E. (Eugenie) Marlitt.

In the counselor's house online

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HER FEET. Page 130. In the Counselor's House.

IN THE ** ** ** ** ** ** <*









THE slanting rays of the December sun played dimly across
a large bedroom in the Mill-house, glittered for a moment with
dazzling brightness on a case of surgical instruments which lay
exposed to view in the embrasure of the deep stone window-
sill, and then vanished through the thick, overhanging snow-
clouds in the sky.

In a corner of the room, away from the glare of the light,
stood a massive wooden bedstead, ornamented at the head and
foot with paintings of common yellow roses and bright pinks,
with a large feather-bed heaped high upon it, on which lay the
master of the house, the miller. He had just gone through an
operation for a tumor in the throat, which had many times
threatened to suffocate him; it had been a difficult and very
dangerous proceeding, but the clever young man who had just
lowered the blinds, and was arranging his instruments in their
case at the window-sill, had a satisfied expression on his face,
for the operation had been successful.

While under the influence of chloroform, the patient had
raved and tried to resist the hand of the doctor, at. if he were
fully conscious of the pain inflicted upon him; but now he lay
pale and exhausted upon the pillows, and very still. To speak
he was forbidden; yet a glance at the laconic, silent-looking
face, whose only beauty was the soft shining silver hair which
hung about it, would have convinced a looker-on that the doc-
tor's command was very unnecessary.

"Are you hopeful, Bruck?" asked a gentleman, in alow
tone, as he drew near the young doctor. Up to this moment
he had been standing at the foot of the bed, and his handsome
face still bore marks of the emotion the sight of the operation
had produced on one unaccustomed to such scenes.

The young doctor nodded.

" Everything is well as yet, and my patient's strong consti-
tution will aid and complete my work, I am convinced of
that/' he answered, calmly, as he turned his eyes with a satis*



fied air toward the bed in the corner; " and now I must leave
off watching here; I am obliged to go. My patient must on
no account move, he must be kept very quiet everything de-
pends on his being still, for fear of bleeding, and

" You may depend upon me," interrupted the other, quick-
ly; "I shall remain here as long as the old man is in danger,
or it is necessary for him to be watched;" adding, " Will you
tell them in the villa that I shall not return to tea?"

The color deepened on the young doctor 's cheeks, and his
tone had a somewhat sad ring in it, as he replied:

" I can't go that roundabout way through the park, for I
must reach town as soon as possible. "

" But you have not seen Flora to-day, and "

" Don't you think I know that? or that it costs me nothing
to give her up?" and he drew his lips together, and hesitated,
as he put his case of instruments in his pocket. " I have
many sick patients to attend to to-day," he added, after a mo-
ment, more quietly; " Lenery's little girl is dying will die in
all probability to-night; I can't do anything for the child, but
the parents, who are worn out with nursing and anxiety, count
the moments until my visit, I know; the poor mother won't
even eat unless I make her. "

He moved to the side of the bed, the invalid raised the lids
of his eyes, and looked at the doctor for a moment with an
expression of warm gratitude shining over his sunken features
for the unspeakable relief the absence of the tumor gave him,
and feebly tried to stretch out his hand; but the doctor held it
quiet on the coverlid, as he repeated his injunctions that he
must lie completely still, and try and not move at all, adding:

" The counselor intends staying with you, Herr Sommer,
and will see that my orders are faithfully carried out."

The old man seemed content, turned his eyes languidly to-
ward the counselor, as if seeking in his face for a confirmation
of the doctor's words, and receiving a friendly assuring nod in
return, closed his eyes, as if he wished to sleep.

The doctor turned away from the bed, took up his hat,
shook hands with the counselor, and left the chamber.

Had an anxious loving wife been sitting by that bedside, she
must have felt, as the door closed behind the young man, a
feeling of loneliness and desolation creep over her, contrasting
strongly with the hope and confidence which imbued the poor
woman in the town whose child was dying, when an hour later
the doctor entered her room and persuaded her to eat the meal
the suffering of her little one had caused her to forget.

But by the miller's bedside no loving hand or tender worn-


an's anxiety had a place. The old housekeeper came in
quietly enough after the operation was over, arid noiselessly
began clearing away the disorder consequent upon the doctor's
visit; but she seemed more distressed at the sight of a few
drops of water spilled on the table-cloth than by the danger
and suffering of her old master.

" Do let all that alone now, missus," said the counselor, ill
a low but very polite tone. " The movement of those things
will disturb father, and the doctor ordered, before all things,
the most perfect quiet."

The woman did as she was bid at once, taking with her the
basin and towels and the unfortunate wet table-cloth to be
dried in the kitchen.

Now all was as silent and noiseless as it is possible for a
mill-house to be. From under the floor came the faint con-
stant recurring burr and trembling of the mills, the very
monotony of which was almost soothing in its effect outside,
the continual flapping of the water against the mill-wheel, the
cooing of the doves, and the rustling of the twigs as the huge
branches of the chestnut-trees swayed to and fro in the evening
breeze, could not and did not disturb the invalid on the bed,
for to him they were as natural as the air he breathed, or the
regular beatings of his own heart.

What a hard unloving face it was on which that elegant man
standing by the bedside was now gazing. Perhaps never be-
fore in the whole course of his life had the excessive plainness
of his face, the hard, coarse features, the thick under lip,
looked so distinctly repulsive as just now when the sleep of ex-
haustion from physical and mental suffering deepened the fur-
rows in the miller's countenance, and sharpened the stamp of
his character more clearly about the mouth. Well, the old
man's life had been a rough one, at all events for a great many
years. He had started on his career as a sort of miller's
errand-boy, but now he was a man who had made his way in
the world, and been able to coin for himself gold and position,
which perhaps accounted for the counselor's respectful mode
of speaking and calling him " father/' for there was certainly
no tie of relationship between them. The late banker Man-
gold, whose eldest daughter had married the counselor, had
taken for a second wife the miller's only child; and this link
of marriage was the only connection between the suffering old
man lying on the huge painted bedstead and his faithful

The counselor moved away from the bedside and went over
to one of the windows. He was a young, energetic-looking


man, but the silence and anxious watching in the sick-room
made him feel nervous it seemed to pain him to look at noth-
ing but that hard, un sympathizing countenance on the pillows,
and the knotted, clinched hand lying nerveless on the bed-
clothes, which had formerly cracked the whip over the heads of
the mill horses with so much force and will. He gazed out of
window and for a few moments idly watched the landscape
stretched before him. The December sun had withdrawn its
feeble rays, and a gray, soft light, fast fading into the dark-
ness of the coming night, seemed to cover the whole earth.

Just beyond the spot where it turned the mill-wheel, the
river made a sudden bend, and here, half hidden from view by
the branches of the trees, stood a square building, ugly in form
and appearance, the hard outlines of which gloomed strangely
in contrast to the graceful curves of the swaying trees in the
fast-approaching darkness.

It was the spinning-mill belonging to the young man stand-
ing by the window. He, too, was rich, employing several hun-
dred workmen in his manufactory, and it was this property of
his which had brought him into close business relations with
the miller. The mill itself had been built about a hundred
years before, and had certain privileges attached to it which
were in force at the present day, besides controlling so much
of the river that those who lived in the neighborhood were in-
clined to grumble at its excess on this point; and not one of
these rights would the miller cede so much as by one inch. At
first only a tenant, he had, bit by bit, as his riches increased,
succeeded in becoming not only owner of the mill and its water-
rights, but of the whole surrounding land to which it belonged.
He had bought the last few acres shortly before the marriage of
his only child to Herr Mangold the banker. The miller re-
garded the possession of all this property from a purely mone-
tary point of view; for himself he did not care to own the land,
and thereby increase his importance in the social scale, but
that his daughter might reign over it as mistress he did care,
and for this reason he had refused to sell the handsome villa
inclosed in a noble park, which formed one portion of it.

Lately the merchant had become his tenant, and, at the
time our story begins, occupied the villa with his family, and
by yielding at first to the old man's weakness about the disput-
ed water-rights, he had gradually fallen into the position of an
obedient son to his somewhat surly and ill-tempered landlord.

The factory clock had just struck four, and the gas was
already lighted in the offices. The air was damp and heavy,
s often happens before a coming fall of snow, and the gather-


ing darkness intensified the brightness of the light shining
from the windows of the far-distant spinning-mill, as well as
those which were nearer at hand. The pigeons, after huddling
close together for awhile under the shelter of the tall trees,
suddenly flew away from off the branches, and hurried to roost
in the warm dry cover of the dove-cote. The merchant felt
chilly standing at the window, and turned toward the interior
of the room. As his eyes glanced over the apartment it struck
him what a very pleasant, homely looking place it was with its
well-worn carpet, discolored prints on the walls, and wide, old-
fashioned sofa inviting one to lounge in comfortable ease on its
soft pillows. The old servant brought in some, fresh logs of
wood, and replenished the dying fire in the open stove, just as
the last glimmer of daylight was fading through the shining
glass of the communicating door of the adjoining small room.
Behind this door stood the iron safe in which, the miller kept
his money and papers of value.

About an hour before the operation was to be performed the
sick man had made his will; and as the young doctor and the
merchant entered the house, they had met the lawyers and
witnesses to the signature on the door-step about to depart.
However cool and collected the outer mien of the miller had
been, he must inwardly have felt strangely nervous and upset,
for in putting away the documents he had just signed, his hand
shook visibly, and one of the papers remained behind on the
table. He did not notice this unwonted proof of oversight on
his own part till after the doctor and his friend had entered
the room, and then, as he saw it lying on the table, he begged
the merchant to lock it up in the safe in the adjoining cabinet.
On the other side of this small room there was an outer door
which led into the large entrance-hall, where numbers of the
people belonging to the mill hung about on business.

The merchant stood warming his half-frozen fingers by the
stove, when his eye wandered carelessly toward the inner little
room. He started, and for a moment wondered if he were
dreaming, for he saw that the door of the iron safe stood open.
Ah! if the miller had noticed it, what a state of anxiety he
would be in about his beloved gold! " K"o one can have en-
tered the room, " the merchant said to himself as he walked
into the little sanctum, " for I should have heard the slightest
footfall; besides, the opening of the outer door could not have
passed unnoticed by me," and added, as a kind of comfort to
his own anxiety; " however, I must see if everything is all

So saying, he drew back the safe-door as gently as possible.


and passed in. It appeared all right, the heavy money-bags
of the formerly poor errand-boy stood by the side of the piles
of paper arranged in order, and many shining gold pieces were
there also. The merchant's dazzled gaze wandered in search
of the paper he had hastily pushed into one of the pigeon-holes
at the miller's request; it was a valuable document, being the
inventory of the whole property. He was laying it carefully
on the top of a packet of similar documents, when he accident-
ally knocked over one of the small piles of gold pieces, which
rolled down on to the uncarpeted floor with a clanging, clank-
ing sound that made him shudder. He had unwittingly
touched gold belonging to another, and the blood flew into his
face with an undefined sense of shame and vexation at his awk-
wardness as he stooped to pick up the scattered pieces. He
had barely reached one, when a large, heavy body fell on him
from behind, and strong bony fingers grasped his throat.

" Damn you, I am not dead yet!" hissed the miller in his
ear, in a strangely choked voice, as he tried to drag him out of
the cabinet

A tussle ensued, in which the young man had to call up all
his strength and elasticity of movement to shake himself free
from the murderous clutch of the old man on his throat. To
seize the miller with both hands and violently wrench his
fingers from their hold on his neck was the work of a moment;
but it required one or two more before he could recover breath
enough to gasp:

" Are you mad, Pater? How could you insult me with "
but he broke off as the sick man tottered against the wall, and
the white bands round his throat and chin became suddenly
scarlet in hue, and red drops of blood trickled fast down the
front of his night-shirt.

The merchant shuddered, and his face paled to an ashen-
gray as he saw this dangerous sign. This, then, was the bleed-
ing that the doctor had said must by all means be avoided.
" Am I in fault?" he asked himself rapidly; " am I to blame?"

"No, no," he cried aloud in answer to this unexpressed
thought as he sprung forward, and gently putting his arms
round the miller's form, would have carried him back to his
bed; but the obstinate old man repulsed him, and pointing
silently to the fallen Louis d'or, intimated his intention of re-
maining where he was till they were all safe in their place.
To the danger he ran of losing his life by this proceeding he
either paid no heed or forgot it in his anxiety over his money;
and it was not till the merchant had picked up each piece, laid
it on the shelf, and, locking the safe, placed the key in his


hand, that the miller with feeble, tottering steps, allowed him-
self to be led back to his room, and sunk exhausted and faint
on his bed. The moment the merchant had placed the in-
valid's head on the pillows, he called as loud as he could for
the old housekeeper and the servants. When they came in,
the miller's eyes were fixed in a glassy, frightened ga^e on the
broad purple mark the flowing blood had already made on the
linen sheets and pillow-case.

A messenger was dispatched with all haste to the town to
fetch back Dr. Bruck, while the housekeeper brought water
and fresh linen to try and stop the bleeding. It was all in
vain. The merchant pressed towel after towel on tho wound-
ed place, but the blood could not be suppressed. There was
no doubt about it, one of the arteries must have given way.
And how did that happen? Had the half -delirious old man
done it himself, or and the merchants heart gave a great
start had he done it when he was endeavoring to free himself
from the grasp of his angry assailant? " How was it possible
for me to tell in such a moment of agony, when he was hold-
ing my throat in a vise, whether I seized his shoulder, or neck,
or arm, to shake off his hold on me?" he thought, as he
watched the extreme pallor of the dying man's face. " Per-
haps* the sudden spring out of bed did it Bruck told him
everything depended on his lying still and not moving. No,
no, my conscience is clear on this point; it was not my fault,
and I can not, need not, blame myself. It is his own doing
entirely. I went to the safe merely to see if all was right; how
could he dare mistrust me, and suspect me of any such base
design as he seems to have harbored concerning me?" And
the feelings of anxiety and fright about the invalid in which
the merchant had hitherto indulged, now changed to one of
anger at the insult he had received. This was all he had got
in return for his kindness a kindness he would have offered
to any one who was weak and helpless, it is true, for his nature
was such that he could never refuse to forget himself for an-
other's good and well-being. But if he had returned home,
enjoyed the game of whist in his elegant drawing-room which
he had looked forward to all day, this unfortunate circum-
stance would not have happened. Instead of being here now
trying to stanch the fast-flowing life-blood, he might have
been taking a comfortable smoke ! It must have been his evil
genius which prompted him to take up this position of watcher
by the old man's bedside; and this was the awkward predica-
ment in which it had placed him; and as these thoughts occupied
his head, his hands grefr more and more wet with the stream


that still continued to ooze from the lately operated-on throat.
How slowly the moments went by! The invalid seemed fully
aware of his danger, and although he could not speak, his eyes
wandered anxiously toward the door each time a footfall was
heard outside, as if he hoped for a reprieve from approaching
death by the appearance of the doctor, while the merchant
watched with painful anxiety the changes in the sick man's
face, which betokened, even to an inexperienced eye, that hir
last hour was at hand.

The housekeeper brought in the lamp, then hastened out of
the room again to listen for the doctor's voice; but she heard
nothing, and returning to the bedside she too stood watching
in silence the pale, exhausted face, rendered almost ghastly by
the flickering light of the lamp. A few minutes later the
miller's eyes closed, and the key he had held firmly in his hand
slipped from his grasp and fell on the sheet, for he had faint-
ed from loss of blood. Unconsciously the merchant stretched
out his fingers to move the key away, but the moment he
touched the cold steel, a shudder ran through his whole frame
as the thought struck him, how would the world regard the
late unfortunate encounter in the inner cabinet? He knew
that it would be whispered all over town the next morning that
the operation had been successful, but that the shock of seeing
the merchant at his strong chest had brought on the bleeding,
from which the miller did not recover; and that in itself would
be a slur on his honor, for how was he to defend himself and
prove the innocence of an action that would look so black in'
the eyes of others? the very thought that even only one slan-
derous tongue might remark: "Why should Herr Homer go
to the strong safe of the miller at all?" made his blood boil.
He had enemies he knew who would be very glad to believe
him capable of such a mean act. He smiled bitterly to him-
self as he remembered that bis hitherto unblemished character
and high repute for unswerving honor would not be sufficient to
exonerate him from the foul suspicion which would follow the
knowledge of his presence in the private sanctum at that crit-
ical time. The perspiration rolled from his forehead with the
intensity of his anguish as he stooped over the dying man, and
looked earnestly at him. If the miller did not recover strength
enough to relate the affair before his death, then the event
would be buried with him. " For/' thought the merchant to
himself, with a changed expression as he pressed his lips to-
gether, " I will never mention it to a human being."

Presently the watch-dog barked suddenly, and hasty steps
traversed the yard and mounted the staircase. For a moment


Dr. Bruck stood motionless on the threshold of the door, as if
turned into stone, then silently laying his hat on the table, he
advanced to the bedside of the dying man. What a painful
silence reigned in the room in spite of this fresh arrival !

" He will come to again, won't he, Herr Doctor?" asked
the housekeeper, in an awed whisper.

" Hardly/' replied the doctor, looking up from a grave ex-
amination of the waxen face on the pillows, his own cheeks
white as the linen on the bed. " Control yourself," he added,
sternly, as Susanne seemed inclined to break into a flood of
weeping, " and tell me why my patient left his bed?" he add-
ed, as he pointed to the drops of blood on the floor.

" That must come from these soaked towels," the merchant
explained in a quiet, firm voice, though his face was pale to
the lips.

" \Vhy, of course he has not stirred from his bed, doctor;
how could he, poor man? and you told him yourself not to
move," replied Susanne.

Dr. Bruck shook his head.

" The bleeding must have been caused by some movement
he must have made some violent effort to "

" Not that I am aware of, I assure you," replied the mer-
chant, meeting the inquiring, earnest look of the doctor's eyes
with a tolerably steady gaze. "Besides, what do you mean
by staring at me like that? Do you think I would conceal it
from you if your patient had sprung out of bed in some de-
lirious fancy?"

He was determined to hold fast to the vow he had just made
of keeping his own counsel respecting the episode in the inner
room. To guard his own honor he would tell the boldest false-
hood, though his throat felt as if grasped in a vise as he uttered
the last words.

The young doctor turned silently away. Once for a mo-
ment the dying miller raised his eyelids and gazed vacantly be-
fore him, and made a slight effort to speak, but the sound from
his lips was only a faint murmur that had no meaning.

A few hours later, Herr Homer the merchant left the Mill-
house, for all was over the miller was dead. Broad strips of
paper were stretched over the bedroom and adjoining cabinet;
for as soon as the miller had breathed his last, the merchant
had taken care to have everything sealed up in safety before
his eyes.



SLOWLY he walked through the park toward home. The
gleam of the lights from the Mill-house windows vanished be-
hind him as he went forth into the darkness, alone with his
thoughts. The wind swept around him sharp and piercing,

Online LibraryE. (Eugenie) MarlittIn the counselor's house → online text (page 1 of 30)