“Humph!” she began after awhile with that indefinable interjection of displeasure which defies all spelling. “You talk like the witless creature that you are. Didn’t I tell the lad, two years ago, Michaelmas was, that the day he could pay off the mortgage on the farm, he should have you and the farm too? And eight hundred and fifty florins oughtn’t to frighten a man as has got the right spirit in him. And there was Ruodi of Gaenzelstein, as has got a big farm of his own, and Casper Thinglen with fifteen hundred a-comin’ to him when his grandfather dies; and you sendin’ them both off with worse grace than if they had been beggars askin’ you for a shillin’. Now, stop your snivellin’ there, I tell you. You are like your poor sainted father,—God bless him where he lies,—he too used to cry, likely enough, if a flea bit him.”
At this moment Mother Uberta’s monologue was interrupted by a loud rapping on the door; she bent down to attach the unfinished thread properly, but before she had completed this delicate operation, the door was opened, and two men entered. Seeing that they were strangers she sent them a startled glance, which presently changed into one of defiance. The fire was low, and the two men stood but dimly defined in the dusky light; but their city attire showed at once that they were not Tyrolese. And Mother Uberta, having heard many awful tales of what city-dressed men were capable of doing, had a natural distrust of the species.
“And pray, sir, what may your errand be?” she asked sternly, taking the burning pine-knot from its crack and holding it close to the face of the tallest stranger.
“My name is Hahn, madam,” answered the person whose broad expanse of countenance was thus suddenly illuminated, “and this is my son, Mr. Fritz Hahn. Allow me to assure you, madam, that our errand here is a most peaceful and friendly one, and that we deeply regret it, if our presence incommodes you.”
“Ilka, light the candles,” said Mother Uberta, sullenly. “And you,” she continued, turning again to Mr. Hahn, “find yourself a seat, until we can see what you look like.”
“What a vixen of an old woman!” whispered the proprietor of the “Haute Noblesse” to his son, as they seated themselves on the hard wooden bench near the window.
“Small chance for the ‘Haute Noblesse,’ I fear,” responded Fritz, flinging his travelling cap on the clean-scoured deal table.
Ilka, who in the meanwhile had obeyed her mother’s injunction, now came forward with two lighted tallow dips, stuck in shining brass candle-sticks, and placed them on the table before the travellers. She made a neat little courtesy before each of them, to which they responded with patronizing nods.
“Parbleu! Elle est charmante!” exclaimed Fritz, fixing a bold stare on the girl’s blushing face.
“Bien charmante,” replied Mr. Hahn, who took a great pride in the little French he had picked up when he carried a napkin over his shoulder.