Meïr Aron Goldschmidt
The Flying Mail
Meïr Aron Goldschmidt (Denmark)
Fritz Bagger had just been admitted to the bar. He had come home and entered his room, seeking rest. All his mental faculties were now relaxed after their recent exertion, and a long-restrained power was awakened. He had reached a crisis in life: the future lay before him,—the future, the future! What was it to be? He was twenty-four years old, and could turn himself whichever way he pleased, let fancy run to any line of the compass. Out upon the horizon, he saw little rose-colored clouds, and nothing therein but a certain undefined bliss. He put his hands over his eyes, and sought to bring this uncertainty into clear vision; and after a long time had elapsed, he said: "Yes, and so one marries."
"Yes, one marries," he continued, after a pause; "but whom?"
His thoughts now took a more direct course; but the pictures in his mind's eye had not become plainer. Again the horizon widely around was rose-colored, and between the tinted cloud-layers angel-heads peeped out—not Bible angels, which are neither man nor woman; but angelic girls, whom he didn't know, and who didn't know him. The truth was, he didn't know anybody to whom he could give his heart, but longed, with a certain twenty-four-year power, for her to whom he could offer it,—her who was worthy to receive his whole self-made being, and in exchange give him all that queer imagined bliss, which is or ought to be in the world, as every one so firmly believes.
"Oh, I am a fool!" he said, as he suddenly became conscious that he was merely dreaming and wishing. He tried to think of something practical, thought upon a little picnic that was to be held in the evening; but the same dream returned and overpowered him, because the season of spring was in him, because life thrilled in him as in trees and plants when the spring sun shines.
He leaned upon the window-seat—it was in an attic—and let the wind cool his forehead. But while the wind refreshed, the street itself gave his mind new nourishment. Down there it moved, to him unknown, and veiled and hidden as at a masquerade. What a treasure might not that easy virgin foot carry! What a fancy might there not be moving in the head under that little bonnet, and what a heart might there not be beating under the folds of that shawl! But, too, all this preciousness might belong to another.
Alas! yes, there were certainly many amiable ones down there!—and if destiny should lead him to one of them, who was free, lovely, well-bred, of good family, could any one vouch that for her sake he was not giving up HER, the beau-ideal, the expected, whose portrait had shown itself between the tinted clouds? or, in any event, who can vouch for one's success in not missing the right one?
"Oh! life is a lottery, a cruel lottery; for to everybody there is but one drawing, and the whole man is at stake. Woe to the loser!"
After the expiration of some time, Fritz, under the influence of these meditations, had become melancholy, and all bright, smiling, and sure as life had recently appeared to him, so misty, uncertain, and painful it now appeared. For the second time he stroked his forehead, shook these thoughts from him, seeking more practical ones, and for the second time it terminated in going to the window and gazing out.
A whirlwind filled the street, slamming gates and doors, shaking windows and carrying dust with it up to his attic chamber. He was in the act of drawing back, when he saw a little piece of paper whirled in the dust cloud coming closely near him. He shut his eyes to keep out the dust, grasping at random for the paper, which he caught. At the same moment the whirlwind ceased, and the sky was again clear. This appeared to him ominous; the scrap of paper had certainly a meaning to him, a meaning for him; the unknown whom he had not really spoken to, yet had been so exceedingly busy with, could not quite accidentally have thus conveyed this to his hands, and with throbbing heart he retired from the window to read the message.
One side of the paper was blank; in the left-hand corner of the other side was written "beloved," and a little below it seemed as if there had been a signature, but now there was nothing left excepting the letters "geb."
"'Geb,' what does that mean?" asked Fritz Bagger, with dark humor. "If it had been gek, I could have understood it, although it were incorrectly written. Geb, Gebrer, Algebra, Gebruderbuh,—I am a big fool."
"But it is no matter, she shall have an answer," he shouted after a while, and seated himself to write a long, glowing love-letter. When it was finished and read, he tore it in pieces.
"No," said he, "if destiny has intended the least thing by acting to me as mail-carrier through the window, let me act reasonably." He wrote on a little piece of paper:
"As the old Norwegians, when they went to Iceland, threw their high-seat pillars into the sea with the resolution to settle where they should go ashore, so I send this out. My faith follows after; and it is my conviction that where this alights, I shall one day come, and salute you as my chosen, as my—." "Yes, now what more shall I add?" he asked himself. "Ay, as my—'geb'—!" he added, with an outburst of merry humor, that just completed the whole sentimental outburst. He went to the window and threw the paper out; it alighted with a slow quivering. He was already afraid that it would go directly down into the ditch; but then a breeze came lifting it almost up to himself again, then a new current carried it away, lifting it higher and higher, whirling it, till at last it disappeared from his sight in continual ascension, so he thought.
"After all, I have become engaged to-day," he said to himself, with a certain quiet humor, and yet impressed by a feeling that he had really given himself to the unknown.
Six years had passed, and Fritz Bagger had made his mark, although not as a lover. He had become Counsellor, and was particularly distinguished for the skill and energy with which he brought criminals to confession. It is thus that a man of fine and poetic feelings can satisfy himself in such a business, for a time at least: with the half of his soul he can lead a life which to himself and others seems entire only because it is busy, because it keeps him at work, and fills him with a consciousness of accomplishing something practical and good. There is a youthful working power, which needs not to look sharply out into the future for a particular aim of feeling or desire. This power itself, by the mere effort to keep in a given place, is for such an organization, every day, an aim, a relish; and one can for a number of years drive business so energetically, that he, too, slips over that difficult time which in every twenty-four hours threatens to meet him, the time between work and sleep, twilight, when the other half of the soul strives to awaken.
Be it because his professional duties gave him no time or opportunity for courtship, or for some other reason, Fritz Bagger remained a bachelor; and a bachelor with the income of his profession is looked upon as a rich man. Counsellor Bagger would, when business allowed, enter into social life, treating it in that elegant, independent, almost poetic manner, which in most cases is denied to married men, and which is one reason why they press the hand of a bachelor with a sigh, a mixture of envy, admiration, and compassion. If we add here that a bachelor with such a professional income is the possible stepping-stone to an advantageous marriage, it is easily seen that Fritz Bagger was much sought for in company. He went, too, into it as often as allowed by his legal duties, from which he would hasten in the black "swallow-tail" to a dinner or soiree, and often amused himself where most others were weary; because conversation about anything whatever with the cultivated was to him a refreshment, and because he brought with him a good appetite and good humor, resting upon conscientious work. He could show interest in divers trifles, because in their nothingness (quite contrary to the trifles in which half an hour previous, with painful interest, he had ferreted out crime), they appeared to him as belonging to an innocent, childish world; and if conversation approached more earnest things, he spoke freely, and evidently gave himself quite up to the subject, letting the whole surface of his soul flow out. And this procured him friendship and reputation.
In this way, then, six years had slipped by, when Counsellor Bagger, or rather Fritz Bagger as we will call him, in remembrance of his examination-day, and his notes by the flying mail, was invited to a wedding-party on the shooting-ground. The company was not very large,—only thirty couples,—but very elegant. Bagger was a friend in the families of both bride and bridegroom, and consequently being well known to nearly all present he felt himself as among friends gathered by a mutual joy, and was more than usually animated. A superb wine, which the bride's father had himself brought, crowned their spirits with the last perfect wreath. Although the toast to the bridal pair had been officially proposed, Bagger took occasion to offer his congratulations in a second encomium of love and matrimony; which gave a solid, prosaic man opportunity for the witty remark and hearty wish that so distinguished a practical office-holder as Counsellor Bagger would carry his fine theories upon matrimony into practice. The toast was drunk with enthusiasm, and just at that moment a strong wind shook the windows, and burst open one of the doors, blowing so far into the hall as to cause the lights to flicker much.
Bagger became, through the influence of the wine, the company, and the sight of the happy bridal pair, six years younger. His soul was carried away from criminal and police courts, and found itself on high, as in the attic chamber, with a vision of the small tinted clouds and the angel-heads. The sudden gust of wind carried him quite back to the moment when he sent out his note as the Norwegian heroes their high-seat pillars: the spirit of his twenty-fourth year came wholly over him, queerly mixed with the half-regretful reflection of the thirtieth year, with fun, inclination to talk and to breathe; and he exclaimed, as he rose to acknowledge the toast:
"I am engaged."
"Ay! ay! Congratulate! congratulate!" sounded from all sides.
"This gust of wind, which nearly extinguished the lights, brought me a message from my betrothed!"
"What?" "What is it?" asked the company, their heads at that moment not in the least condition for guessing charades.
"Counsellor Bagger, have you, like the Doge of Venice, betrothed yourself to the sea or storm?" asked the bridegroom.
"Hear him, the fortunate! sitting upon the golden doorstep to the kingdom of love! Let him surmise and guess all that concerns Cupid, for he has obtained the inspiration, the genial sympathy," exclaimed Bagger. "Yes," he continued, "just like the Doge of Venice, but not as aristocratic! From my attic chamber, where I sat on my examination-day, guided by Cupid, in a manner which it would take too long to narrate, I gave to the whirlwind a love-letter, and at any moment SHE can step forward with my letter, my promise, and demand me soul and body."
"Who is it, then?" asked bridegroom and bride, with the most earnest interest.
"Yes, how can I tell that? Do I know the whirlwind's roads?"
"Was the letter signed with your name?"
"No; but don't you think I will acknowledge my handwriting?" replied
Bagger, quite earnestly.
This earnestness with reference to an obligation which no one understood became comical; and Bagger felt at the moment that he was on the brink of the ridiculous. Trying to collect himself, he said:
"Is it not an obligation we all have? Do not both bride and bridegroom acknowledge that long before they knew each other the obligation was present?"
"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the bridegroom.
"And the whirlwind, accident, the unknown power, brought them together so that the obligation was redeemed?"
"Let us, then," continued Bagger, "drink a toast to the wind, the accident, the moving power, unknown and yet controlling. To those of us who, as yet, are unprovided for and under forty, it will at some time undoubtedly bring a bride; to those who are already provided for will come the expected in another form. So a toast to the wind that came in here and flickered the lights; to the unknown, that brings us the wished for; and to ourselves, that we may be prepared to receive it when announced."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the bridegroom, looking upon his bride.
"Puh-h-h!" thought Bagger, seating himself with intense relief, "I have come out of it somewhat decently after all. The deuce take me before I again express a sentimentality."
How Counsellor Bagger that night could have fallen asleep, between memory, or longing and discontent, is difficult to tell, had he not on his arrival home found a package of papers, an interesting theft case. He sat down instantly to read, and day dawned ere they were finished. His last thought, before his eyelids closed, was,—Two years in the House of Correction.
A month later, toward the close of September, two ladies, twenty or twenty-two years of age, were walking in a garden about ten miles from Copenhagen. Although the walks were quite wide, impediments in them made it difficult for the ladies to go side by side. The autumn showed itself uneven and jagged. The currant and gooseberry boughs, that earlier hung in soft arches, now projected stiffly forth, catching in the ladies' dresses; branches from plum and apple trees hung bare and broken, and required attention above also. One of the ladies apparently was at home there: this was evident partly from her dress, which, although elegant, was domestic, and partly by her taking the lead and paying honor, by drawing boughs and branches aside, holding them until the other lady, who was more showily dressed, had slipped past. On account of the hindrances of the walk there were none of those easy, subdued, familiar conversations, which otherwise so naturally arise when young ladies, acquaintances, or "friends," visit each other, and from the house slip out alone into garden or wood. An attentive observer meanwhile, by scrutinizing the physiognomy of both, would, perhaps, have come to the conclusion, that even if these two had been together on the most unobstructed road, no confidence would have arisen between them, and would have suspected the hostess of trying to atone for her lack of interest, by being polite and careful. She was not strikingly handsome, but possessed of a fine nature, which manifested itself in the whole figure, and perhaps, especially, in the uncommonly well-formed nose; yet it was by peering into her eyes that one first obtained the idea of a womanhood somewhat superior to the generality of her sex. Their expression was not to be caught at once: they told of both meditation and resolve, and hinted at irony or badinage, which works so queerly when it comes from deep ground. The other lady was "burgherly-genteel," a handsome, cultivated girl, had certainly also some soul, but yet was far less busy with a world in her own heart than with the world of fashion. It was about the world, the world of Copenhagen, that Miss Brandt at this moment was giving Miss Hjelm an account, interrupted by the boughs and branches, and although Miss Hjelm was not, nun-like, indifferent either to fashions or incidents in high life, the manner in which Miss Brandt unmistakably laid her soul therein, caused her to go thus politely before.
"But you have heard about Emmy Ibsen's marriage?" asked Miss Brandt.
"Yes, it was about a month ago, I think."
"Yes, I was bridesmaid."
"Indeed!" said Miss Hjelm, in a voice which atoned for her brevity.
"The party was at the shooting-ground."
"So!" said Miss Hjelm again, with as correct an intonation as if she had learned it for "I don't care." "Take care, Miss Brandt," she added, stooping to avoid an apple-branch.
"Take care?—oh, for that branch!" said Miss Brandt, and avoided it as charmingly and coquettishly as if it had been living.
"It was very gay," she added, "even more so than wedding-parties commonly are; but this was caused a good deal by Counsellor Bagger."
"Yes, he was very gay … I was his companion at table.
"Oh, only to think! at the table he stands up declaring that he is engaged."
"Was his lady present?"
"No, that she was not, I think. Do you know who it was?"
"No, how should I know that, Miss Brandt?"
"Yes. He said that he, as a young man, in a solemn moment had sent his love letter or his promise out with the wind, and he was continually waiting for an answer: he had given his promise, was betrothed!—Ou!"
"What is it?" asked Miss Hjelm, sympathetically. The truth was, the young hostess at this moment had relaxed her polite care, and a limb of a gooseberry-bush had struck against Miss Brandt's ankle.
The pain was soon over; and the two ladies, who now had reached the termination of the walk, turned toward the house side by side, each protecting herself, unconscious that any change had occurred.
"But I hardly believe it," continued Miss Brandt: "he said it perhaps only to make himself conspicuous, for certain gentlemen are just as coquettish as … as they accuse us of being."
Miss Hjelm uttered a doubting, "Um!"
"Yes, that they really are! Have you ever seen any lady as coquettish as an actor?"
"I don't know any of them, but I should suppose an actress might be."
"No: no actress I have ever met of the better sort was really coquettish. I don't know how it is with them, but I believe they have overcome coquettishness."
"But you think, then, Counsellor Bang is coquettish?"
"Not Bang—Bagger. Yes; for although he said he had this romantic love for a fairy, he often does court to modest earthly ladies. He is properly somewhat of a flirt."
"That is unbecoming an old man."
"Yes; but he is not old."
"Oh!" said Miss Hjelm, laughing: "I have only known one war counsellor, and he was old; so I thought of all war counsellors as old."
"Yes; but Counsellor Bagger is not war counsellor, but a real Superior
"Oh, how earnest that is! And so he is in love with a fairy?"
"Yes: it is ridiculous!" said Miss Brandt, laughing. During this conversation they had reached the house, and Miss Brandt complained that something was yet pricking her ankle. They went into Miss Hjelm's room, and here a thorn was discovered and taken out.
"How pretty and cosy this room really is!" said Miss Brandt, looking around. "In a situation like this one can surely live in the country summer and winter. Out with us at Taarback it blows in through the windows, doors, and very walls."
"That must be bad in a whirlwind."
"Yes—yes: still, it might be quite amusing when the whirlwind carried such billets: not that one would care for them; yet they might be interesting for a while."
"Oh, yes! perhaps."
"Yes: how do you think a young girl would like it, when there came from Heaven a billet, in which one pledged himself to her for time and eternity?"
"That isn't easy to say; but I don't believe the occurrence quite so uncommon. A friend of mine once had such a billet blown to her, and she presented me with it."
"Does one give such things away? Have you the billet?"
"I will look for it," answered Miss Hjelm; and surely enough, after longer search in the sewing-table, in drawers, and small boxes, than was really necessary, she found it. Miss Brandt read it, taking care not to remark that it very much appeared to her as if it resembled the one the counsellor had mentioned.
"And such a billet one gives away!" she said after a pause.
"Yes: will you have it?" asked Miss Hjelm, as though after a sudden resolution.
Miss Brandt's first impulse was an eager acceptance; but she checked herself almost as quickly, and answered:
"Oh, yes, thank you, as a curiosity." Then slowly put it between her glove and hand.
As Miss Brandt and her company rode away, said Miss Hjelm's cousin, a handsome, middle-aged widow, to her:
"How is it, Ingeborg? It appears to me you laugh with one eye and weep with the other."
"Yes: a soap-bubble has burst for me, and glitters, maybe, for another."
"You know I seldom understand the sentimental enigmas: can you not interpret your words?"
"Yes: to-day an illusion has vanished, that had lasted for six years."
"For six years?" said her cousin, with an inquiring or sympathizing look. "So it began when you were hardly sixteen years."
"Now do you believe, that when I was in my sixteenth year I saw an ideal of a man, and was enamoured of him, and to-day I hear that he is married."
"No, I don't know as I believe just that," answered the cousin, dropping her eyes; "but I suppose that then you had a pretty vision, and have carried it along with you in silence—and with faith."
"But it was something more than a vision; it was a letter—a love-letter."
The cousin looked upon Ingeborg so inquiringly, so anxiously, that words were unnecessary. Beside this the cousin knew, that when Ingeborg was inclined to talk, she did so without being asked, and if she wished to be silent, she was silent.
Ingeborg continued: "One time, I drove to town with sainted father. Father was to go no further than to Noerrebro, and I had an errand at Vestervold. So I stepped out and went through the Love-path. As I came to the corner of the path, and the Ladegaardsway, the wind blew so violently against me, that I could hardly breathe; and something blew against my veil, fluttering with wings like a humming-bird. I tried to drive it away, for it blinded one of my eyes; but it blew back again. So I caught it and was going to let it fly away over my head, but that moment I saw it was written upon, and read it. It was a love-letter! A man wrote that he sent this as in old times the Norwegian emigrants let their high-seat pillars be carried by the sea, and where it came he would one time come, and bring his faith to his destined—Geb.'"
"'Geb'? What is that?" asked the cousin. "That is Ingeborg," answered Miss Hjelm, with a plain simplicity, showing how deeply she had believed in the earnestness of the message.
"It was really remarkable!" said the cousin, and added with a smile which perhaps was somewhat ironical: "And did you then resolve to remain unmarried, until the unknown letter-writer should come and redeem his vow?"
"I will not say that," answered Ingeborg, who quickly became more guarded; "but the letter perhaps contained some stronger requirements than under the circumstances could be fulfilled."
"So! and now?"
"Now I have presented the letter to Miss Brandt."
"You gave it away? Why?"
"Because I learned that the man, who perhaps or probably wrote it in his youth, has spoken about it publicly, and is counsellor in one of the courts."
"Oh, I understand," said the cousin, half audibly: "when the ideal is found out to be a counsellor, then—"
"Then it is not an ideal any longer? No. The whole had been spoiled by being fumbled in public. I would get away from the temptation to think of him. Do court to him, announce myself to him as the happy finder,—I could not."
"That I understand very well," said the cousin, putting her arm affectionately around Ingeborg's waist; "but why did you just give Miss Brandt the letter?"
"Because she is acquainted with the counsellor, and indeed, as far as I could understand, feels somewhat for him. They two can get each other; and what a wonderful consecration it will be when she on the marriage-day gives him the letter!"
The cousin said musingly: "And such secrets can live in one whole year, without another surmising it!" Suddenly she added: "But how will Miss Brandt on that occasion interpret the word 'Geb'?"
"Oh! I suppose a single syllable is of no consequence; and, besides, Miss Brandt is a judicious girl," answered Ingeborg, with an inexpressible flash in the dark eyes.
Good fortune seldom comes singly. One morning Criminal and Court Counsellor Bagger got, at his residence at Noerre Street, official intelligence that from the first of next month he was transferred to the King's Court, and in grace was promoted to be veritable counsellor of justice there; rank, fourth-class, number three. As, gratified by this friendly smile from above, he went out to repair to the court-house, he met in the porch a postman, who delivered him a letter. With thoughts yet busy with new title and court, Counsellor Bagger broke the letter, but remained as if fixed to the ground. In it he read:
"The high-seat pillars have come on shore.
One says well, that a man's love or season of courtship lasts till his thirtieth year, and after that time he is ambitious; but it is not always so, and with Counsellor Bagger it was in all respects the contrary. His ambition was already, if not fully reached, yet in some degree satisfied. The faculty of love had not been at all employed, and the letter came like a spark in a powder-cask; it ran glowing through every nerve. The youthful half of his soul, which had slept within him, wakened with such sudden, revolutionary strength, that the other half soul, which until now had borne rule, became completely subject; yes, so wholly, that Counsellor Bagger went past the court-house and came down in Court-house Street without noticing it. Suddenly he missed the big building with the pillars and inscription: "With law shall Lands be built;" looked around confused, and turned back.
So much was he still at this moment Criminal Examiner, that among the first thoughts or feelings which the mysterious letter excited in him was this: It can be a trick, a foolery. But in the next moment it occurred to him, that never to any living soul had he mentioned his bold figure of the high-seat pillars, and still less revealed the mysterious, to him so valued, syllable—geb—. No doubt could exist: the fine, perfumed paper, the delicate lady handwriting, and the few significant words testified, that the billet which once in youthful, sanguine longing he had entrusted to the winds of heaven, had come to a lady, and that in one way or another she had found him out. He remembered very well, that a single time, five or six weeks before, he had in a numerous company mentioned that incident, and he did not doubt that the story had extended itself as ripples do, when one throws a stone into the water; but where in the whole town, or indeed the land, had the ripple hit the exact point? He looked again at the envelope. It bore the stamp of the Copenhagen city mail: that was all. But that showed with some probability that the writer lived in Copenhagen, and maybe at this moment she looked down upon him from one of the many windows; for now he stood by the fountain. There was something in the paper, the handwriting, or more properly perhaps in the secrecy, that made her seem young, spirited, beautiful, piquant. There was something fairy-like, exalted, intoxicating, in the feeling that the object of the longing and hope of his youth had been under the protection of a good spirit, and that the great unknown had taken care of and prepared for him a companion, a wife, just at the moment when he had become Counsellor of Justice of the Superior Court. But who was she? This was the only thing painful in the affair; but this intriguing annoyance was not to be avoided, if the lady was to remain within her sphere, surrounded by respect and esteem.
"What would I have thought of a lady, a woman, who came straight forward and handed out the billet, saying: 'Here I am'?" he asked himself, at the moment when at last he had found the court-house stairs and was ascending.
How it fared that day with the examinations is recorded in criminal and police court documents; but a veil is thrown over it in consideration of the fact, that a man only once in his life is made Counsellor of Justice in the King's Court. The day following it went better; although it is pretty sure that a horse thief went free from further reproof, because the counsellor was busy rolling that stone up the mountain: Where shall I seek her if she does not write again? Will she write again? If she would do that, why did she not write a little more at first?
A couple of weeks after the receipt of the letter, one evening about seven o'clock, the counsellor sat at home, not as before by his writing-table busy with acts, but on a corner of the sofa, with drooping arms, deeply absorbed in a mixture of anxious doubts and dreaming expectations. Hope built air-castles, and doubt then puffed them over like card-houses. One of his fancies was, that she summoned him—he would not even in thought use the expression: gave him an interview—at a masquerade. It was consequently no common masquerade, but a grand, elegant masked ball, to which a true lady could repair. The clock was at eleven, the appointed hour: he waited anxiously the pressing five minutes; then she came and extended him the fine hand in the finest straw-colored glove—
"Letter to the Counsellor of Justice," said Jens, with strong Funen accent, and short, soldierly pronunciation.
It is so uncommon that what one longs for comes just at the moment of most earnest desire; but notwithstanding the letter was from her, the Counsellor of Justice knew the superscription, would have known it among a hundred thousand. The letter read thus:
"I ought to be open towards you; and, as we shall never meet, I can be so."
Here the Counsellor of Justice stopped a moment and caught for breath. A good many of our twenty-year-old beaux, who have never been admitted to the bar, far less have been Court Counsellors, would, under similar circumstances, have said to themselves: "She writes that she will be open; that is to say, now she will fool me: we will never meet; that is to say, now I shall soon see her." But Counsellor Bagger believed every word as gospel, and his knees trembled. He read further:
"I am ashamed of the few words I last wrote you; but my apology is, that it is only two days since I learned that you are married. I have been mistaken, but more in what may be imputed to me than in what I have thought. My only comfort is, that I shall never be known by you or anybody, and that I shall be forgotten, as I shall forget."
"Never! But who can have spread the infamous slander! What dreadful treachery of some wretch or gossiping wench, who knows nothing about me! And how can she believe it! How in such a town as Copenhagen can it be a matter of doubt for five minutes, if a Superior Court Counsellor is married or not! Or maybe there is some other Counsellor Bagger married,—a Chamber Counsellor or the like? Or maybe she lives at a distance, in a quiet world, so that the truth of it does not easily reach her? So there is no sunshine more!
"If she should sometime meet me, and know that I was, am, and have been unmarried, that meanwhile we have both become old and gray,—can one think of anything more sad? It is enough to make the heart cease beating! But suppose, too, that to-morrow she finds out that she has been deceived: she has once written, 'I was mistaken,' and cannot, as a true woman, write it again, unless she first heard from me, and learned how I longed—and so I am cut off from her, as if I lived in the moon. More, more! for I can meet her upon the street and touch her arm without surmising it. It is insupportable! Our time has mail, steamboats, railroads, telegraphs: to me these do not exist; for of what use are they altogether, when one knows not where to search."
A thought came suddenly, like a meteor in the dark: advertise. What family in Copenhagen did not the Address Paper reach? He would put in an advertisement,—but how? "Fritz Bagger is not married."—No: that was too plain.—"F. B. is not married."—No: that was not plain enough. As he could find no successful use for his own name, it flashed into his mind to use hers,—geb—; and although it was painful to him to publish this, to him, almost sacred syllable for profane eyes to gaze upon, yet it comforted him, that only one, she herself, would understand it. Yet he hesitated. But one cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs; and although the heart's finest fibres ache at the thought of sending a message to a fairy through the Address Paper, yet one yields to this rather than lose the fairy.
At last, after numerous efforts he stopped at this: "—geb—! It is a mistake: he waits only for—geb—." It appeared to him to contain the approach to a happy result, and tired out by emotion he fell asleep on his sofa.
Some days after came a new letter with the dear handwriting: its contents were:
"Well! appear eight days from to-day at Mrs. Canuteson's, to congratulate her upon her birthday."
This was sunshine after thunder; this was hope's rainbow which arched itself up to heaven from the earth, yet wet with tears.
"And so she belongs to good society," said the Counsellor of Justice, without noticing how by these words he discovered to himself that a doubt or suspicion had lain until now behind his ecstasy. "But," he added, "consequently, it is my own friends who have spread the rumor of my marriage. Friends indeed! A wife is a man's only friend. It is hard, suicidal, to remain a bachelor."
On the appointed day he went too early. Mrs. Canuteson was yet alone. She was surprised at his congratulatory visit; but, however, as it was a courtesy, the surprise was mingled with delight, and Bagger was not the man whose visit a lady would not receive with pleasure. With that ingenuity of wit one can sometimes have, just when the heart is full and taken possession of, he did wonders, and entertained the lady in so lively a manner that she did not perceive how long a time he was passing with her. As the door at length opened, the lady exclaimed:
"Oh, that is charming! Heartily welcome! Thank you for last time, [Footnote: In Sweden and Norway when the guest meets the host or hostess for the first time after an entertainment, the first greeting on the part of the former is always, "Thank you for the last time."] and for all the good in your house! How does your mother do? This amiable young lady's acquaintance I made last summer when we were in the country, and at last she is so good as to keep her promise and visit me. Counsellor Bagger—Miss Hjelm."
The Counsellor wasn't sure that it was She, but he was convinced that it ought to be. Not to speak of Ingeborg Hjelm's being really amiable and distinguee, his heart was now prepared, as a photographer's glass which has received collodium, and took the first girl picture that met it. He was quite afraid that there would come more to choose among. Yet the fairy brightness of the unknown had at this moment lost itself for him; for, however brilliant it may appear to the fancy, it cannot be compared with the warm, beautiful reality, particularly so long as this itself is new and unknown.
He approached and spoke to Miss Hjelm with painful hidden emotion of soul. She was friendly and open, for the name Counsellor Bagger did not occur to her; and the idea she had formed of him did not at all compare with the young, elegant, handsome man she was now speaking with. True enough, his manner was somewhat peculiarly gallant, which a lady cannot easily mistake; but this gallantry was united with such an unmistakable respect, or more properly awe, that he gave her the impression of a poetical, knightly nature.
By and by there came more ladies, both married and unmarried, but Bagger had almost forgotten what errand they could have with him. At last Miss Brandt came also, accompanied by her sister. As she opened the door, and saw Bagger by the side of Miss Hjelm, she gave a little, a very little, cry, or, more properly, gasped aloud for breath, and made a movement, as if something kept her back.
"Oh! my dress caught," she said, arranged it a little, and then approached Mrs. Canuteson, with smiling face, to offer her congratulation.
Bagger looked at the watch: he had been there two hours! After yet lingering to exchange a few polite words with Miss Brandt, he took leave. His visit had in all respects been so unusual, and had given occasion for so much comment, that it required more time than could be given there; and his name was not at all mentioned after he left.
Now it is certainly true, that whenever Counsellor Bagger was seen for quite a time, he was mostly dreaming and suffering; and people who have not themselves experienced something similar, or have not a fancy for putting themselves in his place, will say, perhaps, that they could have managed themselves better. But, at all events, it cannot be said, that from this time forward he was unpractical; for within eight days from Mrs. Canuteson's birthday he had not only learned where Miss Hjelm lived, but had established himself in a tavern close by the farm, and obtained admittance to the house, which last was not so difficult, since Mrs. Hjelm was a friendly, hospitable lady, and since neither her daughter nor niece thought they ought to prejudice her against him.
In this manner four or five days passed away, which, to judge from Bagger's appearance, were to him very pleasant. He wrote to his colleagues in the Superior Court, that one could only value an autumn in Nature's lap after so laborious and health-destroying work as his life for many years had been. Then one day he received a letter from the unknown, reading thus:
"Be more successful than last time, at Mrs. Emmy Lund's on Tuesday, two o'clock. Please notice, two o'clock precisely."
"Does she mean so? Is she really coquettish? Yet I think I have been successful so far," said Bagger to himself, and waited for the Tuesday with comparative ease; in truth he did not at all understand why he should be troubled to go to town.
As early on Tuesday forenoon as proper, he went over to the farm, and was somewhat surprised that there was to be seen no preparation for a town journey. Ingeborg, in her usual morning dress, was seated at the sewing-table. He waited until towards twelve o'clock, calculating that two hours was the least she needed in which to dress and drive to town. The long hand threatened to touch the short hand at the number twelve, without any appearance of Ingeborg's noticing it. She only now and then cast a stealthy look at him, for it had not escaped her, nor the others, that he was in expectancy and excitement. When the clock struck twelve,—he was just alone with her,—he asked suddenly, in a quick, trembling voice:
"Miss Hjelm, you know I am Superior Court Counsellor?"
"No: that I did not know," she said almost with dread, and arose. "No: that I have never known!"
"But allow me, dear lady, so you know it now," he said, surprised that the title or profession produced so strong an effect.
"Yes, now I know it," she said, and held her hand upon her heart. "Why do you tell me that? What does that signify?"
"Nothing else, Miss Hjelm, than that you may understand that I don't believe in witchcraft."
A speaker's physiognomy is often more intelligible than his words; and as Miss Hjelm saw the both hearty and spirited or jovial expression in the counsellor's face, she had not that inclination, which she under other circumstances would have had, quickly to break off the conversation and go away. It is possible, also, that his situation as Superior Court Counsellor—as that counsellor mentioned by Miss Brandt—did not, after a moment's consideration, appear to her so dreadful as at the first moment of surprise. So she answered:
"But, Mr. Counsellor, is there then anybody who has accused you of believing in witchcraft?"
"No, dear madam; but for all that I can assure you, that at the moment the clock struck twelve I thought that you, by two o'clock, most fly away in the form of a bird."
"As the clock struck twelve now, at noon?—not at midnight?"
"No, just a little since."
"That is remarkable. Can you satisfy my curiosity, and tell me why?"
"Because under ordinary circumstances it appears to me impossible for a lady to make her toilette and drive ten miles in less than two hours."
"That is quite true, Mr. Counsellor; but neither do I intend to drive ten miles to-day."
"It was for that reason that I said, fly."
"Neither fly. And to convince you and quite certainly rid you of the idea of witchcraft, you can stay here, if you please, until—what time was it?"
"That is two long hours; but the Counsellor can, if he please, lay that offering upon the altar of education."
"Oh! I know another altar, upon which I would rather offer the two only all too short hours"—.
"Let it now be upon that of education. You promised my cousin and me that you would read to us about popular science of nature and interesting facts in the life of animals."
"Yes, dear madam; but I cannot fly: my carriage stands waiting at the tavern."
"Oh, I beg pardon! an agreeable journey, Mr. Counsellor."
"Yes; but I don't understand why I shall drive the ten miles."
"Every one knows his own concerns best."
"Oh, yes! that is true. But I at least don't know mine."
Miss Hjelm made no answer to this, and there was a little pause.
"I would," continued the counsellor, somewhat puzzled, "take the great liberty to propose that you should ride with me."
"I have already told the Counsellor that I did not intend to go to town to-day," answered Miss Hjelm, coldly.
"Yes," continued Bagger, following his own ideas, "and so I thought, also, that we could as well stay here."
At this moment Bagger was so earnest and impassioned, that Ingeborg, in hearing words so very wide of what she regarded as reasonable, began to suspect his mind of being a little disordered, and with an inquiring anxiousness looked at him.
Meeting the look from these eyes, Bagger could no longer continue the inquisition which he had carried on for the sake of involving Miss Hjelm in self-contradiction and bringing her to confession. He himself came to confession, and exclaimed:
"Miss Ingeborg, I ask you for Heaven's sake have pity on me, and tell me if you expect me at two o'clock to-day at Mrs. Lund's!"
"I expect you at Mrs. Lund's!" exclaimed Miss Hjelm.
"Is it not you, then, who have written me that—"
"I have never written to you!" cried Ingeborg, and almost tore away the hand which Bagger tried to hold.
"For God's sake, don't go, Miss—! My dear madam, you must forgive me: you shall know all!"
And now he began to tell his tale, not according to rules of rhetoric and logic, but on the contrary in a way which certainly showed how little even our abler lawyers are educated to extemporize.
But, however, there was in his words a certain almost wild eloquence; and, beside, Miss Hjelm had some foreknowledge, that helped her to understand and fill up what was wanting under the counsellor's restless eloquence. At last he came to the point; while his words were of whirlwind and letters, his tone and eye spoke, unconsciously to him, a true, honest, though fanciful language of passion; and however comical a disinterested spectator might have found it, it sounded very earnest to her who was the object and sympathetic listener.
"Yes; but what then?" at last asked Ingeborg, with a soft smile and not withdrawing the hand that Bagger had seized. "The proper meaning of what you have told me is that your troth is plighted to another, unknown lady."
"No: that isn't the proper meaning—"
"But yet it is a fact. At the moment when you stand at the altar with one, another can step forward and claim you."
"Oh, that kind of a claim! A piece of paper without signature, sent away in the air! In law it has no validity at all, and morally it has no power, when I love another as I love you, Ingeborg!"
"That I am not sure of. It appears to me there is something painful in not being faithful to one's youth and its promises, and in the consciousness of having deceived another."
"You say this so earnestly, Ingeborg, that you make me desperate. I confess that there is something … something I would wish otherwise … but for Heaven's sake, make it not so earnest!"
As Ingeborg knew so well about it, she could not regard the matter as earnestly as her words denoted; but for another reason she had suddenly conceived or felt an earnestness. It would not do to have a husband with so much fancy as Bagger, always having something unknown, fairy-like, lying out upon the horizon, holding claim upon him from his youth; and on the other hand it was against her principles, notwithstanding her confidence in his silence, to convey to him the knowledge that it was Miss Brandt who played fairy.
She said to him, "You must have your letter, your obligation, your marriage promise back."
"Yes," he answered with a sigh of discouragement: "it is true enough I ought; but where shall I turn? That is just the immeasurable difficulty."
"Write by the same mail as before."
"Let the whirlwind, that brought the first letter to its destination, also take care of this, in which you demand your word back."
"Oh, that you do not mean! Or, if you mean it, then I may honestly confess that I am not young any more or have not received another youth. I have not courage to write anything, for fear it should come to others than to you."
"So I see that, after all, I may act as witch to-day. Write, and I will take care of the letter: do you hesitate?"
"No: only it took me a moment to comprehend the promise involved in this that you will take care of my letter. I obey you blindly; but what shall I write?"
"Write: 'Dear fairy,—Since I woo Miss Hjelm's hand and heart,'—"
"Oh, you acknowledge it! O Ingeborg, the Lord's blessing upon you!" said Bagger, and would rise.
"'I ask you to send me my billet back.'—Have you that?"
"Yes, Ingeborg, my Ingeborg, my unspeakably loved Ingeborg! How poor language is, when the heart is so full!"
"Now, name, date, and address. Have you that? 'Postscriptum. I give you my word of honor, that I neither know who you are, or how this letter shall reach you.'—Have you that?"
"That I can truly give. I am as blind as"…
"Let me add the witch-formulae."
"O Ingeborg, you will write upon the same paper with me, in a letter where I have written your name!"
"Hand me the pen. We must have the letter sent to the mail before two o'clock."
"Two o'clock. How queer! The last letter reads: 'Take notice of the striking two.'"
"That we will," said Ingeborg.
She wrote: "Dear Miss Brandt, I, too, ask you to send the Counsellor
his billet, and I pray you to write upon it: 'Given me by Miss Hjelm.'
It is best for all parties that the fun does not come out in gossip.
You shall, by return of mail, receive back your letters."
It is allowed to charitable minds to remain in doubt about what had really been Miss Brandt's design. Perhaps she only wished to make roguish psychological experiments, to convince herself to how many forenoon congratulatory visits a Counsellor of Justice of the Superior Court could be brought to appear. The emotion she almost exposed, when at Mrs. Canuteson's she saw Bagger by Miss Hjelm's side, may have been pure surprise at the working of the affair. Every one of the rest of us who have been conversant with the whirlwind, the letter, and Ingeborg's relinquishment of the same, would also have been surprised at seeing her and the letter-writer brought together notwithstanding, and would not, perhaps, have been able with as much ease and success to hide our surprise. The letter to Bagger, in which Miss Brandt, contrary to her better knowledge, spoke of him as married, may have been a sincere attempt to end the whole in a way which repentance and anxiety quickly seized upon to put an insurmountable hindrance before herself; but it may surely enough have had also the aim to see how far Bagger had gone and how much spirit and fancy he had to carry the intrigue out. The more one thinks upon it, the less one feels able to give either of the two interpretations absolute preference. Yet one will have remarked, that Ingeborg herself in her little note mentioned the matter as "fun." On the other side, if it was earnestness, if she had felt "somewhat" for Counsellor Bagger, then let us take comfort in the fact that Miss Brandt was a well-cultivated girl, and that her intellect held dominion over her heart. She could with one eye see that the campaign had ended, and further, that she, by receiving peace pure and simple, had certainly not gained any conquest, but obtained the status quo ante bellum, which often between antagonists has been considered so respectable, that both parties officially have sung Te Deum, although surely only one could sing it from the heart. Now it is and may remain undecided what the real state of the case was: from either point of view there was a plain and even line drawn for her, and she followed it. Next day the letter came in an envelope directed to the counsellor.
As Bagger in the presence of Ingeborg opened the letter and again saw the long-lost epistle of his early days, he trembled like a man before whom the spirit-world apparently passes. But as he perceived the added words, he exclaimed in utter perplexity: "Am I awake? Do I dream? How is this possible?"
"Why should it not be possible?" asked Ingeborg. "To whom else should the letter originally have come, than to—geb—?"
"—Geb—?—geb—? Yes, who is—geb—?" asked Bagger with bewildered look.
"Who other than Ingeborg? is it not the third fourth, and fifth letters of my name?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Bagger, pressing his hand upon his forehead, and, as he at the next moment seized Ingeborg's hand, added with an eye which had become dim with joy, "Truly, I have had more fortune than sense."
Ingeborg answered, smiling:
"That ought he to expect who entrusts his fate to the wind's flying mail."