“Zu Rathe gehen, und vom Rath zur That.”
There was surely not much in Miss Hallam to encourage confidences; yet within half an hour of the time of entering her house I had told her all that oppressed my heart, and had gained a feeling of greater security than I had yet felt. I was sure that she would befriend me. True, she did not say so. When I told her about Sir Peter Le Marchant’s proposal to me, about Adelaide’s behavior; when, in halting and stammering tones, and interrupted by tears, I confessed that I had not spoken to my father or mother upon the subject, and that I was not quite sure of their approval of what I had done, she even laughed a little, but not in what could be called an amused manner. When I had finished my tale, she said:
“If I understand you, the case stands thus: You have refused Sir Peter Le Marchant, but you do not feel at all sure that he will not propose to you again. Is it not so?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“And you dread and shrink from the idea of a repetition of this business?”
“I feel as if it would kill me.”
“It would not kill you. People are not so easily killed as all that; but it is highly unfit that you should be subjected to a recurrence of it. I will think about it. Will you have the goodness to read me a page of this book?”
Much surprised at this very abrupt change of the subject, but not daring to make any observation upon it, I took the book—the current number of a magazine—and read a page to her.
“That will do,” said she. “Now, will you read this letter, also aloud?”
She put a letter into my hand, and I read:
“Dear Madame,—In answer to your letter of last week, I write to say that I could find the rooms you require, and that by me you will have many good agreements which would make your stay in Germany pleasanter. My house is a large one in the Alléestrasse. Dr. Mittendorf, the oculist, lives not far from here, and the Städtische Augenklinik—that is, the eye hospital—is quite near. The rooms you would have are upstairs—suite of salon and two bedrooms, with room for your maid in another part of the house. I have other boarders here at the time, but you would do as you pleased about mixing with them.
“With all highest esteem,
“You don’t understand it all, I suppose?” said she, when I had finished.
“That lady writes from Elberthal. You have heard of Elberthal on the Rhine, I presume?”
“Oh, yes! A large town. There used to be a fine picture-gallery there; but in the war between the—”
“There, thank you! I studied Guy’s geography myself in my youth. I see you know the place I mean. There is an eye hospital there, and a celebrated oculist—Mittendorf. I am going there. I don’t suppose it will be of the least use; but I am going. Drowning men catch at straws. Well, what else can you do? You don’t read badly.”
“I can sing—not very well, but I can sing.”
“You can sing,” said she, reflectively. “Just go to the piano and let me hear a specimen. I was once a judge in these matters.”
I opened the piano and sung, as well as I could, an English version of “Die Lotus-blume.”
My performance was greeted with silence, which Miss Hallam at length broke, remarking:
“I suppose you have not had much training?”
“Humph! Well, it is to be had, even if not in Skernford. Would you like some lessons?”
“I should like a good many things that I am not likely ever to have.”
“At Elberthal there are all kinds of advantages with regard to those things—music and singing, and so on. Will you come there with me as my companion?”
I heard, but did not fairly understand. My head was in a whirl. Go to Germany with Miss Hallam; leave Skernford, Sir Peter, all that had grown so weary to me; see new places, live with new people; learn something! No, I did not grasp it in the least. I made no reply, but sat breathlessly staring.
“But I shall expect you to make yourself useful to me in many ways,” proceeded Miss Hallam.
At this touch of reality I began to waken up again.
“Oh, Miss Hallam, is it really true? Do you think they will let me go?”
“You haven’t answered me yet.”
“About being useful? I would do anything you like—anything in the world.”
“Do not suppose your life will be all roses, or you will be woefully disappointed. I do not go out at all; my health is bad—so is my temper very often. I am what people who never had any trouble are fond of calling peculiar. Still, if you are in earnest, and not merely sentimentalizing, you will take your courage in your hands and come with me.”
“Miss Hallam,” said I, with tragic earnestness, as I took her hand, “I will come. I see you half mistrust me; but if I had to go to Siberia to get out of Sir Peter’s way, I would go gladly and stay there. I hope I shall not be very clumsy. They say at home that I am, very, but I will do my best.”
“They call you clumsy at home, do they?”
“Yes. My sisters are so much cleverer than I, and can do everything so much better than I can. I am rather stupid, I know.”
“Very well, if you like to call yourself so, do. It is decided that you come with me. I will see your father about it to-morrow. I always get my own way when I wish it. I leave in about a week.”
I sat with clasped hands, my heart so full that I could not speak. Sadness and gladness struggled hard within me. The idea of getting away from Skernford was almost too delightful; the remembrance of Adelaide made my heart ache.