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Chapter 20

  • Sixteen passed by with many other things much more disturbing and important t_he world than a girl's birthday; seventeen was gone, with passing events mor_omplicated still and increasingly significant, but even the owners of th_ands hovering over the Chessboard, which was the Map of Europe, did not kee_ watch on all of them as close as might have been kept with advantage. Girl_n their teens are seldom interested in political and diplomatic conditions, and Robin was not fond of newspapers. She worked well and steadily unde_ademoiselle's guidance, and her governess realized that she was not losin_ight of her plans for self support. She was made aware of this by a_ccasional word or so, and also by a certain telepathic union between them.
  • Little as she cared for the papers, the child had a habit of closely examinin_he advertisements every day. She read faithfully the columns devoted to thos_ho "Want" employment or are "Wanted" by employers.
  • "I look at all the paragraphs which begin 'Wanted, a young lady' or a 'youn_oman' or a 'young person,' and those which say that 'A young person' or '_oung woman' or 'a young lady' desires a position. I want to find out what i_ftenest needed."
  • She had ceased to be disturbed by the eyes which followed her, or opened _ittle as she passed. She knew that nothing had come undone or was crooked an_hat untidiness had nothing to do with the matter. She accepted being looke_t as a part of everyday life. A certain friendliness and pleasure in most o_he glances she liked and was glad of. Sometimes men of the flushed, middle- aged or elderly type displeased her by a sort of boldness of manner and gaze, bet she thought that they were only silly, giddy, old things who ought to g_ome to their families and stay with them. Mademoiselle or Dowie was nearl_lways with her, but, as she was not a French jemme fille, this was no_ecause it was supposed that she could not be trusted out alone, but becaus_he enjoyed their affectionate companionship.
  • There was one man, however, whom she greatly disliked, as young girls wil_ccasionally dislike a member of the opposite sex for no special reason the_an wholly explain to themselves.
  • He was an occasional visitor of her mother's—a personable young Prussia_fficer of high rank and title. He was blonde and military and good-looking; he brought his bearing and manner from the Court at Berlin, and the click o_is heels as he brought them smartly together, when he made his perfec_utomatic bow, was one of the things Robin knew she was reasonless in feelin_he detested in him.
  • "It makes me feel as if he was not merely bowing as a a man who is a gentlema_oes," she confided to Mademoiselle Valle, "but as if he had been taught to d_t and to call attention to it as if no one had ever known how to do i_roperly before. It is so flourishing in its stiff way that it's rathe_ulgar."
  • "That is only personal fancy on your part," commented Mademoiselle.
  • "I know it is," admitted Robin. "But—" uneasily, "—but that isn't what _islike in him most. It's his eyes, I suppose they are handsome eyes. They ar_lue and full—rather too full. They have a queer, swift stare—as if the_lunged into other people's eyes and tried to hold them and say somethin_ecret, all in one second. You find yourself getting red and trying to loo_way."
  • "I don't," said Mademoiselle astutely—because she wanted to hear the rest, without asking too many questions.
  • Robin laughed just a little.
  • "You have not seen him do it. I have not seen him do it myself very often. H_omes to call on—Mamma"—she never said "Mother"—"when he is in London. He ha_een coming for two or three seasons. The first time I saw him I was going ou_ith Dowie and he was just going upstairs. Because the hall is so small, w_lmost knocked against each other, and he jumped back and made his bow, and h_tared so that I felt silly and half frightened. I was only fifteen then."
  • "And since then?" Mademoiselle Valle inquired.
  • "When he is here it seems as if I always meet him somewhere. Twice, whe_raulein Hirsch was with me in the Square Gardens, he came and spoke to us. _hink he must know her. He was very grand and condescendingly polite to her, as if he did not forget she was only a German teacher and I was only a littl_irl whose mamma he knew. But he kept looking at me until I began to hat_im."
  • "You must not dislike people without reason. You dislike Lord Coombe."
  • "They both make me creep. Lord Coombe doesn't plunge his eyes into mine, bu_e makes me creep with his fishy coldness. I feel as if he were like Satan i_is still way."
  • "That is childish prejudice and nonsense."
  • "Perhaps the other is, too," said Robin. "But they both make me creep, nevertheless. I would rather DIE than be obliged to let one of them touch me.
  • That was why I would never shake hands with Lord Coombe when I was a littl_hild."
  • "You think Fraulein Hirsch knows the Baron?" Mademoiselle inquired further.
  • "I am sure she does. Several times, when she has gone out to walk with me, w_ave met him. Sometimes he only passes us and salutes, but sometimes he stop_nd says a few words in a stiff, magnificent way. But he always bores his eye_nto mine, as if he were finding out things about me which I don't kno_yself. He has passed several times when you have been with me, but you ma_ot remember."
  • Mademoiselle Valle chanced, however, to recall having observed the salute of _omewhat haughty, masculine person, whose military bearing in itself wa_ufficient to attract attention, so markedly did it suggest the clanking o_purs and accoutrements, and the high lift of a breast bearing orders.
  • "He is Count von Hillern, and I wish he would stay in Germany," said Robin.
  • Fraulein Hirsch had not been one of those who returned hastily to her ow_ountry, giving no warning of her intention to her employers. She had remaine_n London and given her lessons faithfully. She was a plain young woman with _arge nose and pimpled, colourless face and shy eyes and manner. Robin ha_elt sure that she stood in awe of the rank and military grandeur of he_ellow countryman. She looked shyer than ever when he condescended to halt an_ddress her and her charge—so shy, indeed, that her glances seemed furtive.
  • Robin guessed that she admired him but was too humble to be at ease when h_as near her. More than once she had started and turned red and pale when sh_aw him approaching, which had caused Robin to wonder if she herself woul_eel as timid and overpowered by her superiors, if she became a governess.
  • Clearly, a man like Count von Hillern would then be counted among he_uperiors, and she must conduct herself becomingly, even if it led to he_ooking almost stealthy. She had, on several occasions, asked Fraulein certai_uestions about governesses. She had inquired as to the age at which one coul_pply for a place as instructress to children or young girls. Fraulein Hirsc_ad begun her career in Germany at the age of eighteen. She had lived _erious life, full of responsibilities at home as one of a large family, an_he had perhaps been rather mature for her age. In England young women wh_ished for situations answered advertisements and went to see the people wh_ad inserted them in the newspapers, she explained. Sometimes, the result_ere very satisfactory. Fraulein Hirsch was very amiable in her readiness t_upply information. Robin did not tell her of her intention to find work o_ome sort—probably governessing—but the young German woman was possessed of _ind "made in Germany" and was quite well aware of innumerable things he_harge did not suspect her of knowing. One of the things she knew best wa_hat the girl was a child. She was not a child herself, and she was a_bjectly bitter and wretched creature who had no reason for hope. She lived i_mall lodgings in a street off Abbey Road, and, in a drawer in her dressin_able, she kept hidden a photograph of a Prussian officer with cropped blon_ead, and handsome prominent blue eyes, arrogantly gazing from beneath heav_ids which drooped. He was of the type the German woman, young and slim, o_ature and stout, privately worships as a god whose relation to any woman ca_nly be that of a modern Jove stooping to command service. In his teens he ha_ecome accustomed to the female eye which lifts itself adoringly or casts th_urtively excited glance of admiration or appeal. It was the way of mer_ature that it should be so—the wise provision of a masculine God, whose worl_as created for the supply and pleasure of males, especially males of th_russian Army, whose fixed intention it was to dominate the world and teach i_bedience.
  • To such a man, so thoroughly well trained in the comprehension of the power o_is own rank and values, a young woman such as Fraulein Hirsch—subservient an_ithout beauty—was an unconsidered object to be as little regarded as th_avement upon which one walks. The pavement had its uses, and such women ha_heirs. They could, at least, obey the orders of those Heaven had placed abov_hem, and, if they showed docility and intelligence, might be re warded by _ertain degree of approval.
  • A presumption, which would have dared to acknowledge to the existence of th_idden photograph, could not have been encompassed by the being of Fraulei_irsch. She was, in truth, secretly enslaved by a burning, secret, heart- wringing passion which, sometimes, as she lay on her hard bed at night, force_rom her thin chest hopeless sobs which she smothered under the bedclothes.
  • Figuratively, she would have licked the boots of her conquering god, if h_ould have looked at her—just looked-as if she were human. But such a thin_ould not have occurred to him. He did not even think of her as she thought o_erself, torturingly—as not young, not in any degree good-looking, no_eboren, not even female. He did not think of her at all, except as one o_hose born to serve in such manner as their superiors commanded. She was i_ngland under orders, because she was unobtrusive looking enough to be a saf_erson to carry on the work she had been given to do. She was cleverer tha_he looked and could accomplish certain things without attracting an_ttention whatsoever.
  • Von Hillern had given her instructions now and then, which had made i_ecessary for him to see and talk to her in various places. The fact that sh_ad before her the remote chance of seeing him by some chance, gave her a_bject in life. It was enough to be allowed to stand or sit for a short tim_ear enough to have been able to touch his sleeve, if she had had the ma_udacity to do it; to quail before his magnificent glance, to hear his voice, to ALMOST touch his strong, white hand when she gave him papers, to see tha_e deigned, sometimes, to approve of what she had done, to assure him of he_ontinued obedience, with servile politeness.
  • She was not a nice woman, or a good one, and she had, from her birth, accepte_er place in her world with such finality that her desires could not, at an_ime, have been of an elevated nature. If he had raised a haughty hand an_eckoned to her, she would have followed him like a dog under any condition_e chose to impose. But he did not raise his hand, and never would, becaus_he had no attractions whatsoever. And this she knew, so smothered her sobs i_er bed at night or lay awake, fevered with anticipation when there was _ague chance that he might need her for some reason and command her presenc_n some deserted park or country road or cheap hotel, where she could tak_ooms for the night as if she were a passing visitor to London.
  • One night—she had taken cheap lodgings for a week in a side street, i_bedience to orders—he came in about nine o'clock dressed in a manner whos_bject was to dull the effect of his grandeur and cause him to look as muc_ike an ordinary Englishman as possible.
  • But, when the door was closed and he stood alone in the room with her, sh_aw, with the blissful pangs of an abjectly adoring woman, that h_utomatically resumed his magnificence of bearing. His badly fitting overcoa_emoved, he stood erect and drawn to his full height, so dominating the smal_lace and her idolatrously cringing being that her heart quaked within her.
  • Oh! to dare to cast her unloveliness at his feet, if it were only to b_rampled upon and die there! No small sense of humour existed in her brain t_ave her from her pathetic idiocy. Romantic humility and touching sacrifice t_he worshipped one were the ideals she had read of in verse and song all he_ife. Only through such servitude and sacrifice could woman gain man'_ove—and even then only if she had beauty and the gifts worthy of her idol'_cceptance.
  • It was really his unmitigated arrogance she worshipped and crawled upon he_oor, large-jointed knees to adore. Her education, her very religion itsel_ad taught that it was the sign of his nobility and martial high breeding.
  • Even the women of his own class believed something of the same sort—the mor_omantic and sentimental of them rather enjoying being mastered by it. T_raulein Hirsch's mental vision, he was a sublimated and more dazzling Germa_ochester, and she herself a more worthy, because more submissive, Jane Eyre.
  • Ach Gott! His high-held, cropped head—his so beautiful white hands—his prou_yes which deigned to look at her from their drooping lids! His presenc_illed the shabby room with the atmosphere of a Palace.
  • He asked her a few questions; he required from her certain notes she had made; without wasting a word or glance he gave her in detail certain further orders.
  • He stood by the table, and it was, therefore, necessary that she shoul_pproach him—should even stand quite near that she might see clearly a sketc_e made hastily—immediately afterwards tearing it into fragments and burnin_t with a match. She was obliged to stand so near him that her skirt brushe_is trouser leg. His nearness, and a vague scent of cigar smoke, mingled wit_he suggestion of some masculine soap or essence, were so poignant in thei_ffect that she trembled and water rose in her eyes. In fact—and despite he_errified effort to control it, a miserable tear fell on her cheek and stoo_here because she dared not wipe it away.
  • Because he realized, with annoyance, that she was trembling, he cast a cold, inquiring glance at her and saw the tear. Then he turned away and resumed hi_xamination of her notes. He was not here to make inquiries as to whether _heep of a woman was crying or had merely a cold in her head. "Ach!" grovelle_oor Hirsch in her secret soul,—his patrician control of outward expressio_nd his indifference to all small and paltry things! It was part, not only o_is aristocratic breeding, but of the splendour of his military training.
  • It was his usual custom to leave her at once, when the necessary formula ha_een gone through. Tonight—she scarcely dared to believe it—he seemed to hav_ome reason for slight delay. He did not sit down or ask Fraulein Hirsch to d_o—but he did not at once leave the room. He lighted a quite marvellou_igar—deigning a slight wave of the admired hand which held it, designatin_hat he asked permission. Oh! if she dared have darted to him with a match! H_tood upon the hearth and asked a casual-sounding question or so regarding he_mployer, her household, her acquaintances, her habits.
  • The sole link between them was the asking of questions and the giving o_rivate information, and, therefore, the matter of taste in such matters di_ot count as a factor. He might ask anything and she must answer. Perhaps i_as necessary for her to seek some special knowledge among the guests Mrs.
  • Gareth-Lawless received. But training, having developed in her alertness o_ind, led her presently to see that it was not Mrs. Gareth-Lawless he wa_hiefly interested in—but a member of her family—the very small family whic_onsisted of herself and her daughter.
  • It was Robin he was enclosing in his network of questions. And she had see_im look at Robin when he had passed or spoken to them. An illuminating flas_rought back to her that he had cleverly found out from her when they were t_alk together, and where they were to go. She had not been quick enough t_etect this before, but she saw it now. Girls who looked like that—yes! But i_ould not be—serious. An English girl of such family—with such a mother! _omentary caprice, such as all young men of his class amused themselves wit_nd forgot—but nothing permanent. It would not, indeed, be approved in thos_igh Places where obedience was the first commandment of the Decalogue.
  • But he did not go. He even descended a shade from his inaccessible plane. I_as not difficult for him to obtain details of the odd loneliness of th_irl's position. Fraulein Hirsch was quite ready to explain that, in spite o_he easy morals and leniency of rank and fashion in England, she was a sort o_ittle outcast from sacred inner circles. There were points she burned to mak_lear to him, and she made them so. She was in secret fiercely desirous tha_e should realize to the utmost, that, whatsoever rashness this young flame o_oveliness inspired in him, it was NOT possible that he could regard it wit_ny shadow of serious intention. She had always disliked the girl, and now he_eak mildness and humility suddenly transformed themselves into somethin_lse—a sort of maternal wolfishness. It did not matter what happened to th_irl—and whatsoever befell or did not befall her, she—Mathilde Hirsch—coul_either gain nor lose hope through it. But, if she did not displease him an_et saved him from final disaster, he would, perhaps, be grateful to her—an_erhaps, speak with approval—or remember it—and his Noble Mother mos_ertainly would—if she ever knew. But behind and under and through all thes_pecious reasonings, was the hot choking burn of the mad jealousy only he_ype of luckless woman can know—and of whose colour she dare not show th_alest hint.
  • "I have found out that, for some reason, she thinks of taking a place a_overness," she said.
  • "Suggest that she go to Berlin. There are good places there," was his answer.
  • "If she should go, her mother will not feel any anxiety about her," returne_raulein Hirsch.
  • "If, then, some young man she meets in the street makes love to her and the_un away together, she will not be pursued by her relatives."
  • Fraulein Hirsch's flat mouth looked rather malicious.
  • "Her mother is too busy to pursue her, and there is no one else—unless it wer_ord Coombe, who is said to want her himself."
  • Von Hillern shrugged his fine shoulders.
  • "At his age! After the mother! That is like an Englishman!"
  • Upon this, Fraulein Hirsch drew a step nearer and fixed her eyes upon his, a_he had never had the joy of fixing them before in her life. She dared it no_ecause she had an interesting story to tell him which he would like to hear.
  • It WAS like an Englishman. Lord Coombe had the character of being one of th_orst among them, but was too subtle and clever to openly offend people. I_as actually said that he was educating the girl and keeping her in seclusio_nd that it was probably his colossal intention to marry her when she was ol_nough. He had no heir of his own—and he must have beauty and innocence.
  • Innocence and beauty his viciousness would have.
  • "Pah!" exclaimed von Hillern. "It is youth which requires such things—an_akes them. That is all imbecile London gossip. No, he would not run after he_f she ran away. He is a proud man and he knows he would be laughed at. And h_ould not get her back from a young man—who was her lover."
  • Her lover! How it thrilled the burning heart her poor, flat chest pante_bove. With what triumphant knowledge of such things he said it.
  • "No, he could not," she answered, her eyes still on his. "No one could."
  • He laughed a little, confidently, but almost with light indifference.
  • "If she were missing, no particular search would be made then," he said. "Sh_s pretty enough to suit Berlin."
  • He seemed to think pleasantly of something as he stood still for a moment, hi_yes on the floor. When he lifted them, there was in their blue a hint of ugl_xulting, though Mathilde Hirsch did not think it ugly. He spoke in a lo_oice.
  • "It will be an exciting—a colossal day when we come to London—as we shall. I_ill be as if an ocean had collected itself into one huge mountain of a wav_nd swept in and overwhelmed everything. There will be confusion then and th_ushing up of untrained soldiers—and shouts—and yells——"
  • "And Zeppelins dropping bombs," she so far forgot herself as to pant out, "an_uildings crashing and pavements and people smashed! Westminster and th_alaces rocking, and fat fools running before bayonets."
  • He interrupted her with a short laugh uglier than the gleam in his eyes. H_as a trifle excited.
  • "And all the women running about screaming and trying to hide and being pulle_ut. We can take any of their pretty, little, high nosed women we choose—an_f them."
  • "Yes," she answered, biting her lip. No one would take her, she knew.
  • He put on his overcoat and prepared to leave her. As he stood at the doo_efore opening it, he spoke in his usual tone of mere command.
  • "Take her to Kensington Gardens tomorrow afternoon," he said. "Sit in one o_he seats near the Round Pond and watch the children sailing their boats. _hall not be there but you will find yourself near a quiet, elegant woman i_ourning who will speak to you. You are to appear to recognize her as an ol_cquaintance. Follow her suggestions in everything."
  • After this he was gone and she sat down to think it over.