“Let that be the least of your troubles!” I cried gayly. Then I hummed in English:
So, ho! dear Gretchen, winsome lass,
I want no tricky wine,
But amber nectar bring to me,
Whose rich bouquet will cling to me,
Whose spirit voice will sing to me
From out the mug divine
So, here’s your toll—a kiss—away,
You Hebe of the Rhine!
No goblet’s gold means cheer to me,
Let no cut glass get near to me—
Go, Gretchen, haste the beer to me,
And put it in the stein!
I thought I saw a smile on her lips, but it was gone before I was certain.
“Gott in Himmel!” gasped the astonished innkeeper, as I went into the barroom. I still had the hoe over my shoulder.
“Never mind, mein host. I’ve been weeding your knoblauch patch as a method of killing time.”
“But—” He looked at Gretchen in dismay.
“It was I who led him there,” said Gretchen, in answer to his inquiring eyes.
A significant glance passed between them. There was a question in his, a command in hers. I pretended to be examining the faded tints in the stein I held in my hand.
I was thinking: “Since when has an innkeeper waited on the wishes of his barmaid?”
There was a mystery after all.
I took my pipe and strolled along the river bank. What had I stumbled into? Here was an old inn, with rather a feudal air; but it was only one in a thousand; a common feature throughout the Continent. And yet, why had the gods, when they cast out Hebe, chosen this particular inn for her mortal residence? The pipe solves many riddles, and then, sometimes, it creates a density. I put my pipe into my pocket and cogitated. Gretchen had brought about a new order of things. A philosophical barmaid was certainly a novelty. That Gretchen was philosophical I had learned in the rose gardens. That she was also used to giving commands I had learned in the onion patch. Hitherto I had held the onion in contempt; already I had begun to respect it. Above all, Gretchen was a mystery, the most alluring kind of mystery—a woman who was not what she seemed. How we men love mysteries, which are given the outward semblance of a Diana or a Venus! By and by, my journalistic instinct awoke. Who are those who fear the newspapers? Certainly it is not the guiltless. Of what was Gretchen guilty? The inn-keeper knew. Was she one of those many conspirators who abound in the kingdom? She was beautiful enough for anything. And whence came the remarkable likeness between her and Phyllis? Here was a mystery indeed. I had a week before me; in that time I might learn something about Gretchen, even if I could solve nothing. I admit that it is true, that had Gretchen been plain, it would not have been worth the trouble. But she had too heavenly a face, too wonderful an eye, too delicious a mouth, not to note her with concern.