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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLinda Tressel - Chapter 9
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Linda Tressel - Chapter 9 Post by :vaima Category :Long Stories Author :Anthony Trollope Date :May 2012 Read :2448

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Linda Tressel - Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX

Linda Tressel, as she returned home to the house in the Schuett island, became aware that it was necessary for her to tell to her aunt all that had passed between herself and Herr Molk. She had been half stunned with grief as she left the magistrate's house, and for a while had tried to think that she could keep back from Madame Staubach at any rate the purport of the advice that had been given to her. And as she came to the conclusion that this would be impossible to her,--that it must all come out,--various wild plans flitted across her brain. Could she not run away without returning to the red house at all? But whither was she to run, and with whom? The only one who would have helped her in this wild enterprise had been sent to prison by that ill-conditioned old man who had made her so miserable! At this moment, there was no longer any hope in her bosom that she should save herself from being a castaway; nay, there was hardly a wish. There was no disreputable life so terrible to her thoughts, no infamy so infamous in idea to her, as would be respectability in the form of matrimony with Peter Steinmarc. And now, as she walked along painfully, going far out of her way that she might have some little time for reflection, turning all this in her mind, she began almost to fear that if she went back to her aunt, her aunt would prevail, and that in very truth Peter Steinmarc would become her lord and master. Then there was another plan, as impracticable as that scheme of running away. What if she were to become sullen, and decline to speak at all? She was well aware that in such a contest her aunt's tongue would be very terrible to her; and as the idea crossed her mind, she told herself that were she so to act people would treat her as a mad woman. But even that, she thought, would be better than being forced to marry Peter Steinmarc. Before she had reached the island, she knew that the one scheme was as impossible as the other. She entered the house very quietly, and turning to the left went at once into the kitchen.

"Linda, your aunt is waiting dinner for you this hour," said Tetchen.

"Why did you not take it to her by herself?" said Linda, crossly.

"How could I do that, when she would not have it? You had better go in now at once. But, Linda, does anything ail you?"

"Very much ails me," said Linda.

Then Tetchen came close to her, and whispered, "Have you heard anything about him?"

"What have you heard, Tetchen? Tell me at once."

"He is in trouble."

"He is in prison!" Linda said this with a little hysteric scream. Then she began to sob and cry, and turned her back to Tetchen and hid her face in her hands.

"I have heard that too," said Tetchen. "They say the burgomasters have caught him with letters on him from some terrible rebels up in Prussia, and that he has been plotting to have the city burned down. But I don't believe all that, fraulein."

"He is in prison. I know he is in prison," said Linda. "I wish I were there too;--so I do, or dead. I'd rather be dead." Then Madame Staubach, having perhaps heard the lock of the front door when it was closed, came into the kitchen. "Linda," she said, "I am waiting for you."

"I do not want any dinner," said Linda, still standing with her face turned to the wall. Then Madame Staubach took hold of her arm, and led her across the passage into the parlour. Linda said not a word as she was being thus conducted, but was thinking whether it might not even yet serve her purpose to be silent and sullen. She was still sobbing, and striving to repress her sobs; but she allowed herself to be led without resistance, and in an instant the door was closed, and she was seated on the old sofa with her aunt beside her.

"Have you seen Herr Molk?" demanded Madame Staubach.

"Yes; I have seen him."

"And what has he said to you?" Then Linda was silent. "You told me that you would seek his counsel; and that you would act as he might advise you."

"No; I did not say that."

"Linda!"

"I did not promise. I made no promise."

"Linda, surely you did promise. When I asked you whether you would do as he might bid you, you said that you would be ruled by him. Then, knowing that he is wise, and of repute in the city, I let you go. Linda, was it not so?" Linda could not remember what words had in truth been spoken between them. She did remember that in her anxiety to go forth, thinking it to be impossible that the burgomaster should ask her to marry a man old enough to be her father, she had in some way assented to her aunt's proposition. But yet she thought that she had made no definite promise that she would marry the man she hated. She did not believe that she would absolutely have promised that under any possible circumstances she would do so. She could not, however, answer her aunt's question; so she continued to sob, and endeavoured again to hide her face. "Did you tell the man everything, my child?" demanded Madame Staubach.

"Yes, I did."

"And what has he said to you?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know! Linda, that cannot be true. It is not yet half an hour since, and you do not know what Herr Molk said to you? Did you tell him of my wish about our friend Peter?"

"Yes, I did."

"And did you tell him of your foolish fancy for that wicked young man?"

"Yes, I did."

"And what did he say?"

Linda was still silent. It was almost impossible for her to tell her aunt what the man had said to her. She could not bring herself to tell the story of what had passed in the panelled room. Had Madame Staubach been in any way different from what she was,--had she been at all less stubborn, less hard, less reliant on the efficacy of her religious convictions to carry her over all obstacles,--she would have understood something of the sufferings of the poor girl with whom she was dealing. But with her the only idea present to her mind was the absolute necessity of saving Linda from the wrath to come by breaking her spirit in regard to things of this world, and crushing her into atoms here, that those atoms might be remoulded in a form that would be capable of a future and a better life. Instead therefore of shrinking from cruelty, Madame Staubach was continually instigating herself to be cruel. She knew that the image of the town-clerk was one simply disgusting to Linda, and therefore she was determined to force that image upon her. She knew that the girl's heart was set upon Ludovic Valcarm with all the warmth of its young love, and therefore she conceived it to be her duty to prove to the girl that Ludovic Valcarm was one already given up to Satan and Satanic agencies. Linda must be taught not only to acknowledge, but in very fact to understand and perceive, that this world is a vale of tears, that its paths are sharp to the feet, and that they who walk through it should walk in mourning and tribulation. What though her young heart should be broken by the lesson,--be broken after the fashion in which human hearts are made to suffer? To Madame Staubach's mind a broken heart and a contrite spirit were pretty much the same thing. It was good that hearts should be broken, that all the inner humanities of the living being should be, as it were, crushed on a wheel and ground into fragments, so that nothing should be left capable of receiving pleasure from the delights of this world. Such, according to her theory of life, was the treatment to which young women should be subjected. The system needed for men might probably be different. It was necessary that they should go forth and work; and Madame Staubach conceived it to be possible that the work of the world could not be adequately done by men who had been subjected to the crushing process which was requisite for women. Therefore it was that she admitted Peter Steinmarc to her confidence as a worthy friend, though Peter was by no means a man enfranchised from the thralls of the earth. Of young women there was but one with whom she could herself deal; but in regard to that one Madame Staubach was resolved that no softness of heart should deter her from her duty. "Linda," she said, after pausing for a while, "I desire to know from you what Herr Molk has said to you!" Then there was a short period of silence. "Linda, did he sanction your love for Ludovic Valcarm?"

"No," said Linda, sullenly.

"I should think not, indeed! And, Linda, did he bid you be rebellious in that other matter?"

Linda paused again before she answered; but it was but for a moment, and then she replied, in the same voice, "No."

"Did he tell you that you had better take Peter Steinmarc for your husband?" Linda could not bring herself to answer this, but sat beating the floor with her foot, and with her face turned away and her eyes fixed upon the wall. She was no longer sobbing now, but was hardening herself against her aunt. She was resolving that she would be a castaway,--that she would have nothing more to do with godliness, or even with decency. She had found godliness and decency too heavy to be borne. In all her life, had not that moment in which Ludovic had held her tight bound by his arm round her waist been the happiest? Had it not been to her, her one single morsel of real bliss? She was thinking now whether she would fly round upon her aunt and astonish her tyrant by a declaration of principles that should be altogether new. Then came the question again in the same hard voice, "Did he not tell you that you had better take Peter Steinmarc for your husband?"

"I won't take Peter Steinmarc for my husband," said Linda; and she did in part effect that flying round of which she had been thinking. "I won't take Peter Steinmarc for my husband, let the man say what he may. How can I marry him if I hate him? He is a--beast."

Then Madame Staubach groaned. Linda had often heard her groan, but had never known her to groan as she groaned now. It was very deep and very low, and prolonged with a cadence that caused Linda to tremble in every limb. And Linda understood it thoroughly. It was as though her aunt had been told by an angel that Satan was coming to her house in person that day. And Linda did that which the reader also should do. She gave to her aunt full credit for pure sincerity in her feelings. Madame Staubach did believe that Satan was coming for her niece, if not actually come; he was close at hand, if not arrived. The crushing, if done at all, must be done instantly, so that Satan should find the spirit so broken and torn to paltry fragments as not to be worth his acceptance. She stretched forth her hand and took hold of her niece. "Linda," she said, "do you ever think of the bourne to which the wicked ones go;--they who are wicked as you now are wicked?"

"I cannot help it," said Linda.

"And did he not bid you take this man for your husband?"

"I will not do his bidding, then! It would kill me. Do you not know that I love Ludovic better than all the world? He is in prison, but shall I cease to love him for that reason? He came to me once up-stairs at night when you were sitting here with that--beast, and I swore to him then that I would never love another man,--that I should never marry anybody else!"

"Came to you once up-stairs at night! To your own chamber?"

"Yes, he did. You may know all about it, if you please. You may know everything. I don't want anything to be secret. He came to me, and when he had his arms round me I told him that I was his own,--his own,--his own. How can I be the wife of another man after that?"

Madame Staubach was so truly horrified by what she had first heard, was so astonished, that she omitted even to groan. Valcarm had been with this wretched girl up in her own chamber! She hardly even now believed that which it seemed to her that she was called upon to believe, having never as yet for a moment doubted the real purity of her niece even when she was most vehemently denouncing her as a reprobate, a castaway, and a child of Satan. The reader will know to what extent Linda had been imprudent, to what extent she had sinned. But Madame Staubach did not know. She had nothing to guide her but the words of this poor girl who had been so driven to desperation by the misery which enveloped her, that she almost wished to be taken for worse than she was in order that she might escape the terrible doom from which she saw no other means of escape. Nobody, it is true, could have forced her to marry Peter Steinmarc. There was no law, no custom in Nuremberg, which would have assisted her aunt, or Peter, or even the much-esteemed and venerable Herr Molk himself, in compelling her to submit to such nuptials. She was free to exercise her own choice, if only she had had strength to assert her freedom. But youth, which rebels so often against the authority and wisdom of age, is also subject to much tyranny from age. Linda did not know the strength of her own position, had not learned to recognise the fact of her own individuality. She feared the power of her aunt over her, and through her aunt the power of the man whom she hated; and she feared the now provoked authority of Herr Molk, who had been with her weak as a child is weak, counselling her to submit herself to a suitor unfitted for her, because another man who loved her was also unfit. And, moreover, Linda, though she was now willing in her desperation to cast aside all religious scruples of her own, still feared those with which her aunt was armed. Unless she did something, or at least said something, to separate herself entirely from her aunt, this terrible domestic tyrant would overcome her by the fear of denunciation, which would terrify her soul even though she had dared to declare to herself that in her stress of misery she would throw overboard all consideration of her soul's welfare. Though she intended no longer to live in accordance with her religious belief, she feared what religion could say to her,--dreaded to the very marrow of her bones the threats of God's anger and of Satan's power with which her aunt would harass her. If only she could rid herself of it all! Therefore, though she perceived that the story which she had told of herself had filled her aunt's mind with a horrible and a false suspicion, she said nothing to correct the error. Therefore she said nothing further, though her aunt sat looking at her with open mouth, and eyes full of terror, and hands clasped, and pale cheeks.

"In this house,--in this very house!" said Madame Staubach, not knowing what it might best become her to say in such a strait as this.

"The house is as much mine as yours," said Linda, sullenly. And she too, in saying this, had not known what she meant to say, or what she ought to have said. Her aunt had alluded to the house, and there seemed to her, in her distress, to be something in that on which she could hang a word.

For a while her aunt sat in silence looking at Linda, and then she fell upon her knees, with her hands clasped to heaven. What was the matter of her prayers we may not here venture to surmise; but, such as they were, they were sincere. Then she arose and went slowly as far as the door, but she returned before she had reached the threshold. "Wretched child!" she said.

"Yes, you have made me wretched," said Linda.

"Listen to me, Linda, if so much grace is left to you. After what you have told me, I cannot but suppose that all hope of happiness or comfort in this world is over both for you and me."

"For myself, I wish I were dead," said Linda.

"Have you no thought of what will come after death? Oh, my child, repentance is still possible to you, and with repentance there will come at length grace and salvation. Mary Magdalene was blessed,--was specially blessed among women."

"Pshaw!" said Linda, indignantly. What had she to do with Mary Magdalene? The reality of her position then came upon her, and not the facts of that position which she had for a moment almost endeavoured to simulate.

"Do you not hate yourself for what you have done?"

"No, no, no. But I hate Peter Steinmarc, and I hate Herr Molk, and if you are so cruel to me I shall hate you. I have done nothing wrong. I could not help it if he came up-stairs. He came because he loved me, and because you would not let him come in a proper way. Nobody else loves me, but he would do anything for me. And now they have thrown him into prison!"

The case was so singular in all its bearings, that Madame Staubach could make nothing of it. Linda seemed to have confessed her iniquity, and yet, after her confession, spoke of herself as though she were the injured person,--of herself and her lover as though they were both ill used. According to Madame Staubach's own ideas, Linda ought now to have been in the dust, dissolved in tears, wiping the floor with her hair, utterly subdued in spirit, hating herself as the vilest of God's creatures. But there was not even an outward sign of contrition. And then, in the midst of all this real tragedy, Tetchen brought in the dinner. The two women sat down together, but neither of them spoke a word. Linda did eat something,--a morsel or two; but Madame Staubach would not touch the food on the table. Then Tetchen was summoned to take away the all but unused plates. Tetchen, when she saw how it had been, said nothing, but looked from the face of one to the face of the other. "She has heard all about that scamp Ludovic," said Tetchen to herself, as she carried the dishes back into the kitchen.

It had been late when the dinner had been brought to them, and the dusk of the evening came upon them as soon as Tetchen's clatter with the crockery was done. Madame Staubach sat in her accustomed chair, with her eyes closed, and her hands clasped on her lap before her. A stranger might have thought that she was asleep, but Linda knew that her aunt was not sleeping. She also sat silent till she thought that the time was drawing near at which Steinmarc might probably enter the parlour. Then she arose to go, but could not leave her aunt without a word. "Aunt Charlotte," she said, "I am ill,--very ill; my head is throbbing, and I will go to bed." Madame Staubach merely shook her head, and shook her hands, and remained silent, with her eyes still closed. She had not even yet resolved upon the words with which it would be expedient that she should address her niece. Then Linda left the room, and went to her own apartment.

Madame Staubach, when she was alone, sobbed and cried, and kneeled and prayed, and walked the length and breadth of the room in an agony of despair and doubt. She also was in want of a counsellor to whom she could go in her present misery. And there was no such counsellor. It seemed to her to be impossible that she should confide everything to Peter Steinmarc. And yet it was no more than honest that Peter should be told before he was allowed to continue his courtship. Even now, though she had seen Linda's misery, Madame Staubach thought that the marriage which she had been so anxious to arrange would be the safest way out of all their troubles,--if only Peter might be brought to consent to it after hearing all the truth. And she fancied that those traits in Peter's character, appearance, and demeanour which were so revolting to Linda would be additional means of bringing Linda back from the slough of despond,--if only such a marriage might still be possible. But the crushing must be more severe than had hitherto been intended, the weights imposed must be heavier, and the human atoms smaller and more like the dust.

While she was meditating on this there came the usual knock at the door, and Steinmarc entered the room. She greeted him, as was her wont, with but a word or two, and he sat down and lighted his pipe. An observant man might have known, even from the sound of her breathing, that something had stirred Madame Staubach more than usual. But Peter was not an observant man, and, having something on his own mind, paid but little attention to the widow. At last, having finished his first pipe and filled it again, he spoke. "Madame Staubach," he said, "I have been thinking about Linda Tressel."

"And so have I, Peter," said Madame Staubach.

"Yes,--of course; that is natural. She is your niece, and you and she have interests in common."

"What interests, Peter? Ah me! I wish we had."

"Of course it is all right that you should, and I say nothing about that. But, Madame Staubach, I do not like to be made a fool of;--I particularly object to be made a fool of. If Linda is to become my wife, there is not any time to be lost." Then Peter recommenced the smoking of his new-lighted pipe with great vigour.

Madame Staubach at this moment became a martyr to great scruples. Was it her duty, or was it not her duty, to tell Peter at this moment all that she had heard to-day? She rather thought that it was her duty to do so, and yet she was restrained by some feeling of feminine honour from disgracing her niece,--by some feeling of feminine honour for which she afterwards did penance with many inward flagellations of the spirit.

"You must not be too hard upon her, Peter," said Madame Staubach with a trembling voice.

"It is all very well saying that, and I do not think that I am the man to be hard upon any one. But the fact is that this young woman has got a lover, which is a thing of which I do not approve. I do not approve of it at all, Madame Staubach. Some persons who stand very high indeed in the city,--indeed I may say that none in Nuremberg stand higher,--have asked me to-day whether I am engaged to marry Linda Tressel. What answer am I to make when I am so asked, Madame Staubach? One of our leading burgomasters was good enough to say that he hoped it was so for the young woman's sake." Madame Staubach, little as she knew of the world of Nuremberg, was well aware who was the burgomaster. "That is all very well, my friend; but if it be so that Linda will not renounce her lover,--who, by the by, is at this moment locked up in prison, so that he cannot do any harm just now,--why then, in that case, Madame Staubach, I must renounce her." Having uttered these terrible words, Peter Steinmarc smoked away again with all his fury.

A fortnight ago, had Peter Steinmarc ventured to speak to her in this strain, Madame Staubach would have answered him with some feminine pride, and would have told him that her niece was not a suppliant for his hand. This she did not dare to do now. She was all at fault as to facts, and did not know what the personages of Nuremberg might be saying in respect to Linda. Were she to quarrel altogether with Steinmarc, she thought that there would be left to her no means of bringing upon Linda that salutary crushing which alone might be efficacious for her salvation. She was therefore compelled to temporise. Let Peter be silent for a week, and at the end of that week let him speak again. If things could not then be arranged to his satisfaction, Linda should be regarded as altogether a castaway.

"Very well, Madame Staubach. Then I will ask her for the last time this day week." In coarsest sackcloth, and with bitterest ashes, did Madame Staubach on that night do spiritual penance for her own sins and for those of Linda Tressel.

This week had nearly passed to the duration of which Peter Steinmarc had assented, and at the end of which it was to be settled whether Linda would renounce Ludovic Valcarm, or Peter himself would renounce Linda. With a manly propriety he omitted any spoken allusion to the subject during those smoking visits which he still paid on alternate days to the parlour of Madame Staubach. But, though he said nothing, his looks and features and the motions of his limbs were eloquent of his importance and his dignity during this period of waiting. He would salute Madame Staubach when he entered the chamber with a majesty of demeanour which he had not before affected, and would say a few words on subjects of public interest--such as the weather, the price of butter, and the adulteration of the city beer--in false notes, in tones which did not belong to him, and which in truth disgusted Madame Staubach, who was sincere in all things. But Madame Staubach, though she was disgusted, did not change her mind or abandon her purpose. Linda was to be made to marry Peter Steinmarc, not because he was a pleasant man, but because such a discipline would be for the good of her soul. Madame Staubach therefore listened, and said little or nothing; and when Peter on a certain Thursday evening remarked as he was leaving the parlour that the week would be over on the following morning, and that he would do himself the honour of asking for the fraulein's decision on his return from the town-hall at five P.M. on the morrow, apologising at the same time for the fact that he would then be driven to intrude on an irregular day, Madame Staubach merely answered by an assenting motion of her head, and by the utterance of her usual benison, "God in His mercy be with you, Peter Steinmarc." "And with you too, Madame Staubach." Then Peter marched forth with great dignity, holding his pipe as high as his shoulder.

Linda Tressel had kept her bed during nearly the whole week, and had in truth been very ill. Hitherto it had been her aunt's scheme of life to intermit in some slight degree the acerbity of her usual demeanour in periods of illness. At such times she would be very constant with the reading of good books by the bedside and with much ghostly advice to the sufferer, but she would not take it amiss if the patient succumbed to sleep while she was thus employed, believing sleep to be pardonable at such times of bodily weakness, and perhaps salutary; and she would be softer in her general manner, and would sometimes descend to the saying of tender little words, and would administer things agreeable to the palate which might at the same time be profitable to the health. So thus there had been moments in which Linda had felt that it would be comfortable to be always ill. But now, during the whole of this week, Madame Staubach had been very doubtful as to her conduct. At first it had seemed to her that all tenderness must be misplaced in circumstances so terrible, till there had been an actual resolution of repentance, till the spirit had been made to pass seven times through the fire, till the heart had lost all its human cords and fibres. But gradually, and that before the second day had elapsed, there came upon her a conviction that she had in some way mistaken the meaning of Linda's words, and that matters were not as she had supposed. She did not now in the least doubt Linda's truth. She was convinced that Linda had intentionally told no falsehood, and that she would tell none. But there were questions which she would not ask, which she could not ask at any rate except by slow degrees. Something, however, she learned from Tetchen, something from Linda herself, and thus there came upon her a conviction that there might be no frightful story to tell to Peter,--that in all probability there was no such story to be told. What she believed at this time was in fact about the truth.

But if it were as she believed, then was it the more incumbent on her to see that this marriage did not slip through her fingers. She became very busy, and in her eagerness she went to Herr Molk. Herr Molk had learned something further about Ludovic, and promised that he would himself come down and see "the child." He would see "the child," ill as she was, in bed, and perhaps say a word or two that might assist. Madame Staubach found that the burgomaster was quite prepared to advocate the Steinmarc marriage, being instigated thereto apparently by his civic horror at Valcarm's crimes. He would shake his head, and swing his whole body, and blow out the breath from behind his cheeks, knitting his eyebrows and assuming a look of terror when it was suggested to him that the daughter of his old friend, the undoubted owner of a house in Nuremberg, was anxious to give herself and her property to Ludovic Valcarm. "No, no, Madame Staubach, that mustn't be;--that must not be, my dear Madame. A rebel! a traitor! I don't know what the young man hasn't done. It would be confiscated;--confiscated! Dear, dear, only to think of Josef Tressel's daughter! Let her marry Peter Steinmarc, a good man,--a very good man! Followed her father, you know, and does his work very well. The city is not what it used to be, Madame Staubach, but still Peter does his work very well." Then Herr Molk promised to come down to the red house, and he did come down.

But Madame Staubach could not trust everything to Herr Molk. It was necessary that she should do much before he came, and much probably after he went. As her conception of the true state of things became strong, and as she was convinced also that Linda was really far from well, her manner became kinder, and she assumed that sickbed tenderness which admitted of sleep during the reading of a sermon. But it was essential that she should not forget her work for an hour. Gradually Linda was taught to understand that on such a day Steinmarc was to demand an answer. When Linda attempted to explain that the answer had been already given, and could not be altered, her aunt interrupted her, declaring that nothing need be said at the present moment. So that the question remained an open question, and Linda understood that it was so regarded. Then Madame Staubach spoke of Ludovic Valcarm, putting up her hands with dismay, and declaring what horrid things Herr Molk had told of him. It was at that moment that Linda was told that she was to be visited in a day or two by the burgomaster. Linda endeavoured to explain that though it might be necessary to give up Ludovic,--not saying that she would give him up,--still it was not on that account necessary also that she should marry Peter Steinmarc. Madame Staubach shook her head, and implied that the necessity did exist. Things had been said, and things had been done, and Herr Molk was decidedly of opinion that the marriage should be solemnised without delay. Linda, of course, did not submit to this in silence; but gradually she became more and more silent as her aunt continued in a low tone to drone forth her wishes and her convictions, and at last Linda would almost sleep while the salutary position of Peter Steinmarc's wife was being explained to her.

The reader must understand that she was in truth ill, prostrated by misery, doubt, and agitation, and weak from the effects of her illness. In this condition Herr Molk paid his visit to her. He spoke, in the first place, of the civil honour which she had inherited from her respected father, and of all that she owed to Nuremberg on this account. Then he spoke also of that other inheritance, the red house, explaining to her that it was her duty as a citizen to see that this should not be placed by her in evil hands. After that he took up the subject of Peter Steinmarc's merits; and according to Herr Molk, as he now drew the picture, Peter was little short of a municipal demigod. Prudent he was, and confidential. A man deep in the city's trust, and with money laid out at interest. Strong and healthy he was,--indeed lusty for his age, if Herr Molk spoke the truth. Poor Linda gave a little kick beneath the clothes when this was said, but she spoke no word of reply. And then Peter was a man not given to scolding, of equal temper, who knew his place, and would not interfere with things that did not belong to him. Herr Molk produced a catalogue of nuptial virtues, and endowed Peter with them all. When this was completed, he came to the last head of his discourse,--the last head and the most important. Ludovic Valcarm was still in prison, and there was no knowing what might be done to him. To be imprisoned for life in some horrible place among the rats seemed to be the least of it. Linda, when she heard this, gave one slight scream, but she said nothing. Because Herr Molk was a burgomaster, she need not on that account believe every word that fell from his mouth. But the cruellest blow of all was at the end. When Ludovic was taken, there had been--a young woman with him.

"What young woman?" said Linda, turning sharply upon the burgomaster.

"Not such a young woman as any young man ought to be seen with," said Herr Molk.

"What matters her name?" said Madame Staubach, who, during the whole discourse, had been sitting silent by the bedside.

"I don't believe a word of it," said Linda.

"I saw the young woman in his company, my dear. She had a felt hat and a blue frock. But, my child, you know nothing of the lives of such young men as this. It would not astonish me if he knew a dozen young women! You don't suppose that such a one as he ever means to be true?"

"I am sure he meant to be true to me," said Linda.

"T-sh, t-sh, t-sh! my dear child; you don't know the world, and how should you? If you want to marry a husband who will remain at home and live discreetly, and be true to you, you must take such a man as Peter Steinmarc."

"Of course she must," said Madame Staubach.

"Such a one as Ludovic Valcarm would only waste your property and drag you into the gutters."

"No more--no more," said Madame Staubach.

"She will think better of it, Madame Staubach. She will not be so foolish nor so wicked as that," said the burgomaster.

"May the Lord in His mercy give her light to see the right way," said Madame Staubach.

Then Herr Molk took his departure with Madame Staubach at his heels, and Linda was left to her own considerations. Her first assertion to herself was that she did not believe a word of it. She knew what sort of a man she could love as her husband without having Herr Molk to come and teach her. She could not love Peter Steinmarc, let him be ever so much respected in Nuremberg. As to what Herr Molk said that she owed to the city, that was nothing to her. The city did not care for her, nor she for the city. If they wished to take the house from her, let them do it. She was quite sure that Ludovic Valcarm had not loved her because she was the owner of a paltry old house. As to Ludovic being in prison, the deeper was his dungeon, the more true it behoved her to be to him. If he were among the rats, she would willingly be there also. But when she tried to settle in her thoughts the matter of the young woman with the felt hat and the blue frock, then her mind became more doubtful.

She knew well enough that Herr Molk was wrong in the picture which he drew of Peter; but she was not so sure that he was wrong in that other picture about Ludovic. There was something very grand, that had gratified her spirit amazingly, in the manner in which her lover had disappeared among the rafters; but at the same time she acknowledged to herself that there was much in it that was dangerous. A young man who can disappear among the rafters so quickly must have had much experience. She knew that Ludovic was wild,--very wild, and that wild young men do not make good husbands. To have had his arm once round her waist was to her almost a joy for ever. But she had nearly come to believe that if she were to have his arm often round her waist, she must become a castaway. And then, to be a castaway, sharing her treasure with another! Who was this blue-frocked woman, with a felt hat, who seemed to have been willing to do so much more for Ludovic than she had done,--who had gone with him into danger, and was sharing with him his perils?

But though she made a great fight against the wisdom of Herr Molk when she was first left to herself, the words of the burgomaster had their effect. Her enemies were becoming too strong for her. Her heart was weak within her. She had eaten little or nothing for the last few days, and the blood was running thinly through her veins. It was more difficult to reply to tenderness from her aunt than to harshness. And there came upon her a feeling that after all it signified but little. There was but a choice between one misery and another. The only really good thing would be to die and to have done with it all,--to die before she had utterly thrown away all hope, all chance of happiness in that future world in which she thoroughly believed. She was ill now, and if it might be that her illness would bring her to death;--but would bring her slowly, so that she might yet repent, and all would be right.

Madame Staubach said nothing more to her about Peter till the morning of that day on which Peter was to come for his answer. A little before noon Madame Staubach brought to her niece some weak broth, as she had done once before, on that morning. But Linda, who was sick and faint at heart, would not take it.

"Try, my dear," said Madame Staubach.

"I cannot try," said Linda.

"I wish particularly to speak to you,--now,--at once; and this will give you strength to listen to me." But Linda declined to be made strong for such a purpose, and declared that she could listen very well as she was. Then Madame Staubach began her great argument. Linda had heard what the burgomaster had said. Linda knew well what she, her aunt and guardian, thought about it. Linda could not but know that visits from a young man at her chamber door, such as that to which she herself had confessed, were things so horrible that they hardly admitted of being spoken of even between an aunt and her niece; and Madame Staubach's cheeks were hot and red as she spoke of this.

"If he had come to your door, aunt Charlotte, you could not have helped it."

"But he embraced you?"

"Yes, he did."

"Oh, my child, will you not let me save you from the evil days? Linda, you are all in all to me;--the only one that I love. Linda, Linda, your soul is precious to me, almost as my own. Oh, Linda, shall I pray for you in vain?" She sank upon her knees as she spoke, and prayed with all her might that God would turn the heart of this child, so that even yet she might be rescued from the burning. With arms extended, and loud voice, and dishevelled hair, and streaming tears, shrieking to Heaven in her agony, every now and again kissing the hand of the poor sinner, she besought the Lord her God that He would give to her the thing for which she asked;--and that thing prayed for with such agony of earnestness, was a consent from Linda to marry Peter Steinmarc! It was very strange, but the woman was as sincere in her prayer as is faith itself. She would have cut herself with knives, and have swallowed ashes whole, could she have believed that by doing so she could have been nearer her object. And she had no end of her own in view. That Peter, as master of the house, would be a thorn in her own side, she had learned to believe; but thorns in the sides of women were, she thought, good for them; and it was necessary to Linda that she should be stuck full of thorns, so that her base human desires might, as it were, fall from her bones and perish out of the way. Once, twice, thrice, Linda besought her aunt to arise; but the half frantic woman had said to herself that she would remain on her knees, on the hard boards, till this thing was granted to her. Had it not been said by lips that could not lie, that faith would move a mountain? and would not faith, real faith, do for her this smaller thing? Then there came questions to her mind, whether the faith was there. Did she really believe that this thing would be done for her? If she believed it, then it would be done. Thinking of all this, with the girl's hands between her own, she renewed her prayers. Once and again she threw herself upon the floor, striking it with her forehead. "Oh, my child! my child, my child! If God would do this for me! my child, my child! Only for my sin and weakness this thing would be done for me."

For three hours Linda lay there, hearing this, mingling her screams with those of her aunt, half fainting, half dead, now and again dozing for a moment even amidst the screams, and then struggling up in bed, that she might embrace her aunt, and implore her to abandon her purpose. But the woman would only give herself with the greater vehemence to the work. "Now, if the Lord would see fit, now,--now; if the Lord would see fit!"

Linda had swooned, her aunt being all unconscious of it, had dozed afterwards, and had then risen and struggled up, and was seated in her bed. "Aunt Charlotte," she said, "what is it--that--you want of me?"

"That you should obey the Lord, and take this man for your husband."

Linda stayed a while to think, not pausing that she might answer her aunt's sophistry, which she hardly noticed, but that she might consider, if it were possible, what it was that she was about to do;--that there might be left a moment to her before she had surrendered herself for ever to her doom. And then she spoke. "Aunt Charlotte," she said, "if you will get up I will do as you would have me."

Madame Staubach could not arise at once, as it was incumbent on her to return thanks for the mercy that had been vouchsafed to her; but her thanks were quickly rendered, and then she was on the bed, with Linda in her arms. She had succeeded, and her child was saved. Perhaps there was something of triumph that the earnestness of her prayer should have been efficacious. It was a great thing that she had done, and the Scriptures had proved themselves to be true to her. She lay for a while fondling her niece and kissing her, as she had not done for years. "Linda, dear Linda!" She almost promised to the girl earthly happiness, in spite of her creed as to the necessity for crushing. For the moment she petted her niece as one weak woman may pet another. She went down to the kitchen and made coffee for her,--though she herself was weak from want of food,--and toasted bread, and brought the food up with a china cup and a china plate, to show her gratitude to the niece who had been her convert. And yet, as she did so, she told herself that such gratitude was mean, vile, and mistaken. It had been the Lord's doing, and not Linda's.

Linda took the coffee and the toast, and tried to make herself passive in her aunt's hands. She returned Madame Staubach's kisses and the pressure of her hand, and made some semblance of joy, that peace should have been re-established between them two. But her heart was dead within her, and the reflection that this illness might even yet be an illness unto death was the only one in which she could find the slightest comfort. She had promised Ludovic that she would never become the wife of any one but him; and now, at the first trial of her faith, she had promised to marry Peter Steinmarc. She was forsworn, and it would hardly be that the Lord would be satisfied with her, because she had perjured herself! When her aunt left her, which Madame Staubach did as the dusk came on, she endeavoured to promise herself that she would never get well. Was not the very thought that she would have to take Peter for her husband enough to keep her on her sickbed till she should be beyond all such perils as that?

Madame Staubach, before she left the room, asked Linda whether she would not be able to dress herself and come down, so that she might say one word to her affianced husband. It should be but one word, and then she should be allowed to return. Linda would have declined to do this,--was refusing utterly to do it,--when she found that if she did not go down Peter would be brought up to her bedroom, to receive her troth there, by her bedside. The former evil, she thought, would be less than the latter. Steinmarc as a lover at her bedside would be intolerable to her; and then if she descended, she might ascend again instantly. That was part of the bargain. But if Peter were to come up to her room, there was no knowing how long he might stay there. She promised therefore that she would dress and come down as soon as she knew that the man was in the parlour. We may say for her, that when left alone she was as firmly resolved as ever that she would never become the man's wife. If this illness did not kill her, she would escape from the wedding in some other way. She would never put her hand into that of Peter Steinmarc, and let the priest call him and her man and wife. She had lied to her aunt--so she told herself,--but her aunt had forced the lie from her.

When Peter entered Madame Staubach's parlour he was again dressed in his Sunday best, as he had been when he made his first overture to Linda. "Good evening, Madame Staubach," he said.

"Good evening, Peter Steinmarc."

"I hope you have good news for me, Madame Staubach, from the maiden up-stairs."

Madame Staubach took a moment or two for thought before she replied. "Peter Steinmarc, the Lord has been good to us, and has softened her heart, and has brought the child round to our way of thinking. She has consented, Peter, that you should be her husband."

Peter was not so grateful perhaps as he should have been at this good news,--or rather perhaps at the manner in which the result seemed to have been achieved. Of course he knew nothing of those terribly earnest petitions which Madame Staubach had preferred to the throne of heaven on behalf of his marriage, but he did not like being told at all of any interposition from above in such a matter. He would have preferred to be assured, even though he himself might not quite have believed the assurance, that Linda had yielded to a sense of his own merits. "I am glad she has thought better of it, Madame Staubach," he said; "she is only just in time."

Madame Staubach was very nearly angry, but she reminded herself that people cannot be crushed by rose-leaves. Peter Steinmarc was to be taken, because he was Peter Steinmarc, not because he was somebody very different, better mannered, and more agreeable.

"I don't know how that may be, Peter."

"Ah, but it is so;--only just in time, I can assure you. But 'a miss is as good as a mile;' so we will let that pass."

"She is now ready to come down and accept your troth, and give you hers. You will remember that she is ill and weak; and, indeed, I am unwell myself. She can stay but a moment, and then, I am sure, you will leave us for to-night. The day has not been without its trouble and its toil to both of us."

"Surely," said Peter; "a word or two shall satisfy me to-night. But, Madame Staubach, I shall look to you to see that the period before our wedding is not protracted,--you will remember that." To this Madame Staubach made no answer, but slowly mounted to Linda's chamber.

Linda was already nearly dressed. She was not minded to keep her suitor waiting. Tetchen was with her, aiding her; but to Tetchen she had refused to say a single word respecting either Peter or Ludovic. Something Tetchen had heard from Madame Staubach, but from Linda she heard nothing. Linda intended to go down to the parlour, and therefore she must dress herself. As she was weak almost to fainting, she had allowed Tetchen to help her. Her aunt led her down, and there was nothing said between them as they went. At the door her aunt kissed her, and muttered some word of love. Then they entered the room together.

Peter was found standing in the middle of the chamber, with his left hand beneath his waistcoat, and his right hand free for the performance of some graceful salutation. "Linda," said he, as soon as he saw the two ladies standing a few feet away from him, "I am glad to see you down-stairs again,--very glad. I hope you find yourself better." Linda muttered, or tried to mutter, some words of thanks; but nothing was audible. She stood hanging upon her aunt, with eyes turned down, and her limbs trembling beneath her. "Linda," continued Peter, "your aunt tells me that you have accepted my offer. I am very glad of it. I will be a good husband to you, and I hope you will be an obedient wife."

"Linda," said Madame Staubach, "put your hand in his." Linda put forth her little hand a few inches, and Peter took it within his own, looking the while into Madame Staubach's face, as though he were to repeat some form of words after her. "You are now betrothed in the sight of God, as man and wife," said Madame Staubach; "and may the married life of both of you be passed to His glory.--Amen."

"Amen," said Steinmarc, like the parish clerk. Linda pressed her lips close together, so that there should be no possibility of a chance sound passing from them.

"Now, I think we will go back again, Peter, as the poor child can hardly stand." Peter raised no objection, and then Linda was conducted back again to her bed. There was one comfort to her in the remembrance of the scene. She had escaped the dreaded contamination of a kiss.

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Linda Tressel - Chapter 10
CHAPTER XPeter Steinmarc, now that he was an engaged man, affianced to a young bride, was urgent from day to day with Madame Staubach that the date of his wedding should be fixed. He soon found that all Nuremberg knew that he was to be married. Perhaps Herr Molk had not been so silent and discreet as would have been becoming in a man so highly placed, and perhaps Peter himself had let slip a word to some confidential friend who had betrayed him. Be this as it might, all Nuremberg knew of Peter's good fortune, and he soon found that
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Linda Tressel - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIIA walk of ten minutes took Linda from the Schuett island to the Egidien Platz, and placed her before the door of Herr Molk's house. The Egidien Platz is, perhaps, the most fashionable quarter of Nuremberg, if Nuremberg may be said to have a fashion in such matters. It is near to the Rathhaus, and to St. Sebald's Church, and is not far distant from the old Burg or Castle in which the Emperors used to dwell when they visited the imperial city of Nuremberg. This large open Place has a church in its centre, and around it are houses
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