As days went on and grew into weeks, and weeks paired off until a month passed, and I still saw the same stricken look upon my sister’s face, my heart grew full of foreboding.
One morning the astonishing news came that Sir Peter had gone to America.
“America!” I ejaculated (it was always I who acted the part of chorus and did the exclamations and questioning), and I looked at Harry Arkwright, who had communicated the news, and who held an open letter in his hand.
“Yes, to America, to see about a railway which looks very bad. He has no end of their bonds,” said Harry, folding up the letter.
“When will he return?”
“He doesn’t know. Meanwhile we are to stay where we are.”
Adelaide, when we spoke of this circumstance, said, bitterly:
“Everything is against me!”
“Against you, Adelaide?” said I, looking apprehensively at her.
“Yes, everything!” she repeated.
She had never been effusive in her behavior to others; she was now, if possible, still less so, but the uniform quietness and gentleness with which she now treated all who came in contact with her, puzzled and troubled me. What was it that preyed upon her mind? In looking round for a cause my thoughts lighted first on one person, then on another; I dismissed the idea of all, except von Francius, with a smile. Shortly I abandoned that idea too. True, he was a man of very different caliber from the others; a man, too, for whom Adelaide had conceived a decided friendship, though in these latter days even that seemed to be dying out. He did not come so often; when he did come they had little to say to each other. Perhaps, after all, the cause of her sadness lay no deeper than her every-day life, which must necessarily grow more mournful day by day. She could feel intensely, as I had lately become aware, and had, too, a warm, quick imagination. It might be that a simple weariness of life and the anticipation of long years to come of such a life lay so heavily upon her soul as to have wrought that gradual change.
Sometimes I was satisfied with this theory; at others it dwindled into a miserably inadequate measure. When Adelaide once or twice kissed me, smiled at me, and called me “dear,” it was on my lips to ask the meaning of the whole thing, but it never passed them. I dared not speak when it came to the point.
One day, about this time, I met Anna Sartorius in one of the picture exhibitions. I would have bowed and passed her, but she stopped and spoke to me.
“I have not seen you often lately,” said she; “but I assure you, you will hear more of me some time—and before long.”
Without replying, I passed on. Anna had ceased even to pretend to look friendly upon me, and I did not feel much alarm as to her power for or against my happiness or peace of mind.
Regularly, once a month, I wrote to Miss Hallam and occasionally had a few lines from Stella, who had become a protégée of Miss Hallam’s too. They appeared to get on very well together, at which I did not wonder; for Stella, with all her youthfulness, was of a cynical turn of mind, which must suit Miss Hallam well.
My greatest friend in Elberthal was good little Dr. Mittendorf, who had brought his wife to call upon me, and to whose house I had been invited several times since Miss Hallam’s departure.
During this time I worked more steadily than ever, and with a deeper love of my art for itself. Von Francius was still my master and my friend. I used to look back upon the days, now nearly a year ago, when I first saw him, and seeing him, distrusted and only half liked him, and wondered at myself; for I had now as entire a confidence in him as can by any means be placed in a man. He had thoroughly won my esteem, respect, admiration—in a measure, too, my affection. I liked the power of him; the strong hand with which he carried things in his own way; the idiomatic language, and quick, curt sentences in which he enunciated his opinions. I felt him like a strong, kind, and thoughtful elder brother, and have had abundant evidence in his deeds and in some brief unemotional words of his that he felt a great regard of the fraternal kind for me. It has often comforted me, that friendship—pure, disinterested and manly on his side, grateful and unwavering on mine.
I still retained my old lodgings in the Wehrhahn, and was determined to do so. I would not be tied to remain in Sir Peter Le Marchant’s house unless I choose. Adelaide wished me to come and remain with her altogether. She said Sir Peter wished it too; he had written and said she might ask me. I asked what was Sir Peter’s motive in wishing it? Was it not a desire to humiliate both of us, and to show us that we—the girl who had scorned him, and the woman who had sold herself to him—were in the end dependent upon him, and must follow his will and submit to his pleasure?
She reddened, sighed, and owned that it was true; nor did she press me any further.
A month, then, elapsed between the carnival in February and the next great concert in the latter end of March. It was rather a special concert, for von Francius had succeeded, in spite of many obstacles, in bringing out the Choral Symphony.
He conducted well that night; and he, Courvoisier, Friedhelm Helfen, Karl Linders, and one or two others, formed in their white heat of enthusiasm a leaven which leavened the whole lump. Orchestra and chorus alike did a little more than their possible, without which no great enthusiasm can be carried out. As I watched von Francius, it seemed to me that a new soul had entered into the man. I did not believe that a year ago he could have conducted the Choral Symphony as he did that night. Can any one enter into the broad, eternal clang of the great “world-story” unless he has a private story of his own which may serve him in some measure as a key to its mystery? I think not. It was a night of triumph for Max von Francius. Not only was the glorious music cheered and applauded, he was called to receive a meed of thanks for having once more given to the world a never-dying joy and beauty.
I was in the chorus. Down below I saw Adelaide and her devoted attendant, Harry Arkwright. She looked whiter and more subdued than ever. All the splendor of the praise of “joy” could not bring joy to her heart—
brought no warmth to her cheek, nor lessened the load on her breast.
The concert over, we returned home. Adelaide and I retired to her dressing-room, and her maid brought us tea. She seated herself in silence. For my part, I was excited and hot, and felt my cheeks glowing. I was so stirred that I could not sit still, but moved to and fro, wishing that all the world could hear that music, and repeating lines from the “Ode to Joy,” the grand march-like measure, feeling my heart uplifted with the exaltation of its opening strain:
As I paced about thus excitedly, Adelaide’s maid came in with a note. Mr. Arkwright had received it from Herr von Francius, who had desired him to give it to Lady Le Marchant.
Adelaide opened it and I went on with my chant. I know now how dreadful it must have sounded to her.
“May!” said Adelaide, faintly.
I turned in my walk and looked at her. White as death, she held the paper toward me with a steady hand, and I, the song of joy slain upon my lips, took it. It was a brief note from von Francius.
“I let you know, my lady, first of all that I have accepted the post of Musik-Direktor in ——. It will be made known to-morrow.”
I held the paper and looked at her. Now I knew the reason of her pallid looks. I had indeed been blind. I might have guessed better.
“Have you read it?” she asked, and she stretched her arms above her head, as if panting for breath.
“Adelaide!” I whispered, going up to her; “Adelaide—oh!”
She fell upon my neck. She did not speak, and I, speechless, held her to my breast.
“You love him, Adelaide?” I said, at last.
“With my whole soul!” she answered, in a low, very low, but vehement voice. “With my whole soul.”
“And you have owned it to him?”
“Tell me,” said I, “how it was.”
“I think I have loved him since almost the first time I saw him—he made quite a different impression upon me than other men do—quite. I hardly knew myself. He mastered me. No other man ever did—except—” she shuddered a little, “and that only because I tied myself hand and foot. But I liked the mastery. It was delicious; it was rest and peace. It went on for long. We knew—each knew quite well that we loved, but he never spoke of it. He saw how it was with me and he helped me—oh, why is he so good? He never tried to trap me into any acknowledgment. He never made any use of the power he knew he had except to keep me right. But at the Maskenball—I do not know how it was—we were alone in all the crowd—there was something said—a look. It was all over. But he was true to the last. He did not say, ‘Throw everything up and come to me.’ He said, ‘Give me the only joy that we may have. Tell me you love me.’ And I told him. I said, ‘I love you with my life and my soul, and everything I have, for ever and ever.’ And that is true. He said, ‘Thank you, milady. I accept the condition of my knighthood,’ and kissed my hand. There was some-one following us. It was Sir Peter. He heard all, and he has punished me for it since. He will punish me again.”
“That is all that has been said. He does not know that Sir Peter knows, for he has never alluded to it since. He has spared me. I say he is a noble man.”
She raised herself, and looked at me.
Dear sister! With your love and your pride, your sins and your folly, inexpressibly dear to me! I pressed a kiss upon her lips.
“Von Francius is good, Adelaide; he is good.”
“Von Francius would have told me this himself, but he has been afraid for me; some time ago he said to me that he had the offer of a post at a distance. That was asking my advice. I found out what it was, and said, ‘Take it.’ He has done so.”
“Then you have decided?” I stammered.
“To part. He has strength. So have I. It was my own fault. May—I could bear it if it were for myself alone. I have had my eyes opened now. I see that when people do wrong they drag others into it—they punish those they love—it is part of their own punishment.”
A pause. Facts, I felt, were pitiless; but the glow of friendship for von Francius was like a strong fire. In the midst of the keenest pain one finds a true man, and the discovery is like a sudden soothing of sharp anguish, or like the finding a strong comrade in a battle.
Adelaide had been very self-restrained and quiet all this time, but now suddenly broke out into low, quick, half sobbed-out words:
“Oh, I love him, I love him! It is dreadful! How shall I go through with it?”
Ay, there was the rub! Not one short, sharp pang, and over—all fire quenched in cool mists of death and unconsciousness, but long years to come of daily, hourly, paying the price; incessant compunction, active punishment. A prospect for a martyr to shirk from, and for a woman who has made a mistake to—live through.
We needed not further words. The secret was told, and the worst known. We parted. Von Francius was from this moment a sacred being to me.
But from this time he scarcely came near the house—not even to give me my lessons. I went to my lodging and had them there. Adelaide said nothing, asked not a question concerning him, nor mentioned his name, and the silence on his side was almost as profound as that on hers. It seemed as if they feared that should they meet, speak, look each other in the eyes, all resolution would be swept away, and the end hurry resistless on.