The Princess Priscilla's Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim
Early in this story I pointed out what to the intelligent must have been from the beginning apparent, that Annalise held Priscilla and Fritzing in the hollow of her hand. In the first excitement of the start she had not noticed it, but during those woeful days of disillusionment at Baker's she saw it with an ever-growing clearness; and since Sunday, since the day she found a smiling young gentleman ready to talk German to her and answer questions, she was perfectly aware that she had only to close her hand and her victims would squeeze into any shape she liked. She proposed to do this closing at the first moment of sheer intolerableness, and that moment seemed well reached when she entered Creeper Cottage and realized what the attic, the kitchen, and the pump really meant.
It is always a shock to find one's self in the company of a worm that turns, always a shock and an amazement; a spectacle one never, somehow, gets used to. But how dreadful does it become when one is in the power of the worm, and the worm is resentful, and ready to squeeze to any extent. Fritzing reflected bitterly that Annalise might quite well have been left at home. Quite well? A thousand times better. What had she done but whine during her passive period? And now that she was active, a volcano in full activity hurling forth hot streams of treachery on two most harmless heads, she, the insignificant, the base-born, the empty-brained, was actually going to be able to ruin the plans of the noblest woman on earth.
Thus thought Fritzing, mopping his forehead. Annalise had rushed away to her attic after flinging her defiance at him, her spirit ready to dare anything but her body too small, she felt, to risk staying within reach of a man who looked more like somebody who meant to shake her than any one she had ever seen. Fritzing mopped his forehead, and mopped and mopped again. He stood where she had left him, his eyes fixed on the ground, his distress so extreme that he was quite near crying. What was he to do? What was he to say to his Princess? How was he to stop the girl's going back to Kunitz? How was he to stop her going even so far as young Morrison? That she should tell young Morrison who Priscilla was would indeed be a terrible thing. It would end their being able to live in Symford. It would end their being able to live in England. The Grand Duke would be after them, and there would have to be another flight to another country, another start there, another search for a home, another set of explanations, pretences, fears, lies,--things of which he was so weary. But there was something else, something worse than any of these things, that made Fritzing mop his forehead with so extreme a desperation: Annalise had demanded the money due to her, and Fritzing had no money.
I am afraid Fritzing was never meant for a conspirator. Nature never meant him to be a plotter, an arranger of unpleasant surprises for parents. She never meant him to run away. She meant him, probably, to spend his days communing with the past in a lofty room with distempered walls and busts round them. That he should be forced to act, to decide, to be artful, to wrangle with maids, to make ends meet, to squeeze his long frame and explosive disposition into a Creeper Cottage where only an ill-fitting door separated him from the noise and fumes of the kitchen, was surely a cruel trick of Fate, and not less cruel because he had brought it on himself. That he should have thought he could run away as well as any man is merely a proof of his singleness of soul. A man who does that successfully is always, among a great many other things, a man who takes plenty of money with him and knows exactly where to put his hand on more when it is wanted. Fritzing had thought it better to get away quickly with little money than to wait and get away with more. He had seized all he could of his own that was not invested, and Priscilla had drawn her loose cash from the Kunitz bank; but what he took hidden in his gaiters after paying for Priscilla's outfit and bribing Annalise was not more than three hundred pounds; and what is three hundred pounds to a person who buys and furnishes cottages and scatters five-pound notes among the poor? The cottages were paid for. He had insisted on doing that at once, chiefly in order to close his dealings with Mr. Dawson; but Mr. Dawson had not let them go for less than a hundred and fifty for the two, in spite of Tussie's having said a hundred was enough. When Fritzing told Mr. Dawson what Tussie had said Mr. Dawson soon proved that Tussie could not possibly have meant it; and Fritzing, knowing how rich Priscilla really was and what vast savings he had himself lying over in Germany in comfortable securities, paid him without arguing and hastened from the hated presence. Then the journey for the three from Kunitz had been expensive; the stay at Baker's Farm had been, strange to say, expensive; Mrs. Jones's comforting had been expensive; the village mothers had twice emptied Priscilla's purse of ten pounds; and the treat to the Symford children had not been cheap. After paying for this--the Minehead confectioner turned out to be a man of little faith in unknown foreigners, and insisted on being paid at once--Fritzing had about forty pounds left. This, he had thought, would do for food and lights and things for a long while,--certainly till he had hit on a plan by which he would be able to get hold of the Princess's money and his own without betraying where they were; and here on his table, the second unpleasant surprise that greeted him on entering his new home (the first had been his late master's dreadful smile) was the bill for the furnishing of it. To a man possessed of only forty pounds any bill will seem tremendous. This one was for nearly two hundred; and at the end of the long list of items, the biggest of which was that bathroom without water that had sent Annalise out on strike, was the information that a remittance would oblige. A remittance! Poor Fritzing. He crushed the paper in his hand and made caustic mental comments on the indecency of these people, clamouring for their money almost before the last workman was out of the place, certainly before the smell of paint was out of it, and clamouring, too, in the face of the Shuttleworth countenance and support. He had not been a week yet in Symford, and had been so busy, so rushed, that he had put off thinking out a plan for getting his money over from Germany until he should be settled. Never had he imagined people would demand payment in this manner. Never, either, had he imagined the Princess would want so much money for the poor; and never, of course, had he imagined that there would be a children's treat within three days of their arrival. Least of all had he dreamed that Annalise would so soon need more bribing; for that was clearly the only thing to do. He saw it was the only thing, after he had stood for some time thinking and wiping the cold sweat from his forehead. She must be bribed, silenced, given in to. He must part with as much as he possibly could of that last forty pounds; as much, also, as he possibly could of his pride, and submit to have the hussy's foot on his neck. Some day, some day, thought Fritzing grinding his teeth, he would be even with her; and when that day came he promised himself that it should certainly begin with a sound shaking. "Truly," he reflected, "the foolish things of the world confound the wise, and the weak things of the world confound the things that are mighty." And he went out, and standing in the back yard beneath Annalise's window softly called to her. "Fraeulein," called Fritzing, softly as a dove wooing its mate.
"Aha," thought Annalise, sitting on her bed, quick to mark the change; but she did not move.
"Fraeulein," called Fritzing again; and it was hardly a call so much as a melodious murmur.
Annalise did not move, but she grinned.
"Fraeulein, come down one moment," cooed Fritzing, whose head was quite near the attic window so low was Creeper Cottage. "I wish to speak to you. I wish to give you something."
Annalise did not move, but she stuffed her handkerchief into her mouth; for the first time since she left Calais she was enjoying herself.
"If," went on Fritzing after an anxious pause, "I was sharp with you just now--and I fear I may have been hasty--you should not take it amiss from one who, like Brutus, is sick of many griefs. Come down, Fraeulein, and let me make amends."
The Princess's bell rang. At once habit impelled Annalise to that which Fritzing's pleadings would never have effected; she scrambled down the ladder, and leaving him still under her window presented herself before her mistress with her usual face of meek respect.
"I said tea," said Priscilla very distinctly, looking at her with slightly lifted eyebrows.
Annalise curtseyed and disappeared.
"How fearfully polite German maids are," remarked Tussie.
"In what way?" asked Priscilla.
"Those curtseys. They're magnificent."
"Don't English maids curtsey?"
"None that I've ever seen. Perhaps they do to royalties."
"Oh?" said Priscilla with a little jump. She was still so much unnerved by the unexpected meeting with her father on the wall of Creeper Cottage that she could not prevent the little jump.
"What would German maids do, I wonder, in dealing with royalties," said Tussie, "if they curtsey so beautifully to ordinary mistresses? They'd have to go down on their knees to a princess, wouldn't they?"
"How should I know?" said Priscilla, irritably, alarmed to feel she was turning red; and with great determination she began to talk literature.
Fritzing was lying in wait for Annalise, and caught her as she came into the bathroom.
"Fraeulein," said the miserable man trying to screw his face into persuasiveness, "you cannot let the Princess go without tea."
"Yes I can," said Annalise.
He thrust his hands into his pockets to keep them off her shoulders.
"Make it this once, Fraeulein, and I will hire a woman of the village to make it in future. And see, you must not leave the Princess's service, a service of such great honour to yourself, because I chanced to be perhaps a little--hasty. I will give you two hundred marks to console you for the slight though undoubted difference in the mode of living, and I will, as I said, hire a woman to come each day and cook. Will it not be well so?"
"No," said Annalise.
Annalise put her hands on her hips, and swaying lightly from side to side began to sing softly. Fritzing gazed at this fresh development in her manners in silent astonishment. "Jedermann macht mir die Cour, c'est l'amour, c'est l'amour," sang Annalise, her head one side, her eyes on the ceiling.
"Liebes Kind, are your promises of no value? Did you not promise to keep your mouth shut, and not betray the Princess's confidence? Did she not seek you out from all the others for the honour of keeping her secrets? And you will, after one week, divulge them to a stranger? You will leave her service? You will return to Kunitz? Is it well so?"
"C'est l'amour, c'est l'amour," sang Annalise, swaying.
"Is it well so, Fraeulein?" repeated Fritzing, strangling a furious desire to slap her.
"Did you speak?" inquired Annalise, pausing in her song.
"I am speaking all the time. I asked if it were well to betray the secrets of your royal mistress."
"I have been starved," said Annalise.
"You have had the same fare as ourselves."
"I have been called names."
"Have I not expressed--regret?"
"I have been treated as dirt."
"Well, well, I have apologized."
"If you had behaved to me as a maid of a royal lady should be behaved to, I would have faithfully done my part and kept silence. Now give me my money and I will go."
"I will give you your money--certainly, liebes Kind. It is what I am most desirous of doing. But only on condition that you stay. If you go, you go without it. If you stay, I will do as I said about the cook and will--" Fritzing paused--"I will endeavour to refrain from calling you anything hasty."
"Two hundred marks," said Annalise gazing at the ceiling, "is nothing."
"Nothing?" cried Fritzing. "You know very well that it is, for you, a great sum."
"It is nothing. I require a thousand."
"A thousand? What, fifty English sovereigns? Nay, then, but there is no reasoning with you," cried Fritzing in tones of real despair.
She caught the conviction in them and hesitated. "Eight hundred, then," she said.
"Impossible. And besides it would be a sin. I will give you twenty."
"Twenty? Twenty marks?" Annalise stared at him a moment then resumed her swaying and her song--"Jedermann macht mir die Cour"--sang Annalise with redoubled conviction.
"No, no, not marks--twenty pounds," said Fritzing, interrupting what was to him a most maddening music. "Four hundred marks. As much as many a German girl can only earn by labouring two years you will receive for doing nothing but hold your tongue."
Annalise closed her lips tightly and shook her head. "My tongue cannot be held for that," she said, beginning to sway again and hum.
Adjectives foamed on Fritzing's own, but he kept them back. "Maedchen," he said with the gentleness of a pastor in a confirmation class, "do you not remember that the love of money is the root of all evil? I do not recognize you. Since when have you become thus greedy for it?"
"Give me eight hundred and I will stop."
"I will give you six hundred," said Fritzing, fighting for each of his last precious pounds.
"I said eight," said Annalise, stopping and looking at him with lifted eye-brows and exactly imitating the distinctness with which the Princess had just said "I said tea."
"Six is an enormous sum. Why, what would you do with it?"
"That is my affair. Perhaps buy food," she said with a malicious side-glance.
"I tell you there shall be a cook."
"A cook," said Annalise counting on her fingers,--"and a good cook, observe--not a cook like the Frau Pearce--a cook, then, no more rude names, and eight hundred marks. Then I stop. I suffer. I am silent."
"It cannot be done. I cannot give you eight."
"C'est l'amour, c'est l'amour.... The Princess waits for her tea. I will prepare it for her this once. I am good, you see, at heart. But I must have eight hundred marks. Cest l'amo-o-o-o-o-our."
"I will give you seven," said Fritzing, doing rapid sums in his head. Seven hundred was something under thirty-five pounds. He would still have five pounds left for housekeeping. How long that would last he admitted to himself that probably only heaven knew, but he hoped that with economy it might be made to carry them over a fortnight; and surely by the end of a fortnight he would have hit on a way of getting fresh supplies from Germany? "I will give you seven hundred. That is the utter-most. I can give no more till I have written home for money. I have only a little more than that here altogether. See, I treat you like a reasonable being--I set the truth plainly before you. More than seven hundred I could not give if I would."
"Good," said Annalise, breaking off her music suddenly. "I will take that now and guarantee to be silent for fourteen days. At the end of that time the Herr Geheimrath will have plenty more money and will, if he still desires my services and my silence, give me the three hundred still due to me on the thousand I demand. If the Herr Geheimrath prefers not to, then I depart to my native country. While the fortnight lasts I will suffer all there is to suffer in silence. Is the Herr Geheimrath agreed?"
"Shameless one!" mentally shrieked Fritzing, "Wait and see what will happen to thee when my turn comes!" But aloud he only agreed. "It is well, Fraeulein," he said. "Take in the Princess's tea, and then come to my sitting-room and I will give you the money. The fire burns in the kitchen. Utensils, I believe, are ready to hand. It should not prove a task too difficult."
"Perhaps the Herr Geheimrath will show me where the tea and milk is? And also the sugar, and the bread and butter if any?" suggested Annalise in a small meek voice as she tripped before him into the kitchen.
What could he do but follow? Her foot was well on his neck; and it occurred to him as he rummaged miserably among canisters that if the creature should take it into her head to marry him he might conceivably have to let her do it. As it was it was he and not Annalise who took the kettle out to the pump to fill it, and her face while he was doing it would have rejoiced her parents or other persons to whom she was presumably dear, it was wide with so enormous a satisfaction. Thus terrible is it to be in the power of an Annalise.