A ripe experience of German pillows in country places leads me to urge the intending traveller to be sure to take his own. The native pillows are mere bags, in which feathers may have been once. There is no substance in them at all. They are of a horrid flabbiness. And they have, of course, the common drawback of all public pillows, they are haunted by the nightmares of other people. A pillow, it is true, takes up a great deal of room in one's luggage, but in Rügen however simply you dress you are better dressed than the others, so that you need take hardly any clothes. My hold-all, not a specially big one, really did hold all I wanted. The pillow filled one side of it, and my bathing things a great part of the other, and I was away eleven days; yet I am sure I was admirably clean the whole time, and I defy any one to say my garments were not both appropriate and irreproachable. Towards the end, it is true, Gertrud had to mend and brush a good deal, but those are two of the things she is there for; and it is infinitely better to be comfortable at night than, by leaving the pillow at home and bringing dresses in its place, be more impressive by day. And let no one visit Rügen who is not of that meek and lowly character that would always prefer a good pillow to a diversity of raiment, and has no prejudices about its food.
Having eased my conscience by these hints, which he will find invaluable, to the traveller, I can now go on to say that except for the pillow I would have had if I had not brought my own, for the coloured quilt, for the water to wash with brought in a very small coffee-pot, and for the breakfast which was as cold and repellent as in some moods some persons find the world, my experiences of the hotel were pleasing. It is true that I spent most of the day, as I shall presently relate, away from it, and it is also true that in the searching light of morning I saw much that had been hidden: scraps of paper lying about the grass near the house, an automatic bon-bon machine in the form of a brooding hen, and an automatic weighing machine, both at the top of the very steps leading down to the nook that had been the night before enchanted, and, worst shock of all, an electric bell piercing the heart of the very beech tree under which I had sat. But the beauties are so many and so great that if a few of them are spoilt there are still enough left to make Lauterbach one of the most delightful places conceivable. The hotel was admirably quiet; no tourists arrived late, and those already in it seemed to go to bed extraordinarily early; for when I came up from the water soon after ten the house was so silent that instinctively I stole along the passages on the tips of my toes, and for no reason that I could discover felt conscience-stricken. Gertrud, too, appeared to think it was unusually late; she was waiting for me at the door with a lamp, and seemed to expect me to look conscience-stricken. Also, she had rather the expression of the resigned and forgiving wife of an incorrigible evil-doer. I went into my room much pleased that I am not a man and need not have a wife who forgives me.
The windows were left wide open, and all night through my dreams I could hear the sea gently rippling among the rushes. At six in the morning a train down at the station hidden behind the chestnuts began to shunt and to whistle, and as it did not leave off and I could not sleep till it did, I got up and sat at the window and amused myself watching the pictures between the columns in the morning sunlight. A solitary mower in the meadow was very busy with his scythe, but its swishing could not be heard through the shunting. At last the train steamed away and peace settled down again over Lauterbach, the scythe swished audibly, the larks sang rapturously, and I fell to saying my prayers, for indeed it was a day to be grateful for, and the sea was the deepest, divinest blue.
The bathing at Lauterbach is certainly perfect. You walk along a footpath on the edge of low cliffs, shaded all the way from the door of the hotel to the bathing-huts by the beechwood, the water heaving and shining just below you, the island of Vilm opposite, the distant headland of Thiessow a hazy violet line between the misty blues of sea and sky in front, and at your feet moss and grass and dear common flowers flecked with the dancing lights and shadows of a beechwood when the sun is shining.
'Oh this is perfect!' I exclaimed to Gertrud; for on a fine fresh morning one must exclaim to somebody. She was behind me on the narrow path, her arms full of towels and bathing things. 'Won't you bathe too, afterwards, Gertrud? Can you resist it?'
But Gertrud evidently could resist it very well. She glanced at the living loveliness of the sea with an eye that clearly saw in it only a thing that made dry people wet. If she had been Dr. Johnson she would boldly have answered, 'Madam, I hate immersion.' Being Gertrud, she pretended that she had a cold.
'Well, to-morrow then,' I said hopefully; but she said colds hung about her for days.
'Well, as soon as you have got over it,' I said, persistently and odiously hopeful; but she became prophetic and said she would never get over it.
The bathing-huts are in a row far enough away from the shore to be in deep water. You walk out to them along a little footbridge of planks and find a sunburnt woman, amiable as all the people seem to be who have their business in deep waters, and she takes care of your things and dries them for you and provides you with anything you have forgotten and charges you twenty pfennings at the end for all her attentions as well as the bathe. The farthest hut is the one to get if you can—another invaluable hint. It is very roomy, and has a sofa, a table, and a big looking-glass, and one window opening to the south and one to the east. Through the east window you see the line of low cliffs with the woods above till they melt into a green plain that stretches off into vagueness towards the haze of Thiessow. Through the south window you see the little island of Vilm, with its one house set about with cornfields, and its woods on the high ground at the back.
Gertrud sat on the steps knitting while I swam round among the jelly-fish and thought of Marianne North. How right she was about the bathing, and the colours, and the crystal clearness of the water in that sandy cove! The bathing woman leaned over the hand-rail watching me with a sympathetic smile. She wore a white sun-bonnet, and it looked so well against the sky that I wished Gertrud could be persuaded to put one on too in place of her uninteresting and eminently respectable black bonnet. I could have stayed there for hours, perfectly happy, floating on the sparkling stuff, and I did stay there for nearly one, with the result that I climbed up the cliff a chilled and saddened woman, and sat contemplating the blue tips of my fingers while the waiter brought breakfast, and thought what a pitiful thing it was to have blue finger tips, instead of rejoicing as I would have done after a ten minutes' swim in the glorious fact that I was alive at all on such a morning.
The cold tea, cold eggs, and hard rolls did not make me more cheerful. I sat under the beeches where I had had supper the night before and shivered in my thickest coat, with the July sun blazing on the water and striking brilliant colours out of the sails of the passing fisher-boats. The hotel dog came along the shingle with his tongue out, and lay down near me in the shade. Visitors from Putbus, arriving in an omnibus for their morning bathe, passed by fanning themselves with their hats.
The Putbus visitors come down every morning in a sort of waggonette to bathe and walk back slowly up the hill to dinner. After this exertion they think they have done enough for their health, and spend the rest of the day sleeping, or sitting out of doors drinking beer and coffee. I think this is quite a good way of spending a holiday if you have worked hard all the rest of the year; and the tourists I saw looked as if they had. More of them stay at Putbus than at Lauterbach, although it is so much farther from the sea, because the hotel I was at was slightly dearer than—I ought rather to say, judging from the guide-book, not quite so cheap as—the Putbus hotels. I suppose it was less full than it might be because of this slight difference, or perhaps there was the slight difference because it was less full—who shall solve such mysteries? Anyhow the traveller need not be afraid of the bill, for when I engaged our rooms the waiter was surprised that I refused to put myself en pension, and explained in quite an aggrieved voice that all the Herrschaften put themselves en pension, and he hoped I did not think five marks a day for everything a too expensive arrangement. I praised the arrangement as just and excellent, but said that, being a bird of passage, I would prefer not to make it.
After breakfast I set out to explore the Goor, the lovely beechwood stretching along the coast from the very doors of the hotel. I started so briskly down the footpath on the edge of the cliffs in the hope of getting warm, that tourists who were warm already and were sitting under the trees gasping, stared at me reproachfully as I hurried past.
The Goor is beautiful. The path I took runs through thick shade with many windings, and presently comes out at the edge of the wood down by the sea in a very hot, sheltered corner, where the sun beats all day long on the shingle and coarse grass. A solitary oak tree, old and storm-beaten, stands by itself near the water; across the water is the wooded side of Vilm; and if you continue along the shingle a few yards you are away from the trees and out on a grassy plain, where lilac scabious bend their delicate stalks in the wind. An old black fishing-smack lay on its side on the shingle, its boards blistered by the sun. Its blackness and the dark lines of the solitary oak sharply cleft the flood of brilliant light. What a hot, happy corner to lie in all day with a book! No tourists go to it, for the path leads to nowhere, ending abruptly just there in coarse grass and shingle—a mixture grievous to the feet of the easily tired. The usual walk for those who have enough energy—it is not a very long one, and does not need much—is through the Goor to the north side, where the path takes you to the edge of a clover field across which you see the little village of Vilmnitz nestling among its trees and rye, and then brings you back gently and comfortably and shadily to the hotel; but this turning to the right only goes down to the shingle, the old boat, and the lonely oak. The first thing to do in that hot corner is to pull off your coat, which I did; and if you like heat and dislike blue finger tips and chilled marrows, lie down on the shingle, draw your hat over your eyes, and bake luxuriously, which I did also. In the pocket of my coat was The Prelude, the only book I had brought. I brought it because I know of no other book that is at the same time so slender and so satisfying. It slips even into a woman's pocket, and has an extraordinarily filling effect on the mind. Its green limp covers are quite worn with the journeys it has been with me. I take it wherever I go; and I have read it and read it for many summers without yet having entirely assimilated its adorable stodginess. Oh shade of Wordsworth, to think that so unutterable a grub and groveller as I am should dare call anything of thine Stodgy! But it is this very stodginess that makes it, if you love Wordsworth, the perfect book where there can be only one. You must, to enjoy it, be first a lover of Wordsworth. You must love the uninspired poems for the sake of the divineness of the inspired poems. You must be able to be interested in the description of Simon Lee's personal appearance, and not mind his wife, an aged woman, being made to rhyme with the Village Common. Even the Idiot Boy should not be a stumbling-block to you; and your having learned The Pet Lamb in the nursery is no reason why you should dislike it now. They all have their beauties; there is always some gem, more or less bright, to be found in them; and the pages of The Prelude are strewn with precious jewels. I have had it with me so often in happy country places that merely to open it and read that first cry of relief and delight—'Oh there is blessing in this gentle breeze!'—brings back the dearest remembrances of fresh and joyous hours. And how wholesome to be reminded when the days are rainy and things look blank of the many joyous hours one has had. Every instant of happiness is a priceless possession for ever.
That morning my Prelude fell open at the Residence in London, a part where the gems are not very thick, and the satisfying properties extremely developed. My eye lighted on the bit where he goes for a walk in the London streets, and besides a Nurse, a Bachelor, a Military Idler, and a Dame with Decent Steps—figures with which I too am familiar—he sees—
... with basket at his breast
The Jew; the stately and slow-moving Turk
With freight of slipper piled beneath his arm....
The Swede, the Russian; from the genial south
The Frenchman and the Spaniard; from remote
America, the Hunter-Indian; Moors,
Malays, Lascars, the Tartar, the Chinese,
And Negro Ladies in white muslin gowns
—figures which are not, at any rate, to be met in the streets of Berlin. I am afraid to say that this is not poetry, for perhaps it is only I do not know it; but after all one can only judge according to one's lights, and no degree of faintness and imperfection in the lights will ever stop any one from judging; therefore I will have the courage of my opinions, and express my firm conviction that it is not poetry at all. But the passage set me off musing. That is the pleasant property of The Prelude, it makes one at the end of every few lines pause and muse. And presently the image of the Negro Ladies in their white muslin gowns faded, and those other lines, children of the self-same spirit but conceived in the mood when it was divine, stood out in shining letters—
Not in entire forgetfulness.
And not in utter nakedness....
I need not go on; it is sacrilege to write them down in such a setting of commonplaceness; I could not say them aloud to my closest friend with a steady voice; they are lines that seem to come fresh from God.
And now I know that the Negro Ladies, whatever their exact poetic value may be, have become a very real blessing to an obscure inhabitant of Prussia, for in the future I shall only need to see the passage to be back instantaneously on the hot shingle, with the tarred edge of the old boat above me against the sky, the blue water curling along the shore at my feet, and the pale lilac flowers on the delicate stalks bending their heads in the wind.
About twelve the sun drove me away. The backs of my hands began to feel as though they proposed to go into blisters. I could not lie there and deliberately be blistered, so I got up and wandered back to the hotel to prepare Gertrud for a probably prolonged absence, as I intended to get across somehow to the island of Vilm. Having begged her to keep calm if I did not appear again till bedtime I took the guide-book and set out. The way to the jetty is down a path through the meadow close to the water, with willows on one side of it and rushes on the other. In ten minutes you have reached Lauterbach, seen some ugly little new houses where tourists lodge, seen some delightful little old houses where fishermen live, paid ten pfennings toll to a smiling woman at the entrance to the jetty, on whom it is useless to waste amiabilities, she being absolutely deaf, and having walked out to the end begin to wonder how you are to get across. There were fishing-smacks at anchor on one side, and a brig from Sweden was being unloaded. A small steamer lay at the end, looking as though it meant to start soon for somewhere; but on my asking an official who was sitting on a coil of ropes staring at nothing if it would take me to Vilm, he replied that he did not go to Vilm but would be pleased to take me to Baabe. Never having heard of Baabe I had no desire to go to it. He then suggested Greifswald, and said he went there the next day; and when I declined to be taken to Greifswald the next day instead of to Vilm that day he looked as though he thought me unreasonable, and relapsed into his first abstraction.
A fisherman was lounging near, leaning against one of the posts and also staring straight into space, and when I turned away he roused himself enough to ask if I would use his smack. He pointed to it where it lay a little way out—a big boat with the bright brown sails that make such brilliant splashes of colour in the surrounding blues and whites. There was only a faint breeze, but he said he could get me across in twenty minutes and would wait for me all day if I liked, and would only charge three marks. Three marks for a whole fishing-smack with golden sails, and a fisherman with a golden beard, blue eyes, stalwart body, and whose remote grandparents had certainly been Vikings! I got into his dinghy without further argument, and was rowed across to the smack. A small Viking, appropriately beardless, he being only ten, but with freckles, put his head out of the cabin as we drew alongside, and was presented to me as the eldest of five sons. Father and son made a comfortable place for me in a not too fishy part of the boat, hauled up the huge poetic sail, and we glided out beyond the jetty. This is the proper way, the only right way, to visit Vilm, the most romantic of tiny islands. Who would go to it any other way but with a Viking and a golden sail? Yet there is another way, I found out, and it is the one most used. It is a small launch plying between Lauterbach and Vilm, worked by a machine that smells very nasty and makes a great noise; and as it is a long narrow boat. If there are even small waves it rolls so much that the female passengers, and sometimes even the male, scream. Also the spray flies over it and drenches you. In calm weather it crosses swiftly, doing the distance in ten minutes. My smack took twenty to get there and much longer to get back, but what a difference in the joy! The puffing little launch rushed past us when we were midway, when I should not have known that we were moving but for the slight shining ripple across the bows, and the thud of its machine and the smell of its benzine were noticeable for a long time after it had dwindled to a dot. The people in it certainly got to their destination quickly, but Vilm is not a place to hurry to. There is nothing whatever on it to attract the hurried. To rush across the sea to it and back again to one's train at Lauterbach is not to have felt its singular charm. It is a place to dream away a summer in; but the wide-awake tourist visiting it between two trains would hardly know how to fill up the three hours allotted him. You can walk right round it in three-quarters of an hour. In three-quarters of an hour you can have seen each of the views considered fine and accordingly provided with a seat, have said 'Oh there is Thiessow again,' on looking over the sea to the east; and 'Oh there is Putbus again,' on looking over the sea to the west; and 'Oh that must be Greifswald,' on remarking far away in the south the spires of churches rising up out of the water; you will have had ample time to smile at the primitiveness of the bathing-hut on the east shore, to study the names of past bathers scribbled over it, besides poems, valedictory addresses, and quotations from the German classics; to sit for a little on the rocks thinking how hard rocks are; and at length to wander round, in sheer inability to fill up the last hour, to the inn, the only house on the island, where at one of the tables under the chestnuts before the door you would probably drink beer till the launch starts.
But that is not the way to enjoy Vilm. If you love out-of-door beauty, wide stretches of sea and sky, mighty beeches, dense bracken, meadows radiant with flowers, chalky levels purple with gentians, solitude, and economy, go and spend a summer at Vilm. The inn is kept by one of Prince Putbus's foresters, or rather by his amiable and obliging wife, the forester's functions being apparently restricted to standing picturesquely propped against a tree in front of the house in a nice green shooting suit, with a telescope at his eye through which he studies the approaching or departing launch. His wife does the rest. I sat at one of the tables beneath the chestnuts waiting for my food—I had to wait a very long while—and she came out and talked. The season, she explained, was short, lasting two months, July and August, at the longest, so that her prices were necessarily high. I inquired what they were, and she said five marks a day for a front room looking over the sea, and four marks and a half for a back room looking over the forest, the price including four meals. Out of the season her charges were lower. She said most of her visitors were painters, and she could put up four-and-twenty with their wives. My luncheon came while she was still trying to find out if I were a female painter, and if not why I was there alone instead of being one of a batch, after the manner of the circumspect-petticoated, and I will only say of the luncheon that it was abundant. Its quality, after all, did not matter much. The rye grew up to within a yard of my table and made a quivering golden line of light against the blue sparkle of the sea. White butterflies danced above it. The breeze coming over it blew sweet country smells in my face. The chestnut leaves shading me rustled and whispered. All the world was gay and fresh and scented, and if the traveller does not think these delights make up for doubtful cookery, why does he travel?
The Frau Förster insisted on showing me the bedrooms. They are simple and very clean, each one with a beautiful view. The rest of the house, including the dining-room, does not lend itself to enthusiastic description. I saw the long table at which the four-and-twenty painters eat. They were doing it when I looked in, and had been doing it the whole time I was under the chestnuts. It was not because of the many dishes that they sat there so long, but because of the few waiters. There were at least forty people learning to be patient, and one waiter and a boy to drive the lesson home. The bathing, too, at Vilm cannot be mentioned in the same breath with the glorious bathing at Lauterbach. There is no smiling attendant in a white sunbonnet waiting to take your things and dry them, to rub you down when you come out shivering, and if needful jump in and pull you out when you begin to drown. At Vilm the bathing-hut lies on the east shore, and you go to it across a meadow—the divinest strip of meadow, it is true, with sea behind you and sea before you, and cattle pasturing, and a general radiant air about it as though at any moment the daughters of the gods might come over the buttercups to bleach their garments whiter in the sun. But beautiful as it is, it is a very hot walk, and there is no path. Except the path through the rye from the landing-stage up to the inn there is not a regular path on the island—only a few tracks here and there where the cows are driven home in the evening; and to reach the bathing-hut you must plunge straight through meadow-grass, and not mind grasshoppers hopping into your clothes. Then the water is so shallow just there that you must wade quite a dangerous-looking distance before, lying down, it will cover you; and while you are wading, altogether unable, as he who has waded knows, to hurry your steps, however urgent the need, you blush to think that some or all of the four-and-twenty painters are probably sitting on rocks observing you. Wading back, of course, you blush still more. I never saw so frank a bathing-place. It is beautiful—in a lovely curve, cliffs clothed with beeches on one side, and the radiant meadow along the back of the rocks on the other; but the whole island can see you if you go out far enough to be able to swim, and if you do not you are still a conspicuous object and a very miserable one, bound to catch any wandering eye as you stand there alone, towering out of water that washes just over your ankles.
I sat in the shadow of the cliffs and watched two girls who came down to bathe. They did not seem to feel their position at all, and splashed into the water with shrieks and laughter that rang through the mellow afternoon air. So it was that I saw how shallow it is, and how embarrassing it would be to the dignified to bathe there. The girls had no dignity, and were not embarrassed. Probably one, or two, of the four-and-twenty were their fathers, and that made them feel at home. Or perhaps—and watching them I began to think that this was so—they would rather have liked to be looked at by those of the painters who were not their fathers. Anyhow, they danced and laughed and called to each other, often glancing back inquiringly at the cliffs; and indeed they were very pretty in their little scarlet suits in the sapphire frame of the sea.
I sat there long after the girls were clothed and transformed into quite uninteresting young women, and had gone their way noisily up the grass slope into the shadows of the beeches. The afternoon stillness was left to itself again, undisturbed by anything louder than the slow ripple of the water round the base of the rocks. Sometimes a rabbit scuttled up the side of the cliff, and once a hawk cried somewhere up among the little clouds. The shadows grew very long; the shadows of the rocks on the water looked as though they would stretch across to Thiessow before the sun had done with them. Out at sea, far away beyond the hazy headland, a long streak of smoke hung above the track where a steamer had passed on the way to Russia. I wish I could fill my soul with enough of the serenity of such afternoons to keep it sweet for ever.
Vilm consists of two wooded hills joined together by a long, narrow, flat strip of land. This strip, beyond the meadow and its fringing trees, is covered with coarse grass and stones and little shells. Clumps of wild fruit trees scattered about it here and there look as if they knew what roughing it is like. The sea washes over it in winter when the wind is strong from the east, and among the trees are frequent skeletons, dead fruit trees these many seasons past, with the tortured look peculiar to blasted trees, menacing the sky with gaunt, impotent arms. After struggling along this bit, stopping every few minutes to shake the shells out of my shoes, I came to uneven ground, soft green grass, and beautiful trees—a truly lovely part at the foot of the southern hill. Here I sat down for a moment to take the last shells out of my shoes and to drink things in. I had not seen a soul since the bathing girls, and supposed that most of the people staying at the inn would not care on hot afternoons to walk over the prickly grass and shells that must be walked over before reaching the green coolness of the end. And while I was comfortably supposing this and shaking my shoe slowly up and down and thinking how delightful it was to have the charming place to myself, I saw a young man standing on a rock under the east cliff of the hill in the very act of photographing the curving strip of land, with the sea each side of it, and myself in the middle.
Now I am not of those who like being photographed much and often. At intervals that grow longer I go through the process at the instant prayers of my nearest and dearest; but never other than deliberately, after due choice of fitting attitude and garments. The kodak and the instantaneous photograph taken before one has had time to arrange one's smile are things to be regarded with abhorrence by every woman whose faith in her attractions is not unshakeable. Movements so graceful that the Early Victorians would have described them as swan-like—those Early Victorians who wore ringlets, curled their upper lips, had marble brows, and were called Georgiana—movements, I say, originally swan-like in grace, are translated by the irreverent snap-shot into a caricature that to the photographed appears not even remotely like, and fills the photographed's friends with an awful secret joy. 'What manner of young man is this?' I asked myself, examining him with indignation. He stood on the rock a moment, looking about as if for another good subject, and finally his eye alighted on me. Then he got off his rock and came towards me. 'What manner of young man is this?' I again asked myself, putting on my shoe in haste and wrath. He was coming to apologise, I supposed, having secured his photograph.
He was. I sat gazing severely at Thiessow, There is no running away from vain words or from anything else on an island. He was a tall young man, and there was something indefinable and reassuring about his collar.
'I am so sorry,' he said with great politeness. 'I did not notice you. Of course I did not intend to photograph you. I shall destroy the film.'
At this I felt hurt. Being photographed without permission is bad, but being told your photograph is not wanted and will be destroyed is worse. He was a very personable young man, and I like personable young men; from the way he spoke German and from his collar I judged him English, and I like Englishmen; and he had addressed me as gnädiges Fräulein, and what mother of a growing family does not like that?
'I did not see you,' I said, not without blandness, touched by his youth and innocence, 'or I should have got out of your way.'
'I shall destroy the film,' he again assured me; and lifted his cap and went back to the rocks.
Now if I stayed where I was he could not photograph the strip again, for it was so narrow that I would have been again included, and he was evidently bent on getting a picture of it, and fidgeted about among the rocks waiting for me to go. So I went; and as I climbed up the south hill under the trees I mused on the pleasant slow manners of Englishmen, who talk and move as though life were very spacious and time may as well wait. Also I wondered how he had found this remote island. I was inclined to wonder that I had found it myself; but how much more did I wonder that he had found it.
There are many rabbit-holes under the trees at the south end of Vilm, and I disturbed no fewer than three snakes one after the other in the long grass. They were of the harmless kind, but each in turn made me jump and shiver, and after the third I had had enough, and clambered down the cliff on the west side and went along at the foot of it towards the farthest point of the island, with the innocent intention of seeing what was round the corner. The young man was round the corner, and I walked straight into another photograph; I heard the camera snap at the very instant that I turned the bend.
This time he looked at me with something of a grave inquiry in his eye.
'I assure you I do not want to be photographed,' I said hastily.
'I hope you believe that I did not intend to do it again,' he replied.
'I am very sorry,' said I.
'I shall destroy the film,' said he.
'It seems a great waste of films,' said I.
The young man lifted his cap; I continued my way among the rocks eastward; he went steadily in the opposite direction; round the other side of the hill we met again.
'Oh,' I cried, genuinely disturbed, 'have I spoilt another?'
The young man smiled—certainly a very personable young man—and explained that the light was no longer strong enough to do any more. Again in this explanation did he call me gnädiges Fräulein, and again was I touched by so much innocence. And his German, too, was touching; it was so conscientiously grammatical, so laboriously put together, so like pieces of Goethe learned by heart.
By this time the sun hung low over the houses of Putbus, and the strip of sand with its coarse grass and weatherbeaten trees was turned by the golden flush into a fairy bridge, spanning a mystic sea, joining two wonderful, shining islands. We walked along with all the radiance in our faces. It is, as I have observed, impossible to get away from any one on an island that is small enough. We were both going back to the inn, and the strip of land is narrow. Therefore we went together, and what that young man talked about the whole way in the most ponderous German was the Absolute.
I can't think what I have done that I should be talked to for twenty minutes by a nice young man who mistook me for a Fräulein about the Absolute. He evidently thought—the innocence of him!—that being German I must, whatever my sex and the shape of my head, be interested. I don't know how it began. It was certainly not my fault, for till that day I had had no definite attitude in regard to it. Of course I did not tell him that. Age has at least made me artful. A real Fräulein would have looked as vacant as she felt, and have said, 'What is the Absolute?' Being a matron and artful, I simply looked thoughtful—quite an easy thing to do—and said, 'How do you define it?'
He said he defined it as a negation of the conceivable. Continuing in my artfulness I said that there was much to be said for that view of it, and asked how he had reached his conclusions. He explained elaborately. Clearly he took me to be an intelligent Fräulein, and indeed I gave myself great pains to look like one.
It appeared that he had a vast admiration for everything German, and especially for German erudition. Well, we are very erudite in places. Unfortunately no erudition comes up my way.
My acquaintances do not ask the erudite to dinner, one of the reasons, as insufficient as the rest, being that they either wear day clothes in the evening, or, if worldly enough to dress, mar the effect by white satin ties with horse-shoe pins in them; and another is that they are Liberals, and therefore uninvitable. When the unknown youth, passing naturally from Kant and the older philosophers to the great Germans now living, enthusiastically mentioned the leading lights in science and art and asked if I knew them or had ever seen them—the mere seeing of them he seemed to think would be a privilege—I could only murmur no. How impossible to explain to this scion of an unprejudiced race the limitless objection of the class called Junker—I am a female Junker—to mix on equal terms with the class that wears white satin ties in the evening. But it is obvious that a man who can speak with the tongue of angels, who has put his seal on his century, and who will be remembered when we have returned, forgotten, to the Prussian dust from which we came—or rather not forgotten because we were at no time remembered, but simply ignored—it is obvious that such a man may wear what tie he pleases when he comes to dine, and still ought to be received on metaphorical knees of reverence and gratitude. Probably, however, if we who live in the country and think no end of ourselves did invite such a one, and whether there were hostesses on knees waiting for him or not, he would not come. How bored he would be if he did. He would find us full of those excellences Pater calls the more obvious parochial virtues, jealous to madness of the sensitive and bloodthirsty appendage known as our honour, exact in the observance of minor conventionalities, correct in our apparel, rigid in our views, and in our effect uninterruptedly soporific. The man who had succeeded in pushing his thoughts farther into the region of the hitherto unthought than any of his contemporaries would not, I think, if he came once, come again. But it is supposing the impossible, after all, to suppose him invited, for all the great ones of whom the unknown youth talked are Liberals, and all the Junkers are Conservatives; and how shall a German Conservative be the friend of a German Liberal? The thing is unthinkable. Like the young man's own definition of the Absolute, it is a negation of the conceivable.
By the time we had reached the chestnut grove in front of the inn I had said so little that my companion was sure I was one of the most intelligent women he had ever met. I know he thought so, for he turned suddenly to me as we were walking past the Frau Förster's wash-house and rose-garden up to the chestnuts, and said, 'How is it that German women are so infinitely more intellectual than English women?'
Intellectual! How nice. And all the result of keeping quiet in the right places.
'I did not know they were,' I said modestly; which was true.
'Oh but they are,' he assured me with great positiveness; and added, 'Perhaps you have noticed that I am English?'
Noticed that he was English? From the moment I first saw his collar I suspected it; from the moment he opened his mouth and spoke I knew it; and so did everybody else under the chestnuts who heard him speaking as he passed. But why not please this artless young man? So I looked at him with the raised eyebrows of intense surprise and said, 'Oh, are you English?'
'I have been a good deal in Germany,' he said, looking happy.
'But it is extraordinary,' I said.
'It is not so very difficult,' he said, looking more and more happy.
'But really not German? Fabelhaft.'
The young man's belief in my intelligence was now unshakeable. The Frau Förster, who had seen me disembark and set out for my walk alone, and who saw me now returning with a companion of the other sex, greeted me coldly. Her coldness, I felt, was not unjustifiable. It is not my practice to set out by myself and come back telling youths I have never seen before that their accomplishments are fabelhaft. I began to feel coldly towards myself, and turning to the young man said good-bye with some abruptness.
'Are you going in?' he asked.
'I am not staying here.'
'But the launch does not start for an hour. I go across too, then.'
'I am not crossing in the launch. I came over in a fishing-smack.'
'Oh really?' He seemed to meditate. 'How delightfully independent,' he added.
'Have you not observed that the German Fräulein is as independent as she is intellectual?'
'No, I have not. That is just where I think the Germans are so far behind us. Their women have nothing like the freedom ours have.'
'What, not when they sail about all alone in fishing-smacks?'
'That certainly is unusually enterprising. May I see you safely into it?'
The Frau Förster came towards us and told him that the food he had ordered for eight o'clock was ready.
'No, thank you,' I said, 'don't bother. There is a fisherman and a boy to help me in. It is quite easy.'
'Oh but it is no bother——'
'I will not take you away from your supper.'
'Are you not going to have supper here?'
'I lunched here to-day. So I will not sup.'
'Is the reason a good one?'
'You will see. Good-bye.'
I went away down the path to the beach. The path is steep, and the corn on either side stands thick and high, and a few steps took me out of sight of the house, the chestnuts, and the young man. The smack was lying some distance out, and the dinghy was tied to her stern. The fisherman's son's head was visible in a peaceful position on a heap of ropes. It is difficult as well as embarrassing to shout, as I well knew, but somebody would have to, and as nobody was there but myself I was plainly the one to do it, I put my hands to my mouth, and not knowing the fisherman's name called out Sie. It sounded not only feeble but rude. When I remembered the appearance of the golden-bearded Viking, his majestic presence and dreamy dignity, I was ashamed to find myself standing on a rock and calling him as loud as I could Sie.
The head on the ropes did not stir. I waved my handkerchief. The boy's eyes were shut. Again I called out Sie, and thought it the most offensive of pronouns. The boy was asleep, and my plaintive cry went past him over the golden ripples towards Lauterbach.
Then the Englishman appeared against the sky, up on the ridge of the cornfield. He saw my dilemma, and taking his hands out of his pockets ran down. 'Gnädiges Fräulein is in a fix,' he observed in his admirably correct and yet so painful German.
'She is,' I said.
'Shall I shout?'
He shouted. The boy started up in alarm. The fisherman's huge body reared up from the depths of the boat. In two minutes the dinghy was at the little plank jetty, and I was in it.
'It was a very good idea to charter one of those romantic smacks to come over in,' said the young man on the jetty wistfully.
'They're rather fishy,' I replied, smiling, as we pushed off.
'But so very romantic.'
'Have you not observed that the German Fräulein is a romantic creature,'—the dinghy began to move—'a beautiful mixture of intelligence, independence, and romance?'
'Are you staying at Putbus?'
'No. Good-bye. Thanks for coming down and shouting. You know your food will be quite cold and uneatable.'
'I gathered from what you said before that it will be uneatable anyhow.'
The dinghy was moving fast. There was a rapidly-widening strip of golden water between myself and the young man on the jetty.
'Not all of it,' I said, raising my voice. 'Try the compote. It is lovely compote. It is what you would call in England glorified gooseberry jam.'
'Glorified gooseberry jam?' echoed the young man, apparently much struck by these three English words. 'Why,' he added, speaking louder, for the golden strip had grown very wide, 'you said that without the ghost of a foreign accent!'
The dinghy shot into the shadow of the fishing-smack. The Viking and the boy shipped their oars, helped me in, tied the dinghy to the stern, hoisted the sail, and we dropped away into the sunset.
The young man on the distant jetty raised his cap. He might have been a young archangel, standing there the centre of so much glory. Certainly a very personable young man.