UGUST IN AN instinct of homage cast his great battered black hat with the tarnished gold tassels down on the floor of the room, and folded his little brown hands in supplication. He was too intensely in earnest to be in any way abashed; he was too lifted out of himself by his love for Hirschvogel to be conscious of any awe before any earthly majesty. He was only so glad-so glad it was the king. Kings were always kind; so the Tyrolese think, who love their lords.
"Oh, dear king!" he said, with trembling entreaty in his faint little voice, "Hirschvogel was ours, and we have loved it all our lives; and father sold it. And when I saw that it did really go from us, then I said to myself I would go with it; and I have come all the way inside it. And last night it spoke and said beautiful things. And I do pray you to let me live with it, and I will go out every morning and cut wood for it and you, if only you will let me stay beside it. No one ever has fed it with fuel but me since I grew big enough, and it loves me; it does indeed; it said so last night; and it said that it had been happier with us than if it were in any palace-"
And then his breath failed him, and, as he lifted his little eager, pale face to the young king's, great tears were falling down his cheeks.
Now, the king liked all poetic and uncommon things, and there was that in the child's face which pleased and touched him. He motioned to his gentlemen to leave the little boy alone.
"What is your name?" he asked him.
"I am August Strehla. My father is Hans Strehla. We live in Hall, in the Innthal; and Hirschvogel has been ours so long-so long!"
His lips quivered with a broken sob.
"And have you truly travelled inside this stove all the way from Tyrol?"
"Yes," said August; "no one thought to look inside till you did."
The king laughed; then another view of the matter occurred to him.
"Who bought the stove of your father?" he inquired.
"Traders of Munich," said August, who did not know that he ought not to have spoken to the king as to a simple citizen, and whose little brain was whirling and spinning dizzily round its one central idea.
"What sum did they pay your father, do you know?" asked the sovereign.
"Two hundred florins," said August, with a great sigh of shame. "It was so much money, and he is so poor, and there are so many of us."
The king turned to his gentlemen-in-waiting. "Did these dealers of Munich come with the stove?"
He was answered in the affirmative. He desired them to be sought for and brought before him. As one of his chamberlains hastened on the errand, the monarch looked at August with compassion.
"You are very pale, little fellow: when did you eat last?"
"I had some bread and sausage with me; yesterday afternoon I finished it."
"You would like to eat now?"
"If I might have a little water I would be glad; my throat is very dry."
The king had water and wine brought for him, and cake also; but August, though he drank eagerly, could not swallow anything. His mind was in too great a tumult.
"May I stay with Hirschvogel?-may I stay?" he said with feverish agitation.
"Wait a little," said the king, and asked, abruptly, "What do you wish to be when you are a man?"
"A painter. I wish to be what Hirschvogel was-I mean the master that made my Hirschvogel."
"I understand," said the king.
Then the two dealers were brought into their sovereign's presence. They were so terribly alarmed, not being either so innocent or so ignorant as August was that they were trembling as though they were being led to the slaughter, and they were so utterly astonished too at a child having come all the way from Tyrol in the stove, as a gentleman of the court had just told them this child had done, that they could not tell what to say or where to look, and presented a very foolish aspect indeed.
"Did you buy this Nurnberg stove of this little boy's father for two hundred florins?" the king asked them; and his voice was no longer soft and kind as it had been when addressing the child, but very stern.
"Yes, your majesty," murmured the trembling traders.
"And how much did the gentleman who purchased it for me give to you?"
"Two thousand ducats, your majesty," muttered the dealers, frightened out of their wits, and telling the truth in their fright.
The gentleman was not present: he was a trusted counselor in art matters of the king's, and often made purchases for him.
The king smiled a little, and said nothing. The gentleman had made out the price to him as eleven thousand ducats.
"You will give at once to this boy's father the two thousand gold ducats that you received, less the two hundred Austrian florins that you paid him," said the king to his humiliated and abject subjects. "You are great rogues. Be thankful you are not more greatly punished."
He dismissed them by a sign to his courtiers, and to one of these gave the mission of making the dealers of the Marienplatz disgorge their ill-gotten gains.
August heard, and felt dazzled yet miserable. Two thousand gold Bavarian ducats for his father! Why, his father would never need to go any more to the salt-baking! And yet, whether for ducats or for florins, Hirschvogel was sold just the same, and would the king let him stay with it?-would he?
"Oh, do! oh, please do!" he murmured, joining his little brown weather-stained hands, and kneeling down before the young monarch, who himself stood absorbed in painful thought, for the deception so basely practised for the greedy sake of gain on him by a trusted counsellor was bitter to him.
He looked down on the child, and as he did so smiled once more.
"Rise up, my little man," he said, in a kind voice; "kneel only to your God. Will I let you stay with your Hirschvogel? Yes, I will, you shall stay at my court, and you shall be taught to be a painter-in oils or on porcelain as you will-and you must grow up worthily, and win all the laurels at our Schools of Art, and if when you are twenty-one years old you have done well and bravely, then I will give you your Nurnberg stove, or, if I am no more living, then those who reign after me shall do so. And now go away with this gentleman, and be not afraid, and you shall light a fire every morning in Hirschvogel, but you will not need to go out and cut the wood."
Then he smiled and stretched out his hand; the courtiers tried to make August understand that he ought to bow and touch it with his lips, but August could not understand that anyhow; he was too happy. He threw his two arms about the king's knees, and kissed his feet passionately; then he lost all sense of where he was, and fainted away from hunger, and tire, and emotion, and wondrous joy.
As the darkness of his swoon closed in on him, he heard in his fancy the voice from Hirschvogel saying:
"Let us be worthy our maker!"
He is only a scholar yet, but he is a happy scholar, and promises to be a great man. Sometimes he goes back for a few days to Hall, where the gold ducats have made his father prosperous. In the old house-room there is a large white porcelain stove of Munich, the king's gift to Dorothea and 'Gilda.
And August never goes home without going into the great church and saying his thanks to God, who blessed his strange winter's journey in the Nurnberg stove. As for his dream in the dealers' room that night, he will never admit that he did dream it; he still declares that he saw it all and heard the voice of Hirschvogel. And who shall say that he did not? for what is the gift of the poet and the artist except to see the sights which others cannot see and to hear the sounds that others cannot hear?
By LOUISE DE LA RAMÉE