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
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
'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
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
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
'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
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