“It was a mistake, madam, I assure you,” said Hahn huskily, as he pulled out his handkerchief, and began to whip the dust off his trowsers.
The wreath of thin hair which he had carefully combed, so as to make the nakedness of his crown less conspicuous, was bristling toward all the points of the compass. His tall hat had gone on an independent journey down the stairs, and was heard tumbling deliberately from step to step. Fritz, who had recovered himself much more rapidly, seemed to have forgotten that he had himself borne any part in the disgraceful scene; he looked at his father with kind of a pitying superiority, and began to assist him in the repair of his toilet, with the air of an officious outsider, all of which the crest-fallen father endured with great fortitude. He seemed only anxious to explain the situation to the two women, who were still viewing him with marked disapproval.
“It was all a mistake, madam—a great mistake,” he kept repeating.
“A great mistake!” ejaculated Mother Uberta, contemptuously. “This isn’t a time to be makin’ mistakes outside the door of two lonely women.”
“It is fifteen minutes past nine,” said Hahn meekly, pulling a corpulent gold watch from the pocket of his waistcoat.
“Madam,” said Fritz, without the slightest air of apology, “I came here to consult you on a matter of business, which would bear no delay.”
“Exactly, exactly,” interrupted Hahn eagerly. “So did I, a matter of business which would bear no delay.”
“Well, Vaeterchen, we are simple countrywomen, and we don’t understand city manners. But if you want to see me on business, I shall be at home to-morrow at twelve o’clock.”
So saying, Mother Uberta slammed the door in the faces of her visitors, and left them to grope their way in the dark down the steep stairway. It was highly characteristic, both of the senior and the junior Hahn, that without a word of explanation they drove home amicably in the same droschke.
Ilka’s engagement at the “Haute Noblesse” in the autumn had proved a great success, and Mother Uberta, who was never averse to earning money, had, without difficulty, been persuaded to remain in Berlin during the winter, on condition of the renewal of their contract for another six weeks in the spring. Ilka was in the meanwhile to take lessons in singing at Hahn’s expense, possibly with a view to future distinction as a prima donna of the opera. Her maestro had told her repeatedly that she had naturally a better voice than Nilsson, and that, if she could dry up for ever her fountain of tears, she might become a great artiste. For Ilka had the deplorable habit of crying on very slight provocation. The maestro, with his wild hair, his long, polished nails, and his frantic gesticulations, frightened and distressed her; she thought and spoke of him as a kind of curious animal, and nothing could persuade her that he and she belonged to the same