The boat touched the shore, and we all left it as quickly as possible, and scattered about in the meadows, like birds suddenly set free from the cage. The reverend gentleman took a hasty leave of us, and strode off toward the castle. The students repaired to a retired dingle, where they could shake out their cloaks, wash themselves in the brook, and shave one another. The new lady's-maid, with her canary bird and her bundle, set out for an inn, the hostess of which I had recommended to her as an excellent person, and where she wished to change her gown before she presented herself at the castle. As for me - the lovely evening shone right into my heart, and as soon as all the rest had disappeared I lost not a moment, but ran directly to the castle garden.
My toll-house, which I had to pass, was standing on the old spot, the tall trees in the castle garden were still murmuring above it, and a yellow-hammer, which always used to sing at sunset in the chestnut-tree before the window, was singing again, as if nothing in the world had happened since I last heard him. The toll-house window was open; I ran up to it with delight and looked in. There was no one there, but the clock in the corner was ticking away, the writing-table stood by the window, and the long pipe in the corner as of old. I could not resist the temptation to climb through the window and seat myself at the writing-table before the big account-book. Again the sunlight shone golden-green through the chestnut boughs upon the figures in the open book, again the bees buzzed in and out of the window, and again the yellow-hammer's jocund song sounded from the tree outside.
All at once the door of the sleeping-room opened, and a tall, old Receiver, in my dotted dressing-gown, entered! He paused on the threshold upon beholding me thus unexpectedly, took his spectacles quickly from his nose? and looked angrily at me. Not a little alarmed, I started up, and, without saying a word, ran out of the door and through the little garden, where I was very nearly tripped up by the confounded potato-vines which the old Receiver had planted, evidently by the Porter's advice, in place of my flowers. I heard him as he came out of the door scolding after me, but I was mounted atop of the garden wall, and gazing with a throbbing heart over into the castle garden.
Ah, how the birds were flitting and twittering and singing! The lawns and paths were deserted, but the gilded tree-tops nodded a welcome to me in the evening breeze, and on one side, up through masses of dark green foliage, gleamed the Danube.
Suddenly I heard sung from the depths of the garden:
When the yearning heart is stilled
The voice and the song were strangely familiar, as if I had heard them somewhere in a dream. I pondered over and over again, and at last exclaimed, joyfully, "It is Herr Guido!" swinging myself quickly down into the garden. It was the self-same song that he had sung on the balcony of the Italian inn on that summer evening when I saw him for the last time.
He went on singing, while I bounded over beds and hedges toward the singer. But as I emerged from between the last clumps of rose-bushes I suddenly paused spellbound. For on the green opening beside the little lake with the swans, clearly illuminated in the ruddy evening light, on a stone bench sat the lovely Lady fair in a beautiful dress, with a wreath of red and white roses on her dark-brown hair, and downcast eyes, tracing lines on the greensward with her riding-whip, just as she had sat in the skiff when I was forced to sing her the song of the Lady fair. Opposite her sat another young lady, with brown curls clustering on a plump white neck, which was turned toward me; she was singing to a guitar, while the swans glided in wide circles on the placid water.
All at once the Lady fair raised her eyes, and gave a scream on perceiving me. The other lady turned round toward me so quickly that her brown curls fell over her eyes, and when she saw me she burst into a fit of immoderate laughter, sprang up from the bench, and clapped her hands thrice. Whereupon a crowd of little girls in white short skirts with red and green sashes came running out from among the rose-bushes, so that I could not imagine where they had all been hiding. They had long garlands of flowers in their hands, and quickly formed a circle around me, dancing and singing -
With ribbons gay of violets blue
It was from Der Freischütz. I recognized some of the little singers; they were girls from the village. I pinched their cheeks, and tried to escape from the circle, but the roguish little things would not let me out. I could not tell what to make of it all, and stood there perfectly dazed.
Suddenly a young man in hunting costume emerged from the shrubbery. Hardly could I believe my eyes - it was merry Herr Lionardo! The little girls now opened the circle and stood as if spell-bound on one foot, with the other stretched out, holding the garlands of flowers high above their heads with both hands.
Herr Lionardo took the hand of the lovely Lady fair, who had risen, and had only now and then glanced at me, and, leading her up to me, said, "Love - on this point philosophers are unanimous - is one of the most courageous qualities of the human heart; it shatters with a glance of fire the barriers of rank and station, the world is too confined for it, eternity too brief. It is, so to speak, a poet's robe, in which every dreamer enwraps himself once in this cold world, for a journey to Arcadia. And the farther two parted lovers wander from each other, the more beautiful and the richer are the folds of the robe, the more surprising and wonderful is its extent, as it sweeps behind them, so that one really cannot travel far without treading on a couple of such trains. O beloved Herr Receiver, and bridegroom! although wrapped in this robe you reached the shores of the Tiber, the little hands of your present bride held you fast by the extreme end of the train, and, however you might fiddle and fume, you had to return within the magic influence of her beautiful eyes. And since this is so, you two dear, foolish people, wrap yourselves both up in this blessed robe, forget all the rest of the world, love like turtle-doves, and be happy!"
Hardly had Herr Lionardo finished his speech when the other young lady who had sung the song approached me, crowned me with a wreath of fresh myrtle, and as she was arranging it, with her face close to my own, archly sang -
And therefore do I crown thee,
As she retreated a step or two, "Do you remember the robbers who shook you down from the tree at night?" said she, courtesying, and giving me so arch a glance that my heart danced within me. Thereupon, without waiting for an answer, she walked around me. "Actually just the same, without any Italian affectations! But no! look, look at his fat pockets!" she exclaimed suddenly to the lovely Lady fair. "Violin, linen, razor, portmanteau, everything stuffed together!"
She turned me all round as she spoke, and could scarcely say anything more for laughing. Meanwhile, the lovely Lady fair was quite silent, and could hardly raise her eyes for shame and confusion. It seemed to me that at heart she was provoked at all this jesting talk. At last her eyes filled with tears, and she hid her face on the breast of the other lady, who first looked at her in surprise and then clasped her affectionately in her arms.
I stood there as in a dream. The longer I looked at the strange lady the more clearly I recognized her; she was in truth no other than - the young painter, Herr Guido!
I did not know what to say, and was just about to question her, when Herr Lionardo approached her and spoke in an undertone. "Does he not know yet?" I heard him ask. She shook her head. He reflected for a moment, and then said aloud, "No, no, he must be told all immediately, or there will be all kinds of fresh gossip and confusion."
"Herr Receiver," he said, turning to me, "we have not much time at present, but do me the favor to exhaust your stock of surprise and wonder as quickly as possible, that you may not hereafter, by questions, and wonderings, and head-shakings among the people about here, revive old tales and give rise to new rumors and suspicions."
So saying, he drew me aside into the shrubbery, while Fräulein Guido made passes in the air with the Lady fair's riding-whip, and shook all her curls down over her eyes, which did not prevent my seeing that she was blushing violently.
"Well, then," said Herr Lionardo, "Fräulein Flora, who is trying to look as if she neither knew nor had heard anything of the whole affair, had exchanged hearts in a hurry with somebody. Whereupon somebody else appears, and with sound of trumpet and drum offers her his heart, and wishes for hers in return. But her heart is already bestowed upon somebody, and somebody's heart is in her possession, and that somebody will neither take back his heart nor give back hers. All the world exclaims - but have you never read any romances?"
I shook my head.
"Well, then, at all events you have taken part in one. In brief, there was such a jumble with the hearts that somebody - that is, I - had to take matters in hand. I sprang on my horse one warm summer night, mounted Fräulein Flora as the painter Guido on another, and rode toward the south, to conceal her in one of my lonely castles in Italy till all the fuss about the hearts should be over. But on the way we were tracked, and from the balcony of the Italian inn before which you kept, sound asleep, such admirable watch, Flora suddenly caught sight of our pursuer."
"The crooked Signor, then - "
"Was a spy. Therefore we secretly took to the woods, and left you to travel post alone over our prearranged route. That misled our pursuer, and my people in the mountain castle besides; they were hourly expecting the disguised Flora, and with more zeal than penetration they took you for the Fräulein. Even here at the castle they thought Flora was among the mountains; they inquired about her, they wrote to her - did you not receive a note?"
In an instant I produced the note from my pocket: "This letter, then?"
"Is addressed to me," said Fräulein Flora, who up to this point had seemed to be paying no attention to our conversation. She snatched the note from me, read it, and put it into her bosom.
"And now," said Herr Lionardo, "we must hasten to the castle, where they are all waiting for us. In conclusion, as a matter of course, and as is fitting for every well-bred romance - discovery, repentance, reconciliation; but we are all happy together once more, and the wedding takes place the day after tomorrow!"
Just as he had finished, a terrific racket of drums and trumpets, horns and clarionets, was suddenly heard in the shrubbery; guns were fired at intervals, loud cheers were given, the little girls began to dance again, and heads appeared among the bushes as if they had grown out of the earth. I ran and leaped about in all the hurry and scurry, but as it began to grow dark I only gradually recognized all the faces. The old gardener beat the drum, the students from Prague in their cloaks played away and among them the Porter fingered his bassoon like mad. When I suddenly perceived him thus unexpectedly, I ran to him and embraced him with enthusiasm, causing him to play quite out of time.
"Upon my word, if he should travel to the ends of the earth he would never be anything but a goose!", he said to the students, and then went on blowing away at his bassoon in a fury.
Meanwhile, the lovely Lady fair had privately escaped from all the noise and confusion, and had fled like a startled fawn far into the depths of the garden.
I caught sight of her in time and hurried after her. In their zeal the musicians never noticed us; after a while they thought that we had decamped to the castle, and then the entire band took up the line of march in that direction.
We, however, almost at the same moment reached a summer-house on the borders of the garden, whence through the open window there was a view of the wide, deep valley. The sun had long since set behind the mountains, a rosy haze glimmered in the warm fading twilight, through which the murmur of the Danube ascended clearer and clearer the stiller grew the air. I looked long at the lovely Countess, who stood before me heated with her flight and so close that I could almost hear her heart beat. Now that I was alone with her I could find no words to speak, so great was my awe of her. At last I took heart of grace, and clasped in mine one of her little white hands - and in one moment her head lay on my breast and my arms were around her.
In an instant she extricated herself and turned to the window to cool her glowing cheeks in the evening air.
"Ah," I cried, "my heart is full to bursting, but it all seems like a dream to me!"
"And to me too," said the lovely Lady fair. "When, last summer," she went on after a while, "I came back with the Countess from Rome where we fortunately found Fräulein Flora, and had brought her back with us but could hear nothing of you either there or here, I never thought all this would come to pass. It was only at noon today that Jocky, the good, brisk fellow, came breathless into the court-yard and brought the news that you had come by the mail-boat."
Then she laughed quietly to herself. "Do you remember," she said, "that time when I came out on the balcony! It was just such an evening as this, and there was music in the garden."
"And he is really dead?" I asked hastily.
"Whom do you mean?" replied the Lady fair, looking at me in surprise.
"Your ladyship's husband," said I, "who was with you on the balcony."
She flushed crimson.
"What strange fancies you have in your head!" she exclaimed. "That was the Countess's son, who had just returned from his travels and, since it happened to be my birthday, he led me out on the balcony with him that I might have a share of the cheers. Was that why you ran away?"
"Good heavens, yes!" I cried, striking my forehead with my hand. She shook her head and laughed merrily.
I was so happy there beside her while she went on chatting so confidingly, that I could have sat listening until morning. I found in my pocket a handful of almonds which I had brought with me from Italy. She took some, and we sat and cracked them and gazed abroad over the quiet country.
"Do you see that little white villa," she said after a while, "gleaming over there in the moonlight? The Count has given us that, with its garden and vineyard; there is where we are to live. He found out long ago that we cared for each other, and he is very fond of you, for if he had not had you with them when he was running off with Fräulein Flora they would both have been caught before the Countess had become reconciled to him, and everything would have been spoiled."
"Good heavens! fairest, sweetest Countess," I cried out, "my head is fairly spinning with all this unexpected and amazing information; are you talking of Herr Lionardo?"
"Yes, yes," she replied; "that is what he called himself in Italy; he owns all that property over there, and he is going to marry our Countess's daughter, the lovely Flora. But why do you call me Countess?"
I stared at her.
"I am no Countess," she went on. "Our Countess took me into the castle and had me educated under her care when my uncle, the Porter, brought me here a poor little orphan child."
Ah, what a stone fell from my heart at these words!
"God bless the Porter," I said in an ecstasy, "for being our uncle! I always set great store by him."
"And he would be very fond of you, "she replied, "if you would only comport yourself with more dignity, as he expresses it. You must dress with greater elegance."
"Oh," I exclaimed, enchanted, "an English dress-coat, straw hat, long trousers, and spurs! And as soon as we're married we will take a trip to Italy - to Rome - where lovely fountains are playing, and we'll take with us the Prague students, and the Porter!"
She smiled quietly, and gave me a happy glance, while the music echoed in the distance, and rockets flew up from the castle above the garden in the quiet night, and the Danube kept murmuring on, and everything, everything was delightful!