Queen Tita's Wager by William Black
It is a Christmas morning in Surrey—cold, still and gray, with a
frail glimmer of sunshine coming through the bare trees to melt the
hoar-frost on the lawn. The postman has just gone out, swinging the gate
behind him. A fire burns brightly in the breakfast-room; and there is
silence about the house, for the children have gone off to climb Box Hill
before being marched to church.
The small and gentle lady who presides over the household walks sedately
in, and lifts the solitary letter that is lying on her plate. About three
seconds suffice to let her run through its contents, and then she suddenly
"I knew it! I said it! I told you two months ago she was only flirting
with him; and now she has rejected him. And oh! I am so glad of it! The
The other person in the room, who had been meekly waiting for his
breakfast for half an hour, ventures to point out that there is nothing to
rejoice over in the fact of a young man having been rejected by a young
"If it were final, yes! If these two young folks were not certain to go
and marry somebody else, you might congratulate them both. But you know
they will. The poor boy will go courting again in three months' time, and
be vastly pleased with his condition."
"Oh, never, never!" she says. "He has had such a lesson! You know I warned
him. I knew she was only flirting with him. Poor Charlie! Now I hope he
will get on with his profession, and leave such things out of his head.
And as for that creature—"
"I will do you the justice to say," observes her husband, who is still
regarding the table with a longing eye, "that you did oppose this match,
because you hadn't the making of it. If you had brought these two together
they would have been married ere this. Never mind; you can marry him to
somebody of your own choosing now."
"No," she says, with much decision; "he must not think of marriage. He
cannot think of it. It will take the poor lad a long time to get over this
"He will marry within a year."
"I will bet you whatever you like that he doesn't," she says,
"Whatever I like! That is a big wager. If you lose, do you think you could
pay? I should like, for example, to have my own way in my own house."
"If I lose you shall," says the generous creature; and the bargain is
Nothing further is said about this matter for the moment. The children
return from Box Hill, and are rigged out for church. Two young people,
friends of ours, and recently married, having no domestic circle of their
own, and having promised to spend the whole Christmas Day with us,
arrived. Then we set out, trying as much as possible to think that
Christmas Day is different from any other day, and pleased to observe that
the younger folk, at least, cherish the delusion.
But just before reaching the church I say to the small lady who got the
letter in the morning, and whom we generally call Tita:
"When do you expect to see Charlie?"
"I don't know," she answers. "After this cruel affair he won't like to go
"You remember that he promised to go with us to the Black Forest?"
"Yes; and I am sure it will be a pleasant trip for him."
"Shall we go to Huferschingen?"
"I suppose so."
"Franziska is a pretty girl."
Now you would not think that any great mischief could be done by the mere
remark that Franziska was a pretty girl. Anybody who had seen Franziska
Fahler, niece of the proprietor of the "Goldenen Bock" in Huferschingen,
would admit that in a moment. But this is nevertheless true, that our
important but diminutive Queen Tita was very thoughtful during the rest of
our walk to this little church; and in church, too, she was thinking so
deeply that she almost forgot to look at the effect of the decorations she
had nailed up the day before. Yet nothing could have offended in the bare
observation that Franziska was a pretty girl.
At dinner in the evening we had our two guests and a few young fellows
from London who did not happen to have their families or homes there.
Curiously enough, there was a vast deal of talk about travelling, and also
about Baden, and more particularly about the southern districts of Baden.
Tita said the Black Forest was the most charming place in the world; and
as it was Christmas Day, and as we had been listening to a sermon all
about charity and kindness and consideration for others, nobody was rude
enough to contradict her. But our forbearance was put to a severe test
when, after dinner, she produced a photographic album and handed it round,
and challenged everybody to say whether the young lady in the corner was
not absolutely lovely. Most of them said that she was certainly very
nice-looking; and Tita seemed a little disappointed.
I perceived that it would no longer do to say that Franziska was a pretty
girl. We should henceforth have to swear by everything we held dear that
she was absolutely lovely.
II—ZUM "GOLDENEN BOCK"
We felt some pity for the lad when we took him abroad with us; but it must
be confessed that at first he was not a very desirable travelling
companion. There was a gloom about him. Despite the eight months that had
elapsed, he professed that his old wound was still open. Tita treated him
with the kindest maternal solicitude, which was a great mistake; tonics,
not sweets, are required in such cases. Yet he was very grateful, and he
said, with a blush, that, in any case, he would not rail against all women
because of the badness of one. Indeed, you would not have fancied he had
any great grudge against womankind. There were a great many English abroad
that autumn, and we met whole batches of pretty girls at every station and
at every table d'hote on our route. Did he avoid them, or glare at
them savagely, or say hard things of them? Oh no! quite the reverse. He
was a little shy at first; and when he saw a party of distressed damsels
in a station, with their bewildered father in vain attempting to make
himself understood to a porter, he would assist them in a brief and
businesslike manner as if it were a duty, lift his cap, and then march off
relieved. But by-and-by he began to make acquaintances in the hotel; and
as he was a handsome, English-looking lad, who bore a certificate of
honesty in his clear gray eyes and easy gait, he was rather made much of.
Nor could any fault be decently found with his appetite.
So we passed on from Konigswinter to Coblenz, and from Coblenz to
Heidelberg, and from Heidelberg south to Freiburg, where we bade adieu to
the last of the towns, and laid hold of a trap with a pair of ancient and
angular horses, and plunged into the Hollenthal, the first great gorge of
the Black Forest mountains. From one point to another we slowly urged our
devious course, walking the most of the day, indeed, and putting the trap
and ourselves up for the night at some quaint roadside hostelry, where we
ate of roe-deer and drank of Affenthaler, and endeavoured to speak German
with a pure Waldshut accent. And then, one evening, when the last rays of
the sun were shining along the hills and touching the stems of the tall
pines, we drove into a narrow valley and caught sight of a large brown
building of wood, with projecting eaves and quaint windows, that stood
close by the forest.
"Here is my dear inn!" cried Tita, with a great glow of delight and
affection in her face. "Here is mein gutes Thal! Ich gruss' dich ein
tausend Mal! And here is old Peter come out to see us; and there is
"Oh, this is Franziska, is it?" said Charlie.
Yes, this was Franziska. She was a well-built, handsome girl of nineteen
or twenty, with a healthy, sunburnt complexion, and dark hair plaited into
two long tails, which were taken up and twisted into a knot behind. That
you could see from a distance. But on nearer approach you found that
Franziska had really fine and intelligent features, and a pair of frank,
clear, big brown eyes that had a very straight look about them. They were
something of the eyes of a deer, indeed; wide apart, soft, and
apprehensive, yet looking with a certain directness and unconsciousness
that overcame her natural girlish timidity. Tita simply flew at her and
kissed her heartily and asked her twenty questions at once. Franziska
answered in very fair English, a little slow and formal, but quite
grammatical. Then she was introduced to Charlie, and she shook hands with
him in a simple and unembarrassed way; and then she turned to one of the
servants and gave some directions about the luggage. Finally she begged
Tita to go indoors and get off her travelling attire, which was done,
leaving us two outside.
"She's a very pretty girl," Charlie said, carelessly. "I suppose she's
sort of head cook and kitchen-maid here."
The impudence of these young men is something extraordinary.
"If you wish to have your head in your hands," I remarked to him, "just
you repeat that remark at dinner. Why, Franziska is no end of a swell. She
has two thousand pounds and the half of a mill. She has a sister married
to the Geheimer-Ober-Hofbaurath of Hesse-Cassel. She had visited both
Paris and Munich, and she has her dresses made in Freiburg."
"But why does such an illustrious creature bury herself in this valley,
and in an old inn, and go about bareheaded?"
"Because there are folks in the world without ambition, who like to live a
quiet, decent, homely life. Every girl can't marry a
Geheimer-Ober-Hofbaurath. Ziska, now, is much more likely to marry the
young doctor here."
"Oh, indeed! and live here all her days. She couldn't do better. Happy
We went indoors. It was a low, large, rambling place, with one immense
room all hung round with roe-deers' horns, and with one lesser room fitted
up with a billiard-table. The inn lay a couple of hundred yards back from
Huferschingen; but it had been made the headquarters of the keepers, and
just outside this room there were a number of pegs for them to sling their
guns and bags on when they came in of an evening to have a pipe and a
chopin of white wine. Ziska's uncle and aunt were both large, stout, and
somnolent people, very good-natured and kind, but a trifle dull. Ziska
really had the management of the place, and she was not slow to lend a
hand if the servants were remiss in waiting on us. But that, it was
understood, was done out of compliment to our small Queen Tita.
By-and-by we sat down to dinner, and Franziska came to see that everything
was going on straight. It was a dinner "with scenery." You forgot to be
particular about the soup, the venison, and the Affenthaler when from the
window at your elbow you could look across the narrow valley and behold a
long stretch of the Black Forest shining in the red glow of the sunset.
The lower the sun sank the more intense became the crimson light on the
tall stems of the pines; and then you could see the line of shadow slowly
rising up the side of the opposite hill until only the topmost trees were
touched with fire. Then these too lost it, and all the forest around us
seemed to have a pale-blue mist stealing over it as the night fell and the
twilight faded out of the sky overhead. Presently the long undulations of
fir grew black, the stars came out, and the sound of the stream could be
heard distantly in the hollow; and then, at Tita's wish, we went off for a
last stroll in among the soft moss and under the darkness of the pines,
now and again starting some great capercailzie, and sending it flying and
whirring down the glades.
When we returned from that prowl into the forest, we found the inn dark.
Such people as may have called in had gone home; but we suspected that
Franziska had given the neighbours a hint not to overwhelm us on our first
arrival. When we entered the big room, Franziska came in with candles;
then she brought some matches, and also put on the table an odd little
pack of cards, and went out. Her uncle and aunt had, even before we went
out, come and bade us good-night formally, and shaken hands all round.
They are early folk in the Black Forest.
"Where has that girl gone now?" says Charlie. "Into that lonely
billiard-room! Couldn't you ask her to come in here? Or shall we go and
Tita stares, and then demurely smiles; but it is with an assumed severity
that she rebukes him for such a wicked proposal, and reminds him that he
must start early next morning. He groans assent. Then she takes her leave.
The big young man was silent for a moment or two, with his hands in his
pockets and his legs stretched out. I begin to think I am in for it—the
old story of blighted hopes and angry denunciation and hypocritical joy,
and all the rest of it. But suddenly Charlie looks up with a businesslike
air and says:
"Who is that doctor fellow you were speaking about! Shall we see him
"You saw him to-night. It was he who passed us on the road with the two
"What! that little fellow with the bandy legs and the spectacles?" he
cries, with a great laugh.
"That little fellow," I observe to him, "is a person of some importance, I
can tell you. He—"
"I suppose his sister married a Geheimer-Ober-under—what the dickens
is it?" says this disrespectful young man.
"Dr. Krumm has got the Iron Cross."
"That won't make his legs any the straighter."
"He was at Weissenburg."
"I suppose he got that cast in the eye there."
"He can play the zither in a way that would astonish you. He has got a
little money. Franziska and he would be able to live very comfortably
"Franziska and that fellow?" says Charlie; and then he rises with a sulky
air, and proposes we should take our candles with us.
But he is not sulky very long; for Ziska, hearing our footsteps, comes to
the passage and bids us a friendly good-night.
"Good-night, Miss Fahler!" he says, in rather a shamefaced way; "and I am
so awfully sorry we have kept you up so late. We sha'n't do it again."
You would have thought by his manner that it was two o'clock, whereas it
was only half-past eleven!
There was no particular reason why Dr. Krumm should marry Franziska
Fahler, except that he was the most important young man in Huferschingen,
and she was the most important young woman. People therefore thought they
would make a good match, although Franziska certainly had the most to give
in the way of good looks. Dr. Krumm was a short, bandy-legged, sturdy
young man, with long, fair hair, a tanned complexion, light-blue eyes not
quite looking the same way, spectacles, and a general air of industrious
common sense about him, if one may use such a phrase. There was certainly
little of the lover in his manner toward Ziska, and as little in hers
toward him. They were very good friends, though, and he called her Ziska,
while she gave him his nickname of Fidelio, his real name being Fidele.
Now on this, the first morning of our stay in Huferschingen, all the
population had turned out at an early hour to see us start for the forest;
and as the Ober-Forster had gone away to visit his parents in Bavaria, Dr.
Krumm was appointed to superintend the operations of the day. And when
everybody was busy renewing acquaintance with us, gathering the straying
dogs, examining guns and cartridge-belts, and generally aiding in the
profound commotion of our setting out, Dr. Krumm was found to be talking
in a very friendly and familiar manner with our pretty Franziska. Charlie
eyed them askance. He began to say disrespectful things of Krumm: he
thought Krumm a plain person. And then, when the bandy-legged doctor had
got all the dogs, keepers, and beaters together, we set off along the
road, and presently plunged into the cool shade of the forest, where the
thick moss suddenly silenced our footsteps, and where there was a moist
and resinous smell in the air.
Well, the incidents of the forenoon's shooting, picturesque as they were,
and full of novelty to Tita's protege, need not be described. At the end
of the fourth drive, when we had got on nearly to luncheon-time, it
appeared that Charlie had killed a handsome buck, and he was so pleased
with this performance that he grew friendly with Dr. Krumm, who had,
indeed, given him the haupt-stelle. But when, as we sat down to our
sausages and bread and red wine, Charlie incidentally informed our
commander-in-chief that, during one of the drives, a splendid yellow fox
had come out of the underwood and stood and stared at him for three or
four seconds, the doctor uttered a cry of despair.
"I should have told you that," he said, in English that was not quite so
good as Ziska's, "if I had remembered, yes! The English will not shoot the
foxes; but they are very bad for us; they kill the young deer. We are glad
to shoot them; and Franziska she told me she wanted a yellow fox for the
skin to make something."
Charlie got very red in the face. He had missed a chance. If he had
known that Franziska wanted a yellow fox, all the instinctive veneration
for that animal that was in him would have gone clean out, and the fate of
the animal—for Charlie was a smart shot—would have been
"Are there many of them?" said he, gloomily.
"No; not many. But where there is one there are generally four or five. In
the next drive we may come on them, yes! I will put you in a good place,
sir, and you must not think of letting him go away; for Franziska, who has
waited two, three weeks, and not one yellow fox not anywhere, and it is
for the variety of the skin in a—a—I do not know what you call
"A rug, I suppose," said Charlie.
I subsequently heard that Charlie went to his post with a fixed
determination to shoot anything of yellow colour that came near him. His
station was next to that of Dr. Krumm; but of course they were invisible
to each other. The horns of the beaters sounded a warning; the gunners
cocked their guns and stood on the alert; in the perfect silence each one
waited for the first glimmer of a brown hide down the long green glades of
young fir. Then, according to Charlie's account, by went two or three deer
like lightning—all of them does. A buck came last, but swerved just
as he came in sight, and backed and made straight for the line of beaters.
Two more does, and then an absolute blank. One or two shots had been heard
at a distance; either some of the more distant stations had been more
fortunate, or one or other of the beaters had tried his luck. Suddenly
there was a shot fired close to Charlie; he knew it must have been the
doctor. In about a minute afterward he saw some pale-yellow object slowly
worming its way through the ferns; and here, at length, he made sure he
was going to get his yellow fox. But just as the animal came within fair
distance, it turned over, made a struggle or two, and lay still. Charlie
rushed along to the spot: it was, indeed, a yellow fox, shot in the head,
and now as dead as a door-nail.
What was he to do? Let Dr. Krumm take home this prize to Franziska, after
he had had such a chance in the afternoon? Never! Charlie fired a barrel
into the air, and then calmly awaited the coming up of the beaters and the
drawing together of the sportsmen.
Dr. Krumm, being at the next station, was the first to arrive. He found
Charlie standing by the side of the slain fox.
"Ha!" he said, his spectacles fairly gleaming with delight, "you have
shotted him! You have killed him! That is very good—that is
excellent! Now you will present the skin to Miss Franziska, if you do not
wish to take it to England."
"Oh no!" said Charlie, with a lordly indifference. "I don't care about it.
Franziska may have it."
Charlie pulled me aside, and said, with a solemn wink:
"Can you keep a secret?"
"My wife and I can keep a secret. I am not allowed to have any for
"Listen," said the unabashed young man; "Krumm shot that fox. Mind you
don't say a word. I must have the skin to present to Franziska."
I stared at him; I had never known him guilty of a dishonest action. But
when you do get a decent young English fellow condescending to do anything
shabby, be sure it is a girl who is the cause. I said nothing, of course;
and in the evening a trap came for us, and we drove back to Huferschingen.
Tita clapped her hands with delight; for Charlie was a favourite of hers,
and now he was returning like a hero, with a sprig of fir in his cap to
show that he had killed a buck.
"And here, Miss Franziska," he said, quite gaily, "here is a yellow fox
for you. I was told that you wanted the skin of one."
Franziska fairly blushed for pleasure; not that the skin of a fox was very
valuable for her, but that the compliment was so open and marked. She came
forward, in German fashion, and rather shyly shook hands with him in token
of her thanks.
When Tita was getting ready for dinner I told her about the yellow fox. A
married man must have no secrets.
"He is not capable of such a thing," she says, with a grand air.
"But he did it," I point out. "What is more, he glories in it. What did he
say when I remonstrated with him on the way home! 'Why,' says he, 'I
will put an end to Krumm! I will abolish Krumm! I will extinguish Krumm!'
Now, madame, who is responsible for this? Who had been praising Franziska
night and day as the sweetest, gentlest, cleverest girl in the world,
until this young man determines to have a flirtation with her and astonish
"A flirtation!" says Tita, faintly. "Oh no! Oh, I never meant that."
"Ask him just now, and he will tell you that women deserve no better. They
have no hearts; they are treacherous. They have beautiful eyes, but no
conscience. And so he means to take them as they are, and have his measure
"Oh, I am sure he never said anything so abominably wicked," cried Tita,
laying down the rose that Franziska had given her for her hair. "I know he
could not say such things. But if he is so wicked—if he has said
them—it is not too late to interfere. I will see about it."
She drew herself up as if Jupiter had suddenly armed her with his
thunderbolts. If Charlie had seen her at this moment he would have
quailed. He might by chance have told the truth, and confessed that all
the wicked things he had been saying about woman's affection were only a
sort of rhetoric, and that he had no sort of intention to flirt with poor
Franziska, nor yet to extinguish and annihilate Dr. Krumm.
The heartbroken boy was in very good spirits at dinner. He was inclined to
wink. Tita, on the contrary, maintained an impressive dignity of
demeanour; and when Franziska's name happened to be mentioned she spoke of
the young girl as her very particular friend, as though she would dare
Charlie to attempt a flirtation with one who held that honour. But the
young man was either blind or reckless, or acting a part for mere
mischief. He pointed the finger of scorn at Dr. Krumm. He asked Tita if he
should bring her a yellow fox next day. He declared he wished he could
spend the remainder of his life in a Black Forest Inn, with a napkin over
his arm, serving chopins. He said he would brave the wrath of the Furst by
shooting a capercailzie on the very first opportunity, to bring the
shining feathers home to Franziska.
When Tita and I went upstairs at night the small and gentle creature was
"I cannot make it out," she said. "He is quite changed. What is the matter
"You behold, madam, in that young man the moral effects of vulpicide. A
demon has entered into him. You remember, in 'Der Freischutz,' how—"
"Did you say vulpicide?" she asks, with a sweet smile. "I understood that
Charlie's crime was that he did not kill the fox."
I allow her the momentary triumph. Who would grudge to a woman a little
verbal victory of that sort? And, indeed, Tita's satisfaction did not last
long. Her perplexity became visible on her face once more.
"We are to be here three weeks," she said, almost to herself, "and he
talks of flirting with poor Franziska. Oh, I never meant that!"
"But what did you mean?" I ask her, with innocent wonder.
Tita hangs down her head, and there is an end to that conversation; but
one of us, at least, has some recollection of a Christmas wager.
Charlie was not in such good spirits next morning. He was standing outside
the inn, in the sweet, resinous-scented air, watching Franziska coming and
going, with her bright face touched by the early sunlight, and her frank
and honest eyes lit up by a kindly look when she passed us. His conscience
began to smite him for claiming that fox.
We spent the day in fishing a stream some few miles distant from
Huferschingen, and Franziska accompanied us. What need to tell of our
success with the trout and the grayling, or of the beautiful weather, or
of the attentive and humble manner in which the unfortunate youth
addressed Franziska from time to time?
In the evening we drove back to Huferschingen. It was a still and
beautiful evening, with the silence of the twilight falling over the
lonely valleys and the miles upon miles of darkening pines. Charlie has
not much of a voice, but he made an effort to sing with Tita:
"The winds whistle cold and the stars glimmer red,
The sheep are in fold and the cattle in shed;"
and the fine old glee sounded fairly well as we drove through the
gathering gloom of the forest. But Tita sang, in her low, sweet fashion,
that Swedish bridal song that begins:
"Oh, welcome her so fair, with bright and flowing hair;
May Fate through life befriend her, love and smiles attend her;"
and though she sang quietly, just as if she were singing to herself, we
all listened with great attention, and with great gratitude too. When we
got out of Huferschingen, the stars were out over the dark stretches of
forest, and the windows of the quaint old inn were burning brightly.
"And have you enjoyed the amusement of the day?" says Miss Fahler, rather
shyly, to a certain young man who is emptying his creel of fish. He drops
the basket to turn round and look at her face and say earnestly:
"I have never spent so delightful a day; but it wasn't the fishing."
Things were becoming serious.
And next morning Charlie got hold of Tita, and said to her, in rather a
"What am I to do about that fox? It was only a joke, you know; but if Miss
Fahler gets to hear of it, she'll think it was rather shabby."
It was always Miss Fahler now; a couple of days before it was Franziska.
"For my part," says Tita, "I can't understand why you did it. What honour
is there in shooting a fox?"
"But I wanted to give the skin to her."
It was "her" by this time.
"Well, I think the best thing you can do is to go and tell her all about
it; and also to go and apologise to Dr. Krumm."
"I will go and tell her, certainly; but as for apologising to Krumm, that
"As you please," says Tita.
By-and-by Franziska—or rather Miss Fahler—came out of the
small garden and round by the front of the house.
"O Miss Fahler," says Charlie, suddenly,—and with that she stops and
blushes slightly,—"I've got something to say to you. I am going to
make a confession. Don't be frightened; it's only about a fox—the
fox that was brought home the day before yesterday; Dr. Krumm shot that."
"Indeed," says Franziska, quite innocently, "I thought you shot it."
"Well, I let them imagine so. It was only a joke."
"But it is of no matter; there are many yellow foxes. Dr. Krumm can shoot
them at another time; he is always here. Perhaps you will shoot one before
With that Franziska passed into the house, carrying her fruit with her.
Charlie was left to revolve her words in his mind. Dr. Krumm could shoot
foxes when he chose; he was always here. He, Charlie, on the contrary, had
to go away in little more than a fortnight. There was no Franziska in
England; no pleasant driving through great pine woods in the gathering
twilight; no shooting of yellow foxes, to be brought home in triumph and
presented to a beautiful and grateful young woman. Charlie walked along
the white road and overtook Tita, who had just sat down on a little
camp-stool, and got out the materials for taking a water-colour sketch of
the Huferschingen Valley. He sat down at her feet on the warm grass.
"I suppose I sha'n't interrupt your painting by talking to you?" he says.
"Oh dear, no," is the reply; and then he begins, in a somewhat hesitating
way, to ask indirect questions and drop hints and fish for answers, just
as if this small creature, who was busy with her sepias and olive greens,
did not see through all this transparent cunning.
At last she said to him, frankly:
"You want me to tell you whether Franziska would make a good wife for you.
She would make a good wife for any man. But then you seem to think that I
should intermeddle and negotiate and become a go-between. How can I do
that. My husband is always accusing me of trying to make up matches; and
you know that isn't true."
"I know it isn't true," says the hypocrite; "but you might only this once.
I believe all you say about this girl; I can see it for myself; and when
shall I ever have such a chance again?"
"But dear me!" says Tita, putting down the white palette for a moment,
"how can I believe you are in earnest? You have only known her three
"And that is quite enough," says Charlie, boldly, "to let you find out all
you want to know about a girl if she is of the right sort. If she isn't
you won't find out in three years. Now look at Franziska; look at the
fine, intelligent face and the honest eyes; you can have no doubt about
her; and then I have all the guarantee of your long acquaintance with
"Oh," says Tita, "that is all very well. Franziska is an excellent girl,
as I have told you often—frank, kind, well educated, and unselfish.
But you cannot have fallen in love with her in three days?"
"Why not?" says this blunt-spoken young man.
"Because it is ridiculous. If I meddle in the affair I should probably
find you had given up the fancy in other three days; or if you did marry
her and took her to England you would get to hate me because I alone
should know that you had married the niece of an innkeeper."
"Well, I like that!" says he, with a flush in his face. "Do you think I
should care two straws whether my friends knew I had married the niece of
an innkeeper? I should show them Franziska. Wouldn't that be enough? An
innkeeper's niece! I wish the world had more of 'em, if they're like
"And besides," says Tita, "have you any notion as to how Franziska herself
would probably take this mad proposal?"
"No," says the young man, humbly. "I wanted you to try and find out what
she thought about me; and if, in time something were said about this
proposal, you might put in a word or two, you know, just to—to give
her an idea, you know, that you don't think it quite so mad, don't you
"Give me your hand, Charlie," says Tita, with a sudden burst of kindness.
"I'll do what I can for you; for I know she's a good girl, and she will
make a good wife to the man who marries her."
You will observe that this promise was given by a lady who never, in any
circumstances whatsoever, seeks to make up matches, who never speculates
on possible combinations when she invites young people to her house in
Surrey, and who is profoundly indignant, indeed, when such a charge is
preferred against her. Had she not, on that former Christmas morning,
repudiated with scorn the suggestion that Charlie might marry before
another year had passed? Had she not, in her wild confidence, staked on a
wager that assumption of authority in her household and out of it without
which life would be a burden to her? Yet no sooner was the name of
Franziska mentioned, and no sooner had she been reminded that Charlie was
going with us to Huferschingen, than the nimble little brain set to work.
Oftentimes it has occurred to one dispassionate spectator of her ways that
this same Tita resembled the small object which, thrown into a dish of
some liquid chemical substance, suddenly produces a mass of crystals. The
constituents of those beautiful combinations, you see, were there; but
they wanted some little shock to hasten the slow process of
crystallisation. Now in our social circle we have continually observed
groups of young people floating about in an amorphous and chaotic fashion—good
for nothing but dawdling through dances, and flirting, and carelessly
separating again; but when you dropped Tita among them, then you would see
how rapidly this jellyfish sort of existence was abolished—how the
groups got broken up, and how the sharp, businesslike relations of
marriage were precipitated and made permanent. But would she own to it?
Never! She once went and married her dearest friend to a Prussian officer;
and now she declares he was a selfish fellow to carry off the girl in that
way, and rates him soundly because he won't bring her to stay with us more
than three months out of the twelve. There are some of us get quite enough
of this Prussian occupation of our territory.
"Well," says Tita to this long English lad, who is lying sprawling on the
grass, "I can safely tell you this, that Franziska likes you very well."
He suddenly jumps up, and there is a great blush on his face.
"Has she said so?" he asks, eagerly.
"Oh yes! in a way. She thinks you are good-natured. She likes the English
generally. She asked me if that ring you wear was an engaged ring."
These disconnected sentences were dropped with a tantalising slowness into
Charlie's eager ears.
"I must go and tell her directly that it is not," said he; and he might
probably have gone off at once had not Tita restrained him.
"You must be a great deal more cautious than that if you wish to carry off
Franziska some day or other. If you were to ask her to marry you now she
would flatly refuse you, and very properly; for how could a girl believe
you were in earnest? But if you like, Charlie, I will say something to her
that will give her a hint; and if she cares for you at all before you go
away she won't forget you. I wish I was as sure of you as I am of her."
"Oh I can answer for myself," says the young man, with a becoming
Tita was very happy and pleased all that day. There was an air of mystery
and importance about her. I knew what it meant; I had seen it before.
Alas! poor Charlie!
V—"GAB MIR EIN' RING DABEI"
Under the friendly instructions of Dr. Krumm, whom he no longer regarded
as a possible rival, Charlie became a mighty hunter; and you may be sure
that he returned of an evening with sprigs of fir in his cap for the bucks
he had slain, Franziska was not the last to come forward and shake hands
with him and congratulate him, as is the custom in these primitive parts.
And then she was quite made one of the family when we sat down to dinner
in the long, low-roofed room; and nearly every evening, indeed, Tita would
have her to dine with us and play cards with us.
You may suppose, if these two young folk had any regard for each other,
those evenings in the inn must have been a pleasant time for them. There
were never two partners at whist who were so courteous to each other, so
charitable to each other's blunders. Indeed, neither would ever admit that
the other blundered. Charlie used to make some frightful mistakes
occasionally that would have driven any other player mad; but you should
have seen the manner in which Franziska would explain that he had no
alternative but to take her king with his ace, that he could not know
this, and was right in chancing that. We played three-penny points, and
Charlie paid for himself and his partner, in spite of her entreaties. Two
of us found the game of whist a profitable thing.
One day a registered letter came for Charlie. He seized it, carried it to
a window, and then called Tita to him. Why need he have any secret about
it? It was nothing but a ring—a plain hoop with a row of rubies.
"Do you think she would take this thing?" he said, in a low voice.
"How can I tell?"
The young man blushed and stammered, and said:
"I don't want you to ask her to take the ring, but to get to know whether
she would accept any present from me. And I would ask her myself plainly,
only you have been frightening me so much about being in a hurry. And what
am I to do? Three days hence we start."
Tita looked down with a smile and said, rather timidly:
"I think if I were you I would speak to her myself—but very gently."
We were going off that morning to a little lake some dozen miles off to
try for a jack or two. Franziska was coming with us. She was, indeed,
already outside, superintending the placing in the trap of our rods and
bags. When Charlie went out she said that everything was ready; and
presently our peasant driver cracked his whip, and away we went.
Charlie was a little grave, and could only reply to Tita's fun with an
effort. Franziska was mostly anxious about the fishing, and hoped that we
might not go so far to find nothing.
We found few fish anyhow. The water was as still as glass, and as clear;
the pike that would have taken our spinning bits of metal must have been
very dull-eyed pike indeed. Tita sat at the bow of the long punt reading,
while our boatman steadily and slowly plied his single oar. Franziska was
for a time eagerly engaged in watching the progress of our fishing, until
even she got tired of the excitement of rolling in an immense length of
cord, only to find that our spinning bait had hooked a bit of floating
wood or weed. At length Charlie proposed that he should go ashore and look
out for a picturesque site for our picnic, and he hinted that perhaps Miss
Franziska might also like a short walk to relieve the monotony of the
sailing. Miss Franziska said she would be very pleased to do that. We ran
them in among the rushes, and put them ashore, and then once more started
on our laborious career.
Tita laid down her book. She was a little anxious. Sometimes you could see
Charlie and Franziska on the path by the side of the lake; at other times
the thick trees by the water's side hid them.
The solitary oar dipped in the lake; the boat glided along the shores.
Tita took up her book again. The space of time that passed may be inferred
from the fact that, merely as an incident to it, we managed to catch a
chub of four pounds. When the excitement over this event had passed, Tita
"We must go back to them. What do they mean by not coming on and telling
us? It is most silly of them."
We went back by the same side of the lake, and we found both Franziska and
her companion seated on the bank at the precise spot where we had left
them. They said it was the best place for the picnic. They asked for the
hamper in a businesslike way. They pretended they had searched the shores
of the lake for miles.
And while Tita and Franziska are unpacking the things, and laying the
white cloth smoothly on the grass, and pulling out the bottles for Charlie
to cool in the lake, I observe that the younger of the two ladies rather
endeavours to keep her left hand out of sight. It is a paltry piece of
deception. Are we moles, and blinder than moles, that we should
continually be made the dupes of these women? I say to her:
"Franziska, what is the matter with your left hand?"
"Leave Franziska's left hand alone," says Tita, severely.
"My dear," I reply, humbly, "I am afraid Franziska has hurt her left
At this moment Charlie, having stuck the bottles among the reeds, comes
back, and, hearing our talk, he says, in a loud and audacious way:
"Oh, do you mean the ring? It's a pretty little thing I had about me, and
Franziska has been good enough to accept it. You can show it to them,
Of course he had it about him. Young men always do carry a stock of ruby
rings with them when they go fishing, to put in the noses of the fish. I
have observed it frequently.
Franziska looks timidly at Tita, and then she raises her hand, that
trembles a little. She is about to take the ring off to show it to us when
"You needn't take it off, Franziska."
And with that, somehow, the girl slips away from among us, and Tita is
with her, and we don't get a glimpse of either of them until the solitude
resounds with our cries for luncheon.
In due time Charlie returned to London, and to Surrey with us in very good
spirits. He used to come down very often to see us; and one evening at
dinner he disclosed the fact that he was going over to the Black Forest in
the following week, although the November nights were chill just then.
"And how long do you remain?"
"A month," he says.
"Madam," I say to the small lady at the other end of the table, "a month
from now will bring us to the 4th of December. You have lost the bet you
made last Christmas morning; when will it please you to resign your
"Oh, bother the bet," says this unscrupulous person.
"But what do you mean?" says Charlie.
"Why," I say to him, "she laid a wager last Christmas Day that you would
not be married within a year. And now you say you mean to bring Franziska
over on the 4th of December next. Isn't it so?"
"Oh, no!" he says; "we don't get married till the spring."
You should have heard the burst of low, delightful laughter with which
Queen Tita welcomed this announcement. She had won her wager.