“If Youth but Knew!”

“If Youth but Knew!”

Author:
Egerton Castle
Author:
Egerton Castle
Format:
epub
language:
English

%title插图%num
Author: Castle, Agnes, -1922
Jérôme Bonaparte
King of Westphalia
1784-1860 — Fiction
Westphalia (Kingdom) — Fiction
“If Youth but Knew!”

“IF YOUTH BUT KNEW!”

BY

AGNES & EGERTON CASTLE

AUTHORS OF

“ROSE OF THE WORLD,” “FRENCH NAN,”

ETC., ETC.

Si jeunesse savait…
Si vieillesse pouvait!

(Old French Song)

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY LANCELOT SPEED

New York

THE MACMILLAN COMPANY

1906

All rights reserved

COPYRIGHT, 1906,

BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

Set up and electrotyped. Published April, 1906.

Norwood Press

J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith Co.

Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

  1. The Vagabond

  2. The Forest House

  3. Green Adventure

  4. Parting of the Ways

  5. The Invitation of the Road

  6. The Burg

  7. Guests of Chance

  8. Roses of Trianon

  9. Home-Coming

  10. The Burgrave’s Welcome

  11. Tangled Tales

  12. The Burgrave’s Farewell

  13. The *Oubliette*

  14. Love among the Ruins

  15. *Furens quid Femina Possit*

  16. ‘Twixt Cup and Lip

  17. The Skirt of War

  18. The Raid

  19. The Melody in the Violets

  20. The True Reading of a Letter

  21. At the Mock Versailles

  22. The *Cabinet Noir*

  23. The King’s Mail

  24. Portents

  25. The Perverseness of Words

  26. The Ways of Little Courts

  27. The Song of the Woods

  28. A Treacherous Haven

  29. The Homing Bird

  30. Dawn Music

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

Her child eyes were still upon him and seemed to ask
for something yet. And, at this, he bent and kissed
her gently, as he would have kissed a child . . . Frontispiece

“The something that lived on, the miserable carcass,
the old man—call it myself, if you will”

But, as the oncomer drew nearer, the glimmer of hope
died in the discontented gentleman’s heart

As she bent, offering him the green goblet of wine, her
heavy plait fell against his shoulder

Wellenshausen

“Look, look, do you see? … There are two men
coming up the road with a pack-horse!”

“The high-born, my mistress, had not expected you
before to-morrow,” said the butler with a deep bow

Meanwhile, up in his chamber, the Burgrave sat in
sodden brooding

Steven almost called aloud, as he heard their heavy plunge
into the ambushed waters

Sidonia stood, shaking and pruning herself like a bird,
her hair glinting in the light

“Spread your dark wings, obscene birds! … the scent
of Death is in the air. In a little while you may
gorge! … caw—caw!”

“Hurl down the Guard, and the field is ours! … Hurl
down the Guard, aha!”

“She always loved violets. These have no scent,
… but hers—oh, they were sweet!”

They spread him beside the Jurist in the moonlight—with
a certain effect of symmetry

… the great bag on his back, undiminished, save
for two warrants and one private missive

What she was saying was sufficiently remarkable: “Your
Majesty mistakes”

“Positively, a bird from the tyrant’s aviary,” he cried. “A
foreign, French bird!”

His child-wife! … The watchman was chanting the tale of the first
morning hour

The End

TO

“MARIE-LOUISE”

FOREWORD

“Is it not,” remarks Fiddler Hans the wanderer, somewhere
in these pages, “instructive to see how the ruler of
Westphalia passes his time while the best manhood of his
country is warring for the Empire—burnt in Spain,
frozen in Russia?”

Few people have cared, it would seem, to study that
little chapter of history, the rule of Jerome in Westphalia;
yet it is curious enough—as a record of human folly,
if for no other reason.

That incredible Westphalia of Napoleon’s making!
Harlequin’s coat contrived out of Hesse, Brunswick, and
a score of smaller principalities, hemmed with a shred or
two of Prussian province; incongruous rag torn from
the map of the old Germanic Empire and flung by the
conqueror, between two victories, to his “little brother
Jerome”!

A strangely pusillanimous character was the amiable
Jerome. His annals include, in the days of his youth,
flight from his ship, within sight of an English blockading
squadron (not through cowardice, be it said: there
was pluck enough in the little man, but because of his
thirst for the pleasures of land), and, in more mature
years, desertion from the Grand Army at a crucial
moment, upon the mere impulse of wounded vanity. How
so grotesque a potentate was allowed, for seven years, to
lord over, to plunder and demoralize, some three millions
of sturdy Germans, to discredit the name of Bonaparte and
weaken the fabric of the new Empire, remains one of the
enigmas of history.

But, then, the new Emperor must ever be a maker of
kings; carve new kingdoms out of old. For his “Beau
Sabreur,” Murat, there is Naples and the Two Sicilies;
for his infant son, nothing less than Rome; for his younger
brothers, Holland, Spain, … Westphalia! What is
there to restrain great Cæsar? Hark to his mighty insolence:

“The Emperor of the French” (so M. Walckenaer, in
his official work,
La Géographic Moderne, brings to a
conclusion the chapter on
la France allemande),
possesses likewise in Germany the principality of Erfurth
and the county of Katzenellenbogen:
mais Sa Majesté
n’a pas encore décidé sur leur sort.”

His Majesty has not yet decided upon their fate!

About the fate of Westphalia there had been no indecision.
From one day to another, “little brother Jerome”
acknowledged failure in every other career, naval, civil,
or military, found himself seated upon a German throne.
And thus we have him, inconceivable fop, strutting and
ogling, upon the scene.—A king whose life energies,
when the cracking of his brother’s empire may be heard
on every side, are divided between the devising of new
costumes, the planning of revels, and the discovery of fresh
favourites. A scamp, fascinating enough, but incapable
of a single strong or noble thought. A cynic and a
libertine; withal a gull, in his way. A man who could
repudiate without a pang of regret the fair young Virginian
wife of his youth, to marry without love a “suitable German
princess.” A man who flaunted his debauchery and his
barefaced improbity, yet could be scared to distraction by
the imaginary threat of a little haunting tune; the tune
which, with its twang of mockery and warning, was as
ill an omen to his superstitious fancy as the shadow of
“the little red man,” or the date of Christmas, to his great
Imperial brother.

And under him, that hasty patchwork of old German
lands: his incongruous kingdom. His people, grave
religious dwellers of the mountain and of the wood,
unconvinced subjects of the godless Welsch, dumbly chafing
under his insensate taxation. His new-fangled court,
aping the vanished Versailles of Louis XV., yet combining
with the reckless frivolity of the Old Order all the
ill-breeding of revolutionary
parvenus. Over all, a government
so incompetent, so corrupt, as to stupefy or demoralize
all that had dealings with it—friend or foe, high or low,
French official or German landowner; the magistrates,
the very students; the old rulers of the soil themselves,
nervously awaiting the inevitable
débâcle, stretching, the
while, both hands towards the plunder.

In these topsy-turvy days no man rightly knows whether
he belong to ancient Teutonic duchy or to French

département;
whether the accepted rule be code Napoléon or
hoary feudal law. And thus, up in his ancestral
Burg,
an old lord of the land (such an one as the Burgrave of
Wellenshausen) may well assume that he still holds the
right of “high and low justice” on his own territory;
whereas, down at Cassel, the mock Versailles, this same
out-of-date character would naturally fall in with the new
views of marriage and divorce, or “annulment by decree,”
brought so conclusively into fashion by the Bonapartes,
royal or Imperial.

Above all this confusion, the cloud of war, gathering
heavier and heavier. And from the mines of the Harz,
from the deeps of the Thuringian forests, from the lanes
of the old town, up into the very anterooms of the palace,
conspiracy busy at work: conspiracy in the barracks,
conspiracy in the universities, exploding on all sides, futile
squibs as yet, but ominous. The King closes his eyes,
seals his ears to all but sights and sounds of pleasure.
So dancing, the harlequin kingdom goes to its death.

And it is through the mazes of this carnival, unique in
the lenten gravity of nations, that wander the footsteps of
the singer of youth, and of the lovers of this story.

O hear me sing:—If youth but knew

The glory of his April day,
Would he not cast the year away

For one more dawn of dream and dew?
 
Would he the fevered moons pursue,

Not rather with the spring delay,
Crowned with its leaf? If youth but knew

The glory of his April day!
 
For what shall unto age accrue,

If youth from joyance turn and stray?
Autumn is but the Spring grown grey,

Its harvest roses mixed with rue….
 
If youth but knew—if youth but knew!
 
(The Singer of Youth)
 
ELINOR SWEETMAN

The something that lived on, the miserable carcass, the old man—call it myself, if you will—it took the violets and began to walk away…. And it has walked ever since!

IF YOUTH BUT KNEW

CHAPTER I

THE VAGABOND

Wealth I seek not, hope nor love,

Nor a friend to know me;

All I seek, the heaven above

And the road below me.

R. L. STEVENSON.

The traveller sat upon the milestone just where
the road, skirting the brow of the hill, branched
off into the forest. At his feet lay the detached
wheel; further away, in pathetic attitude, the
remainder of the chaise itself. A stout bay,
seemingly unconscious of as handsome a pair of broken
knees as ever horse displayed, was tethered to a
stump of tree, browsing such tender grass or leafage
as grew within his reach. The situation spoke for
itself; and the young traveller’s face spoke for the
situation as eloquently as Nature (who had
bestowed upon him a markedly disdainful and
somewhat impassive set of features) would permit.

Behind him rose the cool gloom of the forest.
Below lay the plain, gold-powdered by the level rays
of a sinking sun. Between the edge of the road and
the forest margin ran a stream. A robin sang to
the glowing west from the topmost branch of a fir
tree. But he on the milestone was blind to the gold
of the valley, deaf to the gold of the song. “Now,
here’s a pretty kettle of fish!” was the burden of his
thoughts.

To have been stuck a whole hour upon a stone,
while a postilion ranged the country on horseback
in one direction, and a valet a-foot in the other, and
no help as yet forthcoming; not to have had himself
within hail, all those weary minutes, one single human
being—between intervals of drowsiness he cursed
the peaceful valley land, with its fair fields and
orchards, as the most God-forsaken of countries!

Presently his moody eye quickened. On the
road below a moving object was approaching.
Only a pedestrian, alas! Nevertheless, he might
prove of use for succour or advice.

But, as the oncomer drew nearer and began to foot
the ascent, the glimmer of hope died in the
discontented gentleman’s heart. Here was no sturdy
native, likely guide to smithy or village inn. ‘Twas
a mere ambulant musician, as strange, doubtless,
to the country as himself: the sun-rays were even
now glinting back, roseate, from the varnish of a
fiddle.—The traveller relapsed into moodiness.

But, as the oncomer drew nearer, the glimmer of hope died in the discontented gentleman’s heart.

At the steep curve of the hillside, man and fiddle
vanished from view. Nevertheless, that he was still
climbing, the advance (in interrupted measure) of
a singular little tune, half sourdine, half pizzicato,
soon proclaimed. It seemed at first so woven in
with the babble of the brook, the deep choiring of
the forest and the song of the robin, that the youth
on the milestone hardly realized its separate existence.
But, as it hovered ever closer, he was forced to listen
and even to follow. It seemed the very song of the
rover; of the rover on foot, humble and yet proud;
without a penny, without a bond; glad of the free
water to drink and the hunk of bread by the roadside—a
song of the nodding grass and the bird in the
hedge, of the dancing leaf, the darting swallow, the
wide kindly skies. Oh, the road is full of gay things,
and tender things, of sweetness and refreshment, of
wholesome fatigue and glorious sleep, for those that
know its secrets!

“Good evening to you, young sir.”

The little tune had stopped. A man’s figure,
exaggeratedly thin, black against the sunset, had
emerged over the knuckle of the hill and, with a wide
sweep of the arm, was saluting.

The gesture of the black silhouette seemed so
courtly, the voice that came from it so refined, that
the young gentleman almost rose to return the
salutation: but, in time, he caught sight of the violin
curves…. Pooh, it was the fiddling vagabond!
Ashamed of his impulse, he drew forth a florin and
flung it.

The musician skipped nimbly on one side; the
coin fell, flashing in the red sun-shafts. He looked
from it to the imperious donor, whose face he
scanned keenly for a moment, then smiled; and his
teeth shone as white as a wolf’s in the deep tan of his
face. Then off went his battered hat again and out
was stretched a sinewy leg in dusty blue stocking,
to accompany a bow such as twenty years ago
might have roused the envy of your finest Versailles
marquis.

“I greet you! I salute you, my young lord!” The
fiddler rose from his inclination and burst out
laughing. “Oh, cease fondling those pistols in your
pocket, worthy sir,” cried he, “for by Calliope,
daughter of Jove and Mnemosyne, ’tis not your
money-bags I covet just now, but, oh! your golden youth!”

“The fellow has a wild eye,” thought the gentleman.
Now, it is a question whether even a highway
robber were not more agreeable to encounter on a
lonely road than a madman.

“If it be madness to honour in you such a gift of
the gods,” said the singular vagrant, reading the
thought, “why then, yes, I am mad, sir—stark,
staring.”

He fell back on one foot and bent the advanced
knee, tucked his instrument under his chin, where
it settled like a bird to its nest, and drew his bow
across the strings with a long plaint.

“O youth!” he intoned between two sighs of the
catgut. “O spring! O wings of the soul! O
virginity of the heart, expectation, unknown mysteries
of life! O wealth of strength and yearning!—See,
now, how you sit,” he cried, dropping into speech
again, “on the fringe of the forest, in a strange land,
with the sunset valley at your feet, and the stream
running you know not where beside you, and the
bird over your head singing the desires of your soul.
Why, by Apollo, young man, here are you in your
youth, in the spring of your world, in the very middle
of an adventure, and——”

Again limber fingers moved along the strings;
and, with a sense of wonder, the traveller felt within
his being some answering outcry. But he stiffened
himself against it.

“Harkee, my man,” said he, trying to frown,
“I am in no mood for fooling. Take up your florin,
and begone.—Or, stay, earn another by telling me,
if you can, where I am, and how far lies the nearest
village?”

“Sir,”

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