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- Hyperion - 20/43 -
breath of vanity drives them shipwreck. At length, his partner, tired of spinning, sank upon a sofa, like a child's top, when it reels and falls.
"You do not like the waltz?" said an elderly French gentleman, remarking the expression of Flemming's countenance.
"O yes; among the figurantes of the Opera. But I confess, it sometimes makes me shudder to see a young rake clasp his arms round the waist of a pure and innocent girl. What would you say, were you to see him sitting on a sofa with his arms round your wife?"
"Mere prejudice of education," replied the French gentleman. "I know that situation. I have read all about it in the Bibliothèque de Romans Choisis!"
And merrily went the dance; and bright eyes and flushed cheeks were not wanting among the dancers;
"And they waxed red, and waxed warm,
And rested, panting, arm in arm,"
and the Strauss-walzes sounded pleasantly in the ears of Flemming, who, though he never danced, yet, like Henry of Ofterdingen, in the Romance of Novalis, thought to music. The wheeling waltz set the wheels of his fancy going. And thus the moments glided on, and the footsteps of Time were not heard amid the sound of music and voices.
But suddenly this scene of gayety was interrupted. The door opened wide; and the short figure of a gray-haired old man presented itself, with a flushed countenance and wild eyes. He was but half-dressed, and in his hand held a silver candlestick without a light. A sheet was wound round his head, like a turban; and he tottered forward with a vacant, bewildered look, exclaiming;
"I am Mahomet, the king of the Jews!"
At the same moment he fell in a swoon; and was borne out of the room by the servants. Flemming looked at the lady of the festival, and she was deadly pale. For a moment all was confusion; and the dance and the music stopped. Theimpression produced on the company was at once ludicrous and awful. They tried in vain to rally. The whole society was like a dead body, from which the spirit has departed. Ere long the guests had all dispersed, and left the lady of the mansion to her mournful, expiring lamps, and still more mournful reflections.
"Truly," said Flemming, to the Baron, as they wended their way homeward, "this seems not like reality; but like one of the sharp contrasts we find in novels. Who shall say, after this, that there is not more romance in real life, than we find written in books!"
"Not more romance," said the Baron, "but a different romance."
A still more tragic scene had been that evening enacted in Heidelberg. Just as the sun set, two female figures walked along the romantic woodland path-way, leading to the Angel's Meadow, a little green opening on the brow of one of the high hills, which see themselves in the Neckar and hear the solemn bells of Kloster-Neuburg. The evening shadows were falling broad and long; and the cuckoo began to sing.
"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" said the eldest of the two figures, repeating an old German popular rhyme,
Tell me true,
Tell me fair and fine,
How long must I unmarried pine!'"
It was the voice of an evil spirit, that spoke in the person of Madeleine; and the pale and shrinking figure, that walked by her side, and listened to those words, was Emma of Ilmenau. A young man joined them, where the path turns into the thick woodlands; and they disappeared among the shadowy branches. It was the Polish Count.
The forget-me-nots looked up to heaven with their meek blue eyes, from their home in the Angel's Meadow. Calmly stood the mountain of All-Saints, in its majestic, holy stillness;--the river flowed so far below, that the murmur of itswaters was not heard;--there was not a sigh of the evening wind among the leaves,--not a sound upon the earth nor in the air;--and yet that night there fell a star from heaven!
CHAPTER X. THE PARTING.
It was now that season of the year, which an old English writer calls the amiable month of June, and at that hour of the day, when, face to face, the rising moon beholds the setting sun. As yet the stars were few in heaven. But, after the heat of the day, the coolness and the twilight descended like a benediction upon the earth, by all those gentle sounds attended, which are the meek companions of the night.
Flemming and the Baron had passed the afternoon at the Castle. They had rambled once more together, and for the last time, over the magnificent ruin. On the morrow they were to part, perhaps forever. The Baron was going to Berlin, to join his sister; and Flemming, drivenforward by the restless spirit within him, longed once more for a change of scene, and was going to the Tyrol and Switzerland. Alas! he never said to the passing hour; "Stay, for thou art fair!" but reached forward into the dark future, with unsatisfied longings and aimless desires, that were never still.
As the day was closing, they sat down on the terrace of Elisabeth's Garden. The sun had set beyond the blue Alsatian hills; and on the valley of the Rhine fell the purple mist, like the mantle of the departing prophet from his fiery chariot. Over the castle walls, and the trees of the garden, rose the large moon; and between the contending daylight and moonlight there were as yet no shadows. But at length the shadows came; transparent and faint outlines, that deepened into form. In the valley below only the river gleamed, like steel; and here and there the lamps were lighted in the town. Solemnly stood the leafy lindentrees in the garden near them, their trunks in darkness and their summits bronzed with moonlight; and in his niche in the great round tower, overhung with ivy, like a majestic phantom, stood the gray statue of Louis, with his venerable beard, and shirt of mail, and flowing mantle; and the mild, majestic countenance looked forth into the silent night, as the countenance of a seer, who reads the stars. At intervals the wind of the summer night passed through the ruined castle and the trees, and they sent forth a sound as if nature were sighing in her dreams; and for a moment overhead the broad leaves gently clashed together, like brazen cymbals, with a tinkling sound; and then all was still, save the sweet, passionate song of nightingales, that nowhere upon earth sing more sweetly than in the gardens of Heidelberg Castle.
The hour, the scene, and the near-approaching separation of the two young friends, had filled their hearts with a pleasant, though at the same time not painless excitement. They had been conversing about the magnificent old ruin, and the ages in which it had been built, and the vicissitudesof time and war, that had battered down its walls, and left it "tenantless, save to the crannying wind."
"How sorrowful and sublime is the face of that statue yonder," said Flemming. "It reminds me of the old Danish hero Beowulf; for careful, sorrowing, he seeth in his son's bower the wine-hall deserted, the resort of the wind, noiseless; the knight sleepeth; the warrior lieth in darkness; there is no noise of the harp, no joy in the dwellings, as there was before."
"Even as you say," replied the Baron; "but it often astonishes me, that, coming from that fresh green world of yours beyond the sea, you should feel so much interest in these old things; nay, at times, seem so to have drunk in their spirit, as really to live in the times of old. For my part, I do not see what charm there is in the pale and wrinkled countenance of the Past, so to entice the soul of a young man. It seems to me like falling in love with one's grandmother. Give me the Present;--warm, glowing, palpitating with life. She is my mistress; and the Future stands waiting like my wife that is to be, for whom, to tell the truth, I care very little just now. Indeed, my friend, I wish you would take more heed of this philosophy of mine; and not waste the golden hours of youth in vain regrets for the past, and indefinite, dim longings for the future. Youth comes but once in a lifetime."
"Therefore," said Flemming; "let us so enjoy it as to be still young when we are old. For my part, I grow happier as I grow older. When I compare my sensations and enjoyments now, with what they were ten years ago, the comparison is vastly in favor of the present. Much of the fever and fretfulness of life is over. The world and I look each other more calmly in the face. My mind is more self-possessed. It has done me good to be somewhat parched by the heat and drenched by the rain of life."
"Now you speak like an old philosopher," answered the Baron, laughing. "But you deceive yourself. I never knew a more restless, feverishspirit than yours. Do not think you have gained the mastery yet. You are only riding at anchor here in an eddy of the stream; you will soon be swept away again in the mighty current and whirl of accident. Do not trust this momentary calm. I know you better than you know yourself. There is something Faust-like in you; you would fain grasp the highest and the deepest; and `reel from desire to enjoyment, and in enjoyment languish for desire.' When a momentary change of feeling comes over you, you think the change permanent, and thus live in constant self-deception."
"I confess," said Flemming, "there may be some truth in what you say. There are times when my soul is restless; and a voice sounds within me, like the trump of the archangel, and thoughts that were buried, long ago, come out of their graves. At such times my favorite occupations and pursuits no longer charm me. The quiet face of Nature seems to mock me."
"There certainly are seasons," replied the Baron, "when Nature seems not to sympathizewith her beloved children. She sits there so eternally calm and self-possessed, so very motherly and serene, and cares so little whether the heart of her child breaks or not, that
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