“Himmel, what is the matter with the child,” cried Pfeifer, in a voice of alarm. “Why, my dear, you tremble all over. I ought not to have made you go out with that headache. Wait here while I run for some water.”
Before I could offer my services, he was gone, leaving me alone with Hildegard.
“Let us go,” she whispered, with a long, shuddering sigh, turning a white face, full of fright, disgust, and pitiful appeal toward me.
“Shall we not wait for your uncle?” I asked.
“Oh, I cannot. Let us go,” she repeated, seizing my arm, and clinging convulsively to me.
We walked slowly away, and were soon overtaken by Mr. Pfeifer.
“How do you feel now, child?” he inquired anxiously.
“Oh, I feel—I feel—unclean,” she whispered and shuddered again.
Two years passed, during which I completely lost sight of Dannevig. I learned that he had been dismissed from the service of the Immigration Company; that he played second violin for a few months at one of the lowest city theatres, and finally made a bold stroke for fame by obtaining the Democratic nomination for County Clerk. I was faithless enough, however, to call attention to the fact that he had never been naturalized, whereupon, a new caucus was called, and another candidate was put into the field.
The Pfeifers I continued to see frequently, and, at last, at Hildegard’s own suggestion, told her the story I had so long withheld from her. She showed very little emotion, but sat pale and still with her hands folded in her lap, gazing gravely at me. When I had finished, she arose, walked the length of the room, then returned, and stopped in front of me.
“Human life seems at times a very flimsy affair, doesn’t it?” she said, appealing to me again with her direct gaze.
“Yes, if one takes a cynical view of it,” I answered.
She stood for a while pondering.
“Did I ever know that man?” she asked, looking up abruptly.
“You know best.”
“Then it must have been very, very long ago.”
A slight shiver ran through her frame. She shook my hand silently, and left the room.
One evening in the summer of 1870, just as the news from the Franco-Prussian war was arousing the enthusiasm of our Teutonic fellow-citizens, I was sauntering leisurely homeward, pondering with much satisfaction on the course history was taking. About half a mile from the Clark street bridge I found my progress checked by a crowd of men who had gathered on the sidewalk outside of a German saloon, and were evidently discussing some exciting topic. My journalistic instincts prompted me to stop and listen to the discussion.
“Poor fellow, I guess he is done for,” some one was saying. “But they were both drunk; you couldn’t expect anything else.”
“Is any one hurt?” I asked, addressing my next neighbor in the crowd.