To refuse the acquaintance of a young lady who even remotely answered to the description of “a very lovely child,” was contrary to my principles, and I need not add that I proved faithful to them in the present instance.
A German, even if he be not what one would call a cultivated man, has nevertheless a certain sombre historic background to his life which makes him averse to those garish effects of barbaric splendor that impress one so unpleasantly in the houses of Americans whose prosperity is unsupported by a corresponding amount of culture. This was my first reflection on entering Mr. Pfeifer’s drawing-room, while in my heart I begged the proprietor’s pardon for the patronizing attitude I found myself assuming toward him. The heavy, solid furniture, the grave and decorously mediocre pictures, and the very tint of the walls wore an air of substantial, though somewhat lugubrious comfort. His niece, too, although her form was by no means lacking in grace, seemed somehow to partake of this all-pervading air of Teutonic solidity and homelike comfort. She was one of those women who seemed born to make some wretched man undeservedly happy. (I always feel a certain dim hostility to any man, even though I may not know him, who marries a charming and lovable woman; it is with me a foregone conclusion that he has been blessed beyond his deserts.) There was a sweet matronliness and quiet dignity in her manner, and beneath the placid surface of her blue eyes I suspected hidden depths of pure maidenly sentiment. The cast of her countenance was distinctly Germanic; not strikingly beautiful, perhaps, but extremely pleasing; there was no discordant feature in it, no loud or harsh suggestion to mar the subdued richness of the whole picture. Her blond hair was twisted into a massive coil on the top of her head, and the unobtrusive simplicity and taste of her toilet were merely her character (as I had conceived it) translated into millinery. My feelings, as I stood gazing at her, unconsciously formulated themselves into the well-known benediction of Heine’s, which I could with difficult keep from quoting:
“Mir ist als ob ich
Auf’s Haupt dir legen sollt’,
Betend dass Gott dich erhalte,
So rein mid schoen und hold.”
I observed with quiet amusement, though in a very sympathetic spirit, that she did not manage her train well; and from the furtive attention she was ever bestowing upon it, I concluded that her experience with long dresses must have been of recent date. I noticed, too, as she came forward to salute me, that her hands were not unused to toil; but for this I only honored her the more.
The dinner was as serious and substantial as everything else in Mr. Pfeifer’s house, and passed off without any notable incident. The host persisted in talking business with me, which the young lady, at whose side I sat, accepted as a matter-of-course, making apparently no claim whatever upon the smallest share of my attention. When the long and tedious meal was at an end, upon her uncle’s suggestion, she seated herself at the piano, and sang in a deep, powerful contralto, Schubert’s magnificent arrangement of Heine’s song of unrequited love: