Had Carmichael not fallen a-dreaming over his pipe he would have seen the old man pass three slips of paper across the table; he would have seen the carter, the butcher, and the baker pocket these slips stolidly; he would have seen the mountaineer wave his hand sharply and the trio rise and disperse. And perhaps it would have been well for him to have noted these singular manifestations of conspiracy, since shortly he was to become somewhat involved. It was growing late; so Carmichael left the Black Eagle, nursing the sunken ember in his pipe and surrendering no part of his dream.
Intermediately the mountaineer paid his score and started for the stairs which led to the bedrooms above. But he stopped at the bar. A very old man was having a pail filled with hot cabbage soup. It was the ancient clock-mender across the way. The mountaineer was startled out of his habitual reserve, but he recovered his composure almost instantly. The clock-mender, his heavy glasses hanging crookedly on his nose, his whole aspect that of a weary, broken man, took down his pail and shuffled noiselessly out. The mountaineer followed him cautiously. Once in his shop the clock-mender poured the steaming soup into a bowl, broke bread in it, and began his evening meal. The other, his face pressed against the dim pane, stared and stared.
“Gott in Himmel! It is he!” he breathed, then stepped back into the shadow, while the moisture from his breath slowly faded and disappeared from the window-pane.
Krumerweg was indeed a crooked way. It formed a dozen elbows and ragged half-circles as it slunk off from the Adlergasse. Streets have character even as humans, and the Krumerweg reminded one of a person who was afraid of being followed. The shadow of the towering bergs lay upon it, and the few stars that peered down through the narrow crevice of rambling gables were small, as if the brilliant planets had neither time nor inclination to watch over such a place. And yet there lived in the Krumerweg many a kind and loyal heart, stricken with poverty. In old times the street had had an evil name, now it possessed only a pitiful one.
It was half after nine when Gretchen and the vintner picked their way over cobbles pitted here and there with mud-holes. They were arm in arm, and they laughed when they stumbled, laughed lightly, as youth always laughs when in love.
“Only a little farther,” said Gretchen, for the vintner had never before passed over this way.
“Long as it is and crooked, Heaven knows it is short enough!” He encircled her with his arms and kissed her. “I love you! I love you!” he said.
Gretchen was penetrated with rapture, for her ears, sharp with love and the eternal doubting of man, knew that falsehood could not lurk in such music. This handsome boy loved her. Buffeted as she had been, she could separate the false from the true. Come never so deep a sorrow, there would always be this—he loved her. Her bosom swelled, her heart throbbed, and she breathed in ecstasy the sweet chill air that rushed through the broken street.