to his neighbor. "Who is the young lady in the box?"
"The Princess Alexandrine."
"I mean the young lady in blue with blond hair and blue eyes."
"It is the Princess Alexandrine Elsbeth Marie Stephanie, the daughter of
the Grand Duke--there is none other there."
He sat silently looking at the rising curtain and the stage. Then he
rose quietly, gathered his hat and coat, and left the box. When he
reached the gallery he turned instinctively and looked back at the royal
box. Her eyes had followed him, and as he remained a moment motionless
in the doorway her lips parted in a grateful smile, and she waved her
fan with a faint but unmistakable gesture of farewell.
The next morning he left Alstadt. There was some little delay at the
Zoll on the frontier, and when Hoffman received back his trunk it was
accompanied by a little sealed packet which was handed to him by the
Customhouse Inspector. Hoffman did not open it until he was alone.
There hangs upon the wall of his modest apartment in New York a narrow,
irregular photograph ingeniously framed, of himself standing side
by side with a young German girl, who, in the estimation of his
compatriots, is by no means stylish and only passably good-looking.
When he is joked by his friends about the post of honor given to this
production, and questioned as to the lady, he remains silent. The
Princess Alexandrine Elsbeth Marie Stephanie von Westphalen-Alstadt,
among her other royal qualities, knew whom to trust.
Next: The Devotion Of Enriquez
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