“Take them, little goose-girl,” said the duke; “your ship has come in. This will be your dowry.”
An icy shiver ran up and down Gretchen’s spine, a shiver of wonder, delight, terror. A thousand crowns! A fortune!
“Hold out your hand,” requested Herbeck. One by one he laid the notes on the goose-girl’s hand. “This is only a just reward for being kind and gentle to the unfortunate.”
“And I shall add to it another thousand,” said Hildegarde. “Give them to me, father.”
In all, this fortune amounted to little more than four hundred dollars; but to Gretchen, frugal and thrifty, to whom a single crown was a large sum, to her it represented wealth. She was now the richest girl in the lower town. Dreams of kaleidoscopic variety flew through her head. Little there was, however, of jewels and gowns. This vast sum would be the buffer between her and hunger while she pursued the one great ambition of her life—music. She tried to speak, to thank them, but her voice was gone. Tears sprang into her eyes. She had the power to do no more than weep.
The duke was the first to relieve the awkwardness of the moment.
“Count, has it not occurred to you that we stand in the presence of two very beautiful young women?”
Herbeck scrutinized Gretchen with care; then he compared her with the princess. The duke was right. The goose-girl was not a whit the inferior of the princess. And the thing which struck him with most force was that, while each possessed a beauty individual to herself, it was not opposite, but strangely alike.
The goose-girl had returned to her gloomy Krumerweg, the princess had gone to her apartments, and Herbeck to his cabinet. The duke was alone. For a long period he stood before the portrait of his wife. The beauties of his courtship trooped past him; for God had given to the grand duke of Ehrenstein that which He denies most of us, high or low, a perfect love.
“Always, always, dear heart,” he whispered; “in this life and in the life to come. To love, what is the sickle of death?”
He passed on to his secretary and opened a drawer. He laid a small bundle on the desk and untied the string. One by one he ranged the articles; two little yellow shoes, a little cloak trimmed with ermine. There had been a locket, but that was now worn by her highness.
Hermann Breunner lived in the granite lodge, just within the eastern gates of the royal gardens. He was a widower and shared the ample lodge with the undergardeners and their families. He lived with them, but signally apart. They gave him as much respect as if he had been the duke himself. He was a lonely, taciturn man, deeply concerned with his work, and a botanical student of no mean order. No comrade helped him pass away an evening in the chimney-corner, pipe in hand and good cheer in the mug. This isolation was not accidental, it was Hermann’s own selection. He was a man of brooding moods, and there was no laughter in his withered heart, though the false sound of it crossed his lips at infrequent intervals.