I. FRANZISKA FAHLER
It is a Christmas morning in Surrey–cold, still and gray, with a frail glimmer of sunshine coming through the bare trees to melt the hoar-frost on the lawn. The postman has just gone out, swinging the gate behind him. A fire burns brightly in the breakfast-room; and there is silence about the house, for the children have gone off to climb Box Hill before being marched to church.
The small and gentle lady who presides over the household walks sedately in, and lifts the solitary letter that is lying on her plate. About three seconds suffice to let her run through its contents, and then she suddenly cries:
“I knew it! I said it! I told you two months ago she was only flirting with him; and now she has rejected him. And oh! I am so glad of it! The poor boy!”
The other person in the room, who had been meekly waiting for his breakfast for half an hour, ventures to point out that there is nothing to rejoice over in the fact of a young man having been rejected by a young woman.
“If it were final, yes! If these two young folks were not certain to go and marry somebody else, you might congratulate them both. But you know they will. The poor boy will go courting again in three months’ time, and be vastly pleased with his condition.”
“Oh, never, never!” she says. “He has had such a lesson! You know I warned him. I knew she was only flirting with him. Poor Charlie! Now I hope he will get on with his profession, and leave such things out of his head. And as for that creature–”
“I will do you the justice to say,” observes her husband, who is still regarding the table with a longing eye, “that you did oppose this match, because you hadn’t the making of it. If you had brought these two together they would have been married ere this. Never mind; you can marry him to somebody of your own choosing now.”
“No,” she says, with much decision; “he must not think of marriage. He cannot think of it. It will take the poor lad a long time to get over this blow.”
“He will marry within a year.”
“I will bet you whatever you like that he doesn’t,” she says, triumphantly.
“Whatever I like! That is a big wager. If you lose, do you think you could pay? I should like, for example, to have my own way in my own house.”
“If I lose you shall,” says the generous creature; and the bargain is concluded.
Nothing further is said about this matter for the moment. The children return from Box Hill, and are rigged out for church. Two young people, friends of ours, and recently married, having no domestic circle of their own, and having promised to spend the whole Christmas Day with us, arrived. Then we set out, trying as much as possible to think that Christmas Day is different from any other day, and pleased to observe that the younger folk, at least, cherish the delusion.
But just before reaching the church I say to the small lady who got the letter in the morning, and whom we generally call Tita:
“When do you expect to see Charlie?”
“I don’t know,” she answers. “After this cruel affair he won’t like to go about much.”
“You remember that he promised to go with us to the Black Forest?”
“Yes; and I am sure it will be a pleasant trip for him.”
“Shall we go to Huferschingen?”
“I suppose so.”
“Franziska is a pretty girl.”
Now you would not think that any great mischief could be done by the mere remark that Franziska was a pretty girl. Anybody who had seen Franziska Fahler, niece of the proprietor of the “Goldenen Bock” in Huferschingen, would admit that in a moment. But this is nevertheless true, that our important but diminutive Queen Tita was very thoughtful during the rest of our walk to this little church; and in church, too, she was thinking so deeply that she almost forgot to look at the effect of the decorations she had nailed up the day before. Yet nothing could have offended in the bare observation that Franziska was a pretty girl.