A Daring Fiction by H. H. Boyesen

I.

Leipsic is a grim old town with no sentimental associations. Schiller, to be sure, once lived there, but he had a bad time of it, in spite of the slippers and things with which Dora and Minna Stock tried to mollify his existence. The smoke which hangs over the Leipsic chimney-tops is dense, prosaic smoke, which refuses to fashion itself into fairy forms or airy castles in obedience to romantic fancy. Mr. Leonard Grover actually swore (in Latin, of course, for he was too well-mannered to swear in English), that it was the most irritating and pestiferous smoke he had ever encountered since he left his native town of Pittsburg, where a man, by the way, has a fine chance of studying the effects of smoke both upon linen and temperament. Mr. Grover was, however, cheerful by nature and refused to be permanently depressed. He was in Leipsic for a practical purpose, and could not afford to indulge in sentimental moods. And yet, in spite of his determination to stick to his science and his laboratory practice, he had unaccountable fits of loneliness, when from sheer despair he went to call upon Professor Bornholm, to whom he had had a letter of introduction and whose family had received him with much cordiality. He would have liked to call upon somebody else occasionally, but the fact was, during the six months he had been at the University he had made no acquaintance outside of his student circle, except the Bornholms. They seemed to like him so much that they refused to share him with anybody else; they even refrained from introducing him to the friends who might happen to call during his visits. Minchen, who was the artistic daughter and made wax-flowers, usually found some way of disposing of him when inconvenient callers of the gentler sex made their appearance. She usually brought a fictitious message from the Professor, who, having entrapped the young man into his study, proceeded to bore him to death with oxalates and chlorides and sulphuric acids.

Röschen, the poetic daughter, whose slippers were a little down at the heel, displaying to advantage the holes in her stockings, was wont to employ her mother as an accomplice and, on some pretext or other, lured the American into her garden, where there was the most delightful privacy for sentimental confidences. Gretchen, the youngest daughter, who was obliged to devote herself to domesticity, on account of the inconvenient talents of her sisters, was even at less pains to disguise her designs upon him, but told him frankly that Minchen and Röschen were—well, not at all as nice as they might be.

In one of these bursts of frankness Gretchen also confided to him that Röschen had written to a lady friend in America—a former pupil at the Conservatory who had boarded in the family—and had received from her a complete biography of his humble self, besides a computation of his income and economic prospects. It then required very little ingenuity, on his part, to conjecture why the sisters, in spite of their somewhat ostentatious amiability, frequently appeared to have been at loggerheads just as he entered. He had often heard the word Phœnix pass mysteriously between them, and much as his modesty rebelled, he was forced to the conclusion that he was, himself, the brilliant bird Phœnix, for the possession of which these fair enchantresses were privately contending. He had never before had the audacity to regard himself as a brilliant parti, and he had even had a grudge of long standing against Fate for having equipped him so poorly. Measured by the German standard, however, his modest patrimony suggested princely opulence; and its possessor became conscious of a certain agreeable expansion, peculiar to capitalists. Smile as he might at the smallness of the social conditions which allowed him to play the rôle of a Crœsus in the fancy of love-sick maids, he could not deny that he found it a pleasant thing to be the object of such tender rivalry. It seemed to add a cubit to his height and two to his self-esteem. He revelled in the sense of his desirability and watched with amusement the innocent manœuvres by which his fair entertainers checkmated each other, and in their zeal occasionally forgot that he, too, was a rational being, endowed with the faculty of criticism. There was another, however, who made this reflection for them; and that was their mamma—the Frau Professorin. She was becoming alarmed at the discord which prevailed in the family; for, being behind the scenes, as it were, she knew a good deal which Grover could not know, and which perhaps it would not have been well for him to know. Thus she found one day in Minchen’s room a drawing in which the American, in the character of Paris, was holding above his head an apple, with the inscription “$5,000 a year;” while three lovely goddesses in scanty attire were stretching out their hands and jumping frantically to reach it. The likenesses were unmistakable and the situation sufficiently pointed to need no commentary. The Frau Professorin was much impressed by it, and her interest, it is needless to say, was enlisted in behalf of the goddesses. She resented the reserved attitude of the shepherd, and was yet anxious to assist him in arriving at a decision. Minchen, now, with her charming talent for making counterfeit cucumbers in wax and sections of hard-boiled eggs, would be just the wife for a practical man like him. She would invest his home with an artistic flavor which he himself would be capable of appreciating, though powerless to supply. And yet Röschen, with her beautiful verses, her nonchalant toilets and her poetic sympathy for improprieties which, in practice, she was careful to shun, might be even more fitted than her sister to lift and ennoble a sordid American soul. It only remained to be considered whether Gretchen, who could grow enthusiastic over the decline of one cent in the price of butter, might not, after all, be a more kindred nature, and therefore suit him best of all.

The Frau Professorin was deeply engaged in these meditations when the maid handed her a small card, upon which was engraved the name, Leonard Grover. To conceal her agitation she threw a glance into the mirror and gave a few decorative touches to her person, before admitting the visitor. Then she put on her company smile and seated herself in a defensive attitude in the large, leather-covered easy-chair. She gave her hand graciously, without rising, to Grover as he entered.

“I hope your buffalo herds are prospering,” she said, after the exchange of a few preliminary civilities.

“My buffalo herds!” exclaimed the young man, laughing. Then, as it suddenly struck him that it might be a joke, he continued with zest: “Oh, yes, indeed, thank you; they are doing famously. They made quite a sensation as they were driven through the streets of New York, the other day, on their way from Chicago to the Kansas plains.”

“Indeed,” replied Mrs. Bornholm effusively; “allow me to congratulate you.”

“Thank you,” he stammered helplessly.

She had been serious after all.

A minute or two elapsed, during which he did not muster courage to make any further remarks.

“Are the young ladies at home?” he finally essayed, just as the pause was threatening to become awkward.

“The young ladies,” repeated the Frau Professorin, beaming with maternal benevolence; “permit me to ask to which of them do you refer in particular?”

“To all three of them,” replied the American cheerfully.

“That is very kind of you,” she retorted, without, however, the faintest tinge of sarcasm. “I know, even though it is their own mother who says it, that my daughters all deserve the admiration which you so impartially bestow upon them. But the fact is, Mr. Grover—why should I not be perfectly frank and open with you?—the fact is—no man can marry three girls,” she finished rather lamely. She evidently lacked courage to make the revelation which she at first contemplated.

“I am well aware of that, Frau Professorin,” was Grover’s somewhat aimless response; “and I assure you,” he went on heartily, “that I wouldn’t think of such a thing; no, not for all the world.”

He had an uncomfortable sensation about his ears, after having made this laudable announcement, and he began to cast about for a pretext for taking his leave. His hostess was, however, not disposed to let him escape so easily.

“The Professor and I,” she remarked, blandly, “have observed with much satisfaction your devotion to our daughters. We know you to be a man of character, and we know that it would be far from your intentions to trifle with the feelings of the dear, innocent and unsophisticated creatures. But our German custom, as you may not be aware, is to confine one’s courtship to one, and not to scatter one’s devotion among too many. In other countries that may be different, but as you have come here to learn German manners, I thought I would call your attention to this, and ask you to tell me, in strict confidence, of course, to which one of my daughters you are paying your addresses.”

If the ceiling had tumbled down over his head, Grover could not have been more astonished. It was a fact, he had been almost a daily visitor in the Professor’s house; he had very likely, in unguarded moments, in order to practice his imperfect German, made complimentary speeches to the three young ladies, individually and collectively; and in all probability he had, from a German point of view, given the Frau Professorin the right to talk to him as she did. And yet, to submit readily to the consequences of his rash conduct did not for a moment occur to him. His instinct bade him rather resort to a stratagem, which, as he concluded, the dire necessity would justify.

“Frau Professorin,” he began solemnly, “I need scarcely assure you that I feel greatly honored by what you have told me. But the fact is, I am not free. I am engaged.”

“Engaged!” cried the Frau Professorin, starting forward in her chair. “Why, then, did you not tell me that?”

“It is a secret engagement.”

“A secret engagement! And do your parents know of it?”

“They do not.”

“And the lady’s name?”

“Miss—Miss—Jones.”

Grover had no genius for mendacity and he was already beginning to repent of his daring fiction. But Mrs. Bornholm, suddenly possessed with some luminous idea, proceeded mercilessly in her cross-examination, feeling that her position, as the wronged party, gave her a right to trample upon conventionalities.

“Is this Miss Jones musical?” she queried eagerly.

“Yes,” he replied vaguely; “that is, I believe so.”

“You will excuse me,” she went on; “but I am naturally much interested in this unknown person, because of my interest in you. Would you mind telling me if she is dark or a blonde?”

“She is dark.”

“One thing more; have you written to her recently?”

“No; not very recently.”

“And has she ever said anything to you about coming here?”

“Not a word.”

The Professorin arose with a triumphant nod and began to pace the floor.

“Miss Jones is a brunette, musical and rich—I suppose she is rich?” she repeated, with an interrogative glance at Grover.

“She is not poor,” he responded feebly.

“Good,” said his tormentor fiercely, and nodding again with great emphasis, “very good.”

Grover began to feel apprehensive that she had taken leave of her senses. The disappointment, the shock to her cherished hopes, had perhaps been too much for her. He arose a little tremblingly and offered her his hand.

“I am your most obedient servant, Frau Professorin,” he remarked, bowing deeply, and backing toward the door.

“We shall no doubt have the pleasure of seeing you soon again, Mr. Grover,” she observed, eyeing him with curious significance.

“You are very kind,” he murmured, and made haste to vanish.

II.

It was only three days later that Grover received an invitation to dine at Professor Bornholm’s. He had spent the intervening period in meditation concerning Mrs. Bornholm’s curious behavior. That she had something on her mind was obvious, and he had no doubt that he would to-day discover what it was. He felt confident that she had been plotting against him and had some dramatic surprise in store for him. As he rang the door-bell he had need of all his sang froid to quiet his turbulent heart. He was admitted to the inner sanctuary and was greeted with studious cordiality by the three goddesses. They seemed all agitated and expectant, though they were striving to appear unconcerned. They lounged and chatted as people do in the introductory scene of a play, with hidden reference to some plot which has yet to be disclosed. To all appearances the plot had some connection with the door to the Professor’s study, which, contrary to custom, was closed. Minchen repeatedly threw furtive glances at it, and Röschen made her determination not to look at it equally conspicuous; only Gretchen was frankly curious and made no effort to disguise it. A strange sense of the unreality of the whole scene, himself included, crept over the young man; he felt like a man in a play who can murder or make love with equal irresponsibility. He was about to indulge in the latter diversion, when suddenly the mysterious door opened, and the Frau Professorin entered with much dramatic éclat, leading a lovely dark-eyed young girl by the hand. The eyes of the three goddesses grew as big as saucers, and Röschen pressed her hand to her heart and nearly fainted from excitement.

“Mr. Grover,” said the Frau Professorin, making a most elaborate bow, “allow me to present—Miss Jones.”

Under ordinary circumstances the introduction to Miss Jones would have been an agreeable incident in Mr. Grover’s career, and nothing further. He had met, he did not know how many hundred charming young ladies, several of whom had borne the name of Jones, and he had never been in the least disconcerted. In the present instance, however, he showed but imperfect control of his emotions. A guilty blush sprang to his cheeks, and he groped vainly in his embarrassment for the proper phrase wherewith to express his pleasure at making the lady’s acquaintance. Miss Jones, too, somehow, seemed ill at ease, and gazed at him with flaming cheeks and a puzzled, half-anxious look in her eyes. The Frau Professorin, who had probably expected a different denouement, looked disappointed, and the goddesses whispered to each other and tittered.

“You will excuse me for a few moments,” said the Frau Professorin; “the house needs my attention.”

Having learned all that she wished to know, she could afford to be generous. It was plain that the goddesses had displaced Miss Jones in her lover’s heart. Hence his annoyance and embarrassment. She could well appreciate his position and in her heart she began to relent toward him. Miss Jones had evidently, under the pretence of studying music, come to Leipsic, to look after her recreant adorer, whose silence had begun to alarm her. The goddesses, too, who had been initiated into the secret, arrived at similar conclusions, and proceeded to dislike the innocent Miss Jones with much vehemence. It was but with reluctance that they heeded their mother’s significant scowl and withdrew in her wake.

“Perhaps,” said Miss Jones, drawing a breath of relief as the last of the trains vanished in the doorway, “perhaps you would now have the kindness to tell me what this comedy means.”

Grover lifted his eyes and gazed at her; she was surpassingly lovely. A pair of frank, dark American eyes, half humorously challenging, put at once his embarrassment to flight, and made him feel a delicious nearness and kinship to their fair possessor.

“Miss Jones,” he said, answering promptly the humorous gleam in her eyes, “I shall have to make you a regular confession. I didn’t have the remotest idea of your existence.”

“Nor I of yours,” she responded quickly; “but what has that got to do with the comedy?”

“Everything. You know, I invented you.”

You invented me?”

“Yes, in my dire need, in order to escape from matrimonial persecutions, I invented a fiancée in America named Miss Jones. But to be frank, I did not expect you to take me at my word, and turn up over here, in order to regulate my conduct.”

“Oh, I see it all,” cried Miss Jones, merrily. “You are in the position of a novelist whose heroine suddenly steps out of the book and takes him to task for his fictions.”

“But I hope you won’t prove a hard task-master,” he retorted, gayly. “In consideration of my generosity in making you beautiful and rich, you ought not to betray me.”

“Do you mean that I ought to remain your fiancée?” she asked, laughing. “I think that is to ask too much of my indulgence.”

“You are at liberty to break with me whenever you choose; but until further notice allow the family to suppose that they are right in their conjecture. You need simply say nothing about it. You know our engagement is secret, and we are not expected to show how fond we are of each other.”

“That is very fortunate. However,” she continued, lightly, as if pleased with the absurdity of the thought, “my fondness for you will probably never demand any very extravagant expression.”

“No, but mine may,” was his daring reply; “therefore, perhaps, as a measure of self-defence, you ought to break with me at once. Make a scene of some sort, revile me; do anything you choose, only so that the eavesdroppers, who are sure to misunderstand everything except vehemence, get a notion that we have been engaged, but are so no more.”

Miss Jones, who had seated herself in the sofa-corner, leaned her head in her hand and meditated.

“Do you know,” she said, raising the same pretty head abruptly, “your proposition is a very original one? I wonder if a girl was ever before requested to break with a man to whom she had never been engaged. However, Mr. Grover, I am not quite as accommodating as you think. On the whole it suits my purpose very well to be engaged. I have come here for study and have no desire to be courted by students or musicians, of whom there is said to be quite a colony here.”

It was now Grover’s turn to be amazed. He stared at the sweetly demure and sensible little face in bewilderment.

“Then you mean to—you mean to say——” he stammered.

“Yes, I mean to say,” she finished, suppressing the little mischievous gleam in her eye, “that I prefer not to break with you. We will remain engaged.”

The young man’s countenance fell. He began to look unhappy; perhaps Miss Jones was an unscrupulous adventuress who would turn the joke into earnest and sue him for breach of promise after they got home. To be sure, she looked as innocent as an angel, but it is a notorious fact that women are just the most dangerous in that guise. In escaping Scylla he had plunged headlong into Charybdis. He got up with a painful sense of indecision, walked toward the window, and concluded, after a moment’s thought, that he could not, as a man of honor, withdraw from a bargain which he had himself proposed. It would be wiser to abide by it, and to trust to his own ingenuity to extricate him at the proper moment.

“Miss Jones,” he said, rather ceremoniously, “I thank you for your kindness.”

“Not at all,” she retorted, carelessly; “it is an arrangement for mutual convenience. But remember,” she added, lifting her index finger in playful threat, “that we are extremely well-bred and undemonstrative.”

III.

The goddesses found it a harder task than they had anticipated to hate Miss Jones. Scarcely twenty-four hours had passed before Gretchen was at her feet, and vowed that she was the German equivalent for a “perfect darling.” In return Miss Jones taught her how to make quince jelly, flavored with the kernels in the stones. Two days sufficed to conciliate Röschen; and when she discovered that Miss Jones did not positively and unequivocally condemn the homicidal eccentricities of Lucrezia Borgia, she declared with noble enthusiasm that Miss Jones was “a grand soul.” As for Minchen, she held out heroically against Miss Jones’s blandishments; but at the end of a week she too succumbed. Miss Jones had complimented her in imperfect German, but with the sweetest of accents, on her wax flowers, and had drawn new designs for her, full of animation and dash. Presently they said “thou” to each other, and Miss Jones, who had been Lulu at home, was metamorphosed into Luischen. Even the Frau Professorin, who at first had put her down as an artful little minx, began to forget her grudge against her. The Professor found it a positive hardship that he was not at liberty to kiss her. But the most amusing thing of the whole affair was that they all became her partisans against her recreant lover, Grover, who had trifled so wantonly with her feelings. They made cautious overtures to condole with her, but, in spite of the tenderest sympathy, found her singularly uncommunicative on this subject. Now the goddesses, who in external charm did not profess to compete with her, had in the first flush of their enthusiasm been quite disposed to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of their devotion; but, although they could have forgiven any other form of maltreatment, Lulu’s apparent distrust of them wounded them deeply. They had looked forward to delicious nocturnal confidences, when, half disrobed, each should visit the other’s boudoir and discuss the fascinating topic from all possible and impossible points of view. That Lulu had proved impervious to all hints of this nature was a slight which could not be pardoned, at least not without due penance on her part. Moreover, to add to their mortification, there seemed daily to be less occasion for sympathy. Lulu was winning Mr. Grover back to his allegiance slowly but surely. He called, now, almost every afternoon, took long walks with her through the Rosenthal, and barring a certain Anglo-Saxon reserve (which in Germany is thought perfectly incomprehensible) behaved in every way as an engaged man should. It was scarcely to be wondered at that the goddesses found such an exhibition of devotion a little bit irritating, and voted Lulu, the happy and victorious, as odious as Lulu, the abandoned, the secretly-grieving, had been lovely and interesting. It was especially Röschen, the admirer of daring unconventionally, who took it into her head that she had been wronged and deceived by the false and heartless Lulu, and she swore—that is to say, she vowed solemnly—that she should yet get even with that sly and demure little arch-fiend. The coveted opportunity did not, however, present itself as soon as her impatience demanded, and while the winter dragged along slowly, alternating delightfully between frozen mud and liquid mud, Grover’s devotion went on steadily deepening, until Miss Jones even interfered with his laboratory practice, mixed herself up in his chemicals, and on one occasion precipitated an explosion which singed his whiskers and damaged his complexion for a month to come. From this experience he drew the wise deduction that love and chemistry are antagonistic forces, and therefore irreconcilable; but as he could not persuade himself to give up either, it occurred to him to effect a compromise. He would, as far as possible, devote the forenoons to chemistry and the afternoons to love—that is to say, he would devote himself to Miss Jones, and try gently to lure her on to the forbidden topic.

I believe I have said before that demonstrations of affection were strictly prohibited; but I have not remarked that in the by-laws subsequently drafted by Miss Jones for the regulation of their abnormal relation, oral references to the same interesting topic were likewise forbidden. When Miss Jones had her own way, she usually talked music, and talked intelligently and well. She seemed to find a kind of humorous satisfaction in confining her adorer strictly to practical topics and in ignoring sentimental allusions. If he rebelled against this sort of maltreatment, and became silent and moody, she aggravated the offence by not appearing to notice it. She would then find employment in separating little boys who fought in the street, or in eliciting confidences from old apple-women. There was something almost fiercely virginal about her, something bordering upon enthusiasm in the way she repelled an attempted incursion upon the forbidden ground. And withal she was so tender and sympathetic toward all mankind, that her wilful obtuseness on the subject of love bore to him the appearance of wanton cruelty. It did not occur to him that she might be acting in self-defence, fearing to give the slightest rein to a feeling which might, on very slight provocation, run away with her. She was the kind of girl which one does not readily think of in connection with the tender passion; and whose love, perhaps, for this very reason, seems so ineffably precious to him who is trying to win it.

“Did it ever occur to you,” he said to her one day, as they were walking together under the leafless arches of the Rosenthal, “that when God saw all that He had made, and ‘behold it was very good,’ He left woman out?”

“No, I didn’t know it,” she said, with a gleam of amusement.

“Nevertheless, it is so,” he went on. “When He said it was all very good, woman was not yet created. After she was made, God said nothing at all.”

“That was because she was so nice that she needed no commendation,” rejoined Miss Jones promptly.

“For all that, history shows that she has made a deal of mischief in the world,” said Grover lugubriously; he was feeling piqued and abused at her want of responsiveness to his undisguised admiration.

“History was written by men,” was Miss Jones’s response.

“But made by women,” ejaculated Grover, eager to hold his own in the tilt.

“As you like. I don’t think the man was far wrong who said that there was a woman at the bottom of every important event.”

“You talk like a book.”

“I only wish I had the wit to make one. I would make you men stare if I published my version of the world’s history.”

“You can do that better without the wit,” he retorted recklessly; then, seeing a little cloud, as of pained surprise, pass over her countenance, he made a motion to seize her hand, but succeeded, instead, in knocking her parasol into the middle of the road. The necessity of recovering it cooled for the moment the passion which had threatened to overmaster him.

“Pardon me,” he murmured penitently, as he was again at her side. “I did not mean to hurt your feelings; but the fact is, I am on such a constant strain to keep my sentiment below the boiling point that I lose my self-control and say things the effect of which I only see after I have said them.”

“Don’t apologize, please,” she said, hurrying on so rapidly that he could only with difficulty keep pace with her; then as a perfect godsend, there crossed her line of vision two small boys who were pulling each other’s hair and pummelling each other lustily.

“You naughty boy,” she ejaculated with much animation, seizing the bigger one by the arm and forcing him to face her, “why do you strike that poor little fellow?”

“He mixes himself up in my affairs,” responded the culprit, defiantly; then discovering a considerable tuft of his antagonist’s hair in his hand, he turned about shame-faced and tried to dispose of it, unperceived. Miss Jones, however (though she was not without sympathy for any one whose affairs were becoming mixed), dexterously caught the descending tuft on the point of her parasol and held it up as proof of his guilt. “What a dreadful little boy you are,” she said, reprovingly.

“But I will pummel Anton again,” retorted the dreadful little boy, “if he plays ‘engaged’ with Tilly Heitmann.”

“Plays ‘engaged!’ Ah, then I beg your pardon,” said Miss Jones, airily, with a sly little glance at her companion. “Little boys who play engaged deserve to be pummelled.”

IV.

If Prince Bismarck or his big dog had come to town, there could not have been more excitement in the Bornholm family. The three young ladies sat upon a bed, with their hair done up in curl papers, and looked intense. They had hatched a plot of revenge which was worthy of three blonde heads done up in curl-paper. It had been ascertained that Mr. Grover had invited Miss Jones to the artists’ carnival, and that Miss Jones had accepted the invitation. He had, moreover, asked the Frau Professorin to chaperone Miss Jones for the occasion, and the Frau Professorin, who was as fond of excitement as a girl, did not have the strength of mind to show him that she resented the slight he had put upon her daughters. She tried to make the daughters believe, of course, that she had; and they would undoubtedly have taken her word for it, if they hadn’t been listening at the key-hole. When taken to task, the Frau Professorin was in such an indulgent mood that she would readily have consented to anything; and when Röschen proposed that she, too, should go to the masquerade and in exactly the same costume as Miss Jones, her mother only interposed a vague demurrer which was easily overridden. The interesting complications which might arise, if Grover should mistake one Daughter of the Rhine for the other, stimulated her romantic fancy and made her eager as a girl to have the plot carried into effect. What was to be accomplished by it, she did not trouble herself to define; it only gave her a kind of confused satisfaction to think that she was mystifying somebody who had for a long time been mystifying her. Röschen was exactly of Miss Jones’s height and their figures closely resembled each other. So when they were masked a microscope would be required to tell them apart.

Röschen, who was full of blissful anticipations, went about during the day embracing people promiscuously from sheer excess of happiness. She could almost have embraced Grover, foe though he was, for having afforded her such a glorious opportunity for playing a trick on him. Her adventurous spirit had long yearned for some monumental enterprise, and this had somehow a mysterious atmosphere about it which made it doubly attractive to the admirer of Lucrezia Borgia. As for Miss Jones, she was unsuspicious as a new-born babe, which circumstance heightened the joy of the conspirators, thrilling them with sensations of deep and delightful villainy.

The week before Lent came at last and the reign of Prince Carnival was proclaimed through the streets by medieval heralds in gorgeous attire. The procession was watched from windows and balconies, and at last came the evening with its alluring festivities, including the bal masque. The Frau Professorin, as she flitted from Miss Jones’s boudoir to that of her daughter, taking notes of the former’s costume for the benefit of the latter, felt like an arch conspirator upon whose coolness and address the fate of empires hung. Miss Jones had had her costumes designed by an expert costumer, and the difficulty was to make Röschen’s home-made finery as trim and dazzling as the products of professional skill. This feat was, however, happily accomplished, thanks to Minchen’s artistic taste and Gretchen’s nimble fingers. The Frau Professorin then slipped with a sigh of relief into her black domino and took her seat at Miss Jones’s side in the carriage. Grover, in the guise of King Gunther in the Nibelungen Lay, sat opposite, arrayed in a splendid helmet and scarlet cloak, endeavoring to make his legs as unobtrusive as possible. The drive to the Schützenhaus was not long, and Miss Jones, muffled up to her very eyes, hopped out of the carriage as lightly as Cinderella from her metamorphosed cucumber. The Frau Professorin, likewise muffled, allowed Grover to assist her up the stairs, and was conducted by him to the door of the dressing-room, where there stood a female Cerberus whose business it was to keep away male intruders. When King Gunther, after doing sentinel duty for half an hour, again caught sight of the swan-maiden, the daughter of Father Rhine, she was so surpassingly lovely that he forgot to inquire for her chaperone. The chaperone, therefore, without difficulty, effected a clandestine retreat, found her way to a carriage and drove home as fast as the spavined droschke horse would convey her. Twenty minutes later she slipped into the dressing-room at the Schützenhaus, accompanied by a second daughter of Father Rhine, whom that worthy parent himself could scarcely have told from her lately-arrived sister.

The three floors of the enormous house represented the upper, the middle, and the lower world.

The first floor was submarine and subterranean; cool, dimly-illuminated grottoes, some in basaltic, columnar rock, some in emerald-glowing stalactite, invited all the fantastic creatures of the sea, both fabled and real, who were promenading about on the floor of the deep, to a sweet, life-long siesta in their softly-gleaming recesses. On the second floor luxuriant equatorial palm-groves grew in startling proximity to the snow-laden pines of the North, and a heterogeneous assembly of all nations and ages poured through the resplendent avenues, chatting and playing pranks on each other with Teutonic good humor.

“Let us go to Olympus,” said King Gunther, who was drifting with his snow-maiden through the motley throng. “I may never have another chance of getting there,” he added jocosely.

“I am afraid I should not feel at home there,” answered the daughter of the Rhine; “you know I belong properly to the lower regions.”

“Then let us go to the lower regions,” retorted the king, gayly. “You needn’t go in search of the Elysian Fields; you carry them with you wherever you go.”

“Beware, your Majesty,” murmured the water-nymph, threateningly. “You are defying Fate. Creatures of my kind are dangerous to trifle with.”

“It is you who are trifling, not I,” he burst forth; “with me the joke has long ago become serious.”

He felt her arm trembling where it touched his; under the black fringe of her mask he saw her lips quiver, and her eyes shone with a strange, moist radiance. The crowd of gay maskers surged about them and the music whirled away over their heads unheeded, and broke in showers of rippling sound.

“Listen to me,” he whispered boldly, stooping to her level—but in the same moment a heavy hand was laid upon his neck and a burly, gray-bearded Jupiter stood before him with a great train of Olympian attendants.

“I love the daughters of this green earth,” said the king of the gods; “or I should say the green daughters of this black earth,” he corrected himself, touching with a caressing hand the green sea-weeds of the swan maiden’s drapery.

“Excuse me, Father Jupiter,” Grover began, knowing well, in spite of his chagrin, that pranks of this kind were perfectly legitimate; “you mix up the mythologies. This is not a classic nymph, but a Northern swan-maiden.”

“By my Olympian beard,” cried Jupiter, “that shows your barbaric taste, if you do not pronounce her classic.”

“I must insist,” Grover replied, “that to your pagan majesty a creature of Northern fable has no existence.”

“Then by my Ambrosian locks we will give her existence,” quoth the father of gods and men. “Mercury, my son,” he cried, pointing with his sceptre to a graceful youth with winged heels and cap, “change me quickly this maiden into something classic, but don’t change her too much or you will spoil a divine masterpiece.”

Mercury, with winged speed, came forward, waved his wand over the swan-maiden’s head, when behold! she vanished.

“Why, your magic is too potent, you rascal,” ejaculated Jupiter. “I didn’t tell you to make her invisible.”

He flourished his pasteboard sceptre in mock wrath above his head, dealt Mercury a resounding blow on the head, then marched on, followed by his immortal family and a jovial throng of leaf-crowned Bacchantes. Grover remained standing in the middle of the floor, hoping that, as the crowd dispersed, Miss Jones would naturally again seek him. But Miss Jones had apparently no such intention. She persistently remained invisible. At last, thinking that she had meant her allusion to the lower regions as a hint, he made his way to the head of the stairs and descended, not without difficulty, to the first floor. The dancing had commenced above and the multitude of scaly monsters who had haunted the deep, were lured by the airs of Strauss up into the abodes of the daylight. The submarine world was almost deserted (except by a huge lobster and a shark, who were drinking lemonade) when Grover entered upon his quest for the vanished water-nymph. He investigated two or three grottoes, with no result except to tear his cloak on an exposed nail and knock a hole in his helmet. He was just about to resort to a classical imprecation, when the necessity for it was suddenly dissipated. There stood the daughter of Rhine, wonderful to behold, in sweet converse with her chaperone, the black domino. The young man lost no time in making the ladies aware of his presence.

“I hope you are enjoying yourself, Frau Professorin,” he said, as he offered his arm, as a matter of course, to the swan-maiden.

“Oh, yes, I thank you. It takes very little to amuse an old woman like me,” she answered, pleasantly. “The music is good and the masks are very entertaining.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he queried politely, hoping from the bottom of his heart that she would say no.

“Don’t you bother about me,” was her amiable reply; “I will take care of myself. I only came to see you young people enjoy yourselves.”

He had evidently been unjust to the Frau Professorin, he reflected. She was a very charming old lady. He conceived a sudden affection for her. In a very blissful mood he strolled away under the great festoons of depending sea-weeds, giving now and then a little casual pat to the hand which lightly rested on his arm. By some chance they found themselves in a deserted stalactite cave, where the gas-jets gleamed softly from within emerald cones of glass and spread a strange magic glamour under the pendent arches.

“Let us sit down,” said Grover; and the swan-maiden, whose agitation probably forbade her to speak, silently accepted the invitation. “What a transformation love works in a woman,” he reflected ecstatically; “who would recognize in this sweet, docile creature the rebellious and headstrong girl of three months ago? I have long wished to tell you,” he continued aloud, seizing her hand and drawing her close up to him, “that my life would be barren as a desert without you. You have taught me by your sweet reserve, and your self-respecting coolness, first to esteem you highly, then to admire and at last to love you. Do not think even now that I take your consent for granted. I only hope that love, as strong and deep as mine, cannot fail to find some response. It is imperious, all-conquering; it fears no more resistance.”

There was obviously no occasion for such impassioned rhetoric. The swan-maiden had not the faintest idea of offering resistance. She slipped with a soft and charming suppleness into his embrace and received his ecstatic kisses without a murmur of protest. It was not until he made a movement to tear off her mask (whose depending fringe was a great inconvenience) that she suddenly recovered her senses: with a startled cry she stayed his hand, cast a shy glance about her, jumped up and ran as fast as her feet could carry her. If she had been a real fairy, she could not have made a more rapid and unexpected exit. Grover was utterly dumbfounded. He thought of the old legends about knights who had been loved by mermaids whose kiss was death and their embrace eternal damnation. An uncanny feeling crept over him. But a cheerful second thought soon came to comfort him. He had heard from the best authorities that women were enigmatical and incalculable creatures who were most apt to do what was least expected of them. They had a perfect encyclopedia of eccentricities, if the novelists were to be trusted, and it was not to be expected that his brief acquaintance with the sex should have sufficed to master it. This was a profitable train of thought and one well worth pursuing. Therefore, instead of pursuing his nymph, he leaned back against the wall and pondered.

The nymph, in the meanwhile, after a hurried search below, ran to the dressing-room, where she flung herself weeping into the arms of the black domino.

“What in Heaven’s name is the matter, child?” inquired the latter. “Was he rude to you?”

“Not at all,” sobbed the nymph; “no-o-ot a-a-at all. Quite the co-o-on-tra-ry.”

“What then are you crying for?” asked the domino sympathetically.

“He kissed me, mother; he kissed me,” answered the nymph, weeping.

“You ought not to have allowed him to do that,” said the Frau Professorin, with mild reproach.

“How could I help it, mother? He talked so beautifully to me. He proposed to me. And I forgot that I was Miss Jones. I was only myself—and—”

A second flood of tears made the rest unintelligible.

“Are you sure he proposed to you, child?” queried the mother, after a pause.

“Quite sure, mother.”

“But then he must have known you. For why should he propose to Miss Jones, to whom he is already engaged?”

“That is what makes me so unhappy, mother, for now I shall never know whether I am engaged to him or not.”

“Leave that to me, child. I’ll find out.”

V.

The next day Grover had an accident, which cost him upward of $200. He mixed something or other, which made a terrific racket and smashed no end of retorts and bottles. When he entered the laboratory again after having trimmed off the scorched fringe of his whiskers, he found a big card nailed over his place, with the following inscription: “Smoking and being in love in this laboratory is strictly forbidden.” The prohibition in regard to smoking was in print; the rest was interpolated with a paint-brush. Grover looked around wrathfully upon the twenty or thirty backs which reared themselves against shelves of many-colored bottles; they bore all an expression of unconscious innocence.

The hour was approaching when he might without impropriety call upon his fiancée. His toilet, however, needed some attention, after his recent experiment with explosives; and he hastened to his rooms to make himself presentable. On the table he found a letter, addressed in the usual high-shouldered characters of American girls. It read as follows:

My Dear Mr. Grover: Our engagement for mutual convenience being no longer convenient, I grant your request and hereby break it. I would have done so when you first asked me, only I enjoyed your embarrassment, and had, moreover, a desire to punish you for the liberty you took with a lady whom you had not seen until that moment. I trust we shall remain good friends. If you desire a scene of some sort, in order to advertise our changed relations to the household, you may call upon me this afternoon at three. You will understand that I do this only to save explanations. A quarrel, you know, ends everything; is so intelligible and satisfactory; precludes questions and discourages curiosity. Accordingly, my dear sir, I will quarrel with you at 3:15 P.M., promptly, and remain,

Sincerely your friend,
Louise Jones.

Leipsic, March 12, 187-.

Grover read this enigmatical epistle eleven times without deriving the slightest clue to its meaning. He read it aloud and he read it in silence, he analyzed, scrutinized and apostrophized it, but without avail. That feminine caprice could reach such alarming dimensions he had never dreamed. That she should want to break with him the morning after she had become really engaged to him could be accounted for by a variety of reasons. But that she should write him a cool and semi-humorous letter, showing no more agitation than one of Bret Harte’s heroes who is about to be hanged—that certainly capped the climax of eccentric behavior. And that, after her passionate protests! But hold on! What did she say yesterday that was so passionate? Curiously enough, he could not remember a word of what she had said. It began slowly to dawn upon him that, during the memorable scene, he had himself done all the talking. She had not uttered a syllable. It was odd, but probably not without precedent. Well, if she wanted her quarrel, she should have it promptly on the hour, and with éclat.

At 3:15 o’clock he rang the Professor’s door-bell, and was ushered into the drawing-room, where Miss Jones stood smiling sweetly upon him.

“I hope you didn’t misunderstand my note,” she said, seeing the troubled look in his eyes.

“Misunderstand it!” he ejaculated, with ill-suppressed indignation; “if I had arrived as far as misunderstanding it, I should have had respect for my intellect. I doubt if the seven sages could have interpreted it.”

“It wasn’t necessary that they should,” said Miss Jones imperturbably.

“But suppose they had made love to you?” he began, argumentatively.

“The seven sages never made love to me,” remarked Miss Jones, perversely.

“But suppose you had kissed them?”

“I never kissed them!”

Miss Jones repelled this insinuation with indignant emphasis.

“It is utterly useless to argue with you,” he said, pacing the floor in agitation.

“Then I would not try.”

“You are cruel, vain, and heartless.”

“If those qualities were contagious, I should know where I got them.”

“You mean yesterday, when you kissed me!”

“I must decline to listen to such language. You will have the kindness to remember Mr. Grover, that from this moment our acquaintance is at an end.”

Miss Jones arose with flaming cheeks and eyes in which the unseen tears trembled; she made Mr. Grover a sweeping courtesy and moved with a good deal of superfluous stateliness toward the door. He returned her salute, though with much less dignity; then rushed forward to hold her back, but with an impatient gesture she shook off his grasp and hurried out.

“We met to quarrel in jest, and we did it in earnest,” he reflected grimly, as he picked up his hat and opened the door. There was a sudden, agitated rustle of skirts in the hall, and he was just in time to see Röschen’s back hair vanish into the dining-room.

VI.

Being engaged is said to be a very delightful thing. You fulfill a pleasant duty to society and one no less pleasant to yourself. In Germany particularly, the engaged state is one of great honor. You advertise the important event in the newspapers, above the marriages and births; you walk abroad with your fiancée arm-in-arm (which is an inestimable privilege); you introduce her with much ceremony to your uncles and cousins and aunts; you receive congratulations—in short, you become a sort of public character, until some one else goes and follows your illustrious example. Then you become an old story and lapse into insignificance.

It was this ravishing vision of the engaged state, with its attendant festivities, which had excited Röschen’s imagination. She had seen herself a hundred times on Grover’s arm, making the round of her whole circle of acquaintance, and introducing him triumphantly to her pet enemies. He would, of course, at a hint from her, be gracious to those who had been kind to her, and politely snub those who had been disagreeable to her. There was a day of reckoning coming for those who had made sport of Röschen’s verses, a day of glorious revenge. But the trouble now was, that, although Röschen looked upon herself as engaged, and respected herself accordingly, she did not have the courage to claim her fiancé. She was, as it were, anonymously engaged. The uncertainty of the thing tortured her. She was more than once tempted to sit down and write to Mr. Grover, telling him that it was she to whom he was engaged; but the thought that he might, in that case, divine her plot always deterred her. That he had quarrelled with Miss Jones hardly simplified the matter; for a lover’s quarrel of that sort is never such a serious affair as the parties involved are apt to think. If only Miss Jones would have the inspiration to go to Berlin or to Stuttgart, or to Halifax, the road to Grover’s affections would be comparatively plain sailing. But Miss Jones, in spite of the most pointed hints regarding the superior musical advantages of other cities, persisted in remaining where she was. She practiced with an odious regularity and indefatigable zeal, which knew neither weariness nor discouragement. She did not grow perceptibly thinner, nor did her complexion show the ravages of sorrow. It was unanimously resolved by the ladies of the household that she was a cold and heartless monster. If it hadn’t been for the fact that she paid forty dollars a month (which was put aside for dowries), she would have been told to pack her trunk.

This phase of feeling lasted about three weeks. Then the unfailing charm of Miss Jones’s affability began once more to assert itself. Röschen was seized with a sudden desire to kiss her; for she looked so irresistibly cool and lovely as she sat at the breakfast-table sipping her coffee, and propounding her neat little German sentences, which were always correct, though with a faint flavor of “Otto.” Röschen felt positive that those calm, intelligent eyes of Miss Jones’s read them all like a book; and instead of being indignant at such presumption, Röschen grew repentant. She yearned to fling herself at Miss Jones’s feet and confess all her wickedness. She would wear white, with a single red rose in her bosom like La Sonnambula. When she thought of all the heroines of history and romance who had renounced the men they loved, she too felt that she could rise to a like heroism in renouncing the man she didn’t love; for she did not, for one moment, deceive herself in regard to her sentiment for Grover. It was the engaged state she had been in love with; and he was merely a lay figure, convenient for the occasion—a puppet with whom she enacted the scenes appropriate to the engaged condition.

She was yet pondering the problem, but had not yet nerved herself for action, when one day she was startled at the sound of Grover’s voice in the hall. He handed his card to the girl and inquired for the Frau Professorin. There was a council of war on the spot, and the Frau Professorin sent word that she was “not at home.” Grover then asked permission to see “the young ladies.” It was a very disappointing message; the plural number was especially disheartening. The sisters, however, were equal to the occasion. Minchen and Gretchen nobly declared that they were “out.” Accordingly there was nothing to do, except for Röschen to receive the visitor. She donned her white muslin, stuck a Jacqueminot rose in her bosom, and entered the drawing-room with a quaking heart. The young man shook hands with her without the faintest trace of embarrassment, and begged her to have the kindness to present his “adieux” to the family, as he had concluded to continue his studies in Berlin.

“And you are going to leave Leipsic!” she exclaimed, in astonishment.

“Naturally,” he replied: “I leave to-night.”

Röschen’s heart thumped as if it meant to work its way out through her ribs.

“Now or never!” it said, with an unmistakable plainness; “now or never!”

The Jacqueminot rose fell to the ground; Grover stooped to pick it up. Had he only said: “May I keep this as a souvenir of our friendship,” or something of that sort, she would at once have summoned courage to make her confession. But, instead of that, he gravely handed her back the rose and remarked that he was under great obligation to her father and mother for their kindness to him during his stay in the city. She knew of no appropriate reply to this observation until his silence forced her to invent one. “You have given us no opportunity of late to be either kind or unkind to you,” she said, with a blush, which made her feel hot all over.

“The circumstances are at fault, not I,” he answered, and got up to take his leave.

“Pardon me,” she said, grasping his hand with a desperate clutch; “I think I heard mother come in. I’ll be back in one moment.”

Several minutes elapsed, however, but neither Röschen nor the Frau Professorin appeared. Then a sudden sound of sobs was heard in the next room, and Grover, fearing that some one was in distress, hastily opened the door. There stood Miss Jones, grave and benign, stooping over the weeping Röschen, who was dramatically embracing her knees.

“Oh, it was I—it was I who made trouble between you,” sobbed the girl, flinging back her head and gazing imploringly up into Miss Jones’s face. “You are so good and noble, Louise, can you ever forgive me? Oh, I wish you would kill me, so that I never could do you any harm again.”

“That won’t be necessary, my dear,” said Miss Jones, soothingly, stroking the penitent’s hair and kissing her forehead; then, catching sight of Grover, she instantly recovered her dignity and disengaged herself from Röschen’s embrace. The latter, with a wildly despairing glance at the young man, sprang up and rushed out of the room.

Miss Jones and Grover stood face to face. The reverberation of Röschen’s excitement seemed to linger in the room, and they waited for it to pass away before speaking.

“I came to bid you good-bye,” he said at last; it did not occur to him that he had not come for that purpose.

“I am happy to have a chance to—to—beg your pardon,” replied Miss Jones, with a heroic determination to crucify her pride. “I was harsh and unjust to you. Röschen has told me all.”

“I wish she would tell me all. I am as much in the dark as ever.”

“The girl to—to—whom you proposed in the grotto—was—was—not I,” she faltered, grasping the door-knob for support, and gazing into the mirror with a vain hope to hide her blushes.

He drew a long sigh of relief. That intelligence simplified existence enormously. He had had a hopeless feeling, of late, that life was too complex an affair for him to grapple with. Now, as by a flash, order was restored in his chaotic universe. He stood gazing in rapture at Miss Jones’s blushing face, which seemed angelic in its purity and its dignified maidenhood. That there dwelt a sweet young soul behind those blameless features he felt blissfully convinced.

“Miss Jones,” he began, “if Miss Röschen has confessed to you, you know what I would have liked to say to you—that night in the grotto. Now, what would you have answered me?”

A little ray of mirth stole over the girl’s face, and vanished again.

“I should have said—no,” she remarked smilingly.

The orderly universe again tumbled into chaos. She was the veritable Sphinx, and he not the Œdipus to read her riddle.

“Then I will bid you good-bye,” he managed to stammer, extending an unwilling hand and again withdrawing it.

“Good-bye, Mr. Grover,” she said with heartless cheerfulness; “I hope it is not forever.”

“I am afraid it is,” he murmured sadly.

He took two steps toward the door, and laid his hand on the knob.

“Oh, by the way,” ejaculated the girl, with a sudden alarm in her voice; “that question you would have asked me in the grotto—why don’t you ask it now?”

“You said you would say no.”

He had turned about in unutterable astonishment.

“I didn’t say that,” she retorted gravely.

“What did you say then?”

“That I should have said No in the grotto.”

The scene which followed was of a strictly private and confidential character; I fear Miss Jones would take me to task if I divulged it.