A Legend of Sammtstadt by Bret Harte
It was the sacred hour of noon at Sammtstadt. Everybody was at dinner; and
the serious Kellner of "Der Wildemann" glanced in mild reproach at Mr.
James Clinch, who, disregarding that fact and the invitatory table d'hote,
stepped into the street. For Mr. Clinch had eaten a late breakfast at
Gladbach, was dyspeptic and American, and, moveover, preoccupied with
business. He was consequently indignant, on entering the garden-like court
and cloister-like counting-house of "Von Becheret, Sons, Uncles, and
Cousins," to find the comptoir deserted even by the porter, and was
furious at the maidservant, who offered the sacred shibboleth
"Mittagsessen" as a reasonable explanation of the solitude. "A country,"
said Mr. Clinch to himself, "that stops business at mid-day to go to
dinner, and employs women-servants to talk to business-men, is played
He stepped from the silent building into the equally silent Kronprinzen
Strasse. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rows on rows of two-storied,
gray-stuccoed buildings that might be dwellings, or might be offices, all
showing some traces of feminine taste and supervision in a flower or a
curtain that belied the legended "Comptoir," or "Direction," over their
portals. Mr. Clinch thought of Boston and State Street, of New York and
Wall Street, and became coldly contemptuous.
Yet there was clearly nothing to do but to walk down the formal rows of
chestnuts that lined the broad Strasse, and then walk back again. At the
corner of the first cross-street he was struck with the fact that two men
who were standing in front of a dwelling-house appeared to be as
inconsistent, and out of proportion to the silent houses, as were the
actors on a stage to the painted canvas thoroughfares before which they
strutted. Mr. Clinch usually had no fancies, had no eye for quaintness;
besides, this was not a quaint nor romantic district, only an entrepot for
silks and velvets, and Mr. Clinch was here, not as a tourist, but as a
purchaser. The guidebooks had ignored Sammtstadt, and he was too good an
American to waste time in looking up uncatalogued curiosities. Besides, he
had been here once before,—an entire day!
One o'clock. Still a full hour and a half before his friend would return
to business. What should he do? The Verein where he had once been
entertained was deserted even by its waiters; the garden, with its
ostentatious out-of-door tables, looked bleak and bare. Mr. Clinch was not
artistic in his tastes; but even he was quick to detect the affront put
upon Nature by this continental, theatrical gardening, and turned
disgustedly away. Born near a "lake" larger than the German Ocean, he
resented a pool of water twenty-five feet in diameter under that alluring
title; and, a frequenter of the Adirondacks, he could scarce contain
himself over a bit of rock-work twelve feet high. "A country," said Mr.
Clinch, "that—" but here he remembered that he had once seen in a
park in his native city an imitation of the Drachenfels in plaster, on a
scale of two inches to the foot, and checked his speech.
He turned into the principal allee of the town. There was a long white
building at one end,—the Bahnhof: at the other end he remembered a
dye-house. He had, a year ago, met its hospitable proprietor: he would
call upon him now.
But the same solitude confronted him as he passed the porter's lodge
beside the gateway. The counting-house, half villa, half factory, must
have convoked its humanity in some out-of-the-way refectory, for the halls
and passages were tenantless. For the first time he began to be impressed
with a certain foreign quaintness in the surroundings; he found himself
also recalling something he had read when a boy, about an enchanted palace
whose inhabitants awoke on the arrival of a long-predestined Prince. To
assure himself of the absolute ridiculousness of this fancy, he took from
his pocket the business-card of its proprietor, a sample of dye, and
recalled his own personality in a letter of credit. Having dismissed this
idea from his mind, he lounged on again through a rustic lane that might
have led to a farmhouse, yet was still, absurdly enough, a part of the
factory gardens. Crossing a ditch by a causeway, he presently came to
another ditch and another causeway, and then found himself idly
contemplating a massive, ivy-clad, venerable brick wall. As a mere wall it
might not have attracted his attention; but it seemed to enter and bury
itself at right angles in the side-wall of a quite modern-looking
dwelling. After satisfying himself of this fact, he passed on before the
dwelling, but was amazed to see the wall reappear on the other side
exactly the same—old, ivy-grown, sturdy, uncompromising, and
Could it actually be a part of the house? He turned back, and repassed the
front of the building. The entrance door was hospitably open. There was a
hall and a staircase, but—by all that was preposterous!—they
were built OVER and AROUND the central brick intrusion. The wall actually
ran through the house! "A country," said Mr. Clinch to himself, "where
they build their houses over ruins to accommodate them, or save the
trouble of removal, is,—" but a very pleasant voice addressing him
here stopped his usual hasty conclusion.
Mr. Clinch looked hastily up. Leaning on the parapet of what appeared to
be a garden on the roof of the house was a young girl, red-cheeked,
bright-eyed, blond-haired. The voice was soft, subdued, and mellow; it was
part of the new impression he was receiving, that it seemed to be in some
sort connected with the ivy-clad wall before him. His hat was in his hand
as he answered,—
"Was the Herr seeking anything?"
"The Herr was only waiting a longtime-coming friend, and had strayed here
to speak with the before-known proprietor."
"So? But, the before-known proprietor sleeping well at present after
dinner, would the Herr on the terrace still a while linger?"
The Herr would, but looked around in vain for the means to do it. He was
thinking of a scaling-ladder, when the young woman reappeared at the open
door, and bade him enter.
Following the youthful hostess, Mr. Clinch mounted the staircase, but,
passing the mysterious wall, could not forbear an allusion to it. "It is
old, very old," said the girl: "it was here when I came."
"That was not very long ago," said Mr. Clinch gallantly.
"No; but my grandfather found it here too."
"And built over it?"
"Why not? It is very, very hard, and SO thick."
Mr. Clinch here explained, with masculine superiority, the existence of
such modern agents as nitro-glycerine and dynamite, persuasive in their
effects upon time-honored obstructions and encumbrances.
"But there was not then what you call—this—ni—nitro-glycerine."
"But since then?"
The young girl gazed at him in troubled surprise. "My great-grandfather
did not take it away when he built the house: why should we?"
They had passed through a hall and dining-room, and suddenly stepped out
of a window upon a gravelled terrace. From this a few stone steps
descended to another terrace, on which trees and shrubs were growing; and
yet, looking over the parapet, Mr. Clinch could see the road some twenty
feet below. It was nearly on a level with, and part of, the second story
of the house. Had an earthquake lifted the adjacent ground? or had the
house burrowed into a hill? Mr. Clinch turned to his companion, who was
standing close beside him, breathing quite audibly, and leaving an
impression on his senses as of a gentle and fragrant heifer.
"How was all this done?"
The maiden did not know. "It was always here."
Mr. Clinch reascended the steps. He had quite forgotten his impatience.
Possibly it was the gentle, equable calm of the girl, who, but for her
ready color, did not seem to be moved by anything; perhaps it was the
peaceful repose of this mausoleum of the dead and forgotten wall that
subdued him, but he was quite willing to take the old-fashioned chair on
the terrace which she offered him, and follow her motions with not
altogether mechanical eyes as she drew out certain bottles and glasses
from a mysterious closet in the wall. Mr. Clinch had the weakness of a
majority of his sex in believing that he was a good judge of wine and
women. The latter, as shown in the specimen before him, he would have
invoiced as a fair sample of the middle-class German woman,—healthy,
comfort-loving, home-abiding, the very genius of domesticity. Even in her
virgin outlines the future wholesome matron was already forecast, from the
curves of her broad hips, to the flat lines of her back and shoulders. Of
the wine he was to judge later. THAT required an even more subtle and
She placed two bottles before him on the table,—one, the traditional
long-necked, amber-colored Rheinflasche; the other, an old, quaint,
discolored, amphorax-patterned glass jug. The first she opened.
"This," she said, pointing to the other, "cannot be opened."
Mr. Clinch paid his respects first to the opened bottle, a good quality of
Niersteiner. With his intellect thus clarified, he glanced at the other.
"It is from my great-grandfather. It is old as the wall."
Mr. Clinch examined the bottle attentively. It seemed to have no cork.
Formed of some obsolete, opaque glass, its twisted neck was apparently
hermetically sealed by the same material. The maiden smiled, as she said,—
"It cannot be opened now without breaking the bottle. It is not good luck
to do so. My grandfather and my father would not."
But Mr. Clinch was still examining the bottle. Its neck was flattened
towards the mouth; but a close inspection showed it was closed by some
equally hard cement, but not glass.
"If I can open it without breaking the bottle, have I your permission?"
A mischievous glance rested on Mr. Clinch, as the maiden answered,—
"I shall not object; but for what will you do it?"
"To taste it, to try it."
"You are not afraid?"
There was just enough obvious admiration of Mr. Clinch's audacity in the
maiden's manner to impel him to any risk. His only answer was to take from
his pocket a small steel instrument. Holding the neck of the bottle firmly
in one hand, he passed his thumb and the steel twice or thrice around it.
A faint rasping, scratching sound was all the wondering girl heard. Then,
with a sudden, dexterous twist of his thumb and finger, to her utter
astonishment he laid the top of the neck, neatly cut off, in her hand.
"There's a better and more modern bottle than you had before," he said,
pointing to the cleanly-divided neck, "and any cork will fit it now."
But the girl regarded him with anxiety. "And you still wish to taste the
"With your permission, yes!"
He looked up in her eyes. There was permission: there was something more,
that was flattering to his vanity. He took the wine-glass, and, slowly and
in silence, filled it from the mysterious flask.
The wine fell into the glass clearly, transparently, heavily, but still
and cold as death. There was no sparkle, no cheap ebullition, no
evanescent bubble. Yet it was so clear, that, but for a faint
amber-tinting, the glass seemed empty. There was no aroma, no ethereal
diffusion from its equable surface. Perhaps it was fancy, perhaps it was
from nervous excitement; but a slight chill seemed to radiate from the
still goblet, and bring down the temperature of the terrace. Mr. Clinch
and his companion both insensibly shivered.
But only for a moment. Mr. Clinch raised the glass to his lips. As he did
so, he remembered seeing distinctly, as in a picture before him, the
sunlit terrace, the pretty girl in the foreground,—an amused
spectator of his sacrilegious act,—the outlying ivy-crowned wall,
the grass-grown ditch, the tall factory chimneys rising above the
chestnuts, and the distant poplars that marked the Rhine.
The wine was delicious; perhaps a TRIFLE, only a trifle, heady. He was
conscious of a slight exaltation. There was also a smile upon the girl's
lip and a roguish twinkle in her eye as she looked at him.
"Do you find the wine to your taste?" she asked.
"Fair enough, I warrant," said Mr. Clinch with ponderous gallantry; "but
methinks 'tis nothing compared with the nectar that grows on those ruby
lips. Nay, by St. Ursula, I swear it!"
No sooner had this solemnly ridiculous speech passed the lips of the
unfortunate man than he would have given worlds to have recalled it. He
knew that he must be intoxicated; that the sentiment and language were
utterly unlike him, he was miserably aware; that he did not even know
exactly what it meant, he was also hopelessly conscious. Yet feeling all
this,—feeling, too, the shame of appearing before her as a man who
had lost his senses through a single glass of wine,—nevertheless he
rose awkwardly, seized her hand, and by sheer force drew her towards him,
and kissed her. With an exclamation that was half a cry and half a laugh,
she fled from him, leaving him alone and bewildered on the terrace.
For a moment Mr. Clinch supported himself against the open window, leaning
his throbbing head on the cold glass. Shame, mortification, an hysterical
half-consciousness of his utter ridiculousness, and yet an odd, undefined
terror of something, by turns possessed him. Was he ever before guilty of
such perfect folly? Had he ever before made such a spectacle of himself?
Was it possible that he, Mr. James Clinch, the coolest head at a late
supper,—he, the American, who had repeatedly drunk Frenchmen and
Englishmen under the table—could be transformed into a sentimental,
stagey idiot by a single glass of wine? He was conscious, too, of asking
himself these very questions in a stilted sort of rhetoric, and with a
rising brutality of anger that was new to him. And then everything swam
before him, and he seemed to lose all consciousness.
But only for an instant. With a strong effort of his will he again
recalled himself, his situation, his surroundings, and, above all, his
appointment. He rose to his feet, hurriedly descended the terrace-steps,
and, before he well knew how, found himself again on the road. Once there,
his faculties returned in full vigor; he was again himself. He strode
briskly forward toward the ditch he had crossed only a few moments before,
but was suddenly stopped. It was filled with water. He looked up and down.
It was clearly the same ditch; but a flowing stream thirty feet wide now
separated him from the other bank.
The appearance of this unlooked-for obstacle made Mr. Clinch doubt the
full restoration of his faculties. He stepped to the brink of the flood to
bathe his head in the stream, and wash away the last vestiges of his
potations. But as he approached the placid depths, and knelt down he again
started back, and this time with a full conviction of his own madness; for
reflected from its mirror-like surface was a figure he could scarcely call
his own, although here and there some trace of his former self remained.
His close-cropped hair, trimmed a la mode, had given way to long, curling
locks that dropped upon his shoulders. His neat mustache was frightfully
prolonged, and curled up at the ends stiffly. His Piccadilly collar had
changed shape and texture, and reached—a mass of lace—to a
point midway of his breast! His boots,—why had he not noticed his
boots before?—these triumphs of his Parisian bootmaker, were lost in
hideous leathern cases that reached half way up his thighs. In place of
his former high silk hat, there lay upon the ground beside him the awful
thing he had just taken off,—a mass of thickened felt, flap,
feather, and buckle that weighed at least a stone.
A single terrible idea now took possession of him. He had been "sold,"
"taken in," "done for." He saw it all. In a state of intoxication he had
lost his way, had been dragged into some vile den, stripped of his clothes
and valuables, and turned adrift upon the quiet town in this shameless
masquerade. How should he keep his appointment? how inform the police of
this outrage upon a stranger and an American citizen? how establish his
identity? Had they spared his papers? He felt feverishly in his breast.
Ah!—his watch? Yes, a watch—heavy, jewelled, enamelled—and,
by all that was ridiculous, FIVE OTHERS! He ran his hands into his
capacious trunk hose. What was this? Brooches, chains, finger-rings,—one
large episcopal one,—ear-rings, and a handful of battered gold and
silver coins. His papers, his memorandums, his passport—all proofs
of his identity—were gone! In their place was the unmistakable
omnium gatherum of an accomplished knight of the road. Not only was his
personality, but his character, gone forever.
It was a part of Mr. Clinch's singular experience that this last stroke of
ill fortune seemed to revive in him something of the brutal instinct he
had felt a moment before. He turned eagerly about with the intention of
calling some one—the first person he met—to account. But the
house that he had just quitted was gone. The wall! Ah, there it was, no
longer purposeless, intrusive, and ivy-clad, but part of the buttress of
another massive wall that rose into battlements above him. Mr. Clinch
turned again hopelessly toward Sammtstadt. There was the fringe of poplars
on the Rhine, there were the outlying fields lit by the same meridian sun;
but the characteristic chimneys of Sammtstadt were gone. Mr. Clinch was
The sound of a horn breaking the stillness recalled his senses. He now for
the first time perceived that a little distance below him, partly hidden
in the trees, was a queer, tower-shaped structure with chains and pulleys,
that in some strange way recalled his boyish reading. A drawbridge and
portcullis! And on the battlement a figure in a masquerading dress as
absurd as his own, flourishing a banner and trumpet, and trying to attract
"Was wollen Sie?"
"I want to see the proprietor," said Mr. Clinch, choking back his rage.
There was a pause, and the figure turned apparently to consult with some
one behind the battlements. After a moment he reappeared, and in a
perfunctory monotone, with an occasional breathing spell on the trumpet,
"You do give warranty as a good knight and true, as well as by the bones
of the blessed St. Ursula, that you bear no ill will, secret enmity,
wicked misprise or conspiracy, against the body of our noble lord and
master Von Kolnsche? And you bring with you no ambush, siege, or surprise
of retainers, neither secret warrant nor lettres de cachet, nor carry on
your knightly person poisoned dagger, magic ring, witch-powder, nor
enchanted bullet, and that you have entered into no unhallowed alliance
with the Prince of Darkness, gnomes, hexies, dragons, Undines, Loreleis,
nor the like?"
"Come down out of that, you d——d old fool!" roared Mr. Clinch,
now perfectly beside himself with rage,—"come down, and let me in!"
As Mr. Clinch shouted out the last words, confused cries of recognition
and welcome, not unmixed with some consternation, rose from the
battlements: "Ach Gott!" "Mutter Gott—it is he! It is Jann, Der
Wanderer. It is himself." The chains rattled, the ponderous drawbridge
creaked and dropped; and across it a medley of motley figures rushed
pellmell. But, foremost among them, the very maiden whom he had left not
ten minutes before flew into his arms, and with a cry of joyful greeting
sank upon his breast. Mr. Clinch looked down upon the fair head and long
braids. It certainly was the same maiden, his cruel enchantress; but where
did she get those absurd garments?
"Willkommen," said a stout figure, advancing with some authority, and
seizing his disengaged hand, "where hast thou been so long?"
Mr. Clinch, by no means placated, coldly dropped the extended hand. It was
NOT the proprietor he had known. But there was a singular resemblance in
his face to some one of Mr. Clinch's own kin; but who, he could not
remember. "May I take the liberty of asking your name?" he asked coldly.
The figure grinned. "Surely; but, if thou standest upon punctilio, it is
for ME to ask thine, most noble Freiherr," said he, winking upon his
retainers. "Whom have I the honor of entertaining?"
"My name is Clinch,—James Clinch of Chicago, Ill."
A shout of laughter followed. In the midst of his rage and mortification
Mr. Clinch fancied he saw a shade of pain and annoyance flit across the
face of the maiden. He was puzzled, but pressed her hand, in spite of his
late experiences, reassuringly. She made a gesture of silence to him, and
then slipped away in the crowd.
"Schames K'l'n'sche von Schekargo," mimicked the figure, to the
unspeakable delight of his retainers. "So! THAT is the latest French
style. Holy St. Ursula! Hark ye, nephew! I am not a travelled man. Since
the Crusades we simple Rhine gentlemen have staid at home. But I call
myself Kolnsche of Koln, at your service."
"Very likely you are right," said Mr. Clinch hotly, disregarding the
caution of his fair companion; "but, whoever YOU are, I am a stranger
entitled to protection. I have been robbed."
If Mr. Clinch had uttered an exquisite joke instead of a very angry
statement, it could not have been more hilariously received. He paused,
grew confused, and then went on hesitatingly,—
"In place of my papers and credentials I find only these." And he produced
the jewelry from his pockets.
Another shout of laughter and clapping of hands followed this second
speech; and the baron, with a wink at his retainers, prolonged the general
mirth by saying, "By the way, nephew, there is little doubt but there has
"It was done," continued Mr. Clinch, hurrying to make an end of his
explanation, "while I was inadvertently overcome with liquor,—drugged
The laughter here was so uproarious that the baron, albeit with tears of
laughter in his own eyes, made a peremptory gesture of silence. The
gesture was peculiar to the baron, efficacious and simple. It consisted
merely in knocking down the nearest laugher. Having thus restored
tranquillity, he strode forward, and took Mr. Clinch by the hand. "By St.
Adolph, I did doubt thee a moment ago, nephew; but this last frank
confession of thine shows me I did thee wrong. Willkommen zu Hause, Jann,
drunk or sober, willcommen zu Cracowen."
More and more mystified, but convinced of the folly of any further
explanation, Mr. Clinch took the extended hand of his alleged uncle, and
permitted himself to be led into the castle. They passed into a large
banqueting-hall adorned with armor and implements of the chase. Mr. Clinch
could not help noticing, that, although the appointments were liberal and
picturesque, the ventilation was bad, and the smoke from the huge chimney
made the air murky. The oaken tables, massive in carving and rich in
color, were unmistakably greasy; and Mr. Clinch slipped on a piece of meat
that one of the dozen half-wild dogs who were occupying the room was
tearing on the floor. The dog, yelping, ran between the legs of a
retainer, precipitating him upon the baron, who instantly, with the "equal
foot" of fate, kicked him and the dog into a corner.
"And whence came you last?" asked the baron, disregarding the little
contretemps, and throwing himself heavily on an oaken settle, while he
pushed a queer, uncomfortable-looking stool, with legs like a
Siamese-twin-connected double X, towards his companion.
Mr. Clinch, who had quite given himself up to fate, answered mechanically,—
The baron winked his eye with unutterable, elderly wickedness. "Ach Gott!
it is nothing to what it was when I was your age. Ah! there was Manon,—Sieur
Manon we used to call her. I suppose she's getting old now. How goes on
the feud between the students and the citizens? Eh? Did you go to the bal
in la Cite?"
Mr. Clinch stopped the flow of those Justice-Shallow-like reminiscences by
an uneasy exclamation. He was thinking of the maiden who had disappeared
so suddenly. The baron misinterpreted his nervousness. "What ho, within
there!—Max, Wolfgang,—lazy rascals! Bring some wine."
At the baleful word Mr. Clinch started to his feet. "Not for me! Bring me
none of your body-and-soul-destroying poison! I've enough of it!"
The baron stared. The servitors stared also.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Clinch, recalling himself slowly; "but I
fear that Rhine wine does not agree with me."
The baron grinned. Perceiving, however, that the three servitors grinned
also, he kicked two of them into obscurity, and felled the third to the
floor with his fist. "Hark ye, nephew," he said, turning to the astonished
Clinch, "give over this nonsense! By the mitre of Bishop Hatto, thou art
as big a fool as he!"
"Hatto," repeated Clinch mechanically. "What! he of the Mouse Tower?"
"Ay, of the Mouse Tower!" sneered the baron. "I see you know the story."
"Why am I like him?" asked Mr. Clinch in amazement.
The baron grinned. "HE punished the Rhenish wine as thou dost, without
judgment. He had—"
"The jim-jams," said Mr. Clinch mechanically again.
The baron frowned. "I know not what gibberish thou sayest by 'jim-jams';
but he had, like thee, the wildest fantasies and imaginings; saw snakes,
toads, rats, in his boots, but principally rats; said they pursued him,
came to his room, his bed—ach Gott!"
"Oh!" said Mr. Clinch, with a sudden return to his firmer self and his
native inquiring habits; "then THAT is the fact about Bishop Hatto of the
"His enemies made it the subject of a vile slander of an old friend of
mine," said the baron; "and those cursed poets, who believe everything,
and then persuade others to do so,—may the Devil fly away with them!—kept
Here were facts quite to Mr. Clinch's sceptical mind. He forgot himself
and his surroundings.
"And that story of the Drachenfels?" he asked insinuatingly,—"the
dragon, you know. Was he too—"
The baron grinned. "A boar transformed by the drunken brains of the Bauers
of the Siebengebirge. Ach Gott! Ottefried had many a hearty laugh over it;
and it did him, as thou knowest, good service with the nervous mother of
the silly maiden."
"And the seven sisters of Schonberg?" asked Mr. Clinch persuasively.
"'Schonberg! Seven sisters!' What of them?" demanded the baron sharply.
"Why, you know,—the maidens who were so coy to their suitors, and—don't
you remember?—jumped into the Rhine to avoid them."
"'Coy? Jumped into the Rhine to avoid suitors'?" roared the baron, purple
with rage. "Hark ye, nephew! I like not this jesting. Thou knowest I
married one of the Schonberg girls, as did thy father. How 'coy' they were
is neither here nor there; but mayhap WE might tell another story. Thy
father, as weak a fellow as thou art where a petticoat is concerned, could
not as a gentleman do other than he did. And THIS is his reward? Ach Gott!
'Coy!' And THIS, I warrant, is the way the story is delivered in Paris."
Mr. Clinch would have answered that this was the way he read it in a
guidebook, but checked himself at the hopelessness of the explanation.
Besides, he was on the eve of historic information; he was, as it were,
interviewing the past; and, whether he would ever be able to profit by the
opportunity or not, he could not bear to lose it. "And how about the
Lorelei—is she, too, a fiction?" he asked glibly.
"It was said," observed the baron sardonically, "that when thou
disappeared with the gamekeeper's daughter at Obercassel—Heaven
knows where!—thou wast swallowed up in a whirlpool with some
creature. Ach Gott! I believe it! But a truce to this balderdash. And so
thou wantest to know of the 'coy' sisters of Schoenberg? Hark ye, Jann,
that cousin of thine is a Schonberg. Call you her 'coy'? Did I not see thy
greeting? Eh? By St. Adolph, knowing thee as she does to be robber and
thief, call you her greeting 'coy'?"
Furious as Mr. Clinch inwardly became under these epithets, he felt that
his explanation would hardly relieve the maiden from deceit, or himself
from weakness. But out of his very perplexity and turmoil a bright idea
was born. He turned to the baron,—
"Then you have no faith in the Rhine legends?"
The baron only replied with a contemptuous shrug of his shoulders.
"But what if I told you a new one?"
"Yes; a part of my experience?"
The baron was curious. It was early in the afternoon, just after dinner.
He might be worse bored.
"I've only one condition," added Mr. Clinch: "the young lady—I mean,
of course, my cousin—must hear it too."
"Oh, ay! I see. Of course—the old trick! Well, call the jade. But
mark ye, Sir Nephew, no enchanted maidens and knights. Keep to thyself. Be
as thou art, vagabond Jann Kolnische, knight of the road.—What ho
there, scoundrels! Call the Lady Wilhemina."
It was the first time Mr. Clinch had heard his fair friend's name; but it
was not, evidently, the first time she had seen him, as the very decided
wink the gentle maiden dropped him testified. Nevertheless, with hands
lightly clasped together, and downcast eyes, she stood before them.
Mr. Clinch began. Without heeding the baron's scornful grin, he
graphically described his meeting, two years before, with a Lorelei, her
usual pressing invitation, and his subsequent plunge into the Rhine.
"I am free to confess," added Mr. Clinch, with an affecting glance to
Wilhelmina, "that I was not enamoured of the graces of the lady, but was
actuated by my desire to travel, and explore hitherto unknown regions. I
wished to travel, to visit—"
"Paris," interrupted the baron sarcastically.
"America," continued Mr. Clinch.
"'Tis a gnome-like sounding name, this Meriker. Go on, nephew: tell us of
With the characteristic fluency of his nation, Mr. Clinch described his
landing on those enchanted shores, viz, the Rhine Whirlpool and Hell Gate,
East River, New York. He described the railways, tram-ways, telegraphs,
hotels, phonograph, and telephone. An occasional oath broke from the
baron, but he listened attentively; and in a few moments Mr. Clinch had
the raconteur's satisfaction of seeing the vast hall slowly filling with
open-eyed and open-mouthed retainers hanging upon his words. Mr. Clinch
went on to describe his astonishment at meeting on these very shores some
of his own blood and kin. "In fact," said Mr. Clinch, "here were a race
calling themselves 'Clinch,' but all claiming to have descended from
"And how?" sneered the baron.
"Through James Kolnische and Wilhelmina his wife," returned Mr. Clinch
boldly. "They emigrated from Koln and Crefeld to Philadelphia, where there
is a quarter named Crefeld." Mr. Clinch felt himself shaky as to his
chronology, but wisely remembered that it was a chronology of the future
to his hearers, and they could not detect an anachronism. With his eyes
fixed upon those of the gentle Wilhelmina, Mr. Clinch now proceeded to
describe his return to his fatherland, but his astonishment at finding the
very face of the country changed, and a city standing on those fields he
had played in as a boy; and how he had wandered hopelessly on, until he at
last sat wearily down in a humble cottage built upon the ruins of a lordly
castle. "So utterly travel-worn and weak had I become," said Mr. Clinch,
with adroitly simulated pathos, "that a single glass of wine offered me by
the simple cottage maiden affected me like a prolonged debauch."
A long-drawn snore was all that followed this affecting climax. The baron
was asleep; the retainers were also asleep. Only one pair of eyes remained
open,—arch, luminous, blue,—Wilhelmina's.
"There is a subterranean passage below us to Linn. Let us fly!" she
"They always do it in the legends," she murmured modestly.
"But your father?"
"He sleeps. Do you not hear him?"
Certainly somebody was snoring. But, oddly enough, it seemed to be
Wilhelmina. Mr. Clinch suggested this to her.
"Fool, it is yourself!"
Mr. Clinch, struck with the idea, stopped to consider. She was right. It
certainly WAS himself.
With a struggle he awoke. The sun was shining. The maiden was looking at
him. But the castle—the castle was gone!
"You have slept well," said the maiden archly. "Everybody does after
dinner at Sammtstadt. Father has just awakened, and is coming."
Mr. Clinch stared at the maiden, at the terrace, at the sky, at the
distant chimneys of Sammtstadt, at the more distant Rhine, at the table
before him, and finally at the empty glass. The maiden smiled. "Tell me,"
said Mr. Clinch, looking in her eyes, "is there a secret passage
underground between this place and the Castle of Linn?"
"An underground passage?"
"Ay—whence the daughter of the house fled with a stranger knight."
"They say there is," said the maiden, with a gentle blush.
"Can you show it to me?"
She hesitated. "Papa is coming: I'll ask him."
I presume she did. At least the Herr Consul at Sammtstadt informs me of a
marriage-certificate issued to one Clinch of Chicago, and Kolnische of
Koln; and there is an amusing story extant in the Verein at Sammtstadt, of
an American connoisseur of Rhine wines, who mistook a flask of Cognac and
rock-candy, used for "craftily qualifying" lower grades of wine to the
American standard, for the rarest Rudesheimerberg.