A Ward of the Golden Gate by Bret Harte
It was on the 3d of August, 1863, that Paul Hathaway resigned himself and his luggage to the care of the gold-laced, ostensible porter of the Strudle Bad Hof, not without some uncertainty, in a land of uniforms, whether he would be eventually conducted to the barracks, the police office, or the Conservatoire. He was relieved when the omnibus drove into the courtyard of the Bad Hof, and the gold-chained chamberlain, flanked by two green tubs of oleanders, received him with a gravity calculated to check any preconceived idea he might have that traveling was a trifling affair, or that an arrival at the Bad Hof was not of serious moment. His letters had not yet arrived, for he had, in a fit of restlessness, shortened his route, and he strolled listlessly into the reading-room. Two or three English guests were evidently occupied in eminently respectable reading and writing; two were sitting by the window engaged in subdued but profitable conversation; and two Americans from Boston were contentedly imitating them on the other side of the room. A decent restraint, as of people who were not for a moment to be led into any foreign idea of social gayety at a watering-place, was visible everywhere. A spectacled Prussian officer in full uniform passed along the hall, halted for a moment at the doorway as if contemplating an armed invasion, thought better of it, and took his uniform away into the sunlight of the open square, where it was joined by other uniforms, and became by contrast a miracle of unbraced levity. Paul stood the Polar silence for a few moments, until one of the readers arose and, taking his book--a Murray--in his hand, walked slowly across the room to a companion, mutely pointed to a passage in the book, remained silent until the other had dumbly perused it, and then walked back again to his seat, having achieved the incident without a word. At which Paul, convinced of his own incongruity, softly withdrew with his hat in his hand, and his eyes fixed devotionally upon it.
It was good after that to get into the slanting sunlight and checkered linden shadows of the Allee; to see even a tightly jacketed cavalryman naturally walking with Clarchen and her two round-faced and drab-haired young charges; to watch the returning invalid procession, very real and very human, each individual intensely involved in the atmosphere of his own symptoms; and very good after that to turn into the Thiergarten, where the animals, were, however, chiefly of his own species, and shamelessly and openly amusing themselves. It was pleasant to contrast it with his first visit to the place three months before, and correct his crude impressions. And it was still more pleasant suddenly to recognize, under the round flat cap of a general officer, a former traveler who was fond of talking with him about America with an intelligence and understanding of it that Paul had often missed among his own traveled countrymen. It was pleasant to hear his unaffected and simple greeting, to renew their old acquaintance, and to saunter back to the hotel together through the long twilight.
They were only a few squares from the hotel, when Paul's attention was attracted by the curiosity and delight of two or three children before him, who appeared to be following a quaint-looking figure that was evidently not unfamiliar to them. It appeared to be a servant in a striking livery of green with yellow facings and crested silver buttons, but still more remarkable for the indescribable mingling of jaunty ease and conscious dignity with which he carried off his finery. There was something so singular and yet so vaguely reminiscent in his peculiar walk and the exaggerated swing of his light bamboo cane that Paul could not only understand the childish wonder of the passers-by, who turned to look after him, but was stirred with a deeper curiosity. He quickened his pace, but was unable to distinguish anything of the face or features of the stranger, except that his hair under his cocked hat appeared to be tightly curled and powdered. Paul's companion, who was amused at what seemed to be the American's national curiosity, had seen the figure before. "A servant in the suite of some Eastern Altesse visiting the baths. You will see stranger things, my friend, in the Strudle Bad. Par example, your own countrymen, too; the one who has enriched himself by that pork of Chicago, or that soap, or this candle, in a carriage with the crest of the title he has bought in Italy with his dollars, and his beautiful daughters, who are seeking more titles with possible matrimonial contingencies."
After an early dinner, Paul found his way to the little theatre. He had already been struck by a highly colored poster near the Bahnhof, purporting that a distinguished German company would give a representation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and certain peculiarities in the pictorial advertisement of the tableaux gave promise of some entertainment. He found the theatre fairly full; there was the usual contingent of abonnirte officers, a fair sprinkling of English and German travelers, but apparently none of his own countrymen. He had no time to examine the house more closely, for the play, commencing with simple punctuality, not only far exceeded the promise of the posters, but of any previous performance of the play he had witnessed. Transported at once to a gorgeous tropical region--the slave States of America--resplendent with the fruits and palms of Mauritius, and peopled exclusively with Paul and Virginia's companions in striped cotton, Hathaway managed to keep a composed face, until the arrival of the good Southern planter St. Clair as one of the earlier portraits of Goethe, in top boots, light kerseymere breeches, redingote and loose Byron collar, compelled him to shrink into the upper corner of the box with his handkerchief to his face. Luckily, the action passed as the natural effect upon a highly sympathetic nature of religious interviews between a round-faced flaxen-haired "Kleine Eva" and "Onkeel Tome," occasionally assisted by a Dissenting clergyman in Geneva bands; of excessive brutality with a cattle whip by a Zamiel-like Legree; of the sufferings of a runaway negro Zimmermadchen with a child three shades lighter than herself; and of a painted canvas "man-hunt," where apparently four well known German composers on horseback, with flowing hair, top boots, and a Cor de chasse, were pursuing, with the aid of a pack of fox hounds, "the much too deeply abused and yet spiritually elevated Onkeel Tome." Paul did not wait for the final apotheosis of "der Kleine Eva," but, in the silence of a hushed audience, made his way into the corridor and down the staircase. He was passing an open door marked "Direction," when his attention was sharply attracted by a small gathering around it and the sounds of indignant declamation. It was the voice of a countryman--more than that, it was a familiar voice, that he had not heard for three years--the voice of Colonel Harry Pendleton!
"Tell him," said Pendleton, in scathing tones, to some invisible interpreter,--"tell, him, sir, that a more infamous caricature of the blankest caricature that ever maligned a free people, sir, I never before had the honor of witnessing. Tell him that I, sir--I, Harry Pendleton, of Kentucky, a Southerner, sir--an old slaveholder, sir, declare it to be a tissue of falsehoods unworthy the credence of a Christian civilization like this--unworthy the attention of the distinguished ladies and gentlemen that are gathered here to-night. Tell him, sir, he has been imposed upon. Tell him I am responsible--give him my card and address--personally responsible for what I say. If he wants proofs--blank it all!-- tell him you yourself have been a slave--my slave, sir! Take off your hat, sir! Ask him to look at you--ask him if he thinks you ever looked or could look like that lop-eared, psalm-singing, white-headed hypocrite on the stage! Ask him, sir, if he thinks that blank ringmaster they call St. Clair looks like me!"
At this astounding exordium Paul eagerly pressed forward and entered the bureau. There certainly was Colonel Pendleton, in spotless evening dress; erect, flashing, and indignant; his aquiline nose lifted like a hawk's beak over his quarry, his iron- gray moustache, now white and waxed, parted like a swallow's tail over his handsome mouth, and between him and the astounded "Direction" stood the apparition of the Allee--George! There was no mistaking him now. What Paul had thought was a curled wig or powder was the old negro's own white knotted wool, and the astounding livery he wore was carried off as no one but George could carry it.
But he was still more amazed when the old servant, in a German as exaggerated, as incoherent, but still as fluent and persuasive as his own native speech, began an extravagant but perfectly dignified and diplomatic translation of his master's protests. Where and when, by what instinct, he had assimilated and made his own the grotesque inversions and ponderous sentimentalities of Teutonic phrasing, Paul could not guess; but it was with breathless wonder that he presently became aware that, so perfect and convincing was the old man's style and deportment, not only the simple officials but even the bystanders were profoundly impressed by this farrago of absurdity. A happy word here and there, the full title and rank given, even with a slight exaggeration, to each individual, brought a deep and guttural "So!" from lips that would have found it difficult to repeat a line of his ceremonious idiocy.
In their preoccupation neither the colonel nor George had perceived Paul's entrance, but, as the old servant turned with magnificent courtesy towards the bystanders, his eyes fell upon Paul. A flash of surprise, triumph, and satisfaction lit up his rolling eyes. Paul instantly knew that he not only recognized him, but that he had already heard of and thoroughly appreciated a certain distinguished position that Paul had lately held, and was quick to apply it. Intensifying for a moment the grandiloquence of his manner, he called upon his master's most distinguished and happily arrived old friend, the Lord Lieutenant Governor of the Golden Californias, to corroborate his statement. Colonel Pendleton started, and grasped Paul's hand warmly. Paul turned to the already half-mollified Director with the diplomatic suggestion that the vivid and realistic acting of the admirable company which he himself had witnessed had perhaps unduly excited his old friend, even as it had undoubtedly thrown into greater relief the usual exaggerations of dramatic representation, and the incident terminated with a profusion of apologies, and the most cordial expressions of international good feeling on both sides.
Yet, as they turned away from the theatre together, Paul could not help noticing that, although the colonel's first greeting had been spontaneous and unaffected, it was succeeded by an uneasy reserve. Paul made no attempt to break it, and confined himself to a few general inquiries, ending by inviting the colonel to sup with him at the hotel. Pendleton hesitated. "At any other time, Mr. Hathaway, I should have insisted upon you, as the stranger, supping with me; but since the absence of--of--the rest of my party--I have given up my suite of rooms at the Bad Hof, and have taken smaller lodgings for myself and the boy at the Schwartze Adler. Miss Woods and Miss Arguello have accepted an invitation to spend a few days at the villa of the Baron and Baroness von Schilprecht--an hour or two from here." He lingered over the title with an odd mingling of impressiveness and inquiry, and glanced at Paul. But Hathaway exhibiting neither emotion nor surprise at the mention of Yerba's name or the title of her host, he continued, "Miss Arguello, I suppose you know, is immensely admired: she has been, sir, the acknowledged belle of Strudle Bad."
"I can readily believe it," said Paul, simply.
"And has taken the position--the position, sir, to which she is entitled."
Without appearing to notice the slight challenge in Pendleton's tone, Paul returned, "I am glad to hear it. The more particularly as, I believe, the Germans are great sticklers for position and pedigree."
"You are right, sir--quite right: they are," said the colonel, proudly--"although"--with a certain premeditated deliberation--"I have been credibly informed that the King can, in certain cases, if he chooses, supply--yes, sir--supply a favored person with ancestors--yes, sir, with ancestors!"
Paul cast a quick glance at his companion.
"Yes, sir--that is, we will say, in the case of a lady of inferior rank--or even birth, the King of these parts can, on her marriage with a nobleman--blank it all!--ennoble her father and mother, and their fathers and mothers, though they've been dead, or as good as dead, for years."
"I am afraid that's a slight exaggeration of the rare custom of granting 'noble lands,' or estates that carry hereditary titles with them," said Paul, more emphatically, perhaps, than the occasion demanded.
"Fact, sir--George there knows it all," said Pendleton. "He gets it from the other servants. I don't speak the language, sir, but he does. Picked it up in a year."
"I must compliment him on his fluency, certainly," said Paul, looking at George.
The old servant smiled, and not without a certain condescension. "Yes, sah; I don' say to a scholar like yo'self, sah, dat I'se got de grandmatical presichion; but as fah, sah--as fah as de idiotisms ob de language goes. Sah--it's gen'lly allowed I'm dar! As to what Marse Harry says ob de ignobling ob predecessors, I've had it, sah, from de best autority, sah--de furst, I may say, sah--de real prima facie men--de gemplum ob his Serene Highness, in de korse eb ordinary conversashun, sah."
"That'll do, George," said Pendleton, with paternal brusqueness. "Run on ahead and tell that blank chamberlain that Mr. Hathaway is one of my friends--and have supper accordingly." As the negro hastened away he turned to Paul: "What he says is true: he's the most popular man or boy in all Strudle Bad--a devilish sight more than his master--and goes anywhere where I can't go. Princes and princesses stop and talk to him in the street; the Grand Duke asked permission to have him up in his carriage at the races the other day; and, by the Eternal, sir, he gives the style to all the flunkeys in town!"
"And I see, he dresses the character," observed Paul.
"His own idea--entirely. And, by Jove! he proves to be right. You can't do anything here without a uniform. And they tell me he's got everything correct, down to the crest on the buttons."
They walked on in silence for a few moments, Pendleton retaining a certain rigidity of step and bearing which Paul had come to recognize as indicating some uneasiness or mental disturbance on his part. Hathaway had no intention of precipitating the confidence of his companion. Perhaps experience had told him it would come soon enough. So he spoke carelessly of himself. How the need of a year's relaxation and change had brought him abroad, his journeyings, and, finally, how he had been advised by his German physician to spend a few weeks at Strudle Bad preparatory to the voyage home. Yet he was perfectly aware that the colonel from time to time cast a furtive glance at his face. "And you," he said in conclusion--"when do you intend to return to California?"
The colonel hesitated slightly. "I shall remain in Europe until Miss Arguello is settled--I mean," he added hurriedly, "until she has--ahem!--completed her education in foreign ways and customs. You see, Hathaway, I have constituted myself, after a certain fashion, I may say--still, her guardian. I am an old man, with neither kith nor kin myself, sir--I'm a little too old-fashioned for the boys over there"--with a vague gesture towards the west, which, however, told Paul how near it still was to him. "But then, among the old fogys here--blank it all!--it isn't noticed. So I look after her, you see, or rather make myself responsible for her generally--although, of course, she has other friends and associates, you understand, more of her own age and tastes."
"And I've no doubt she's perfectly satisfied," said Paul in a tone of conviction.
"Well, yes, sir, I presume so," said the colonel slowly; "but I've sometimes thought, Mr. Hathaway, that it would have been better if she'd have had a woman's care--the protection you understand, of an elderly woman of society. That seems to be the style here, you know--a chaperon, they call it. Now, Milly Woods, you see, is about the same age, and the Dona Anna, of course, is older, but-- blank it!--she's as big a flirt as the rest--I mean," he added, correcting himself sharply, "she lacks balance, sir, and--what shall I call it?--self-abnegation."
"Then Dona Anna is still of your party?" asked Paul.
"She is, sir, and her brother, Don Caesar. I have thought it advisable, on Yerba's account, to keep up as much as possible the suggestion of her Spanish relationship--although by reason of their absurd ignorance of geography and political divisions out here, there is a prevailing impression that she is a South American. A fact, sir. I have myself been mistaken for the Dictator of one of these infernal Republics, and I have been pointed out as ruling over a million or two of niggers like George!"
There was no trace of any conception of humor in the colonel's face, although he uttered a short laugh, as if in polite acceptance of the possibility that Paul might have one. Far from that, his companion, looking at the striking profile and erect figure at his side--at the long white moustache which drooped from his dark cheeks, and remembering his own sensations at first seeing George-- thought the popular belief not so wonderful. He was even forced to admit that the perfect unconsciousness on the part of master and man of any incongruity or peculiarity in themselves assisted the public misconception. And it was, I fear, with a feeling of wicked delight that, on entering the hotel, he hailed the evident consternation of those correct fellow-countrymen from whom he had lately fled, at what they apparently regarded as a national scandal. He overheard their hurried assurance to their English friends that his companions were not from Boston, and enjoyed their mortification that this explanation did not seem to detract from the interest and relief with which the Britons surveyed them, or the open admiration of the Germans.
Although Pendleton somewhat unbent during supper, he did not allude to the secret of Yerba's parentage, nor of any tardy confidence of hers. To all appearance the situation remained as it was three years ago. He spoke of her great popularity as an heiress and a beautiful woman, and the marked attentions she received. He doubted not that she had rejected very distinguished offers, but she kept that to herself. She was perfectly competent to do so. She was no giddy girl, to be flattered or deceived; on the contrary, he had never known a cooler or more sensible woman. She knew her own worth. When she met the man who satisfied her ambition and understanding, she would marry, and not before. He did not know what that ambition was; it was something exalted, of course. He could only say, of his own knowledge, that last year, when they were on the Italian lakes, there was a certain prince-- Mr. Hathaway would understand why he did not mention names--who was not only attentive to her, but attentive to him, sir, by Jove! and most significant in his inquiries. It was the only occasion when he, the colonel, had ever spoken to her on such subjects; and, knowing that she was not indifferent to the fellow, who was not bad of his kind, he had asked her why she had not encouraged his suit. She had said, with a laugh, that he couldn't marry her unless he gave up his claim of succession to a certain reigning house; and she wouldn't accept him without it. Those were her words, sir, and he could only say that the prince left a few days afterwards, and they had never seen him since. As to the princelings and counts and barons, she knew to a day the date of their patents of nobility, and what privileges they were entitled to; she could tell to a dot the value of their estates, the amount of their debts, and, by Jove! sir, the amount of mortgages she was expected to pay off before she married them. She knew the amount of income she had to bring to the Prussian Army, from the general to the lieutenant. She understood her own value and her rights. There was a young English lordling she met on the Rhine, whose boyish ways and simplicity seemed to please her. They were great friends; but he wanted him--the colonel--to induce her to accept an invitation for both to visit his mother's home in England, that his people might see her. But she declined, sir! She declined to pass in review before his mother. She said it was for him to pass in review before her mother.
"Did she say that?" interrupted Paul, fixing his bright eyes upon the colonel.
"If she had one, if she had one," corrected the colonel, hastily. "Of course it was only an illustration. That she is an orphan is generally known, sir."
There was a dead silence for a few moments. The colonel leaned back in his chair and pulled his moustache. Paul turned away his eyes, and seemed absorbed in reflection. After a moment the colonel coughed, pushed aside his glass, and, leaning across the table, said, "I have a favor to ask of you, Mr. Hathaway."
There was such a singular change in the tone of his voice, an unexpected relaxation of some artificial tension,--a relaxation which struck Paul so pathetically as being as much physical as mental, as if he had suddenly been overtaken in some exertion by the weakness of age,--that he looked up quickly. Certainly, although still erect and lightly grasping his moustache, the colonel looked older.
"By all means, my dear colonel," said Paul warmly.
"During the time you remain here you can hardly help meeting Miss Arguello, perhaps frequently. It would be strange if you did not; it would appear to everybody still stranger. Give me your word as a gentleman that you will not make the least allusion to her of the past--nor reopen the subject."
Paul looked fixedly at the colonel. "I certainly had no intention of doing so," he said after a pause, "for I thought it was already settled by you beyond disturbance or discussion. But do I understand you, that she has shown any uneasiness regarding it? From what you have just told me of her plans and ambition, I can scarcely imagine that she has any suspicion of the real facts."
"Certainly not," said the colonel hurriedly. "But I have your promise."
"I promise you," said Paul, after a pause, "that I shall neither introduce nor refer to the subject myself, and that if she should question me again regarding it, which is hardly possible, I will reveal nothing without your consent."
"Thank you," said Pendleton, without, however, exhibiting much relief in his face. "She will return here to-morrow."
"I thought you said she was absent for some days," said Paul.
"Yes; but she is coming back to say good-by to Dona Anna, who arrives here with her brother the same day, on their way to Paris."
It flashed through Paul's mind that the last time he had seen her was in the company of the Briones. It was not a pleasant coincidence. Yet he was not aware that it had affected him, until he saw the colonel watching him.
"I believe you don't fancy the brother," said Pendleton.
For an instant Paul was strongly tempted to avow his old vague suspicions of Don Caesar, but the utter hopelessness of reopening the whole subject again, and his recollection of the passage in Pendleton's letter that purported to be Yerba's own theory of his dislike, checked him in time. He only said, "I don't remember whether I had any cause for disliking Don Caesar; I can tell better when I see him again," and changed the subject. A few moments later the colonel summoned George from some lower region of the hotel, and rose to take his leave. "Miss Arguello, with her maid and courier, will occupy her old suite of rooms here," he remarked, with a return of his old imperiousness. "George has given the orders for her. I shall not change my present lodgings, but of course will call every day. Goodnight!"