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    Chapter IX. Gretchen's Day

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    Chapter 9
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    Gretchen was always up when the morning was rosy, when the trees were still dark and motionless, and the beads of dew white and frostlike. For what is better than to meet the day as it comes over the mountains, and silence breaks here and there, in the houses and streets, in the fields and the vineyards? Let old age, which has played its part and taken to the wings of the stage, let old age loiter in the morning, but not green years. Gretchen awoke as the birds awoke, with snatches and little trills of song. To her nearest neighbors there was about her that which reminded them of the regularity of a good clock; when they heard her voice they knew it was time to get up.

    She was always busy in the morning. The tinkle of the bell outside brought her to the door, and her two goats came pattering in to be relieved of their creamy burden. Gretchen was fond of them; they needed no care at all. The moment she had milked them they went tinkling off to the steep pastures.

    Even in midsummer the dawn was chill in Dreiberg. She blew on her fingers. The fire was down to the last ember; so she went into the cluttered courtyard and broke into pieces one of the limbs she had carried up from the valley earlier in the season. The fire renewed its cheerful crackle, the kettle boiled briskly, and the frugal breakfast was under way.

    There was daily one cup of coffee, but neither Gretchen nor her grandmother claimed this luxury; it was for the sick woman on the third floor. Sometimes at the Black Eagle she had a cup when her work was done, but to Gretchen the aroma excelled the taste. Her grandmother's breakfast and her own out of the way, she carried the coffee and bread and a hot brick up to the invalid. The woman gave her two crowns a week to serve this morning meal. Gretchen would have cheerfully done the work for nothing.

    What the character of the woman's illness was Gretchen hadn't an idea, but there could be no doubt that she was ill, desperately, had the goose-girl but known it. Her face was thin and the bones were visible under the drum-like skin; her hands were merely claws. But she would have no doctor; she would have no care save that which Gretchen gave her. Sometimes she remained in bed all the day. She had been out of the house but once since she came. She mystified the girl, for she never complained, never asked questions, talked but little, and always smiled kindly when the pillow was freshened.

    "Good morning, Fraeu," said Gretchen.

    "Good morning, Liebchen."

    "I have brought you a brick this morning, for it will be cold till the sun is high."

    "Thank you."

    Gretchen pulled the deal table to the side of the cot, poured out the coffee, and buttered the bread.

    "I ought not to drink coffee, but it is the only thing that warms me. You have been very patient with me."

    "I am glad to help you."

    "And that is why I love you. Now, I have some instructions to give you this morning. Presently I shall be leaving, and there will be something besides crowns."

    "You are thinking of leaving?"

    "Yes. When I go I shall not come back. Under my pillow there is an envelope. You will find it and keep it."

    Gretchen, young and healthy, touched not this melancholy undercurrent. She accepted the words at their surface value. She knew nothing about death except by hearsay.

    "You will promise to take it?"

    "Yes, Fraeu."

    "Thanks, little gosling. I have an errand for you this morning. It will take you to the palace."

    "To the palace?" echoed Gretchen.

    "Yes. Does that frighten you?"

    "No, Fraeu; it only surprises me. What shall I do?"

    "You will seek her highness and give her this note."

    "The princess?" Gretchen sadly viewed her wooden shoes and roughened hands.

    "Never mind your hands and feet; your face will open any gate or door for you."

    "I have never been to the palace. Will they not laugh and turn me out?"

    "If they try that, demand to see his excellency, Count von Herbeck, and say that you came from forty Krumerweg."

    Gretchen shuddered with a mixture of apprehension and delight. To meet and speak to all these great ones!

    "And if I can not get in?"

    "You will have no trouble. Be sure, though, to give the note to no one but her highness. There will be no answer. All I ask is that when you return you will tell me if you were successful. You may go."

    Gretchen put the note away and went down-stairs. She decked her beautiful head with a little white cap, which she wore only on Sundays and at the opera, and braided and beribboned her hair. It never occurred to her that there was anything unusual in the incident. It was only when she came out into the Koenig Strasse that the puzzle of it came to her forcibly. Who was this old woman who thought nothing of writing a letter to her serene highness? And who were her nocturnal visitors? Gretchen had no patience with puzzles, so she let her mind revel in the thought that she was to see and speak to the princess whom she admired and revered. What luck! How smoothly the world was beginning to run!

    Being of a discerning mind, she idled about the Platz till after nine, for it had been told to her that the great sleep rather late in the morning. What should she say to her serene highness? What kind of a curtsy should she make? These and a hundred other questions flitted through her head. At least she would wear no humble, servile air. For Gretchen was a bit of a socialist. Did not Herr Goldberg, whom the police detested, did he not say that all men were equal? And surely this sweeping statement included women! She attended secret meetings in the damp cellar of the Black Eagle, and, while she laughed at some of the articles in the propaganda, she received seriously enough that which proclaimed her the equal of any one. So long as she obeyed nature's laws and Heaven's, was she not indeed the equal of queens and princesses, who, it was said, did not always obey these laws?

    With a confidence born of right and innocence, she proceeded toward the east or side gates of the palace. The sentry smiled at her.

    "I have a letter for her serene highness," she said.

    "Leave it."

    "I am under orders to give it to her highness herself."

    "Good day, then!" laughed the soldier. "You can not enter the gardens without a permit."

    Gretchen remembered. "Will you send some one to his excellency the chancellor and tell him I have come from number forty Krumerweg?"

    "Krumerweg? The very name ought to close any gate. But, girl, are you speaking truthfully?"

    Gretchen exhibited the note. He scratched his chin, perplexed.

    "Run along. If they ask me, I'll say that I didn't see you." The sentry resumed his beat.

    Gretchen stepped inside the gates, and the real beauty of the gardens was revealed to her for the first time. Strange flowers she had never seen before, plants with great broad leaves, grass-like carpet, and giant ferns, unlike anything she had plucked in the valleys and the mountains. It was all a fairy-land. There were marble urns with hanging vines, and marble statues. She loitered in this pebbled path and that, forgetful of her errand. Even had her mind been filled with the importance of it, she did not know where to go to find the proper entrance.

    A hand grasped her rudely by the arm.

    "What are you doing here?" thundered the head gardener. "Be off with you! Don't you know that no one is allowed in here without a permit?"

    Gretchen wrenched free her arm. She was angry.

    "How dare you touch me like that?"

    Something in her glance, which was singularly arrogant, cooled even the warm-blooded Hermann.

    "But you live in Dreiberg and ought to know."

    "You could have told me without bruising my arm," defiantly.

    "I am sorry if I hurt you, but you ought to have known better. By which sentry did you pass?" for there was that about her beauty which made him suspicious regarding the sentry's imperviousness to it.


    Gretchen and the head gardener whirled. Through a hedge which divided the formal gardens from the tennis and archery grounds came a young woman in riding-habit. She carried a book in one hand and a riding-whip in the other.

    "What is the trouble, Hermann?" she inquired. "Your voice was something high."

    "Your Highness, this young woman here had the impudence to walk into the gardens and stroll about as nice as you please," indignantly.

    "Has she stolen any flowers or trod on any of the beds?"

    "Why, no, your Highness; but--"

    "What is the harm, then?"

    "But it is not customary, your Highness. If we permitted this on the part of the people, the gardens would be ruined in a week."

    "We, you and I, Hermann," said her highness, with a smile that won Gretchen on the spot, "we will overlook this first offense. Perhaps this young lady had some errand and lost her way."

    "Yes, Highness," replied Gretchen eagerly.

    "Ah! You may go, Hermann."

    "Your highness alone with--"

    "Go at once," kindly, but with royal firmness.

    Hermann bowed, gathered up his pruning knives and scissors which he had let fall, and stalked down the path. What was it? he wondered. She was a princess in all things save her lack of coldness toward the people. It was wrong to meet them in this way, it was not in order. Her highness had lived too long among them. She would never rid herself of the idea that the humble had hearts and minds like the exalted.

    As the figure of the head gardener diminished and shortly vanished behind a bed of palms, her highness laughed brightly, and Gretchen, to her own surprise, found herself laughing also, easily and without constraint.

    "Whom were you seeking?" her highness asked, rather startled by the undeniable beauty of this peasant.

    "I was seeking your serene highness. I live at number forty the Krumerweg, and the sick woman gave me this note for you."

    "Krumerweg?" Her highness reached for the note and read it, and as she read tears gathered in her eyes. "Follow me," she said. She led Gretchen to a marble bench and sat down. Gretchen remained on her feet respectfully. "What is your name?"

    "Gretchen, Highness."

    "Well, Gretchen, sit down."

    "In your presence, Highness?" aghast.

    "Don't bother about my presence on a morning like this. Sit down."

    This was a command and Gretchen obeyed with alacrity. It would not be difficult, thought Gretchen, to love a princess like this, who was not only lovely but sensible. The two sat mutely. They were strangely alike. Their eyes nearly matched, their hair, even the shape of their faces. They were similarly molded, too; only, one was slender and graceful, after the manner of fashion, while the other was slender and graceful directly from the hands of nature. The health of outdoors was visible in their fine skins and clear eyes. The marked difference lay, of course, in their hands. The princess had never toiled with her fingers except on the piano. Gretchen had plucked geese and dug vegetables with hers. They were rough, but toil had not robbed them of their natural grace.

    "How was she?" her highness asked.

    "About the same, Highness."

    "Have you wondered why she should write to me?"

    "Highness, it was natural that I should," was Gretchen's frank admission.

    "She took me in when nobody knew who I was, clothed and fed me, and taught me music so that some day I should not be helpless when the battle of life began. Ah," impulsively, "had I my way she would be housed in the palace, not in the lonely Krumerweg. But my father does not know that she is in Dreiberg; and we dare not tell him, for he still believes that she had something to do with my abduction." Then she stopped. She was strangely making this peasant her confidante. What a whim!

    "Highness, that could not be."

    "No, Gretchen; she had nothing to do with it." Her highness leveled her gaze at the flowers, but her eyes saw only the garret or the barnlike loneliness of the opera during rehearsals.

    Gretchen did not move. She saw that her highness was dreaming; and she herself had dreams.

    "Do you like music?"

    "Highness, I am always singing."

    "La-la--la!" sang the princess capriciously.

    "La-la--la!" sang Gretchen smiling. Her voice was not purer or sweeter; it was merely stronger, having been accustomed to the open air.

    "Brava!" cried the princess, dropping book and whip and folding the note inside the book. "Who taught you to sing?"

    "Nobody, highness."

    "What do you do?"

    "I am a goose-girl; in the fall and winter I work at odd times in the Black Eagle."

    "The Black Eagle? A tavern?"

    "Yes, Highness."

    "Tell me all about yourself."

    This was easy for Gretchen; there was so little.

    "Neither mother nor father. Our lives are something alike. A handsome girl like you must have a sweetheart."

    Gretchen blushed. "Yes, Highness. I am to be married soon. He is a vintner. I would not trade him for your king, Highness," with a spice of boldness.

    Her highness did not take offense; rather she liked this frankness. In truth, she liked any one who spoke to her on equal footing; it was a taste of the old days when she herself could have chosen a vintner and married him, with none to say her nay. Now she was only a pretty bird in a gilded cage. She could fly, but whenever she did so she blundered painfully against the bright wires. If there was any envy between these two, it existed in the heart of the princess only. To be free like this, to come and go at will, to love where the heart spoke! She surrendered to another vagrant impulse.

    "Gretchen, I do not think I shall marry the king of Jugendheit."

    Gretchen grew red with pride. Her highness was telling her state secrets!

    "You love some one else, Highness?" How should a goose-girl know that such a question was indelicate?

    Her highness did not blush; the color in her cheeks receded. She fondled the heart-shaped locket which she invariably wore round her throat. That this peasant girl should thus boldly put a question she herself had never dared to press!

    "You must not ask questions like that, Gretchen."

    "Pardon, Highness; I did not think." Gretchen was disturbed.

    But the princess comforted her with: "I know it. There are some questions which should not be asked even by the heart."

    This was not understandable to Gretchen; but the locket pleased her eye. Her highness, observing her interest, slipped the trinket from her neck and laid it in Gretchen's hand.

    "Open it," she said. "It is a picture of my mother, whom I do not recollect having ever seen. Wait," as Gretchen turned it about helplessly.

    "I will open it for you." Click!

    Gretchen sighed deeply. To have had a mother so fair and pretty! She hadn't an idea how her own mother had looked; indeed, being sensible and not given much to conjuring, she had rarely bothered her head about it. Still, as she gazed at this portrait, the sense of her isolation and loneliness drew down upon her, and she in her turn sought the flowers and saw them not. After a while she closed the locket and returned it.

    "So you love music?" picking up the safer thread.

    "Ah, yes, Highness."

    "Do you ever go to the opera?"

    "As often as I can afford. I am very poor."

    "I will give you a ticket for the season. How can I reward you for bringing this message? Don't have any false pride. Ask for something."

    "Well, then, Highness, give me an order on the grand duke's head vintner for a place."

    "For the man who is to become your husband?"

    "Yes, Highness."

    "You shall have it to-morrow. Now, come with me. I am going to take you to Herr Ernst. He is the director of the opera. He rehearses in the court theater this morning."

    Gretchen, undetermined whether she was waking or dreaming, followed the princess. She was serenely unafraid, to her own great wonder. Who could describe her sensations as she passed through marble halls, up marble staircases, over great rugs so soft that her step faltered? Her wooden shoes made a clatter whenever they left the rugs, but she stepped as lightly as she could. She heard music and voices presently, and the former she recognized. As her highness entered the Bijou Theater, the Herr Direktor stopped the music. In the little gallery, which served as the royal box, sat several ladies and gentlemen of the court, the grand duke being among them. Her highness nodded at them brightly.

    "Good morning, Herr Direktor."

    "Good morning, your Highness."

    "I have brought you a prima donna," touching Gretchen with her whip.

    The Herr Direktor showed his teeth; her highness was always playing some jest.

    "What shall she sing in, your Highness? We are rehearsing The Bohemian Girl."

    The chorus and singers on the little stage exchanged smiles.

    "I want your first violin," said her highness.


    A youth stood up in the orchestral pit.

    "Now, your Highness?" said the Herr Direktor.

    "Try her voice."

    And the Herr Direktor saw that she was not smiling. He bade the violinist to draw his bow over a single note.

    "Imitate it, Gretchen," commanded her highness; "and don't be afraid of the Herr Direktor or of the ladies and gentlemen in the gallery."

    Gretchen lifted her voice. It was sweeter and mellower than the violin.

    "Again!" the Herr Direktor cried, no longer curious.

    Without apparent effort Gretchen passed from one note to another, now high, now low, or strong or soft; a trill, a run. The violinist, of his own accord, began the jewel song from Faust. Gretchen did not know the words, but she carried the melody without mishap. And then, I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls. This song she knew word for word, and ah, she sang it with strange and haunting tenderness! One by one the musicians dropped their instruments to their knees. The grand duke in the gallery leaned over the velvet-buffered railing. All realized that a great voice was being tried before them. The Herr Direktor struck his music-stand sharply. It was enough.

    "Your highness has played a fine jest this day. Where does madame your guest sing, in Berlin or Vienna?"

    "In neither," answered her highness, mightily gratified with Gretchen's success. "She lives in Dreiberg, and till this morning I doubt if I ever saw her before."

    The Herr Direktor stared blankly from her highness to Gretchen, and back to her highness again. Then he grasped it. Here was one of those moments when the gods make gifts to mortals.

    "Can you read music?" he asked.

    "No, Herr," said Gretchen.

    "That is bad. You have a great voice, Fraeulein. Well, I shall teach you. I shall make you a great singer. It is hard work."

    "I have always worked hard."

    "Good! Your Highness, a thousand thanks! What is your name?" to Gretchen. She told him. "It is a good name. Come to me Monday at the opera and I shall put you into good hands. Some day you will be rich, and I shall become great because I found you."

    Then, with the artist's positive indifference to the presence of exalted blood, he turned his back upon the two young women and roused his men from the trance.

    "So, Gretchen," said her highness, when the two came out again into the garden, "you are to be rich and famous. That will be fine."

    "Thanks, Highness, thanks! God grant the day to come when I may be of service to you!" Gretchen kissed the hands of her benefactress.

    "Whenever you wish to see the gardens," added the princess, "the gates will be open for you."

    As Gretchen went back to the Krumerweg her wooden shoes were golden slippers and her rough homespun, silk. Rich! Famous! She saw the opera ablaze with lights, she heard the roll of applause. She saw the horn of plenty pouring its largess from the fair sky. Rainbow dreams! But Gretchen never became a prima donna. There was something different on the knees of the gods.
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