"What a long sigh! Are you tired, Amy?"
"Yes, and disappointed as well. I never would have undertaken this journey if I had not thought it would be full of novelty, romance, and charming adventures."
"Well, we have had several adventures."
"Bah! losing one's hat in the Rhine, getting left at a dirty little inn, and having our pockets picked, are not what I call adventures. I wish there were brigands in Germany--it needs something of that sort to enliven its stupidity."
"How can you call Germany stupid when you have a scene like this before you?" said Helen, with a sigh of pleasure, as she looked from the balcony which overhangs the Rhine at the hotel of the "Three Kings" at Coblentz. Ehrenbreitstein towered opposite, the broad river glittered below, and a midsummer moon lent its enchantment to the landscape.
As she spoke, her companion half rose from the low chair where she lounged, and showed the pretty, piquant face of a young girl. She seemed in a half melancholy, half petulant mood; and traces of recent illness were visible in the languor of her movements and the pallor of her cheeks.
"Yes, it is lovely; but I want adventures and romance of some sort to make it quite perfect. I don't care what, if something would only happen."
"My dear, you are out of spirits and weary now, to-morrow you'll be yourself again. Do not be ungrateful to uncle or unjust to yourself. Something pleasant will happen, I've no doubt. In fact, something has happened that you may make a little romance out of, perhaps, for lack of a more thrilling adventure."
"What do you mean?" and Amy's listless face brightened.
"Speak low; there are balconies all about us, and we may be overheard," said Helen, drawing nearer after an upward glance.
"What is the beginning of a romance?" whispered Amy, eagerly.
"A pair of gloves. Just now, as I stood here, and you lay with your eyes shut, these dropped from the balcony overhead. Now amuse yourself by weaving a romance out of them and their owner."
Amy seized them, and stepping inside the window, examined them by the candle.
"A gentleman's gloves, scented with violets! Here's a little hole fretted by a ring on the third finger. Bless me! here are the initials, 'S.P.,' stamped on the inside, with a coat of arms below. What a fop to get up his gloves in this style! They are exquisite, though. Such a delicate color, so little soiled, and so prettily ornamented! Handsome hands wore these. I'd like to see the man."
Helen laughed at the girl's interest, and was satisfied if any trifle amused her ennui.
"I will send them back by the kellner, and in that way we may discover their owner," she said.
But Amy arrested her on the way to the door.
"I've a better plan; these waiters are so stupid you'll get nothing out of them. Here's the hotel book sent up for our names; let us look among the day's arrivals and see who 'S.P.' is. He came to-day, I'm sure, for the man said the rooms above were just taken, so we could not have them."
Opening the big book, Amy was soon intently poring over the long list of names, written in many hands and many languages.
"I've got it! Here he is--oh, Nell, he's a baron! Isn't that charming? 'Sigismund von Palsdorf, Dresden.' We must see him, for I know he's handsome, if he wears such distracting gloves."
"You'd better take them up yourself, then."
"You know I can't do that; but I shall ask the man a few questions, just to get an idea what sort of person the baron is. Then I shall change my mind and go down to dinner; shall look well about me, and if the baron is agreeable I shall make uncle return the gloves. He will thank us, and I can say I've known a real baron. That will be so nice when we go home. Now, don't be duennaish and say I'm silly, but let me do as I like, and come and dress."
Helen submitted, and when the gong pealed through the house, Major Erskine marched into the great salle a manger, with a comely niece on each arm. The long tables were crowded, and they had to run the gauntlet of many eyes as they made their way to the head of the upper table. Before she touched her soup, Amy glanced down the line of faces opposite, and finding none that answered the slight description elicited from the waiter, she leaned a little forward to examine those on her own side of the table. Some way down sat several gentlemen, and as she bent to observe them, one did the same, and she received an admiring glance from a pair of fine black eyes. Somewhat abashed, she busied herself with her soup: but the fancy had taken possession of her, and presently she whispered to Helen,--
"Do you see any signs of the baron?"
"On my left; look at the hands."
Amy looked and saw a white, shapely hand with an antique ring on the third finger. Its owner's face was averted, but as he conversed with animation, the hand was in full play, now emphasizing an opinion, now lifting a glass, or more frequently pulling at a blond beard which adorned the face of the unknown. Amy shook her head decidedly.
"I hate light men, and don't think that is the baron, for the gloves are a size too small for those hands. Lean back and look some four or five seats lower down on the right. See what sort of person the dark man with the fine eyes is."
Helen obeyed, but almost instantly bent to her plate again, smiling in spite of herself.
"That is an Englishman; he stares rudely, says 'By Jove!' and wears no jewelry or beard."
"Now, I'm disappointed. Well, keep on the watch, and tell me if you make any discoveries, for I will find the baron."
Being hungry, Amy devoted herself to her dinner, till dessert was on the table. She was languidly eating grapes, while Helen talked with the major, when the word "baron" caught her ear. The speakers sat at a table behind her, so that she could not see them without turning quite round, which was impossible; but she listened eagerly to the following scrap of chat:--
"Is the baron going on to-morrow?" asked a gay voice in French.
"Yes, he is bound for Baden-Baden. The season is at its height, and he must make his game while the ball is rolling, or it is all up with the open-handed Sigismund," answered a rough voice.
"Won't his father pardon the last escapade?" asked a third, with a laugh.
"No, and he is right. The duel was a bad affair, for the man almost died, and the baron barely managed to get out of the scrape through court influence. When is the wedding to be?"
"Never, Palsdorf says. There is everything but love in the bargain, and he swears he'll not agree to it. I like that."
"There is much nobleness in him, spite of his vagaries. He will sow his wild oats and make a grand man in time. By the by, if we are going to the fortress, we must be off. Give Sigismund the word; he is dining at the other table with Power," said the gay voice.
"Take a look at the pretty English girl as you go by; it will do your eyes good, after the fat Frauleins we have seen of late," added the rough one.
Three gentlemen rose, and as they passed Amy stole a glance at them; but seeing several pairs of eyes fixed on herself, she turned away blushing, with the not unpleasant consciousness that "the pretty English girl" was herself. Longing to see which Sigismund was, she ventured to look after the young men, who paused behind the man with the blond beard, and also touched the dark-eyed gentleman on the shoulder. All five went down the hall and stood talking near the door.
"Uncle, I wish to go," said Amy, whose will was law to the amiable major. Up he rose, and Amy added, as she took his arm, "I'm seized with a longing to go to Baden-Baden and see a little gambling. You are not a wild young man, so you can be trusted there."
"I hope so. Now you are a sensible little woman, and we'll do our best to have a gay time. Wait an instant till I get my hat."
While the major searched for the missing article the girls went on, and coming to the door, Amy tried to open it. The unwieldy foreign lock resisted her efforts, and she was just giving it an impatient little shake, when a voice said behind her,--
"Permit me, mademoiselle;" at the same moment a handsome hand turned the latch, the flash of a diamond shone before her, and the door opened.
"Merci, monsieur," she murmured, turning as she went out; but Helen was close behind her, and no one else to be seen except the massive major in the rear.
"Did you see the baron?" she whispered eagerly, as they went up-stairs.
"No; where was he?"
"He opened the door for me. I knew him by his hand and ring. He was close to you."
"I did not observe him, being busy gathering up my dress. I thought the person was a waiter, and never looked at him," said Helen, with provoking indifference.
"How unfortunate! Uncle, you are going to see the fortress; we don't care for it; but I want you to take these gloves and inquire for Baron Sigismund Palsdorf. He will be there with a party of gentlemen. You can easily manage it, men are so free and easy. Mind what he is like, and come home in time to tell me all about it."
Away went the major, and the cousins sat on the balcony enjoying the lovely night, admiring the picturesque scene, and indulging in the flights of fancy all girls love, for Helen, in spite of her three-and-twenty years, was as romantic as Amy at eighteen. It was past eleven when the major came, and the only greeting he received was the breathless question,--
"Did you find him?"
"I found something much better than any baron, a courier. I've wanted one ever since we started; for two young ladies and their baggage are more than one man can do his duty by, Karl Hoffman had such excellent testimonials from persons I know, that I did not hesitate to engage him, and he comes to-morrow; so henceforth I've nothing to do but devote myself to you."
"How very provoking! Did you bring the gloves back?" asked Amy, still absorbed in the baron.
The major tossed them to her, and indulged in a hearty laugh at her girlish regrets; then bade them good-night, and went away to give orders for an early start next morning.
Tired of talking, the girls lay down in the two little white beds always found in German hotels, and Amy was soon continuing in sleep the romance she had begun awake. She dreamed that the baron proved to be the owner of the fine eyes; that he wooed and won her, and they were floating down the river to the chime of wedding-bells.
At this rapturous climax she woke to find the air full of music, and to see Helen standing tall and white in the moonlight that streamed in at the open window.
"Hush, hide behind the curtains and listen; it's a serenade," whispered Helen, as Amy stole to her side.
Shrouded in the drapery, they leaned and listened till the song ended, then Amy peeped; a dark group stood below; all were bareheaded, and now seemed whispering together. Presently a single voice rose, singing an exquisite little French canzonet, the refrain of which was a passionate repetition of the word "Amie." She thought she recognized the voice, and the sound of her own name uttered in such ardent tones made her heart beat and her color rise, for it seemed to signify that the serenade was for them. As the last melodious murmur ceased, there came a stifled laugh from below, and something fell into the balcony. Neither dared stir till the sound of departing feet reassured them; then creeping forward Amy drew in a lovely bouquet of myrtle, roses, and great German forget-me-nots, tied with a white ribbon and addressed in a dashing hand to La belle Helene.
"Upon my life, the romance has begun in earnest," laughed Helen, as she examined the flowers. "You are serenaded by some unknown nightingale, and I have flowers tossed up to me in the charming old style. Of course it is the baron, Amy."
"I hope so; but whoever it is, they are regular troubadours, and I'm delighted. I know the gloves will bring us fun of some kind. Do you take one and I'll take the other, and see who will find the baron first. Isn't it odd that they knew our names?"
"Amy, the writing on this card is very like that in the big book. I may be bewitched by this mid-summer moonlight, but it really is very like it. Come and see."
The two charming heads bent over the card, looking all the more charming for the dishevelled curls and braids that hung about them as the girls laughed and whispered together in the softly brilliant light that filled the room.
"You are right; it is the same. The men who stared so at dinner are gay students perhaps, and ready for any prank. Don't tell uncle, but let us see what will come of it. I begin to enjoy myself heartily now--don't you?" said Amy, laying her glove carefully away.
"I enjoyed myself before, but I think 'La belle Helene' gives an added relish to life, Amie," laughed Nell, putting her flowers in water; and then both went back to their pillows, to dream delightfully till morning.