Part 3 out of 3
When Tita and I went upstairs at night the small and gentle creature
was grievously perplexed.
"I cannot make it out," she said. "He is quite changed. What is the
matter with him?"
"You behold, madam, in that young man the moral effects of vulpicide.
A demon has entered into him. You remember, in 'Der Freischutz,'
"Did you say vulpicide?" she asks, with a sweet smile. "I understood
that Charlie's crime was that he did /not/ kill the fox."
I allow her the momentary triumph. Who would grudge to a woman a
little verbal victory of that sort? And, indeed, Tita's satisfaction
did not last long. Her perplexity became visible on her face once
"We are to be here three weeks," she said, almost to herself, "and he
talks of flirting with poor Franziska. Oh, I never meant that!"
"But what did you mean?" I ask her, with innocent wonder.
Tita hangs down her head, and there is an end to that conversation;
but one of us, at least, has some recollection of a Christmas wager.
Charlie was not in such good spirits next morning. He was standing
outside the inn, in the sweet, resinous-scented air, watching
Franziska coming and going, with her bright face touched by the early
sunlight, and her frank and honest eyes lit up by a kindly look when
she passed us. His conscience began to smite him for claiming that
We spent the day in fishing a stream some few miles distant from
Huferschingen, and Franziska accompanied us. What need to tell of our
success with the trout and the grayling, or of the beautiful weather,
or of the attentive and humble manner in which the unfortunate youth
addressed Franziska from time to time?
In the evening we drove back to Huferschingen. It was a still and
beautiful evening, with the silence of the twilight falling over the
lonely valleys and the miles upon miles of darkening pines. Charlie
has not much of a voice, but he made an effort to sing with Tita:
"The winds whistle cold and the stars glimmer red,
The sheep are in fold and the cattle in shed;"
and the fine old glee sounded fairly well as we drove through the
gathering gloom of the forest. But Tita sang, in her low, sweet
fashion, that Swedish bridal song that begins:
"Oh, welcome her so fair, with bright and flowing hair;
May Fate through life befriend her, love and smiles attend her;"
and though she sang quietly, just as if she were singing to herself,
we all listened with great attention, and with great gratitude too.
When we got out of Huferschingen, the stars were out over the dark
stretches of forest, and the windows of the quaint old inn were
"And have you enjoyed the amusement of the day?" says Miss Fahler,
rather shyly, to a certain young man who is emptying his creel of
fish. He drops the basket to turn round and look at her face and say
"I have never spent so delightful a day; but it wasn't the fishing."
Things were becoming serious.
And next morning Charlie got hold of Tita, and said to her, in rather
a shamefaced way:
"What am I to do about that fox? It was only a joke, you know; but if
Miss Fahler gets to hear of it, she'll think it was rather shabby."
It was always Miss Fahler now; a couple of days before it was
"For my part," says Tita, "I can't understand why you did it. What
honour is there in shooting a fox?"
"But I wanted to give the skin to her."
It was "her" by this time.
"Well, I think the best thing you can do is to go and tell her all
about it; and also to go and apologise to Dr. Krumm."
"I will go and tell her, certainly; but as for apologising to Krumm,
that is absurd!"
"As you please," says Tita.
By-and-by Franziska--or rather Miss Fahler--came out of the small
garden and round by the front of the house.
"O Miss Fahler," says Charlie, suddenly,--and with that she stops and
blushes slightly,--"I've got something to say to you. I am going to
make a confession. Don't be frightened; it's only about a fox--the fox
that was brought home the day before yesterday; Dr. Krumm shot that."
"Indeed," says Franziska, quite innocently, "I thought you shot it."
"Well, I let them imagine so. It was only a joke."
"But it is of no matter; there are many yellow foxes. Dr. Krumm can
shoot them at another time; he is always here. Perhaps you will shoot
one before you go."
With that Franziska passed into the house, carrying her fruit with
her. Charlie was left to revolve her words in his mind. Dr. Krumm
could shoot foxes when he chose; he was always here. He, Charlie, on
the contrary, had to go away in little more than a fortnight. There
was no Franziska in England; no pleasant driving through great pine
woods in the gathering twilight; no shooting of yellow foxes, to be
brought home in triumph and presented to a beautiful and grateful
young woman. Charlie walked along the white road and overtook Tita,
who had just sat down on a little camp-stool, and got out the
materials for taking a water-colour sketch of the Huferschingen
Valley. He sat down at her feet on the warm grass.
"I suppose I sha'n't interrupt your painting by talking to you?" he
"Oh dear, no," is the reply; and then he begins, in a somewhat
hesitating way, to ask indirect questions and drop hints and fish for
answers, just as if this small creature, who was busy with her sepias
and olive greens, did not see through all this transparent cunning.
At last she said to him, frankly:
"You want me to tell you whether Franziska would make a good wife for
you. She would make a good wife for any man. But then you seem to
think that I should intermeddle and negotiate and become a go-between.
How can I do that. My husband is always accusing me of trying to make
up matches; and you know that isn't true."
"I know it isn't true," says the hypocrite; "but you might only this
once. I believe all you say about this girl; I can see it for myself;
and when shall I ever have such a chance again?"
"But dear me!" says Tita, putting down the white palette for a moment,
"how can I believe you are in earnest? You have only known her three
"And that is quite enough," says Charlie, boldly, "to let you find out
all you want to know about a girl if she is of the right sort. If she
isn't you won't find out in three years. Now look at Franziska; look
at the fine, intelligent face and the honest eyes; you can have no
doubt about her; and then I have all the guarantee of your long
acquaintance with her."
"Oh," says Tita, "that is all very well. Franziska is an excellent
girl, as I have told you often--frank, kind, well educated, and
unselfish. But you cannot have fallen in love with her in three days?"
"Why not?" says this blunt-spoken young man.
"Because it is ridiculous. If I meddle in the affair I should probably
find you had given up the fancy in other three days; or if you did
marry her and took her to England you would get to hate me because I
alone should know that you had married the niece of an innkeeper."
"Well, I like that!" says he, with a flush in his face. "Do you think
I should care two straws whether my friends knew I had married the
niece of an innkeeper? I should show them Franziska. Wouldn't that be
enough? An innkeeper's niece! I wish the world had more of 'em, if
they're like Franziska."
"And besides," says Tita, "have you any notion as to how Franziska
herself would probably take this mad proposal?"
"No," says the young man, humbly. "I wanted you to try and find out
what she thought about me; and if, in time something were said about
this proposal, you might put in a word or two, you know, just to--to
give her an idea, you know, that you don't think it quite so mad,
don't you know?"
"Give me your hand, Charlie," says Tita, with a sudden burst of
kindness. "I'll do what I can for you; for I know she's a good girl,
and she will make a good wife to the man who marries her."
You will observe that this promise was given by a lady who never, in
any circumstances whatsoever, seeks to make up matches, who never
speculates on possible combinations when she invites young people to
her house in Surrey, and who is profoundly indignant, indeed, when
such a charge is preferred against her. Had she not, on that former
Christmas morning, repudiated with scorn the suggestion that Charlie
might marry before another year had passed? Had she not, in her wild
confidence, staked on a wager that assumption of authority in her
household and out of it without which life would be a burden to her?
Yet no sooner was the name of Franziska mentioned, and no sooner had
she been reminded that Charlie was going with us to Huferschingen,
than the nimble little brain set to work. Oftentimes it has occurred
to one dispassionate spectator of her ways that this same Tita
resembled the small object which, thrown into a dish of some liquid
chemical substance, suddenly produces a mass of crystals. The
constituents of those beautiful combinations, you see, were there; but
they wanted some little shock to hasten the slow process of
crystallisation. Now in our social circle we have continually observed
groups of young people floating about in an amorphous and chaotic
fashion--good for nothing but dawdling through dances, and flirting,
and carelessly separating again; but when you dropped Tita among them,
then you would see how rapidly this jellyfish sort of existence was
abolished--how the groups got broken up, and how the sharp,
businesslike relations of marriage were precipitated and made
permanent. But would she own to it? Never! She once went and married
her dearest friend to a Prussian officer; and now she declares he was
a selfish fellow to carry off the girl in that way, and rates him
soundly because he won't bring her to stay with us more than three
months out of the twelve. There are some of us get quite enough of
this Prussian occupation of our territory.
"Well," says Tita to this long English lad, who is lying sprawling on
the grass, "I can safely tell you this, that Franziska likes you very
He suddenly jumps up, and there is a great blush on his face.
"Has she said so?" he asks, eagerly.
"Oh yes! in a way. She thinks you are good-natured. She likes the
English generally. She asked me if that ring you wear was an engaged
These disconnected sentences were dropped with a tantalising slowness
into Charlie's eager ears.
"I must go and tell her directly that it is not," said he; and he
might probably have gone off at once had not Tita restrained him.
"You must be a great deal more cautious than that if you wish to carry
off Franziska some day or other. If you were to ask her to marry you
now she would flatly refuse you, and very properly; for how could a
girl believe you were in earnest? But if you like, Charlie, I will say
something to her that will give her a hint; and if she cares for you
at all before you go away she won't forget you. I wish I was as sure
of you as I am of her."
"Oh I can answer for myself," says the young man, with a becoming
Tita was very happy and pleased all that day. There was an air of
mystery and importance about her. I knew what it meant; I had seen it
Alas! poor Charlie!
"GAB MIR EIN' RING DABEI"
Under the friendly instructions of Dr. Krumm, whom he no longer
regarded as a possible rival, Charlie became a mighty hunter; and you
may be sure that he returned of an evening with sprigs of fir in his
cap for the bucks he had slain, Franziska was not the last to come
forward and shake hands with him and congratulate him, as is the
custom in these primitive parts. And then she was quite made one of
the family when we sat down to dinner in the long, low-roofed room;
and nearly every evening, indeed, Tita would have her to dine with us
and play cards with us.
You may suppose, if these two young folk had any regard for each
other, those evenings in the inn must have been a pleasant time for
them. There were never two partners at whist who were so courteous to
each other, so charitable to each other's blunders. Indeed, neither
would ever admit that the other blundered. Charlie used to make some
frightful mistakes occasionally that would have driven any other
player mad; but you should have seen the manner in which Franziska
would explain that he had no alternative but to take her king with his
ace, that he could not know this, and was right in chancing that. We
played three-penny points, and Charlie paid for himself and his
partner, in spite of her entreaties. Two of us found the game of whist
a profitable thing.
One day a registered letter came for Charlie. He seized it, carried it
to a window, and then called Tita to him. Why need he have any secret
about it? It was nothing but a ring--a plain hoop with a row of
"Do you think she would take this thing?" he said, in a low voice.
"How can I tell?"
The young man blushed and stammered, and said:
"I don't want you to ask her to take the ring, but to get to know
whether she would accept any present from me. And I would ask her
myself plainly, only you have been frightening me so much about being
in a hurry. And what am I to do? Three days hence we start."
Tita looked down with a smile and said, rather timidly:
"I think if I were you I would speak to her myself--but very gently."
We were going off that morning to a little lake some dozen miles off
to try for a jack or two. Franziska was coming with us. She was,
indeed, already outside, superintending the placing in the trap of our
rods and bags. When Charlie went out she said that everything was
ready; and presently our peasant driver cracked his whip, and away we
Charlie was a little grave, and could only reply to Tita's fun with an
effort. Franziska was mostly anxious about the fishing, and hoped that
we might not go so far to find nothing.
We found few fish anyhow. The water was as still as glass, and as
clear; the pike that would have taken our spinning bits of metal must
have been very dull-eyed pike indeed. Tita sat at the bow of the long
punt reading, while our boatman steadily and slowly plied his single
oar. Franziska was for a time eagerly engaged in watching the progress
of our fishing, until even she got tired of the excitement of rolling
in an immense length of cord, only to find that our spinning bait had
hooked a bit of floating wood or weed. At length Charlie proposed that
he should go ashore and look out for a picturesque site for our
picnic, and he hinted that perhaps Miss Franziska might also like a
short walk to relieve the monotony of the sailing. Miss Franziska said
she would be very pleased to do that. We ran them in among the rushes,
and put them ashore, and then once more started on our laborious
Tita laid down her book. She was a little anxious. Sometimes you could
see Charlie and Franziska on the path by the side of the lake; at
other times the thick trees by the water's side hid them.
The solitary oar dipped in the lake; the boat glided along the shores.
Tita took up her book again. The space of time that passed may be
inferred from the fact that, merely as an incident to it, we managed
to catch a chub of four pounds. When the excitement over this event
had passed, Tita said:
"We must go back to them. What do they mean by not coming on and
telling us? It is most silly of them."
We went back by the same side of the lake, and we found both Franziska
and her companion seated on the bank at the precise spot where we had
left them. They said it was the best place for the picnic. They asked
for the hamper in a businesslike way. They pretended they had searched
the shores of the lake for miles.
And while Tita and Franziska are unpacking the things, and laying the
white cloth smoothly on the grass, and pulling out the bottles for
Charlie to cool in the lake, I observe that the younger of the two
ladies rather endeavours to keep her left hand out of sight. It is a
paltry piece of deception. Are we moles, and blinder than moles, that
we should continually be made the dupes of these women? I say to her:
"Franziska, what is the matter with your left hand?"
"Leave Franziska's left hand alone," says Tita, severely.
"My dear," I reply, humbly, "I am afraid Franziska has hurt her left
At this moment Charlie, having stuck the bottles among the reeds,
comes back, and, hearing our talk, he says, in a loud and audacious
"Oh, do you mean the ring? It's a pretty little thing I had about me,
and Franziska has been good enough to accept it. You can show it to
Of course he had it about him. Young men always do carry a stock of
ruby rings with them when they go fishing, to put in the noses of the
fish. I have observed it frequently.
Franziska looks timidly at Tita, and then she raises her hand, that
trembles a little. She is about to take the ring off to show it to us
when Charlie interposes:
"You needn't take it off, Franziska."
And with that, somehow, the girl slips away from among us, and Tita is
with her, and we don't get a glimpse of either of them until the
solitude resounds with our cries for luncheon.
In due time Charlie returned to London, and to Surrey with us in very
good spirits. He used to come down very often to see us; and one
evening at dinner he disclosed the fact that he was going over to the
Black Forest in the following week, although the November nights were
chill just then.
"And how long do you remain?"
"A month," he says.
"Madam," I say to the small lady at the other end of the table," a
month from now will bring us to the 4th of December. You have lost the
bet you made last Christmas morning; when will it please you to resign
"Oh, bother the bet," says this unscrupulous person.
"But what do you mean?" says Charlie.
"Why," I say to him, "she laid a wager last Christmas Day that you
would not be married within a year. And now you say you mean to bring
Franziska over on the 4th of December next. Isn't it so?"
"Oh, no!" he says; "we don't get married till the spring."
You should have heard the burst of low, delightful laughter with which
Queen Tita welcomed this announcement. She had won her wager.