The White Morning by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Countess Gisela Niebuhr sat in the long dusk of Munich staring over at the beautiful park that in happier days had been famous in the world as the Englischer Garten, and deliberately recalled on what might be the last night of her life the successive causes that had led to her profound dissatisfaction with her country as a woman. She was so thoroughly disgusted with it as a German that personal grievances were far from necessary to fortify her for the momentous role she was to play with the dawn; but in this rare hour of leisure it amused her naturally introspective mind to rehearse certain episodes whose sum had made her what she was.
When she was fourteen and her sisters Lili and Elsa sixteen and eighteen they had met in the attic of their home in Berlin one afternoon when their father was automatically at his club and their mother taking her prescribed hour of rest, and solemnly pledged one another never to marry. The causes of this vital conclave were both cumulative and immediate. Their father, the Herr Graf, a fine looking junker of sixty odd, with a roving eye and a martial air despite a corpulence which annoyed him excessively, had transferred his lost authority over his regiment to his household. The boys were in their own regiments and rid of parental discipline, but the countess and the girls received the full benefit of his military, and Prussian, relish for despotism.
In his essence a kind man and fond of his women, he balked their every individual wish and allowed them practically no liberty. They never left the house unattended, like the American girls and those fortunate beings of the student class. Lili had a charming voice and was consumed with ambition to be an operatic star. She had summoned her courage upon one memorable occasion and broached the subject to her father. All the terrified family had expected his instant dissolution from apoplexy, and in spite of his petty tyrannies they loved him. The best instructor in Berlin continued to give her lessons, as nothing gave the Graf more pleasure of an evening than her warblings.
The household, quite apart from the Frau Graefin's admirable management, ran with military precision, and no one dared to be the fraction of a minute late for meals or social engagements. They attended the theater, the opera, court functions, dinners, balls, on stated nights, and unless the Kaiser took a whim and altered a date, there was no deviation from this routine year in and out. They walked at the same hour, drove in the Tiergarten with the rest of fashionable Berlin, started for their castle in the Saxon Alps not only upon the same day but on the same train every summer, and the electric lights went out at precisely the same moment every night; the count's faithful steward manipulated a central stop. They were encouraged to read and study, but not--oh, by no means--to have individual opinions. The men of Germany were there to do the thinking and they did it.
Perhaps the rebellion of the Niebuhr girls would never have crystallized (for, after all, their everyday experience was much like that of other girls of their class, merely intensified by their father's persistence of executive ardors) had it not been for two subtle influences, quite unsuspected by the haughty Kammerherr: they had an American friend, Kate Terriss, who was "finishing her voice" in Berlin, and their married sister, Mariette, had recently spent a fortnight in the paternal nest.
The count despised the entire American race, as all good Prussians did, but he was as wax to feminine blandishments outside of his family, and Miss Terriss was pretty, diplomatic, alluring, and far cleverer than he would have admitted any woman could be. She wound the old martinet round her finger, subdued her rampant Americanism in his society, and amused herself sowing the seeds of rebellion in the minds of "those poor Niebuhr girls." As the countess also liked her, she had been "in and out of the house" for nearly a year. The young Prussians had alternately gasped and wept at the amazing stories of the liberty, the petting, the procession of "good times" enjoyed by American girls of their own class, to say nothing of the invariable prerogative of these fortunate girls to choose their own husbands; who, according to the unprincipled Miss Terriss, invariably spoiled their wives, and permitted them to go and come, to spend their large personal allowances, as they listed. Gisela closed her beloved volume of Grimm's fairy tales and never opened it again.
But it was the visit of Mariette that had marshalled vague dissatisfactions to an ordered climax. She had left her husband in the garrison town she had married with the excellent young officer, making a trifling indisposition of her mother a pretext for escape. On the night before her departure the four girls huddled in her bed after the opera and listened to an incisive account of her brief but distasteful period of matrimony. Not that she suffered from tyranny. Quite the reverse. Of her several suitors she had cannily engineered into her father's favor a young man of pleasing appearance, good title and fortune, but quite without character behind his fierce upstanding mustache. Inheriting her father's rigid will, she had kept the young officer in a state of abject submission. She stroked his hair in public as if he had been her pet dachshund, and patted his hand at kindly intervals as had he been her dear little son.
"But Karl has the soul of a sheep," she informed the breathless trio. "You might not be so fortunate. Far, far from it. How can any one more than guess before one is fairly married and done for? Look at papa. Does he not pass in society as quite a charming person? The women like him, and if poor mama died he could get another quick as a wink. But at the best, my dear girls, matrimony--in Germany, at least--is an unmitigated bore. And in a garrison town! Literally, there is no liberty, even with one's husband under the thumb. We live by rote. Every afternoon I have to take coffee at some house or other, when all those tiresome women are not at my own. And what do you suppose they talk about--but invariably? Love!" (With ineffable disdain.) "Nothing else, barring gossip and scandal; as if they got any good out of love! But they are stupid for the most part and gorged with love novels. They discuss the opera or the play for the love element only, or the sensual quality of the music. Let me tell you that although I married to get rid of papa, if I had it to do over I should accept parental tyranny as the lesser evil. Not that I am not fond of Karl in a way. He is a dear and would be quite harmless if he were not in love with me. But garrison society--Gott, how German wives would rejoice in a war! Think of the freedom of being a Red Cross nurse, and all the men at the front. Officers would be your fate, too. Papa would not look at a man who was not in the army. He despises men who live on their estates. So take my advice while you may. Sit tight, as the English say. Even German fathers do not live forever. The lime in our soil sees to that. I notice papa's face gets quite purple after dinner, and when he is angry. His arteries must have been hardening for twenty years."
Lili and Elsa were quite aghast at this naked ratiocination, but Gisela whispered: "We might elope, you know."
"With whom? No Englishman or American ever crosses the threshold, and Kate has no brothers. The students have no money and no morals, and, what is worse, no baths. A burgess or a professional would be quite as intolerable, and no man of our class would consent to an elopement. Germans may be sentimental but they are not romantic when it comes to settlements. Now take my advice."
They were taking it on this fateful day in the attic. They vowed never to marry even if their formidable papa locked them up on bread and water.
"Which would be rather good for us," remarked the practical Elsa. "I am sure we eat too much, and Gisela has a tendency to plumpness. But your turn will not come for four years yet, dear child. It is poor us that will need all our vows."
After some deliberation they concluded to inform their mother of their grim resolve. Naturally sympathetic, a pregnant upheaval had taken place in that good lady's psychology during the past year. Her marriage, although arranged by the two families, had been a love match on both sides. The Graf was a handsome dashing and passionate lover and she a beautiful girl, lively and companionable. Disillusion was slow in coming, for she had been brought up on the soundest German principles and believed in the natural superiority of the male as she did in the House of Hohenzollern and the Lutheran religion.
But she suspected, during her thirties, that she was, after all, the daughter of a brilliant father as well as of an obsequious mother, and that she had possibilities of mind and spirit that clamored for development and fired the imagination, while utterly without hope. In other words she was, like many another German woman, in her secret heart, an individual. But she was not a rebel; her social code forbade that. She manufactured interests for herself as rapidly, and as various, as possible, preserved her good looks in spite of her eight children (the two that followed Gisela died in infancy), dressed far better than most German women, cultivated society, gave four notable musicales a season, and was devoted to her sons and daughters, although she never opposed her husband's stern military discipline of those seemingly typical maedchens. It was her policy to keep the martinet in a good humor, and after all--she had condemned herself not to think--what better destiny than to be a German woman of the higher aristocracy? They might have been born into the middle class, where there were quite as many tyrants as in the patrician, and vastly fewer compensations. At the age of forty-four she believed herself to be a philosopher.
Six months before Mariette's marriage and shortly after the birth and death of her last child, Frau von Niebuhr suddenly returned to her bed, prostrate, on the verge of collapse. The count raged that any wife of his should dare to be ill or absent (when not fulfilling patriotic obligations), consult her own selfish whims by having nerves and lying speechless in bed. But he had a very considerable respect for Herr Doktor Meyers--a rank plebeian but the best doctor in Berlin--and when that family adviser, as autocratic as himself, ordered the Frau Graefin to go to a sanatorium in the Austrian Dolomites--but alone, mind you!--and remain as long as he--I, myself, Herr Graf!--deemed advisable, with no intercourse, personal or chirographical with her family, the Head of the House of Niebuhr angrily gave his consent and sent for a sister to chaperon his girls.
The countess remained until the eve of Mariette's wedding, and she passed those six months in one of the superlatively beautiful mountain resorts of Austria. She was solitary, for the most part, and she did an excessive amount of thinking. She returned to her duties with a deep disgust of life as she knew it, a cynical contempt for women, and a profound sense of revolt. Her natural diplomacy she had increased tenfold.
When the three girls, their eyes very large, and speaking in whispers, although their father was at a yearly talk-fest with his old brothers in arms, confided to their mother their resolution never in any circumstances to adopt a household tyrant of their own, she nodded understandingly.
"Leave it to me," she said. "Your father can be managed, little as he suspects it. I'll find the weak spot in each of the suitors he brings to the house and set him against all of them."
"And my voice?" asked Lili timidly. But the Frau Graefin shook her head. "There I cannot help you. He thinks an artistic career would disgrace his family, and that is the end of it. Moreover, he regards women of any class in public life as a disgrace to Germany. My assistance must be passive--apparently. It will be enough to have no worse. Take my word and Mariette's for that."
The Graefin, true to her word, quietly disposed of the several suitors approved by her husband, and although the autocrat sputtered and raged--the Graefin, her youngest daughter shrewdly surmised, rather encouraged these exciting tempers--arguing that these three girls bade fair to remain on his hands for ever, he ended always by agreeing that the young officers were unworthy of an alliance with the ancient and honorable House of Niebuhr.
The battles ended abruptly when Gisela was eighteen and a fat Lieutenant of Uhlans, suing for the hand of the youngest born, and vehemently supported by the Graf, had just been turned adrift. The Graf dropped dead in his club. He left a surprisingly small estate for one who had presented so pompous a front to the world. But not only had his sons been handsomely portioned when they entered the army, and Mariette when she married, but the excellent count, to relieve the increasing monotony of days no longer enlivened by maneuvers and boudoirs, had amused himself on the stock exchange. His judgment had been singularly bad and he had dropped most of his capital and lived on the rest.
The town house must be sold and the countess and her daughters retire to her castle in the Saxon Alps. As there were no portions for the girls, the haunting terrors of matrimony were laid.
The four women took their comparative poverty with equanimity. The countess had been as practical and economical as all German housewives, even when relieved by housekeepers and stewards, and she calculated that with a meager staff of servants and two years of seclusion she should be able to furnish a flat in Berlin and pay a year's rent in advance. Then by living for half the year on her estate she should save enough for six highly agreeable months in the capital. Perhaps she might let her castle to some rich brewer or American; and this she eventually did.
Lili was given permission to study for the operatic stage and spend the following winter in Dresden, where Mariette's husband was now quartered. It was just before they moved to the country that the Graefin said to her girls as they sat at coffee in the dismantled house:
"You shall have all that I never had, fulfil all the secret ambitions of my younger heart. If you are individuals, prove it. You may go on the stage, write, paint, study law, medicine, what you will. You have been bred aristocrats and aristocrats you will remain. It is not liberty that vulgarizes. Don't hate men. They have charming phases and moods; but avoid entangling alliances until you are thirty. After that you will know them well enough to avoid that fatal initial submergence. The whole point is to begin with your eyes open and your campaign clearly thought out.
"I, too, purpose to get a great deal out of life now that my fate is in my own hands. By the summer we shall even be able to travel a little. Third-class, yet that will be far more amusing than stuffed into one of those plush carriages with the windows closed and forbidden to speak with any one in the corridor. And forced to carry all the hand-luggage off the train (when your father had an economical spasm and would not take a footman) while he stalked out first as if we did not exist. I shall never marry again--Gott in Himmel, no!--but I shall gather about me all the interesting men I never have been able to have ten minutes' conversation with alone; and, so far as is humanly possible, do exactly as I please. My ego has been starved. I shall always be your best friend--but think for yourselves."
Gisela had no gift that she was aware of, but she was intellectual and had longed to finish her education at one of the great universities. As she was not strong, however, she was content to spend a year in the mountains; and then, robust, and on a meager income, she went to Munich to attend the lectures on art and literature and to perfect herself in French and English. She took a small room in an old tower near the Frauenkirche and lived the students' life, probably the freest of any city in the world. She dropped her title and name lest she be barred from that socialistic community as well as discovered by horrified relatives, and called herself Gisela Doering. After she had taken her degree she passed a month in Berlin with her mother, who already had established a salon, but she was determined to support herself and see the world at the same time. Herr Doktor Meyers found her a position as governess with a wealthy American patient, and, under her assumed name, she sailed immediately for New York.
The Bolands had a house in upper Fifth Avenue and others at Newport, Aiken and Bar Harbor; and when not occupying these stations were in Europe or southern California. The two little girls passed the summer at Bar Harbor with their governess.
It took Gisela some time to accustom herself to the position of upper servant in that household of many servants, but she possessed humor and she had had governesses herself. Her salary was large, she had one entire day in the week to herself, except at Bar Harbor, and during her last summer in the United States Mrs. Boland had a violent attack of "America first" and took her children and their admirable governess not only to California but to the Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canon and Canada. They traveled in a private car, and Gisela, who could enjoy the comfortless quarters of a student flat in Munich with all that life meant in the free and beautiful city by the Isar, could also revel in luxury; and this wonderful summer, following as it did the bitter climax of her first serious love affair, seemed to her all the consolation that a mere woman could ask. At all events she felt for it an intense and lasting gratitude.
It was during her first summer at Bar Harbor that the second determining experience of her life began, and it lasted for three years. She dwelt upon it to-night with humor, sadness, and, for a moment, thrilling regret, but without bitterness. That had passed long since.
She was virtual mistress of the house at Bar Harbor, and as the children had a trained nurse and a maid, besides many little friends, she had more leisure than in the city with her one day of complete detachment. She met Freiherr Franz von Nettelbeck when she was walking with her charges and he was strolling with the little girls of the Howland family. The introductions were informal, and as they fell naturally into German there was an immediate bond. Nettelbeck was an attache of the German Embassy who preferred to spend his summers at Bar Harbor. He was of the fair type of German most familiar to Americans, with a fine slim military figure, deep fiery blue eyes and a lively mind. His golden hair and mustache stood up aggressively, and his carriage was exceeding haughty, but those were details too familiar to be counted against him by Gisela. Her rich brunette beauty was now as ripe as her tall full figure, and she was one of those women, rare in Germany, who could dress well on nothing at all. She too possessed a lively mind, and after her long New York winter was feeling her isolation. Her first interview (which included a long stroll and a canoe ride) with this young diplomat of her own land, visibly lifted her spirits, and she sang as she braided her heavy mass of hair that night.
Franz, like most unattached young Germans, was on the lookout for a soul-mate (which he was far too sophisticated to anticipate in matrimony), and this handsome, brilliant, subtly responsive, and wholly charming young woman of the only country worth mentioning entered his life when he too was lonely and rather bored. It was his third year in the United States of America and he did not like the life nor the people. Nevertheless, he was trying to make up his mind to pay court to Ann Howland, a young lady whose dashing beauty was somewhat overpoised by salient force of character and an uncompromisingly keen and direct mind, but whose fortune eclipsed by several millions that of the high-born maiden selected by his family.
Here was a heaven-sent interval, with intellectual companionship in addition to the game of the gods. Being a German girl, Gisela Doering would be aware that he could not marry out of his class, unless the plebeian pill were heavily gilded. To do him justice, he would not have married the wealthiest plebeian in Germany. An American: that was another matter. If there were such a thing as an aristocracy in this absurd country which pretended to be a democracy and whose "society" was erected upon the visible and screaming American dollar, no doubt Miss Howland belonged to the highest rank. In Germany she would have been a princess--probably of a mediatized house, and, he confessed it amiably enough, she looked the part more unapologetically than several he could mention.
So did Gisela Doering. He sighed that a woman who would have graced the court of his Kaiser should have been tossed by a bungling fate into the rank and file of the good German people; so laudably content to play their insignificant part in their country's magnificent destiny.
Gisela never told him the truth. Sometimes, irritated by his subtle arrogance, she was tempted. Also consuming love tempted her. But of what use? She was without fortune and he must add to his. He had a limited income and expensive tastes, and when a young nobleman in the diplomatic service marries he must take a house and live with a certain amount of state. Moreover, he intended to be an ambassador before he was forty-five, and he was justified in his ambitions, for he was exceptionally clever and his rise had been rapid. But now he was care-free and young, and love was his right.
Gisela understood him perfectly. Not only was she of his class, but her brother Karl had madly loved a girl in a chocolate shop and wept tempestuously beside her bed while their father slept. He married philosophically when his hour struck.
But if she understood she was also romantic. She forgot her vow to live alone, her mother's advice, and dreamed of a moment of overwhelming madness which would sweep them both up to the little church on the mountain. There, like a true heroine of old-time fiction, she would announce her own name at the altar. This moment, however, did not arrive. Nettelbeck, too, was romantic, but his head was as level within as it was flat behind. He never went near the church on the mountain.
There was no surface lovemaking during the first two summers, or in the winter following the second summer, when he came over from Washington on her Wednesday as often as he could, and they had luncheon and tea in byway restaurants. They were both fascinated by the game, and they had an infinite number of things to talk about, for their minds were really congenial. They disputed with fire and fury. It was a part of Gisela's dormant genius to grasp instinctively the psychology of foreign nations, and before she had been in the United States a year she understood it far better than Nettelbeck ever would. Even if he had despised it less he would have lavished all the resources of his wit upon a country so different from Germany in every phase that it must necessarily be negligible save as a future colony of Prussia, if only for the pleasure of seeing Gisela's long eyes open and flash, the dusky red in her cheeks burn crimson and her bosom heave at his "junker narrow-mindedness and stupid arrogance"--; "a stupidity that will be the ruin of Germany in the end!" she exclaimed one day in a sudden moment of illumination, for, as a matter of fact, she had given little thought to politics. However, she recalled her typical papa.
Of course they talked their German souls inside out. At least Nettelbeck did. As time went on, Gisela used her frankness as a mask while her soul dodged in panic. She believed him to be lightly and agreeably in love with her (she had witnessed many summer flirtations at Bar Harbor, and been laid siege to by more than one young American, idle, enterprising, charming and quite irresponsible), and she was appalled at her own capacity for love and suffering, the complete rout of her theories, based on harsh experience, before the ancient instinct to unleash her womanhood at any cost.
She plunged into a serious study of the country, which she had heretofore absorbed with her avid mental conduits, and read innumerable newspapers, magazines, elucidating literature of all sorts, besides the best histories of the nation and the illuminating biographies of its distinguished men in politics and the arts. She was deeply responsive to the freedom of the individual in this great whirling heterogeneous land, and as her duties at any time were the reverse of onerous, it was imperative to keep her consciousness as detached from her inner life as possible.
But at the back of her mind was always the haunting terror that he never would come again, that he was really more attracted to Ann Howland than he knew; and of all American women whom Gisela had met she admired Miss Howland preeminently. She was not only beautiful in the grand manner but she possessed intellect as distinguished from the surface "brightness" of so many of her countrywomen, and had made a deep impression upon even the superlatively educated German girl when they had chanced to meet and talk at children's picnics at Bar Harbor, or when the triumphant young beauty ran up to the nursery in town to bring a message to the little Bolands from her sisters. It was true that hers was not the seductive type of beauty, that her large gray eyes were cool and appraising, her fine skin quite without color, and her soft abundant hair little darker than Franz's own, but she could be feminine and charming when she chose and she would be a wife in whom even a German would experience a secret and swelling pride.
What chance had she--she--Gisela Doering?
There were days and weeks, during that second winter, when she was tormented by a sort of sub-hysteria, a stifled voice in the region of her heart threatening to force its way out and shriek. There were times when she gave way to despair, and thought of her vigorous youth with a shudder, and at other times she was so angry and humiliated at her surrender and secret chaos, that she was on the point more than once of breaking definitely with Franz Nettelbeck, or even of going back to Germany. If he missed a Wednesday, or failed to write, she slipped out of the house at night and paced Central Park for hours, fighting her rebellious nerves with her pride and the strong independent will that she had believed would enable her to leap lightly over every pitfall in life.
Then he would come and her spirits would soar, her whole awakened being possessed by a sort of reckless fury, a desperate resolve to enjoy the meager portion of happiness allotted to her by an always grudging fate; and for a few days after he left she would give herself up to blissful and extravagant dreams.
But Nettelbeck was by no means lightly in love with Gisela Doering. During the third summer, partly owing to the increased independence of her growing charges, partly to his own expert management, they met in long solitudes seldom disturbed. Gisela dismissed fears, ignored the inevitable end, plunged headlong and was wildly happy. Nettelbeck was an ardent and absorbed lover, for he knew that his time was short, and he was determined to have one perfect memory in his secret life that the woman who bore his name should never violate. Miss Howland had meted him the portion his dilatoriness invited and married a fine upstanding young American whose career was in Washington; and his family had peremptorily commanded him to return in the spring (with the Kaiser's permission, a mandate in itself) and marry the patient Baronin Irma Hammorwoerth.
And so for a summer and a winter they were happy.
Gisela averted her mind tonight from the parting with something of the almost forgotten panic. She had never dared to dwell upon it, nor on the month that followed. Her powerful will had rebelled finally and she had fought down and out of her consciously functioning mind the details of her tragic passion, and even reveled arrogantly in the sensation of deliverance from the slavery of love. Simultaneously she was swept off to see the great natural wonders of the American continent and they had intoned the requiem.
The following autumn she returned to Germany and paid her mother another brief visit.
There all was well. Frau von Niebuhr, who had not developed a white hair and whose Viennese maid was a magician in the matter of gowns and complexion, was enjoying life and had a daring salon; that is to say gatherings in which all the men did not wear uniforms nor prefix the sacred von. She drew the line at bad manners, but otherwise all (and of any nation) who had distinguished themselves, or possessed the priceless gift of personality, were welcome there; and although she lived to be amused and make up what she had lost during thirty unspeakable years, she progressed inevitably in keenness of insight and breadth of vision. She had become a student of politics and stared into the future with deepening apprehension, but of this she gave not a hint to Gisela. Mariette was her closest friend and only confidante. Mariette was now living in Berlin, and amusing herself in ways Frau von Niebuhr disapproved, mainly because she thought it wiser to banish men from one's inner life altogether; but, true to her code, she forebore remonstrance.
Lili, having discovered that her voice was not for grand opera, had philosophically descended to the concert stage and was excitedly happy in her success and independence. Elsa was a Red Cross nurse.
Gisela met Franz von Nettelbeck at a court function and had her little revenge. He was furious, and vowed, quite audibly, that he would never forgive her. But Gisela was merely disturbed lest the Obersthofmeisterin who stood but three feet away overhear his caustic remarks. Distinguished professors (without their wives) might go to court as a reward for shedding added luster upon the German Empire, but lesser mortals who had received payment for services rendered might not. Her independent mother, still a favorite, for she was exceeding discreet, would have incurred the imperial displeasure if the truth were known. However, the incident passed unnoticed, and Franz, whatever his shortcomings, was a gentleman and kept her secret.
The scene at the palace had been brilliant and sustaining and she had received much personal homage, for she was looking very beautiful and radiant, and the little adventure had been incense to her pride (moreover the young Freifrau von Nettelbeck, whom she saw on his arm later, was an insignificant little hausfrau); but when she was in her room after midnight she realized grimly that if she had not done her work so well during that terrible month in New York and buried her sex heart, she should once more be beating the floor or the wall with her impotent hands. But the knowledge of her immunity made her a little sad.
The next episode to her grim humor was wholly amusing, although it played its part in her developing sense of revolt against the attitude of the German male to the sex of the mother that bore him. She returned to Munich after a month in Berlin, for by this time she had made up her mind to write, and the city by the Isar was the most beautiful in the world to write and to dream in. Moreover, she wished to attend the lectures on drama at the University.
The four years in America, during which she had, in spite of her sentimental preoccupation, studied diligently every phase that passed before her keen critical vision, analyzed every person she had met, and passed many of her evenings in the study of the best contemporary fiction, had, associated with the spur of her own upheaval, developed her imagination, and her head was full of unwritten stories. They were highly realistic, of course, as became a modern German, but unmistakably dramatic.
She attended the lectures, practising on short stories meanwhile, devoting most of her effort to becoming a stylist, that she might attain immediate recognition whatever her matter. She lived in a small but comfortable hotel, for not only had she saved the greater part of her salary, but the Bolands, however oblivious socially of a paid attendant, had a magnificent way with them at Christmas, and had given her an even larger cheque at parting.
In Munich she was once more Gisela Doering, once more led the student life. There are liberties even for people of rank in Munich, and many nobles, exasperated with the rigid class lines of Berlin and other German capitals, move there, and, while careful to attend court functions, make intelligent friends in all sets. They are, or were, the happiest people in Germany. Here Gisela could sit alone in a cafe by the hour reading the illustrated papers and smoking with her coffee, attracting no attention whatever. She joined parties of students during the summer and tramped the Bavarian Alps, and she danced all night at student balls. Nevertheless, she managed to hold herself somewhat aloof and it was understood that she did not live the "loose" life of the "artist class." She was much admired for her stately beauty and her style, and if the young people of that free and easy community were at times inclined to resent a manifest difference, they succumbed to her magnetism, and respected her obvious devotion to a high literary ideal.
It was during her second winter that she met Georg Zottmyer.
He was a tall, narrow, angular young man with a small clipped head and preeminent ears. His narrow face was set with narrower features, and his eyes were very bright, and the windows of his conceit. Although his income was minute he boasted a father of note in the University of Leipzig, and his mother had traveled and written a scathing satire on the United States of America. He had not a grain of originality or imagination, but he too was taking the course in dramatic art, and reading for that degree without whose magic letters he could not hope to take his place in the world of art to which his parts entitled him. He met Gisela in the lecture room and immediately became her cavalier.
At first Gisela endeavored to get rid of him by an icy front, but this he took for feminine coquetry and his own front was serene. As he had made up his mind to be a dramatist merely because the career appealed acutely to his itching ambition, so did he in due course make up his mind to marry this handsome brunette (what hair he had was drab) who bore all the earmarks of secret wealth in spite of the fact that she lived in a small hotel. As time went on, Gisela resigned herself and put his little ego under her microscope.
His wooing was methodical. He not only walked home with her after every lecture, but he gave her a series of teas in his high little flat, and he really did know "people." His parental introductions had given him the entree to the professional circles, and he cultivated society both semi-fashionable and ultra-literary. He knew no one who had not "arrived."
He chose an unpropitious day for a tentative declaration of his intentions. It was very cold. White mufflers protected his outstanding ears, a gray woolen scarf was wound about his long neck and almost covered his tight little mouth. He wore mitts and wristlets, and his nose was crimson. Gisela, in a new set of furs, sent her for Christmas by Mariette, and a smart gown of wine-colored cloth, looked radiant. Her dark eyes shone with joy in the cold electric air of that high plateau, her cheeks were red, her warm full-lipped mouth was parted over her even white teeth. They walked from the University down the great Leopoldstrasse, one of the finest streets in Europe, toward the Cafe Luitpold, where he had invited her to drink coffee.
There was little conversation during that brisk walk. He was frozen, and she was not thinking of him at all. At the cafe he selected an alcove as far from the noisy groups of students as possible. All the "trees" were hung with colored caps and the atmosphere was dense with smoke.
Zottmyer, who, after all, was young, soon thawed out in the warm room, and when he had cheered his interior with a large cup of hot coffee and lit a cigarette, he brought up the subject of matrimony. He had no intention of proposing in these surroundings, but it was time to pave the way--or set the pattern of the tiling; he cultivated the divergent phrase.
"It is time I married," he announced, and, not to appear too serious, he smiled into her glowing face. She looked happy enough to encourage a man far less fatuous than Georg Zottmyer.
"Yes?" Gisela's eyes had wandered to the nearest group of students and she was wondering if they might not have made handsome men had they permitted their duel wounds to heal instead of excoriating them with salt and pepper. "Most German men marry young."
"I am not conventional. I should not dream of marrying unless I found a young lady who possessed everything that I demand in a wife."
"Ah? What then do you demand?"
"That is a large order. What do you mean, exactly."
"I mean, of course, that I should not marry a woman who did not have in the first place beauty, that I might be proud of her in public, besides refreshing myself with the sight of her in private. She must have beauty of figure as well as of face, as I detest our dumpy type of German women. And she must have style, and dress well. It would mortify me to death, particularly after I had made my position, to go about with one of those wives that seem to fall to the lot of most intellectuals. Soft-waisted, bulging women," he added spitefully, "how I hate them!"
"Your taste is admirable. Our women are much too careless, particularly after marriage. And the second requirement?"
"Oh, a small fortune, at least. I could not afford to marry, otherwise, and although I shall no doubt make a large income in due course, I must begin well. I prefer a house, as it gives an artist a more serious and dignified position."
"And of course my wife must be of good birth, as good as my own. I should never dream of marrying even a Venus in this Bohemian class. That sort of thing is all very well--" He waved his hand, and arched an eyebrow, and Gisela inferred she was to take quite a number of amours for granted; much, for instance, as she would those of a handsome officer who sat alone at the next table and who looked infinitely bored with love and longing for war.
"She must--it goes without saying--be intellectual, clever, bright, amusing. I must have companionship. Not an artist, however. I should never permit my wife to write or model or sing for the public. And she must have the social talent, magnetism, the power to charm whom she will. That would help me infinitely in my career."
"Is that all?"
"Oh, she must be affectionate and a good housekeeper, but most German women have the domestic virtues. Naturally, she must have perfect health. I detest women with nerves and moods."
Gisela had been leaning forward, her elbows on the table, her little square chin on her hands, and if there were wondering contempt in her eyes he saw only their brilliance and fixed regard.
"And what, may I ask, do you purpose to give her in return for all that?"
He flicked the ashes from his cigarette, and the gesture was quite without affectation. "What has that to do with it?"
"Well--only--you think, then, that in return for all--but all!--that a woman has to offer a man--any man--you should not feel yourself bound to give her an equal measure in return?"
"I have not given the matter a thought. Naturally the woman I select will see all in me that I see in her. Shall we get out of this? I feel I have taken a cold. Fresh air is a drastic but efficient corrective."
He escorted her to her hotel, although he gazed longingly down his own street as they passed it. His head felt overburdened and it was awkward manipulating a handkerchief with mitts.
Within half a block of the hotel Gisela, who had been walking rapidly, bending a little against the wind, paused and drew herself up to her stately height. Cold as he was he thrilled slightly as he reflected that she possessed real distinction; almost she might be hochwohlgeboren--yes, quite. He tingled less agreeably as he recalled a snub administered by a great lady with whom he had presumed to attempt conversation at the house of a liberal little Russian baroness. This woman would snub any hochwohlgeboren who presumed to snub him in the future.
"Herr Zottmyer," said Gisela, and her tones were as crisp as the air blowing down from the Alps, "you must permit me to give you a note of introduction to my mother when you go to Berlin next week. I hope you will find time to call on her."
Zottmyer's eyes snapped at this covert encouragement, although it was rather forward in a German girl practically to ask a man his intentions. "I shall be delighted to call on Frau Doermer--"
"Countess Niebuhr. I have practised a little innocent deception here in Munich--for obvious reasons. Also, during my four years' sojourn in America--"
"In America?" His brain, a fine, concentrated, Teutonic organ, strove to grapple with two ideas at once. "You have been in America!"
"Rather. I feel half an American. You have no idea how it changed my point of view--oh, but in many ways! The men, you see, are so different from ours. The American woman has a magnificent position--"
"Ridiculous, uppish, spoilt creatures--"
"But how delicious to be spoiled. You will call on my mother?"
Zottmyer almost choked. "I hate the Prussians--above all, that arrogant junker class. And the name of Niebuhr!--why, it stands for all that junkerdom means in its most virulent form!"
"I am afraid it does. My brothers are junkers unalloyed. But I can assure you that my mother is as democratic as one may be in Berlin. She has quite a number of friends among the intellectuals--"
"Would she consent to your marriage with a--a--mere intellectual?"
"What has that to do with it! It would never occur to me to marry out of my own class. That is always a mistake. There are, you see,--well--subtle differences that forbid harmony--"
"You are a snob. I might have seen it before this. You give yourself airs--" He was now so torn between fury and disappointment, mortification and Teutonic resentment at being obliged to diverge abruptly from precisely thought-out tactics, that he forgot his physical discomfort--and incidentally to use his handkerchief.
"A snob? When I am true to the best traditions of my race? Did you not tell me that you would not marry a Venus if she happened to be born outside of your own class? But it is rather cold here--not? Shall I send the note of introduction to your flat?"
"I would not put my foot in any supercilious junker palace, and I never wish to see you again!" He whirled about, burying his nose in his handkerchief, and tore down the street.
Gisela laughed, but with little amusement. Her sympathy for German women took a long stride. But she forgot him a few moments later at her desk.
During the next five years she wrote many short stories and essays, and four plays. Her work appealed subtly but clearly to the growing rebellion of the German women; she was too much of an artist to write frank propaganda and the critics were long waking up to the object of her work. Her first three plays were failures, but the fourth ran for two years and a half and was played all over Germany and Austria. It was a brilliant, dramatic, half-humorous, half-tragic exposition of the German woman's enforced subservience to man as compared with the glorious liberty of the somewhat exaggerated American co-heroine.
There was talk of suppressing this play at first, but Countess Niebuhr brought all her influence to bear, and as the widow of one esteemed junker and the daughter of another far more important, her argument that her daughter merely labored to make the German woman a still more powerful factor in upholding the might of German Kultur--that being the secret hidden in what was after all but a fantasy--caused the powers to shrug their shoulders and dismiss the matter.
After all, was not the play by a woman, and were not the German women the best trained in the world? Besides, the play was amusing, and humor destroyed the serious purpose always. Humor made the Americans the contemptible race they were--fortunately for the future plans of Germany. They took nothing seriously. In time they would!
Those who have not lived in Germany have not even an inkling of the deep slow secret revolt against the insolent and inconsiderate attitude of the German male that had been growing among its women for some fifteen years before the outbreak of the war. They ventured no public meetings or militant acts of any sort, for men were far too strong for them yet, and the German woman is by nature retiring, however individualistic her ego. Their only outward manifestation was the hideous reformkleid, a typical manifestation in even the women of a nation whose art is as ugly as it often is interesting. But thousands of them were muttering to one another and reading with envy the literature of woman's revolt in other lands. When one of their own sex rose, a woman of the highest intelligence and an impeccable style, who, although she signed herself Gisela Doering, was said to be a rebellious member of the Prussian aristocracy, their own vague protests slowly crystallized and they grew to look upon her as a leader, who one day would show them the path out of bondage. Her correspondence grew to enormous proportions, but she answered every letter, fully determined by this time to accomplish something more than a name in letters while incidentally amusing herself with stirring up the women and annoying the men. But although clubs were formed to discuss her work and letters, they were still unsuspected of the arrogant men who controlled the destinies of Germany. And as the German woman is the reverse of frank, as little indication of the slow revolution was found in the home. The solution was as far off as ever, but German women are patient and they bided their time, exulting in their secret. It gave them a sense of revenge and power.
Then came the war.