Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fickle Fortune, by Elisabeth Burstenbinder (AKA E. Werner) - Full Text





From the German





Publishers in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.


[All Rights Reserved.]



'This is what they are pleased to call spring in these parts! The snow drifts thicker and thicker every minute, and the delightful north-east wind comes in vigorous blasts which threaten to carry us away into space, post-chaise and all. It is perfectly maddening.'

The carriage, one of the occupants of which thus gave vent to his ill-humour, was in truth working its way slowly and with difficulty through the accumulated snow on the high-road. Notwithstanding all their efforts, the horses could only advance at a foot-pace, so that the patience of the two travellers seated in the interior of the vehicle was put to a severe test.

Of these, the younger, who was attired in an elegant travelling-suit, far too light of texture, however, for the occasion, could certainly not be more than four-and-twenty years of age. All the hopefulness and confidence, or rather the bright audacity of youth beamed in his frank handsome face, in the dark eyes, which were bold and clear as though no trace of a shadow had ever clouded them. There was something peculiarly winning and agreeable about the young man's whole appearance, but he seemed highly impatient of the delay which now occurred in his journey, and gave expression to his annoyance in every possible way.

His companion, on the other hand, appeared altogether calm and indifferent, as he sat, wrapped in his cloak, leaning well back in the other corner of the carriage. But a few years older than his friend, he possessed little of the latter's attractiveness. He was of powerful, rather than of graceful, build, and he bore himself with an ease which was almost nonchalance. His face would have passed muster as being, at least, full of character, though it could lay claim neither to beauty nor regularity of outline, but it was spoiled by an expression of stern reserve which chilled and repelled.

The deeper bitterness of life, its harsher experiences, could hardly have come home to one so young, and yet there was a look which spoke of these, a something not to be defined or accurately traced, which set on the countenance its own distinctive mark, and made the man appear much older than he really was. The abundant dark hair harmonised with the bushy dark eyebrows, but the eyes themselves were of that uncertain hue which is not generally approved. They made, indeed, scant appeal to the sympathies, expressing none of the happy vivacity, none of those passionate emotions wherein, as a rule, youth is so rich. Their cold unmoved survey was hard, and hardness characterised the young man's entire appearance and demeanour.

The gentleman above described had hitherto sat silent, looking out at the hurrying, driving snow; but now he turned, and in answer to his companion's impatient exclamation, said:

'You forget that we are no longer in Italy, Edmund. In our climate, and especially here among the mountains, March counts among the winter months.'

'Ah me, my beautiful Italy! There we left all bathed in sunshine and fragrant with flowers, and here at home we are received by a snowstorm imported direct from the North Pole, You seem, however, to find no fault with the temperature. The whole journey has been nothing to you but just a troublesome task to be got through. Don't deny it, Oswald. Could you have chosen, you would rather have stayed at home with your books.'

Oswald shrugged his shoulders.

'What I wished, or did not wish, was not taken into consideration. It was decided that you were not to travel without a companion. I therefore simply had to obey orders.'

'Yes, you were given to me as a Mentor,' laughed Edmund; 'charged with the high mission of watching over me, and, at need, of applying a salutary check.'

'In which I certainly have not succeeded. You have committed follies innumerable.'

'Bah! of what use is it to be young and rich, if one is not to enjoy life? I must say this, I have always had to enjoy it by myself. You have not been a good comrade to me, Oswald, my friend. What made you always draw back into your shell in that obstinate, sombre fashion?'

'Because I knew, and know, that what is permitted to the heir of Ettersberg, or what, at most, will be condoned with a few tender reproaches, would be esteemed a crime in me,' was the brusque reply.

'Nonsense!' cried Edmund. 'You know very well that I should have taken the whole responsibility on myself. As it is, I must take all the blame. Well, the judgment on my backslidings will not be over-severe, I warrant, whereas, when you on our return publicly announce your plans for the future, you may hold yourself prepared for a storm.'

'I know that,' replied Oswald laconically.

'But I shall not stand by you this time as I did before, when you so decidedly refused to enter the army,' went on the young Count. 'I got you through that, for I naturally thought you would go into a Government office. We all thought so, looked upon it as a thing decided, and now you suddenly come forward with this insane idea of yours.'

'The idea is neither so new nor so insane as you suppose. It had germinated and taken root in my mind when I began my University career with you. I have directed all my studies with a view to it; but as I wished to avoid a useless conflict lasting through years, I have been silent until now, when the time for the decision has come.'

'I warn you, this project of yours will set the whole family in commotion. And I must say it is a most extraordinary one. Think of an Ettersberg turning barrister, and taking up the defence of any thief or forger who comes in his way! My mother will never hear of it, and she will be perfectly right. Now, if you were to enter a Government office----'

'Years must elapse before I should have mounted the first grades, and during that time I must be altogether dependent on you and your mother.'

This was said in so harsh and curt a tone that Edmund drew himself up quickly.

'Oswald, have I ever let you feel that?'

'You--never! But your very generosity makes me feel it more.'

'So here we are on the old ground again! You are capable of doing the most idiotic thing in the world, merely to shake off this so-called dependence. But what is the matter, I wonder? Why has the carriage stopped? I really believe we are fast in the snow here on the main-road.'

Oswald had already let down the window, and was looking out.

'What is up?' he asked.

'We are stuck,' was the phlegmatic reply of the post-boy, who seemed to consider the thing as perfectly natural.

'Oh, we are stuck, are we!' repeated Edmund, with an irritated laugh. 'And the man informs us of it with that sweet philosophic calm. Well, granted we are stuck. What is to be done?'

Oswald made no reply, but opened the carriage-door and stepped out. The situation could be taken in at a glance; agreeable it certainly was not. From the spot they had reached, the road descended in a steep incline, and the narrow defile through which they must pass was completely blocked by an enormous drift. There the snow lay several feet high, and presented so compact a mass that to get through it seemed impossible. The coachman and horses must have become aware of this simultaneously, for the latter ceased all exertion, and the former sat with drooping whip and reins, gazing at his two passengers as though he expected from them counsel or assistance.

'This confounded post-chaise!' burst forth Edmund, who had followed his companion's example and alighted in his turn. 'Why the deuce had not we our own horses sent out to meet us! We shall not reach Ettersberg now before dark. Driver, we must get on!'

'There is no getting on, sir,' replied the latter, with imperturbable serenity. 'You, gentlemen, can see it for yourselves.'

The young Count was about to make an angry retort, when Oswald laid his hand on his arm.

'The man is right. It really is not to be done. With these two horses only we cannot possibly advance. There is nothing left us but to stop here a while in the carriage, and to send the post-boy on to the next station to procure us a relay.'

'So that we may be snowed up here meanwhile. Rather than that, I would go on to the post-house on foot.'

Oswald's eyes travelled with a somewhat sarcastic glance over his comrade's dress, which was suited only to a railway coupé or a carriage.

'You propose going through the woods on foot in that attire? Along a path where one sinks to the knee at every step? But you will take cold standing here exposed to this sharp wind. Have my cloak.'

So saying, and without more ado, he unfastened his cloak, and placed it about the Count's shoulders, the latter protesting violently, but in vain.

'Do not give it to me; you will have no protection yourself against the wind and weather.'

'Nothing hurts me. I am not delicate.'

'And, in your opinion, I am?' inquired Edmund tetchily.

'No, only spoilt. But now we must come to some decision. Either we must stay here in the carriage and send on the post-boy, or we must endeavour to push forwards by the footpath. Decide quickly. What is to be done?'

'What an abominable way you have of summing up things!' said Edmund, with a sigh. 'You are constantly setting one an alternative----choose this or that. How do I know if the footpath is practicable?'

Here the discussion was interrupted. The snorting of horses and the thud of hoofs on the snow were heard at some little distance, and through the mist and falling flakes a second carriage could be seen approaching. The powerful animals which drew it overcame with tolerable ease the difficulties of the way, until they reached the formidable descent. Here they, too, came to a stand. The coachman drew rein, contemplated the block before him with an ominous shake of the head, and then turned to speak to some one inside the carriage. His report was evidently as unsatisfactory as that delivered by the post-boy, and was received with a like impatience. The answer, which came in a clear, youthful voice, was given sharply and with much energy:

'It is all of no use, Anthony. We must get through.'

'But, Fräulein, if it can't be done!' objected the coachman.

'Nonsense! it must be done. I will just look for myself.'

No sooner were the words spoken in a most decided tone than they were carried into effect. The carriage-door flew open, and a young lady--a lady of whose youth there could be no possible doubt--sprang out. She appeared to be familiar with the March temperature of this mountainous country, and to have taken the necessary precautionary measures, for her costume was one suited to winter. She wore a dark travelling-dress, and over it a fur-trimmed jacket well buttoned about her slender figure, while securely pinned about her hat was a thick veil which covered head and face. The fact that on alighting her foot sank into the soft snow almost to the border of her boot seemed in no way to affect her. She advanced valiantly a few steps, then stopped on beholding another carriage drawn up just before her own.

The attention of the two gentlemen had, of course, also been attracted. Oswald, indeed, merely bestowed a cursory glance on the new-comer, and then addressed his mind again to the critical situation in which they found themselves; but Edmund, on the other hand, at once lost all interest in it.

He left to his companion any further consideration of the difficulty. In an instant he was at the stranger's side, and, executing a bow as elaborate as though they had been in a drawing-room, spoke thus:

'Pardon me, Fräulein, but I perceive we are not the only persons surprised by this incomparable spring weather. It is always consolatory to meet with companions in misfortune; and as we are exposed to a like danger, that of being completely, hopelessly snowed up, you will allow us to offer you our aid and assistance.'

In making this chivalrous offer. Count Ettersberg lost sight of the fact that he and Oswald were as yet helpless themselves, having found no way of overcoming the obstacle in their path. Unfortunately, he was at once taken at his word, for the young lady, no whit abashed by a stranger's address, replied promptly in her former decided tone:

'Well, have the kindness then to make us a way through the snow.'

'I?' asked Edmund, dismayed. 'You wish me to----'

'I wish you to make us a road through the snow--most certainly I do, sir.'

'With the utmost pleasure, Fräulein, if only you will be so good as to tell me how I am to set about it.'

The toe of her little boot tapped the ground vigorously, and there was some slight asperity in her reply.

'I fancied you might have found out that already, as you proffered your help. Well, we must get through some way, no matter how it is managed.'

With this, the speaker threw back her veil, and proceeded to inspect the situation. The withdrawal of that dark blue gauze revealed features of such unwonted loveliness that Edmund, in his surprise, forgot to make response. A fairer sight, indeed, could hardly have been beheld than the face of this young girl, rose-tinted by the action of the keen mountain air. Her brown curly hair peeped and struggled rebelliously out of the silken net which sought to confine it. Her eyes, of the deepest, deepest blue, were not serene and calm as blue eyes are expected to be; on the contrary, they gleamed and sparkled with the saucy merriment which youth and happiness alone can give. Every smile brought a charming, delicious little dimple into either cheek, but there was an expression about the small mouth which hinted at waywardness and defiance; and it might well be that in that little head, beneath those rebellious locks, there lodged a child's caprice, all a child's manifold wilful conceits. Perhaps it was precisely this which gave to the face its own peculiar, piquant charm, which fascinated irresistibly, and forced those who had once looked to look again.

The young lady was by no means unaware of the impression her appearance had created. To the consciousness of it was due, no doubt, the involuntary smile which now chased the petulance from her features. Edmund's silence was not of long duration. Timidity and a want of self-confidence were not among his failings, and he was about to renew the attack with a well-turned compliment when Oswald came up and spoke.

'The difficulty can be overcome,' he said, bowing slightly to the stranger. 'If you, Fräulein, will allow us to harness your horses to our team, it will be possible in the first place to get the post-chaise through the snow, and then to proceed with your carriage in its track.'

'Uncommonly practical!' said Edmund, who was considerably annoyed at being thus interrupted, at the check to his compliment, and to the further development of his many delightful qualities. The young lady appeared somewhat surprised at the curt dry tone in which the proposal was made. The highly unpractical admiration of herself manifested by Count Ettersberg was evidently more to her taste than the cold commonsense of his companion.

She replied, speaking rather shortly in her turn:

'Pray do exactly as you think best.' Then she instructed the coachman to obey the gentleman's orders, and turning to her carriage, prepared to seek a shelter therein from the persistent, thickly-falling snow.

Edmund promptly followed. He felt it incumbent on him to help her in, after which he took up his station on the carriage-step, in order to keep her informed of the progress of the business which Oswald had energetically taken in hand.

'Now the procession has started,' he began his report, the carriage-window having been lowered to facilitate communication. 'They can hardly advance even with the double team. Ah, there, as they go downhill, things look serious. The ramshackle old post-chaise cracks and shakes at every joint; the two men are as awkward in driving as they can possibly be. It is lucky that my companion is commandant of the troop. If there is a thing he thoroughly understands, and in which he excels, it is the art of commanding! Upon my word, they are making a breach in the snow-rampart! They will manage it. Oswald is over yonder already, pointing out to them the direction they are to take.'

'While you are securely posted on my carriage-step,' remarked the young lady, rather caustically.

'Why, Fräulein, you would not require of me to leave you all alone here on the highroad,' said Edmund, taking up his defence. 'Some one must stay here to protect you.'

'I do not think there is any danger of an attack by robbers. Our highways are safe, so far as I know. But you seem to have a fancy for your point of vantage.'

'Whence I enjoy so charming a prospect, yes.'

This too gallant speech was evidently distasteful, for instantaneously the dark blue veil was lowered, and the vaunted prospect disappeared from view. Count Edmund was a little discomfited. He saw his error, and grew more respectful.

A quarter of an hour had well-nigh elapsed before the chaise could be got over the difficult ground. At length it stood secure on the other side. Oswald retraced his steps, and the coachman followed with the horses. Edmund was still on the carriage-step. He had, as it seemed, received absolution for the impertinence of which he had been guilty, for a most animated conversation was going on between the lady and her self-appointed guardian. The former took, however, a certain malicious pleasure in concealing her features from view. Her veil was still closely drawn when Oswald again approached.

'I must beg of you to alight, Fräulein,' he said. 'The descent is rather precipitous, and the snow is deep. Our post-chaise was several times within an ace of being overturned, and your carriage is much heavier. It might be a risk for you to remain in it.'

'What an idea, Oswald!' cried Edmund. 'How can this lady pass along such a road on foot? It is impossible!'

'Not so, only rather uncomfortable,' was the unmoved reply. 'The carriages will have formed some sort of a track; if we follow in that, the journey will really not be so difficult as you imagine. Of course, if the lady is afraid to venture----'

'Afraid?' she interrupted, in an angry tone. 'Pray, sir, do not attribute any such excessive timidity to me. I shall most certainly venture, and that at once.'

So saying, she jumped out of the carriage, and next minute was braving the elements on the open road. Here the wind caught the veil which had been so persistently held down, and it fluttered high in the air. True, the little hand clutched quickly at the truant gauze, but it had wound itself about the hat, and the attempt to regain control of it failed signally; to the great satisfaction of Count Edmund, who was now able to enjoy the 'prospect' without let or hindrance.

Meanwhile the horses had been harnessed to the second carriage. Ruts having previously been made in the snow, the journey this time was more easily performed. Nevertheless, Oswald, who followed closely in the wake of the vehicle, was constantly obliged to offer his guidance and assistance. The driving snow knew no intermission, and the great white flakes whirled round and round, chased by the wind. The high dyke-walls on either side of the road were seen but indistinctly as through a veil, while all further prospect was completely blotted out, hidden in dense mist. It needed the elastic spirits of youth to support with philosophy so severe an ordeal, to find in it food for mirth. Fortunately, this talismanic quality was possessed by the two younger travellers in a high degree. The difficult progress, in the course of which they sank at each step ankle-deep into the snow, the incessant struggle with the wind, all the difficulties, great and small, which had to be overcome, were to them an inexhaustible source of merriment. Their lively talk never flagged an instant. Repartees flowed backwards and forwards rocketwise. Each joke was caught in its passage, and sent back with interest. Neither would allow the other to have the last word, and all this badinage went on as unrestrainedly, in as frank and natural a manner, as though the two had been acquainted for years.

At length the journey was performed, and the summit of the opposite hill reached in safety. Here the road branched off in two directions, and no further obstruction was to be apprehended. The carriages stood side by side, and the respective teams were speedily harnessed in their proper order.

'We shall have to part company now,' said the young lady, pointing to the divergent routes. 'You, no doubt, will continue along the highroad, while my destination lies in the other direction.'

'At no very great distance, I hope,' said Edmund quickly. 'I beg pardon, but all the small misadventures of this journey have done away with anything like etiquette. We have not even told you our names. Under the very exceptional circumstances, you will allow me, Fräulein'--here a violent gust of wind blew the cape of his cloak about his ears, and dashed a shower of wet flakes in his face--'you will allow me to introduce myself, your humble servant. Count Edmund von Ettersberg, who at the same time has the honour of presenting his cousin, Oswald von Ettersberg. You will excuse the reverence which should accompany these words. Our friend Boreas is capable of prostrating me at your feet in the snow.'

The young lady started at the mention of his name.

'Count Edmund? The heir of Ettersberg?'

'At your service.'

The stranger's lips twitched as with a strong inclination to laughter forcibly restrained.

'And you have acted as my protector? We have mutually helped each other in need with our horses. Oh, that is admirable!'

'My name would appear to be familiar to you,' said Edmund. 'May I in my turn learn----'

'Who I am? No, Count, you certainly will not learn that now. But I would advise you not to mention this meeting of ours at Ettersberg, for, innocent as we are in the matter, the avowal would, I think, at once place us both beyond the pale of the law.'

Here the young lady's self-control gave way, and she broke out into such a peal of merry laughter that Oswald looked at her in surprise. Not a whit disconcerted, Edmund immediately adopted the same tone.

'It seems that there exists between us a certain secret connection of which I had no idea,' he said. 'The secret, however, appears to be of a cheerful nature, and though you decline to raise the veil of your incognito, you will, I am sure, permit me to enjoy my share of the joke,' whereupon he joined in her merriment, laughing as heartily and extravagantly as herself.

'The carriages are ready,' said Oswald, breaking in upon this noisy gaiety. 'It is time, I think, for us to be setting out again.'

The two suddenly ceased laughing, and looked as though they considered such an interruption to be most unmannerly. The young lady threw back her head with an angry toss, looked at the speaker from head to foot, and then without more ado turned her back on him, and walked towards the carriage. Edmund naturally accompanied her. He pushed aside the coachman, who was standing by the wheel ready to assist, lifted his beautiful protégée in, and closed the door.

'And I really am not to hear whom chance has thrown in my way in this kind, but all too transitory, manner?' he asked, with a profound bow.

'No, Count. Possibly some explanation may be given you at home--that is, if my signalement be known there. I, most certainly, shall not solve the enigma. One question more, however. Is your cousin always as polite and as sociable as he has shown himself to-day?

'Ah, you would say that he has not opened his lips once during the whole of our walk. Yes, that is unfortunately his way with strangers. As for any sense of gallantry, of deference towards ladies!' Edmund sighed. 'Ah, you little know, Fräulein, what efforts I have to make, how often I have to intervene and make amends for his utter deficiency in that respect.'

'Well, you seem to accept the task with much self-abnegation,' replied the young lady mischievously; 'and you have an extraordinary predilection for mounting carriage-steps. Why, you are up there again!'

Edmund certainly was up there, and would probably long have retained the position, had not the coachman, who now grasped the reins, given visible signs of impatience. The beautiful unknown graciously inclined her head.

'Many thanks for your kindness. Adieu.'

'Adieu, for the present only, I may hope,' cried Edmund eagerly.

'For heaven's sake, hope nothing of the kind. We must forego any such wild notion. You will see it yourself before long. Adieu, Count von Ettersberg.'

These farewell words were followed by the musical, merry laugh. The horses pulled with a will, and the young man had only just time to jump from his standing-point on the step.

'Will you have the kindness to get in at last?'--this in the remonstrant tones of Oswald's voice. 'You were in such a great hurry to reach home, you know, and we are considerably behind time now.'

Edmund cast one more glance at the carriage which was whirling from him his charming new acquaintance. Presently it disappeared among the trees. Then he obeyed his cousin's summons.

'Oswald, who was the lady?' he asked quickly, as the post-chaise in its turn began to move onwards.

'Why on earth ask me? How should I know?'

'Well, you were long enough away with the carriage. You might have inquired of the coachman.'

'It is not my way to question coachmen. Besides, the matter possesses little interest for me.'

'Well, it possesses a good deal for me,' said Edmund irritably. 'But it is just like you. You don't consider it worth while to put a question, though of course, as you are full well aware, one would like to have the matter cleared up. I really don't quite know what to make of the girl. She emits sparks, so to say, at the slightest contact--she attracts and repels in a breath. One minute you feel as if you may address her with perfect unconstraint, and the next you find yourself scared back to the most respectful distance. A most seductive little witch!'

'Exceedingly spoilt and wilful, I should say,' remarked Oswald drily.

'What an abominable pedant you are!' cried the young Count. 'You have always some fault to find. It is precisely her capricious, merry wilfulness which makes the girl so irresistible. But who in the world can she be? I saw no crest on the carriage-panels. The coachman wore a plain livery without any particular badge. Some middle-class family in the neighbourhood, evidently; and yet she seemed to know us very well. Why refuse to give her name? why that allusion to some connection existing between us? In vain I rack my brains to find some explanation.'

Oswald, who seemed to think such mental exertion on his cousin's part most unnecessary, leaned back in his corner in silence, and the journey was continued without further obstacle, but with the tedious slowness which had characterised it throughout. To the Count's great annoyance, instead of the four horses they desired and expected, two only could be had at each relay. In consequence of the downfall of snow, the available animals at each post-house had been put into requisition, so that the travellers had lost fully a couple of hours on the road since they started from the railway-station at noon. It was growing dark when the carriage at length rolled into the courtyard of Castle Ettersberg, where their arrival had evidently long been looked for. The portals of the spacious and brilliantly lighted hall were thrown open, and at the sound of approaching wheels a goodly band of servants hastened to receive their master. One of these, an old retainer, who, like the rest, wore the handsome Ettersberg livery, came straight up to the carriage.

'Good-evening, Everard,' cried Edmund joyfully. 'Here we are at last, in spite of snow and stress of weather. All is well at home, I hope.'

'Quite well, the Lord be praised. Count! but her ladyship was growing very anxious at the delay. She was afraid the young gentlemen had met with a mishap.'

As he spoke, Everard opened the carriage-door, and at that moment a lady of tall and imposing stature, clad in a dark silk robe, appeared at the head of a flight of steps which led from the entrance-hall into the interior of the castle. To spring out of the carriage, to rush into the hall and bound up the steps, was, for Edmund, the affair of an instant. Next minute he was fast in his mother's embrace.

'Dearest mother, what happiness to see you again at last!'

There was nothing in the young Count's exclamation of that light, airy playfulness which had marked his every utterance hitherto. His tone was genuine now, coming from the heart, and a like passionate tenderness thrilled the voice and illumined the features of the Countess as she folded her son in her arms again, and kissed him.

'My Edmund!'

'We are late, are we not? The block on the roads and the detestable arrangements at the post-houses are to blame for it. Moreover, we had a little adventure by the way.'

'How could you travel at all in such weather?' said the Countess, in a tone of loving reproach. 'I was hourly expecting a telegram to say that you would stay the night in B----, and come on here to-morrow.'

'What! Be separated from you four-and-twenty hours longer?' Edmund broke in. 'No, mother, I certainly should not have agreed to that, and you did not believe it of me either.'

The mother smiled. 'No; and for that very reason I have been in distress about you for several hours. But come now, you must need some refreshment after your long and arduous journey.'

She would have taken her son's arm to lead him away, but he stood still, and said a little reproachfully:

'You do not see Oswald, mother.'

Oswald von Ettersberg had followed his cousin in silence. He stood a little aside in the shadow of the great staircase, only emerging from it now as the Countess turned towards him.

'Welcome home, Oswald.'

The greeting was very cool--cool and formal as the salute by which the young man responded to it. He just touched his aunt's hand with his lips, and as he did so, her glance travelled over his attire.

'Why, you are wet through!' she exclaimed in surprise. 'How came that to be?'

'Oh, I forgot to tell you!' cried Edmund. 'When we had to alight, he gave me his cloak, and braved the storm himself without it. Oswald,' he went on, turning to his cousin, 'I might have given it back to you in the carriage at least; why did you not remind me of it? Now you have been sitting a whole hour in that wet coat. I do trust you will take no harm from it.'

He took off the cloak hastily, and passed his hand inquiringly over Oswald's shoulder, which certainly bore evidence of a good wetting. The other shook him off.

'Don't. It is not worth speaking of.'

'I really think not,' said the Countess, to whom this kindly concern on her son's part was evidently distasteful. 'You know that Oswald is not susceptible to the influence of the weather. He must change his clothes, that is all. Go, Oswald; but no, one word more,' she added carelessly, and, as it were, by an afterthought: 'I have this time given you another room, one situated over yonder, in the side-wing.'

'For what reason?' asked Edmund, surprised and annoyed. 'You know that we have always had our rooms together.'

'I have made some alterations in your apartments, my son,' said the Countess, in a tone of much decision; 'and they have obliged me to take possession of Oswald's room. He will have no objection, I am sure. He will find himself very comfortably lodged over yonder in the tower-chamber.'

'No doubt, aunt.'

The reply sounded quiet and indifferent enough, yet there was something in its tone which struck on the Count's ear unpleasantly.

He frowned, and would have spoken again, but glancing at the servants standing round, he suppressed the remark he had been about to make. Instead of pursuing the discussion, he went up to his cousin and grasped his hand.

'Well, we can talk this over later on. Go now, Oswald, and change your clothes at once--at once, do you hear? If you keep those wet things on any longer, you will give me cause for serious self-reproach. Do it to please me; we will wait dinner for you.'

'Edmund, you seem to forget that I am waiting for you.'

'One minute, mother. Everard, light Herr von Ettersberg to his room, and see that he has dry clothes ready without delay.'

So saying, he turned to his mother, and offered his arm to lead her away. Oswald had responded by no single syllable to all the concern on his account so heartily expressed. He stood for a few seconds, looking after the two as they departed; then, as the old servant approached, he took the candelabrum from his hand.

'That will do, Everard; I can find my way alone. Look after my trunk, will you?'

He turned into the faintly illumined corridor which led to the side-wing of the castle. The wax tapers he carried threw their clear light on the young man's face, from which, now that he was alone, the mask of indifference had dropped. The lips were tightly compressed, the brows contracted, and an expression of bitterness, almost of hate, distorted his features, as he murmured to himself under his breath:

'Will the day never come when I shall be free?'

View the rest of Fickle Fortune, by Elisabeth Burstenbinder (AKA E. Werner) - Full Text

No comments:

Post a Comment