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Chapter 12

HELEN


There stands in Frankfort-on-Main, at the corner of the Ross-market, opposite the Protestant Church of St. Catherine, a mansion, which, by its architecture, belongs to the transition period between Louis XIV and Louis XV. It is known as Passevent House. The ground-floor was occupied by a bookseller, and all the rest by the Chandroz family, already known to the reader by name.

A sort of uneasiness, not quite amounting to actual trouble, seemed to prevail in the house. The morning before a letter had been received by Baroness von Bülow, announcing her husband's return in the evening, and close upon that came a telegram, saying that he would not arrive before the following morning, and that she must not be anxious if there were a further delay. The fact was, that two hours after writing his letter, the baron saw Benedict's announcement in the "Gazette." Fearing that he might be delayed by a wound, he wished to spare his wife any possible anxiety, her infant being only just over a week old.

Although the train was not due until four in the morning, Hans, the confidential servant of the family, had already departed at three, taking the carriage to meet his master at the station and at least ten times during the interval Emma rang up her maid, wondering why the time passed so slowly.

At length the sound of a carriage was heard, followed by the creaking of the great gate, the carriage passed under the arch, the tread of spurred boots echoed on the staircase, Emma's door opened, and Emma's arms enfolded her husband.

It did not escape her notice that Frederic winced when she threw her arms round him. She asked the cause. Frederic replied with a cock-and-bull story of a cab accident in which he had slightly sprained his arm.

The sound of the carriage and the general movement in the house informed Helen of the baron's arrival. Hastily wrapping herself in a dressing-gown with her beautiful hair falling loosely over it, she hurried to greet her brother-in-law whom she loved tenderly. In order not to disturb the Countess de Chandroz, their grandmother, orders had been given to keep her wing of the house as quiet as possible.

Madame von Bülow, with the usual penetration of wives, soon guessed that Frederic's arm was more hurt than he chose to acknowledge. She insisted that the family doctor, Herr Bodemacker, should be sent for, and Frederic, who knew by the pain he suffered, that the bandage must have been displaced during his journey, made no objection. He only begged her to keep quiet while he went to his own room for the bath he had ordered, saying that it would be much better for the doctor to follow him there and decide which of his two hundred and eighty-two bones required attention.

The question of importance was to keep the baroness in ignorance as to the serious nature of the wound. With the help of Hans and the connivance of the doctor this would be easy. The bath was a marvellous help, and Emma allowed him to go to his room without suspecting the real cause of his requiring it.

When the doctor arrived, Frederic astonished Hans by explaining that the evening before he had received a sword wound which had laid open his arm, that the bandage must have slipped in the train, and that it, his coat, and his shirt were all soaked in blood.

The doctor slit the sleeve the whole way up, and then cut it clear at the top. Frederic then was told to plunge his arm into the warm water of the bath which enabled the doctor to remove the coat sleeve. He then loosened the shirt sleeve by sponging it with the warm water, and finally, cutting it away at the shoulder, was able to expose the wound.

The arm, compressed by the sleeves, was frightfully red and swollen, the plaster had given way, the wound was gaping widely through its whole length, and in the lower part the arm appeared cut to the bone. It was fortunate that there had been plenty of warm water at hand. The doctor brought the two sides of the cut together again, fixed them carefully, bandaged the whole arm and put it in splints as if it had been broken. But it was absolutely necessary that the baron should remain quite quiet for two or three days. The doctor undertook to find the general in command and to explain privately that Baron von Bülow was charged with a mission to him but could not possibly leave the house.

Hans quickly removed the water and stained bandages. Frederic went down, kissed his wife, and satisfied her by saying the doctor had merely ordered him to rest for a few days. The word dislocation spread through the house and accounted for the baron's indisposition. Returning to his own apartment he found the Prussian general awaiting him. He explained matters in two words; moreover, before long the story would be in all the papers. The important question was, to keep the baroness in ignorance. She would be uneasy about a dislocation, but in despair over a wound.

Frederic handed over his despatches to the general. They merely warned him to be ready for action at a moment's notice. It was evident that Count Bismarck, from whom the order came, wished to have a garrison at hand during the Diet, to overawe the assembly, if possible. Afterwards he would withdraw it or leave it, according to circumstances. This question would be put to the Diet. "In case of war between Austria and Prussia, on which side will you be?"

Frederic was extremely anxious to see his young sister Helen, having important communications to make. After he and Benedict had vowed eternal friendship on the field of battle, and Benedict had spoken of having met the baroness at the burgomaster's house, he had conceived an idea which he could not drive away, namely, to marry Benedict to his sister-in-law. From what he had seen and heard of the young man, he felt convinced that these two impetuous, imaginative, and artistic characters, always ready to pursue an idea suggested by a ray of sunlight or a scented breeze, were, out of the whole creation, the best suited to each other. Consequently he wished to ascertain if Helen had been attracted by his friend. Were this the case, he would find some pretext for bringing Benedict to Frankfort, and, little as Helen cared for admiration, he thought the acquaintance would soon assume the character he wished.

Moreover, he wished to warn Helen to keep newspapers away from her sister and grandmother, and on this account it was absolutely necessary to take her into his confidence. She anticipated his wishes, for scarcely had the general left him, when some one knocked softly at his door, such a knock as might have proceeded from a cat or a bird. He knew Helen's gentle manner of announcing herself.

"Come in, little sister, come in!" he cried, and Helen entered on tip-toe.

The baron was lying on his bed in his dressing-gown, lying on his left side, his wounded arm extended along his body.

"Ah! you good-for-nothing," said she, folding her arms and gazing at him, "so you have been and gone and done it, have you?"

"How? done what?" enquired Frederic, laughing.

"Well, now I have got you alone, we can talk."

"Exactly, dear Helen, now we are alone as you say. You are the strong-minded person of this house, although no one else knows it, not even yourself. So I want to discuss important matters with you—and they are not a few."

"So do I, and I shall begin by taking the bull by the horns. Your arm is not dislocated nor even sprained. You have fought a duel, like the hothead you are, and your arm is wounded by either a sabre or sword-cut."

"Well, my little sister, that is exactly what I wanted to tell you. I did fight a duel—for political reasons. And I did get a sabre cut in my arm, but it was a friendly sabre, very neatly and prettily applied. It is not dangerous, no artery or nerve severed. But the story will be in all the papers; it has made noise enough already. Now we must prevent both grandmamma and Emma from seeing the newspapers."

"The only paper taken here is the 'Kreuz Zeitung.'"

"Which is precisely the one that will say the most."

"What are you smiling at?"

"I can't help thinking of the face of the man who will have to supply the details!"

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. I was only talking to myself, and when I say things to myself they are not worth repeating aloud. The question is—to keep an eye on the 'Kreuz Zeitung.'"

"Certainly I will keep an eye on it."

"Then I need not trouble any more about it?"

"When I tell you that I will see to it myself!"

"Very well! We will talk about something else."

"About anything you like."

"Do you recollect meeting a young Frenchman at Herr Fellner's, an artist, a painter?"

"Monsieur Benedict Turpin? I should think so! A charming man who makes the most rapid sketches, and though they are flattering, they are still likenesses."

"Oh! come, come! You are quite enthusiastic."

"I can show you one he did of me. He has given me a pair of wings, and I really look like an angel!"

"Then he is clever?"

"Enormously clever."

"And witty."

"He can certainly give you as good as you gave. You should have seen how he routed some of our bankers when they tried to chaff him. He spoke better German than they did."

"Is he rich as well?"

"So they say."

"It also seems as if there were remarkable affinities between his character and that of a little girl I know."

"But who? I don't understand."

"Nevertheless, it is some one you know. He appears to be capricious, imaginative, vivacious; he adores travelling, is an excellent rider, and a good sportsman, either on foot or horseback, all which coincides admirably with the tastes of a certain 'Diana Vernon.'"

"I thought that was what you always called me."

"So it is. Do you recognize my portrait?"

"Not at all, not in the least. I am gentle, calm, collected. I like travelling, yes. But where have I been? To Paris, Berlin, Vienna, London, and that is all, I love horses, but what do I ever ride except my poor little Gretchen?"

"She has nearly killed you twice over!"

"Poor thing! it was my own fault. As for shooting, I have never held a gun, and as for coursing, I have never started a hare."

"True, but why not? Only because the grandmother objected. If you could have had your own way—"

"Oh, yes! It would be glorious to rush against the wind, to feel it blowing through one's hair. There is great pleasure in rapid motion, a feeling of life which one finds in nothing else."

"So you would like to be able to do these things which you don't do."

"Yes, indeed."

"With Monsieur Benedict?"

"Why Monsieur Benedict more than any one else?"

"Because he is more charming than most."

"I do not think so."

"Really?"

"No."

"Then; supposing you were allowed to choose a husband out of all my friends, you would not choose M. Benedict?"

"I should never dream of doing so."

"Now, little sister, you know I am an obstinate man, who likes to understand, things. How is it that a man, young, handsome, rich, talented, courageous, and imaginative, fails to interest you, particularly when he has both the good qualities and the defects of your own character?"

"What am I to say? I do not know, I cannot analyse my feelings. Some people are sympathetic to me, some indifferent, some downright disagreeable!"

"Well, you don't class Monsieur Benedict among the disagreeable, I hope."

"No, but among the indifferents."

"And why among the indifferents?"

"Monsieur Benedict is of medium height, I like tall men: he is fair, I like dark men. He is volatile, I like serious people. He is bold, always rushing off to the ends of the world; he would be the husband of other men's wives, and not even the lover of his own."

"Let us resume. What sort of man, then, must he be that would please you?"

"Somebody just the opposite of M. Benedict."

"He must be tall."

"Yes."

"Dark?"

"Either dark or dark chestnut."

"Grave."

"Grave, or at least, serious. Also brave, steady, loyal, and—"

"Just so. Do you know that you have described, word for word, my friend, Karl von Freyberg?"

Helen blushed crimson, and moved quickly, as if to leave the room, but Frederic, disregarding his wound, caught her hand and made her sit down again. The light from between the curtains irradiated her face like the sunlight falling on a flower. He looked at her intently.

"Well, yes," she said, "but no one knows but you."

"Not Karl himself?"

"He may have some idea."

"Well, little sister," said Frederic, "I see no great harm in all this. Come and kiss me, and we will talk again another time."

"But how comes it," exclaimed Helen, with vexation, "that you know all you want to know, although I have told you nothing at all?"

"Because one can see through a crystal which is pure. Dear little Helen, Karl von Freyberg is my best friend, he has all I could wish in a brother-in-law, or that you could desire in a husband. If he loves you as much as you seem to love him, there should be no great difficulty about your becoming his wife."

"Ah! dear Frederic," said Helen, shaking her pretty head, "but I once heard a Frenchwoman say that the marriages which present no difficulties are just those which never come off!"

And she retired to her own room, wondering no doubt as to what difficulties Destiny could interpose to the completion of her own marriage.

Alexandre Dumas pere