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- Dreams and Dream Stories - 40/44 -
All glory is disappointment,--all success is failure; how acutely bitter, only the hero himself can know!"
"You lave no regrets, then, Herr Ritter?" said 'Lora, with her clear earnest gaze full upon his face.
"None," he answered, simply.
"And will you always keep silence?"
"Always, so far as I can see," said the old German. "There are quarrels enough in the world without my intervention, there are dogmas enough in the world without my enunciations. I do not think I should do any good by speaking to men. Could I make them any wiser, purer, gentler, truer than they are? Could I teach them to be honest in their dealings with each other, compassionate, considerate, liberal? If they have not heard the prophets, nor even the divine teacher of Nazareth, shall I be able to do them any good? Are not their very creeds pretexts for slaughter and persecution and fraud? Do they not support even their holiest truths, their sincerest beliefs, by organised systems of deceit and chicanery? Chut! I tell you that the very vesture which men compel Truth to wear, is lined and stiffened with lies! The mysteries of life are so terrible, and its sadness so profound, that blatant tongues do not become philosophers. Words only serve to rend and vex and divide us. Therefore I think it best to hide my thoughts in my heart, believing that in matters which we cannot fathom, silence is noblest; and knowing that when I say, `I am nothing, but God is all,--I am ignorant, but God is wise,'--all I am able to say is said. By-and-by, in the brighter light of a more perfect day beyond the sun, I shall see the King in His beauty, face to face; I shall know, even as I am known!"
"This, then," asked 'Lora, gently, "is why you gave up the world, that you might be alone?"
"I gave up the world, dear Frau, because I found in it all manner of oppression done in the names of justice and of Virtue. My heart turned against the Wrong, and I had no power to set it Right. The mystery of life overcame me; I refused the gold and the honours which might have been mine, if I could have been content in being dishonest. But God gave me grace to be strong, and the world cast me out of its gilded nursery. I became a man, and put away childish things."
Then he rose slowly from his seat, and as he laid his hand on the door-latch, and lifted it to go out, a welcome little puff of outside air darted into the chamber, and stirred the nightshade blossoms in the breast of the old rusty coat. And I raised my dark purple head, and perceived that the mournful shadow rested again upon the face of Herr Ritter, like a cloud at sunset time, when the day that has passed away has been a day of storm.
We went to the Casa d'Oro.
Carlotta Nero was in her sitting-room, and would see the Herr there, said the dark-haired smiling contadina, who admitted the old German into the house. She was a native of the place, and evidently remembered him with gratitude and pleasure. So we presently found ourselves in a small well-appointed chamber, on the first floor of the Casa.
On a tapestry-covered dormeuse, by the open window, and carefully protected with gauze curtains from the glare of the coming noon, reclined a handsome woman of middle age, so like, and yet so strangely unlike 'Lora Delcor, that my dusky blooms quivered and fretted with emotion, as the contadina closed the door behind us.
The same delicate features, the same luxuriance of hair, but--the eyes of 'Lora! ah,--a soul, a divinity looked out of them; but in these one saw only the metallic glitter of the innkeeper's gold! They turned coldly upon Herr Ritter as he stood in the doorway, and a hard ringing utterance--again how unlike 'Lora ! for this was the dry tintinnabulation of coin--inquired his errand.
"Herr Ritter, I am told. You wish to speak to me?"
I observed that she allowed the old man to stand while she spoke.
"Yes; Signora," he answered, mildly, "I bring you this letter; may I beg you will read it now, before I go? for the writer charged me to carry back to her your answer."
He drew 'Lora's note from his vest with a gesture of reverent tenderness, as though he loved the very paper his friend had touched, and were something loath to part with it to such indifferent hands and eyes as these. Carlotta Nero took it coldly, and glanced through the close-written pages with the languid air of a supercilious fine lady. Once I fancied I saw her cheek flush and her lip quiver as she read, but when she looked up again and spoke, I thought I must have been mistaken in that fancy, or else her emotion had been due to another cause than that I had imagined. For there was no change in the ungentle glittering eyes; no softening in the dry tinkle of the voice that delivered the Signora's answer.
"I am sorry I can do nothing for your friend. You will tell her I have read her letter, and that I leave this place tomorrow morning."
She inclined her head as she said this, I suppose by way of indication that the Herr might accept his dismissal; and laid the letter on an ebony console beside her sofa. But the old German kept his ground.
"Signora," he said, tremulously, and my blossoms thrilled through all their delicate fibres with the indignant beating of his heart; "do you know that letter comes from your sister? That she is poor, in want, widowed, and almost dying?"
Carlotta Nero lifted her pencilled eyebrows.
"Indeed?" she said. "I am pained to hear it. Still I cannot do anything for her. You may tell her so."
"Signora, I beg you to consider. Will you suffer the--the fault of ten years ago to bear weight upon your sisterly kindness,--your human compassion and sympathy, now?"
"Excuse me, Herr Ritter, I think you are talking romance. I have no sisterly kindness, no compassion, no sympathy, for any one of-- of this description."
She motioned impatiently towards the letter on the console; and I thought she spoke the truth.
Her Ritter was speechless.
"Dolores chose her own path," said the innkeeper's wife, seeing that her visitor still waited for something more, "and she has no right to appeal to me now. She disgraced herself deliberately, and she must take the consequences of her own act. I will not move a finger to help her out of a condition into which she wilfully degraded herself, in spite of my most stringent remonstrances. All imprudence brings its own punishment,--and she must bear hers as other foolish people have to do. She is not the only widow in the world, and she might be worse off than she is; a great deal."
"I am to tell her this"--asked Herr Ritter, recovering himself with a prodigious effort "from you?"
"As you please," returned the great lady, still in the same indifferent tone. "It will be useless for her to call here, I cannot see her; and besides, I leave tomorrow with my husband."
Again she bowed her head, and this time Herr Ritter obeyed the signal. I felt his great liberal heart heaving,--thump, thump, under the lapel of the old rusty coat; but I breathed my spirit into his face, and he said no more as he turned away than just a formal "Buon giorno, Signora."
"Silence is best," I whispered.
He went home to his little dark studio, where the sunlight so rarely entered, and where the big tomes and the skull and the fossils, and the picture of the beautiful girl and her crimson roses, greeted him with unchanged looks. All the room was pervaded with the aroma of the belladonna plant in the balcony, and all the soul of the old philosopher was filled with an atmosphere of silent liberality.
He stood before the bookshelves and laid his withered fingers falteringly upon the volumes, one after another. I knew already what was passing in his heart, and my rising perfume assisted the noble sacrifice. Then he lifted the books from their places,--one, two, three,--the volumes he prized the most, ancient classical editions that must have been an El Dorado of themselves to such a student and connoisseur as he. For a moment he lingered over the open pages with a loving, tremulous tenderness of look and touch, as though they had been faces of dear and life-long friends; then he turned and looked at the picture in the dark corner. A name rose to his lips; a soft-sounding German diminutive, but I hardly heard it for the exceeding bitterness of the sigh that caught and drowned the muttered utterance. But I knew that in that moment his liberal heart renounced a double sweetness, for surely he had cherished the gift of a dead love no less than he had treasured the noble work of immortal genius.
Then, with his books under his arm, he went silently out of the studio, and back again into the town, along many a dingy winding court, avoiding the open squares and the market-place, until we came to a tall dark-looking house in a narrow street. There Herr Ritter paused and entered, passing through along vestibule into a spacious apartment at the back of the house, where there was a gentleman lounging in an easy attitude over the back of an armchair, from which he seemed to have just risen, and slashing with an ivory paper-knife the leaves of a book he was holding. The room in which we found ourselves had a curiously hybrid appearance, and I could not determine whether it were, indeed, part of a publisher's warehouse, or of a literary museum, or only the rather expansive sanctum of an opulent homme de lettres.
Herr Ritter laid down his three big volumes on a table that was absolutely littered from end to end with old manuscripts and curious fossilised-looking tomes in vellum covers.
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