EARLY on the next morning Paul was on his way to Munich, Vienna, and the East again, and on the afternoon of the same day Professor Cutter and Madame Patoff, with two servants, got into a spacious carriage, in which they had determined to drive as far as Weissenstein, the last village of the Black Forest before reaching Pforzheim. Pursuing his plan of traveling by unfrequented routes, the professor had proposed to spend the night in the beautiful old place which he had formerly visited, intending to proceed the next day by rail to Carlsruhe, and thence down the Rhine.
He had not seen Madame Patoff in the evening after her interview with Paul, and when he met her in the morning it struck him that her manner was greatly changed. She was very silent, and when she spoke at all talked of indifferent subjects. She never referred in any way to the meeting with her son, and the professor observed that for the first time she allowed the day to pass without once mentioning the disappearance of Alexander. He attributed this silence to the deep emotion she had felt on seeing Paul, and to her natural desire to avoid any reference to the pain she had suffered. As usual she allowed him to make all the necessary arrangements for the journey, and she even spoke with some pleasure of the long drive through the forest. She was evidently fatigued and nervous, and her face was much paler than usual, but she was quiet and did not seem ill. All through the long afternoon they drove over the beautiful winding road, enjoying the views, discussing the scenery, and breathing in the healthy odor of the pines. The professor was an agreeable companion, for he had traveled much in Southern Germany, and amused Madame Patoff with all manner of curious information concerning the people, the legends connected with the different parts of the Black Forest, the fairy tales of the Rhine, and the history of the barons before Rudolf of Hapsburg destroyed them in his raid upon the freebooters. This he sprinkled with anecdotes, small talk about books, and comments on European society; speaking with ease and remarkable knowledge of his subjects, and so pleasantly that Madame Patoff never perceived that he wished to amuse her, and was trying to distract her thoughts from the one subject which too easily beset them. Indeed, the professor in the society of a woman of the world was a very different man from the earnest, plain-speaking person who had dined with Paul on the previous night. Even his gold-rimmed spectacles were worn with a less professional air. His well-cut traveling costume of plain tweed did not suggest the traditional scientist, and his bronzed and manly face was that of a sportsman or an Alpine Club man rather than of a student. Madame Patoff leaned back in the carriage, and fairly enjoyed the hours ; saying to herself that Cutter had never been so agreeable before, and that indeed in her long life she had met few men who possessed so much charm in conversation. She was an old lady, and could judge of men, for she had spent nearly forty years in the midst of the most brilliant society in Europe, and was not to be deceived by the ring of false metal.
At last they reached the place in the road where they had to descend from the carriage and mount the ascent to Weissenstein. Madame Patoff was well pleased with the place, and said so as she slowly climbed the narrow path, leaning on the professor’s arm. The inn — the old Gasthaus zum Goldenen Anker — stands upon the very edge of the precipice above the tumbling Nagold, and is indeed partly built down the face of the cliff. Rooms have been hollowed, so that their windows look down on the river from a sheer height of two hundred feet, the surface of the natural wall, broken only here and there by a projecting ledge, or by the crooked stem of a strong wild cherry tree which somehow finds enough soil and moisture there to support its hardy growth. The inn is very primitive, but comfortable in its simple way, and the scenery is surpassingly beautiful. Far below, on the other side of the torrent, the small village nestles among the dark pines, the single spire of the diminutive church standing high above the surrounding cottages. Above, the hill is crowned by the ruins of the ancient castle of Weissenstein, — the castle of Bellrem, the crusader, who fell from the lofty ramparts on a moonlight night in the twelfth century, terrified by the ghost of a woman he had loved and wronged. At least, the legend says so, and as the ruined ramparts are still there it is probably all quite true. On the back of the hill, where the narrow path descends from the inn to the road, the still, deep waters of the great mill pool lie stagnant in the hot air, and the long-legged water spiders shoot over the surface, inviting the old carp to snap at them, well knowing that they will not, but skimming away like mad when a mountain trout, who has strayed in from the river through the sluices, comes suddenly to the surface with a short, sharp splash. But there are flies for the trout, and he prefers them, so that the water spiders lead, on the whole, a quiet and unmolested life.
The travelers entered the inn, and were soon established for the night. Madame Patoff was still enchanted with the view, and insisted on sitting out upon the low balcony until late at night, though the air was very cool and the dampness rose from the river. There was something in the wild place which soothed her. She almost wished she could stay there forever, and hide her sorrow from the world in such a nest as this, overhanging the wild water, perched high in air, and surrounded on all sides by the soft black forest. For the Black Forest is indeed black, as only such impenetrable masses of evergreen can be.
In the early morning the tall old lady in black was again at her place on the balcony when Professor Cutter appeared. She sat by the low parapet, and gazed down as in a trance at the tumbling water, and at the solitary fisherman who stood bare-legged on a jutting rock, casting his rough tackle on the eddying stream. She was calmer than she had seemed for a long time, and the professor began seriously to doubt the wisdom of taking her to England, although he had already written to her brother-inlaw, naming the date when they expected to arrive.
“ Shall we go on this morning ? ” he asked, in a tone which left the answer wholly at Madame Patoff’s decision.
“ Where ? ” she asked, dreamily.
“ Another stage on our way home,” answered the professor.
“ Yes,” she said, with sudden determination. “ If we stay here any longer, I shall be so much in love with the place that I shall never be able to leave it. Let us go at once. I feel as though something might happen to prevent us.”
“ Very well. I will make all the arrangements.” Professor Cutter forthwith went to consult the landlord, leaving Madame Patoff upon the balcony. She sat there without moving, absorbed in the beauty of the scene, and happy to forget her troubles even for a moment in the sight of something altogether new. Her thoughts were indeed confused. It was but the day before yesterday that she had seen her son Paul after years of separation, and that alone was sufficient to disturb her. She had never liked him, — she could not tell why, except it were because she loved Alexander better, — and she could not help looking on Paul as on the man who had robbed her of what she loved best in the world. But the recollection of the interview was cloudy and uncertain. She had given way to a violent burst of anger, and was not quite sure of what had happened. She tried to thrust it all away from her weary brain, and she looked down again at the fisherman, far below. He had moved a little, and just then she could see him only through the branches of a projecting cherry-tree. He seemed to be baiting his hook for another cast in the river.
“ Madame Patoff, are you quite ready ? ” asked the professor’s voice from the window.
“ Yes,” she said, rising to her feet. “ I am coming.”
“ One moment, — I am just paying the bill,” answered Cutter from within ; and Madame Patoff could hear the landlord counting out the small change upon a plate, the ringing silver marks and the dull little clatter of the nickel ten-pfennig pieces.
She was standing now, and she looked over the torrent at the dark forest beyond, endeavoring to fix the beautiful scene in her mind, and trying to forget her trouble. But it would not be forgotten, and as she stood up the whole scene with Paul came vividly to her mind. She remembered all her loathing for him, all the horror and all the furious anger she had felt at the sight of him. In the keen memory of that bitter meeting, rendered tenfold more vivid by the overwrought state of her brain, the blood rushed violently to her face, her head swam, and she put out her hand to steady herself, thinking there was a railing before her. But the parapet was low, scarcely reaching to her knees. She tottered, lost her balance, and with a wild shriek fell headlong into the abyss.
Cutter dropped his change and rushed frantically to the window, well-nigh falling over the low parapet himself. His face was ghastly, as he leaned far forward and looked down. Then he uttered an exclamation of terror, and seemed about to attempt to climb over the balcony. Not ten feet below him the wretched woman hung suspended in the thick branches of the wild cherry tree, caught by her clothes. Cutter breathed hard, for he had never seen so horrible a sight. At any moment the material of her dress might give way, the branches might break under the heavy strain. He looked wildly round for help. Between the balcony and the trees there were ten feet of smooth rock, which would not have given a foothold to a lizard.
“ Catch hold, there! ” cried a loud voice from above, and Cutter saw a new rope dangling before him into the abyss. He looked up as he seized the means of help, and saw at the upper window the square dark face of a strong man, who was clad in a flannel shirt and had a silver-mounted pipe in his mouth.
“ Go ahead, — it’s fast,” said the man, letting out more rope. “ Or if you ’re afraid, I ’ll come down the rope myself.”
But Cutter was not afraid. It was the work of a moment to make a wide bowline knot in the pliant Manilla cord. With an agility which in so heavily built a frame surprised the dark man above, the doctor let himself down as far as the tree ; then seizing the insensible lady firmly by the arm, and bracing himself on the roots of the cherry close to the rock, so that he could stand for a moment without support from above, he deftly slipped the rope twice round her waist with what are called technically two half hitches, close to his own loop, in which he intended to sit, clasping her body with his arms.
“ Can you haul us up ? ” he shouted.
Slowly the rope was raised, with its heavy burden. The strong tourist had got help from the terrified landlord, who had followed Cutter to the balcony, but who was a stalwart Swabian, and not easily disconcerted. He had rushed upstairs, and was hauling away with all his might. In less than a minute and a half Cutter was on a level with the balcony, and in a few seconds more he had disengaged himself and the rescued lady from the coils of the rope. It is not surprising that his first thought should have been for her, and not for the quiet man with the pipe, who had been the means of her escape. He bore Madame Patoff to her room, and with the assistance of her maid set about reviving her as fast as possible, though the perspiration streamed from his forehead, and he was trembling with fright in every limb and joint.
The tourist wound up his rope, and took his pipe from his mouth, which he had forgotten to do in the hurry of the moment. Then he slipped on an old jacket, and descended the stairs, to inquire whether he could be of any use, and whether the lady were alive or dead. He was a strongly built man, with an ugly but not unkindly face, small gray eyes, and black hair just beginning to grizzle at the temples. He was an extremely quiet fellow, and the people of the inn remarked that he gave very little trouble, though he had been at Weissenstein nearly a week. He had told the landlord that he was going to Switzerland, but that he liked roundabout ways, and was loitering along the road, as the season was not yet far enough advanced for a certain ascent which he meditated. He had nothing with him but a knapsack, a coil of rope, and a weather-beaten ice-axe, besides one small book, which he read whenever he read at all. He spoke German fluently, but said he was an American. Thereupon the landlady, who had a cousin who had a nephew who had gone to Brazil, asked the tourist if he did not know August Bürgin, and was very much disappointed to find that he did not.
The excitement outside of Madame Patoff’s room was intense. But the Herr Doctor, as the landlord called Cutter, had admitted no one but the maid, and as yet had not given any news of the patient. The little group stood in the passage a long time before Cutter came out.
“ She is not badly hurt,” he said, and was about to reënter the apartment, when his eye fell on the tall tourist, who, on hearing the news, had turned quickly away. Cutter went hastily after him, and, grasping his hand, thanked him warmly for his timely help.
“ Don’t mention it,” said the stranger. “ You did the thing beautifully when once you had got hold of the rope. Excuse me — I have an engagement — good-by — glad to hear the lady is not hurt.” Wherewith the tourist quickly shook the professor’s hand once more, and was gone before the latter could ask his name.
“ Queer fellow,” muttered Cutter, as he returned to Madame Patoff’s side.
She was not injured, as he had at once announced, but it was impossible to say what effect the awful shock might produce upon her overwrought brain. She opened her eyes, indeed, but she did not seem to recognize any one; and when the professor asked her how she felt, in order to see if she could speak intelligibly, she laughed harshly, and turned her head away. She was badly bruised, but he could discover no mark of any blow upon the head which could have caused a suspension of intelligence. There was therefore nothing to be done but to take care of her, and if she recovered her normal health she must be removed to her home at once. All day he sat beside her bed, with the patience of a man accustomed to tend the sick, and to regard them as studies for his own improvement. Towards evening she slept, and Cutter went out, hoping to find the tourist again. But the landlord said he was gone, and as the little inn kept no book wherein strangers were asked to register their names, and as the landlord could only say that the gentleman had declared his name to be Paul, Cutter was obliged to suffer the pangs of unsatisfied curiosity.
“ I am sick of the name of Paul! ” exclaimed the professor, half angrily. “ Is the fellow a Russian, too, I wonder? Paul, Paul, —everybody seems to be called Paul! ” Therewith he turned away, and began to walk up and down before the house, lighting a cigar, and smoking savagely in his annoyance with things in general.
He was thinking that if it had been so easy for Madame Patoff to throw herself over the balcony, just when he was not looking, it was after all not so very improbable that Alexander might have slipped away from his brother in the dark. The coincidence of the two cases was remarkable. As for Madame Patoff, he did not doubt for a moment that she had intended to commit suicide by throwing herself down the precipice. According to his theory, all her calmness of yesterday and this morning, succeeding the great excitement of her meeting with Paul, proved that she had been quietly meditating death. She had escaped. But had her mind escaped the suicide she had attempted on her body ? In its effects, her anger against Paul and her fixed idea concerning him were as nothing when compared with the terrible shock she had experienced that morning. It was absolutely impossible to predict what would occur : whether she would recover her faculties, or remain apathetic for the rest of her life. She was a nervous, sensitive, and overstrung woman at all times, and would suffer far more under a sudden and violent strain than a duller nature could. The view she took in regard to Alexander’s disappearance proved that her faculties were not evenly balanced. Of course the story was a very queer one, and Russians are queer people, as the professor said to himself. It was not going beyond the bounds of possibility to suppose that Paul might have murdered his brother, but Cutter would have expected that Madame Patoff would be the last person to suspect it, and especially to say it aloud. The way she had raved against Paul on more than one occasion sufficiently showed that she seized at false conclusions, like a person of unsound mind. Alexander had resembled her, too, and had always acted like an irritable, beautiful, spoiled child. There was a distinct streak of “ queerness,” as Cutter expressed it, in the family. Probably Paul had inherited it in a different way. His conduct at Teinach, after leaving his mother, had been strange. He had shown no sorrow, scarcely any annoyance, indeed, and during their dinner had seemed thoroughly at his ease. Scientifically speaking, the professor regretted the accident of the morning. Madame Patoff had been a very interesting study so long as she was under the influence of a dominating idea. Her case might now degenerate into one of common apathy, such as Cutter had seen hundreds of times. There would be nothing to be done but to try the usual methods, with the usual unsatisfactory results, abandoning her at last to the care of her relations and nurses as a hopeless idiot.
But Professor Cutter was not destined to such a disappointment. His patient recovered in a way which was new to him, and he realized that in losing his former case he had found one even more interesting. She was apathetic, indeed, in a certain degree, and did not appear to understand everything that was said to her, but this was the only sign of any degeneracy. She never again addressed by name either the professor or her maid, and never spoke except to express her wants, which she did in few words, and very concisely and correctly. Nothing would induce her, in conversation, to make any answer save a simple yes or no, and Cutter was struck by the fact that her color ceased to change when he spoke of Alexander. This, he thought, showed that she no longer associated any painful idea with the name of her lost son. But there were none of the signs of a softening brain, — no foolish ravings, nor any expressed desire to do anything not perfectly rational. She accomplished the journey with evident comfort, and was evidently delighted at the beautiful sights she saw on the way, though she said nothing, but only smiled and looked pleased. Her habitual expression was one of calm melancholy. Her features wore a sad but placid expression, and she appeared to thrive in health, and to be better than when the professor had first known her. She was more scrupulous than ever about her appearance, and there was an almost unnatural perfection in her dress and in her calm and graceful manner. Cutter was puzzled. With these symptoms he would have expected some apparent hallucination on one point. But he could detect nothing of the kind, and he exhausted his theories in trying to find out what particular form of insanity afflicted her. He could see nothing and define nothing, save her absolute refusal to talk. She asked for what she wanted, or got it for herself, and she answered readily yes and no to direct questions. Gradually, as they traveled by short stages, drawing near to their destination, Cutter altogether lost the habit of talking to her, and almost ceased to notice her one peculiarity. She would sit for hours in the same position, apparently never wearied of her silence, her placid expression never changing save into a gentle smile when she saw anything that pleased her.
They reached England at last, and Madame Patoff was installed in her brother-in-law’s house in the country. Cutter came frequently from town to see her, and always studied her case with new interest; but after a whole year he could detect no change whatever in her condition, and began to despair of ever classifying her malady in the scientific catalogue of his mind.
It was at this point, my dear friend, that I became an actor in the story of Paul Patoff and his mother, and I will now for a time tell my tale in my own person, — in the prosaic person of Paul Griggs, with whom you are so well acquainted that you are good enough to call him your friend. To give you at once an idea of my own connection with this history, I will confess that it was I who dropped the rope out of the window at Weissenstein, as you may have already guessed from the description I have given of myself.
Mankind may be divided and classified in many ways, according to the tests applied, and the reason why any new classification of people is always striking is not far to seek. For, since all the mental and moral qualities of which we have ever heard belong to men and women, it is obviously easy to say that we can divide our fellow-creatures into two classes, one class possessing the vice or virtue in point, and the other not possessing it. The only division which is hard to make is that which should separate the human race into classes of good and bad, — to speak biblically, the division of the sheep from the goats ; but as no one has ever been able to draw the line, some people have said, in their haste, that all men are bad, while others have arrived at the no less hasty and equally false conclusion that all men are good. The Preacher was nearer the truth when he said, “ All is vanity,” than was David when he said in his heart, “ All men are liars ; ” for if the bad man is foolish enough to boast of his error, the good man is generally inclined to vaunt his virtue after the most mature reflection, and the secret of success, whether in good or in evil, is not to allow the right hand to know the doings of the left. There are men who give lavishly with the one hand, while they steal even more freely with the other, and are covered with glory, until their biography is written by an intelligent enemy.
The faculty of persuading the world at large to consider that you are in the right is called your “ prestige,” a word closely connected with the term “ prestidigitation,” — if not in derivation, most certainly in meaning. When you have found out your neighbor’s sin, your prestige is increased ; when your neighbor has found out yours, your prestige is gone. There is little credit to be got from charity; for if you conceal your good deeds it is certain that nobody will suspect you of doing them, and if you do them before the world every one will say that you are vainglorious and purseproud, and altogether a dangerous hypocrite. On the other hand, there is undeniably much social interest attached to a man who is supposed to be bad, but who has never been caught in his wickedness ; and if a thorough-going sinner is discovered, after having concealed his doings for many years, people at least give him all the credit he can expect, saying, “ Surely he was a very clever fellow to deceive us for so long ! ” There are plenty of ways which serve to conceal evil doings, from the vulgar lies which make up the code of schoolboy honor, to the national had faith which systematically violates all treaties when they cease to be lucrative ; from the promising youth who borrows money from his tailor, and has it charged to his father with compound interest as “ account rendered for clothes furnished,” down to the driveling dishonesty of some old statesman who clings to office because his ornate eloquence still survives his scanty wit. Verily, if the boy be father to the man, it is not pleasant to imagine what manner of men they will be to whom the modern boy stands in the relation of paternity. The big boys who kill little ones with their fists, and spend a pleasant hour in watching a couple of cats, slung over a clothesline by the tails, fight each other to death, are likely to be less remarkable for their singular lack of intelligence than for their extraordinary excess of brutality. It is true that a nation’s greatest activity for good is developed in the time of its transition from coarseness to refinement. It may also be true that its period of greatest harmfulness is when, from a fictitious refinement, it is dragged down again by the natural brutality of its nature ; when the ideal has ceased to correspond with the real; when the poet has lost his hold upon the hearts of the people ; when poetry itself is no longer the strong fire bursting through the thick, foul crust of the earth, but is only the faint and shadowy smoke of the fire, wreathed for a moment into ethereal shapes of fleeting grace that have neither heat enough to burn the earth from which they come, nor strength to withstand the rough winds of heaven by which they shall soon be scattered. For as the evolution of the ideal from the real is life, so the final separation of the soul from the body is death.
Almost all men have the qualities which can give moderate success. Very few have those gifts which lead to greatness, and those who have them invariably become great. There is no unrecognized genius ; for genius means the production of what is not only beautiful, but enduring, and the works of man are all sooner or later judged by his fellows, and judged fairly. But it is unprofitable to discuss these matters ; for those who are very great seldom know that they are, and those who are not cannot be persuaded that they might not attain to greatness if circumstances were slightly changed in their favor. Perhaps also there is very little use in making any preamble to what I have to tell. I remember to have been at a great meeting of American bankers at Niagara some years ago, where, as usual at American meetings, many speeches were made. There was an old gentleman there from the West who appeared to have something to say, but although his voice rose to impassioned tones and his gestures were highly effective as he delivered a variety of ornate phrases, he did not come to the point. An irreverent hearer rose and inquired what was the object of his distinguished friend’s discourse, which did not appear to bear at all upon the matters in hand. The old gentleman stopped instantly in his flow of words, and said very quietly and naturally, “ I feel a little shy, and I want to speak some before getting to the point, so as to get used to you.” There was a good-natured laugh, in which the speaker joined. But he presently began again, and before long he was talking very well and very much to the point. It may be doubted, however, whether any well-conditioned chronicler needs a preliminary breather before so short a race as this is likely to be. In these wild days there is small time for man to work or for woman to weep, and those who would tell a tale must tell it quickly, lest the traveler be out of hearing before the song is ended, and the minstrel be left harping at the empty air and wasting his eloquence upon the stones.
Last year I was staying in an English country house on the borders of Hertfordshire and Essex. It is not what is called a “romantic neighborhood,” but there are plenty of pretty places and some fine old trees where the green lanes of Essex begin to undulate into the wooded valleys of Herts. The name of the place where I was stopping is Carvel Place, and the people who generally live in it are John Carvel, Esq., formerly member for the borough ; Mary Carvel, his wife, who was a Miss Dabstreak; Hermione Carvel, their daughter ; and, when he is at home on leave, Macaulay Carvel, their son, a young man who has been in the diplomatic service several years, and who once had the good fortune to be selected as private secretary to Lord Mavourneen, when that noble diplomatist was sent on a special mission to India. Mrs. Carvel has a younger sister, a spinster, thirtyeight years of age, who rejoices in the name of Chrysophrasia. Her parents had christened their eldest daughter Anne, their second Mary, and had regretted the simple appellations bitterly, so that when a third little girl came into the world, seven years afterwards, their latent love for euphony was poured out upon her in a double measure at the baptismal font. Anne, eldest sister of Mrs. Carvel and Miss Chrysophrasia Dabstreak, married a Russian in the year 1850, and was never mentioned after the Crimean War, until her son, Paul Patoff, being a diplomatist, made the acquaintance of his first cousin in the person of Macaulay Carvel, who happened to be third secretary in Berlin, when Paul passed through that capital, on his return from a distant post in the East.
It is taken for granted that the Carvels have lived at Carvel Place since the memory of man. I know very little of their family history; my acquaintance with John Carvel is of comparatively recent date, and Miss Chrysophrasia eyes me with evident suspicion, as being an American and probably an adventurer. I cannot say that Carvel and I are precisely old friends, but we enjoy each other’s society, and have been of considerable service to each other in the last ten years. There is a certain kind of mutual respect, not untempered by substantial mutual obligation, which very nearly approaches to friendship when the parties concerned have common tastes and are not unsympathetic. John Carvel is a man fifty years of age: he is short, well built, and active, delighting in the chase ; slender rather than stout, but not thin; red in the face from constant exposure, scrupulous in the shaving of his smooth chin and in the scrubbing processes, dressed with untarnishing neatness ; having large hands with large nails, smooth and tolerably thick gray hair, strongly marked eyebrows, and small, bright eyes of a gray-blue color. In his personal appearance he is a type of a fine race ; in character and tastes he is a specimen of the best class of men to be met with in our day. He is a country gentleman, educated in the traditions of Rugby and Oxford at a time when those institutions had not succumbed to the subtle evils of our times, whereby the weak are corrupted into effeminate fools and the strong into abominable bullies. John Carvel’s Latin has survived his school-days, and his manliness has outlived the university. He belongs to that class of Englishmen who proverbially speak the truth.
When he began life, an orphan at twenty-two years of age, he found himself comparatively poor, but in spite of the prejudices of those days he was not ashamed to better his fortunes by manufacture, and he is now a rich man. He married Mary Dabstreak for love, and has never regretted it. He has lived most of his life at Carvel Place, has hunted perpetually, and has of late years developed a taste for books which is likely to stand him in good stead in his old age. There is a fine library in the house, and much has been added to it in the last ten years. Miss Chrysophrasia occasionally strays into the repository of learning, but she has little sympathy with the contents of the shelves.
Miss Chrysophrasia Dabstreak is a lady concerning whom there is much speculation, to very little purpose, in the world as represented by the select society in which she droops, — not moves. She is an amateur.
Her eye rejoices only in the tints of the crushed strawberry and the faded olive ; her ear loves the limited poetry of doubtful sound produced by abortive attempts to revive the unbarred melodies of the troubadours ; and her soul thrills responsively in the checkered light falling through a stained-glass window, as a sensitive-plant waves its sticky leaves when a fly is in the neighborhood.
But life has attractions for Chrysophrasia. She enjoys it after her own fashion. It is a little disconnected. The relation between cause and effect is a little obscure. She is fragmentary. She is a series of unfinished sketches in various manners. She has her being in the past tense, and her future, if she could have it after her taste, would be the past made present. She has many aspirations, and few of them are realized, but all of them are sketched in faint hues upon the mist of her mediæval atmosphere. She is, in the language of a lyric from her own pen,
That is cast on the mist of the sea by the light of the ages to come.”
Her handwriting is Gothic. Her heart is of the type created by Mr. Swinburne in the minds of those who do not understand him, — in their minds, for in the flesh the type is not found. Moreover, she resents modernness of every kind, including the steam-engine, the electric telegraph, the continent of North America, and myself. Her political creed shadows forth the government of the future as a pleasant combination of communism and knight-baronry, wherein all oppressed persons shall have republics, and all nice people shall wear armor, and live in castles, and strew the floors of their rooms with rushes and their garments with the anatomic monstrosities of heraldic blazon.
As for religion, her mind is disturbed in its choice between a palatable form of Buddhism and a particularly luscious adaptation of Greek mythology ; but in either case as much Christianity would be indispensable as would give the whole a flavor of crusading. I hope I am not hard upon Miss Chrysophrasia, but the fact is she is not — what shall I say ? — not sympathetic to me. John Carvel does not often speak of her, but he has more than once attempted to argue with her, and on these occasions his sister-inlaw invariably winds up her defense by remarking very wearily that “ argument is the negation of poetry, and, indeed, of all that is fair and joyous.”
Personally Miss Dabstreak is a faded blonde, with a very large nose, a wide mouth garnished with imperfect teeth, a very thin figure of considerable height, a poor complexion ill set off by scanty, straggling fair hair; garments of unusual, greenish hues, fitted in an unusual and irregular manner, hang in fantastic folds about the angles of her frame, and her attitudes are strange and improbable. I repeat that I do not mean to be hard upon Chrysophrasia, but her looks are not much to my taste. She is too strongly contrasted with her niece, Miss Carvel. There is, besides, something in Chrysophrasia’s cold green eyes which gives me an unpleasant sensation. She was at Carvel Place when I arrived, and she is generally there, although she has a little house in Brompton, where she preserves the objects she most loves, consisting chiefly of earthen vessels, abominable in color and useless to civilized man; nevertheless, so great is her influence with her sister’s family that even John speaks of majolica with a certain reverence, as a man lowers his voice when he mentions some dear relation not long dead. As for Mrs. Carvel, she is silent when Chrysophrasia holds forth concerning pots and plates, though I have seen her raise her gentle face and cast up her eyes with a faint, hopeless smile when her sister was more than usually eloquent about her SpanowMorescow things, as she calls them, her Marstrow-Geawgiow and her Robby-ah. It seems to me that objects of that description are a trifle too perishable. Perhaps John Carvel wishes Miss Dabstreak were perishable, too ; but she is not.
I would not weary you with too many portraits, my dear lady, and I will describe the beautiful Hermione another day. As for her mother, Mary Carvel, she is an angel upon earth, and if her trials have not been many until lately, her good deeds are without number as the sands of the sea; for it is a poor country that lies on the borders of Essex, and there have been bad times in these years. The harvests have failed, and many other misfortunes have happened, not the least of which is that the old race of farmers is dying out, and that the young ones cannot live as their fathers did, but sell their goods and chattels and emigrate, one after another, to the far, rich West. Some of them prosper, and some of them die on the road ; but they leave the land behind them a waste, and there are eleven millions of acres now lying fallow in England which were ploughed and sown and reaped ten years ago. People are poor, and Mrs. Carvel takes care of them. Her soft brown eyes have a way of finding out trouble, and when it is found her great heart cannot help easing it. She loves her husband and her daughter, understanding them in different degrees. She loves her son also, but she does not pretend to understand him ; he is the outcome of a new state of things; but he has no vices, and is thought exceedingly clever. As for her sister, she is very good to her, but she does not profess to understand her, either.
I had been in Persia and Turkey some time, and had not been many days in London, when John Carvel wrote to ask me if I would spend the winter with him. I was tired and wanted to be quiet, so I accepted his offer. Carvel Place is peaceful, and I like the woods about it, and the old towers, and the great library in the house itself, and the general sense of satisfaction at being among congenial people who are friendly. I knew I should have to encounter Miss Chrysophrasia, but I reflected that there was room for both of us, and that if it were not easy to agree with her it was not easy to quarrel with her, either. I packed my traps, and went down to the country one afternoon in November.
John Carvel had grown a trifle older; I thought he was a little less cheerful than he had been in former days, but I was welcomed as warmly as ever. The great fire burned brightly in the old hall, lighting up the dark wainscoting and the heavy furniture with a glow that turned the old oak from brown to red. The dim portraits looked down as of old from the panels, and Fang, the white deerhound, shook his shaggy coat and stretched his vast jaws as I came in. It was cold outside, and the rain was falling fast, as the early darkness gathered gloomily over the landscape, so that I was glad to stand by the blazing logs after the disagreeable drive. John Carvel was alone in the hall. He stretched out his broad hand and grasped mine, and it did my heart good to see the smile of honest gladness on his clean, manly face.
“I hardly thought you would come,” he said, looking into my eyes. “ I was never so glad to see you in my life. You have been wandering again, —half over the world. How are you ? You look tougher than ever, and here am I growing palpably old. How in the world do you manage it ? ”
“ A hard heart, a melancholy temperament, and a large appetite,” I answered, with a laugh. “ Besides, you have four or five years the better of me.”
“ The worse, you mean. I ’m as gray as a badger.”
“ Nonsense. It is your climate that makes people gray. How is Mrs. Carvel, and Hermione, — she must have grown up since I saw her, — and Miss Dabstreak ? ”
“ She is after her pots and pans as usual,” said John. “ Mary and Hermy are all right, thank you. We will have tea with them presently.”
He turned, and poked the fire with a huge pair of old-fashioned tongs. I thought his cheerful manner subsided a little as he took me to my room. He lingered a moment, till the man who brought in my boxes had unstrapped them, and trimmed the candles, and was gone.
“ Is there anything you would like ? ” he asked. “ A little whiskey ? a glass of sherry ? ”
‘‘No, thanks, — nothing. I will come down to tea in a few minutes. It is in the same old room, I suppose ? ”
“ Oh, yes, same as ever. By the bye, Griggs,” he added suddenly, as he laid his hand on the handle of the door, “ how long is it since you were here ? ”
“ Three years and a month,” I answered, after a moment’s thought. “ It does not seem so long. I suppose that is because we have met abroad since then.”
“No, it does not seem long,” said John Carvel, thoughtfully. Then he opened the door, and went out without another word.
Nothing especially worthy of mention happened on that evening, nor on the next day, nor for many days. I hunted a little, and shot a great deal more, and spent many hours in the library. The weather improved in the first week of December; it was rather warmer, and the scent lay very well. I gave myself up to the pleasant country life, and enjoyed the society of my host, without much thought of the present or care for the future. Hermione had grown, since I had seen her, from a grave and rather silent girl of seventeen to a somewhat less reserved young woman of twenty, always beautiful, but apparently not much changed. Her mother had taken her out in London during the previous season, and there was occasionally some talk about London and society, in which the young girl did not appear to take very much interest. With this exception the people and things at Carvel Place were the same as I had always known them. I was treated as one of the household, and was allowed to go my own ways without question or interference. Of course, I had to answer many questions about my wanderings and my doings in the last years, but I am used to that and do not mind it.
All this sounds as though I were going to give you some quiet chronicle of English country life, as if I were about to begin a report of household doings : how Mrs. Carvel and Hermione went to church on Sunday; how the Rev. Trumpington Soulsby used to stroll back with them across the park on fine days, and how he and Miss Dabstreak raved over the joyousness of a certain majolica plate ; how the curate gently reproved, yet half indulged, Chrysophrasia’s erratic religionism ; how Mrs. Carvel distributed blankets to the old men and red cloaks to the old women; how the deerhound followed Hermione like Mary’s little lamb, and how the worthy keeper, James Grubb, did not quite catch the wicked William Saltmarsh in the act of setting a beautiful new brass wire snare at a particular spot in the quickset hedge between the park and the twelve-acre field, but was confident he would catch him the nest time he tried it; how Moses Skingle, the sexton, fell out with Mr. Speller, the superannuated village schoolmaster, because the juvenile Spellers would not refrain from the preparation of luscious mud pies upon the newly made grave of the late Peter Sullins, farmer, whose promising heir had not yet recovered sufficiently from the dissipation attending the funeral to erect a monument to his uncle ; and so on and so forth, cackling through a volume or two of village chronicle, “ and so home to bed.”
I do not care a straw for the ducks in the horse-pond, nor for the naughty boy who throws stones at them, robs bird’snests, and sets snares for hares under the wire fence of Carvel Park. I blush to say I have done most things of that kind myself, in one part of the world or in another, and they no longer have any sort of interest for me. No, my dear friend, the world is not yet turned into a farm-yard; there are other things to tell of besides the mud pies of the Speller children and the marks of little Billy Saltmarsh’s hob-nailed shoes in the grass where he set the snare. The Turks say that a fool has three points in common with an ass, — he eats, he drinks, and he brays at other asses. I must fain eat and drink; let me at least refrain from braying.
It is not every one who cares for the beauties of nature as reflected in a horsepond, or for the conversations of a class of people who have not more than seven or eight hundred words in their language, and with whom every word does not by any means correspond with an idea; we cannot all be farmer’s lads, nor, if we were, could each of us find a Wordsworth to describe feelings we should certainly not possess.
I had been nearly a month at Carvel Place, and Christmas was approaching. We sat one afternoon in the drawingroom, drinking tea. John Carvel was turning over the leaves of a rare book he had just received, before transferring it to its place in the library. His heavy brows were contracted, and his large, clean hands touched the pages lovingly. Mrs. Carvel was installed in her favorite upright chair near an enormous studentlamp that had a pink shade, and her fingers were busy with some sort of needle-work. She, too, was silent, and her gentle face was bent over her hand. I can remember exactly how she always looks when she is working, and how her soft brown hair, that is just turning a little gray at the temples, waves above her forehead. Chrysophrasia Dabstreak lay languidly extended upon a couch, her thin hands clasped together in a studied attitude. She was bemoaning the evils of civilization, and no one was listening to her, for Hermione and I were engaged in putting a new silver collar round the neck of Fang; the great hound sat up patiently between us, yawning prodigiously from time to time, for the operation was tedious, and the patent lock of the collar would not fasten.
“ I was just going to say it was time the letters came,” said Mrs. Carvel, as the door opened and a servant entered with the post-bag. The master of the house unlocked the leathern case, and distributed the contents. We each received our share, and without ceremony opened our letters. There was a short silence while we were all reading.
“ Macaulay has got his leave,” said Mrs. Carvel, joyfully. “ Is not that delightful ! And he is going to bring — wait a minute — I cannot make out the name — let me get nearer to the light, dear — John, look here, is it not Paul Patoff ? Look, dear I ”
John looked. “ It is certainly Paul Patoff,” he said quietly. “ I told Macaulay to bring him.”
“ Gracious ! ” ejaculated Hermione.
“ How extremely interesting ! ” said Miss Chrysophrasia. I adore Russians ! They have such a joyous savor of the wild, free steppes ! ”
“ You have exactly described the Russian of the steppes, Miss Dabstreak,” I remarked. “ His savor is so wild that it is perceptible at a great distance. But Patoff is not at all a bad fellow. I met him in Teheran last year. He had a trick of beating his servants which excited the wildest admiration among the Persians. The Shah decorated him before he left.”
“ Do you know him ? ” asked John Carvel quickly, as he caught my last words.
“Yes. I was just telling Miss Dabstreak that I met Paul Patoff last year. He was at the Russian legation in Teheran.” John showed no surprise, and relapsed into silence.
“ He and Macaulay are both in Paris,” said Mrs. Carvel, “ and I suppose Macaulay has made up his mind that we must know his cousin.”
“ Is not Professor Cutter coming, too, mamma ? ” asked Hermione. “ I heard papa say so the other day.”
“ Oh, dear, yes ! ” exclaimed Chrysophrasia, wearily. " Professor Cutter is coming, with his nasty science, and his lenses, and his mathematics. Of course he will wear those vivid green spectacles morning, noon, and night, — such a dreadfully offensive color ! ”
“ Yes,” said John, gazing down at his neat shoes, as he stood rubbing his broad hands slowly together before the fire, “ Cutter is coming, too. What a queer party we shall be at Christmas !”
And when Christmas came, we were a very queer party indeed.
At the prospect of seeing united, under an English roof, an English family, consisting of a great manufacturer, — at the same time a thorough-going country gentleman of old descent, — his wife, his beautiful daughter, and his æsthetic sister-in-law, having with them as guests the son of the master of the house, being a young English diplomatist; an English professor, who had given up his professorship to devote himself to the study of diseases of the mind ; a Russian secretary of the embassy, who had seen the world, and was thirty years old; and, lastly, your humble slave of the pen, being an American, — at the prospect of such a heterogeneous assembly of men and women, you will suppose, my dear lady, that I am about to embark upon the cerulean waters of a potentially platonic republic, humbly steering my craft by the charts of a recent voyager, who, after making a noble but ineffectual attempt to discover the Isles of the Blessed, appears to have stumbled into the Drawing-rooms of the Damned.
I am not going to do anything of the kind. My story is written for the sole purpose of amusing you, and as a form of diversion for your leisure moments I would select neither the Wordsworthian pastoral, nor the platonic doctrine of Ideas. Mary Carvel would give her vote for the Dalesman, and Chrysophrasia for Plato, but I have not consulted them ; and if I do not consult you, it is because I think I understand your tastes. You will, moreover, readily understand that in telling this tale I sometimes speak of things I did not actually see, because I know the people concerned very well, and some of them told me at the time, and have told me since, what they felt and thought about the things they did and saw done. For myself, I am the man you have long known, Paul Griggs, the American ; a man of many acquaintances and of few friends, who has seen the world, and is forty-three years of age, ugly and tough, not so poor as I have been, nor so good as I might be, melancholic by temperament, and a little sour by force of circumstances.
It chanced, one evening, that I was walking home alone through the park. I had been on foot to the village to send a telegram, which I had not cared to trust to a servant. The weather had suddenly cleared, and there had been a sharp frost in the morning; towards midday it had thawed a little, but by the time it was dark everything was frozen hard again. The moon was nearly full, and shone brightly upon the frozen grass, casting queer shadows through the bare branches of the trees ; it was very cold, and I walked fast; the brittle, frozen mud of the road broke beneath my feet with a creaking, crunching sound, and startled the deep stillness. As I neared the house the moon was before me, and the mass of buildings cast a dark shadow.
Carvel Place is like many old country houses in England ; it is a typical dwelling of its kind, irregular, yet imposing, and though it has no plan, for it has been added to and enlarged, and in part rebuilt, it is yet harmonious and of good proportion. I had often reflected that it was too large for the use of the present family, and I knew that there must be a great number of rooms in the house which were never opened; but no one had ever proposed to show them to me, and I was not sufficiently curious to ask permission to visit the disused apartments. I had observed, however, that a wing of the building ran into an inclosure, surrounded by a wall seven or eight feet high, against which were ranged upon the one side a series of hot-houses, while another formed the back of a covered tennis court. The third wall of the inclosure was covered with a lattice, upon which fruit trees had been trained without any great success, and I had noticed that the lattice now completely covered an old oak door which led into the inclosure. I had never seen the door open, but I remembered very well that it was uncovered the last time I had been at Carvel Place.
When I reached the house I was no longer cold, and the night was so clear and sparkling that I idly strolled round the great place, wandering across the frozen lawn and through the winding paths of the flower garden beyond, till I came to the wall I have described, and stood still, half wondering why the door had been covered over with fruit trees, as though no one would ever wish to enter the house from that side. The space could hardly be so valuable for gardening purposes, I thought, for the slender peach-trees that were bound upon the lattice on each side of the door had not thriven. There was something melancholy about the unsuccessful attempt to cultivate the delicate southern fruit in the unkindly air of England, and the branches and stems, all wrapped in straw against the frost, looked unhappy and unnatural in the cold moonlight. I stood looking at them, with my hands in my pockets, thinking somewhat regretfully of my southern birthplace. I smiled at myself and turned away, but as I went the very faintest echo of a laugh seemed to come from the other side of the wall. It sounded disagreeably in the stillness, and I slowly finished my walk around the house and came back to the front door, still wondering who it was that had laughed at me from behind the wall in the moonlight. There was certainly no original reason in the nature of things why it should not chance that some one should laugh on the other side of the wall just as I happened to be standing before the closed gate. The inclosure was probably in connection with the servants’ apartments; or it might be the exclusive privilege of Chrysophrasia to walk there, composing anapæstic verse to the infinite faintness of the moon, — or anything. A quarter of an hour later I was in the drawing-room drinking a cup of tea. I came in when the others had finished reading their evening letters, and there were none for me. The tea was cold. I wished I had walked half an hour longer, and had not come into the drawing-room at all.
“ Let me make you a fresh cup, Mr. Griggs,” said Hermione ; “ do, — it will be ready in a moment! ”
I politely declined, and the conversation of the rest soon began where it had left off. It appeared that Professor Cutter was expected that night, and the son of the house, with Patoff, on the following day. It was Thursday, and Christmas was that day week. John Carvel seemed unusually depressed ; his words were few and very grave, and he did not smile, but answered in the shortest manner possible the questions addressed to him. He thought Cutter might arrive at any moment. Hermione hazarded a remark to the effect that the professor was rather dull.
“ No, my dear,” answered John, “he is not at all dull.”
“ But, papa, I thought he was so immensely learned ” —
“ He is very learned,” said her father, shortly, and buried himself in his newspaper, so that hardly anything was visible of him but his feet, encased in exceedingly neat shoes ; those nether extremities moved impatiently from time to time. Chrysophrasia was not present, a circumstance which made it seem likely that she might have been the person who had laughed behind the wall. Mary Carvel, like her husband, was unusually silent, and I was sitting not far from Hermione. She looked at me after her father’s curt answer to her innocent remark, and smiled faintly.
The drawing-room where we sat exhibited a curious instance of the effect produced upon inanimate things when subjected to the contact of persons who differ widely from each other in taste. You smile, clear lady, at the complicated form of expression. I mean merely that if two people who like very different things live in the same room, each of them will try to give the place the look he or she likes. At Carvel Place there were four to be consulted, instead of two ; for John had his own opinions as to taste, and they were certainly sounder than those of his wife and sister-inlaw, and at least as clearly defined.
John Carvel liked fine pictures, and he had placed three or four in the drawing-room, — a couple of good Hogarths, a beautiful woman’s head by Andrea del Sarto, and a military scene by Meissonnier, — about as heterogeneous a quartette of really valuable works as could be got for money ; and John had given a great deal of money for them. Besides the pictures, there stood in the drawingroom an enormous leathern easy-chair, of the old-fashioned type, with semicircular wings projecting forward from the high back on each side, made to protect the rheumatic old head of some ancestor who suffered from the toothache before the invention of dentists. Near this stood a low, square, revolving bookcase, which always contained the volumes which John was reading at the time, to be changed from day to day as circumstances required.
Mary Carvel was, and is, an exceedingly religious woman, and her tastes are to some extent the expression of her religious feelings. She has a number of excellent engravings of celebrated pictures, such as Holbein’s Madonna, Raphael’s Transfiguration, and the Dresden Madonna di San Sisto ; she owns the entire collection of chromo-lithographs published by the Arundel Society, and many other reproductions of a similar nature. Many of these she had hung in the drawing-room at Carvel Place. Here and there, also, were little shelves of oak in the common Anglomaniac style of woodwork, ornamented with trefoils, crosses, circles, and triangles, and containing a curious collection of sacred literature, beginning with the ancient volume entitled Wilberforce’s View, including the poetry published in a series of Lyras, — Lyra Anglicana, Lyra Germanica, and so on, — culminating at last in the works of Dr. Pusey; the whole perhaps exhibiting in a succinct form the stages through which Mary Carvel had passed, or was still passing, in her religious convictions. And here let me say at once that I am very far from intending to jest at those same convictions of Mary Carvel’s, and if you smile it is because the picture is true, not because it is ridiculous. She may read what she pleases, but the world would be a better place if there were more women like her.
There were many other possessions of hers in the drawing-room : for instance, upon the mantel-piece were placed three magnificent Wedgwood urns, after Flaxman’s designs, inherited from her father, and now of great value; upon the tables there were several vases of old Vienna, but of a green color vivid enough to elicit Chrysophrasia’s most eloquent disapprobation ; there were several embroideries of a sufficiently harmless nature, the work of Mary Carvel’s patient fingers, but conceived in a style no longer popular ; and on the whole, there was a great number of objects in the drawing-room which belonged to her and by which she set great store, but which bore decidedly the character of English household decoration and furniture at the beginning of the present century, and are consequently abhorrent to the true æsthete.
Chrysophrasia Dabstreak, however, had sworn to cast the shadow of beauty over what she called the substance of the hideous, and to this end and intention, by dint of honeyed eloquence and stinging satire, she had persuaded John and Mary to allow her to insert stained glass in one of the windows, which formerly opened upon and afforded a view of a certain particularly brilliant flower bed. Beneath the many-colored light from this Gothic window — for she insisted upon the pointed arch — Miss Dabstreak had made her own especial corner of the drawing-room. There one might see strange pots and plates, and withered rushes, and fantastic greenish draperies of Eastern weft, which, however, would not fetch five piastres a yard in the bazaar of Stamboul, curious watercolors said to represent “ impressions,” though one would be shy of meeting, beyond the bounds of an insane asylum, the individual whose impressions could take so questionable a shape; lastly, the centre of the collection, a “ polka mazurka harmony in yellow,” by Sardanapalus Stiggins, the great impressionist painter of the day. Chrysophrasia paid five hundred pounds for this little gem.
But it was not enough for Miss Dabstreak to have collected so many worthless objects of price in her own little corner of the room. She had encumbered the tables with useless articles of pottery; she had fastened a green plate between the better of the two Hogarths and an Arundel chromo-lithograph, and connected it with both the pictures by a drooping scarf of faint pink silk ; she had adorned the engraving of Raphael’s Transfiguration with a bit of Broussa embroidery, because it looked so very Oriental; and she had bedizened Mary Carvel’s watercolor view of Carisbrooke Castle with peacock’s feathers, because they looked so very English. There was no spot in the room where Chrysophrasia’s hand had not fallen, and often it had fallen heavily. She had respected John Carvel’s easy-chair and revolving book-case, but she had respected nothing else.
There was a fourth person, however, who had set her especial impress on the appearance of the room where all met in common. I mean Hermione Carvel. Educated and brought up among the conflicting tastes and views of her parents and her aunt, she had imbibed some of the characteristics of each, although in widely different degrees. At that time, perhaps, the various traits which were united in her had not yet blended harmoniously so as to form a satisfactory whole. The resultant of so many more or less conflicting forces was prone to extremes of enthusiasm or of indifference. Her heart was capable of feeling the warmest sympathy, but was liable also to conceive unwarrantable antipathies ; her mind was of admirable quality, fairly well gifted and sensibly trained ; though not marvelously quick to understand, yet tenacious and slow to forget. The constant attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable opinions of her mother and aunt had given Hermione a certain versatility of thought, and a certain capacity to see both sides of the question when not under the momentary influence of her enthusiasm. She is, and was even then, a fine type of the English girl who has grown up under the most favorable circumstances ; that is to say, with an excellent education and a decided preference for the country. It is not necessary to allow her any of the privileges and immunities usually granted to exceptional people ; in any ordinary position of life she would hear the test of any ordinary difficulty very well. She inherits common sense from her father, an honest country gentleman of the kind now unfortunately growing every day more rare ; a man not so countrified as to break his connection with the intelligent world, nor so foolishly ambitious as to abandon a happy life in the country in order to pursue the mirage of petty political importance : a man who holds humbug in supreme contempt, and having purged it from his being has still something to fall back upon. From her mother Hermione inherits an extreme conscientiousness in the things of everyday life ; but whereas in Mary Carvel this scrupulous pursuance of what is right is on the verge of degenerating into morbid religionism, in Hermione it is tempered by occasional bursts of enthusiasm, and relieved by a wholesome and natural capacity for liking some people and disliking others.
In the drawing-room I have been describing, Hermione touched everything, and did her best to cast over the various objects some grace, some air of harmony, which should make the contrasted tastes of the rest of her family less glaring and unpleasant to the eye. Her task was not easy, and it was no fault of hers if the room was out of joint. Her love of flowers showed itself everywhere, and she knew how to take advantage of each inch of room on shelf, or table, or window-seat, filling all available spaces with a profusion of roses, geraniums, and blossoms of every kind that chanced to be in season. Flowers in a room will do what nothing else can accomplish. The eye turns gladly to the living plant, when wearied and strained with the incongruities of inanimate things. A pot of pinks makes the lowliest and most dismal cottage chamber look gay by comparison ; a single rose in a glass of water lights up the most dusty den of the most dusty student. A bit of climbingivy converts a hideous ruin into a bower, as the Alp roses and the Iva make a garden for one short month of the roughest rocks in the Grisons. Only that which lives and of which the life is beautiful can reconcile us to those surroundings which would otherwise offend our sense of harmony, or oppress us with a dullness even more deadly than mere ugliness can ever be.
Hermione loves all flowers, and at Carvel Place she was the sweetest blossom of them all. Her fresh vitality is of the contagious kind, and even plants seem to revive and get new life from the touch of her small fingers, as though feeling the necessity of growing like her. Her beauty may not last. It is not of the imperious kind, nor even quite classic, but it has a wonderful fineness and delicacy. Her soft brown hair coils closely on her small, well-shaped head; her gentle, serious blue eyes look tenderly on all that lives and has being within the circle of her sight; her small mouth smiles graciously and readily, though sometimes a little sadly ; and her pleasant voice has a frank ring in it that is good to hear. Her slight fingers, neither too long nor too short, are often busy, but her labors are generally labors of love, and she is never weary of them. Of middle height, she has the grace of a taller woman, and the ease in motion which comes only from natural, healthy, elastic strength, not weakened by enforced idleness, nor overdeveloped by abominable and unwomanly gymnastic exercises. Everything she does is graceful.
It is very strange and interesting to see in her the combination of such different elements. Even her aunt Chrysophrasia’s queer nature is represented, though it needs some ingenuity to trace the resemblance between the two. There are indeed tones of the voice, phrases and expressions, which seem to belong to particular families, and by which one may sometimes discover the relationship. But the modification of leading characteristics in the individual is not so easily detected. Miss Dabstreak is eccentric, but the wild ideas which continue to flourish in the æsthetic cells of Chrysophrasia’s brain are softened and made more gentle and delicate in Hermione, so that even if they were inconsequent they would not seem offensive ; though one might not admire them, one could not despise them. The young girl loves all that is beautiful: not as Chrysophrasia loves it, by sheer force of habitual affectation, without discernment and without real enjoyment, but from the bottom of her heart, from the well-springs of her own beautiful soul; knowing and understanding the great divisions between the graceful and the clumsy, between the true and the false, the lovely and the unlovely. The extraordinary passion for the eccentric is tempered to an honest and natural craving after the beautiful; the admixture of the gentleness the girl has inherited from her saintly mother and of the genuine common sense which characterizes her father has produced a rational desire and ability to do good to every one. Mary Carvel is sometimes exaggerated in her ideas of charity, and John on rare occasions — very rarely — used to be a little too much inclined to the practice of economy ; “ near ” was the term applied by the village people. It was at first with him but the reminiscence of poorer years, when economy was necessary, and forethought was an indispensable element in his life ; but the tendency has remained and sometimes shows itself. All that can be traced of this quality in the daughter is a certain power of keen discernment, which saves her from being cheated by the sham paupers who abound in the neighborhood of Carvel Place, and from being led into spoiling the school - children with too many feasts of tea, jam, and cake.
It is not easy to be brief in describing Hermione Carvel, because in her fair self she combines a great many qualities belonging to contradictory persons, which one would suppose impossible to unite in one harmonious whole ; and yet Hermione is one of the most harmonious persons I ever knew. Nothing about her ever offended my sense of fitness. I often used to wonder how she managed to be loved equally by the different members of the household, but there is no doubt of the fact that all the members of her family not only love her, but excuse readily enough those of their own bad qualities which they fancy they recognize in her; for, indeed, nothing ever seems bad in Hermione, and I doubt greatly whether there is not some touch of white magic in her nature that protects her and shields her, so that bad things turn to good when they come near her. If she likes the curious notions of her aunt, she certainly changes them so that they become delicate fancies, and agree together with the gentle charity she has from her mother and the sterling honesty she gets from her father. John sometimes shrugs his shoulders at what he calls his wife’s extraordinary faith in human nature, and both he and Mary are sometimes driven to the verge of distraction by Chrysophrasia’s perpetual moaning over civilization ; but no one is ever out of temper with Hermione, nor is Hermione ever impatient with any one of the three. She is the peace-maker, the one whose sympathy never fails, whose gentleness is never ruffled, and whose fair judgment is never at fault.
When John Carvel answered Hermione’s question about Professor Cutter by a simple affirmation to the effect that he was a very learned man, the young girl did not press her father with any more inquiries, but turned to me.
“ Do you not think learned people are very often dull, Mr. Griggs ? ” she asked.
“ Oppressively,” I answered.
“ What makes them so ? ”
“ It is the very low and common view which they take of life,” put in Miss Dabstreak, who entered the room while we were speaking, and sank upon the couch with a little sigh. “ They have no aspirations after the beautiful, — and what else can satisfy the human mind ? The Greeks were never dull.”
“ What do you call dull ? ” asked Mrs. Carvel very mildly.
“ Oh — anything ; parliamentary reports, for instance, and agricultural shows, and the Rural Dean, — anything of that sort,” answered Miss Chrysophrasia languidly.
“ In other words, civilization as compared with barbarism,” I suggested. “ It is true that there cannot be much boredom among barbarous tribes who are always scalping their enemies or being scalped themselves; those things help to pass the time.”
“ Yes, scalping must be most interesting,” murmured Chrysophrasia, with an air of conviction.
“ I really believe you would like to see it done, aunt Chrysophrasia,” said she.
“ Hermy, Hermy, what dreadful ideas you have! ” exclaimed Mrs. Carvel, in gentle horror. But she immediately returned to her embroidery, and relapsed into silence.
“ It is Mr. Griggs, mamma,” said Hermione, still laughing. “ He agrees with me that learned people are all oppressively dull, and that the only tolerably exciting society is found among scalping Indians.”
Did you not once scalp somebody yourself, Griggs ? ” asked John, suddenly lowering his newspaper.
“ Not quite,” I answered ; but I once shaved a poodle with a pocketknife. Perhaps you were thinking of that?”
While I spoke there was a sound of wheels without, and John rose to his feet. He seemed impatient.
“ That must be Cutter at last! ” he exclaimed, moving towards the door that led into the hall. “ I thought he was never coming.”
I rose also, and followed him. It was Cutter. The learned professor arrived wrapped in a huge ulster overcoat, his hands in the deep pockets thereof, and the end of an extinguished cigar between his teeth. He furtively disposed of the remains of the weed before shaking hands with our host. After the first greetings John led him away to his room, and I remained standing in the hall. The professor’s luggage was rather voluminous, and various boxes, bags, and portmanteaus bore the labels of many journeys. The men brought them in from the dogcart ; the strong cob pawed the gravel a little, and the moonlight flashed back from the silver harness, from the smooth varnished dashboard, the polished chains, and the plated lamps. I stood staring out of the door, hardly seeing anything. Indeed, I was lost in a fruitless effort of memory. The groom gathered up the reins and drove away, and presently I was aware that Stubbs, the butler, was offering me a hat, as a hint, I supposed, that he wanted to shut the front door. I mechanically covered my head and strolled away.
I was trying to remember where I had seen Professor Cutter. I could not have known him well, for I never forget a man I have met three or four times ; and yet his face was perfectly familiar to me, and came vividly before me as I paced the garden walks. Instinctively I walked round the house again, and paused before the door that had attracted my attention an hour earlier. I listened, but heard nothing, and still I tried to recall my former meeting with Cutter. Strange, I thought, that I should seem to know him so well, and that I should nevertheless be unable to connect him in my mind with any date, or country, or circumstance. In vain I went over many scenes of my life, endeavoring to limit this remembrance to a particular period. I argued that our meeting, if we really had met, could not have taken place many years ago, for I recognized exactly the curling gray hairs in the professor’s beard, the wrinkles in his forehead, and a slight mark upon one cheek, just below the eye. I recollected the same spectacles; the same bushy, cropped gray hair; the same massive, square head set upon a short but powerful body; the same huge hands, spotlessly clean, the big nails kept closely pared and polished, but so large that they might have belonged to an extinct species of gigantic man. The whole of him and his belongings, to the very clothes he wore, seemed familiar to me and witnesses to his identity; but though I did my best for half an hour, I could not bring back one circumstance connected with him. I grew impatient and returned to the house, for it was time to dress for dinner, and I felt cold as I strolled about in the frosty moonlight.
We met again before dinner, for a few minutes, in the drawing-room. I went near to the professor, and examined his appearance very carefully. His evening dress set off the robust proportions of his frame, and the recollection I had of him struck me more forcibly than ever. I am not superstitious, but I began to fancy that we must have met in some former state, in some other sphere. He stood before the fire, rubbing his hands and answering all manner of questions that were put to him. He appeared to be an old friend of the family, to judge by the conversation, and yet I was positively certain that I had never seen him at Carvel Place. He knew all the family, however, and seemed familiar with their tastes and pursuits: he inquired about John’s manufacturing interests, and about Mrs. Carvel’s poor people ; he asked Hermione several questions about the recent exhibitions of flowers, and discussed with Chrysophrasia a sale of majolica which had just taken place in London. After this round of remarks I suspected that the professor would address himself to me, for his gray eyes rested on me from time to time with a look of recognition. But he held his peace, and we presently went to dinner.
Professor Cutter talked much and talked well, in a continuous, consistent manner that was satisfactory for a time, but a little wearisome in the long run. His ideas were often brilliant, and his expression of them was always original, but he had an extraordinary faculty of dominating the conversation. Even John Carvel, who knew a great deal in his way, found it hard to make any headway against the professor’s eloquence, though I could sometimes see that he was far from being convinced. The professor had been everywhere and had seen most things; he talked with absolute conviction of what he had seen, and avoided talking of what he had not seen, doubtless inferring that it was not worth seeing. Nevertheless, he was not a disagreeable person, as such men often are ; on the contrary, there was a charm of manner about him that was felt by every one present. I longed for the meal to be over, however, for I intended to seize the first opportunity which presented itself of asking him whether he remembered where we had met before.
I was destined to remain in suspense for some time. We had no sooner risen from dinner than John Carvel came up to me and spoke in a low voice.
Will you excuse me if I leave you alone, Griggs ? ” he said. “ I have very important business with Professor Cutter, which will not keep until to-morrow. We will join you in the drawing-room in about an hour.”
It was nothing to me if the two men had business together : I was sufficiently intimate in the house to be treated without ceremony, and I did not care for anybody’s company until I could find what I was searching for in the forgotten corners of my brain.
“Do not mind me,” I answered, and I retired into the smoking-room, and began to turn over the evening papersHow long I read I do not know, nor whether the news of the day was more or less interesting and credible than usual; I do not believe that an hour elapsed, either, for an hour is a long time when a man is not interested in what he is doing, and is trying to recall something to his mind. I cannot even tell why I so longed to recollect the professor’s face ; I only remember that the effort was intense, but wholly fruitless. I lay back in the deep leathern easy-chair, and all sorts of visions flitted before my halfclosed eyes, — visions of good and visions of evil, visions of yesterday and visions of long ago. Somehow I fell to thinking about the lattice-covered door in the wall, and I caught myself wondering who had been behind it when I passed; and then I laughed, for I had made up my mind that it must have been Miss Chrysophrasia, who had entered the drawing-room five minutes after I did. I sat staring at the fire. I was conscious that some one had entered the room, and presently the scratching of a match upon something rough roused me from my reverie. I looked round, and saw Professor Cutter standing by the table.
It sometimes happens that a very slight thing will recall a very long chain of circumstances; a look, the intonation of a word, the attitude of a moment, will call up other looks and words and attitudes in quick succession, until the chain is complete. So it happened to me, when I saw the learned professor standing by the table, with a cigar in his mouth, and his great gray eyes fixed upon me from behind his enormous spectacles. I recognized the man, and the little I knew of him came back to me.
The professor is one of the most learned specialists in neurology and the study of the brain now living; he is, moreover, a famous anthropologist. He began his career as a surgeon, and would have been celebrated as an operator had he not one day inherited a private fortune, which permitted him to abandon his surgical practice in favor of a special branch for which he knew himself more particularly fitted. So soon as I recalled the circumstances of our first meeting I realized that I had been in his company only a few moments, and had not known his name.
He came and sat himself down in an easy-chair by my side, and puffed in silence at a big cigar.
“ We have met before,” I said. “ I could not make you out at first. You were at Weissenstein last year. You remember that affair? ”
Professor Cutter looked at me curiously for several seconds before he answered.
“You are the man who let down the rope,” he said at last. “ I remember you now, very well.”
There was a short pause.
“ Did you ever hear any more of that lady ? ” asked he, presently.
“ No, I did not even know her name, any more than I knew yours,” I replied. “ I took you for a physician, and the lady for your patient.”
We heard steps on the polished floor outside the smoking-room.
“ If I were you, I would not say anything to Carvel about that matter,” said the professor quickly.
The door opened, and John entered the room. He was a little pale and looked nervous.
“ Ah,” he ejaculated, “ I thought you would fraternize over the tobacco.”
“ We are doing our best,” said I.
“ It is written that the free should be brothers and equal,” said the professor, with a laugh.
“ I never knew two brothers who were equal,” said Carvel, in reflective tones. “I do not know why the ideal freedom and equality, attaching to the ideal brothers, should not be as good as any other visionary aim for tangible earthly government; but it certainly does not seem so easy of realization, nor so sound in the working, as our good English principle that exceptions prove the rule, and that the more exceptions there are the better the rule will be.”
“ Is that speech an attack upon American freedom ? ” asked the professor, laughing a little. “ I believe Mr. Griggs is an American.”
“ No, indeed. Why should I attack American freedom ? ” said John.
“ American freedom is not so easily attacked,” I remarked. “ It eludes definition and rejects political paradox. No one ever connects our republic with the fashionable liberty-fraternity-and-equality doctrines of European emancipation ; still less with the communistic idea that, although men have very different capacities for originating things, all men have an equal right to destroy them.”
“Griggs is mounted upon his hobby,” remarked John Carvel, stretching his feet out towards the fire. The professor turned the light of his spectacles upon me, and puffed a cloud of smoke.
” Are you a political enthusiast and a rider of hobby-horses, Mr. Griggs ? ” he asked.
“ I do not know ; you must ask our host.”
“ Pardon me. I think you know very well,” said the professor. “ I should say you belonged to a class of persons who know very well what they think.”
“ How do you judge ? ”
“ That is, of all questions a man can ask, the most difficult to answer. How do you judge of anything ? ”
“ By applying the test of past experience to present fact,” I replied.
“Then past experience is that by which I judge. How can you expect me to tell you the whole of my past experience, in order that you may understand how my judgment is formed ? It would take years.”
“You are a pair of very singular men,” remarked John Carvel. “You seem to take to argument as fish to the water. You ought to be successful in a school of walking philosophers.”
John seemed more depressed than I had ever seen him, and only made an observation from time to time, as though to make a show of hospitality. The professor interested me, but I could see that we were boring Carvel. The conversation languished, and before long the latter proposed that we should go into the drawing-room for half an hour before bed-time.
We found the ladies seated around the fire. Their voices fell suddenly as we entered the room, and all of them looked towards John and the professor, as though expecting something. It struck me that they had been talking of some matter which was not intended for our ears.
“ We have been making plans for Christmas,” said Mrs. Carvel, as though to break the awkward silence that followed our entrance.
F. Marion Crawford.