The Princess Leonie was one of those beautiful, brilliant enigmas, who irresistibly allure everyone like a Sphinx, for she was young, charming, and singularly lovely, and understood how to heighten her charms not a little by carefully-chosen dresses. She was a great lady of the right stamp, and was very intellectual into the bargain, which is not the case with all aristocratic ladies; she also took great interest in art and literature, and it was even said that she patronized one of our poets in a manner which was worthy of the Medicis, and that she strewed the beautiful roses of continual female sympathy on to his thorny path. All this was evident to everybody, and had nothing strange about it, but the world would have liked to know the history of that woman, and to look into the depths of her soul, and because people could not do this in Princess Leonie’s case, they thought it very strange.
No one could read that face, which was always beautiful, always cheerful, and always the same; no one could fathom those large, dark, unfathomable eyes, which hid their secrets under the unvarying brilliancy of majestic repose, like a mountain lake, whose waters look black on account of their depth. For everybody was agreed that the beautiful princess had her secrets, interesting and precious secrets, like all other ladies of our fashionable world.
Most people looked upon her as a flirt who had no heart, and even no blood, and they asserted that she was only virtuous because the power of loving was denied her, but that she took all the more pleasure in seeing that she was loved, and that she set her trammels and enticed her victims, until they surrendered at discretion at her feet, so that she might leave them to their fate, and hurry off in pursuit of some fresh game.
Others declared that the beautiful woman had met with her romances in life, and was still having them, but, as a thorough Messalina, she knew how to conceal her adventures as cleverly as that French queen who had every one of her lovers thrown into the cold waters of the Seine, as soon as he quitted her soft, warm arms, and she was described thus to Count Otto F., a handsome cavalry officer, who had made the acquaintance of the beautiful, dangerous woman at that fashionable watering place, Karlsbad, and had fallen deeply in love with her.
Even before he had been introduced to her, the Princess had already exchanged fiery, encouraging glances with him, and when a brother officer took him to call on her, she welcomed him with a smile which appeared to promise him happiness, but after he had paid his court to her for a month, he did not seem to have made any progress, and as she possessed in a high degree the skill of being able to avoid even the shortest private interviews, it appeared as if matters would go no further than that delightful promise.
Night after night, the enamored young officer walked along the garden railings of her villa as close to her windows as possible, without being noticed by any one, and at last fortune seemed to favor him. The moon, which was nearly at the full, was shining brightly, and in its silvery light he saw a tall, female figure, with large plaits round her head, coming along the grave path; he stood still, as he thought he recognized the Princess, but as she came nearer he saw a pretty girl, whom he did not know, and who came up to the railings and said to him with a smile: “What can I do for you, Count?” mentioning his name.
“You seem to know me, Fräulein.” “Oh! I am only the Princess’s lady’s-maid.” . . . “But you could do me a great favor.” “How?” she asked quickly: “You might give the Princess a letter.” . . . “I should not venture to do that,” the girl replied with a peculiar, half-mocking, half-pitying smile, and with a deep curtsey, she disappeared behind the raspberry bushes which formed a hedge along the railings.
The next morning, as the Count, with several other ladies and gentlemen, was accompanying the Princess home from the pump-room, the fair coquette let her pocket-handkerchief fall just outside her house. The young officer took this for a hint, so he picked it up, concealed the letter that he had written, which he always kept about him so as to be prepared for any event, in the folds of the soft cambric, and gave it back to the Princess, who quickly put it into her pocket. That also seemed to him to be a good augury, and, in fact, in the course of a few hours he received a note in disguised handwriting, by the post, in which his bold wooing was graciously entertained, and an appointment was made for the same night in the pavilion of the Princess’s villa.
The happiness of the enamored young officer knew no bounds; he kissed the letter a hundred times, thanked the Princess when he met her in the afternoon where the band was playing by his animated looks, which she either did not or could not understand, and at night was standing an hour before the appointed time behind the wall at the bottom of the garden.
When the church clock struck eleven he climbed over it and jumped on to the ground on the other side, and looked about him carefully; then he went up to the small, white-washed summer-house, where the Princess had promised to meet him, on tiptoe. He found the door ajar, went in, and at the same moment he felt two soft arms thrown round him. “Is it you, Princess?” he asked, in a whisper, for the pavilion was in total darkness, as the venetian blinds were drawn. “Yes, Count, it is I.” . . . “How cruel.” . . . “I love you, but I am obliged to conceal my passion under the mask of coldness because of my social position.”
As she said this, the enamored woman, who was trembling on his breast with excitement, drew him on to a couch that occupied one side of the pavilion, and began to kiss him ardently. The lovers spent two blissful hours in delightful conversation and intoxicating pleasures; then she bade him farewell, and told him to remain where he was until she had gone back to the house. He obeyed her, but could not resist looking at her through the venetian blinds, and he saw her tall, slim figure as she went along the gravel path with an undulating walk. She wore a white boumous, which he recognized as having seen in the pump-room; her soft, black hair fell down over her shoulders, and before she disappeared into the villa she stood for a moment and looked back, but he could not see her face, as she wore a thick veil.
When Count F. met the Princess the next morning in company with other ladies, when the band was playing, she showed an amount of unconstraint which confused him, and while she was joking in the most unembarrassed manner, he turned crimson and stammered out such a lot of nonsense that the ladies noticed it, and made him the target for their wit. None of them was bolder or more confident in their attacks on him than the Princess, so that at last he looked upon the woman who concealed so much passion in her breast, and who yet could command herself so thoroughly, as a kind of miracle, and at last said to himself: “The world is right; woman is a riddle!”
The Princess remained there for some weeks longer, and always maintained the same polite and friendly, but cool and sometimes ironical, demeanor towards him, but he easily endured being looked upon as her unfortunate adorer by the world, for at least every other day a small, scented note, stamped with her arms and signed Leonie, summoned him to the pavilion, and there he enjoyed the full, delightful possession of the beautiful woman. It, however, struck him as strange that she would never let him see her face. Her head was always covered with a thick black veil, through which he could see her eyes, which sparkled with love, glistening; he passed his fingers through her hair, he saw her well-known dresses, and once he succeeded in getting possession of one of her pocket-handkerchiefs, on which the name Leonie and the princely coronet were magnificently embroidered.
When she returned to Vienna for the winter, a note from her invited him to follow her there, and as he had indefinite leave of absence from his regiment, he could obey the commands of his divinity. As soon as he arrived there he received another note, which forbade him to go to her house, but promised him a speedy meeting in his rooms, and so the young officer had the furniture elegantly renovated, and looked forward to a visit from the beautiful woman with all a lover’s impatience.
At last she came, wrapped in a magnificent cloak of green velvet, trimmed with ermine, but still thickly veiled, and before she came in she made it a condition that the room in which he received her should be quite dark, and after he had put out all the lights she threw off her fur, and her coldness gave way to the most impetuous tenderness.
“What is the reason that you will never allow me to see your dear, beautiful face?” the officer asked. “It is a whim of mine, and I suppose I have the right to indulge in whims,” she said, hastily. “But I so long once more to see your splendid figure and your lovely face in full daylight,” the Count continued. “Very well then, you shall see me at the Opera this evening.”
She left him at six o’clock, after stopping barely an hour with him, and as soon as her carriage had driven off he dressed and went to the opera. During the overture, he saw the Princess enter her box and looking dazzlingly beautiful; she was wearing the same green velvet cloak, trimmed with ermine, that he had had in his hands a short time before, but almost immediately she let it fall from her shoulders, and showed a bust which was worthy of the Goddess of Love. She spoke with her husband with much animation, and smiled with her usual cold smile, though she did not give her adorer even a passing look, but, in spite of this, he felt the happiest of mortals.
In Vienna, however, the Count was not as fortunate as he had been at Karlsbad, where he had first met her, for his beautiful mistress only came to see him once a week; often she only stopped a short time with him, and once nearly six weeks passed without her favoring him at all, and she did not even make any excuse for remaining away. Just then, however, Leonie’s husband accidentally made the young officer’s acquaintance at the Jockey Club, took a fancy to him, and asked him to go and see him at his house.
When he called and found the Princess alone his heart felt as if it would burst with pleasure, and seizing her hand, he pressed it ardently to his lips. “What are you doing, Count?” she said, drawing back. “You are behaving very strangely.” “We are alone,” the young officer whispered, “so why this mask of innocence? Your cruelty is driving me mad, for it is six weeks since you came to see me last.” “I certainly think you are out of your mind,” the Princess replied, with every sign of the highest indignation, and hastily left the drawing-room. Nothing else remained for the Count but to do the same thing, but his mind was in a perfect whirl, and he was quite incapable of explaining to himself the Princess’s enigmatical behavior. He dined at an hotel with some friends, and when he got home he found a note in which the Princess begged him to pardon her, and promised to justify her conduct, for which purpose she would see him at eight o’clock that evening.
Scarcely, however, had he read her note, when two of his brother-officers came to see him, and asked him, with well-simulated anxiety, whether he were ill. When he said that he was perfectly well, one of them continued, laughing: “Then please explain the occurrence that is in everybody’s mouth today, in which you play such a comical part.” — “I, a comical part?” the Count shouted. — “Well, is it not very comical when you call on a lady like Princess Leonie, whom you do not know, to upbraid her for her cruelty, and most unceremoniously call her thou1?”
1 In Germany, thou du, is only used between near relations, lovers, very intimate friends, to children, servants, &c. — TRANSLATOR.]
That was too much; Count F. might pardon the Princess for pretending not to know him in society, but that she should make him a common laughing-stock, nearly drove him mad. “If I call the Princess thou,” he exclaimed, “it is because I have the right to do so, as I will prove.” — His comrades shrugged their shoulders, but he asked them to come again punctually at seven o’clock, and then he made his preparations.
At eight o’clock his divinity made her appearance, still thickly veiled, but on this occasion wearing a valuable sable cloak. As usual, Count F. took her into the dark-room and locked the outer door; then he opened that which led into his bedroom, and his two friends came in, each with a candle in his hand. — The lady in the sable cloak cried out in terror when Count F. pulled off her veil, but then it was his turn to be surprised, for it was not the Princess Leonie who stood before him, but her pretty lady’s-maid, who, now she was discovered, confessed that love had driven her to assume her mistress’s part, in which she had succeeded perfectly, on account of the similarity of their figure, eyes and hair. She had found the Count’s letter in the Princess’s pocket-handkerchief when they were at Karlsbad and had answered it. She had made him happy, and had heightened the illusion which her figure gave rise to by borrowing the Princess’s dresses.
Of course the Count was made great fun of, and turned his back on Vienna hastily that same evening, but the pretty lady’s-maid also disappeared soon after the catastrophe, and only by those means escaped from her mistress’s well-merited anger; for it turned out that that gallant little individual had already played the part of her mistress more than once, and had made all those hopeless adorers of the Princess, who had found favor in her own eyes, happy in her stead.
Thus the enigma was solved which Princess Leonie seemed to have proposed to the world.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58