Story type: Literature
It was the sacred hour of noon at Sammtstadt. Everybody was at dinner; and the serious Kellner of “Der Wildemann” glanced in mild reproach at Mr. James Clinch, who, disregarding that fact and the invitatory table d’hote, stepped into the street. For Mr. Clinch had eaten a late breakfast at Gladbach, was dyspeptic and American, and, moveover, preoccupied with business. He was consequently indignant, on entering the garden-like court and cloister-like counting-house of “Von Becheret, Sons, Uncles, and Cousins,” to find the comptoir deserted even by the porter, and was furious at the maidservant, who offered the sacred shibboleth “Mittagsessen” as a reasonable explanation of the solitude. “A country,” said Mr. Clinch to himself, “that stops business at mid-day to go to dinner, and employs women-servants to talk to business-men, is played out.”
He stepped from the silent building into the equally silent Kronprinzen Strasse. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. Rows on rows of two-storied, gray-stuccoed buildings that might be dwellings, or might be offices, all showing some traces of feminine taste and supervision in a flower or a curtain that belied the legended “Comptoir,” or “Direction,” over their portals. Mr. Clinch thought of Boston and State Street, of New York and Wall Street, and became coldly contemptuous.
Yet there was clearly nothing to do but to walk down the formal rows of chestnuts that lined the broad Strasse, and then walk back again. At the corner of the first cross-street he was struck with the fact that two men who were standing in front of a dwelling-house appeared to be as inconsistent, and out of proportion to the silent houses, as were the actors on a stage to the painted canvas thoroughfares before which they strutted. Mr. Clinch usually had no fancies, had no eye for quaintness; besides, this was not a quaint nor romantic district, only an entrepot for silks and velvets, and Mr. Clinch was here, not as a tourist, but as a purchaser. The guidebooks had ignored Sammtstadt, and he was too good an American to waste time in looking up uncatalogued curiosities. Besides, he had been here once before,–an entire day!
One o’clock. Still a full hour and a half before his friend would return to business. What should he do? The Verein where he had once been entertained was deserted even by its waiters; the garden, with its ostentatious out-of-door tables, looked bleak and bare. Mr. Clinch was not artistic in his tastes; but even he was quick to detect the affront put upon Nature by this continental, theatrical gardening, and turned disgustedly away. Born near a “lake” larger than the German Ocean, he resented a pool of water twenty-five feet in diameter under that alluring title; and, a frequenter of the Adirondacks, he could scarce contain himself over a bit of rock-work twelve feet high. “A country,” said Mr. Clinch, “that–” but here he remembered that he had once seen in a park in his native city an imitation of the Drachenfels in plaster, on a scale of two inches to the foot, and checked his speech.
He turned into the principal allee of the town. There was a long white building at one end,–the Bahnhof: at the other end he remembered a dye-house. He had, a year ago, met its hospitable proprietor: he would call upon him now.
But the same solitude confronted him as he passed the porter’s lodge beside the gateway. The counting-house, half villa, half factory, must have convoked its humanity in some out-of-the-way refectory, for the halls and passages were tenantless. For the first time he began to be impressed with a certain foreign quaintness in the surroundings; he found himself also recalling something he had read when a boy, about an enchanted palace whose inhabitants awoke on the arrival of a long-predestined Prince. To assure himself of the absolute ridiculousness of this fancy, he took from his pocket the business-card of its proprietor, a sample of dye, and recalled his own personality in a letter of credit. Having dismissed this idea from his mind, he lounged on again through a rustic lane that might have led to a farmhouse, yet was still, absurdly enough, a part of the factory gardens. Crossing a ditch by a causeway, he presently came to another ditch and another causeway, and then found himself idly contemplating a massive, ivy-clad, venerable brick wall. As a mere wall it might not have attracted his attention; but it seemed to enter and bury itself at right angles in the side-wall of a quite modern-looking dwelling. After satisfying himself of this fact, he passed on before the dwelling, but was amazed to see the wall reappear on the other side exactly the same–old, ivy-grown, sturdy, uncompromising, and ridiculous.
Could it actually be a part of the house? He turned back, and repassed the front of the building. The entrance door was hospitably open. There was a hall and a staircase, but–by all that was preposterous!–they were built OVER and AROUND the central brick intrusion. The wall actually ran through the house! “A country,” said Mr. Clinch to himself, “where they build their houses over ruins to accommodate them, or save the trouble of removal, is,–” but a very pleasant voice addressing him here stopped his usual hasty conclusion.
Mr. Clinch looked hastily up. Leaning on the parapet of what appeared to be a garden on the roof of the house was a young girl, red-cheeked, bright-eyed, blond-haired. The voice was soft, subdued, and mellow; it was part of the new impression he was receiving, that it seemed to be in some sort connected with the ivy-clad wall before him. His hat was in his hand as he answered,–
“Was the Herr seeking anything?”
“The Herr was only waiting a longtime-coming friend, and had strayed here to speak with the before-known proprietor.”
“So? But, the before-known proprietor sleeping well at present after dinner, would the Herr on the terrace still a while linger?”
The Herr would, but looked around in vain for the means to do it. He was thinking of a scaling-ladder, when the young woman reappeared at the open door, and bade him enter.
Following the youthful hostess, Mr. Clinch mounted the staircase, but, passing the mysterious wall, could not forbear an allusion to it. “It is old, very old,” said the girl: “it was here when I came.”
“That was not very long ago,” said Mr. Clinch gallantly.
“No; but my grandfather found it here too.”
“And built over it?”
“Why not? It is very, very hard, and SO thick.”
Mr. Clinch here explained, with masculine superiority, the existence of such modern agents as nitro-glycerine and dynamite, persuasive in their effects upon time-honored obstructions and encumbrances.
“But there was not then what you call–this–ni–nitro-glycerine.”
“But since then?”
The young girl gazed at him in troubled surprise. “My great-grandfather did not take it away when he built the house: why should we?”
They had passed through a hall and dining-room, and suddenly stepped out of a window upon a gravelled terrace. From this a few stone steps descended to another terrace, on which trees and shrubs were growing; and yet, looking over the parapet, Mr. Clinch could see the road some twenty feet below. It was nearly on a level with, and part of, the second story of the house. Had an earthquake lifted the adjacent ground? or had the house burrowed into a hill? Mr. Clinch turned to his companion, who was standing close beside him, breathing quite audibly, and leaving an impression on his senses as of a gentle and fragrant heifer.
“How was all this done?”
The maiden did not know. “It was always here.”
Mr. Clinch reascended the steps. He had quite forgotten his impatience. Possibly it was the gentle, equable calm of the girl, who, but for her ready color, did not seem to be moved by anything; perhaps it was the peaceful repose of this mausoleum of the dead and forgotten wall that subdued him, but he was quite willing to take the old-fashioned chair on the terrace which she offered him, and follow her motions with not altogether mechanical eyes as she drew out certain bottles and glasses from a mysterious closet in the wall. Mr. Clinch had the weakness of a majority of his sex in believing that he was a good judge of wine and women. The latter, as shown in the specimen before him, he would have invoiced as a fair sample of the middle-class German woman,–healthy, comfort-loving, home-abiding, the very genius of domesticity. Even in her virgin outlines the future wholesome matron was already forecast, from the curves of her broad hips, to the flat lines of her back and shoulders. Of the wine he was to judge later. THAT required an even more subtle and unimpassioned intellect.
She placed two bottles before him on the table,–one, the traditional long-necked, amber-colored Rheinflasche; the other, an old, quaint, discolored, amphorax-patterned glass jug. The first she opened.
“This,” she said, pointing to the other, “cannot be opened.”
Mr. Clinch paid his respects first to the opened bottle, a good quality of Niersteiner. With his intellect thus clarified, he glanced at the other.
“It is from my great-grandfather. It is old as the wall.”
Mr. Clinch examined the bottle attentively. It seemed to have no cork. Formed of some obsolete, opaque glass, its twisted neck was apparently hermetically sealed by the same material. The maiden smiled, as she said,–
“It cannot be opened now without breaking the bottle. It is not good luck to do so. My grandfather and my father would not.”
But Mr. Clinch was still examining the bottle. Its neck was flattened towards the mouth; but a close inspection showed it was closed by some equally hard cement, but not glass.
“If I can open it without breaking the bottle, have I your permission?”
A mischievous glance rested on Mr. Clinch, as the maiden answered,–
“I shall not object; but for what will you do it?”
“To taste it, to try it.”
“You are not afraid?”
There was just enough obvious admiration of Mr. Clinch’s audacity in the maiden’s manner to impel him to any risk. His only answer was to take from his pocket a small steel instrument. Holding the neck of the bottle firmly in one hand, he passed his thumb and the steel twice or thrice around it. A faint rasping, scratching sound was all the wondering girl heard. Then, with a sudden, dexterous twist of his thumb and finger, to her utter astonishment he laid the top of the neck, neatly cut off, in her hand.
“There’s a better and more modern bottle than you had before,” he said, pointing to the cleanly-divided neck, “and any cork will fit it now.”
But the girl regarded him with anxiety. “And you still wish to taste the wine?”
“With your permission, yes!”
He looked up in her eyes. There was permission: there was something more, that was flattering to his vanity. He took the wine-glass, and, slowly and in silence, filled it from the mysterious flask.
The wine fell into the glass clearly, transparently, heavily, but still and cold as death. There was no sparkle, no cheap ebullition, no evanescent bubble. Yet it was so clear, that, but for a faint amber-tinting, the glass seemed empty. There was no aroma, no ethereal diffusion from its equable surface. Perhaps it was fancy, perhaps it was from nervous excitement; but a slight chill seemed to radiate from the still goblet, and bring down the temperature of the terrace. Mr. Clinch and his companion both insensibly shivered.
But only for a moment. Mr. Clinch raised the glass to his lips. As he did so, he remembered seeing distinctly, as in a picture before him, the sunlit terrace, the pretty girl in the foreground,–an amused spectator of his sacrilegious act,–the outlying ivy-crowned wall, the grass-grown ditch, the tall factory chimneys rising above the chestnuts, and the distant poplars that marked the Rhine.
The wine was delicious; perhaps a TRIFLE, only a trifle, heady. He was conscious of a slight exaltation. There was also a smile upon the girl’s lip and a roguish twinkle in her eye as she looked at him.
“Do you find the wine to your taste?” she asked.
“Fair enough, I warrant,” said Mr. Clinch with ponderous gallantry; “but methinks ’tis nothing compared with the nectar that grows on those ruby lips. Nay, by St. Ursula, I swear it!”
No sooner had this solemnly ridiculous speech passed the lips of the unfortunate man than he would have given worlds to have recalled it. He knew that he must be intoxicated; that the sentiment and language were utterly unlike him, he was miserably aware; that he did not even know exactly what it meant, he was also hopelessly conscious. Yet feeling all this,–feeling, too, the shame of appearing before her as a man who had lost his senses through a single glass of wine,–nevertheless he rose awkwardly, seized her hand, and by sheer force drew her towards him, and kissed her. With an exclamation that was half a cry and half a laugh, she fled from him, leaving him alone and bewildered on the terrace.
For a moment Mr. Clinch supported himself against the open window, leaning his throbbing head on the cold glass. Shame, mortification, an hysterical half-consciousness of his utter ridiculousness, and yet an odd, undefined terror of something, by turns possessed him. Was he ever before guilty of such perfect folly? Had he ever before made such a spectacle of himself? Was it possible that he, Mr. James Clinch, the coolest head at a late supper,–he, the American, who had repeatedly drunk Frenchmen and Englishmen under the table–could be transformed into a sentimental, stagey idiot by a single glass of wine? He was conscious, too, of asking himself these very questions in a stilted sort of rhetoric, and with a rising brutality of anger that was new to him. And then everything swam before him, and he seemed to lose all consciousness.
But only for an instant. With a strong effort of his will he again recalled himself, his situation, his surroundings, and, above all, his appointment. He rose to his feet, hurriedly descended the terrace-steps, and, before he well knew how, found himself again on the road. Once there, his faculties returned in full vigor; he was again himself. He strode briskly forward toward the ditch he had crossed only a few moments before, but was suddenly stopped. It was filled with water. He looked up and down. It was clearly the same ditch; but a flowing stream thirty feet wide now separated him from the other bank.
The appearance of this unlooked-for obstacle made Mr. Clinch doubt the full restoration of his faculties. He stepped to the brink of the flood to bathe his head in the stream, and wash away the last vestiges of his potations. But as he approached the placid depths, and knelt down he again started back, and this time with a full conviction of his own madness; for reflected from its mirror-like surface was a figure he could scarcely call his own, although here and there some trace of his former self remained.
His close-cropped hair, trimmed a la mode, had given way to long, curling locks that dropped upon his shoulders. His neat mustache was frightfully prolonged, and curled up at the ends stiffly. His Piccadilly collar had changed shape and texture, and reached–a mass of lace–to a point midway of his breast! His boots,–why had he not noticed his boots before?–these triumphs of his Parisian bootmaker, were lost in hideous leathern cases that reached half way up his thighs. In place of his former high silk hat, there lay upon the ground beside him the awful thing he had just taken off,–a mass of thickened felt, flap, feather, and buckle that weighed at least a stone.
A single terrible idea now took possession of him. He had been “sold,” “taken in,” “done for.” He saw it all. In a state of intoxication he had lost his way, had been dragged into some vile den, stripped of his clothes and valuables, and turned adrift upon the quiet town in this shameless masquerade. How should he keep his appointment? how inform the police of this outrage upon a stranger and an American citizen? how establish his identity? Had they spared his papers? He felt feverishly in his breast. Ah!–his watch? Yes, a watch–heavy, jewelled, enamelled–and, by all that was ridiculous, FIVE OTHERS! He ran his hands into his capacious trunk hose. What was this? Brooches, chains, finger-rings,–one large episcopal one,–ear-rings, and a handful of battered gold and silver coins. His papers, his memorandums, his passport–all proofs of his identity–were gone! In their place was the unmistakable omnium gatherum of an accomplished knight of the road. Not only was his personality, but his character, gone forever.
It was a part of Mr. Clinch’s singular experience that this last stroke of ill fortune seemed to revive in him something of the brutal instinct he had felt a moment before. He turned eagerly about with the intention of calling some one–the first person he met–to account. But the house that he had just quitted was gone. The wall! Ah, there it was, no longer purposeless, intrusive, and ivy-clad, but part of the buttress of another massive wall that rose into battlements above him. Mr. Clinch turned again hopelessly toward Sammtstadt. There was the fringe of poplars on the Rhine, there were the outlying fields lit by the same meridian sun; but the characteristic chimneys of Sammtstadt were gone. Mr. Clinch was hopelessly lost.
The sound of a horn breaking the stillness recalled his senses. He now for the first time perceived that a little distance below him, partly hidden in the trees, was a queer, tower-shaped structure with chains and pulleys, that in some strange way recalled his boyish reading. A drawbridge and portcullis! And on the battlement a figure in a masquerading dress as absurd as his own, flourishing a banner and trumpet, and trying to attract his attention.
“Was wollen Sie?”
“I want to see the proprietor,” said Mr. Clinch, choking back his rage.
There was a pause, and the figure turned apparently to consult with some one behind the battlements. After a moment he reappeared, and in a perfunctory monotone, with an occasional breathing spell on the trumpet, began,–
“You do give warranty as a good knight and true, as well as by the bones of the blessed St. Ursula, that you bear no ill will, secret enmity, wicked misprise or conspiracy, against the body of our noble lord and master Von Kolnsche? And you bring with you no ambush, siege, or surprise of retainers, neither secret warrant nor lettres de cachet, nor carry on your knightly person poisoned dagger, magic ring, witch-powder, nor enchanted bullet, and that you have entered into no unhallowed alliance with the Prince of Darkness, gnomes, hexies, dragons, Undines, Loreleis, nor the like?”
“Come down out of that, you d—-d old fool!” roared Mr. Clinch, now perfectly beside himself with rage,–“come down, and let me in!”
As Mr. Clinch shouted out the last words, confused cries of recognition and welcome, not unmixed with some consternation, rose from the battlements: “Ach Gott!” “Mutter Gott–it is he! It is Jann, Der Wanderer. It is himself.” The chains rattled, the ponderous drawbridge creaked and dropped; and across it a medley of motley figures rushed pellmell. But, foremost among them, the very maiden whom he had left not ten minutes before flew into his arms, and with a cry of joyful greeting sank upon his breast. Mr. Clinch looked down upon the fair head and long braids. It certainly was the same maiden, his cruel enchantress; but where did she get those absurd garments?
“Willkommen,” said a stout figure, advancing with some authority, and seizing his disengaged hand, “where hast thou been so long?”
Mr. Clinch, by no means placated, coldly dropped the extended hand. It was NOT the proprietor he had known. But there was a singular resemblance in his face to some one of Mr. Clinch’s own kin; but who, he could not remember. “May I take the liberty of asking your name?” he asked coldly.
The figure grinned. “Surely; but, if thou standest upon punctilio, it is for ME to ask thine, most noble Freiherr,” said he, winking upon his retainers. “Whom have I the honor of entertaining?”
“My name is Clinch,–James Clinch of Chicago, Ill.”
A shout of laughter followed. In the midst of his rage and mortification Mr. Clinch fancied he saw a shade of pain and annoyance flit across the face of the maiden. He was puzzled, but pressed her hand, in spite of his late experiences, reassuringly. She made a gesture of silence to him, and then slipped away in the crowd.
“Schames K’l’n’sche von Schekargo,” mimicked the figure, to the unspeakable delight of his retainers. “So! THAT is the latest French style. Holy St. Ursula! Hark ye, nephew! I am not a travelled man. Since the Crusades we simple Rhine gentlemen have staid at home. But I call myself Kolnsche of Koln, at your service.”
“Very likely you are right,” said Mr. Clinch hotly, disregarding the caution of his fair companion; “but, whoever YOU are, I am a stranger entitled to protection. I have been robbed.”
If Mr. Clinch had uttered an exquisite joke instead of a very angry statement, it could not have been more hilariously received. He paused, grew confused, and then went on hesitatingly,–
“In place of my papers and credentials I find only these.” And he produced the jewelry from his pockets.
Another shout of laughter and clapping of hands followed this second speech; and the baron, with a wink at his retainers, prolonged the general mirth by saying, “By the way, nephew, there is little doubt but there has been robbery–somewhere.”
“It was done,” continued Mr. Clinch, hurrying to make an end of his explanation, “while I was inadvertently overcome with liquor,–drugged liquor.”
The laughter here was so uproarious that the baron, albeit with tears of laughter in his own eyes, made a peremptory gesture of silence. The gesture was peculiar to the baron, efficacious and simple. It consisted merely in knocking down the nearest laugher. Having thus restored tranquillity, he strode forward, and took Mr. Clinch by the hand. “By St. Adolph, I did doubt thee a moment ago, nephew; but this last frank confession of thine shows me I did thee wrong. Willkommen zu Hause, Jann, drunk or sober, willcommen zu Cracowen.”
More and more mystified, but convinced of the folly of any further explanation, Mr. Clinch took the extended hand of his alleged uncle, and permitted himself to be led into the castle. They passed into a large banqueting-hall adorned with armor and implements of the chase. Mr. Clinch could not help noticing, that, although the appointments were liberal and picturesque, the ventilation was bad, and the smoke from the huge chimney made the air murky. The oaken tables, massive in carving and rich in color, were unmistakably greasy; and Mr. Clinch slipped on a piece of meat that one of the dozen half-wild dogs who were occupying the room was tearing on the floor. The dog, yelping, ran between the legs of a retainer, precipitating him upon the baron, who instantly, with the “equal foot” of fate, kicked him and the dog into a corner.
“And whence came you last?” asked the baron, disregarding the little contretemps, and throwing himself heavily on an oaken settle, while he pushed a queer, uncomfortable-looking stool, with legs like a Siamese-twin-connected double X, towards his companion.
Mr. Clinch, who had quite given himself up to fate, answered mechanically,–
The baron winked his eye with unutterable, elderly wickedness. “Ach Gott! it is nothing to what it was when I was your age. Ah! there was Manon,–Sieur Manon we used to call her. I suppose she’s getting old now. How goes on the feud between the students and the citizens? Eh? Did you go to the bal in la Cite?”
Mr. Clinch stopped the flow of those Justice-Shallow-like reminiscences by an uneasy exclamation. He was thinking of the maiden who had disappeared so suddenly. The baron misinterpreted his nervousness. “What ho, within there!–Max, Wolfgang,–lazy rascals! Bring some wine.”
At the baleful word Mr. Clinch started to his feet. “Not for me! Bring me none of your body-and-soul-destroying poison! I’ve enough of it!”
The baron stared. The servitors stared also.
“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Clinch, recalling himself slowly; “but I fear that Rhine wine does not agree with me.”
The baron grinned. Perceiving, however, that the three servitors grinned also, he kicked two of them into obscurity, and felled the third to the floor with his fist. “Hark ye, nephew,” he said, turning to the astonished Clinch, “give over this nonsense! By the mitre of Bishop Hatto, thou art as big a fool as he!”
“Hatto,” repeated Clinch mechanically. “What! he of the Mouse Tower?”
“Ay, of the Mouse Tower!” sneered the baron. “I see you know the story.”
“Why am I like him?” asked Mr. Clinch in amazement.
The baron grinned. “HE punished the Rhenish wine as thou dost, without judgment. He had–“
“The jim-jams,” said Mr. Clinch mechanically again.
The baron frowned. “I know not what gibberish thou sayest by ‘jim-jams’; but he had, like thee, the wildest fantasies and imaginings; saw snakes, toads, rats, in his boots, but principally rats; said they pursued him, came to his room, his bed–ach Gott!”
“Oh!” said Mr. Clinch, with a sudden return to his firmer self and his native inquiring habits; “then THAT is the fact about Bishop Hatto of the story?”
“His enemies made it the subject of a vile slander of an old friend of mine,” said the baron; “and those cursed poets, who believe everything, and then persuade others to do so,–may the Devil fly away with them!–kept it up.”
Here were facts quite to Mr. Clinch’s sceptical mind. He forgot himself and his surroundings.
“And that story of the Drachenfels?” he asked insinuatingly,–“the dragon, you know. Was he too–“
The baron grinned. “A boar transformed by the drunken brains of the Bauers of the Siebengebirge. Ach Gott! Ottefried had many a hearty laugh over it; and it did him, as thou knowest, good service with the nervous mother of the silly maiden.”
“And the seven sisters of Schonberg?” asked Mr. Clinch persuasively.
“‘Schonberg! Seven sisters!’ What of them?” demanded the baron sharply.
“Why, you know,–the maidens who were so coy to their suitors, and–don’t you remember?–jumped into the Rhine to avoid them.”
“‘Coy? Jumped into the Rhine to avoid suitors’?” roared the baron, purple with rage. “Hark ye, nephew! I like not this jesting. Thou knowest I married one of the Schonberg girls, as did thy father. How ‘coy’ they were is neither here nor there; but mayhap WE might tell another story. Thy father, as weak a fellow as thou art where a petticoat is concerned, could not as a gentleman do other than he did. And THIS is his reward? Ach Gott! ‘Coy!’ And THIS, I warrant, is the way the story is delivered in Paris.”
Mr. Clinch would have answered that this was the way he read it in a guidebook, but checked himself at the hopelessness of the explanation. Besides, he was on the eve of historic information; he was, as it were, interviewing the past; and, whether he would ever be able to profit by the opportunity or not, he could not bear to lose it. “And how about the Lorelei–is she, too, a fiction?” he asked glibly.
“It was said,” observed the baron sardonically, “that when thou disappeared with the gamekeeper’s daughter at Obercassel–Heaven knows where!–thou wast swallowed up in a whirlpool with some creature. Ach Gott! I believe it! But a truce to this balderdash. And so thou wantest to know of the ‘coy’ sisters of Schoenberg? Hark ye, Jann, that cousin of thine is a Schonberg. Call you her ‘coy’? Did I not see thy greeting? Eh? By St. Adolph, knowing thee as she does to be robber and thief, call you her greeting ‘coy’?”
Furious as Mr. Clinch inwardly became under these epithets, he felt that his explanation would hardly relieve the maiden from deceit, or himself from weakness. But out of his very perplexity and turmoil a bright idea was born. He turned to the baron,–
“Then you have no faith in the Rhine legends?”
The baron only replied with a contemptuous shrug of his shoulders.
“But what if I told you a new one?”
“Yes; a part of my experience?”
The baron was curious. It was early in the afternoon, just after dinner. He might be worse bored.
“I’ve only one condition,” added Mr. Clinch: “the young lady–I mean, of course, my cousin–must hear it too.”
“Oh, ay! I see. Of course–the old trick! Well, call the jade. But mark ye, Sir Nephew, no enchanted maidens and knights. Keep to thyself. Be as thou art, vagabond Jann Kolnische, knight of the road.–What ho there, scoundrels! Call the Lady Wilhemina.”
It was the first time Mr. Clinch had heard his fair friend’s name; but it was not, evidently, the first time she had seen him, as the very decided wink the gentle maiden dropped him testified. Nevertheless, with hands lightly clasped together, and downcast eyes, she stood before them.
Mr. Clinch began. Without heeding the baron’s scornful grin, he graphically described his meeting, two years before, with a Lorelei, her usual pressing invitation, and his subsequent plunge into the Rhine.
“I am free to confess,” added Mr. Clinch, with an affecting glance to Wilhelmina, “that I was not enamoured of the graces of the lady, but was actuated by my desire to travel, and explore hitherto unknown regions. I wished to travel, to visit–“
“Paris,” interrupted the baron sarcastically.
“America,” continued Mr. Clinch.
“‘Tis a gnome-like sounding name, this Meriker. Go on, nephew: tell us of Meriker.”
With the characteristic fluency of his nation, Mr. Clinch described his landing on those enchanted shores, viz, the Rhine Whirlpool and Hell Gate, East River, New York. He described the railways, tram-ways, telegraphs, hotels, phonograph, and telephone. An occasional oath broke from the baron, but he listened attentively; and in a few moments Mr. Clinch had the raconteur’s satisfaction of seeing the vast hall slowly filling with open-eyed and open-mouthed retainers hanging upon his words. Mr. Clinch went on to describe his astonishment at meeting on these very shores some of his own blood and kin. “In fact,” said Mr. Clinch, “here were a race calling themselves ‘Clinch,’ but all claiming to have descended from Kolnische.”
“And how?” sneered the baron.
“Through James Kolnische and Wilhelmina his wife,” returned Mr. Clinch boldly. “They emigrated from Koln and Crefeld to Philadelphia, where there is a quarter named Crefeld.” Mr. Clinch felt himself shaky as to his chronology, but wisely remembered that it was a chronology of the future to his hearers, and they could not detect an anachronism. With his eyes fixed upon those of the gentle Wilhelmina, Mr. Clinch now proceeded to describe his return to his fatherland, but his astonishment at finding the very face of the country changed, and a city standing on those fields he had played in as a boy; and how he had wandered hopelessly on, until he at last sat wearily down in a humble cottage built upon the ruins of a lordly castle. “So utterly travel-worn and weak had I become,” said Mr. Clinch, with adroitly simulated pathos, “that a single glass of wine offered me by the simple cottage maiden affected me like a prolonged debauch.”
A long-drawn snore was all that followed this affecting climax. The baron was asleep; the retainers were also asleep. Only one pair of eyes remained open,–arch, luminous, blue,–Wilhelmina’s.
“There is a subterranean passage below us to Linn. Let us fly!” she whispered.
“They always do it in the legends,” she murmured modestly.
“But your father?”
“He sleeps. Do you not hear him?”
Certainly somebody was snoring. But, oddly enough, it seemed to be Wilhelmina. Mr. Clinch suggested this to her.
“Fool, it is yourself!”
Mr. Clinch, struck with the idea, stopped to consider. She was right. It certainly WAS himself.
With a struggle he awoke. The sun was shining. The maiden was looking at him. But the castle–the castle was gone!
“You have slept well,” said the maiden archly. “Everybody does after dinner at Sammtstadt. Father has just awakened, and is coming.”
Mr. Clinch stared at the maiden, at the terrace, at the sky, at the distant chimneys of Sammtstadt, at the more distant Rhine, at the table before him, and finally at the empty glass. The maiden smiled. “Tell me,” said Mr. Clinch, looking in her eyes, “is there a secret passage underground between this place and the Castle of Linn?”
“An underground passage?”
“Ay–whence the daughter of the house fled with a stranger knight.”
“They say there is,” said the maiden, with a gentle blush.
“Can you show it to me?”
She hesitated. “Papa is coming: I’ll ask him.”
I presume she did. At least the Herr Consul at Sammtstadt informs me of a marriage-certificate issued to one Clinch of Chicago, and Kolnische of Koln; and there is an amusing story extant in the Verein at Sammtstadt, of an American connoisseur of Rhine wines, who mistook a flask of Cognac and rock-candy, used for “craftily qualifying” lower grades of wine to the American standard, for the rarest Rudesheimerberg.