IN PERFECT CONFIDENCE:An Episode of Today, Edit
by Madeline B. Blossom Edit
Written for Short Stories 1903
The water cure at Reinerz had long borne its well deserved reputation as a happy haven for all nervous invalids.
The absolute quiet of the little village, the beautiful scenery of the surrounding country, and the complete equipment of the sanitarium with its efficient . staff of specialists seldom failed to inspire hope in the heart of the most despairing invalid.
A majority of the patients were Americans (a fact which the medical staff seemed to consider a matter of course), a number were Germans, and the rest that heterogeneous collection of nationalities so common to a European health resort, but usually found elsewhere only in the most cosmopolitan cities, or at the gaming tables of Monte Carlo and Monaco.
The attendance at the " cure "this year was larger than ever, although the average of extreme cases was small, but they included as varied an assortment of hypochondriacs as could be found anywhere on the continent.
The Herr Oberst von Falkenberg was there — that pompous old colonel with his eyeglass, his strut, and no apparent trouble to be alleviated unless, indeed, it might be his marvelous faculty for profanity.
He came every year with great regularity, and so did Madame Gautier-Sboga. She was supposed to be an exile from Russia, and to her more or less mystery was attached ; no one really knew anything about her, so she moved under a halo of additional interest and was accredited with the ability to disclose any amount of awful secrets when the proper time should arrive. Among the patients so ill as to require private attendance was a wealthy American from New York. Like many of his countrymen Mr. Russell had been so long a slave to business life that over-strained nature at last gave way. Now he had come abroad, accompanied by his wife and daughter, to see if the wealth for which he had given the best part of his life, his strength and energy, could buy them back again.
His wife, although in some respects a very worldly woman, was nevertheless sincere in her affection for her husband, and devoted herself to him in his illness with a wholeheartedness which absorbed almost all of her attention, and left very little time for anything else.
Dorothy Russell represented to her mother the acme of all charm and beauty; bright, attractive, with an impulsiveness which told the warmth of her nature, she had nevertheless an independence of thought which showed very clearly the existence of no small self-reliance, and added to the strength of her personality.
The guests at the "Cure" dined in the middle of the day and had supper at night. One evening, in coming down a little late. Dorothy noticed, already seated opposite, a new arrival, a woman well past the prime of life, but still bearing traces of great beauty. The slight hauteur of her manner contrasted rather strongly with the expression of her eyes, an expression so sad, so lonely, that Dorothy felt a sudden, irresistible attraction, and a longing to know the woman whose face could compel such sympathy. As she took her seat the stranger murmured,” It guten Abend' 1 with a slight bow and that ready courtesy so customary in all Germany, and so charming to the traveler from other lands.
During several successive meals they exchanged the ordinary conventionalities, gradually branching off to broader, more interesting topics, and before long, not only had Dorothy succumbed to the singular charm of her new acquaintance, but Frau von Bendel found herself equally attracted by the originality and the winsomeness of the young American. As far as the disparity in years was concerned, it was a strange friendship, but nevertheless so real that it grew deeper and firmer as the weeks went on. Not only were they seen together constantly, but it became an understood thing that on the days Frau von Bendel was not strong enough to come down-stairs Dorothy was to go to her room for a part of each afternoon.
It was well toward the end of October, and Frau von Bendel had been confined to her room for a week, that Dorothy appeared one afternoon at the usual hour, but not at all her sunny self, and with occasional lapses into a solemn silence, which showed very plainly that something was troubling her.
" Was kummert dich,mein Kind?" asked Frau von Bendel, at last, "what troubles thee? Is the Herr water very ill?"
"No," she replied, "Papa is much better, but "
There was another pause as Dorothy lapsed again into silence, broken at last by Frau von Bendel's saying quietly, 4 'May I not share the trouble, dear child? It might relieve you to talk about it a little — if you can." "Dear Frau von Bendel," said the girl, "you have the power which makes me feel that I could tell you anything. It is not right to bother you, but you are so kind, and I am troubled," and Dorothy wrinkled her pretty forehead as if she had been brought face to face with some knotty problem which refused to be solved.
44 You see, last winter in New York, there was a man many years older than I, who wanted to marry me. I had the greatest respect for him, but none of the feeling I had imagined I would have for the man whose wife I might some day be, so I refused. Mamma was very angry with me, for he had an irreproachably high social standing and enormous wealth. She declared that no girl in her senses would refuse such an offer, and really seemed to feel so badly that after some persuasion I agreed to think it over again and give my final answer at the end of six months. The time will be up next week when I must give my decision. Mamma spoke to me about it last night; she hinted that Papa's business had been suffering lately, and that it would be the greatest relief to him in his illness to know that my future was well provided for. She said, too, that it would be a real grief to both of them if I let so rare an opportunity go by. Of course," said the girl nervously, "it is left to me to decide, but lately," her face softened as her color rose, " lately I have begun to feel that it is quite impossible."
"There is someone else, then," said Frau von Bendel quietly.
"Yes," said the girl, with a proud, tender look in her eyes, " there is someone else. Someone at home in America, but he is poor. Mamma does not know," she added quickly, "nobody else does — I have only known myself, a little while. I should hate to do anything which could distress Papa in any way, or grieve Mamma either, but," with sudden impetuosity, "how can I honestly consent?"
There was a moment's silence when Dorothy ceased speaking, and then the voice of the older woman was heard. "It would hardly be right for me to advise you differently after knowing how your mother feels, but I — I want to tell you a story, Dorothy" — the rich, low voice grew deeper and fuller — "the story of my own life."
With an air of anticipation the girl glanced quickly at her companion, then taking a seat by the side of the fire she contentedly prepared herself to listen.
" I was the eldest of four daughters," said Frau von Bendel, "our girlhood was passed entirely on my father's estate, where we all lived for years in more or less reduced circumstances. We had few pleasures in those days, and I well remember the strictness of our regime and the constant effort to make both ends meet.
"The house itself, one of those old baronial structures with an air even more of gloom than of stateliness, had been a magnificent dwelling in its day, but the ravages of time, with our inability to keep the place in condition, became apparent even to my childish eyes at an early age. But I loved it in spite of that, for I knew nothing else.
The long corridors, the dismantled drawing-rooms and the lofty picture gallery, so empty of its former glories, formed a melancholy spectacle for anyone who knew the history of their past, who knew of their former splendors.
"The one possession of which we had cause to be proud was the great library, with its rare collection of books ; that had at least escaped unharmed, and it was there I reveled.
"Not only did I inherit my father's taste for reading, but it was by him my youthful mind was first awakened, then guided through that sea of literature which was .at once my delight and my despair. In this way I gained a certain kind of education, yet up to the age of seventeen I had never been in a large city, and knew almost nothing of the world. It was during those days that my father's affairs became more straitened than ever. Land he had, to be sure, in abundance, but ready money, of which we had at no time a large amount — seemed scarcer than ever.
" About this time there came to our home an old friend of my father's college days, now a thorough man of the world, possessed of great wealth and equaJ social standing. He had come for a few days, but at the end of a week showed no signs of leaving. It was then that I noticed how he sought me out, and although I tried to persuade myself it was not so, before long it became too apparent for anyone to misconstrue. At the end of the second week he made a formal offer for my hand, and my parents, whose delight was manifest, gave a ready consent.
"The customary written contract was made out at once, for a betrothal in our country means far more than in yours, and I offered no serious objection when the marriage was thus arranged. I respected Herr von Bendel, and was I not absolutely heart free? Besides, my parents were in need of help, and they told me plain lv that the opportunity was come for me to do what I could for them. My three younger sisters were also to be provided for, and this was the chance for me to show, by my dutiful obedience, the proper appreciation of all their care.
"So I consented, and was at once plunged into the preparations — simple as they were — for the wedding. Herr von Bendel would not hear of a long engagement; he was going to Italy for the winter and wanted to take me with him. The marriage was to take place within the month.
"The night of the ceremony came at last — it seems almost impossible to think so simple an affair could have seemed so wonderful to me then!
tl With our own hands we draped the halls with laurel and put flowers in all the rooms; to us they assumed a festal appearance. Our guests were not many, some friends from estates near by, and a number of our own villagers. Too young, too inexperienced to realize what it meant, I moved about during the day the most unmoved in all the excitement around me. At least I thought I was, but when at the appointed time my father came to my door to say that all was ready and they were waiting for me, I turned from the final glance in the mirror to find I was trembling from head to foot. I was passionately attached to my family, to my home, and with a sinking heart I seemed to realize at last that a few hours would separate me from both.
"Pale as death I descended the stairs, and most of what followed was to me a dream. Of the ceremony I remembered nothing but the face of the dear old pastor who had known me from my birth, and the tears in his eyes as he blessed me at the last, in broken tones.
" Among those who came to congratulate me was a man who had been, as a child, my most cherished companion and playmate. Five or six years my senior he had petted and protected me with all the affection of an elder child for a younger one, and in spite of the difference in our ages we iiad been inseparable until his college days. After his graduation he had traveled extensively for more than a year, and had just returned in time for my wedding.
"Glad as I was to see him I had no chance for more than a handshake until all the congratulations were over. Released at last, I hastily stepped into a small side room and sank into a chair to rest. Quite hidden by palms and flowers I thought no one would notice me for a moment, but hearing footsteps I looked up to see Rudolph Wiesener standing before me.
"llow nice it seems to have you home again, Rudolph,' I said, 'Surely it is more than a year since you went away, and now you've been to all those places we used to talk about and wonder if we should ever see.'
M You will do rather more than wonder, now,' he replied, seating himself opposite me; ' I hear you are going to Italy almost immediately.'
' Yes,' I said, the thought making my lips quiver in spite of me, 'but I don't believe^I care to go as much as I thought I did, after all.'
" It is so strange to think of you as married, Elsa,' he said slowly, 'it seems such a short time ago that we were children together — such a very short time since I went to college and traveled, yet I come home to find you a married woman.'
M *A married woman,' I echoed [mechanically, wishing he would talk about anything else.
,”I remember,” he continued half dreamily, “how 1 used to call you my little sweetheart, and what a dream of mine it was that when I grew to be a man I should accomplish all sorts of wonderful things and then come home to give my laurels and my heart into your keeping for always.”
"There was a silence when he ceased for a moment, but in that time I learned the meaning of pain. I appreciated the force of what his words meant to me, and realized with a sudden despair that I had learned to know my own heart — too late. I loved Rudolph Wiesener with all the strength of my being, and the vows of my faith and obedience to another man had just been uttered.
" My first thought was to get away somewhere, to be alone with this trouble which had come to me, but I seemed to have no power to move. Spellbound I sat there, gazing only at Rudolph, who quickly noticed my silence and looked up to meet my eyes.
"I was an innocent girl, and he a man of the world, so it is no wonder that he saw at once what I strove to conceal.
" Elsa,' he cried passionately, as he sprang to his feet. Then almost in a whisper, 'Elsa, forgive me! I never dreamed that you cared like this!”
"It is said that a drowning man sees years of his life pass through his mind in a second, so came to me the thought of my life as it might have been, as it now must be, and with a low cry of pain I buried my face in my hands. A quick movement and he was beside me, his face dangerously near mine as he murmured with an uncontrollable wild delight, ' You love me, Elsa, you really love me!'
"'Yes/ I said wearily, as I rose to my feet struggling for self-possession with a sense of loyalty to the man whose name I bore, ' Yes, I love you, but the knowledge has come to me so suddenly that I lost my self-control and betrayed the feeling I should never have shown you.'
"He walked abruptly away from me a few steps, and from the nervous working of his hands as they hung at his sides I could see what an effort he was making for self-control.
"'Rudolph,' I said sadly, 'it is our misfortune, not our fault, but as it is so I pray that I may never see you again — it is the only thing for me to wish. God bless you always, Rudolph,' and as I rose to my feet trembling. I held out my hand. ' Good-bve. '
"Turning quickly he gathered my hand into both of his and pressing it to his lips, he said, 4 You are a noble woman, Elsa. do with me as you will.*
''Slowly he walked towards the door, but at the threshold turned, and quickly retracing his steps grasped my hand in his, pressing it again to his lips as he murmured brokenly, 'It is for always, beloved; good-bye.' Another second and he was gone.
Frau von Bendel paused. The silence which followed was broken only by the falling of a log in the open fireplace, which, as it broke, sent forth a sudden blaze of sparks to light up the room and the faces of the two women in the twilight. It showed in the older woman a glimpse of a deep emotion and a bit of heart-weariness strangely pathetic, while the face and attitude of the girl on the low seat by the fire depicted that intense and absorbed interest which is the best of all sympathy.
She could not break the silence, she found no words to utter, but sat gazing into the heart of the flame waiting with a tender consideration for the older woman to speak at will.
"I often think of myself as I was that night," said Frau von Bendel at last, "so young, so unhappy and alone — poor little girl!" she added with a pathetic sense of self-pity.
"In the first depth of my emotion," she continued, "I felt that I not only did not grant to my husband an ordinary regard, but in the suddenness and strength of my feeling for the other man, that I almost loathed him. Leave my home and go away with him I could not" and would not, and I remember wondering vaguely what I should say to my father and mother. But with all a young girl's horror of a scene I yielded to my later thoughts, and amid the congratulations of all the assembled guests I left my father's house two hours from the time Rudolph and I had parted.
" It was not far to the town where we were to spend a night, but during the short railroad journey repeatedly came to me the consciousness that every moment was carrying me farther and farther away from my home, my people, and everything I held most dear. By my side was the husband I had so lately vowed to love and honor, yet not far away was another man for whom my heart yearned continually and found no hope nor solace.
"Thought after thought passed through my mind in rapid succession, but it was not until after we had reached the hotel that there came to me like a flash the idea of instant flight. With an older woman it would have been otherwise, but I was so young, and the impulse was a strong one.
"Writing a few hurried lines to Herr von Bendel, I laid them on the table, drew a thick veil over my face, slipped quietly from my room and left the house. Two hours' journey away, living in D , was the nurse who had been with
me during my childhood, who had fostered and petted me for so many years until at last she had married and gone away to a honle of her own. To her I went in my trouble, and I alone can ever know how gladly she sheltered me, nor how tender was the help she gave in all that followed afterwards.
"I cannot begin to describe how keen were the criticisms I drew upon myself.
“ I wrote, of course, to my parents, who came to me in amazement, at once. It was not until after two very stormy scenes that they realized how determined I was. My father's anger knew no bounds when he found that my decision was indeed irrevocable. He told me I had disgraced my family and my ancient name, and that while he lived I need never enter his house again. He had, like many Germans, a tremendous regard for the conventionalities and an equal horror of anything that went against them. His ideas on the subject were very strong. I had outraged them dll, and had no further place in his affections.
"Herr von Bendel made no attempt to follow me or to see me again, and the letter he wrote the day after my flight was the only one I ever received from him. Hurt and bitter as he was, it seemed more because of what he called my lack of confidence in him than anything else. He made no change in his plans, but left for Italy at once, and had little trouble afterwards in getting the marriage annulled.
The news of my marriage and the subsequent scandal, as it was termed, spread broadcast throughout the country, and in the quiet little town where I was, gossip concerning my name was so rife that even the well-laid plans of my old nurse could not conceal it from me.
" For the next six months I lived there in absolute quiet, tended with a loving care, to be sure, but with that exception alone and without a friend. An older woman would have felt at least the criticism and dislike in all the people around her, but to a girl of seventeen it was cruelly sharp. Naturally proud, I shrank more than ever within myself.
* One day at the end of the half-year came a long impassioned letter from Rudolph. In it he said he still loved me intensely as he always should, and he asked me if my entire life was to be sacrificed to one mistake. After that the whole world seemed brighter for awhile. It made me inexpressibly happy to be assufed that he still cared for me so much.
*' How gladly would I have written him to come to me at once! How gladly have told him that I longed for him every day with an ever-increasing longing, but I dared not do it.
" I felt my position so keenly. The wretched mistake of my marriage was so recent, my remorse for the injustice done my former husband still so deep that I felt I could not bear to even think of marrying for a long time. ' The letter I wrote cost me many tears/ said the older woman sadly, ' but it was sent at last.'
"He did not write again, and soon I heard he had gone to England.
" Then followed a succession of weary months, each one like the other, hopelessly dull and uneventful. No notice from my family, and a barely tolerant one from my neighbors. 'When I look back on that time,' exclaimed Frau von Bendel impetuously, 'I really wonder that I did not break down utterly. I dared not look back, I could not look forward, and the love in my heart seemed ever to increase with the sense of my own loneliness. More and more did I cherish the thought of the man who had made the greatest happiness of my life, and also its deepest sorrow.'
"After some time I heard of Rudolph in connection \vith literary work, and you can imagine how I scanned the papers in search of any items about him or for anv criticism of his writing. At last I read of the novel he had written, which was considered very clever. I need not tell you how I rejoined nor what a proud sense of ownership I felt in his success.
" The copy of the book I sent for was absolutely worn with frequent reading, for in studying the thoughts of the man who absorbed my whole heart it seemed for the time as if the strength of my feeling must force his thoughts to me, must form some sort of magnetic current between us.
'The criticisms of his work and of more that followed afterwards were encouraging as well as favorable, and decidedly classed him among the most promising of the younger writers.
"About two years after my unhappy marriage I saw by the paper that Herr Rudolph Weisener had returned to Germany, but was lying dangerously ill at the hospital in Berlin. Almost stunned by the news, I realized that if he died it would be without one word from me. He had given me all the love of his heart, and I had sent him from me — now he was ill, perhaps dying. Unable to bear the anguish of uncertainty, I decided that I must see him, come what might, and started at once for the city.
"The trip was a long one, and beset as I was by sorrow and fear it seemed to have no end. All through the long night and the morning that followed I sat in the corner of the railroad carriage half dazed, only moving when the utter weariness of my limbs kept so long in one position would recall me to the present. I could not sleep, nor did a morsel pass my lips. The great fear that he might die before I could reach him seemed to have stunned all my sensibilities and overshadowed my joy at the thought of seeing him again. He might die without hearing from my own lips how dearly I loved him still, without knowing that my self-imposed penance was over and I was free at Jasti
"The long night drew slowly to a close, the morning followed, and when the train finally drew into the depot at Berlin I was well-nigh spent with fatigue and anxiety. But filled with a feverish unrest I was ever impelled onward by the one thought in my mind, and when I finally stood on the steps of the hospital it was almost with a sense of faintness that I realized the much-longed-for moment had come at last. After those many dreary months I would see him, would hear his voice again, and in the joy of being together we would teach one another to forget all the suffering in the past.
"The matron of the hospital came tome at once, and on hearing my errand regretted extremely that I could not see Herr Wiesener. On account of his weakness the doctor would permit no one to see him, 'except of course,* she said with "a sympathetic smile, 'Fraulein Hegner, his betrothed/ 'And then,' said the older woman slowly — there was a great weariness in her voice as she spoke — ' then I turned from the door — and came away.'"
As she finished Dorothy turned impulsively, and before Frau von Bendel realized it, was kneeling beside her.
"How cruel!" she cried, "how cruel it was!" and burying her face in the older woman's lap she sobbed aloud.
"Nay, little one, do not cry so bitterly," said the woman with a rare tenderness, as she stroked the bowed head on her knee, "it happened so many years ago, do not cry. I have told you this," she said soothingly, "because I have grown to love you, and because I want your life to be a happier one than mine. You are young and it all lies before you. Do not let any obstacle come between you and the one to whom you have given your heart. Love is the noblest and purest thing in the world, the sweetest and the best. It lives forever and outlives all else — do not turn it from you," she said, and the deep voice trembled, then broke down utterly. "Do not turn it away, it is the sweetest and the best." And as she soothed the kneeling girl she looked with eves that saw not, that were wet with sudden tears.
It was one afternoon in the following spring that Dorothy Russell was seated in her mother's private parlor busily talking. By her side was a well-built, vigorous looking fellow about five years her senior, who regarded her with an air of deepest content.
"So you see, Harold," she was saying, "I call her our guardian angel. It was owing to her that I decided to brave all opposition and to stand out against Mamma. It was rather awful last winter," she said with a sigh, "and in fact all the time until your letter came. Who would have ever thought of your getting that position, you clever boy!" and she laughed aloud for very joy and pride.
"Frau von Bendel has won my eternal gratitude," said Harold; "I feel as if I could never thank her enough."
" She has spoken so often of wanting to meet you, and I promised to bring you with me the very day you arrived," said Dorothy with an air of pride and a blush that was most becoming. "I think I'd better go up now and find out if she can see you this afternoon. You wait for me here," she added, " I'll be back in a minute."
Dorothy left the room happy and eager to tell Frau von Bendel the good news of Harold's arrival. The older woman had ever given to the girl that quick appreciation and ready sympathy which awakens such affectionate response, and it was to her she now turned in her joy.
She walked through the long corridor past the rows of closed doors, crossed the passage which separated their side of the house from the other, then turned in the direction of Frau von Bendel's room. This was situated a bit higher than the level of the floor, and was entered by a short flight of four steps. Dorothy had almost come to them when the door was suddenly opened and the nurse came out. As she turned and saw the girl a sudden queer expression came into her face and was as soon subdued. "I wouldn't go in there now, Miss Russell," she said quietly; "I don't believe you'd better."
“Why not?" asked the girl quickly, "you know Frau von Bendel expects me."
Before the nurse could reply the bedroom door opened again, and Dorothy looked up to see one of the older physicians and the man in whose especial care Frau von Bendel had been placed. As he gently closed the door behind him he recognized Dorothy; at the same time something in his face startled her, and springing towards him she grasped Irm by the arm.
"Herr Doctor," she cried, "what is the matter? I know by your face that something has happened, ah, tell me what it is!"
"You cannot go in to-day," said the doctor gently, "not to-day."
"But she is ill, she is suffering," cried the girl, sharply. "I must go to her," and the hand that grasped his arm tightened like a vice. "I must go to her," she repeated pitifully, as she stared up at him with great frightened eyes, "I must go!"
"No," said the kindly old man, as he drew her away from the door with a gentle firmness, "you cannot go in to-day, but do not grieve, mein Fraulein," he added quietly, "you should rather rejoice with her, for she is in pain no longer —she will never suffer now."