AUNT FRANCISCA.

FROM THE DANISH OF CARL BERNHARD.


CHAPTER I.

On a lovely summer evening, in the month of July, an old lady was to be seen walking alone by the row of small houses which forms one side of St. Anne's Place, and stretches down towards the harbour. This part of Copenhagen contains the domiciles of the fashionable world; it is what the Faubourg Saint-Germain used to be to the Parisians; palace succeeds to palace, the Court is situated in this neighbourhood, and the foreign diplomatists--a class more important in Copenhagen than perhaps in any other place on earth--honour this portion of the city by making it their abode. But, as it were, to remind the world that great people cannot do without the poorer sort, certain small houses have here and there thrust themselves into good society, and the many signboards hanging out plainly evince that their inhabitants do not wear laurels so easily won, or enjoy such luxurious repose as their neighbours do. At any rate, such certainly is the case with the dwellers in the row of houses above mentioned, which, from one end to the other, is occupied by mechanics, seafaring men, and other common people.

The old lady walked so slowly that you could easily perceive she was already on the shady side of life; her carriage was stiff, and her steps measured, as if she moved with some difficulty; yet it was evident that she had some determined object earnestly in view. Her features were sharp, and denoted firmness; indeed, they might have been thought harsh and forbidding, had not her mild blue eyes imparted an expression of tenderness and goodness to her otherwise stern countenance. I know not if my description is clear enough to convey to my readers any idea of the face that now stands before my mind's eye, but Aunt Francisca's countenance was always somewhat of a difficult problem, and this must be my excuse if I have failed in the delineation of it. Her dress was in keeping with her general appearance; it was in the fashion of a bygone period, at least twenty years old in make and materials, and yet one might in vain have sought for a single spot or crease in it. There were such fastidious cleanliness, and such a degree of scrupulous neatness visible over her whole person, that the beholder at once felt assured an old maid was before him. Be this said without any disrespect to other ladies, whose nicety I am far from calling in question.

With an extensive parasol in her hand, and a large and apparently heavy silken bag over her arm, the old lady advanced towards a house whose exterior denoted that it was occupied by people belonging to the lower classes. She did not scan the number of the houses, and her feet seemed mechanically to have found its threshold, as if she had often passed over it. And so she had, in truth. A young woman, with a child in her arms, opened the door to her, and exclaimed,

'Is it really you, my dear lady? Our Lord himself must send you here to us, poor miserable creatures!'

The speaker and the infant she held in her arms were both clad in absolute tatters. The child looked like a monster in a magic glass, shrivelled up, yellow skinned, with sunken but staring eyes, and wrinkled, though scarcely yet two years of age. It would have been difficult to have determined which bore the palm for dirt and disorder, the room or its inhabitants.

The elderly lady looked about in vain for a place where she might seat herself.

'You do not deserve that I should come more frequently to visit you,' the lady said; 'all hope of assisting you is at an end when you yourself will do nothing to improve your condition. In what state is this that I find you? You promised me that when next I came I should see everything tidy about you.'

The woman cast down her eyes at this reproachful greeting, and remained silent. She placed the child on the floor while she dusted with the shreds of an old garment a wooden stool, the only seat in the room. The lady looked compassionately at the child, and said, in a less stern voice,

'What you will not do for your own comfort's sake, you will surely not refuse to do for the sake of your poor children. The unfortunate little creatures will perish amidst all this dirt; it must engender disease. Where are the other children? Has the eldest gone to school yet?'

The poor woman looked much embarrassed, and stammered a few words which it was impossible to comprehend. The lady continued her interrogations:

'And your husband--has he got any work? Why did he never go to the place where I told him he could obtain employment? Because he prefers remaining in idleness to attempting any useful occupation--he would rather spend in rioting the few pence he can scrape together, than work to place himself beyond want and wretchedness. What will be the end of these courses?'

'Ah, my good lady, you are quite right,' replied the woman; 'my husband, the good-for-nothing that he is, is the cause of all our misery. He will not let spirits alone, and every penny we have goes down his throat in strong drink. I beg pardon for mentioning this to you, madam, who no doubt have a fine, good gentleman for a husband, but men-folks in our rank are dreadful creatures; I often wish I had never married.'

'Very likely your husband has the same improper feeling towards you, and upon as good grounds,' replied the old lady. 'Married people should bear with each other, and share their burdens between them as well as their pleasures. A disorderly wife has no right to complain of a disorderly husband. It is a woman's duty to make home comfortable; that can be done at little cost, but it cannot be done without order and cleanliness. All that I have seen here proves that you are quite as much in fault as your husband. Where is the yarn for which I gave you money? Have you bought the flax?'

The poor woman burst into tears, and began to protest that she was not to blame. Had she known the lady's name, or where she resided, she would have come to her in her trouble. But she was ignorant of both; the landlord had threatened to turn them out into the street if they did not pay their rent; and she had nothing to give him, no means of keeping a roof over their heads except by handing him the money entrusted to her, which she was assured by her husband there was no sin in disposing of in this way, as it had been a gift. The old lady inquired more minutely into the state of their affairs, remonstrated with the young woman, scolded her, and threatened to withdraw the assistance she gave them if they would not make some exertion for the future to help themselves, and finished by drawing forth from the large silk bag sundry articles of food and clothing, which she laid on the table before the unfortunate mother. She then took the infant up from the floor, kissed it, and gave it some nice wheaten bread and a new dress, and promised the mother that she would give the child an entire suit of new clothes if, on her next visit, she found everything clean and in order. Bestowing upon her once more some earnest injunctions, the lady left the house without waiting to listen to the poor woman's thanks and blessings.

When she went up the street it was with the same measured steps, and the same prim air as before; the large silk bag hung from her left arm, but it was empty now, while she held daintily with two fingers of her right hand the old-fashioned parasol. Thus she walked on until she reached a house in Bredegade, where resided a relation of hers named Werner, the widow of a councillor of state, who had two daughters, of whom the elder was called Louise, the younger Flora. Louise was a very quiet girl and of a retiring disposition; she was betrothed and soon to be married to Rudolph Horn, a young lawyer, who had a great deal of business, and was possessed of a good private fortune besides. Flora was secretly engaged to Lieutenant Arnold--secretly, that is to say, the engagement had not been declared, though everybody was aware of it. It might be a tolerable match when he became a captain, but it would probably be a dozen years or more before he obtained his company. They were both young, however, and time flies rapidly, as everybody knows, so they consoled themselves with hope.

The family were sitting in an arbour in the garden, as they often did in summer; Arnold had brought a new novel which he had just commenced reading aloud to them. The ladies--their number increased by the addition of two cousins, who frequently visited them--sat round the table with their work, exceedingly interested in the novel, which began 'so charmingly,' and promised to be 'so interesting,' when Arnold happened to look up, and glancing along the garden-walk, exclaimed,

'May I be shot, if stalking towards us yonder is not--yes, it is herself! I have the honour to announce Aunt Francisca's august arrival.'

The girls all cast looks of annoyance at the old lady, who was slowly approaching the arbour where they were assembled. 'How very tiresome!' exclaimed the little party as with one voice, while Arnold threw his book angrily on the table, and said,

'Now we must give up knowing the rest of this new story, for I have to return the volume to its owner early to-morrow morning. What unlucky chance can have brought that wearisome old spectre here this evening, I wonder?'

Louise rose and went to meet the old lady. Aunt Francisca curtseyed, and then kissed her on both cheeks. Mrs. Werner and Flora underwent the same species of greeting. A heavy, forced conversation was then carried on about the weather and the pleasure of having a garden in Copenhagen. Arnold took no part in it, although Aunt Francisca frequently addressed herself to him; Mrs. Werner was the only one who maintained it with decent civility, for people advanced in years can bear disappointments better than young persons.

'Will Rudolph soon return from Holstein?' asked the old lady of Louise; 'it is surprising that he has not written to me. You can tell him, my dear, that I have been expecting a letter from him on both the last post-days.'

'That is devilish cool! A nice piece of pretension on the part of such an antiquated virago,' observed Arnold, in a half-whisper.

Cousin Ida could not refrain from giggling.

'You seem to be quite in a laughing humour, my child,' said Miss Francisca.

'Have you been to the German plays yet?' asked Flora of the old lady, with a furtive smile to the rest of the party.

'No, my head can't stand theatres now,' replied Aunt Francisca. 'They do not suit my age, and, indeed, I see so badly that I could not enjoy acting. Have you been there?'

Mrs. Werner answered her, and plunged into a disquisition on some of the plays, and on the parts of the performers, but Aunt Francisca heard them without any apparent interest. She afterwards entered on the subject of the Bible Society and its great usefulness, but was listened to in return with apathy and suppressed yawns; nobody there cared about Bible societies. Flora proposed that they should drink tea a little earlier than usual, and Louise went to order it. The conversation came to a dead stand; at length Aunt Francisca said, 'I am afraid my visit is inconvenient to you this evening; you might have been going out--perhaps to the German play?'

'We were only going to have read aloud a book which I brought with me,' said Arnold. 'There is no German play to-night; but they are performing at Price's, and if the ladies are inclined to go, we shall be quite in time.'

'So speaks youth--distances are nothing for them,' said the old lady, with a smile, under which she attempted to hide the unpleasant feeling she experienced at finding herself unwelcome. 'You must not mind me, my dear cousins; I should be sorry to put you to any inconvenience, and am going presently.'

But Mrs. Werner begged her to stay, assuring her that the tale could be read some other time, and that nobody had dreamed of going to Price's; Arnold was only joking.

'That other time must be during the night, then.' said Arnold, in no very dulcet tone, 'for I have promised to return the book to-morrow morning, without fail.'

Aunt Francisca did not hear his civil speech, for she was talking to Mrs. Werner. The young people put their heads together, and whispered to each other. Judging by their glances, it was evident that the old maiden visitor was the subject of their remarks. One criticised her arms, another her bonnet, a third her parasol.

'But what do you say to that huge foraging-sack hanging from her arm? Can any one inform me for what she carries it?' said Arnold. 'It would hold at least half a bushel of corn. Perhaps the stingy old animal goes to the market to buy all her own provisions, for fear that her servant-girl should make a penny or two out of them now and then.'

'Nonsense; she is too prim to venture among the market folks,' said Ida. 'But she fancies it is fashionable. Dare you attack her about it, Flora?'

Flora wished to show her courage, but could scarcely speak for laughing, as she took up Aunt Francisca's bag, and said,

'This is a very pretty bag; the embroidery is à la Grecque, is it not?'

Miss Francisca replied gravely, 'Pretty? You cannot possibly mean that, my child; it is as ugly as a bag can be, but it holds a good deal, and therefore I use it sometimes. Living so much alone as I do, I must occasionally go my own errands.'

Flora looked foolish, and stammered a few words in defence of the bag, while she coloured deeply; but the old lady pretended not to observe her embarrassment, and she continued: 'I think it really very pretty, but it should not be seen near this lovely shawl, which certainly puts it to shame.' So saying, she took up a little muslin shawl, beautifully embroidered in gold and coloured flowers, which was lying on the table.

'I am glad you admire it, my dear,' said the old lady, 'for I have often intended to beg your acceptance of it. I have another at home exactly like it, which I intend for Louise; they are too gay for my time of life.'

Flora was much pleased with the gift, and had just thanked her cousin--for the old lady, though generally called among her young connections 'Aunt Francisca,' was by no means so nearly related to them--when Ida whispered, 'Why, it is real East Indian! Well, it was lucky for you that I persuaded you to go into raptures about the hideous bag--set to now and praise her high-heeled shoes. Who knows what they may yield?'

'Shame on you, Ida. Do you think I am going to be rude to her again?' said Flora.

Aunt Francisca found the evening air rather chilly, and hinted that it would be as well to repair to the more comfortable drawing-room within doors. Many were the glances of anger and annoyance which passed among the young people when Mrs. Werner thereupon desired the servant to carry the tea-things back to the house, and they had all to rise in order to leave the garden. Arnold, of course, gallantly assisted the young ladies in putting up their work and carrying their work-boxes, while he exercised his witty propensities at the expense of Miss Francisca. Flora meanwhile offered her arm to the old lady, who, however, did not proceed immediately to the house, but expressed a wish to look first at some of the flower-beds.

When they were alone, she turned suddenly towards Flora, and said,

'Tell me, my dear girl, are you engaged to Lieutenant Arnold? Perhaps you will think that it is no business of mine whether you are or not; but whatever is of consequence to you is interesting to me, and it is not from mere curiosity that I ask you. Ah! I saw how he pressed your hand.... Come, you must not deny it, for I saw it distinctly. Though I am old, I have sharper eyes and ears than people may fancy. But you know, my dear, girls should not allow gentlemen to squeeze their hands unless they are actually engaged to them. It would be quite improper otherwise.'

Flora cast down her eyes, but made no reply.

'I know that you are a very good, sensible girl, and that is why I like you so much; but truth must be told and listened to, although it is not always palatable. What are the prospects now-a-days of a lieutenant in the army? Poor indeed, my child; it would be almost an eternity before you could marry. In the meantime there might be a hundred flirtations, and the first love might be left in the lurch. Arnold is very flighty, and I fear also very imprudent. I know that he is in debt, and that leads to beggary.'

'But all young men get into debt. Aunt Francisca,' replied Flora, in a low, subdued voice.

'Bless you, child! how can you say so? Correct and respectable persons do not run into debt. Rudolph does not owe a shilling to anyone--I could take my oath to that.'

'But there is no necessity for Rudolph to fall into debt. Seeing that he has a good private fortune, he has no great merit in keeping out of it. But what can a poor young officer do who has nothing but his pay to live on?'

'He has no business by his flattery and fair words to entice a girl into an engagement which he cannot carry out,' said Miss Francisca; 'that is altogether indefensible. The age of miracles is past; no bird will come flying into your window with gold on its bill, and in our days people don't live on air. Do you really imagine that love is so durable a feeling that it can withstand adversity, privations, and time itself, which conquers all things? Love and inconstancy are half-sisters, dear Flora. Ten years hence you will be called an old maid, though, if married, you would be still considered at that age a young woman. In twenty years from this time it would be positively ridiculous on your part to think of marrying, yet Arnold could scarcely venture to take a wife before then.'

Flora played with her sash, and her eyes filled with tears, whilst the gloom that overspread her countenance showed how disagreeable the conversation was to her. Aunt Francisca looked earnestly at her, and putting her arm gently round her waist, asked, in a low voice,

'Are you betrothed to Arnold, my child? Answer me truly, Flora--are you or are you not?'

The girl tried to speak, but her lips closed again. She looked at the pretty East India handkerchief, and in her embarrassment crushed it between her fingers. The old lady withdrew her arm, and stooped to pick a flower.

'Come, my dear,' she said, 'let us go in; it is getting quite chill, and the evening air is not for old people like me. Your roses are beautiful; permit me to take one or two home for my flower-vase.'

Flora hastened to gather a bouquet of flowers, and then accompanied Miss Francisca to the house, the latter talking on indifferent subjects.

'What did she want with you?' asked one of the cousins. 'Did she give you anything besides the little shawl?'

'Oh, I wish she had kept her shawl,' said Flora, sharply. 'When presents have to be paid for by listening to stupid prosy lectures, I, for one, would rather dispense with the gifts. She is a tiresome old maid as ever lived.'

Louise was presiding at the tea-table, so Aunt Francisca sat down near her, and did not again approach Flora, who seemed out of spirits, and spoke neither to the old lady nor to Arnold. When the latter attempted to whisper something to her, she drew back pointedly without listening to him, and with a toss of her head which plainly showed Arnold that she was out of humour. Arnold looked at Miss Francisca as if he could have murdered her, and muttered: 'This is that old wretch's fault, I'll be bound. A starched old maid like her would infect a whole regiment of young girls with her prudery. I suppose I shall be expected to see that ancient piece of goods home--and if I am compelled to undertake this pleasing office, she shall come to grief, for I swear I will contrive to make her fall and break one of her old legs.'

If Louise had not spoken from time to time, not a word would have been uttered the whole evening; she was the only one who took any trouble to keep up a little conversation. Arnold placed himself by the window, and drummed listlessly with his fingers on the panes of glass: Flora sewed diligently, as if her daily bread depended on her getting through a certain quantity of work. Madame Werner knitted with equal perseverance, and only occasionally contributed a 'yes' or a 'no' to the conversation; the cousins cast sidelong glances towards Arnold, and tittered. At length nine o'clock struck, and it was announced that Miss Francisca's servant had come for her. Everybody seemed relieved--and the old lady rose instantly, as if she felt that her company was unwelcome, and that the sooner she took her departure the better. Madame Werner squeezed out an invitation for her to stay a little longer, but it was not accepted.

When Arnold found that she was really going, he strode up to her, and asked if he might have the pleasure of escorting her home; at which request the cousins could not restrain their laughter, and Flora had to bite her lips to prevent herself from following their example, while Louise did her utmost to prevent the old lady from observing the rudeness of her relations. Her back was scarcely turned before every tongue in the drawing-room she had just quitted became loosened, and the sounds of mirth and laughter could be distinctly heard by her before she had even left the house. When Louise, who had quitted the room with Aunt Francisca, to see her well wrapped up, returned to it, she attacked them for their rudeness in laughing, and talking so loud as soon as she had left the room, when they had been sitting in solemn silence the whole evening previously. Madame Werner sided with Louise, but Arnold was not to be checked in his rejoicings at having got rid of the stupid, tiresome old maid.

Poor Miss Francisca, meanwhile, heard the shouts of laughter as she walked up the street, and looking up sadly at the windows she thought: 'They are rejoicing at my departure; even there I am de trop.' But on her servant remarking how uncommonly gay they were at Madame Werner's, she only replied, 'They are a very lively, happy family, and long may they remain so.'

When the 'happy family' were relieved of her presence, the novel reading was resumed--and it was late before the tale was finished, and the party separated. After the young ladies had retired to the room which they shared together, Flora exclaimed, as she put away the pretty Indian shawl, 'Aunt Francisca is a very good soul, but she is abominably tiresome--it is hardly possible to put up with her.'

'I should think that where there is much real worth, a little peculiarity of manner might easily be borne with,' replied Louise; but Flora laughed as she said,

'Nothing is so bad as to be wearisome dear Louise; I can't endure anyone who bores me.'

Six weeks had elapsed since Miss Francisca's visit above recorded; autumn was approaching, the evenings were becoming longer, and the leaves of the trees assuming a yellow tint. It was on a grey afternoon in September that a young man passed slowly along Halmtorv, in Copenhagen, and stopped before a small house which looked as if it were the abode of death, for the blinds were all down, although there were no lights inside. The street-door was locked, and it was not till long after he had rung that it was opened by an elderly woman, who had on a black dress and black ribbons in her cap. They recognized each other gravely and then the young man, who seemed familiar with the house, ascended the stairs, and entered a room on the first floor, whilst the servant carefully locked the outer door. The apartment which he entered was empty, not an article of furniture relieved the bareness of the walls, and before the windows hung long white curtains, closely drawn; in the centre of the room there was a square space, where the uncovered boards looked white and shining, but the rest of the floor was thickly strewed with fine sand, and on that again lay flowers and green leaves taken from trees, which in the four corners of the room were formed into elaborate patterns.

The young man stopped on the threshold of the floor, and gazed sadly at the empty desolation before him. He was speedily joined by the old servant, who placed herself by his side, and also contemplated sorrowfully the square space, as if she recalled in thought what had so lately occupied it. Then, turning her eyes towards the young man, and perceiving by the expression of his countenance what was passing in his mind, she held out her hand to him in silence, which he took and pressed warmly. She was a trustworthy, affectionate creature, a servant of the olden time, such as are scarcely ever to be met with now in families of our modern days.

Presently the young man crossed the room, stepping lightly, as if he were afraid to crush the already fading flowers, and opened the door to another apartment, where, as in the first, long white curtains, drawn across the half-closed windows, gave a dim sad tone to the tasteful furniture and gay-coloured carpet. He was followed by the old servant, who told him that he would find the keys belonging to her late mistress in her own little daily sitting-room, and that all her keeping places were in perfect order. 'Alas! sir,' she added, 'how miserable it is for me to be left behind. I had always hoped and prayed that our Lord would graciously call me first.'

'It is the course of nature in this world, Inger,' he replied, 'that the eldest should go first. Your mistress was almost ten years older than you.'

'Very true, sir. Had my dear mistress lived till next Candlemas, she would have completed her sixty-seventh year, and I shall be fifty-seven come next March. Three-and-twenty years have I lived with her, and I can testify to her goodness in every respect; she was such a benefactress to the poor. Oh! how many of them will miss her!'

And Inger began to weep bitterly; her tears were of genuine sorrow for the loss of her kind mistress, for Rodolph, who was the nearest of kin to the deceased lady, had already told the faithful servant that a comfortable provision should be made for her, so as to secure to her independence for the rest of her life.

Rudolph Horn was the legal heir of Miss Francisca Garlov, who had that day been buried. She had been his mother's first cousin and dearest friend, they had been almost brought up together, and their intimacy had subsisted without any diminution, until death had separated them, thirteen years before, by removing Rudolph's mother from this world. The old maid had transferred the friendship for the mother to the son; when he came to Copenhagen, as a student, her house had always been open to him, and she gave him to understand that he should inherit whatever she might leave. She had died after a very few days' illness, and Rudolph, who was at the time in the country, though he hastened to Copenhagen the moment he heard of her mere indisposition, had not arrived in time to see his old friend alive.

As he sat in her now deserted parlour, his memory retraced the days of his childhood, when he used to visit her along with his mother, and when he used to admire the Chinese pagodas and mandarins which ornamented her sitting-room, her old china teacups, her pretty inlaid tea-table, her large well-stuffed easy-chair, her chiffoniers with mirrors and gilding in the doors, and, above all, a certain japanned cabinet, that had always to be opened to let 'the dear boy' see the pretty things in it, and some one or other of which was generally bestowed on him, for 'Aunt Francisca' never let him go empty-handed from her house. Ah! how different were the desires which filled his soul then and now; a whole lifetime almost seemed to lie between these two periods of his existence; he was then only eight years old, and now he was thirty!

Old Inger brought in candles, and offered to go through an inventory of the furniture and effects with him, but Rudolph told her that was quite unnecessary, as he had entire confidence in her; however, he took the key of Miss Francisca's bureau, as Inger informed him that it was the last injunction of her beloved mistress that he should be requested to open that depository of her papers immediately after her funeral.

Rudolph looked at his watch, as if he would fain have found that it was too late that evening to examine the papers of the deceased; but it was only six o'clock, and he had no excuse for putting off his painful task. It was some little time, however, after he had opened the bureau, before he could bring himself to disturb the neat packets of letters, and other little articles, arranged with so much order in this depository of the good old lady's treasures. He felt that it was almost a sin to touch these relics of the past, and merely half-opened the various drawers, more to obey the wishes of the dead than to search into their contents; but when he came to a hidden compartment, and unlocked its little door, he beheld what riveted his attention, for in it were two miniatures, a few papers, and two or three manuscript books. One of the miniatures was the likeness of a very handsome young man, dressed according to the fashion of a bygone period. The complexion was florid, rather than pale; the dark blue eyes expressed at once thoughtfulness and mirth, and round the mouth played a gay smile, while the smooth forehead gave no evidence of care or sorrow; the cravat was carelessly tied, imparting an idea of negligence in attire, which contrasted rather oddly with the elaborate ruffles that appeared below the brown coat sleeves, and coquettishly shaded a hand of delicate whiteness.

Close to this miniature lay another, which evidently portrayed 'Aunt Francisca' in her earlier years. She was pale, but with pretty features, finely-arched eyebrows, and a face altogether pleasing, from its expression of goodness and cheerfulness. Her hair, which fell in rich curls over her slender throat, was confined by a light-blue ribbon, and her dress had the peaked stomacher worn in those days.

Here, then, was a clue to the history of Aunt Francisca's youth; after so many silent years, these portraits, hidden away together, told a tale of the past--a tale, doubtless, of sorrow and disappointment. How little do the friends and acquaintances, made in after-life, know of the feelings, the hopes, the dreams, and the incidents of earlier years, many of which are hushed into deep mystery until the grave has received its prey, when some cherished token, some treasured reminiscence may unfold the secrets of days gone by.

When Rudolph had gazed for a time on these interesting faces, he replaced the miniatures where he had found them, and proceeded to examine the papers. Among them were memoranda and account-books, which showed how well regulated the affairs of the deceased had been, and how her economy had afforded her ample means to do good to those around her. He continued to read the documents before him until he became quite absorbed in them; and he was sitting at the old bureau, forgetful of the flight of time, until the clock struck nine. Its unwearied tongue, which amidst life and death ceased not to give forth its warning tones, aroused him from his dreamy mood, and, snatching one more glance at Aunt Francisca's likeness, he closed the bureau, and calling Inger, he prepared to depart. The old woman lighted him to the door, and attempted to draw him into conversation, but he shook his head and hurried out, with tears in his eyes.

'Ah!' said Inger, to herself, as she returned to her solitary chamber, 'how kind-hearted Herr Rudolph is--so different from most young men now-a-days, who are ashamed to let people see that they have any feelings at all!'


CHAPTER II.

On leaving the abode so recently visited by death, Rudolph repaired to a house in Bredgade, where, as he was ringing at the door, he heard, even in the street, the sound of laughter in the drawing-room above. Annoyed at this, he drew back a few steps, and, observing lights blazing through the windows, he shrank from encountering the gaiety within, and was about to go away, but when the door was opened, he changed his mind, and slowly ascended the stairs.

Whilst he had been sitting in Aunt Francisca's deserted parlour, a gay little party had been gathering around Mrs. Werner's tea-table. They were all young, with the exception of the lady of the house. Flora was making tea, and Lieutenant Arnold was by her side, rendering her what assistance he could. Mrs. Werner sat near them, more to sanction the attention Arnold was paying the pretty Flora, than to check it. Louise was at the opposite side of the table, with some fancy-work in her hand, taking little or no part in the gossiping that was going on, but glancing from time to time anxiously at the timepiece in the room, as its hands pointed to half-past eight, a quarter to nine, nine o'clock, a quarter past nine, and Rudolph had not made his appearance.

The two cousins, who were mentioned on a former occasion--young ladies--and two or three young men, relations also of the family, made up the party. Mrs. Werner and her daughters were in slight mourning, in consequence of the death of Miss Francisca, but the gaiety which was going on gave no evidence of sorrow for her loss. The smiling countenances, the well-lighted room, the open pianoforte, with some fashionable waltzes on the stand, all formed a strong contrast to the scene Rudolph had just quitted, and he almost frowned as he entered the room.

Louise arose and went forward to meet him, while Flora laughingly scolded him for being so late.

'I beg a thousand pardons,' said Rudolph, 'but it was impossible for me to come earlier.'

'Mercy on us, what a tragical face! You look as if you were bound to follow Aunt Francisca into the very grave itself. There, console yourself with a cup of cold tea; it is your own fault that it is not better. Don't pet him so, Louise. Do you not see how melancholy he is?'

'Melancholy people are just those who need to be petted,' said Louise, moving her chair so as to make room for him by her; 'others don't require it.'

'It is really quite touching to see the deeply-distressed heir of Aunt Francisca's china pagodas, putting on the solemn look of an undertaker, on account of her, alas! too early departure from this world,' said Flora. 'Most faithful of swains, where will you find such another interesting shepherdess of sixty-seven years of age?'

'What, is it possible,' cried one of the young men, 'that Rudolph is grieving for old Miss Garlov? It seems to me that the best thing the ancient skin-flint could do was to lay herself down and die. Heaven knows there are plenty of old maids left in the world!'

'She was a worthy creature--a good soul,' said Mrs. Werner, with perfect indifference, 'and, doubtless, is now happy in the other world. There is no need to lament those who go to a better life; they are well off.'

'She will be wafted, like an airy being, up to the highest heaven, on account of her unimpeachable virtue,' said Arnold, laughing at his own wit. Rudolph looked angrily at him, and was about to say something, when Louise laid her hand on his arm to stop him. There was an awkward silence for a few minutes, until one of the cousins exclaimed:

'I wonder if Miss Francisca ever had a lover.'

'I should think not,' replied Mrs. Werner, with a half smile. 'She did not look like a person who would have admirers.'

'Admirers!' cried one of the young men. 'Fancy anybody making love to such a prude. I don't suppose she ever had the most distant idea of love.'

'One can have very good fun with old maids, sometimes,' said Arnold; 'one can quiz them about their youthful conquests, or persuade them that Peter or Paul is casting, even now, sheeps' eyes at them; but it would have been impossible to have brought Miss Garlov into this state of happy delusion; there was no tampering with her.'

'What a tiresome person she was!' exclaimed cousin Ida. 'A terrible bore!'

'Heavens! yes! Such an old maid as she was is positively a horror, enough to scare one,' said Arnold, 'though I don't call myself faint-hearted, and am certainly not apt to flee from the fair sex. But these wrinkled, pinched-up pieces of propriety, who are always denouncing the immorality and folly of youth, don't deserve to be included under the head of "fair." Well, had I known that Aunt Francisca was to be buried to-day, I certainly should have followed her to the grave, out of gratitude to her for taking this last journey, never more to return.'

'My cousin did not trouble you much, I think,' said Rudolph, angrily. 'She came here but seldom, and was never fond of annoying people.'

Arnold made some ill-natured answer, continuing to quiz poor Miss Francisca. Everyone laughed except Louise, who was anxiously watching Rudolph's countenance, and much afraid lest he should make some severe remark.

Flora, enjoying the scene, said: 'See how Louise is labouring to keep Rudolph quiet, for he is quite ready to do battle with us all. Ever since I have known him, he has been the faithful knight of all forlorn old maids.'

'And all young ladies should, therefore, feel gratitude to me,' said Rudolph, 'for not one of them--I make no exceptions--can declare, with certainty, that she may not one day or other become an old maid.'

Flora cast a glance towards Arnold, which plainly said that she, at least, had nothing to do with the threatened calamity.

Rudolph continued: 'I have often observed with surprise how youth, especially early youth, hates and despises old maids. Why is it that age, which demands respect for all others, should, in civilized society, exclude unmarried ladies from it? I do not allude to my deceased relative in particular, nor will I dwell on all her kindness to me--I will only speak of her as one of a class, one among the many who share her fate. We were all acquainted with her, and therefore I ask you, who have just been casting ridicule on her memory, if you have really felt the bitter contempt you have expressed for her? I think I can answer for you, No. Not one of you is, in point of fact, so bad-hearted as you would make yourselves appear by your thoughtless chattering.' Rudolph looked earnestly round, but not one present attempted to reply.

He went on: 'Is an old maid's lot so delightful, that people must try to annoy her by scorn? I should say not. Should we not rather be sorry to see anyone excluded from what many of us value most? A life without interest, or close domestic ties, is not to be envied; nor is it the fault of the woman if she is not destined to become a wife and a mother. Many single women have but to look back in their advancing years on a wasted life; to remember names that no more must be uttered by them; to feel the void in their hearts to which no amount of resignation can make them insensible; and to all this must be added an endless struggle against those who have been more fortunate than themselves, and enforced patience with the jeers and scoffs launched so pitilessly against them. How few girls look forward to this position for their after-years! And yet circumstances not calculated upon, the factitious wants entailed on us by society, the poverty which forbids many a union, the fickle fancies of men, or an evil destiny, which seems sometimes to delight in thwarting the dearest hopes, and sundering those who might have been happy together, may doom them to it. And is all this only a subject for ridicule? For my part, I cannot laugh at an old maid, even if she loves only her cat or her canary-bird. God has implanted affections in her heart; mankind have rejected these, therefore she loves animals of a lower species, who seem grateful for her kindness. Ludwig said, a few minutes ago, that Aunt Francisca looked as if she had never had a lover. Could that be possible, with her mild eyes, her sweet face, her amiable disposition? She had more goodness in her little finger than most people have in their whole person; but none of you knew her well!'

'Nonsense, Rudolph!' exclaimed Mrs. Werner. 'How can you pretend to say we did not know her? I am sure I have been acquainted with her for at least a score of years; she was a second cousin of my lamented husband.'

'Nevertheless, I maintain that none of you did know her well. If not disagreeable to you, I should like to tell you Aunt Francisca's history as I have heard it from my mother, who was her most intimate friend, and partly from herself. I have also found out much from her private papers, which, by her own wish, I looked over this very evening. Now that she is gone, the story of her life need no longer be a secret.'

'Hark ye, Rudolph,' said Mrs. Werner, stretching across, and whispering to him. 'In regard to that secret, I would rather you did not touch upon it; her imprudence in early life, which caused so much annoyance to her family, had better not be related in the presence of young girls like my daughters and their cousins. It was fortunate the child died. Her friends would have been awkwardly placed had he lived, for they could scarcely have received her. It was surprising that she made so light of it herself.'

But Arnold had overheard what Mrs. Werner had whispered to Rudolph, and exclaimed exultingly,

'So! Is that how matters stood? The old lady deserves our thanks, even though she is in her grave, for the sins of her youth; without them we should have been forced to listen to some most insipid story, but we may now hope to hear something interesting.'

'Give over interrupting him,' said Flora, 'or we shall not hear a word. Now, Rudolph, do begin!'

'I am obedience itself, and shall be mute as a fish,' said Arnold, bowing gallantly to his fair enslaver. The male and female cousins all placed themselves in attitudes of attention, perhaps because they shared in the young officer's expectation of hearing some scandal, and Rudolph commenced his narration:--

There is little to be told of Aunt Francisca's childhood. Her father held a situation in one of the colleges, and the first eight years of her life were passed principally in close rooms, away from green fields and fresh air. Her father was much occupied, therefore her education was conducted entirely by her mother, a clever and amiable woman, but with one peculiarity, that she had the greatest horror of sick people, and was morbidly afraid of infection. Francisca, perceiving this weakness, determined to avoid it, but fell into the opposite extreme, and would scarcely believe that any complaint could be infectious, or if the fact were proved, she had not the slightest fear of it. When the family removed to an estate her father had purchased near a town where he had received a good appointment, the little girl took much pleasure in visiting the poor in the neighbourhood when they were ill, and administering to their comforts, which, of course, caused her to be greatly beloved among them.

It was at this period of her life that my mother and she became intimate. The cousins were much together, for my mother used to spend almost every summer at the Garlovs', and their mutual affection ripened with their years. At sixteen Francisca could not have been called beautiful, but she was pretty, with an animated countenance, a sweet smile, a light, graceful figure, and pleasing manners. It was about this time that a dreadful fever broke out in the part of the country where the Garlovs lived; it raged more particularly among the peasantry, but persons of all classes were attacked; the servants in almost every house were ill, and, to crown the evil, the doctors in the provincial town were seized with the fever. In this state of things, Francisca's father wrote to Copenhagen to request that some young physician might be sent to their assistance in the existing time of need. Little did he imagine that this letter was to be the first cast of the die which was to determine his daughter's fate!

Two young doctors accordingly soon arrived, one of whom was settled for the time being in the little town, the other taking up his abode at Mr. Garlov's country house. This latter was a handsome young man, about three-and-twenty years of age, who had just passed a brilliant examination, and was glad to obtain some employment. I will show you his likeness some day, which will prove to you that he was handsome and prepossessing in appearance, and that the impression he made on Aunt Francisca was not to be wondered at.

He was successful in his practice, and saved so many lives that Mrs. Garlov looked upon him absolutely as their good genius, while his lively conversation amused her husband. He had been a favourite with the belles of his own circle in Copenhagen, among whom he had been considered quite an Adonis, therefore he had no lack of confidence in his powers of pleasing, and he thought it his duty to pay marked attention to the young lady of the family by whom he had been so hospitably received.

But Francisca soon interested him. He found her very different from his fair Copenhagen friends, and then she was the only damsel with whom he associated; and in the country, as everybody knows, people become better acquainted in three days than in three years in town. It cannot be denied that as time wore on Theodore Ancker made rapid advances in the good graces of the youthful and unsophisticated Francisca, and by the time nature had put on its richest summer garb her heart was fairly in the keeping of the young doctor. Ah! what a summer that was for her. Never before had the sun shone so brightly--never had the skies looked so blue, or the trees wore so brilliant a green! And yet, had Mr. Garlov's guest taken his departure then, as he thought of doing, Francisca might have missed him terribly for a time, passed a melancholy autumn, and a lonely winter; but when spring came round, and the storks had returned to their nests on the roofs, she would have recovered her spirits, and remembered her intimacy with him only as a pleasant episode in her life. It was otherwise ordained.

It had been deemed that the fever had entirely disappeared, but a peasant was attacked by it, and in visiting him, Theodore, who had escaped as if by magic before, was seized with the dreaded symptoms, and soon became dangerously ill. The family--indeed the whole neighbourhood--were thrown into the greatest consternation, for Theodore was a general favourite; but no one seemed sufficiently collected to pay the invalid the attention he required except Francisca, who, calm in the midst of her distress, and heedless of infection, took upon herself to be his chief nurse, and waited on him day and night with untiring assiduity. Her father was often her companion in the sick-room, but Mrs. Garlov's uncontrollable fears prevented her from assisting personally in her daughter's benevolent labours, though she was not remiss in praying for the patient's recovery.

He did recover, and when the autumnal tints were stealing over the woods, he was able to stroll in the garden, or saunter to the verge of the adjacent forest. How happy Francisca was! And when Theodore turned to her, and said, in a voice still languid from weakness,

'How delicious the air is to-day! I owe it to you, Miss Francisca, that I breathe it again. Without your kind care I never more should have beheld these beautiful woods.'

A thrill of delight passed through Francisca's frame at these words, and she trembled so that Theodore exclaimed:

'I fear I am leaning too heavily on you; you are fatigued, I see. Let us sit down here to rest awhile--here, where the sun shines so brightly through the leaves that they seem to be all of gold. Ah! how good, how kind you have been to me! It seems to me as if my own character had improved since I became acquainted with you.'

The harvest was gathered in--the harvest-home was to be held--and there was more than usual merriment, for the dreaded epidemic had passed away, and the very last who had suffered from it, Theodore, was now only somewhat feeble. The peasantry were enjoying their games, and the Garlov family, with a few friends, were looking on at a little distance beyond the gates of the château, when a succession of fearful shrieks were heard, and a number of peasants, some armed with sticks, others with stones, were to be seen running along, though no one could tell what was the cause of the uproar. But presently a large dog, with a broken chain around his neck, rushed from behind some bushes, and ran across the field towards the Garlov party, who at the same moment distinctly heard the warning cry, 'A mad dog! a mad dog!'

Seized with a sudden panic, every one of the little group endeavoured to escape, and Francisca caught hold of Theodore's hand and hurried him towards the gate; but he could not run fast enough, the large stick on which he had been leaning impeded his movements, and, stumbling, he fell to the ground. Francisca was in despair when she found he had struck his head against a stone, and lay motionless; in vain her father called to her to quicken her pace, she would not leave Theodore. Meanwhile the dog came nearer and nearer--she could hear the rattling of his chain, as with open mouth and protruding tongue he ran towards them. She sprang before Theodore, and with outstretched arms stood as if guarding him. The dog rushed on her--she felt his damp paw upon her throat, his warm breath upon her cheek, his glaring eyes close to her own, and she sank senseless by the side of him she had endeavoured to save.


'Oh, fie! Rudolph,' cried cousin Ida; 'your description is too horrible--his wet paw upon her throat--shocking! How could she be so foolish! I think she must have been as mad as the dog.'

'I should have fainted at the first cry of the peasants,' said Charlotte, Ida's sister.

'Master Theodore must have been a miserable creature,' exclaimed Arnold. 'I would have defended the ladies to the last drop of my blood. But, to be sure, he was only a doctor, and dealt in potions and plasters instead of valorous deeds--that is some excuse for the fellow.'

'I thought the bite of a mad dog was always fatal,' said Mrs. Werner, quietly. 'Yet Francisca must have outlived it--how was that?'


It was a false alarm (replied Rudolph). The dog was not mad. With that instinct which led all distressed creatures to her, it had run to Francisca for protection from the crowd of peasants who were ill-treating it. She soon got over her fainting fit, and Theodore also recovered consciousness, but the contusion in his head brought on fever, and he raved incessantly about the mad dog which had destroyed Francisca. The old doctor, who had resumed his practice, happening fortunately to call, ordered leeches to be applied to Theodore's head, and a certain medicine to be administered to him. Both had to be obtained from the apothecary in the nearest little town, and the only man-servant who had remained at home--the others having been permitted to join the merry-making among the villagers--was sent for them. After a long absence he returned with the leeches, but did not bring the so-much-needed draught. It would have been a useless attempt to send him back, for he had been drinking freely in the town, and could not be roused from the heavy sleep into which he had fallen after tumbling down in a state of intoxication on the floor of the servants' hall.

Should the poor patient be deprived of the prescribed draught? No; Francisca determined to go for it herself, even though it was getting dark, and she would have to pass through the dreary wood. Leaving her mother and an old woman busy putting on the leeches on Theodore's brow, she slipped out of the room and out of the house; she almost ran until she reached the gate which opened upon the road that led to the wood; there for a moment she stopped, and hesitated to proceed; yet the doctor had said that the medicine was of great importance, and though she had never been alone in the wood after dark, she conquered her fears and went forwards. But her heart beat wildly, her knees trembled under her, and she often started at the rustling of the leaves, and the pale gleams of uncertain light that penetrated here and there through the thick foliage from the rising moon; the scudding of the deer, whom even her light tread awoke, increased her alarm; and the hoarse cry of the owl seemed terrible to her.


'Young ladies,' said Rudolph, interrupting his narrative, 'is there one among you who will now doubt that Aunt Francisca could feel love?'

'Oh, Heaven defend me from such love!' cried Ida. 'I would die of fright if I were to go alone through a dark wood at night.'


She reached the town safely (continued Rudolph), procured the medicine at the apothecary's, and bravely returned alone through the wood, though her excited imagination conjured up all manner of phantasies--such as dim figures gliding amidst the trees, footsteps pursuing her, and goblin laughter greeting her ear. Still she struggled against the terror that had almost overcome her, until, having gained her home and the invalid's chamber, she sank down, nearly fainting, by her mother's side, and murmured, 'The wood--the wood!'

The dampness of her dress, wet with the heavy dew--her exhaustion, and the medicine which she could just hold up--told the history of her exploit more quickly than her words would have done. Her mother threw her arms round her, and Theodore, who was somewhat better, and who was amazed at what she had done for his sake, exclaimed, 'Francisca, and you ventured all this for me!' During the long, sleepless night which followed, she heard again and again, as it were like the tones of an Æolian harp, these, to her, thrilling words; 'Francisca, and you ventured all this for me!'

In the course of a few weeks after this event, Theodore being again quite well, found that it was necessary for him to return to Copenhagen. But he felt reluctant to leave Francisca, and put off the dreaded parting to the latest day possible. He knew how much he was indebted to her; twice she had saved his life, or striven to do so, with a devoted abnegation of self which only affection could have prompted. His vanity whispered to him that she surely loved him, and flattered by this idea, and also feeling grateful to her, he fancied that he entertained the same sentiments towards her. Francisca was so retiring in her manners, however, that Theodore had had no opportunity of communicating to her what he thought or felt, except by his looks; and even these seemed to alarm her, for she feared that she had permitted him to read too deeply in her heart.

At length he could no longer defer his departure, and with a countenance full of woe he informed the family at dinner that he would have to leave them the following day. Francisca turned deadly pale, and as soon as she could make her escape from table she rushed into the garden to vent her grief in solitude. Theodore had followed her, unperceived by her. He found her leaning against a tree, holding a handkerchief to her eyes, while her whole frame was agitated by her emotion. In another moment his arm was round her waist, while he exclaimed:

'What! weeping, Francisca? Are you ill? What can affect you thus? Is there any secret grief pressing upon your mind? I had hoped to carry away with me the image of the happy Francisca I have known here. Ah! you cannot guess how dear your happiness is to me. To you I owe my life twice over. I owe you more than ten lives could repay. Dearest Francisca! say, will you think kindly of me when I am far away? Oh, every golden cloud, every waving tree, every lovely flower I behold will lead my thoughts to you--or rather, you will be my only thought.'

Francisca's tears flowed more freely even than before. She was silent; but there is a silence more eloquent than words. However, young ladies, you all know, or have dreamed, of what might pass during such a scene, and I shall not, with my prosy words, attempt to describe what your poetical imaginations can so much better conceive.

It was under that linden-tree that the happy Theodore received the assurance of Francisca's love, and heard her, for the first time, call him 'Dear Theodore!' They strolled on towards the wood, and Theodore there took up a small quantity of the earth, which he said he would keep as an amulet--a preservative against all manner of witchcraft.

'Do so,' said Francisca, with a sad smile, 'for you will assuredly need that amulet. You are leaving me now; you will forget me soon among the many beautiful and fascinating you will see in the gay world. But, after all, you had better throw back the earth whence it came, Theodore. I would not be remembered as an evil genius.'

'Can you fancy that I could possibly forget you, or cease to remember all you have been to me? May Heaven forget me if I ever change towards you!'

The earnestness of his manner convinced Francisca of his sincerity. We are always prone to believe what we wish, and this is why a heart that loves is so easily deceived.

When he was going away, Theodore whispered with his farewell a request that he might be allowed to write to her, and that she would answer his letters.

'No, do not write,' she said; 'our faith in each other does not require to be kept alive by letter. We shall meet again.'

'In spring, I trust. Oh, how long it will be till then!'

Love and gratitude! What a wide difference there is between these two feelings. Love is the offspring of our own heart--its darling, its heir; gratitude is but an adopted child--a poor orphan, admitted but not tenderly cherished. What Francisca felt was love. Theodore had always gratitude starting up in the background to recall his wandering feelings; yet he believed, when he left the Garlovs' house for Copenhagen, that he was really in love with Francisca.

It is a pity that no natural philosopher has ever invented an instrument by which to measure love--its depth and solidity. Had such a test been available, Theodore would soon have found out his own state. But still there are proofs without philosophical instruments; for he who does not find the image of his beloved in every corner of his heart, has never loved; he who does not clearly remember every, even the most minute turnings, in the winding-path by which the little blind deity may have led him, has never loved; he whose beloved is not his all in the future, the object of his dreams, his hopes, his thoughts in the present, he has never loved. Ye gentlemen lovers! I advise you to examine your own hearts by these tests, and see how your affections really stand.


Rudolph paused for a moment--Louise glanced at him as if she felt sure he had passed the proof--Arnold indulged in a sneering smile, and the other gentlemen looked innocently apathetic.


There is an old French saying (continued Rudolph), which signifies that absence has the same effect upon love that a high wind has upon fire--it extinguishes the weak, but makes the strong burn more intensely. Thus, while Francisca's ardent love gained strength in absence, and in her sleeping and waking dreams she invested Theodore with every possible good quality and charm, his feeble love became more and more languid, and the image of Francisca lost by degrees all the attractions he had fancied it possessed.

Francisca had communicated all her feelings by letter to her friend, my mother, and the correspondence between them, on a subject so interesting, helped to while away the tedium of the winter months. Theodore, on the contrary, concealed his little love affair in the country from his friends in town. At first, it seemed a topic too sacred to enter upon, and afterwards he thought it would be ridiculous--he would only expose himself to be laughed at by his companions. Balls, and all sorts of amusements occupied his leisure hours. He was one of the best dancers in Copenhagen, and could have as many pretty partners as he liked. Time flew fast with him; he sometimes forgot that such a being as Francisca existed, and in a fit of vexation, as it reminded him of his duty, he hid away the amulet that was to have been so potent a talisman. Early in spring, however, he had an illness, which confined him to his room for a few days; during that short period of seclusion Francisca assumed a more prominent part in his recollection. Which of all the girls he had been flirting with during the winter would have risked so much, done so much for him as she had done? Not one among them. The country and Francisca were again in the ascendant for a time, and it was at this period that he had his likeness taken. He would give it to her. How much she would value it! That was a pleasant idea, for even in love men seldom forget vanity. Indeed, what love is to be compared, in general, to self-love?

Armed with the miniature of himself, and a small plain gold ring on his little finger, Theodore set off for Mr. Garlov's. The wood was already clothed in its mantle of green. How anxiously had not Francisca watched the budding leaves, and longed for the arrival of spring, which would bring back to her him she loved so much! She had gone out to meet him, and when he caught a glimpse of her, springing from the carriage he threw himself at her feet. She was happy, for she had never doubted his constancy. Mr. Garlov welcomed him as an old friend, but he did not look upon him in any other light, as Mrs. Garlov, who knew of her daughter's attachment, had never yet found a suitable opportunity to communicate the matter to her husband, though she was aware that he intended Francisca to marry a wealthy proprietor in their neighbourhood, who, although somewhat advanced in years, was a very worthy man, and would be a good match.

The evenings were still cold, and were consequently passed within doors, but were enlivened by conversation, music, and reading aloud, for Theodore excelled in the latter accomplishment, and also sang well. A happy time it was to Francisca, and even Theodore felt the pleasing influence of these quiet evenings; but when summer came, with its long days and warm nights, and the lovers could stroll out arm-in-arm, Francisca was still happier, and would sometimes exclaim, 'I could not have thought it possible for this world to afford so much felicity as I experience at this moment!' With her the days flew like hours, and the hours like minutes! At length Theodore spoke of returning to his home. But he was assailed by father, mother, and daughter, with entreaties to remain a little longer, as guests were expected, and his society would enliven the party very much.

'If you will only stay,' said Francisca, 'you shall be rewarded by seeing a most beautiful girl.'

'Is your cousin Kitty so beautiful?' asked Theodore.

'No, she is only amiable; but a Miss Angel is to accompany her, who is over from Holstein on a visit to my cousin. She is called Aurora Angel--two ominous names, are they not? But they are not misapplied.'

'Do you think I would stay for anybody's sake if not for yours, dear Francisca?' said Theodore. 'No; the goddess of the dawn of day shall have no such triumph. Since you wish it, I will remain longer; but I should only be too happy if this blooming damsel would stay away.'

She came, however, along with my mother and my grandmother, and very beautiful she was both in face and figure, with remarkably fine arms, and the prettiest feet in the world. She looked lovely as she played the harp, and her voice was one of that peculiar sweetness that, once heard, could never be forgotten. Her slight foreign accent gave a piquancy to her simplest words--in short, she was altogether a most attractive little creature.

Mrs. Garlov and Theodore Ancker were the only persons who did not seem quite captivated by the fascinations of the fair Aurora; every one else was enchanted with her, Francisca most of all. Theodore insisted that the glances of her bright eyes had, when she thought she was not observed, something sinister in them that caused involuntary mistrust; he accused her of being coquettish, cold, and heartless, notwithstanding her affection of feeling. In fact, he evinced a strange repugnance to her society, and much annoyance that the arrival of other guests had thrown a sort of barrier between himself and Francisca, with whom he could no longer be frequently alone, and more than once he expressed a wish that he had gone when first he proposed doing so. He was at all times a little given to variations of temper, but now he appeared to be always out of humour, and when he was compelled to show any attention to Aurora, he did it with a very bad grace, and looked as awkward as a dancing bear.

Aurora herself never appeared to observe anything odd in his manners, but the rest of the party could not fail to be surprised at him.

One evening, after Theodore had been all day looking quite cross because he had not been able to have some private chat with Francisca, though his own bad humour had made him neglect more than one opportunity that had presented itself, the little party were assembled in the music-room which opened on the garden. Aurora was singing and accompanying herself on the harp. Theodore seemed annoyed at the praise bestowed upon her, and she had scarcely finished her song when he began vehemently to press Francisca to sing. She declined, though she really sang very nicely, and her admirer was so vexed that he was leaving the room, when she called him back, that he might hear Aurora sing Clärchen's Lied from Goethe's 'Egmont,' which was then quite new. After preluding for a moment or two, with a sweet smile Aurora commenced the romance, and the expression of her countenance changed suddenly to sadness as she sang,

Freudvoll
Und leidvoll
Gedankenvoll seyn;

while she seemed powerfully affected by the two last lines:

Glücklich allein
Ist die Seele, die liebt;

for her voice sank almost to a whisper, and her eyes filled with tears. At that moment her glance met that of Theodore, and she coloured deeply, while he in vain strove to look indifferent. Mrs. Garlov entered on a disquisition touching the tragedy of 'Egmont' and the character of Clärchen, while Aurora sought to conceal her annoyance by speaking of the song.

'I do not know any song that has prettier words than these. Do you not agree with me, Mr. Ancker?'

'I think,' replied Theodore, 'that Clärchen's mother pronounced a very proper judgment on the words when she said, "Ah, it is the same eternal nonsense."'

'And I will answer you in Clärchen's own words', said Aurora, good-humouredly: '"Nay, do not abuse it; 'tis a song of marvellous virtue. Many a time I have lulled a grown child to sleep with it."'

This reply in her own language--the German--came so prettily from Aurora's coral lips, that Theodore did violence to his own feelings when he answered:

'Yes, "schlafen wiegen," that was perhaps Clärchen's art. Probably you admire Clärchen's character. I would swear that you did.'

'Yes, I admire it; it is a faithful and pleasing sketch of the female character.'

'Of one female character, say rather. God be praised, not of all,' replied Theodore. 'Clärchen is capricious, coquettish, inconsiderate, heartless. She makes a mere tool of the man who wishes to marry her--a mere hack and errand boy--and she repays the poor fellow's services by the coquetry which holds him in her chains. Does she not say herself, "Often, without a thought, I return the gentle loving pressure of his hand? I reproach myself that I am deceiving him--that I am nourishing in his heart a vain hope."'

Aurora listened to him with a smile, complimented him on his admirable pronunciation of German (a compliment which evidently pleased him), and then went on to defend Clärchen, quoting sentences from the drama itself, and wound up by assuring him that men could not understand love--at least not such deep, all-absorbing love as a Clärchen could feel.

Mr. Garlov remarked that the fair damsel was very severe upon their sex, and Theodore shrugged his shoulders in silence.

Again Aurora spoke. 'Clärchen,' she said, 'was placed, as it were, between Life's cold prose and Eternity's warm poetry. It was the battle between these that consumed her, as it had consumed many another heart. You have no conception of that struggle: and may you never feel it. May you never have to say, like Clärchen, "I am in a strange position."'

Aurora rose, put away her harp, and hurried into the garden. The other ladies followed her, and Theodore was left alone with Mr. Garlov, who said,

'You have got into a scrape, my good friend. One must be very guarded in speaking to these German ladies, they are so deucedly sensitive. I can't conceive, though, what made you fall upon her as you did; it was really an unwarrantable attack.'


CHAPTER III.

For some days after the little scene in the music-room, Theodore took great pains to dispel the gloom his ill-humour had occasioned, and he tried, by unusual courtesy, to do away with any disagreeable impression he might have made upon Aurora; but she appeared to notice as little his efforts to please as she had previously noticed his indifference, which had bordered on rudeness. He was annoyed, and said to Francisca, 'I can't imagine what that girl wants; I have never in my life beheld a person with so much pretension. If she expects that I shall approach her upon my knees, according to the homage she is perhaps accustomed to in Holstein, she will find herself much mistaken. One does not worship a pretty face so much in this part of the world; thank Heaven, here beauty is not so rare.'

'A face like Aurora's, however, is seldom to be seen anywhere,' said Francisca. 'But you quite misunderstand her--she has no pretensions, and hardly knows how beautiful she is. She is sorry that she is not on better terms with you, and, as Kitty tells me, cannot imagine why you dislike her so much.'

Such conversations frequently took place between Theodore and Francisca, but they had no apparent result, for Theodore, though he agreed with all that she said, and was polite to her young guest, did not seem to feel any interest in her; and Aurora, on her part, remained cold and distant to him. Six weeks had now elapsed since the arrival of the ladies, and the time had passed slowly to Theodore, who had never felt himself fully at ease; these weeks had also imperceptibly made a change in his and Francisca's manners towards each other--a colder and more distant tone had sprung up between them, they seldom met alone, and when they did, Theodore's thoughts always seemed preoccupied, or he was out of humour. Francisca observed this with regret, and one Sunday morning she contrived to follow him alone into the garden, determined to clear up anything that might have annoyed him. She had a book in her hand, probably snatched up by chance to lead the rest of the party to fancy that she was going to read in the garden. Theodore came up to her, and said:

'What interesting work have I to thank for this unexpected meeting? To see you alone is now a rare event; the claims of love, methinks, are no longer of the importance they used to be.'

He seized the book with some impetuosity--it was Goethe's 'Egmont.' 'Clärchen!' he exclaimed. 'Is Clärchen to be always thus thrust upon me? I wish I could as easily get rid of all Clärchens as I can of this book.' And he was about to fling the book away.

'For Heaven's sake, Theodore, don't throw Aurora's book into the pond! How can you be so childish as to be angry with a poor book? It was not Clärchen that brought me here; I took it up in the breakfast-room to have something in my hand; I did not even know what book it was. I came out here,' she added, timidly, and colouring deeply, 'to seek you.'

'Me, Francisca? Really to seek me? So these visitors of yours have not made you quite forget me? But I am unreasonable, detestable; forgive me, sweet Francisca! I hardly know myself what I want. It is very foolish, but I confess I am as jealous of Aurora as if she had been a man. The way in which she engrosses you quite separates us; when a woman chooses to pay court, it is much worse than attention from a man--she scarcely ever leaves you for a moment.'

'Unreasonable that you are!' cried Francisca, smiling. 'Do you think you are to be the only 'person who is to be allowed to love me? Come, let us make the most of these uninterrupted minutes, and speak confidentially together. Let us go into the forest, I feel as if I should be more at my ease there.'

Theodore drew her arm within his, and they went into the wood. It was a lovely morning, the thick foliage of the trees formed a cool shade from the warm rays of the blazing sun. The birds were carolling among the branches, the chime of the distant church bells was answered by the tinkling of the sheep bells as the animals fed amidst the grassy glades of the forest, and a few peasants passed now and then on their way to church, in all their Sunday finery, and with their prayer-books in their hands. They respectfully and kindly saluted the lovers as they sat together under the large tree, beneath whose spreading boughs Francisca had prayed for strength on the memorable night when she had traversed the forest alone in order to obtain the means required for saving Theodore's life.

'This is our chapel,' said Theodore. 'This mossy seat the altar at which I have vowed to devote my life to you. Do you remember that it was here you hinted at the possibility of my forgetting you? Ah! Did I not then say that Heaven must forget me first? I feel now, even more than I did then, the truth of my words.' But at that moment a recollection shot across Theodore's mind which caused him a painful sensation: had he not all but forgotten Francisca? He passed his hand over his eyes for a moment, but Francisca took it gently away, while she replied:

'My doubts were unholy. I was but a child then, and I did not think that I could be loved as I felt I loved you. Forgive me for these sinful thoughts. I know now how true you are.'

Theodore embraced her, and played with the ring he had given her, which, not daring to wear on her finger, as the engagement was yet unknown to her father, she had hung round her neck, and generally placed near her heart, but which on this occasion had escaped from within her dress. Francisca had taken her own likeness before her glass, and, although it had many faults, it resembled her. She intended it for Theodore, but had never been able to gather courage until this day to present it to him. She had brought it down into the breakfast-room with her, and when she saw him stroll into the garden she thrust it hurriedly between the leaves of a book which was lying on a side-table, and took it with her when she went to join him. The ring reminded her of the little portrait, and, turning to Theodore, she said:

'You have been very kind to give me both this ring and that dear miniature--that likeness of yourself, to which I confide all my thoughts when I am alone with it. I have no ring to offer you in return, Theodore; but will you excuse its many faults, and accept this little sketch which I have done for you? When you look at this pale face, I beseech you not to forget that the soul which animates it is capable of the most devoted love, and is grateful for its undeserved happiness.'

Frightened at the warmth with which she had ventured to express her feelings, the poor girl became quite embarrassed, her eyes were blinded with tears, and her fingers nervously felt through the leaves of the book for the drawing she had mentioned. She found it, and with averted head, she handed it to Theodore. He kissed it as he received it, but no sooner had he looked at it than he exclaimed in great agitation,

'Francisca, this is a bitter mockery! I did not deserve this from you.'

Francisca looked at him with astonishment. He was holding the drawing in his hand, and gazing on it. One glance was enough to show her that it was not her likeness; the book had contained at least one other drawing besides her portrait. A young lady was leaning over a harp, amidst the strings of which one hand was lingering, while the other hand held a pocket-handkerchief towards her face, as if to dry the tears that were swimming in the soft eyes; beside her stood an elegant young man, in an attitude of utter indifference, cleverly depicted by his having placed his foot on a chair near, and being engaged in adjusting his shoe. It was only a sketch, but very spirited, and very well done. In a corner of the paper was written the German line--

Das Herz allein schafft Holl' und Paradies.

'Aurora!' cried Francisca, in dismay.

'Clärchen,' said Theodore, fretfully. 'Am I then doomed to find that image everywhere--is it not impossible to escape it! Nay, Francisca, this is an unfair punishment. I have acknowledged my rudeness, regretted it in my own heart, and endeavoured to make up for it--what more would you have?'

'It is no punishment; it is only a mistake. I did not know that there was any such drawing in the book; the sketch is not by me--it is by Aurora,' stammered Francisca.

'Aurora! Did Aurora do this?' exclaimed Theodore, looking at it again, and eagerly.

Francisca did not answer, but she seemed as if she was going to cry.

Little heeding her looks, however, he remained with his eyes riveted on the picture; at length he said,

'Clärchen is true to herself. Only see what coquetry there is in this little sketch; and the verse, and the tears--it is really charming!--But what is the matter, Francisca? You look so pale--so overcome. Are you not well?'

Francisca tried to laugh at herself. 'It is nothing; I felt a little giddy, but the sensation has passed off. Let us go home, for we may be missed, and it is rather damp here.'

Theodore rose and accompanied her through the wood, while he carefully carried the book with the two drawings within its leaves. On reaching the house Francisca took it from him, and hurried up to her room. She put away her own likeness with very different feelings to those with which she had taken it from its accustomed place. It seemed so strange that fate should have made her own hand the means of substituting Aurora's likeness for hers! This incident, trifling as it was, awoke a degree of uneasiness in her mind; but she endeavoured to conquer the feeling, and, going downstairs, she replaced Aurora's book on the table where she had found it. Seeing, however, Theodore approaching from the garden, and not being yet quite composed enough to meet him, she hastily left the room; but, angry at herself for her folly, she returned after a little time, and with the intention of begging him to say nothing about Aurora's sketch, which had been seen by him without her knowledge. Why did she a second time so suddenly and silently leave the apartment she had just entered? It was because she beheld Theodore bending with the deepest attention over 'Egmont,' which was open on the table before him. Was it the play or the drawing which so fascinated him?

The old doctor and some neighbouring gentlemen dined at the Garlovs' that day, and in the course of the evening the whole party repaired to the garden; Francisca had quite recovered her spirits, and Theodore was in an unusually gay mood. Swinging was proposed, and Francisca and Aurora got together into the swing, which had a capacious seat. The old doctor insisted upon swinging the girls, but after trying it for some time, puffing and panting, he called to Theodore and gave up his post to him with, 'It is your turn, now; I am too old to go on long.' But Aurora vehemently opposed his doing it--she would not on any account give him so much trouble.

'Oh, I shall dispense with all gratitude from you,' said Theodore. 'Don't distress yourself about giving me trouble, that can all be placed to Miss Francisca's account; she will return so many thanks, that I am sure they will suffice for both of you.'

Francisca laughed, and so did the old doctor and Kitty. As if in fun, Theodore set the swing into more violent motion, and it flew higher and higher, with a disagreeable jerking movement. Aurora screamed, and then called out that she was frightened; but Theodore continued his exertions, while he exclaimed, 'Angels are at home in the higher regions, therefore it is impossible for Miss Angel to be afraid of reaching the tops of the trees.'

'I don't choose to swing any more; I command you to stop!' cried Aurora, with a look that made it doubtful whether she was in jest or earnest.

Theodore laughed, and then replied, 'Entreaties would have more weight than commands; you had better say I pray you, Miss Aurora. Now you can truly exclaim, "Ich bin ubel dran."'

Aurora would not condescend to entreat, but when next the swing came to near the ground, she prepared to spring out; in a moment, however, it was off again, and the spring, which she was then not able to check, was made from a considerable height. Francisca tried to catch her, and losing her own balance, she, too, with a wild shriek, fell forward. At the same moment both the young ladies lay stunned upon the ground.

Theodore was in an agony of terror; the old doctor clasped his hands in consternation, and Kitty almost fainted away. The rest of the party, hearing the shriek, rushed to the place where the swing was erected, and only added to the confusion. Theodore raised Francisca gently in his arms; he took no notice of Aurora, who still lay insensible after Francisca had recovered her consciousness. The latter was carefully carried into the house and laid on her couch by her mother and Kitty, and Theodore stood at the outside of her chamber door until he heard her voice speaking in its natural tones. He then suddenly remembered Aurora, and returned to the garden to see how she was. In the meantime she had come to herself, and had found herself surrounded by the old doctor, Mr. Garlov, and the gentlemen who were spending the day with them--the ladies had all disappeared. She tried to rise, but could not stand, her ankle was either broken or dislocated. Some of the servants were called; Aurora was placed in an arm-chair, and carried by them towards the house, while the old doctor walked on one side of her and Mr. Garlov on the other, the strangers bringing up the rear. Theodore flew to meet her, and exclaimed, with the utmost anxiety, 'For God's sake, tell me, are you much hurt? How do you feel?'

Aurora looked somewhat reproachfully at him, but she answered, 'It was my own fault.'

'It was the fault of that abominable swing--a most dangerous pastime!' exclaimed the old doctor, who forgot, in his wrath, that he had been among those who encouraged it. Aurora was carefully laid on a sofa in a small chamber leading into the music-room, where Mrs. Garlov and Kitty came to her after they had made Francisca as comfortable as possible; she had struck her chest against the projecting root of a tree, and the spot looked blue, but there was no other apparent injury. The doctor found Aurora's foot much swollen; the joint was dislocated, and he tried to put it in its place, but not being able to manage it, he called Theodore to perform the operation, which, though painful, Aurora bore with great fortitude.

The strangers, of course, took their departure, and the old doctor, after having visited Francisca, declared that he also was obliged to go. Aurora said she hoped to see him again soon; but he told her that he must put her under Theodore's care, as he would be unavoidably compelled to absent himself for some days. She seemed much annoyed at this, and anxiously requested to be removed to Copenhagen, for she would suffer any amount of pain on the journey, she said, rather than be attended by Theodore. She was assured, however, that it was absolutely necessary for her to remain where she was. Theodore cursed in his heart his past rudeness to Aurora, which had caused the poor girl to dislike him so much.

Meantime, every arrangement was made for Aurora's comfort, and her host and hostess were most assiduous in their attention to her. She happened, however, to be alone when Theodore paid her his first visit next morning. She lay on the sofa, which had been converted into a bed, in a white dressing-gown, with her beautiful hair falling negligently about her shoulders, and her rounded cheek resting on one hand. So beautiful did she look, that Theodore started on entering the room, and stood as if turned into a statue of stone; it was some moments before he could recover himself sufficiently to ask her how she was.

Aurora gave him one of her sweetest smiles, and held out her hand to him, while she said, 'Like the frightened one in the German tale, let me ask, "Daniel, Daniel, why do you persecute me?"'

This mild rebuke quite overcame Theodore; he stooped and kissed her hand, while he whispered, 'O Aurora, be merciful!'

From this moment their former seeming dislike to each other vanished entirely. Theodore devoted much of his time to the interesting invalid; he talked to her, read to her, and before long had quite adopted her opinion of her favourite Clärchen in the drama of 'Egmont.' Francisca made no fuss about herself, but she had come off the worst, nevertheless, for the blow on her chest had brought on a spitting of blood, which, however, she concealed from everyone except my mother--her cousin Kitty. Aurora's foot had had ample time to get well; but she complained constantly of it, and could not be induced to try to walk. Thus, at the end of three weeks, she was still confined to her sofa. During all this time Theodore had not had any opportunity of conversing alone with Francisca, for either the one or the other was in attendance on Aurora, or they were both with her. Francisca looked pale and ill, and ought by rights to have changed places with Aurora, who reclined like an invalid on the sofa, though her blooming face was the picture of health. But as she still complained of her sufferings, Francisca innocently charged Theodore to be very attentive to her--an injunction he was only too willing to obey.

It never occurred to Francisca that Theodore might fall in love with Aurora; and yet that was already the case. On her first arrival he had been dazzled by her extraordinary beauty; but looking upon her as a cold-blooded coquette, he had endeavoured to steel his heart against her. It was mistrust of himself which made him pretend to dislike her; her indifference piqued him, and was the cause of his ill-humour and caprice, but Francisca's mistake about the sketches awoke a new feeling in him, and he determined to win Aurora's love. She marked well all the fluctuations in his feelings and his manners, but, sure of her game, she went calmly on. Theodore had judged rightly when he had denounced the sketch as an artful piece of coquetry; nevertheless, it had its effect on him in spite of his sober reason. The particular attention which he always showed Francisca provoked Aurora, who could not endure anyone to interfere with the monopoly of all homage which she claimed for herself, and she worked hard to separate them. The scene at the swing and its consequences, though caused only by her jealousy, had aided her designs, and now she had not a doubt of her conquest. Both Theodore and Aurora were vain--both were coquettes--for gentlemen can be coquettes as well as ladies; the difference between them was, that she was a profound coquette, he a thoughtless one; she had improved her talents in that way by deep study, he was guided only by his natural tendencies. Surely much were those to be pitied who had founded their hopes on such characters, for they had built their house upon quicksand!

Theodore soon found that he could no longer gloss over his feelings for Aurora, and shelter them under the well-sounding names of regret, duty, Christian charity, or friendship, with which he had hitherto tried to silence his awaking conscience. He was forced to confess to himself that he loved Aurora as he never before had loved--what had bound him to Francisca was only friendship and gratitude; yet he could not but admit that she had bestowed her whole heart on him. When Aurora began to limp about a little, first with a crutch, then with a stick, and, lastly, with the aid of his arm, he found himself so happy with her, that he could scarcely sober his feelings before Francisca, who, still unsuspicious of any evil, rejoiced to see them such good friends.

But all were not so blind as Francisca: her mother and cousin saw more clearly what was going on, and they trembled for the moment when she should find out the unwelcome truth, if truth it really were. That moment came sooner than they had expected. It so happened that Kitty was confined to her room for a few days by a bad cold, and at that very period Francisca was obliged to be a good deal with the daughters of the clergyman of the parish, in whose family a death had taken place. Theodore was, therefore, almost entirely alone with Aurora.

One evening, about dusk, Francisca returned from a visit to the clergyman's family, and on the stairs she met a servant-girl, who was carrying a glass of lemonade to Aurora. She took it from the girl to carry it in herself; the door was half open between the anteroom and the music-room, and, hearing Aurora playing on the harp, she stopped, not to disturb her. It was Clärchen's song, and Theodore was singing a second to it in a low tone. It was so long since she had heard him sing, that she sat down near the door to listen to his voice. He stopped before the end of the song, and Aurora finished it alone. As she sang the last two lines, Francisca heard Theodore sigh deeply. 'He is thinking of me!' whispered Francisca to herself, 'as I am thinking of him.' Poor Francisca!

'Grieved unto death!' repeated Theodore. 'You are singing my requiem, Aurora.'

'And my own,' said Aurora. 'Would to Heavens I had never come here! What have I done that I should be so punished?'

'Speak not thus, Aurora; I alone am guilty. Why did I not tell you of my engagement to Francisca? Why did I not fly and leave you both?'

'Francisca is of an affectionate but tranquil character; she will forgive a temporary inconstancy, if she has observed it; but it is not probable that she has. It is not yet too late. I must go, and you will soon forget me. Francisca may yet be happy--but, oh! what a blank is before me! Yet I must away.'

'For Heaven's sake, forbear, Aurora! Leave me! No, no, I cannot tear myself from you, come what may. My life is doomed--alas! there is no happiness more for me in this world. But these vows--these dreadful vows--must they be fulfilled?'

'They may crush our hearts,' said Aurora, 'but they must be fulfilled. Let my hand go, Theodore--you are engaged to Francisca; leave me--leave me to weep alone.'

'Dearest--adored--most precious Aurora!--how wretched I am! How could I fancy that I loved Francisca? And yet, shall I repay all her goodness to me by treachery?'

'Hush, Ancker, hush! You will kill me. Go, marry Francisca, and be happy!'

'Happy!' cried Theodore, vehemently; 'happy without you? How can you mock me thus, Aurora?'

'Perhaps time may do something for us,' said Aurora, with a smile as beautiful as the sun breaking through the dark clouds in a stormy sky.

'I dare hope nothing from time,' replied Theodore.

'Ah! do you not now feel the force of these words, "I am in a strange position?"' murmured Aurora.

'You are revenged, Aurora,' said Theodore, not without some bitterness. 'The loss of a lifetime's happiness is surely enough to atone for a moment's thoughtlessness.'

A deathlike weakness, which she could not shake off, had compelled Francisca to overhear this conversation. The first words had been enough almost to kill her; as soon as she was capable of moving, she rose and fled like a hunted deer to her own apartment: there, throwing her arms round my mother's neck, she could only exclaim, 'Kitty, Kitty, what have I not heard!' My mother too well guessed whence the blow had come, and she was not surprised at what was told her. The cousins spent the evening alone together, and when the family had retired to rest, my mother sought the wing of the house in which Theodore's rooms were situated. He was not there. She was rather glad to escape an interview with a young man, at night, in his own apartment, and in returning she observed that the door of the music-room was half-open; on going forward to shut it, she perceived that a window was also open, and she went to close it first. But what was her surprise on reaching it, and looking out for a moment, to see, in the clear moonlight, Theodore standing below Aurora's window, talking earnestly to her, while she was leaning out, with a little shawl thrown over her head. Kitty drew back hurriedly, but Theodore had seen her, and immediately joined her. He forthwith began to account for his being found there; but it was evident that he was telling a falsehood got up at the moment. My mother interrupted him by briefly informing him what Francisca had overheard; she laid the ring and the miniature on the table before him, simply adding a request that he would leave the house as soon as possible.

The next day Francisca was confined to her room by illness, which was given out to be a cold, and Theodore set off for Copenhagen without having seen either of the cousins. Aurora soon followed him, and then Kitty communicated to Mrs. Garlov the fact of Francisca's engagement being broken off. Mr. Garlov had never heard of it, and often, to Francisca's great distress, wished Theodore back again. A hard battle she had to fight with herself, but she bore up wonderfully under her deep disappointment. And this is the history of Aunt Francisca's youth.


Rudolph paused, and Arnold seized the opportunity of exclaiming,

'Why, we have only had a mere tissue of sentimentality as yet. What has become of the child, Rudolph, that Mrs. Werner was whispering to you about? You smile--come, out with the child, don't withhold the best part of the story from us--the child--the child.'

'Oh!' said one of the other young men, shaking his finger at Arnold, 'what have you to do with the child? Leave it in peace, poor thing! there is no use in recalling these forgotten affairs.'

'No; we must have the little affair of the child,' insisted Arnold, as Rudolph was about to continue his narrative.


Francisca spent some years quietly in the country, not mixing at all with the world, and only cared for by those who were immediately around her. My mother was her sole friend and correspondent, and she used to pass two months every summer at the Garlovs'. These were Francisca's pleasantest days, for she could talk freely to her of her own short and too bitterly lost period of happiness. Her sorrow and mortification had not made her either sour or melancholy, as you will perhaps believe when I tell you that she had two or three offers at this time which she refused. She was about two-and-twenty years of age when her father died, and as he had lived up to his income, there was but little left for the widow and her daughter. They removed to Copenhagen, where they lived on a slender income, but slightly increased by what Francisca received from the Tontine in which she held some shares. Often did Mrs. Garlov lament, for her daughter's sake, their altered circumstances; but Theodore's name was never mentioned between them. Only once Mrs. Garlov had spoken of him, and then she had wondered how it was possible for her dear child to forgive him.

But Francisca answered, 'It is so easy to forgive, dear mother. Let us not, however, again allude to him; it only pains you.'

Theodore, in the meantime, had married Aurora. When my mother communicated this event to Francisca, she determined to burn every little memento of him which she had treasured with the pardonable folly of affection! and 'Oh!' she exclaimed, as with bitter tears she made an auto-da-fé of these souvenirs, 'may he be as happy as my most earnest wishes would make him, and may every remembrance of me be obliterated from his thoughts as entirely as this last withered leaf is now consumed!'

About two years after his marriage Theodore removed to Russia, where physicians, at that period, were in great request, and made large fortunes. Kitty had heard that his principal reason, however, for leaving Denmark, was to withdraw Aurora from the connections she had formed in Copenhagen, where her conduct often gave him occasion to repent the choice he had made. They lived unhappily together; her coquetry annoyed him extremely, and the number of admirers whom she encouraged to be constantly around her was a source of daily torment to him. A jealous husband generally makes a fool of himself; when he has an arrant coquette for his wife, his doing so is inevitable, therefore the names of Theodore and Aurora were soon in everybody's mouth, and she found it as desirable as he did to escape from all the gossip and scandal to which her own behaviour had given rise. Kitty, however, did not relate these unpleasant details to Francisca, who only knew that her good wishes must follow Theodore to St. Petersburg.

Shortly after this Mrs. Garlov died, and Francisca was left almost alone in the world; but she sought happiness in constant occupation, and in doing as much good as her slender means would permit. When my mother married she wished her cousin to come and reside with her, but Francisca preferred to be independent, and continued to live alone, with her servant-of-all-work.

Theodore had not found the happiness in Russia he had anticipated. His fortune had indeed increased, but his domestic peace had diminished. Aurora cared little either for his advice or his anger, and had soon formed intimacies which quite consoled her for his fits of crossness. He also found amusements away from his home; thus they often did not see each other for days, and when they did meet it was only to quarrel. One evening, on returning home at a late hour, he found his wife was absent; she had left the house early in the forenoon, and had not been seen since. Next day the servant of a Russian officer called with a message to Theodore, to say that he need not expect his wife, as she had gone to Moscow with his master, and did not intend to come back. This was a dreadful blow to him, notwithstanding the levity of her former conduct, and with a sudden feeling of hatred to St. Petersburg, to which he had no longer any ties, he converted all his effects into cash, and embarked with it on board a ship bound to Copenhagen.

But he had a most disastrous voyage, the ship was totally lost off Rügen, and the passengers saved only their lives. Theodore found himself all at once a beggar, and this calamity, following so closely on his other misfortunes, brought on a dreadful illness. He passed six months in an hospital, and at the end of that time was discharged--a wretched lunatic! The Danish consul took charge of him, and had him safely conveyed to Copenhagen. But no one recognized him there; his passport and his papers had all been lost in the ship which had also contained his money and effects. There was, therefore, no refuge for him but the common bedlam, where he was accordingly placed. It happened, however, that after a short time he had lucid intervals, during which periods he occasionally mentioned names that were known, and this led to the discovery of who he was, and to his being removed from the bedlam and boarded with a private family, who received a few gentlemen labouring under mental disease.

Tidings of his unfortunate situation soon reached Francisca's ears, for it was the theme in every family where he had been formerly known. She had deemed him far away, but happy and prosperous, loving and beloved; she found him near her, but unhappy, deserted, and an object of that cold charity which counts every shilling and every farthing that it expends. She determined to see him, and to administer as much as she could to his comforts. He did not know her; she stood before him as a stranger, and as if from the hands of a kind stranger he received the various little gifts with which she sought to please him. For a whole year she continued to visit him daily, and it was with deep sorrow she observed that his mind was becoming more and more clouded, no thought of the past, no dream of the future, seeming ever to enter it.

At this time the landed proprietor, who was formerly mentioned, and who had been attached to Francisca since she was sixteen years of age, again made her an offer of marriage. He was rich, high-principled, kind-hearted, and well-educated. She knew also that her parents had much wished her to marry him. But Theodore required her care, and she determined never to forsake him. She had just finished the letter declining the offer so handsomely made, and saying that she had resolved never to marry, when the lady with whom Theodore boarded, and who supposed her to be a relation of his, sent a pressing message to her begging her to come immediately. She hurried to the house, hoping that some favourable change had suddenly taken place, and that Theodore would be restored to reason. But there was no such joy in store for her.

She found him sitting in a corner of his room playing at cat's-cradle with some twine and his long, wasted fingers; so eagerly engaged was he on his infantine diversion, that he scarcely raised his vacant eyes as she entered. His gait was slouching, and his clothes hung loose about him. Oh, how different from the Theodore of former days!

His hostess was sitting at work in the same room, and looking extremely cross. A letter and a parcel lay on the table, beside which stood a little boy, whose inquisitive and half-frightened glances wandered round first to the strange man, then to the unknown ladies, and lastly, to an elderly woman in a foreign dress, who was sitting near the stove, and who said a few words to him in a foreign language, apparently bidding him do something he was not inclined to do, as he shook his little head; he seemed bewildered by the scene around him. Francisca also stood as one bewildered, but the lady of the house proceeded at once to explain things to her as far as she could. She told her that the foreign woman had informed her, in bad German, that she was the wife of the captain of a small trading vessel from Revel, who had been requested to take charge of the little boy and deliver him to his relations, the address given being only that of Dr. Theodore Ancker, Copenhagen. All the child's expenses had been paid. The woman had conscientiously tried to find out Theodore, and the lady in whose house he lived had detained her until she could send for Francisca.

The letter contained but a very few words; it was signed 'Aurora.' The child's name was Alexander, and he was three years of age. His mother sent him to take his chance in the world, as she could no longer maintain him, and she entreated Theodore to take care of him, as she was now no longer a burden upon his means or a sharer in his wealth. Not a syllable was mentioned of her own fate--not an address or reference to her own place of abode given. In a postscript it was stated that the child understood Danish.

Francisca's determination was soon taken. Although the child was certainly not Theodore's son--although he was the image of his mother--of that Aurora who had blasted her happiness--she resolved to give a home to the deserted and helpless little stranger, and that very night the little Alexander slept comfortably in a cot prepared for him, and placed close to her own couch. The same night she opened the small box which held all that had been bestowed upon the poor child by his parents. In addition to his scanty wardrobe, there was a little parcel containing some papers in the Russian language--certificates of the child's baptism and vaccination--and below these lay a miniature. It was Theodore's likeness, the same that had formerly belonged to Francisca, which she had afterwards returned to him, and which had now passed from Aurora's possession once more into hers, and rendered its unconscious little bearer dear to her. She gazed at it long, as if comparing the likeness of what he once had been with the ruin he now was. Days long gone by arose vividly before her; she pressed the miniature to her lips, and then put it away along with her own--with the likeness of herself which Theodore had never seen. It seemed to her as if the meeting of the two portraits after so long a separation were the type of a future meeting between Theodore and herself in that bright spirit-world which shall haply be disclosed when this mortal scene has vanished for ever. She knelt by Alexander's bed, kissed the innocent child who had brought the treasure to her, and who had himself been thrown on her compassion, and at the same time she vowed she would be a mother to him.

But her adoption of him gave rise to many reports. Some said he was a poor person's child, to whom she had taken a fancy; others, that he was her own son, whom she had till then kept concealed in the country. Her relations, with the exception of my mother, were the most ill-natured. They took great pains to find out who could have been the boy's father, and finally had the folly to confer his paternity upon her old lover, the poor deranged doctor, whom she visited so often.


'Well, there was not such folly in that belief, after all,' said Arnold. 'For want of a better, I think we must accept this parentage for the youngster; for the story of a boy three years old travelling over from Russia, as if he had fallen from the moon, is not at all credible.'

'But I can swear to the truth of it,' said Rudolph. 'Do you doubt my word?'

'I do not doubt your word in the slightest degree,' replied Arnold; 'that is to say, I do not doubt that you believe what you have been telling us. But I think it likely that your mother kindly got up this pretty story, and impressed it on your mind to hide your cousin's faux pas.'

'You judge of other people's principles by the rectitude of your own, I presume,' said Rudolph, laughing. 'But to continue:'

Aunt Francisca's prayers were not unanswered, for Theodore recovered his senses before he died. He recognized Francisca, blessed her for all her goodness to him, and passed into eternity with her name on his lips.

Alexander was a great source of happiness to Francisca, but severe trials still awaited her. He was carried off by a fever exactly one month after the death of her dearest and most faithful friend, my poor mother, and she was left alone in the world. The rest of her life was devoted to works of charity, for no day passed over her head without her being engaged in some act of benevolence. Love was an absolute necessity to her, therefore she transferred to me much of the affection she had felt for my mother. It was her delight to make people happy, and her last deed was to give what she knew would confer happiness.


'Good soul!' cried Arnold, laughing. 'That deed was to bestow on Mr. Horn all her lands and tenements--her goods and chattels--her Chinese pagodas and mandarins. I wish you joy of the inheritance.'

Flora turned angrily upon him, and exclaimed, 'For shame, Arnold!' But Rudolph went on quietly.

'I repeat, her last deed was an act of benevolence. None of us knew that Aunt Francisca had money to leave. She never spoke of this, for she wished to be valued for herself, not for what she possessed.'

'Aunt Francisca rich! You really must be quizzing us,' exclaimed Mrs. Werner.

'No; I only knew it myself this evening. It seems that she was the last surviving member of the Tontine, which I mentioned before, and she became, by its rules, the possessor of the whole sum. I hold her will here, in my hand, and I find that she has left not less than twenty thousand dollars.'

The whole party gathered round Rudolph and Louise, and poured forth congratulations.

'My dear Louise,' said Mrs. Werner, 'what a nice addition this will be to your income, and what a mercy it was that Aunt Francisca never married. Had she done so, Rudolph and you would not have got a shilling, though you were both so fond of her.'

'I loved Aunt Francisca for her own sake,' replied Louise; 'and I almost wish that she had left nothing to Rudolph but the little matters she valued herself.'

Rudolph took Louise's hand in silence and kissed it.

'Good Heavens!' exclaimed Arnold. 'She has left twenty thousand dollars, do you say? No wonder you were her faithful knight, Rudolph! It was a sort of instinct that led you to take up that position; you scented the cash. For twenty thousand dollars I would pledge myself to sing the blessed creature's praises all the days of my life, and for half that sum I would swear to draw a merciful veil over the affair of the child?'

'Would you?' said Rudolph. 'Then I will take you at your word. Listen now to the Will. "As my dear cousin Rudolph Horn is so well provided for that he does not stand in need of what I can give, and as his marriage is not delayed by any pecuniary difficulties, I shall leave him only five thousand dollars from my Tontine capital; the other fifteen thousand I hereby bequeath to my dear Flora Werner and to Lieutenant Arnold, upon the condition that their wedding takes place within one year from the day of my death." You see that this bequest is a passport from Aunt Francisca to that happiness in the future for you two which fate had denied to herself. Perhaps you were so polite as to walk home with her some evening, Arnold, and that you entrusted to her the secret of your engagement,' added Rudolph, with a slight sneer.

Arnold coloured and bit his lips. Flora would not believe what she had heard until she saw the words on paper; and Cousin Ida, who looked over her shoulder, to convince herself also, exclaimed, 'Fifteen thousand dollars! There it stands, true enough. Who would have thought that the old lady could leave so large a legacy? It is quite a godsend to you and Arnold, Flora.'

Flora burst into tears, and threw herself into her sister's arms.

'Well, recommend me to old maids, however absurd they may be,' said one of the gentlemen; 'who could have guessed that such a windfall would have come through one of the sisterhood? I solemnly vow hereafter to pay court to all old maids, for no one can know what they may leave behind when they are screwed down in their coffins. And if I fail with ten of them, the eleventh may prove a benefactress.'

'You have drawn another moral from Rudolph's tale to what I expected,' said Mrs. Werner; 'but your ideas are perhaps those which would generally suggest themselves in this selfish world. Take care, in future, to show decent civility to old maids. You will not, of course, do so from kindness of heart, but bear in mind that there is always a hope of being remembered in the last will and testament.'

Arnold sat for a few minutes quite abashed, with his hands over his eyes; at length he looked up and exclaimed:

'Aunt Francisca has heaped coals of fire on my head. She has humbled me thoroughly, and taught me a painful lesson; but I had well deserved it. You cannot conceive how much I am ashamed of myself: I feel quite guilty before you all.'

'Aunt Francisca knew how to distinguish thoughtlessness from malignity,' said Rudolph, as he joined Flora's and Arnold's hands. 'The slight annoyance you might have occasioned her was soon forgiven and forgotten. Be as happy together as she prayed you might be. I can add no higher wish for you both. But when you meet by chance an old maid, do not forget that you were--Aunt Francisca's heirs.'