“And if I did?” with a rebel tilt to her chin.
“Till that moment arrives I shall not borrow trouble. You will, then, tell the duke that you have changed your mind, that you have reconsidered?”
“This evening. Now, godfather, you may kiss her serene highness on the forehead.”
“This honor to me?” The chancellor trembled.
He did not touch her with Ne hands, but the kiss he put on her forehead was a benediction.
“You may go now,” she said, “for I shall need the whole room to dance in. I am free, if only for a little while!”
Outside the door the chancellor paused. She was singing. It was the same aria he had heard that memorable night when he found her in the dim garret.
Gretchen was always up when the morning was rosy, when the trees were still dark and motionless, and the beads of dew white and frostlike. For what is better than to meet the day as it comes over the mountains, and silence breaks here and there, in the houses and streets, in the fields and the vineyards? Let old age, which has played its part and taken to the wings of the stage, let old age loiter in the morning, but not green years. Gretchen awoke as the birds awoke, with snatches and little trills of song. To her nearest neighbors there was about her that which reminded them of the regularity of a good clock; when they heard her voice they knew it was time to get up.
She was always busy in the morning. The tinkle of the bell outside brought her to the door, and her two goats came pattering in to be relieved of their creamy burden. Gretchen was fond of them; they needed no care at all. The moment she had milked them they went tinkling off to the steep pastures.
Even in midsummer the dawn was chill in Dreiberg. She blew on her fingers. The fire was down to the last ember; so she went into the cluttered courtyard and broke into pieces one of the limbs she had carried up from the valley earlier in the season. The fire renewed its cheerful crackle, the kettle boiled briskly, and the frugal breakfast was under way.
There was daily one cup of coffee, but neither Gretchen nor her grandmother claimed this luxury; it was for the sick woman on the third floor. Sometimes at the Black Eagle she had a cup when her work was done, but to Gretchen the aroma excelled the taste. Her grandmother’s breakfast and her own out of the way, she carried the coffee and bread and a hot brick up to the invalid. The woman gave her two crowns a week to serve this morning meal. Gretchen would have cheerfully done the work for nothing.
What the character of the woman’s illness was Gretchen hadn’t an idea, but there could be no doubt that she was ill, desperately, had the goose-girl but known it. Her face was thin and the bones were visible under the drum-like skin; her hands were merely claws. But she would have no doctor; she would have no care save that which Gretchen gave her. Sometimes she remained in bed all the day. She had been out of the house but once since she came. She mystified the girl, for she never complained, never asked questions, talked but little, and always smiled kindly when the pillow was freshened.