LISETTE'S CASTLES IN THE AIR.

FROM THE DANISH OF H. P. HOLST.


I have always considered a garret as one of the most poetical abodes on earth. Ye happy beings who, from that lofty altitude, can look down upon the paltry bustle of the world, do ye not also appreciate the advantages which ye possess? Envy not those whose cradles were rocked in palaces or gilded saloons, for their good fortune cannot be compared to yours. In these airy regions peace and freedom reign. Ye are surrounded with the purest atmosphere--ye have but to throw open your elevated casements to inhale the clear, fresh air, whilst the rich beneath you, in their close chambers, seek eagerly for one breath of it to refresh them, and assist their stifled respiration. No prying opposite neighbour watches you, or disturbs your peace: there is nothing except the swallow which builds its nest upon the roof, or the linnet that flutters before your window, and greets you with its song. Ye are raised far above all human misery, for none of it is apparent to your eye; the manifold sounds of the busy street--the itinerant vendor's varied cries--the rumbling of carriages and carts, scarcely reach your ears. Ah, happy tenants of those lofty regions! how frequently, and with what magnetic power, do ye not draw my glances upwards towards you!

Far up yonder--high--high--mounting towards the clouds--where the rosebush and the white curtains adorn the window, lives a little milliner girl, about seventeen years of age. Courteous reader, if you are not shocked at the idea of ascending that steep staircase, and these innumerable steps, we will visit her together. Be not afraid! Your reputation shall not suffer--I shall cast Peter Schlemil's cap over you--you shall see all, and be yourself unseen. You will! Then follow me, but be silent and discreet; it is a charming girl whom we are going to see.

We enter--hush! Make no noise, for Heaven's sake; Lisette is occupied. At this moment she is busy trying on, before the mirror, a bonnet of the newest fashion, which she has just finished making. This is one of the most important incidents in a milliner's life. It is to her of as much consequence as his pieces are to a dramatic writer; with every new bonnet which she has constructed--with every new play which he has composed--comes the deep anxiety, whether the work shall add another blossom to the garland of their fame, or shall despoil them of their renommée. Let us not disturb her, but rather let us take a survey of the little apartment which contains all her treasures.

If your eye be accustomed to rest on silken tapestry, rich carpets, elegant toilet, and costly work-tables, these principal embellishments of a young lady's boudoir, I would advise you somewhat to lower your ideas, for Lisette possesses none of these, nor does she feel the want of them. All that belongs to her is simple and frugal, but scrupulously clean and neat. The ceiling and the walls rival in whiteness the snowy coverlet which is spread over her couch. Near this stands a wardrobe, in which hang two dresses and a shawl; and on a chair close by lie a couple of caps and a straw hat, trimmed with gay ribbons. These form her little stock of habiliments. A large oaken table occupies the centre of the room; it is covered with pieces of crêpe, silk, satin, artificial flowers, plaits of straw, patterns, a knife, and a pair of scissors. These are all her store, and all her apparatus. On a plain chiffonier lie a Psalm-book, a well-worn romance of Sir Walter Scott, some songs, and a little pamphlet, entitled 'The Ladies' Magic and Dream Book.' These comprise her whole library. I had nearly forgotten the most valuable article among her furniture--yon old lounging-chair, covered with morocco leather: I call it the most valuable, for it was her only heirloom from her forefathers. A mirror is suspended over the chiffonier, before which Lisette is standing, fully engaged in taking a survey of herself. There is no mistaking the smile that is playing around her lips--the light that is beaming from her eyes. The critical examination has been satisfactory, and she is pleased with her own handiwork. And well may she be so; for the tasteful white silk bonnet casts a soft shade over her brow of ivory, and the rose-coloured crêpe with which it is trimmed seems pale when compared to her blooming cheek. I could venture to wager a thousand to one that Lisette's face is a hundred times prettier than that of the fair dame or damsel for whom this bonnet is intended. Doubtless this idea has struck her also; see, she hastens to her wardrobe, and takes from it her light green shawl. She throws it around her shoulders, arranges it in graceful folds over her slender throat and fairy form, turns to the glass and contemplates herself, first on one side, then on the other, and laughs in the glee of her heart.

Brava, Lisette--brava! Hark! she sings--

'For a country girl I surely may

Look on myself with some small pride;

Alonzo--yes! all the world will say,

Thou hast chosen a nice little bride.'

At that moment she fancies she hears some one knock at her door. In the twinkling of an eye everything is put in due order; the shawl is hung on the peg in its proper place, the bonnet laid conspicuously on the table, and 'Come in' is answered to the summons. 'Come in, Ludvig,' she repeats in a clearer voice; but Lisette must surely have been mistaken, for no one enters at her bidding. She goes towards the door and listens, she peeps through the keyhole, and finally opens the door and looks out, but no mortal is there.

The foregoing scene is resumed: the shawl is taken again from its sanctum, the bonnet is replaced on her rich glossy brown hair; again her dark eyes shine, and again she smiles in the most captivating manner. Happy little Lisette! How unpretending must be her claims to the joys of life! A bonnet is sufficient to minister to her happiness. She parades up and down the room. How proudly she carries her little head; what fascination in her air and figure! She has that grace which is neither acquired nor affected; that untaught grace which nature, in its caprice, sometimes bestows on a milliner's girl, and denies to a lady of the court, or to a princess!

At that moment her glance falls on the forgotten common straw hat with its pink ribbons, and the sight of it instantly dispels all her gaiety. Who now wears such a bonnet? It is quite, quite out of fashion, unfortunate Lisette! You--you alone are born to hide your lovely countenance under such a hideous shade; and not one single male being may behold how charmingly the modern little silk bonnet becomes you. Another is to enjoy the fruit of your labour, to sport the work of your hands, and the production of your taste and skill! Poor girl! It is hard, it is unjust, your sad fate is really to be pitied.

With the slightest look in the world of chagrin she has cast herself into the leather arm-chair to take some rest after her fatigues. The clock has struck half-past seven, and she has been working since four in the morning. She can hardly repress her impatience. 'What can have become of Ludvig!' she exclaims to herself. 'Everything seems to conspire against me to-day; surely he cannot have taken it into his head to visit me in the forenoon, when he knows that this is my leisure time? Why does he not come? For though he plagues me sometimes, and he is often vexed with me, he knows very well how glad I am to see him.'

Lisette becomes thoughtful, and begins to meditate upon the future. Her position is trying enough. What signifies it to her that her embroidery, her flounces, her caps, are always beautiful; that her bonnets look quite as fashionable as those of the court milliners? She barely makes a maintenance, and she has an invalid mother to support. What prospect is there of any change in her circumstances? What good fortune has she to hope for in the future? She throws herself back in the lounging-chair, closes her eyes, and begins--to dream.

Ah! who does not know what happy miracles take place in dreams? Real joys are seldom the growth of this world, and are only found by a few, but to compensate for their absence, by the bounty of Providence, a reflection of them is permitted to all mankind; for fancy may, for an instant, bestow that happiness which never can be realized. The pleasures of imagination are open to all; in dreams we may taste of felicity, and surely none are so wretched as never in fancy to have known a moment of consolation and comfort.

Lisette is smiling; she is not asleep, but she has closed her eyes, the better to enjoy her little world of phantasies and dreams. Her situation in life is altered. She is no longer the poor Lisette who must toil from day to day to supply her urgent wants, and whose wardrobe consists only of two or three dresses, a shawl, and a coarse straw hat. Oh, no; it is far different! She need no longer exert herself so much, and is no longer obliged to rise with the swallow, whose nest is near her window. She has bought silk dresses, a pretty bonnet, and a fashionable shawl. She has been to Charlottenlund; has heard the band at Frederiksberg; and wandered in the woods with her young friends. What magic has suddenly wrought this change in her destiny? She dreams it; and who would recall her from the harmless enjoyment of her vivid waking visions? Lisette delights in the theatre; she has been there twice in her life, and has seen the 'Elverhöi' and 'King Solomon;' but she knows all the opera and vaudeville airs by heart, and sings them like an angel. She has just settled that she will take a box for the season, when she hears a knock at the door. 'Come in!' she exclaims, languidly; and this time it is no false alarm, for a waiting-maid walks in with a parcel and a bandbox. Lisette is somewhat annoyed at the interruption; however, she rises and asks what is wanted. The maid brings an old bonnet to be retrimmed for her mistress, and orders a new one for herself, which she desires may be ready by the next Sunday, when she is going out, and will call for it. She dares not let her mistress see it; but her lover, the mate of a ship trading to China, insists on her being nicely dressed. He has presented her with a China-crape shawl, which she begs may be allowed to remain at Lisette's until the important Sunday.

As she is leaving the room the clock strikes eight, and Lisette suddenly remembers that she has not watered the rosebush, which was given her by Ludvig. What shameful carelessness! She hastens to perform the pleasing task: that in doing this her glance falls upon the pavement below, and that at the same moment the handsome hussar officer, Lieutenant W----, is passing by--surely must be the work of chance. He bows--it must be to the family of the Councillor of State in the lower story, not to the inhabitant of the poor garret up at the roof of the house. He casts a look up towards heaven, and sees a heaven in Lisette's beautiful eyes. Perhaps he was watching the clouds, and thinking of the weather; but his eyes sparkled like the beam of the noonday sun, or like two very bright stars. He lifts his hand to his military cap--how elegant are his movements! What a pretty compliment to pass unnoticed! Unnoticed? If so, what means that deep blush on Lisette's cheek? Is it the blush of triumphant beauty, or is it merely a passing tint, cast by the roses over which she is bending?

Lisette busies herself with the plant, and trains its branches with more than usual assiduity. It would seem that she redoubled her care of the rosebush, by way of making up to its donor for her momentary faithlessness. 'I will never see him more,' said Lisette to herself; 'I will never come near the window again at eight o'clock. To-day I have done so for the last time. But why so? I am guilty of nothing--I have never once spoken to him; all I know is, that he always passes this way precisely at eight o'clock; but I have no right to think that it is on my account. Perhaps it is not good for my rosebush to be watered so late; and Ludvig is so jealous--oh, so jealous! I can't imagine why; I am sure he has no cause for jealousy. It is too bad. Ah--these men! these men! They expect from us one sacrifice after another, but not the slightest pleasure will they allow to us.'

During this monologue her eye had fallen on the parcel left by the waiting-maid. Her curiosity became excited to see what is in it, and especially what sort of a shawl the mate had bestowed upon 'that stupid Lena.' She stands for some time debating with herself, her eye riveted on the parcel; at length she determines to open it. What a beauty it is! No countess could have a handsomer shawl. Lisette wraps it round her, and betakes herself again to the glass, where she gazes at it with the utmost admiration, slightly tinctured perhaps with a little dash of envy. Taking it off, and laying it on her table, she places herself a second time in the old leather arm-chair, and sinks back into the world of dreams. But it is no longer the box at the theatre that occupies her imagination; her head is full of the charming shawl. She fancies that she has one as pretty; that her plain dress is exchanged for another of splendid materials; that she is surrounded by admirers, and--little coquette that she is--that she gives them no hope, for she loves only Ludvig: but still, she does not quite discard them.

But where is Ludvig himself all this time? Look round, and you will behold him now!

Do you see that young man with an intelligent countenance, with bright speaking eyes and dark curly hair, who at this moment has entered the room. That is Ludvig. His open collar exhibiting his throat, and the rest of his somewhat fantastic costume, at once evince that he is an artist: but we must add that he is an artist of no ordinary talent, and that as a portrait-painter he is admired and sought after, he has closed the door softly, and stealing forward on tiptoe, he approaches Lisette, who, lost in her magic world of dreams, is not at all aware of his presence. She is leaning gracefully back in the large easy-chair, her eyes closed, their long dark lashes reposing on her fair soft cheeks, and an enchanting smile, caused by the drama of her imagination, playing around her rosy lips. He bends over her as if he would fain, from the expression of her countenance, read her unspoken thoughts. What a study for a painter! What an exquisite pleasure for an ardent lover! Ludvig can no longer merely look--he snatches up her hands, and covers them with kisses. Lisette opens her eyes. At that very moment she had been dreaming of him; she had refused all her other suitors for his sake; she had forgotten the caprice, the jealousy, the absurdities of which she had often accused him, and only remembered how happy she was to be beloved by him. Ludvig could not have arrived more opportunely. She reproaches him playfully for being so late, scolds him for keeping her waiting so long, but soon allows herself to be appeased. She tells him how industrious she has been, shows him the newly-finished bonnet, and does not omit to try it on before him--for she must have his opinion to confirm her own. Perhaps all this may be called coquetry; well, allowing it to be coquetry, there is no guile or deceit in it. Poor Ludvig is over head and ears in love; therefore he is charmed with Lisette, with the bonnet, with everything. His warm feelings find expression in compliments such as Lisette is not accustomed to hear from him, and she naturally thinks him more than usually agreeable. They chat about their first acquaintance, the simple incidents of their love history, and 'Do you remember when?'--'Do you recollect that time?'--these phrases, so often introduced into the colloquies of lovers, pass and repass from their lips; they dwell, not only on their past reminiscences, but on their future hopes, and above all, on their mutual affection, that theme which never seems to become wearisome, and the variations to which appear to be endless. Lisette then relates her day-dreams and her castles in the air--at least a part of them, as much as she thinks Ludvig can bear to hear, but even that part seems to displease him, for an ominous shake of his head, as he listens to her, does not escape her observation.

'Good Heavens!' she exclaimed, 'how have I sinned now? What does that grave look portend? It is really very tiresome. Two minutes ago you were so lively and so good-humoured. Is there any harm in my building castles in the air to amuse my leisure moments, and laying plans in fancy which I know can never come to pass?'

'And how can you be so hasty, and seem so vexed about nothing? I am not at all displeased, my dear girl. I do not deny that these dreams of yours are quite innocent; but I do say this, that if your head be filled with all these romantic schemes and ideas, and you encourage yourself in cherishing them, by-and-by you will be so led away by the vagaries of your own imagination, that you will be discontented with the humble lot which, alas! I have but the means of offering you.'

'Oh! you have no need to entertain such a fear. Am I not happy in the thought that the time may come when we shall share each other's destiny? or have I ever regretted that my fate is to be united to yours? What care I for wealth, or for all those fictions which it pleases the world to call good fortune? It is your affection alone which can make me rich; without that, I should value nothing.'

Who could withstand such words from the beautiful mouth of a charming young girl? Ludvig has already in his own mind owned he was wrong, and now he hastens to beg a thousand pardons. He presses her to his heart, and is about to assure her of his entire confidence in her, when he suddenly perceives the costly shawl that is lying, half folded, on the table, and the words die away upon his lips. Suspicion has darted across his mind. 'Where could that expensive shawl have come from?' he asks himself. 'She could not afford to buy it. Does she receive presents from anyone but me? Can she be faithless--false?' His easily-aroused jealousy speedily got the better of him, and her guilt was no longer to be doubted.

Lisette had not in the slightest degree observed this sudden change; she permitted her head to rest affectionately on his shoulder--but he quickly disengaged himself, and pushed her coldly from him.

'What is the matter, Ludvig?' she asked, in much surprise. 'Are you out of humour again? What is wrong now?'

'Oh! nothing, nothing! at least, nothing of consequence enough for you to care about.'

'What can you mean? Am I not privileged to share your sorrows and annoyances, whether they are great or small? You know you are sure of my sympathy; why, then, should you conceal anything from me? But you have no longer any confidence in me; you love me no longer as you used to do, or you would not treat me thus.'

'These reproaches come well from your lips, indeed, Miss Lisette. Certainly you have much to complain of.'

Lisette became angry, for she knew that she was innocent of all evil. Had she not, a few minutes before, vowed not to go so often to the window, when the handsome hussar officer passed? And had she not recently, in fancy, discarded all her suitors, determining to admit and to listen only to Ludvig? And now to be treated so by him! Was her fidelity to be thus rewarded? 'Fie, Ludvig!' she exclaimed, with some vehemence. 'You are too tyrannical; you have often been hasty, irritable, nay, unkind to me; but I have borne it all patiently, for I knew your unreasonable jealousy; but you are too sharp with me--too cruelly sharp--I have not deserved this from you, and I will not put up with it.'

'Well said! You speak out, at any rate. You won't "put up with it," Lisette? Of course you have no need to put up with me any longer. There are plenty, I know, who will flatter you, and make a fool of you: but you will not find one who loves you as sincerely as I do.'

'And why not, pray? Perhaps I may though.'

'What do you say, Lisette? Ah! now I see I have been mistaken in you. Farewell! You shall never behold me more. I will not stand in the way of your good fortune. My presence shall never again irritate you for a moment. Farewell!'

He rushed from the room, and Lisette had already the handle of the door in her hand, intending to run after him and call him back; but she stopped a moment to reflect. 'No!' she exclaimed to herself, 'I will not afford him such a triumph. Let him go. Is he not clearly in the wrong; and must I invariably give in? No; this time he shall wait awhile.'

Lisette is very angry; she paces up and down her room, without so much as casting one look down towards the street to see where he is going. 'It is quite unbearable,' she cries. 'He teazes me out of my life with his ridiculous jealousy. It is a proof of his love, he says.... Ah, dear! I am sure I would much rather dispense with such love tokens.' Lisette throws herself into the easy-chair, and commences humming an opera air. Then she begins to rack her brains to discover what on earth could have caused Ludvig's sudden transition from good-humour to anger and jealousy; but she vainly tries to find a reason for his strange conduct. 'I will think no more about him! He does not deserve the affection I waste upon him, nor that I should take his folly so much to heart. Is this love? Not the slightest indulgence will he permit to me; he cannot endure that I should be happy even in dreams! It is my only, only comfort, and he shall not deprive me of it.' So saying, she lets herself fall back in her lounging-chair: at that moment she feels a kind of perverse satisfaction in doing what Ludvig disapproved of.

The force of habit is strong, and she soon fails into her day-dreams again. She fancies she has dismissed all her admirers, and now stands alone in the world. She invests herself with astonishing talents; no longer wastes her energies in making bonnets and taking in sewing. She has had first-rate masters for every accomplishment under heaven, and every possible branch of education, from moral philosophy down to--hair-dressing. She dances like Vestris--sings like Catalani--and plays like Moschelles. With youth, beauty, and shining talents, she is received into the highest society, and the mystery which hangs over her early days but adds a piquancy to the charm of her numerous fascinations: for the great world, so monotonous in itself, loves the excitement of curiosity. She soon becomes the cynosure of fashion, adored by all the gentlemen--envied by all the ladies. Still she is not satisfied with mere drawing-room admiration. She will go upon the stage. She comes out in an opera of Scribe, composed by Auber, and arranged by Heiberg. The theatre rings with applause; bouquets are showered at her feet; the bright stars of Copenhagen--Madame H----, and Mademoiselle W----, have, at length, found a rival, and to this rival a large salary is offered by the manager of the theatre. She has scarcely finished reading his highly complimentary letter, when another is brought to her. In haste she opens it, and, casting her eyes on the signature, she sees, 'Sigismund Frederick, Count of R.' She starts with surprise; the young, the rich, the distinguished count, assuring her that he cannot live without her, offers her his heart, his fortune, and his hand! But, just then, amidst the glow of her gratified vanity and ambition, a small voice whispers the name of--Ludvig. He has been rough and rude to her; he left her in anger; he deserves no remembrance from her; yet--her heart yearns towards him--she feels that she can forgive and forget; that she can repay good for evil, and can sacrifice everything for him she loves.

Poor Lisette passes into a state of great excitement between the phantasms of her imagination and the real feelings of her soul; she actually rises to answer the visionary letter, and she writes as follows:--


'Noble Count,--I should be very ungrateful if I did not highly value the honour which you have conferred upon me, in condescending to make me the offer which I had not the slightest claim to expect. I will not repay your goodness by any want of candour, and am, therefore, obliged to confess to you that that heart for which you ask is no longer free; and that love with which you would honour me I am unable to return as it deserves. From my earliest youth I have been attached to a poor artist; he was my first love, and will be my last. I will venture to indulge the hope that you will receive this open admission as a proof of my sincere regard and high esteem for you, which forbid me to accept the happy fortune that destiny, doubtless, reserves for one more worthy of it than myself.'


Lisette was mightily pleased with this billet, which she considered a chef-d'œuvre of the romantico-literary style. She had conned it over several times, and was about to fold and seal it, when the striking of a neighbouring clock awoke her to the realities of life, reminded her that she had some work to finish, and at once demolished all her castles in the air.

The horn inkstand is put away, the letter is left lying forgotten amidst the shreds of silk; and the scissors and the needles are once more in full activity. In the meantime Ludvig has returned, and stands by Lisette's side, in a repentant mood. He has come back to try to obtain some explanation about the unfortunate shawl, and to throw himself at her feet, and beg her forgiveness that he had again offended her by his suspicions. But Lisette is angry, and she will scarcely take the least notice of him. She does not, however, hold out long, her naturally kind heart soon becomes softened, she sets his mind at ease by enlightening him on the affair of the shawl; but, very properly, takes him well to task. Ludvig is in the seventh heaven. He blames himself severely, calls Lisette by all the tender names that language can suggest; he swears never more to torment her by his suspicions and jealousy, and seizes her hands to kiss them, in ratification of his vow, but, at that moment, he espies some stains of ink on her delicate fingers. 'You have been writing! To whom were you writing?' he abruptly asks, in a hoarse voice, while his countenance gradually darkens. Lisette colours, and looks perplexed. She is unwilling to confess that she has again been building castles in the air, knowing, as she does, that he has an objection to them; she stammers, and is at a loss for an answer.

Her embarrassment adds fuel to the flames; the demon of jealousy is again at work in Ludvig's mind, he utters not a syllable, but darting at her a glance that, if looks could kill, would have annihilated her on the spot, he seizes his hat and is about to leave her. Lisette is in the greatest consternation. She tries to detain him. 'Ludvig--dear Ludvig!--I have--can you forgive ...?'

'What have you done? What am I called on to forgive? you false, deceitful one!' he cries, passionately interrupting her, while he endeavours to break away from her.

'Oh, do not be so violent, Ludvig! I have been amusing myself with my dreams again. I have again been building castles in the air. Forgive me this once more! There is what I have been writing.'

She hands him the letter, and, as he reads it, his stormy brow clears, and his features relax. 'From my earliest youth I have been attached to a poor artist, he was my first love, and will be my last.' These words, which he reads, and re-reads, several times, quickly appease his wrath. 'And this is what you were writing!' he exclaims, in a tone of joy. Oh! I am so happy! Now I cast suspicion to the winds; from this time, henceforth, I bid adieu to all jealousy.' In the delight of the moment he communicates to Lisette what had before been hovering on his lips, the unexpected good fortune which had fallen to his share. An uncle, whom he had never seen, had bequeathed him a little fortune, which was large enough to place them in easy circumstances. Lisette is in raptures, and, mingling their joy, they lay plans together for their future life. It is not Lisette alone who now builds castles in the air, for Ludvig joins her in this pleasing occupation with all his might; and yon humble garret becomes, at that moment, a heaven of love and happiness.