And indeed, Ilka was charmante as she stood there in the dim candle-light, her great innocent eyes dilated with child-like wonder, her thick blond braids hanging over her shoulders, and the picturesque Tyrolese costume—a black embroidered velvet waist, blue apron, and short black skirt—setting off her fine figure to admirable advantage. She was a tall, fresh-looking girl, of stately build, without being stout, with a healthy blooming countenance and an open, guileless expression. Most people would have pronounced her beautiful, but her beauty was of that rudimentary, unindividualized kind which is found so frequently among the peasantry of all nations. To Fritz Hahn, however who was not a philosophical observer, she seemed the most transcendent phenomenon his eyes had ever beheld.
“To make a long story short, madam,” began Mr. Hahn after a pause, during which Mother Uberta had been bristling silently while firing defiant glances at the two strangers, “I am the proprietor of a great establishment in Berlin—the ’Haute Noblesse’—you may have heard of it.”
“No, I never heard of it,” responded Mother Uberta, emphatically, as if anxious to express her disapproval, on general principles, of whatever statements Mr. Hahn might choose to make.
“Well, well, madam,” resumed the latter, a trifle disconcerted, “it makes very little difference whether you have heard of it or not. I see, however, that you are a woman of excellent common sense, and I will therefore be as brief as possible—avoid circumlocutions, so to speak.”
“Yes, exactly,” said Mother Uberta, nodding impatiently, as if eager to help him on.
“Madame Uberta,—for that, as I understand, is your honored name,—would you like to get one thousand florins?”
“That depends upon how I should get ’em,” answered the old woman sharply. “I shouldn’t like to get ’em by stealin’.”
“I mean, of course, if you had honestly earned them,” said Hahn.
“I am afeard honesty with you and with me ain’t exactly the same thing.”
Mr. Hahn was about to swear, but mindful of his cherished enterprise, he wisely refrained.
“I beg leave to inform you, Madame Uberta,” he observed, “that it is gentlemen of honor you have to deal with, and that whatever proposals they may make you will be of an honorable character.”
“And I am very glad to hear that, I am sure,” responded the undaunted Uberta.
“Three weeks ago, when we were travelling in this region,” continued Hahn, determined not to allow his temper to be ruffled, “we heard a most wonderful voice yodling in the mountains. We went away, but have now returned, and having learned that the voice was your daughter’s, we have come here to offer her a thousand florins if she will sing her native Tyrolese airs for eight weeks at our Concert Garden, the ’Haute Noblesse.’”
“One thousand florins for eight weeks, mother!” exclaimed Ilka, who had been listening to Hahn’s speech with breathless interest. “Then I could pay off the mortgage and we should not have to pay interest any more, and I should have one hundred and fifty florins left for my dowry.”