The musicians seized their instruments, and silence fell on the whole community.
From far away in the windings of the forest gorge, the ring of horses' bells came
faintly clear through the evening stillness. Which carriage was approaching--the
private carriage with Mr. Armadale, or the public carriage with Mr. Neal?
"Play, my friends!" cried the mayor to the musicians. "Public or private, here are
the first sick people of the season. Let them find us cheerful."
The band played a lively dance tune, and the children in the square footed it
merrily to the music. At the same moment, their elders near the inn door drew
aside, and disclosed the first shadow of gloom that fell over the gayety and beauty
of the scene. Through the opening made on either hand, a little procession of stout
country girls advanced, each drawing after her an empty chair on wheels; each in
waiting (and knitting while she waited) for the paralyzed wretches who came
helpless by hundreds then--who come helpless by thousands now--to the waters of
Wildbad for relief.
While the band played, while the children danced, while the buzz of many talkers
deepened, while the strong young nurses of the coming cripples knitted
impenetrably, a woman's insatiable curiosity about other women asserted itself in
the mayor's wife. She drew the landlady aside, and whispered a question to her on
"A word more, ma'am," said the mayor's wife, "about the two strangers from
England. Are their letters explicit? Have they got any ladies with them?"
"The one by the diligence--no," replied the landlady. "But the one by the private
carriage--yes. He comes with a child; he comes with a nurse; and," concluded the
landlady, skillfully keeping the main point of interest till the last, "he comes with
The mayoress brightened; the doctoress (assisting at the conference) brightened;
the landlady nodded significantly. In the minds of all three the same thought
started into life at the same moment--"We shall see the Fashions! "
In a minute more, there was a sudden movement in the crowd; and a chorus of
voices proclaimed that the travelers were at hand.
By this time the coming vehicle was in sight, and all further doubt was at an end.
It was the diligence that now approached by the long street leading into the
square--the diligence (in a dazzling new coat of yellow paint) that delivered the
first visitors of the season at the inn door. Of the ten travelers released from the
middle compartment and the back compartment of the carriage--all from various
parts of Germany--three were lifted out helpless, and were placed in the chairs on
wheels to be drawn to their lodgings in the town. The front compartment
contained two passengers only--Mr. Neal and his traveling servant. With an arm
on either side to assist him, the stranger (whose malady appeared to be locally
confined to a lameness in one of his feet) succeeded in descending the steps of the
carriage easily enough. While he steadied himself on the pavement by the help of
his stick--looking not over-patiently toward the musicians who were serenading
him with the waltz in "Der Freischutz"--his personal appearance rather damped
the enthusiasm of the friendly little circle assembled to welcome him. He was a
lean, tall, serious, middle-aged man, with a cold gray eye and a long upper lip,