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THE GOOSE GIRL

by

HAROLD MACGRATH

With Illustrations by André Castaigne

Indianapolis The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers

1909







[Illustration: They acclaimed her the queen.]




CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I SOME IN RAGS
II AN AMERICAN CONSULT
III FOR HER COUNTRY
IV THE YOUNG VINTNER
V A COMPATRIOT
VI AT THE BLACK EAGLE
VII AN ELDER BROTHER
VIII THE KING'S LETTER
IX GRETCHEN'S DAY
X AFFAIRS OF STATE
XI THE SOCIALISTS
XII LOVE'S DOUBTS
XIII A DAY DREAM
XIV FIND THE WOMAN
XV THE WRONG MAN
XVI HER FAN
XVII AFTER THE VINTAGE
XVIII A WHITE SCAR
XIX DISCLOSURES
XX THE KING
XXI TWIN LOCKETS
XXII A LITTLE FINGER
XXIII HAPPINESS




CHAPTER I

SOME IN RAGS


An old man, clothed in picturesque patches and tatters, paused and
leaned on his stout oak staff. He was tired. He drew off his rusty felt
hat, swept a sleeve across his forehead, and sighed. He had walked many
miles that day, and even now the journey's end, near as it really was,
seemed far away. Ah, but he would sleep soundly that night, whether the
bed were of earth or of straw. His peasant garb rather enhanced his fine
head. His eyes were blue and clear and far-seeing, the eyes of a hunter
or a woodsman, of a man who watches the shadows in the forest at night
or the dim, wavering lines on the horizon at daytime; things near or far
or roundabout. His brow was high, his nose large and bridged; a face of
more angles than contours, bristling with gray spikes, like one who has
gone unshaven several days. His hands, folded over the round, polished
knuckle of his staff, were tanned and soiled, but they were long and
slender, and the callouses were pink, a certain indication that they
were fresh.

The afternoon glow of the September sun burned along the dusty white
highway. From where he stood the road trailed off miles behind and wound
up five hundred feet or more above him to the ancient city of Dreiberg.
It was not a steep road, but a long and weary one, a steady, enervating,
unbroken climb. To the left the mighty cliff reared its granite side to
the hanging city, broke in a wide plain, and then went on up several
thousand feet to the ledges of dragon-green ice and snow. To the right
sparkled and flashed a wild mountain stream on its way to the broad,
fertile valley, which, mistily green and brown and yellow with vineyards
and hops and corn, spread out and on to the north, stopping abruptly at
the base of the more formidable chain of mountains.

Across this lofty jumble of barren rock and glacial cleft, now purpling
and darkening as the sun mellowed in its decline, lay the kingdom of
Jugendheit; and toward this the wayfarer gazed meditatively, absorbing
little or nothing of the exquisite panorama. By and by his gaze wavered,
and that particular patch in the valley, brown from the beating of many
iron-shod horses, caught and chained his interest for a space. It was
the military field, and it glittered and scintillated as squadron after
squadron of cavalry dashed from side to side or wheeled in bewildering
circles.

"The philosophy of war is to prepare for it," mused the old man, with a
jerk of his shoulders. "France! So the mutter runs. There is a Napoleon
in France, but no Bonaparte. Clatter-clatter! Bang-bang!" He laughed
ironically and cautiously glanced at his watch, an article which must
have cost him many and many a potato-patch. He pulled his hat over his
eyes, scratched the irritating stubble on his chin, and stepped forward.

He had followed yonder goose-girl ever since the incline began. Oft the
little wooden shoes had lagged, but here they were, still a hundred
yards or more ahead of him. He had never been close enough to
distinguish her features. The galloping of soldiers up and down the road
from time to time disturbed her flock, but she was evidently a patient
soul, and relied valiantly upon her stick of willow. Once or twice he
had been inclined to hasten his steps, to join her, to talk, to hear the
grateful sound of his own voice, which he had not heard since he passed
the frontier customs; yet each time he had subdued the desire and
continued to lessen none of the distance between them.

The little goose-girl was indeed tired, and the little wooden shoes grew
heavier and heavier, and the little bare feet ached dully; but her heart
was light and her mind sweet with happiness. Day after day she had
tended the geese in the valley and trudged back at evening alone, all
told a matter of twelve miles; and now she was bringing them into the
city to sell in the market on the morrow. After that she would have
little to do save an hour or two at night in a tavern called the Black
Eagle, where she waited on patrons.

On the two went, the old man in tatters, the goose-girl in wooden shoes.
The man listened; she was singing brightly, and the voice was sweet and
strong and true.

"She is happy; that is some recompense. She is richer than I am." And
the peasant fell into a reverie.

Presently there was a clatter of horses, a jingle of bit and spur and
saber. The old man stepped to the side of the road and sat down on the
stone parapet. It would be wiser now to wait till the dust settled. Half
a dozen mounted officers trotted past. The peasant on the parapet
instantly recognized one of the men. He saluted with a humbleness which
lacked sincerity. It was the grand duke himself. There was General
Ducwitz, too, and some of his staff, and a smooth-faced, handsome young
man in civilian riding-clothes, who, though he rode like a cavalryman,
was obviously of foreign birth, an Englishman or an American. They were
laughing and chatting amiably, for the grand duke of Ehrenstein bothered
himself about formalities only at formal times. The outsider watched
them regretfully as they went by, and there was some envy in his heart,
too.

When the cavalcade reached the goose-girl, the peace of the scene
vanished forthwith. Confusion took up the scepter. The silly geese,
instead of remaining on the left of the road, in safety, straightway
determined that their haven of refuge was on the opposite side.
Gonk-gonk! Quack-quack! They scrambled, they blundered, they flew. Some
tried to go over the horses, some endeavored to go under. One landed,
full-winged, against the grand duke's chest and swept his vizored cap
off his head and rolled it into the dust. The duke signed to his
companions to draw up; to proceed in this undignified manner was
impossible. All laughed heartily, however; all excepting the goose-girl.
To her it was far from being a laughing matter. It would take half an
hour to calm her stupid charges. And she was _so_ tired.

"Stupids!" she cried despairingly.

"From pigs and chickens, good Lord deliver us!" shouted the civilian,
sliding from his horse and recovering the duke's cap.

Now, the duke was a kind-hearted, thoughtful man, notwithstanding his
large and complex affairs of state; as he ceased laughing, he searched a
pocket, and tossed a couple of coins to the forlorn goose-girl.

"I am sorry, little one," he said gravely. "I hope none of your geese
is hurt."

"Oh, Highness!" cried the girl, breathless from her recent endeavors and
overcome with the grandeur of the two ducal effigies in her hand. She
had seen the grand duke times without number, but she had never yet been
so near to him. And now he had actually spoken to her. It was a miracle.
She would tell them all that night in the dark old Krumerweg. And for
the moment his prospect overshadowed all thought of her geese.

The civilian dusted the royal cap with his sleeve, returned it, and
mounted. He then looked casually at the girl.

"By George!" he exclaimed, in English.

"What is it?" asked the duke, gathering up the reins.

"The girl's face; it is beautiful."

The duke, after a glance, readily agreed. "You Americans are always
observant."

"Whenever there's a pretty face about," supplemented Ducwitz.

"I certainly shouldn't trouble to look at a homely one," the American
retorted.

"Pretty figure, too," said one of the aides, a colonel. But his eye
held none of the abstract admiration which characterized the American's.

The goose-girl had seen this look in other men's eyes; she knew. A faint
color grew under her tan, and waned, but her eyes wavered not the
breadth of a hair. It was the colonel who finally was forced to turn his
gaze elsewhere, chagrined. His face was not unfamiliar to her.

"Beauty is a fickle goddess," remarked Ducwitz tritely, settling himself
firmly in the saddle. "In giving, she is as blind as a bat. I know a
duchess now--but never mind."

"Let us be going forward," interrupted the duke. There were more vital
matters under hand than the beauty of a strolling goose-girl.

So the troop proceeded with dust and small thunder, and shortly passed
the city gates, which in modern times were never closed. It traversed
the lumpy cobbles of the narrow streets, under hanging gables, past dim
little shops and markets, often unintentionally crowding pedestrians
into doorways or against the walls. One among those so inconvenienced
was a youth dressed as a vintner. He was tall, pliantly built, blond as
a Viking, possessing a singular beauty of the masculine order. He was
forced to flatten himself against the wall of a house, his arms extended
on either side, in a kind of temporary crucifixion. Even then the
stirrup of the American touched him slightly. But it was not the touch
of the stirrup that startled him; it was the dark, clean-cut face of the
rider.



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