Mrs. von Briest was evidently embarrassed. But Effi cuddled up to her fondly and said: “Forgive me, I will hurry now. You know I can be quick, too, and in five minutes Cinderella will be transformed into a princess. Meanwhile he can wait or chat with papa.”
Bowing to her mother, she was about to trip lightly up the little iron stairway leading from the drawing-room to the story above. But Mrs. von Briest, who could be unconventional on occasion, if she took a notion to, suddenly held Effi back, cast a glance at the charming young creature, still all in a heat from the excitement of the game, a perfect picture of youthful freshness, and said in an almost confidential tone: “After all, the best thing for you to do is to remain as you are. Yes, don’t change. You look very well indeed. And even if you didn’t, you look so unprepared, you show absolutely no signs of being dressed for the occasion, and that is the most important consideration at this moment. For I must tell you, my sweet Effi—” and she clasped her daughter’s hands—“for I must tell you—”
“Why, mama, what in the world is the matter with you? You frighten me terribly.”
“I must tell you, Effi, that Baron Innstetten has just asked me for your hand.”
“Asked for my hand? In earnest?”
“That is not a matter to make a jest of. You saw him the day before yesterday and I think you liked him. To be sure, he is older than you, which, all things considered, is a fortunate circumstance. Besides, he is a man of character, position, and good breeding, and if you do not say ‘no,’ which I could hardly expect of my shrewd Effi, you will be standing at the age of twenty where others stand at forty. You will surpass your mama by far.”
Effi remained silent, seeking a suitable answer. Before she could find one she heard her father’s voice in the adjoining room. The next moment Councillor von Briest, a well preserved man in the fifties, and of pronounced bonhomie, entered the drawing-room, and with him Baron Innstetten, a man of slender figure, dark complexion, and military bearing.
When Effi caught sight of him she fell into a nervous tremble, but only for an instant, as almost at the very moment when he was approaching her with a friendly bow there appeared at one of the wide open vine-covered windows the sandy heads of the Jahnke twins, and Hertha, the more hoidenish, called into the room: “Come, Effi.” Then she ducked from sight and the two sprang from the back of the bench, upon which they had been standing, down into the garden and nothing more was heard from them except their giggling and laughing.