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  ― 147 ―

Lenchen

“AH!” she said at last, so soft and slow it might almost have been a sigh.

He looked down at her anxiously. The little note of pain in her voice chilled him. It went jarringly with the green delight of the woods, the stream's murmur, his fearless heart singing for joy.

“Lenchen, what is it?” he cried. “What is it, darling?”

She lifted her delicate, proud little face from the thymy bank to smile up at him.

But the courage just born in her smile chilled him further.

He resented it oddly. It was alien to his emotions; to the situation; to her sweet promise warm upon his lips, thrilling in his heart.

Courage in her at such a moment! It was a disturbing, unnecessary sort of interruption. It troubled his highest ego. It discomposed his manhood.

In this golden hour it should be all joy with her, all splendid, unconditional, abounding joy, even as it was with him.

“Lenchen! Lenchen, mine!”




  ― 148 ―

“Albrecht!” she laughed softly, “poor Albrecht!” She looked up into his kind, strong face, and with her gentle gaze pierced straight to the trouble in his honest man's heart, as likewise to the ruffling of the equally virile spirit. And the causes of both, although to him as indefinable as they were incomprehensible, were to her quite crystal-clear. For the key to them lay in a subtle power of true vision, passed on to her through many a mother.

“Well, if you will, you will,” said she, obeying through sheer force of habit the entreaty in his eyes. Then for one little second she paused to hold his hand tight to her heart.

“But words,” she said, “are little fretting things; sometimes silence is better.”

“Tell me, Lenchen, mine.”

“Ach, Albrecht, what a man you are!” She laid her hands upon his arms, drew herself up by them, and stood beside him, slender, sweet, and fine. His blue eyes noted the majesty that made of her simple girl-hood so rare a thing, and they flashed like proud male sapphires.

She saw the flash, and again she laughed; but her laugh died at birth, and a sudden wistfulness quenched the little hint of mockery in her grey eyes.

“I was wondering how it would be to be always on the edge of life,” said she.

“But—but—Heart's beloved. How?”

“Can't you see? Oh, Albrecht, can't you see?” She stopped to read his perplexed face, to wonder at man, to realise the folly of words, yet, woman-like, to speak them. “You—you will plunge right into everything. You will see and know all things. You will


  ― 149 ―
also be seen and known by all.” Here Albrecht perceptibly winced. “While I? Why I shall just wait here until you come back, to hear your report upon it; to have it translated for me. Also,” she added with brilliant eyes, “also a little transposed!”

“But,” he cried, “you will be with me in spirit, dear Heart's delight.”

“Oh, yes! I was then wondering how the poor body would like that.”

He watched her surprised.

“First-hand knowledge is delightful,” she sighed.

She looked out into the twilight deepening to night in the dim shadow-land of the woods across the waters. She looked up at the little brown birds sailing in sleepy pairs to their scented homes. She leant her golden head against the silken silver bark of a young birch and bent her eyes to hide from them the confused dumb pain in Albrecht's.

“It was the wood that set me thinking,” she pleaded. “To-day, when we went together into the heart of it, it seemed strange to think that only next week you will disappear into that other great wood of the world, alone; into all its delights, and depths, and hidden mysteries. And I shall just wait outside to see you go and come again.”

“Isn't love enough, then?” he protested tenderly.

“Haven't I proved my faith in it?” said she.

But Albrecht still looked hurt. “And honour? That is satisfied.”

He lifted his proud head, and bit his little beautiful moustache.

“That too! Between us, we being we, only that was possible.”




  ― 150 ―

“Your mother was wholly content and glad.”

“So she was! My mother is a saint who has seen her full. She has also been seen her full.”

“The world,” he cried, at his wits' end. “That other great wood of the world, as you call it, is full of dangers, of fears, of unutterable hideousness.”

“The crowning delight of the wood,” she murmured, “is the boar with the grizzly tusks that we know lies hid in it.”

For a moment Albrecht stood stricken. So gentle, so sweet, so child-like, and such an utterance!

“Lenchen. Heart's dearest!” at last he faltered, his voice sounding stifled because of his keen pain. “Are you sorry? Do you indeed regret?”

The bride of twenty days looked once more towards the woods, longingly. Then her eyes returned to his face slowly, and rested there, as though they had found home. Then she laughed out clear and radiant.

“No; I am glad, I am glad. It's worth it,” she cried; “it's worth it all!”

But by this time she had taken her lesson in man in an intelligent spirit, and knew pretty well how much he could stand. She laid her soft pink cheek against Albrecht's breast, and made a little silent vow. Had he seen the recurrence of that misdirected courage in her smile as she did so, Albrecht would, no doubt, have suffered another little shiver. He perceived nothing, however, but a red ray of sun upon the gold of her hair, and the delicate round bend of her neck—utterly feminine combinations both, and soothing—the very sign and seal of her womanhood.

As they went home across the sleeping shadows, through the scents, fresh washed by the dew, and the


  ― 151 ―
songs which the hour made more tender—and the scents and the songs for them alone of all the world—Albrecht was thanking the Infinities, vague Teuton Infinities, their immensity veiled oddly under their homely swaddling clothes of sentiment, for the incomparable frail creature committed to his keeping.

He would prove himself worthy of all trust. He would guard his treasure as befitted his own honour and her priceless worth.

It was a divine reflection. The heart of Albrecht swelled like a young god's. His face shone.

Then impish fancy strayed back to the ill-timed courage in that singular smile. The young man grew sedate and pondered. His child-bride was now and then a little discomposing.

Sweet, yielding, uncritical, true woman to her pure heart's core, yet could her eyes see oddly keen and far.

Albrecht's ideals hitherto had gone with half-closed lids—an attitude exceeding lovely and pleasant. What need for piercing vision with a man's trained eyes at beck and call? Wherefore any cry for strength, with an experienced arm in its proper position supporting weakness?

The thing was out of order.

At the last stiff climb up the sheer precipice that led to the old wood-embosomed castle on the crag, the spirits of Albrecht flowed back in full measure.

In the matter of climbing, Lenchen was ideal through and through. She now clung to him precisely as she ought to do always. A little trustful, swaying, panting, pathetic feather-weight.

Albrecht's kiss as he clasped her trembled with a new tenderness.




  ― 152 ―

As for Lenchen, until the climb had absorbed the whole of her, she had been wondering how on earth she could ever manage to keep the vow she had imposed upon herself. And with each thought the proposed task grew but the more difficult.

Silence is good no doubt, and a discipline. But for herself Lenchen preferred speech. It was more simple and natural, and she was essentially a spontaneous girl this Lenchen.

Besides being of the blood royal, hereditary highnesses in their own right, the family of Albrecht—a stoical race—had for untold generations married into other hereditary highnesses of the blood unblendingly. An incredible number of quarterings, therefore, graced Albrecht's shield, and he had many responsibilities. These he took seriously and in order, and with unmurmuring fortitude attacked each in its kind.

He married, when twenty, another hereditary highness, with freckles and an uneven temper, and secured the succession.

Having drawn a hard breath or two, he then put aside morbidity, re-ordered his points of view, and remaining faithful to his wife, tried his best to endure her gracefully; also when a merciful consumption brought peace, to experience a reasonable degree of sorrow.

The boy inherited many of the attributes of his mother, and was hardly a son wholly to fill the heart of a father of six-and-twenty.

Having regard to this fact, the relatives of Albrecht being, despite their exalted sphere, but human, made a plentiful provision of marriageable hereditary highnesses, as good-looking as was at the moment possible, wherewith they hemmed him in on every side.




  ― 153 ―

Possibly they overdid it.

At any rate, Albrecht broke loose one day, and showed a disposition to seek solace amongst less exalted ladies.

The relaxation was but of short duration. For one summer's day he met Lenchen. And after that he respected all women, and loved one.

Lenchen was the daughter of a petty baron, with only a trifle of seven quarterings to his shield. There was not a trace of hereditary highness anywhere about her. And this was unfortunate, for in her heart she was a queen, pure and simple, and she looked it.

But what availed that with the blood royal in the way?

There are means, however, to circumvent even the blood royal, and a man's left hand may be as sure a shield and defence as his right, if only his heart be true. The thing is done daily, and custom makes morality.

Thus Albrecht felt no less chivalrous than usual, when, in a flood of harvest moonlight, he made a fervent and poetic offering of the wrong hand to his heart's beloved.

As for Lenchen, she hardly knew, so dearly did she love Albrecht, how the slight anomaly in the transaction struck her.

The old baron and his saintly wife had already, with a sagacity and swiftness almost miraculous, recognised the truth that lay in Albrecht, the Hereditary Prince of Schwallenberg. This fact, combined with their profound and pious belief in the blood, carried them over the fence gallantly. It is indeed doubtful, so high soared the paternal emotions, if they were conscious of any fence to be crossed.




  ― 154 ―

They wept certainly at the wedding freely. Given their age and atmosphere, they could not well have done otherwise. But no trace of misgiving, still less of shame, did there enter into these tears to interfere with their restful balm.

Lenchen went forth from the home of her ancestors crowned with pious blessings.

The leanness of sorrow brings thought to the host; the fulness of joy to a little handful.

Lenchen found it one day when her delight had grown so keen that it hurt her.

She was tired a little after all those long hot, lovely days with Albrecht beside the waters, amidst the woods. And so, when he was called away to meet a messenger from the outer world, she stayed in her place to think of her happiness.

This was to hazard a great deal; for happiness is too delicate and shy a thing to be dissected. The touches of women upon their own affairs, however tender, partake always a little of the scalpel-knife, and happiness being a fine, timid thing, is easily startled.

Also to be alone amidst green trees, beside running waters, brings truth too close.

Presently the beckoning mystery of the woods and the beckoning mystery of the world got curiously jumbled in Lenchen's brain; while, with Albrecht's out of the way, it grew quite an easy matter to believe in the reality of her own divine rights and his assertions concerning them. For the first time in her short life, Lenchen was clearly conscious that she too had been made to reign.

She was aware of herself. She was quite wide-awake.


  ― 155 ―
A thousand new points of view sprang up like live flames in the rich young heart of the girl.

Albrecht was as sensitive as he was proud, and all that scented morning he had been telling his young wife of all the beautiful arrangements he had been making on her behalf. And so long as her head had lain upon his breast, just so long had his intense masculinity carried her with it.

His superb sense of responsibility had touched and thrilled her exquisitely. She felt as she always did when half-way up the precipice, ready to throw herself joyously upon his strength.

And indeed nothing could have sounded more alluring than did Albrecht's plans. And his voice could any day transform an Amazon into a slave. He had a gift in that direction.

He was so thorough too, no smallest detail had been forgotten; while in the great things his generosity shone resplendent.

That very hour had he presented her with the title-eeds of the Schloss Rehberg. The yellow roll of parchment lay even now across her feet.

Rehberg should be their home. Amongst its woods, beside its waters, would they garner every joy of heaven, and with a touch of earth make each endurable.

Together in these terraced gardens, under the white guelder roses, would they learn of all wisdom; Albrecht keeping one little step in advance in order to sweep from her path any dross unsuitable to the feminine understanding.

Albrecht's manner of putting these delicate matters was inimitable.




  ― 156 ―

Never should the base world come nearer to disturb their ecstacy than the little red roofs of Bayreuth twinkling out through their green trees, just visible from the grassed steps that led to the rose garden. Rehberg was from henceforth to be for Albrecht home and hope and love and peace, the heart of life the centre of growth.

There were certain official hours, however, which must be won through worthily elsewhere; likewise a little unloved son to be tenderly entreated and made one day into a man and a king. These things also must take place elsewhere.

Here Albrecht had looked at his young wife and sighed. He was thinking of the sweet untried mother's heart, so ready to throb for that little son and sterilise the alien blood in him. But remembering its degree, when just upon the verge of cursing it, Albrecht paused and felt surprised at his impious lapse.

As he returned from his official audience Albrecht was re-ordering his wild imaginings and making a thousand tender, yet reasonable, resolves. In his new sketch of life there was to be no tampering with the right. Noblesse oblige was the motto of his tribe. A guide as sure as it was unflinching, and unswervingly would he follow it. Yes! For all the years to come must he parcel out his hours with mathematical conscientiousness, must seek heaven in one Schloss, suffer earth in the other.

Above all he must guard his Lenchen as befitted his manhood. At all costs must he spare her any breath of misapprehension; keep her unspotted from the world. True, it was not every man that took his


  ― 157 ―
morganatic wife or her position thus seriously. But then Albrecht was not as other men. He came, moreover, of a family of high ideals; more especially in regard to the treatment of interlopers within their ranks.

And a woman's guarded life! In good sooth it was a beautiful thing to contemplate. It thrilled and developed the highest and best in a man. Merely to think of it was a liberal education.

At this moment Lenchen stood up to meet him, with all the prickings of a queen in her.

But since the first-fruits of her sovereign power was a budding knowledge of Man, after her one little vague protest, she kept her vow faithfully.

And if there did come faltering moments in Albrecht's triumphant life wherein he caught glimpses of some disturbing note of interrogation somewhere, being, for a man, happily constituted, he seemed always able to cast it out upon the heap of other world-tainted interruptions he laid down always outside the threshold of home.

And so Albrecht came and went. He came to rest and refresh himself. He came to grow and learn. But of this he was happily unconscious. It were indeed a hard and bitter Providence that had made it quite clear to Albrecht patiently cultivating Lenchen's simple mind that the kingliness that grew in him with each year, the high purpose and resolve, the splendid potency and the gentle heart, were gathered mostly in the old terraced gardens beside his morganatic wife.

Perhaps the only good seed that sprouted but faintly


  ― 158 ―
in Albrecht was his sense of humour. That possibly was Lenchen's fault, for she neglected to water it—at first because she was herself too sad and foolish to recognise any need for watering; and afterwards, when she had grown wiser, she stayed her hand lest Albrecht, when now too late, should see wherein and how much he had hurt her.

And always when he went forth from her, although her conquering spirit went with him, yet did her poor little defeated body like the permanency of its stay at home each day the less.

For, womanlike, the farther power made manifest receded from her, only the dearer did it grow.

Meanwhile, in her beautiful retreat the years forgot to touch her, and by her ever-fresh and fragrant youth Albrecht knew that he had done well.

The odd thing was that although kept so lonely and apart in loveliest seclusion, as the years passed Lenchen's name became one to conjure with. Albrecht put this down to the adorable aloofness in her position. Familiarity is the death of reverence.

There was always a fine, severe simplicity about Albrecht's thoughts as applied to women.

But there were other causes at work in Lenchen's canonisation. For it was nothing more exalted or esoteric than her own little human hands and touches while gathered to her the hearts of Albrecht's poor. And it is always from out the hearts and mouths of the poor that saints grow.

Not indeed that Lenchen experienced any conscious hankerings after sainthood. An early and intimate connection with the state had complicated life for her somewhat too confusingly. But her heart was so big


  ― 159 ―
that it could not be cramped half idle into any terraced garden permanently.

And as her own little babies were caught away from her one by one, each leaving behind it, for a token, its little lesson of pain and sweetness, and a more bitter ache for that other little creature who, being Albrecht's, was hers also, now being taught manners by his serene and hereditary kinsfolk, so unbearable grew the loneliness at last, and so difficult to conceal from Albrecht, that one day she paused to consider. And from fear grown meeker, she listened at last to the whisperings of God in her heart, and followed whither the whisper led.

For, given a woman who is in the soul of her a true queen, one day the call will come, and she must forth to find her kingdom.

Lenchen found hers in the hearts of Albrecht's poor.

Still the years went on and Albrecht's son learnt many courtly graces. He seemed, however, powerless to unlearn the quality of his mother. To thaw that out of him it needed the enduring warmth of sheltering love.

Perhaps the one inextinguishable sorrow of Albrecht's life was his son; an abiding mute sorrow that breaks the life in a man.

And he had to bear it alone. It was hardly Lenchen's hand that could soothe this pain. Nor could he apologise to his haughty son for that wherein he had defrauded him. Even German sentiment could scarce venture upon such lengths as these.




  ― 160 ―

Nothing being lost, however, all this may possibly go to the squaring of Albrecht's account upon that Great Day, and break for him the crushing shock of discovering himself in the end a prig.

One day a great sickness fell upon the Prince and he knew that it was the beginning of the long night.

Lenchen had been through life his star, so it was but natural that in death he should keep his eyes fixed steadfastly upon her. During that strange illuminating gaze he learnt a great deal. But as he was trying to tell her of it he died.

And thus it came to pass that Lenchen kept her regal vow of silence until the end.

Even as it came Albrecht's son arrived from a distant court.

He sent gentle messages to his father's widow. For Albrecht the younger was never out of order, and piqued himself upon his skill in manœuvring a delicate situation.

But he carried off his father's body to its official home, there to lie in reputable state, where self-respecting hereditary highnesses could do their duty by it.

The first and last and only time that Lenchen ever crossed the threshold of her husband's palace was the next night. She disdained to crave permission to watch openly beside her dead, which was indeed a sore disappointment to the dead man's son; for, ever gracious and thoughtful, he had given full directions for the lady's admission, with a masterly intuition, arranging hours and doors with a due regard to Lenchen's claims and his relatives' sensations.




  ― 161 ―

Lenchen, however, asked neither leave nor ceremonial.

But when the night fell upon the first day of her widowhood, she drove through the dim aisles of the great trees across the parks, and dismounting, walked alone and unattended up the avenue of beeches, to kneel for the last time beside her dearest. And at the first flush of dawn she walked out again, through the stately hall, tall, straight, and fine, with the proud fires of courage all undimmed in her splendid eyes.

One day Lenchen put out her hands once more to pick up the threads of her shattered life, and her indiscretion no longer the cause of offence to any high well-born one, she found Albrecht's world, which, to give it its due, has a picturesque instinct, quite ready to find out things from vivâ voce examinations, conducted with all due honour to the central figure of an engaging romance now happily rendered innocuous.

But Lenchen preferred silence and the kingdom of her poor.

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