It is a generally acknowledged truth, that the prerogatives of the nobility are only maintained at the present time through the weakness of the middle classes, and many of these who have established themselves and their families by their intellect, industry and struggles, get into a state of bliss, which reminds those who see it, of intoxication, as soon as they are permitted to enter aristocratic circles, or can be seen in public with barons and counts; and above all, when these treat them in a friendly manner, no matter from what motive, or when they see a prospect of a daughter of theirs driving in a carriage with armorial bearings on the panels, as a countess.
Many women and girls of the citizen class would not hesitate for a moment to refuse an honorable, good-looking man of their own class, in order to go to the altar with the oldest, ugliest and stupidest dotard among the aristocracy.
I shall never forget saying in a joke to a young, well-educated girl of a wealthy, middle-class family, who had the figure and bearing of a queen, shortly before her marriage, not to forget an ermine cloak in her trousseau.
“I know it would suit me capitally,” she replied in all seriousness, “and I should certainly have worn one, if I had married Baron R— — which I was nearly doing, as you know, but it is not suitable for the wife of a government official.”
When a girl of the middle classes wanders from the paths of virtue, her fall may, as a rule, be rightly ascribed to her hankering after the nobility.
In a small German town there lived, some years ago, a tailor, whom we will call Löwenfuss, a man who, like all knights of the shears, was equally full of aspirations after culture and liberty. After working for one master for some time as a poor journeyman, he married his daughter, and after his father-inlaw’s death, he succeeded to his business, and as he was industrious, lucky and managed it well, he soon grew very well off, and was in a position to give his daughters an education, for which many a nobleman’s daughters might have envied them; for they learned, not only French and music, but had also acquired many more solid branches of knowledge, and as they were both pretty and charming girls, they soon became very much thought of and sought after.
Fanny, the eldest, especially, was her father’s pride and the favorite of society; she was of middle height, slim, with a thoroughly maidenly figure, and with almost an Italian face, in which two large, dark eyes seemed to ask for love and submission at the same time; and yet the girl with the plentiful, black hair was not in the least intended to command, for she was one of those romantic women who will give themselves, or even throw themselves, away, but who can never be subjugated. A young physician fell in love with her, and wished to marry her; Fanny returned his love, and her parents gladly accepted him as a son-inlaw, but she made it a condition that he should visit her freely and frequently for two years, before she would consent to become his wife, and she declared that she would not go to the altar with him, until she was convinced that not only their hearts, but also that their characters harmonized. He agreed to her wish, and became a regular visitor at the house of the educated tailor; they were happy hours for the lovers; they played, sang and read together, and he told the girl some things from his medical experiences, which excited and moved her.
Just then, one day an officer went to the tailor’s house, to order some civilian’s clothes. This was not an unusual event in itself, but it was soon to be the cause of one; for accidentally the daughter of the artist in clothes came into the shop, just as the officer was leaving it, and on seeing her, he let go of the door-handle, and asked the tailor who the young lady was.
“My daughter,” the tailor said, proudly.
“May I beg you to introduce me to the young lady, Herr Löwenfuss?” the hussar said.
“I feel flattered at the honor you are doing me,” the tailor replied, with evident pleasure.
“Fanny, the Captain wishes to make your acquaintance; this is my daughter, Fanny, Captain . . . ”
“Captain Count Kasimir W— — ” the hussar interrupted him, as he went up to the pretty girl, and paid her a compliment or two. They were very commonplace, stale, everyday phrases, but in spite of this, they flattered the girl, intelligent as she was, extremely, because it was a cavalry officer and a Count to boot who addressed them to her. And when, at last, the Captain, in the most friendly manner, asked the tailor’s permission to be allowed to visit at the house, both father and daughter granted it to him most readily.
The very next day Count W—— paid his visit, in full dress uniform, and when Mamma Löwenfuss made some observations about it, how handsome it was, and how well it became him, he told them that he should not wear it much longer, as he intended to quit the service soon, and to look for a wife, in whom birth and wealth were matters of secondary consideration, while a good education and a knowledge of domestic matters were of paramount importance; adding that as soon as he had found one, he meant to retire to his estates.
From that moment, Papa and Mamma Löwenfuss looked upon the Count as their daughter’s suitor; it is certain that he was madly in love with Fanny; he used to go to their house every evening, and made himself so liked by all of them, that the young doctor soon felt himself to be superfluous, and so his visits became rarer and rarer. The Count confessed his love to Fanny on a moonlight night, while they were sitting in an arbor covered with honeysuckle, which formed nearly the whole of Herr Löwenfuss’ garden; he swore that he loved, that he adored her, and when at last she lay trembling in his arms he tried to take her by storm, but that bold cavalry-exploit did not succeed, and the good-looking hussar found out, for the first time in his life, that a woman can at the same time be romantic, passionately in love, and yet virtuous.
The next morning, the tailor called on the Count, and begged him very humbly to state what his intentions with regard to Fanny were. The enamored hussar declared that he was determined to make the tailor’s little daughter, Countess W—— . Herr Löwenfuss was so much overcome by his feelings, that he showed great inclination to embrace his future son-inlaw, The Count, however, laid down certain conditions. The whole matter must be kept a profound secret, for he had every prospect of inheriting half a million of florins, on the death of an aunt, who was already eighty years old, which he should risk by a mesalliance.
When they heard this, the girl’s parents certainly hesitated for a time, to give their consent to the marriage, but the handsome hussar, whose ardent passion carried Fanny away, at last gained the victory. The doctor received a pretty little note from the tailor’s daughter, in which she told him that she gave him back his promise, as she had not found her ideal in him. Fanny then signed a deed, by which she formerly renounced all claims to her father’s property, in favor of her sister, and left her home and her father’s house with the Count under cover of the night, in order to accompany him to Poland, where the marriage was to take place in his castle.
Of course malicious tongues declared that the hussar had abducted Fanny, but her parents smiled at such reports, for they knew better, and the moment when their daughter would return as Countess W—— would amply recompense them for everything.
Meanwhile, the Polish Count and the romantic German girl were being carried by the train through the dreary plains of Masovia.1 They stopped in a large town to make some purchases, and the Count, who was very wealthy and liberal, provided his future wife with everything that befits a Countess, and which a girl could fancy, and then they continued their journey. The country grew more picturesque, but more melancholy, as they went further East; the somber Carpathians rose from the snow-covered plains and villages, surrounded by white glistening walls, and stunted willows stood by the side of the roads, ravens sailed through the white sky, and here and there a small peasant’s sledge shot by, drawn by two thin horses.
1 A division of Poland, of which Warsaw is the Capital. — TRANSLATOR.]
At last they reached the station, where the Count’s steward was waiting for them with a carriage and four, which brought them to their destination almost as swiftly as the iron steed.
The numerous servants were drawn up in the yard of the ancient castle to receive their master and mistress, and they gave loud cheers for her, for which she thanked them smilingly. When she went into the dim, arched passages, and the large rooms, for a moment she felt a strange feeling of fear, but she quickly checked it, for was not her most ardent wish to be fulfilled in a couple of hours?
She put on her bridal attire, in which a half comical, half sinister-looking old woman with a toothless mouth and a nose like an owl’s, assisted her, and just as she was fixing the myrtle wreath onto her dark curls, the bell began to ring, which summoned her to her wedding. The Count himself, in full uniform, led her to the chapel of the castle, where the priest, with the steward and the castellan as witnesses, and the footmen in grand liveries, were awaiting the handsome young couple.
After the wedding, the marriage certificate was signed in the vestry, and a groom was sent to the station, where he dispatched a telegram to her parents, to the effect that the hussar had kept his word, and that Fanny Löwenfuss had become Countess Faniska W—— .
Then the newly-married couple sat down to a beautiful little dinner in company of the chaplain, the steward and the castellan; the champagne made them all very cheerful, and at last the Count knelt down before his young and beautiful wife, boldly took her white satin slipper off her foot, filled it with wine, and emptied it to her health.
At length night came, a thorough, Polish wedding night, and Faniska had just finished dressing and was looking at herself with proud satisfaction in the great mirror that was fastened into the wall, from top to bottom. A white satin train flowed down behind her like rays from the moon, a half-open jacket of bright green velvet, trimmed with valuable ermine, covered her voluptuous, virgin bust and her classic arms, only to show them all the more seductively at the slightest motion, while the wealth of her dark hair, in which diamonds hung here and there like glittering dew-drops, fell down her neck and mingled with the white fur. The Count came in a red velvet dressing gown trimmed with sable; at a sign from him, the old woman who was waiting on his wife’s divinity left the room, and the next moment he was lying like a slave at the feet of his lovely young wife, who raised him up, and was pressing him to her heaving bosom, when a noise which she had never heard before, a wild howling, startled the loving woman in the midst of her highest bliss.
“What was that?” she asked, trembling.
The Count went to the window without speaking, and she followed him, with her arms round him, and looked half timidly, half curiously out into the darkness, where large bright spots were moving about in pairs, in the park at her feet.
“Are they will-o’-the-wisps?” she whispered.
“No, my child, they are wolves,” the Count replied, fetching his double-barreled gun, which he loaded, and went out on the snow-covered balcony, while she drew the fur more closely over her bosom, and followed him.
“Will you shoot?” the Count asked her in a whisper, and when she nodded, he said: “Aim straight at the first pair of bright spots that you see; they are the eyes of those amiable brutes.”
Then he handed her the gun and pointed it for her.
“That is the way — are you pointing straight?”
A flash, a report, which the echo from the hills repeats four times, and two of the unpleasant-looking lights had vanished.
Then the Count fired, and by that time their people were all awake; they drove away the wolves with torches and shouts, and laid the two large animals, the spoils of a Polish wedding night, at the feet of their young mistress.
And the days that followed resembled that night. The Count showed himself the most attentive husband, as his wife’s knight and slave, and she felt quite at home in that dull castle; she rode, drove, smoked, read French novels and beat her servants as well as any Polish Countess could have done. In the course of a few years, she presented the Count with two children, and although he appeared very happy at that, yet, like most husbands, he grew continually cooler, more indolent, and neglectful of her. From time to time he left the castle, to see after his affairs in the capital, and the intervals between those journeys became continually shorter. Faniska felt that her husband was tired of her, and much as it grieved her, she did not let him notice it; she was always the same.
But at last the Count remained away altogether; at first he used to write, but at last the poor, weeping woman did not even receive letters to comfort her in her unhappy solitude, and his lawyer sent the money that she and her children required.
She conjectured, hoped and doubted, suffered and wept for more than a year; then she suddenly went to the capital and appeared unexpectedly in his apartments. Painful explanations followed, until at last the Count told her that he no longer loved her, and could not live with her for the future, and when she wished to make him do so by legal means, and entrusted her case to a celebrated lawyer, the Count denied that she was his wife. She produced her marriage certificate, when the most infamous fraud came to light. A confidential servant of the Count had acted the part of the priest, and the tailor’s beautiful daughter had, as a matter of fact, merely been the Count’s mistress, and her children were bastards.
The virtuous woman then saw, when it was too late, that it was she who had formed a mesalliance. Her parents would have nothing to do with her, and at last it turned out in the bargain that the Count was married long before he knew her, but that he did not live with his wife.
Then Fanny applied to the police magistrates; she wanted to appeal to justice, but she was dissuaded from taking criminal proceedings; for although they would certainly lead to the punishment of her daring seducer, they would also bring about her own total ruin.
At last, however, her lawyer effected a settlement between them, which was favorable to Fanny, and which she accepted for the sake of her children. The Count paid her a considerable sum down, and gave her the gloomy castle to live in. Thither she returned with a broken heart, and from that time she lived alone, a sullen misanthrope, a fierce despot.
From time to time, a stranger wandering through the Carpathians, meets a pale woman of demonic beauty, wearing a magnificent sable skin jacket and with a gun over her shoulder, in the forest, or in the winter in a sledge, driving her foaming horses until they nearly drop from fatigue, while the sleigh bells utter a melancholy sound, and at last die away in the distance, like the weeping of a solitary, deserted human heart.
Last updated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 13:40