A tremendous burst of applause completely drowned Fritz’s voice, as Germania walked out upon the stage. She was dressed in white, flowing robes, with a golden zone about her waist and a glittering diadem in her hair. A mantle of the finest white cashmere, fastened with a Roman clasp on her left shoulder and drawn through the zone on the right side, showed the fierce Prussian eagle, embroidered in black and gold. A miniature copy of the same glorious bird, also in gilt embroidery, shone on her breast. She had been, elaborately trained by her maestro as to how she was to step the stage, what attitudes she was to assume, etc., and the first part of the programme she performed very creditably, and with sole reference to her instructions.
The orchestra began to rumble something by way of an introduction. The soldier in the Austrian uniform at Fritz’s table turned pale, and sat staring fixedly upon the stage. Ilka stood for a moment gazing out upon the surging mass of humanity at her feet; she heard the clanking of the scabbards and swords, and saw the white and the blue uniforms commingled in friendly confusion. Where was. Hansel now—the dear, gay, faithful Hansel? She struck out boldly, and her strong, sonorous voice soared easily above the orchestral accompaniments. “Heil dir im Siegeskranz!”—she was hailing the returning warriors with a song of triumph, while Hansel, perhaps, lay on some bloody battle-field, with sightless eyes staring against the awful sky. Ilka’s voice began to tremble, and the tears flooded her beautiful eyes. The soldier in the Austrian uniform trembled, too, and never removed his gaze from the countenance of the singer. There was joy and triumph in her song; but there was sorrow, too—sorrow for the many brave ones that remained behind, sorrow for the maidens that loved them and the mothers that wept for them. As Ilka withdrew, after having finished the last stanza, the audience grew almost frantic with enthusiasm; the men jumped up on benches and tables, shouted, and swung their hats, and even the women cheered at the tops of their voices. A repetition was loudly called for, and Ilka, although herself overcome with emotion, was obliged to yield. She walked up to the footlights and began to yodle softly. It sounded strangely airy and far away. She put her hand to her ear and listened for a moment, as if she expected a reply; but there was a breathless silence in the audience. Only a heavy sigh came from the table where Fritz sat with the Austrian soldier. The yodle grew louder; then suddenly some one sprang up, not a dozen rods from the stage, and sang, in a deep, magnificent baritone:
Tell me, Ilka on the hill-top,
While the rivers seaward flow,
Is thy heart as true and loving
As it was a year ago?
Ilka stood for a while as if stunned; her eyes peered in the direction whence the voice had come; her face lighted up with a sweet, serene happiness; but the tears streamed down her cheeks as she answered: