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- In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 1. - 9/9 -

this pleasure more to the dancing than to the edifying conversation----"

"Certainly not!" replied Eva, very positively. "I can prove it, too; for later, after he had heard many things about St. Clare, the female counterpart of Francis, he vowed to make her his patron saint. Or do you suppose that a knight changes his saints, as he does his doublet and coat of mail, without having any great and powerful motive? Do you think it possible that the idle pleasure of the dance led him to so important a decision?"

"Certainly not. Nothing led him to it except the irresistible zeal of my devout sister," answered Els, smiling, as she continued to comb her fair hair. "She spoke with tongues in the ballroom, as the apostles did at Pentecost, and thus our 'little saint' performed her first miracle: the conversion of a godless knight during the dancing."

"Call it so, if you choose," replied Eva, her red lips pouting scornfully, as if she felt raised above such pitiful derision. "How you hurt, Els! You are pulling all the hair out of my head!"

The object of this rebuke had used the comb with the utmost care, but the great luxuriance of the long, fair, waving locks had presented many an impediment, and Eva seemed unusually sensitive that night. Els thought she knew why, and made no answer to the unjust charge. She knew her sister; and as she wound the braids about her head, and then, in the maid's place, hung part of her finery on hooks, and laid part carefully in the chest, she asked her numerous questions about the dance, but was vouchsafed only monosyllabic replies.

At last Els knelt before the prie-dieu. Eva did the same, resting her head so long upon her clasped hands that the patient older sister could not wait for the "Amen," but, in order not to disturb Eva's devotion, only pressed a light kiss upon her head and then carefully drew the curtains closely over the windows which, instead of glass, contained oiled parchment.

Eva's excitement filled her with anxiety. She knew, too, what a powerful influence the bright moonlight sometimes exerted upon her while she slept, and cast another glance at the closely curtained window before she went to her own bed. There she lay a long time, with eyes wide open, pondering over her sister's words, and in doing so perceived more and more clearly that love was now knocking at the heart of the child kneeling before the prie-dieu. Sir Heinz Schorlin, the wild butterfly, desired to sip the honey from this sweet, untouched flower, and then probably abandon her like so many before her. Love and anxiety made the girl, whose opinion was usually milder than her sister's, a stern and unwise judge, for she assumed that the Swiss--whose character in reality was far removed from base hypocrisy--the man whom she had just termed a wolf, had donned sheep's clothing to make her poor lambkin an easier prey. But she was on guard and ready to spoil his game.

Did Eva really fail to understand the new feeling which had seized her so swiftly and powerfully? Did she lull herself in the delusion that she cared only for the welfare of the soul of the pious young knight?

Yes, it might be so, and prudent Els, who had watched her own little world intently enough, said to herself that it would be pouring oil upon the flames to tease Eva about the defeat which she, the "little saint," had sustained in the battle against the demands of the world and of the feminine heart. Besides, her sister was too dear for her to rejoice in her humiliation. Els resolved not to utter a word about the Swiss unless compelled to do so.

Eva's prayers before retiring were often very long, but to-night it seemed as if they would never end.

"She is not appealing to St. Clare for herself alone, but for another," thought Els. "I spend less time in doing it. True, a Heinz Schorlin needs longer intercession than my Eva, my Wolff, and my poor pious mother. But I won't disturb her yet."

Sighing faintly, she changed her position, but remained sitting propped against the white pillows in order not to allow herself to be overcome by sleep. But it was a hard struggle, and her lids often fell, her head drooped upon her breast.

Dawn was already glimmering without when the supplicant at last rose and sought her couch. Her sister let her lie quietly for a while, then she rose and put out the lamp which Eva had forgotten to extinguish. The latter noticed it, turned her face towards her and called her gently. "To think that you should have to get up again, my poor Els! Give me a good-night kiss."

"Gladly, dearest," replied the other. "But it is really quite time to say 'good-morning."'

"And you have kept awake so long!" replied Eva compassionately, as she threw her arms gratefully around her sister's neck, kissed her tenderly, and then pressed her hot cheek to hers.

"What is this?" cried Els, with sincere anxiety. "Are you hurt, child? Surely you are weeping?"

"No, no," was the reply. "I am only--I only thought that I had adorned myself, decked myself out with idle finery, although I know how many poor people are starving in want and misery, and how much more pleasing in the sight of the Lord is the grey robe of the cloistered nun. I could scarcely leave the hall in my overweening pleasure, and yet it would have beseemed me far better to share the sufferings of the crucified Saviour."

"But, child," replied Els, striving to soothe her sister, "how often I have heard from you and our aunt, the abbess, that no one was so cheerful and so glad to witness the enjoyment of human beings and animals as your St. Francis!"

"He--he!" groaned Eva, "he who attained the highest goal, who heard the voice of the Lord wherever he listened; he who chose poverty as his beloved bride, who scorned show and parade and the trappings of wealth, as he disdained earthly love; he who celebrated in song the love of the soul glowing for the highest things, as no troubadour could do--oh, how ardently he knew how to love, but to love the things which do not belong to this world!"

Els longed to ask what Eva knew about the ardent fire of love; but she restrained herself, darkened the bed as well as she could with the movable curtain which hung from the ceiling on both sides above the double couch, and said: "Be sensible, child, and put aside such thoughts. How loudly the birds are twittering outside! If our father is obliged to breakfast alone there may be a storm, and I should be glad to have an hour's nap. You need slumber, too. Dancing is tiresome. Shut your eyes and sleep as long as you can. I'll be as quiet as a mouse while I am dressing."

As she spoke she turned away from her sister and no longer resisted the sleep which soon closed her weary eyes.


Shipwrecked on the cliffs of 'better' and 'best'

In The Fire Of The Forge, Volume 1. - 9/9

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