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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLinda Tressel - Chapter 3
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Linda Tressel - Chapter 3 Post by :gnkwako Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2174

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Linda Tressel - Chapter 3

CHAPTER III

Peter Steinmarc had a cousin in a younger generation than himself, who lived in Nuremberg, and who was named Ludovic Valcarm. The mother of this young man had been Peter's first cousin, and when she died Ludovic had in some sort fallen into the hands of his relative the town-clerk. Ludovic's father was still alive; but he was a thriftless, aimless man, who had never been of service either to his wife or children, and at this moment no one knew where he was living, or what he was doing. No one knew, unless it was his son Ludovic, who never received much encouragement in Nuremberg to talk about his father. At the present moment, Peter Steinmarc and his cousin, though they had not actually quarrelled, were not on the most friendly terms. As Peter, in his younger days, had been clerk to old Tressel, so had Ludovic been brought up to act as clerk to Peter; and for three or four years the young man had received some small modicum of salary from the city chest, as a servant in the employment of the city magistrates. But of late Ludovic had left his uncle's office, and had entered the service of certain brewers in Nuremberg, who were more liberal in their views as to wages than were the city magistrates. Peter Steinmarc had thought ill of his cousin for making this change. He had been at the trouble of pointing out to Ludovic how he himself had in former years sat upon the stool in the office in the town-hall, from whence he had been promoted to the arm-chair; and had almost taken upon himself to promise that the good fortune of Ludovic should be as great as his own, if only Ludovic for the present would be content with the stool. But young Valcarm, who by this time was four-and-twenty, told his cousin very freely that the stool in the town-hall suited him no longer, and that he liked neither the work nor the wages. Indeed, he went further than this, and told his kinsman that he liked the society of the office as little as he did either the wages or the work. It may naturally be supposed that this was not said till there had been some unpleasant words spoken by the town-clerk to his assistant,--till the authority of the elder had been somewhat stretched over the head of the young man; but it may be supposed also that when such words had once been spoken, Peter Steinmarc did not again press Ludovic Valcarm to sit upon the official stool.

Ludovic had never lived in the garret of the red house as Peter himself had done. When the suggestion that he should do so had some years since been made to Madame Staubach, that prudent lady, foreseeing that Linda would soon become a young woman, had been unwilling to sanction the arrangement. Ludovic, therefore, had housed himself elsewhere, and had been free of the authority of the town-clerk when away from his office. But he had been often in his cousin's rooms, and there had grown up some acquaintance between him and aunt Charlotte and Linda. It had been very slight;--so thought aunt Charlotte. It had been as slight as her precautions could make it. But Ludovic, nevertheless, had spoken such words to Linda that Linda had been unable to answer him; and though Madame Staubach was altogether ignorant that such iniquity had been perpetrated, Peter Steinmarc had shrewdly guessed the truth.

Rumours of a very ill sort had reached the red house respecting Ludovic Valcarm. When Linda had interrogated Tetchen as to the nature of the things that were said of Ludovic in that conversation between Peter and Madame Staubach which Tetchen had overheard, she had not asked without some cause. She knew that evil things were said of the young man, and that evil words regarding him had been whispered by Peter into her aunt's ears;--that such whisperings had been going on almost ever since the day on which Ludovic had declined to return again to the official stool; and she knew, she thought that she knew, that such whisperings were not altogether undeserved. There was a set of young men in Nuremberg of whom it was said that they had a bad name among their elders,--that they drank spirits instead of beer, that they were up late at nights, that they played cards among themselves, that they were very unfrequent at any house of prayer, that they belonged to some turbulent political society which had, to the grief of all the old burghers, been introduced into Nuremberg from Munich, that they talked of women as women are talked of in Paris and Vienna and other strongholds of iniquity, and that they despised altogether the old habits and modes of life of their forefathers. They were known by their dress. They wore high round hats like chimney-pots,--such as were worn in Paris,--and satin stocks, and tight-fitting costly coats of fine cloth, and long pantaloons, and they carried little canes in their hands, and gave themselves airs, and were very unlike what the young men of Nuremberg used to be. Linda knew their appearance well, and thought that it was not altogether unbecoming. But she knew also,--for she had often been so told,--that they were dangerous men, and she was grieved that Ludovic Valcarm should be among their number.

But now--now that her aunt had spoken to her of that horrid plan in reference to Peter Steinmarc, what would Ludovic Valcarm be to her? Not that he could ever have been anything. She knew that, and had known it from the first, when she had been unable to answer him with the scorn which his words had deserved. How could such a one as she be mated with a man so unsuited to her aunt's tastes, to her own modes of life, as Ludovic Valcarm? And yet she could have wished that it might be otherwise. For a moment once,--perhaps for moments more than once,--there had been ideas that no mission could be more fitting for such a one as she than that of bringing back to the right path such a young man as Ludovic Valcarm. But then,--how to begin to bring a young man back? She knew that she would not be allowed to accept his love; and now,--now that the horrid plan had been proposed to her, any such scheme was more impracticable, more impossible than ever. Ah, how she hated Peter Steinmarc as she thought of all this!

For four or five days after this, not a word was said to Linda by any one on the hated subject. She kept out of Peter Steinmarc's way as well as she could, and made herself busy through the house with an almost frantic energy. She was very good to her aunt, doing every behest that was put upon her, and going through her religious services with a zeal which almost seemed to signify that she liked them. She did not leave the house once except in her aunt's company, and restrained herself even from leaning over the wicket-gate and listening to the voice of Fanny Heisse. There were moments during these days in which she thought that her opposition to her aunt's plan had had the desired effect, and that she was not to be driven mad by the courtship of Peter Steinmarc. Surely five days would not have elapsed without a word had not the plan been deserted. If that were the case, how good would she be! If that were the case, she would resolve, on her aunt's behalf, to be very scornful to Ludovic Valcarm.

But though she had never gone outside the house without her aunt, though she had never even leaned on the front wicket, yet she had seen Ludovic. It had been no fault of hers that he had spied her from the Ruden Platz, and had kissed his hand to her, and had made a sign to her which she had only half understood,--by which she had thought that he had meant to imply that he would come to her soon. All this came from no fault of hers. She knew that the centre warehouse in the Ruden Platz opposite belonged to the brewers, Sach Brothers, by whom Valcarm was employed. Of course it was necessary that the young man should be among the workmen, who were always moving barrels about before the warehouse, and that he should attend to his employers' business. But he need not have made the sign, or kissed his hand, when he stood hidden from all eyes but hers beneath the low dark archway; nor, for the matter of that, need her eyes have been fixed upon the gateway after she had once perceived that Ludovic was on the Ruden Platz.

What would happen to her if she were to declare boldly that she loved Ludovic Valcarm, and intended to become his wife, and not the wife of old Peter Steinmarc? In the first place, Ludovic had never asked her to be his wife;--but on that head she had almost no doubt at all. Ludovic would ask her quickly enough, she was very sure, if only he received sufficient encouragement. And as far as she understood the law of the country in which she lived, no one could, she thought, prevent her from marrying him. In such case she would have a terrible battle with her aunt; but her aunt could not lock her up, nor starve her into submission. It would be very dreadful, and no doubt all good people,--all those whom she had been accustomed to regard as good,--would throw her over and point at her as one abandoned. And her aunt's heart would be broken, and the world,--the world as she knew it,--would pretty nearly collapse around her. Nevertheless she could do it. But were she to do so, would it not simply be that she would have allowed the Devil to get the victory, and that she would have given herself for ever and ever, body and soul, to the Evil One? And then she made a compact with herself,--a compact which she hoped was not a compact with Satan also. If they on one side would not strive to make her marry Peter Steinmarc, she on the other side would say nothing, not a word, to Ludovic Valcarm.

She soon learned, however, that she had not as yet achieved her object by the few words which she had spoken to her aunt. Those words had been spoken on a Monday. On the evening of the following Saturday she sat with her aunt in their own room down-stairs, in the chamber immediately below that occupied by Peter Steinmarc. It was a summer evening in August, and Linda was sitting at the window, with some household needlework in her lap, but engaged rather in watching the warehouse opposite than in sedulous attention to her needle. Her eyes were fixed upon the little doorway, not expecting that any one would be seen there, but full of remembrance of the figure of him who had stood there and had kissed his hand. Her aunt, as was her wont on every Saturday, was leaning over a little table intent on some large book of devotional service, with which she prepared herself for the Sabbath. Close as was her attention now and always to the volume, she would not on ordinary occasions have allowed Linda's eyes to stray for so long a time across the river without recalling them by some sharp word of reproof; but on this evening she sat and read and said nothing. Either she did not see her niece, so intent was she on her good work, or else, seeing her, she chose, for reasons of her own, to be as one who did not see. Linda was too intent upon her thoughts to remember that she was sinning with the sin of idleness, and would have still gazed across the river had she not heard a heavy footstep in the room above her head, and the fall of a creaking shoe on the stairs, a sound which she knew full well, and stump, bump, dump, Peter Steinmarc was descending from his own apartments to those of his neighbours below him. Then immediately Linda withdrew her eyes from the archway, and began to ply her needle with diligence. And Madame Staubach looked up from her book, and became uneasy on her chair. Linda felt sure that Peter was not going out for an evening stroll, was not in quest of beer and a friendly pipe at the Rothe Ross. He was much given to beer and a friendly pipe at the Rothe Ross; but Linda knew that he would creep down-stairs somewhat softly when his mind was that way given; not so softly but what she would hear his steps and know whither they were wending; but now, from the nature of the sound, she was quite sure that he was not going to the inn which he frequented. She threw a hurried glance round upon her aunt, and was quite sure that her aunt was of the same opinion. When Herr Steinmarc paused for half a minute outside her aunt's door, and then slowly turned the lock, Linda was not a bit surprised; nor was Madame Staubach surprised. She closed her book with dignity, and sat awaiting the address of her neighbour.

"Good evening, ladies," said Peter Steinmarc.

"Good evening, Peter," said Madame Staubach. It was many years now since these people had first known each other, and the town-clerk was always called Peter by his old friend. Linda spoke not a word of answer to her lover's salutation.

"It has been a beautiful summer day," said Peter.

"A lovely day," said Madame Staubach, "through the Lord's favour to us."

"Has the fraulein been out?" asked Peter.

"No; I have not been out," said Linda, almost savagely.

"I will go and leave you together," said Madame Staubach, getting up from her chair.

"No, aunt, no," said Linda. "Don't go away; pray, do not go away."

"It is fitting that I should do so," said Madame Staubach, as with one hand she gently pushed back Linda, who was pressing to the door after her. "You will stay, Linda, and hear what our friend will say; and remember, Linda, that he speaks with my authority and with my heartfelt prayer that he may prevail."

"He will never prevail," said Linda. But neither Madame Staubach nor Peter Steinmarc heard what she said.

Linda had already perceived, perturbed as she was in her mind, that Herr Steinmarc had prepared himself carefully for this interview. He had brought a hat with him into the room, but it was not the hat which had so long been distasteful to her. And he had got on clean bright shoes, as large indeed as the old dirty ones, because Herr Steinmarc was not a man to sacrifice his corns for love; but still shoes that were decidedly intended to be worn only on occasions. And he had changed his ordinary woollen shirt for white linen, and had taken out his new brown frock-coat which he always wore on those high days in Nuremberg on which the magistrates appeared with their civic collars. But, perhaps, the effect which Linda noted most keenly was the debonair fashion in which the straggling hairs had been disposed over the bald pate. For a moment or two a stranger might almost have believed that the pate was not bald.

"My dear young friend," began the town-clerk, "your aunt has, I think, spoken to you of my wishes." Linda muttered something, she knew not what. But though her words were not intelligible, her looks were so, and were not of a kind to have been naturally conducive to much hope in the bosom of Herr Steinmarc. "Of course, I can understand, Linda, how much this must have taken you by surprise at first. But that surprise will wear off, and I trust that you may gradually come to regard me as your future husband without--without--without anything like fear, you know, or feelings of that kind." Still she did not speak. "If you become my wife, Linda, I will do my best to make you always happy."

"I shall never become your wife, never--never--never."

"Do not speak so decidedly as that, Linda."

"I must speak decidedly. I do speak decidedly. I can't speak any other way. You know very well, Herr Steinmarc, that you oughtn't to ask me. It is very wrong of you, and very wicked."

"Why is it wrong, Linda? Why is it wicked?"

"If you want to get married, you should marry some one as old as yourself."

"No, Linda, that is not so. It is always thought becoming that the man should be older than the wife."

"But you are three times as old as I am, and that is not becoming." This was cruel on Linda's part, and her words also were untrue. Linda would be twenty-one at her next birthday, whereas Herr Steinmarc had not yet reached his fifty-second birthday.

Herr Steinmarc was a man who had a temper of his own, and who was a little touchy on the score of age. Linda knew that he was touchy on the score of age, and had exaggerated her statement with the view of causing pain. It was probably some appreciation of this fact which caused Herr Steinmarc to continue his solicitations with more of authority in his voice than he had hitherto used. "I am not three times as old as you, Linda; but, whatever may be my age, your aunt, who has the charge of you, thinks that the marriage is a fitting one. You should remember that you cannot fly in her face without committing a great sin. I offer to you an honest household and a respectable position. As Madame Staubach thinks that you should accept them, you must know that you are wrong to answer me with scorn and ribaldry."

"I have not answered you with ribaldry. It is not ribaldry to say that you are an old man."

"You have answered me with scorn."

"I do scorn you, Herr Steinmarc, when you come to me pretending to make love like a young man, with your Sunday clothes on, and your hair brushed smooth, and your new shoes. I do scorn you. And you may go and tell my aunt that I say so, if you like. And as for being an old man, you are an old man. Old men are very well in their way, I daresay; but they shouldn't go about making love to young women."

Herr Steinmarc had not hoped to succeed on this his first personal venture; but he certainly had not expected to be received after the fashion which Linda had adopted towards him. He had, doubtless, looked very often into Linda's face, and had listened very often to the tone of her voice; but he had not understood what her face expressed, nor had he known what compass that voice would reach. Had he been a wise man,--a man wise as to his own future comfort,--he would have abandoned his present attempt after the lessons which he was now learning. But, as has before been said, he had a temper, and he was now angry with Linda. He was roused, and was disposed to make her know that, old as he was, and bald, and forced to wear awkward shoes, and to stump along heavily, still he could force her to become his wife and to minister to his wants. He understood it all. He knew what were his own deficiencies, and was as wide awake as was Linda herself to the natural desires of a young girl. Madame Staubach was, perhaps, equally awake, but she connected these desires directly with the devil. Because it was natural that a young woman should love a young man, therefore, according to the religious theory of Madame Staubach, it was well that a young woman should marry an old man, so that she might then be crushed and made malleable, and susceptible of that teaching which tells us that all suffering in this world is good for us. Now Peter Steinmarc was by no means alive to the truth of such lessons as these. Religion was all very well. It was an outward sign of a respectable life,--of a life in which men are trusted and receive comfortable wages,--and, beyond that, was an innocent occupation for enthusiastic women. But he had no idea that any human being was bound to undergo crushing in this world for his soul's sake. Had he not wished to marry Linda himself, it might be very well that Linda should marry a young man. But now that Linda so openly scorned him, had treated him with such plain-spoken contumely, he thought it would be well that Linda should be crushed. Yes; and he thought also that he might probably find a means of crushing her.

"I suppose, miss," he said, after pausing for some moments, "that the meaning of this is that you have got a young lover?"

"I have got no young lover," said Linda; "and if I had, why shouldn't I? What would that be to you?"

"It would be very much to me, if it be the young man I think. Yes, I understand; you blush now. Very well. I shall know now how to manage you;--or your aunt will know."

"I have got no lover," said Linda, in great anger; "and you are a very wicked old man to say so."

"Then you had better receive me as your future husband. If you will be good and obedient, I will forgive the great unkindness of what you have said to me."

"I have not meant to be unkind, but I cannot have you for my husband. How am I to love you?"

"That will come."

"It will never come."

"Was it not unkind when you said that I was three times as old as you?"

"I did not mean to be unkind." Since the allusion which had been made to some younger lover, from which Linda had gathered that Peter Steinmarc must know something of Ludovic's passion for herself, she had been in part quelled. She was not able now to stand up bravely before her suitor, and fight him as she had done at first with all the weapons which she had at her command. The man knew something which it was almost ruinous to her that he should know, something by which, if her aunt knew it, she would be quite ruined. How could it be that Herr Steinmarc should have learned anything of Ludovic's wild love? He had not been in the house,--he had been in the town-hall, sitting in his big official arm-chair,--when Ludovic had stood in the low-arched doorway and blown a kiss across the river from his hand. And yet he did know it; and knowing it, would of course tell her aunt! "I did not mean to be unkind," she said.

"You were very unkind."

"I beg your pardon then, Herr Steinmarc."

"Will you let me address you, then, as your lover?"

"Oh, no!"

"Because of that young man; is it?"

"Oh, no, no. I have said nothing to the young man--not a word. He is nothing to me. It is not that."

"Linda, I see it all. I understand everything now. Unless you will promise to give him up, and do as your aunt bids you, I must tell your aunt everything."

"There is nothing to tell."

"Linda!"

"I have done nothing. I can't help any young man. He is only over there because of the brewery." She had told all her secret now. "He is nothing to me, Herr Steinmarc, and if you choose to tell aunt Charlotte, you must. I shall tell aunt Charlotte that if she will let me keep out of your way, I will promise to keep out of his. But if you come, then--then--then--I don't know what I may do." After that she escaped, and went away back into the kitchen, while Peter Steinmarc stumped up again to his own room.

"Well, my friend, how has it gone?" said Madam Staubach, entering Peter's chamber, at the door of which she had knocked.

"I have found out the truth," said Peter, solemnly.

"What truth?" Peter shook his head, not despondently so much as in dismay. The thing which he had to tell was so very bad! He felt it so keenly, not on his own account so much as on account of his friend! All that was expressed by the manner in which Peter shook his head. "What truth have you found out, Peter? Tell me at once," said Madame Staubach.

"She has got a--lover."

"Who? Linda! I do not believe it."

"She has owned it. And such a lover!" Whereupon Peter Steinmarc lifted up both his hands.

"What lover? Who is he? How does she know him, and when has she seen him? I cannot believe it. Linda has never been false to me."

"Her lover is--Ludovic Valcarm."

"Your cousin?"

"My cousin Ludovic--who is a good-for-nothing, a spendthrift, a fellow without a florin, a fellow that plays cards on Sundays."

"And who fears neither God nor Satan," said Madame Staubach. "Peter Steinmarc, I do not believe it. The child can hardly have spoken to him."

"You had better ask her, Madame Staubach." Then with some exaggeration Peter told Linda's aunt all that he did know, and something more than all that Linda had confessed; and before their conversation was over they had both agreed that, let these tidings be true in much or in little, or true not at all, every exertion should be used to force Linda into the proposed marriage with as little delay as possible.

"I overheard him speaking to her out of the street window, when they thought I was out," said the town-clerk in a whisper before he left Madame Staubach. "I had to come back home for the key of the big chest, and they never knew that I had been in the house." This had been one of the occasions on which Linda had been addressed, and had wanted breath to answer the bold young man who had spoken to her.

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CHAPTER IILinda Tressel was a tall, light-built, active young woman, in full health, by no means a fine lady, very able and very willing to assist Tetchen in the work of the house, or rather to be assisted by Tetchen in doing it, and fit at all points to be the wife of any young burgher in Nuremberg. And she was very pretty withal, with eager, speaking eyes, and soft luxurious tresses, not black, but of so very dark a brown as to be counted black in some lights. It was her aunt's care to have these tresses confined, so that
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