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Read The Daltons Volume I Part 12

The Daltons is a web novel made by Charles James Lever.
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“You see him just as he left us, his knapsack on his shoulder, his sword fastened across it, his little cap on one side of his head, and that happy smile upon his lips. Poor dear fellow! how sad a heart it covered!”

“And was this his work?” asked Lady Hester, in astonishment.

“No, madam; my sister Nelly was the artist of this, as of all the others. Unaided and untaught, her own ingenuity alone suggesting the means, as her imagination supplied the conception.”

“Kate! dear, dear Kate!” said Ellen, with a voice of almost rebuke.

“You forget how unworthy these poor efforts are of such high-sounding epithets.” Then, turning to Lady Hester, she continued: “Were it to ears less charitable than yours, madam, these foolish words were spoken, I should fear the criticism our presumption would seem to call forth. But you will not think harshly of us for ignorance.”

“But this figure is admirable; the att.i.tude is graceful; the character of the head, the features, are in good keeping. I know, of course, nothing of the resemblance to your brother, but, as a work of art, I am competent to say it has high merit. Do tell me how the thought of doing these things first occurred to you.”

“I learned drawing as a child, madam, and was always fond of it,” said Ellen, with a degree of constraint that seemed as if the question were painful to answer.

“Yes, and so have I spent months ay, I believe I might say years at the easel, copying every Giorgione at Venice and every Vandyk at Genoa, and yet such a thought never suggested itself to me.”

“I am happy to think so, madam,” was the low response.

“Why so? how do you mean?” asked Lady Hester, eagerly.

“That the motive in my case never could have been yours, madam.”

“And what was the motive?”

“Poverty, madam. The word is not a pleasant word to syllable, but it is even better than any attempt at disguise. These trifles, while beguiling many a dreary hour, have helped us through a season of more than usual difficulty.”

“Yes, madam,” broke in Kate. “You are aware that papa’s property is in Ireland, and for some years back it has been totally unproductive.”

“How very sad how dreadful!” exclaimed Lady Hester. But whether the expressions referred to the condition of the Daltons or of Ireland, it is not quite clear.

“I doubt, madam, if I should have ventured on the confession,” said Ellen, with a voice of calm firmness, “were it not for the opportunity it offers of bearing testimony to the kindness of our poor friend yonder, Hans Roeckle. These efforts of mine have met such favor in his eyes that he accepts them all, taking them as rapidly as they are finished, and, I need not say, treating me with a generosity that would become a more exalted patron and a better artist.”

“It is quite a romance, I declare!” cried Lady Hester. “The Wood Demon and the Maiden. Only he is not in love with you, I hope?”

“I’m not quite sure of that,” said Kate, laughing; “at least, when some rivalry of her own wooden images does not intervene.”

“Hush! Hans is awaking,” said Ellen, as on tiptoe she crossed the room noiselessly, and opened the door of the chamber where the dwarf lay.

Lady Hester and Kate now drew near and peeped in. On a low settle over which an old scarlet saddle-cloth, fringed with tarnished lace, was spread as a quilt lay Hans Roeckle, his wounded arm supported by a pillow at his side; his dark eyes glistened with the bright glare of fever, and his cheeks were flushed and burning, as his lips moved unceasingly, with a low muttering, which he continued, regardless of the presence of those who now approached his bedside.

“What is it he is saying? Does he complain of pain?” asked Lady Hester.

[Ill.u.s.tration: 110]

“I cannot understand him,” said Nelly; “for ever since his accident he has spoken in his native dialect the patois of the Bregentzer Wald of which I am utterly ignorant; still he will reply to me in good German when questioned.” Then, stooping down, she asked, “Are you better, Hans?”

Hans looked up steadfastly in her face without speaking; it seemed as if her voice had arrested his wandering faculties, but yet not awakened any intelligence.

“You are thirsty, Hans,” said she, gently, as she lifted a cup of water to his lips. He drank greedily, and then pa.s.sed his hand across his brow, as if trying to dispel some tormenting fancies. After a second or two, he said: “It was in Nuremberg, in the Oden Ga.s.se, it happened. The Ritter von Ottocar stabbed her as she knelt at the cross; and the dwarf, Der Mohrchen, as they called him, tore off his turban to bind up the wound; and what was his reward, maiden? tell me that! Are ye all so shamed that ye dare not speak it?”

“We know it not, Hans; we never heard of the Ritter nor the Mohrchen before.”

“I ‘ll tell you, then. They burned him as a warlock in the Hohen Platz next morning.” With a wild burst of savage laughter he closed this speech, which he spoke in good German; but immediately after his thoughts seemed to turn to his old Tyrol haunts and the familiar language of his native land, as he sang, in a low voice, the following words:

“A Buchsel zu schiessen, A Stossring zu schlagn, A Dienal zu Liebn, Muss a Rue hahn.”

“What does he mean? Do tell me,” said Lady Hester, whose interest in the scene was more that of curiosity than compa.s.sion.

“It is a peasant dialect; but means, that a rifle to shoot with, a weapon to wield, and a maiden to love, are all that a good Tyroler needs in life,” said Kate, while Nelly busied herself in arranging the position of the wounded limb, little offices for which the poor dwarf looked his grat.i.tude silently.

“How wild his looks are!” said Lady Hester. “See how his eyes glance along the walls, as if some objects were moving before them!” And so in reality was it. Hanserl’s looks were riveted upon the strange and incongruous a.s.semblage of toys which, either suspended from nails or ranged on shelves, decorated the sides of the chamber. “Ay,” said he at last, with a melancholy smile, “thou ‘lt have to put off all this bravery soon, my pretty damsels, and don the black veil and the hood, for thy master Hans is dying!”

“He is talking to the wax figures,” whispered Kate.

“And ye too, my brave hussars, and ye Uhlaners with your floating banners, must lower your lances as ye march in the funeral procession, when Hanserl is dead! Take down the wine-bush from the door, hostess, and kneel reverently, for the bell is ringing; and here comes the priest in his alb, and with the pix before him. Hush! they are chanting his requiem. Ah! yes. Hanserl is away to the far-off land,

Wo sind die Tage lang genug, Wo sind die Nachte mild.”

“Come away, we do but excite his mind to wanderings,” said Ellen: “so long as there is light to see these toys, his fancy endows them all with life and feeling, and his poor brain is never at rest.” The sound of voices in the outer room at the same moment caught their attention, and they heard the courier of Lady Hester in deep converse with Mademoiselle Celestine. He, deploring the two hours he had pa.s.sed in hunting after his mistress through the dark streets of the village; and she, not less eloquently, bewailing the misery of a night spent in that comfortless cabin. “To visit a wretched dwarf, too! Parbleu! had it been a rendezvous with some one worth while, but an excursion without an object, sans emotion meme, it is too bad!”

“Que voulez-vous!” said Monsieur Gregoire, with a shrug of the shoulders; “she is English!”

“Ah! that is no reason for a vulgar caprice, and I, for one, will not endure it longer. I cannot do so. Such things compromise one’s self.

I ‘ll give warning to-morrow. What would my poor dear mistress, la Marquise, say, if she only knew how mes pet.i.ts talents were employed?”

“Do not be rash, mademoiselle,” interposed the courier; “they are rich, very rich, and we are going to Italy too, the real pays de Cocagne of our profession.”

How far his persuasions might have gone in inducing her to reconsider her determination there is no saying, when they were suddenly interrupted by Lady Hester’s appearance.

Her first care was to ascertain that her absence from the hotel had not been remarked, her secret, as she loved to fancy it, remained sacred.

Having learned thus much, she listened with a kind of childish pleasure to the courier’s version of all his unhappy wanderings in search of her, until he at last descried a light, the only one that shone from any window in the whole village.

As Gregoire had provided himself with a sufficient number of shawls, cloaks, and clogs, and as the storm had now pa.s.sed over, Lady Hester prepared to take her leave, delighted with her whole night’s adventure.

There had been excitement enough to make it all she could desire; nor did she well know whether most to admire her heroism during the storm, or the success with which she captivated the two sisters; the courage which planned the expedition, or the grace with which it was executed.

“You’ll come and see me, Miss Dalton; mind, I’m always at home.

Remember, Miss Kate Dalton, that they must not deny me to you” said she, in her most winning of manners. The two girls gave their promise in bashful diffidence, while she continued,

“You’ll say to your papa, too, that Sir Stafford will wait on him whenever he is able to leave the house. Mr. Onslow, indeed, ought to call at once; but he is so odd. Never mind, we shall be great friends; and you ‘ll bring all your little carving tools and your models with you, and work in my room. Your sister her embroidery, or her lace, or her crochet, or whatever it is, or you ‘ll read German for me, like a dear child, that will be so delightful. I can’t understand a word of it, but it sounds so soft, and you ‘ll tell me all it ‘s about won’t you?

And then this poor thing must want for nothing.”

“Nay, madam, he is in no need of anything but kindness. In a land where such simple habits prevail, Hans Roeckle pa.s.ses for rich.”

“How strange! how very odd! but I remember that poor Prince of Stolzenheimer. Papa used to say that he had six cordons, but only one coat! I believe it was true.”

“Hanserl is better off, madam,” replied Nelly, smiling; “at least as regards the coats.”

“Tell him, then, that I’ve been to see him, and am so grieved at his accident, but that it was all Colonel Haggerstone’s fault, a bit of silly vanity to show how well he could shoot, and I ‘m certain it just comes of being used to the pistols. I never missed when I fired with Norwood’s!”

The utterance of that name seemed to recall her from the discursive babble. She paused, and for a moment or two she was silent. At last, turning to the sisters, she reiterated her hopes of a speedy meeting, and with a cordial pressure of the hand to each, wished her last good-night, and departed.

———-

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