She was asleep next morning when I looked into her bedroom, so I shut the door softly, and charging Gertrud not to disturb her, went out for a walk. It was not quite eight and people had not got away from their coffee yet, so I had it to myself, the walk along the shore beneath the beeches, beside the flashing morning sea. The path runs along for a little close to the water at the foot of the steep beech-grown hill that shuts the west winds out of Binz—a hill steep enough and high enough to make him pant grievously who goes up it after dinner; then on the right comes a deep narrow cutting running up into the woods, cut, it seems, entirely out of smoothest, greenest moss, so completely are its sides covered with it. Standing midway up this cutting in the soft gloom of its green walls, with the branches of the beeches meeting far away above, and down at the bottom the sheet of shining water, I found absolutely the most silent bit of the world I have ever been in. The silence was wonderful. There seemed positively to be no sound at all. No sound came down from the beech leaves, and yet they were stirring; no sound came up from the water, not a ripple, not a splash; I heard no birds while I stood there, nor any hum of insects. It might have been the entrance to some holy place, so strange and solemn was the quiet; and looking from out of its shadows to the brightness shining at the upper end where the sun was flooding the bracken with happy morning radiance, I felt suddenly that my walk had ceased to be a common thing, and that I was going up into the temple of God to pray.
I know no surer way of shaking off the dreary crust formed about the soul by the trying to do one's duty or the patient enduring of having somebody else's duty done to one, than going out alone, either at the bright beginning of the day, when the earth is still unsoiled by the feet of the strenuous and only God is abroad; or in the evening, when the hush has come, out to the blessed stars, and looking up at them wonder at the meanness of the day just past, at the worthlessness of the things one has struggled for, at the folly of having been so angry, and so restless, and so much afraid. Nothing focusses life more exactly than a little while alone at night with the stars. What are perfunctory bedroom prayers hurried through in an atmosphere of blankets, to this deep abasement of the spirit before the majesty of heaven? And as a consecration of what should be yet one more happy day, of what value are those hasty morning devotions, disturbed by fears lest the coffee should be getting cold and that person, present in every household, whose property is always to reprove, be more than usually provoked, compared to going out into the freshness of the new day and thanking God deliberately under His own wide sky for having been so good to us? I know that when I had done my open-air Te Deum up there in the sun-flooded space among the shimmering bracken I went on my way with a lightheartedness never mine after indoor religious exercises. The forest was so gay that morning, so sparkling, so full of busy, happy creatures, it would have been a sorry heart that did not feel jolly in such society. In that all-pervading wholesomeness there was no room for repentance, no place for conscience-stricken beating of the breast; and indeed I think we waste a terrible amount of time repenting. The healthy attitude, the only reasonable one towards a fault made or a sin committed is surely a vigorous shake of one's moral shoulders, vigorous enough to shake it off and out of remembrance. The sin itself was a sad waste of time and happiness, and absolutely no more should be wasted in lugubriously reflecting on it. Shall we, poor human beings at such a disadvantage from the first in the fight with Fate through the many weaknesses and ailments of our bodies, load our souls as well with an ever-growing burden of regret and penitence? Shall we let a weight of vivid memories break our hearts? How are we to get on with our living if we are continually dropping into sloughs of bitter and often unjust self-reproach? Every morning comes the light, and a fresh chance of doing better. Is it not the sheerest folly and ingratitude to let yesterday spoil the God-given to-day?
There had been a heavy dew, and the moss along the wayside was soaked with it, and the leaves of the slender young beeches sparkled with it, and the bracken bending over the path on either side left its wetness on my dress as I passed. Nowhere was there a single bit of gloom where you could sit down and be wretched. The very jays would have laughed you out of countenance if you had sat there looking sorrowful. Sometimes the path was narrow, and the trees shut out the sky; sometimes it led me into the hot sunshine of an open, forest-fringed space; once it took me along the side of a meadow sloping up on its distant side to more forest, with only a single row of great beeches between me and the heat and light dancing over the grass; and all the way I had squirrels for company, chattering and enjoying themselves as sensible squirrels living only in the present do; and larks over my head singing in careless ecstasy just because they had no idea they were probably bad larks with pasts; and lizards, down at my feet, motionless in the hot sun, quite unaware of how wicked it becomes to lie in the sun doing nothing directly you wear clothes and have consciences. As for the scent of the forest, he who has been in it early after a dewy night knows that, and the effect it has on the spirits of him who smells it; so I need not explain how happy I was and how invigorated as I climbed up a long hill where the wood was thick and cool, and coming out at the top found I had reached a place of turf and sunshine, with tables in the shade at the farther side, and in the middle, coffee-pot in hand, a waiter.
This waiter came as a shock. My thoughts had wandered quite into the opposite channel to the one that ends in waiters. There he stood, however, solitary and suggestive, in the middle of the sunny green, a crumpled waiter in regard to shirt-front, and not a waiter, I should say, of more than bi-weekly washings; but his eye was persuasive, steam came out of the spout of his coffee-pot, and out of his mouth as I walked towards him issued appropriate words about the weather. I had meant to go back to breakfast with Charlotte, and there was no reason at all why I should cross the green and walk straight up to the waiter; but there was that in his eye which made me feel that if I did not drink his coffee not only had I no business on the top of the hill but I was unspeakably base besides. So I sat down at one of the tables beneath the beeches—there were at least twelve tables, and only one other visitor, a man in spectacles—and the waiter produced a tablecloth that made me shiver, and poured me out a cup of coffee and brought me a roll of immense resistance—one of yesterday's, I imagined, the roll cart from Binz not having had time yet to get up the hill. He fetched this roll from a pretty house with latticed windows standing on the side of the green, and he fixed me with his hungry eye and told me the house was an inn, and that it was not only ready but anxious to take me as a lodger for any period I might choose. I excused myself on the plea of its distance from the water. He said that precisely this distance was its charm. 'The lady,' he continued, with a wave of his coffee-pot that immediately caused a thin streak of steam to rise from the grass—'the lady can see for herself how idyllic is the situation.'
The lady murmured assent; and in order to avoid his hungry eye busied herself dividing her roll among some expectant fowls who, plainly used to the business, were crowding round her; so that the roll's staleness, perhaps intentional, ended by being entirely to the good of the inn.
By the time the fowls were ready for more the waiter, who had nothing pressing on hand, had become a nuisance too great to be borne. I would have liked to sit there and rest in the shade, watching the clouds slowly appear above the tree-tops opposite and sail over my head and out of sight, but I could not because of the waiter. So I paid him, got up, once more firmly declined either to take or look at rooms at the inn, and wished him a good morning instinct with dignity and chill.
'The lady will now of course visit the Jagdschloss,' said the waiter, whipping out a bundle of tickets of admission.
'The Jagdschloss?' I repeated; and following the direction of his eyes I saw a building through the trees just behind where I had been sitting, on the top of a sharp ascent.
So that was where my walk had led me to. The guide-book devotes several animated pages to this Jagdschloss, or shooting lodge. It belongs to Prince Putbus. Its round tower, rising out of a green sea of wood, was a landmark with which I had soon grown familiar. Whenever you climb up a hill in Rügen to see the view, you see the Jagdschloss. Whichever way you drive, it is always the central feature of the landscape. If it isn't anywhere else it is sure to be on the horizon. Only in some northern parts of the island does one get away from it, and even there probably a telescope used with skill would produce it at once. And here I was beneath its walls. Well, I had not intended going over it, and all I wanted at that moment was to get rid of the waiter and go on with my walk. But it was easier to take a ticket than to refuse and hear him exclaim and protest; so I paid fifty pfennings, was given a slip of paper, and started climbing the extremely steep ascent.
The site was obviously chosen without the least reference to the legs or lungs of tourists. They arrive at the top warm and speechless, and sinking down on the steps between two wolves made of copper the first thing they do is to spend several minutes gasping. Then they ring a bell, give up their tickets and umbrellas, and are taken round in batches by an elderly person who manifestly thinks them poor things.
When I got to the top I found the other visitor, the man in spectacles, sitting on the steps getting his gasping done. Having finished mine before him, he being a man of bulk, I rang the bell. The elderly official, who had a singular talent for making one feel by a mere look what a worm one really is, appeared. 'I cannot take each of you round separately,' he said, pointing at the man still fighting for air on the bottom step, 'or does your husband not intend to see the Schloss?'
'My husband?' I echoed, astonished.
'Now, sir,' he continued impatiently, addressing the back below, 'are you coming or not?'
The man in spectacles made a great effort, caught hold of the convenient leg of one of the copper wolves, pulled himself on to his feet with its aid, and climbed slowly up the steps.
'The public is requested not to touch the objects of art,' snapped the custodian, glancing at the wolf's leg to see if it had suffered.
The man in spectacles looked properly ashamed of his conduct; I felt ashamed of myself too, but only on the more general grounds of being such a worm; and together we silently followed the guide into the house, together gave up our tickets, and together laid our stick and sunshade side by side on a table.
A number was given to the man in spectacles.
'And my number?' I inquired politely.
'Surely one suffices?' said the guide, eyeing me with disapproval; for taking me for the wife of the man in spectacles he regarded my desire to have a number all to myself as only one more instance of the lengths to which the modern woman in her struggle for emancipation will go.
The stick and sunshade were accordingly tied together.
'Do you wish to ascend the tower?' he asked my companion, showing us the open-work iron staircase winding round and round inside the tower up to the top.
'Gott Du Allmächtiger, nein,' was the hasty reply after a glance and a shudder.
Taking for granted that without my husband I would not want to go up towers he did not ask me, but at once led the way through a very charming hall decorated with what are known as trophies of the chase, to a locked door, before which stood a row of enormous grey felt slippers.
'The public is not allowed to enter the princely apartments unless it has previously drawn these slippers over its boots,' said the guide as though he were quoting.
'All of them?' I asked, faintly facetious.
Again he eyed me, but this time in silence.
The man in spectacles thrust his feet into the nearest pair. They were generously roomy even for him, and he was a big man with boots to match. I looked down the row hoping to see something smaller, and perhaps newer, but they were all the same size, and all had been worn repeatedly by other tourists.
'The next time I come to the Jagdschloss,' I observed thoughtfully, as I saw my feet disappear into the gaping mouths of two of these woolly monsters, 'I shall bring my own slippers. This arrangement may be useful, but no one could call it select.'
Neither of my companions took the least notice of me. The guide looked disgusted. Judging from his face, though he still thought me a worm he now suspected me of belonging to that highly objectionable class known as turned.
Having seen us safely into our slippers he was about to unlock the door when the bell rang. He left us standing mute before the shut door, and leaning over the balustrade—for, Reader, as Charlotte Brontë would say, he had come upstairs—he called down to the Fräulein who had taken our stick and sunshade to let in the visitors. She did so; and as she flung open the door I saw, through the pillars of the balustrade, Brosy on the threshold, and at the bottom of the steps, leaning against one of the copper wolves, her arm, indeed, flung over its valuable shoulder, the bishop's wife gasping.
At this sight the custodian rushed downstairs. The man in spectacles and myself, mute, meek, and motionless in our felt slippers, held our breaths.
'The public is requested not to touch the objects of art!' shouted the custodian as he rushed.
'Is he speaking to me, dear?' asked Mrs. Harvey-Browne, looking up at her son.
'I think he is, mother,' said Ambrose. 'I don't think you may lean on that wolf.'
'Wolf?' said his mother in surprise, standing upright and examining the animal through her eyeglasses with interest. 'So it is. I thought they were Prussian eagles.'
'Anyhow you mustn't touch it, mother,' said Ambrose, a slight impatience in his voice. 'He says the public are not to touch things.'
'Does he really call me the public? Do you think he is a rude person, dear?'
'Does the lady intend to see the Schloss or not?' interrupted the custodian. 'I have another party inside waiting.'
'Come on, mother—you want to, don't you?'
'Yes—but not if he's a rude man, dear,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, slowly ascending the steps. 'Perhaps you had better tell him who father is.'
'I don't think it would impress him much,' said Brosy, smiling. 'Parsons come here too often for that.'
'Parsons! Yes; but not bishops,' said his mother, coming into the echoing hall, through whose emptiness her last words rang like a trumpet.
'He wouldn't know what a bishop is. They don't have them.'
'No bishops?' exclaimed his mother, stopping short and staring at her son with a face of concern.
'Bitte um die Eintrittskarten,' interrupted the custodian, slamming the door; and he pulled the tickets out of Brosy's hand.
'No bishops?' continued Mrs. Harvey-Browne, 'and no Early Fathers, as that smashed-looking person, that cousin of Frau Nieberlein's, told us last night? My dear Brosy, what a very strange state of things.'
'I don't think she quite said that, did she? They have Early Fathers right enough. She didn't understand what you meant.'
'Stick and umbrella, please,' interrupted the custodian, snatching them out of their passive hands. 'Take the number, please. Now this way, please.'
He hurried, or tried to hurry, them under the tower, but the bishop's wife had not hurried for years, and would not have dreamed of doing so; and when he had got them under it he asked if they wished to make the ascent. They looked up, shuddered, and declined.
'Then we will at once join the other party,' said the custodian, bustling on.
'The other party?' exclaimed Mrs. Harvey-Browne in German. 'Oh, I hope no objectionable tourists? I quite thought coming so early we would avoid them.'
'Only two,' said the custodian: 'a respectable gentleman and his wife.'
The man in spectacles and I, up to then mute, meek, and motionless in our grey slippers, started simultaneously. I looked at him cautiously out of the corners of my eyes, and found to my confusion that he was looking at me cautiously out of the corners of his. In another moment the Harvey-Brownes stood before us.
After one slight look of faintest surprise at my companion the pleasant Ambrose greeted me as though I were an old friend; and then bowing with a politeness acquired during his long stay in the Fatherland to the person he supposed was my husband, introduced himself in German fashion by mentioning his name, and observed that he was exceedingly pleased to make his acquaintance. 'Es freut mich sehr Ihre Bekanntschaft zu machen,' said the pleasant Ambrose.
'Gleichfalls, gleichfalls,' murmured the man in spectacles, bowing repeatedly, and obviously astonished. To the bishop's wife he also made rapid and bewildered bows until he saw she was gazing over his head, and then he stopped. She had recognised my presence by the merest shadow of a nod, which I returned with an indifference that was icy; but, oddly enough, what offended me more than her nod was the glance she had bestowed on the man in spectacles before she began to gaze over his head. He certainly did not belong to me, and yet I was offended. This seemed to me so subtle that it set me off pondering.
'The public is not allowed to enter the princely apartments unless it has previously drawn these slippers over its boots,' said the custodian.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne looked at him critically. 'He has a very crude way of expressing himself, hasn't he, dear?' she remarked to Ambrose.
'He is only quoting official regulations. He must, you know, mother. And we are undoubtedly the public.'
Ambrose looked at my feet, then at the feet of my companion, and then without more ado got into a pair of slippers. He wore knickerbockers and stockings, and his legs had a classic refinement that erred, if at all, on the side of over-slenderness. The effect of the enormous grey slippers at the end of these Attic legs made me, for one awful moment, feel as though I were going to shriek with laughter. An immense effort strangled the shriek and left me unnaturally solemn.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne had now caught sight of the row of slippers. She put up her eyeglasses and examined them carefully. 'How very German,' she remarked.
'Put them on, mother,' said Ambrose; 'we are all waiting for you.'
'Are they new, Brosy?' she asked, hesitating.
'The lady must put on the slippers, or she cannot enter the princely apartments,' said the custodian severely.
'Must I really, Brosy?' she inquired, looking extremely unhappy. 'I am so terribly afraid of infection, or—or other things. Do they think we shall spoil their carpets?'
'The floors are polished, I imagine,' said Ambrose, 'and the owner is probably afraid the visitors might slip and hurt themselves.'
'Really quite nice and considerate of him—if only they were new.'
Ambrose shuffled to the end of the row in his and took up two.' Look here, mother,' he said, bringing them to her, 'here's quite a new pair. Never been worn before. Put them on—they can't possibly do any harm.'
They were not new, but Mrs. Harvey-Browne thought they were and consented to put them on. The instant they were on her feet, stretching out in all their hugeness far beyond the frills of her skirt and obliging her to slide instead of walk, she became gracious. The smile with which she slid past me was amiable as well as deprecatory. They had apparently reduced her at once to the level of other sinful mortals. This effect seemed to me so subtle that again I fell a-pondering.
'Frau Nieberlein is not with you this morning?' she asked pleasantly, as we shuffled side by side into the princely apartments.
'She is resting. She had rather a bad night.'
'Nerves, of course.'
'It's the same thing,' said Ambrose. 'Is it not, sir?' he asked amiably of the man in spectacles.
'Perhaps,' said the man in spectacles cautiously.
'But not a real ghost?' asked Mrs. Harvey-Browne, interested.
'I believe the great point about a ghost is that it never is real.'
'The bishop doesn't believe in them either. But I—I really hardly know. One hears such strange tales. The wife of one of the clergy of our diocese believes quite firmly in them. She is a vegetarian, and of course she eats a great many vegetables, and then she sees ghosts.'
'The chimney-piece,' said the guide, 'is constructed entirely of Roman marble.'
'Really?' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, examining it abstractedly through her eyeglasses. 'She declares their vicarage is haunted; and what in the world do you think by? The strangest thing. It is haunted by the ghost of a cat.'
'The statue on the right is by Thorwaldsen,' said the guide.
'By the ghost of a cat,' repeated Mrs. Harvey-Browne impressively.
She seemed to expect me to say something, so I said Indeed.
'That on the left is by Rauch,' said the guide.
'And this cat does not do anything. I mean, it is not prophetic of impending family disaster. It simply walks across a certain room—the drawing-room, I believe—quite like a real cat, and nothing happens.'
'But perhaps it is a real cat?'
'Oh no, it is supernatural. No one sees it but herself. It walks quite slowly with its tail up in the air, and once when she went up to it to try to pull its tail so as to convince herself of its existence, she only clutched empty air.'
'The frescoes with which this apartment is adorned are by Kolbe and Eybel,' said the guide.
'You mean it ran away?'
'No, it walked on quite deliberately. But the tail not being made of human flesh and blood there was naturally nothing to pull.'
'Beginning from left to right, we have in the first a representation of the entry of King Waldemar I. into Rügen,' said the guide.
'But the most extraordinary thing about it happened one day when she put a saucer of cream on the floor for it. She had thought it all over in the night, and had come to the conclusion that as no ghost would lap cream and no real cat be able to help lapping it this would provide her with a decisive proof one way or the other. The cat came, saw the cream, and immediately lapped it up. My friend was so pleased, because of course one likes real cats best——'
'The second represents the introduction of Christianity into the island,' said the guide.
'—and when it had done, and the saucer was empty, she went over to it——'
'The third represents the laying of the foundation stone of the church at Vilmnitz,' said the guide.
'—and what do you think happened? She walked straight through it.'
'Through what?' I asked, profoundly interested. 'The cream, or the cat?'
'Ah, that was what was so marvellous. She walked right through the body of the cat. Now what had become of the cream?'
I confess this story impressed me more than any ghost story I have ever heard; the disappearance of the cream was so extraordinary.
'And there was nothing—nothing at all left on her dress?' I asked eagerly. 'I mean, after walking through the cat? One would have thought that some, at least, of the cream——'
'Not a vestige.'
I stood gazing at the bishop's wife absorbed in reflection. 'How truly strange,' I murmured at length, after having vainly endeavoured to account for the missing cream.
'Wasn't it?' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, much pleased with the effect of her story. Indeed the amiability awakened in her bosom by the grey felt slippers had increased rapidly, and the unaccountable conduct of the cream seemed about to cement our friendship when, at this point, she having remarked that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, and I, in order to show my acquaintance with the classics of other countries, having added 'As Chaucer justly observes,' to which she said, 'Ah, yes—so beautiful, isn't he?' a voice behind us made us both jump; and turning round we beheld, at our elbows, the man in spectacles. Ambrose, aided by the guide, was on the other side of the room studying the works of Kolbe and Eybel, The man in spectacles had evidently heard the whole story of the cat, for this is what he said:—
'The apparition, madam, if it has any meaning at all, which I doubt, being myself inclined to locate its origin in the faulty digestion of the lady, seems to point to a life beyond the grave for the spirits of cats. Considered as a proof of such a life for the human soul, which is the one claim to our interest phenomena of the kind can possess, it is, of course, valueless.'
Mrs. Harvey-Browne stared at him a moment through her eyeglasses. 'Christians,' she then said distantly, 'need no further proof of that.'
'May I ask, madam, what, precisely, you mean by Christians?' inquired the man in spectacles briskly. 'Define them, if you please.'
Now the bishop's wife was not used to being asked to define things, and disliked it as much as anybody else. Besides, though rays of intelligent interest darted through his spectacles, the wearer of them also wore clothes that were not only old but peculiar, and his whole appearance cried aloud of much work and small reward. She therefore looked not only helpless but indignant. 'Sir,' she said icily, 'this is not the moment to define Christians.'
'I hear the name repeatedly,' said the man in spectacles, bowing but undaunted; 'and looking round me I ask myself where are they?'
'Sir,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, 'they are in every Christian country.'
'And which, pray, madam, would you call the Christian countries? I look around me, and I see nations armed to the teeth, ready and sometimes even anxious to fly at each other's throats. Their attitude may be patriotic, virile, perhaps necessary, conceivably estimable; but, madam, would you call it Christian?'
'Sir——' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'Having noticed by your accent, madam, that the excellent German you speak was not originally acquired in our Fatherland, but must be the result of a commendable diligence practised in the schoolrooms of your youth and native land, and having further observed, from certain unmistakable signs, that the native land in question must be England, it would have a peculiar interest for me to be favoured with the exact meaning the inhabitants of that enlightened country attach to the term. My income having hitherto not been sufficient to enable me to visit its hospitable shores, I hail this opportunity with pleasure of discussing questions that are of importance to us all with one of its, no doubt, most distinguished daughters.'
'Sir——' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'At first sight,' went on the man in spectacles, 'one would be disposed to say that a Christian is a person who believes in the tenets of the Christian faith. But belief, if it is genuine, must necessarily find its practical expression in works. How then, madam, would you account for the fact that when I look round me in the provincial town in which I pursue the honourable calling of a pedagogue, I see numerous Christians but no works?'
'Sir, I do not account for it,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne angrily.
'For consider, madam, the lively faith inspired by other creeds. Place against this inertia the activity of other believers. Observe the dervish, how he dances; observe the fakir, hanging from his hook——'
'I will not, sir,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, roused now beyond endurance; 'and I do not know why you should choose this place and time to thrust your opinions on sacred subjects on a stranger and a lady.'
With which she turned her back on him, and shuffled away with all the dignity the felt slippers allowed.
The man in spectacles stood confounded.
'The lady,' I said, desirous of applying balm, 'is the wife of a clergyman'—(Heavens, if she had heard me!)—'and is therefore afraid of talking about things that must lead her on to sacred ground. I think you will find the son very intelligent and ready to talk.'
But I regret to say the man in spectacles seemed extremely shy of me; whether it was because the custodian had taken me for his wife, or because I was an apparently unattached female wandering about and drinking coffee by myself contrary to all decent custom, I do not know. Anyhow he met my well-meant attempt to explain Mrs. Harvey-Browne to him with suspicion, and murmuring something about the English being indeed very strangely mannered, he edged cautiously away.
We now straggled through the rooms separately,—Ambrose in front with the guide, his mother by herself, I by myself, and a good way behind us, the mortified man in spectacles. He made no effort to take my advice and talk to Ambrose, but kept carefully as far away from the rest of us as possible; and when we presently found ourselves once more outside the princely apartments, on the opposite side to the door by which we had gone into them, he slid forward, shook off his felt slippers with the finality of one who shakes off dust from his feet, made three rapid bows, one to each of us, and hurried down the stairs. Arrived at the bottom we saw him take his stick from the Fräulein, shake his head with indignant vigour when she tried to make him take my sunshade too, pull open the heavy door, and almost run through it. He slammed it with an energy that made the Jagdschloss tremble.
The Fräulein looked first at the slammed door, then at the sunshade, and then up at me. 'Quarrelled,' said the Fräulein's look as plainly as speech.
Ambrose looked at me too, and in his eyes was an interrogation.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne looked at me too, and in her eyes was coldest condemnation. 'Is it possible,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne's eyes, 'that any one can really marry such a person?'
As for me, I walked downstairs, my face bland with innocence and unconcern. 'How delightful,' I said enthusiastically, 'how truly delightful these walls look, with all the antlers and things on them.'
'Very,' said Ambrose.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne was silent. Probably she had resolved never to speak to me again; but when we were at the bottom, and Ambrose was bestowing fees on the Fräulein and the custodian, she said, 'I did not know your husband was travelling with you.'
'My husband?' I repeated inquiringly. 'But he isn't. He's at home. Minding, I hope, my neglected children.'
'At home? Then who—then whose husband was that?'
'Was what?' I asked, following her eyes which were fixed on the door so lately slammed.
'Why, that man in spectacles?'
'Really, how can I tell? Perhaps nobody's. Certainly not mine.'
Mrs. Harvey-Browne stared at me in immense surprise. 'How very extraordinary,' she said.
In the woods behind Binz, alone in the heart of them, near a clearing where in past days somebody must have lived, for ancient fruit trees still mark the place that used to be a garden, there is a single grave on which the dead beech leaves slowly dropping down through the days and nights of many autumns, have heaped a sober cover. On the headstone is a rusty iron plate with this inscription—
Hier ruht ein Finnischer Krieger
There is no fence round it, and no name on it. Every autumn the beech leaves make the unknown soldier a new brown pall, and through the sparkling frozen winters, except for the thin shadows of naked branches, he lies in sunshine. In the spring the blue hepaticas, children of those that were there the first day, gather about his sodden mound in little flocks of loveliness. Then, after a warm rain, the shadows broaden and draw together, for overhead the leaves are bursting; the wind blowing on to him from the clearing is scented, for the grass out there has violets in it; the pear trees in the deserted garden put on their white robes of promise; and then comes summer, and in the long days there are wanderers in the woods, and the chance passer-by, moved perhaps by some vague sentiment of pity for so much loneliness, throws him a few flowers or a bunch of ferns as he goes his way. There was a cross of bracken lying on the grave when I came upon it, still fresh and tied together with bits of grass, and a wreath of sea-holly hung round the headstone.
Sitting down by the side of the nameless one to rest, for the sun was high and I began to be tired, it seemed to me as I leaned my face against his cool covering of leaves, still wet with the last rain, that he was very cosily tucked away down there, away from worries and the chill fingers of fear, with everything over so far as he was concerned, and each of the hours destined for him in which hard things were to happen lived through and done with. A curiosity to know how he came to be in the Granitz woods at a time when Rügen, belonging to the French, had nothing to do with Finland, made me pull out my guide-book. But it was blank. The whole time I was journeying round Rügen it was invariably blank when it ought to have been illuminating. What had this man done or left undone that he should have been shut out from the company of those who are buried in churchyards? Why should he, because he was nameless, be outcast as well? Why should his body be held unworthy of a place by the side of persons who, though they were as dead as himself, still went on being respectable? I took off my hat and leaned against the Finnish warrior's grave and stared up along the smooth beech trunks to the point where the leaves, getting out of the shade, flashed in the sun at the top, and marvelled greatly at the ways of men, who pursue each other with conventions and disapproval even when their object, ceasing to be a man, is nothing but a poor, unresentful, indifferent corpse.
It is—certainly with me it is—a symptom of fatigue and want of food to marvel at the ways of men. My spirit grows more and more inclined to carp as my body grows more tired and hungry. When I am not too weary and have not given my breakfast to fowls, my thoughts have a cheerful way of fixing themselves entirely on the happy side of things, and life seems extraordinarily charming. But I see nothing happy and my soul is lost in blackness if, for many hours, I have had no food. How useless to talk to a person of the charities if you have not first fed him. How useless to explain that they are scattered at his feet like flowers if you have fed him too much. Both these states, of being over-fed and not fed enough, are equally fatal to the exquisitely sensitive life of the soul. And so it came about that because it was long past luncheon-time, and I had walked far, and it was hot, I found myself growing sentimental over the poor dead Finn; inclined to envy him because he could go on resting there while I had to find a way back to Binz in the heat and excuse my absence to an offended cousin; launching, indignant at his having been denied Christian burial, into a whole sea of woful reflections on the spites and follies of mankind, from which a single piece of bread would have rescued me. And as I was very tired, and it was very hot, and very silent, and very drowsy, my grumblings and disapprovals grew gradually vaguer, grew milder, grew confused, grew intermittent, and I went to sleep.
Now to go to sleep out of doors on a fine summer afternoon is an extremely pleasant thing to do if nobody comes and looks at you and you are comfortable. I was not exactly comfortable, for the ground round the grave was mossless and hard; and when the wind caught it the bracken cross tickled my ear and jerked my mind dismally on to earwigs. Also some spiders with frail long legs which they seemed to leave lying about at the least and gentlest attempt to persuade them to go away, walked about on me and would not walk anywhere else. But presently I left off feeling them or caring and sank away deliciously into dreams, the last thing I heard being the rustling of leaves, and the last thing I felt the cool wind lifting my hair.
And now the truly literary, if he did not here digress into a description of what he dreamed, which is a form of digression skipped by the truly judicious, would certainly write 'How long I had slept I know not,' and would then tell the reader that, waking with a start, he immediately proceeded to shiver. I cannot do better than imitate him, leaving out the start and the shiver, since I did neither, and altering his method to suit my greater homeliness, remark that I don't know how long I had been asleep because I had not looked at a watch when I began, but opening my eyes in due season I found that they stared straight into the eyes of Mrs. Harvey-Browne, and that she and Brosy were standing side by side looking down at me.
Being a woman, my first thought was a fervent hope that I had not been sleeping with my mouth wide open. Being a human creature torn by ungovernable passions, my second was to cry out inwardly and historically, 'Will no one rid me of this troublesome prelatess?' Then I sat up and feverishly patted my hair.
'I am not in the guide-book,' I said with some asperity.
'We came to look at the grave,' smilingly answered Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'May I help you up?' asked Ambrose.
'Brosy, fetch me my camp-stool out of the fly—I will sit here a few minutes with Frau X. You were having a little post-prandial nap?' she added, turning to me still smiling.
'What, you have been in the woods ever since we parted this morning at the Jagdschloss? Brosy,' she called after him, 'bring the tea-basket out as well. My dear Frau X., you must be absolutely faint. Do you not think it injudicious to go so many hours without nourishment? We will make tea now instead of a little later, and I insist on your eating something.'
Really this was very obliging. What had happened to the bishop's wife? Her urbanity was so marked that I thought it could only be a beautiful dream, and I rubbed my eyes before answering. But it was undoubtedly Mrs. Harvey-Browne. She had been home since I saw her last, rested, lunched, put on fresh garments, perhaps bathed; but all these things, soothing as they are, could not by themselves account for the change. Also she spoke to me in English for the first time. 'You are very kind,' I murmured, staring.
'Just imagine,' she said to Ambrose, who approached across the crackling leaves with the camp-stool, tea-basket, and cushions from the seats of the fly waiting in the forest road a few yards away, 'this little lady has had nothing to eat all day.'
'Oh I say!' said Brosy sympathetically.
'Little lady?' I repeated to myself, more and more puzzled.
'If you must lean against a hard grave,' said Brosy; 'at least, let me put this cushion behind your back. And I can make you much more comfortable if you will stand up a moment.'
'Oh I am so stiff,' I exclaimed as he helped me up; 'I must have been here hours. What time is it?'
'Past four,' said Brosy.
'Most injudicious,' said his mother. 'Dear Frau X., you must promise me never to do such a thing again. What would happen to those sweet children of yours if their little mother were to be laid up?'
Dear, dear me. What was all this? Sweet children? Little mother? I could only sit on my cushions and stare.
'This,' she explained, noticing I suppose that I looked astonished, and thinking it was because Brosy was spreading out cups and lighting the spirit-lamp so very close to the deceased Finn, 'is not desecration. It is not as though we were having tea in a churchyard, which of course we never would have. This is unconsecrated ground. One cannot desecrate that which has never been consecrated. Desecration can only begin after consecration has taken place.'
I bowed my head and then, cheered into speech by the sight of an approaching rusk, I added, 'I know a family with a mausoleum, and on fine days they go and have coffee at it.'
'Germans, of course,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, smiling, but with an effort. 'One can hardly imagine English——'
'Oh yes, Germans. When any one goes to see them, if it is fine they say, "Let us drink coffee at the mausoleum." And then they do.'
'Is it a special treat?' asked Brosy.
'The view there is very lovely.'
'Oh I see,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, relieved. 'They only sit outside. I was afraid for a moment that they actually——'
'Oh no,' I said, eating what seemed to be the most perfect rusk ever produced by German baker, 'not actually.'
'What a sweet spot this is to be buried in,' remarked Mrs. Harvey-Browne, while Brosy, with the skill of one used to doing it, made the tea; and then according to the wont of good women when they speak of being buried, she sighed. 'I wonder,' she went on, 'how he came to be put here.'
'That is what I have been wondering ever since I found him,' I said.
'He was wounded in some battle and was trying to get home,' said Brosy. 'You know Finland was Swedish in those days, and so was Rügen.'
As I did not know I said nothing, but looked exceedingly bright.
'He had been fighting for Sweden against the French. I met a forester yesterday, and he told me there used to be a forester's house where those fruit trees are, and the people in it took him in and nursed him till he died. Then they buried him here.'
'But why was he not buried in a churchyard?' asked his mother.
'I don't know. Poor chap, I don't suppose he would have cared. The great point I should say under such circumstances would be the being dead.'
'My dear Brosy,' murmured his mother; which was what she always murmured when he said things that she disapproved without quite knowing why.
'Or a still greater point,' I remarked, moved again to cheerful speech by the excellent tea Brosy had made, and his mother, justly suspicious of the tea of Teutons, had smuggled through the customs, as she afterwards told me with pride,—'a still greater point if those are the circumstances that lie in wait for one, would be the never being born.'
'Oh but that is pessimism!' cried Mrs. Harvey-Browne, shaking a finger at me. 'What have you, of all people in the world, to do with pessimism?'
'Oh I don't know—I suppose I have my days, like everybody else,' I said, slightly puzzled again by this remark. 'Once I was told of two aged Germans,' I continued, for by this time I had had three rusks and was feeling very pleasant,—'of two aged Germans whose digestive machinery was fragile.'
'Oh, poor things,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne sympathetically.
'And in spite of that they drank beer all their lives persistently and excessively.'
'How very injudicious,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'They drank such a fearful lot and for so long that at last they became philosophers.'
'My dear Frau X.,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne incredulously, 'what an unexpected result.'
'Oh but indeed there is hardly anything you may not at last become,' I insisted, 'if besides being German your diet is indiscreet enough.'
'Yes, I quite think that,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'Well, and what happened?' asked Brosy with smiling eyes.
'Well, they were naturally profoundly pessimistic, both of them. You are, you know, if your diet——'
'Oh yes, yes indeed,' agreed Mrs. Harvey-Browne, with the conviction of one who has been through it.
'They were absolutely sick of things. They loathed everything anybody said or did. And they were disciples of Nietzsche.'
'Was that the cause or the effect of the excessive beer-drinking?' asked Brosy.
'Oh, I can't endure Nietzsche,' cried Mrs. Harvey-Browne. 'Don't ever read him, Brosy. I saw some things he says about women—he is too dreadful.'
'And one said to the other over their despairing potations: "Only those can be considered truly happy who are destined never to be born."'
'There!' cried Mrs. Harvey-Browne. 'That is Nietzsche all over—rank pessimism.'
'I never heard ranker,' said Brosy smiling.
'And the other thought it over, and then said drearily: "But to how few falls that happy lot."'
There was a pause. Brosy was laughing behind his teacup. His mother, on the contrary, looked solemn, and gazed at me thoughtfully. 'There is a great want of simple faith about Germans,' she said. 'The bishop thinks it so sad. A story like that would quite upset him. He has been very anxious lest Brosy—our only child, dear Frau X., so you may imagine how precious—should become tainted by it.'
'I dislike beer,' said Brosy.
'That man this morning, for instance—did you ever hear anything like it? He was just the type of man, quite apart from his insolence, that most grieves the bishop.'
'Really?' I said; and wondered respectfully at the amount of grieving the bishop got through.
'An educated man, I suppose—did he not say he was a schoolmaster? A teacher of the young, without a vestige himself of the simple faith he ought to inculcate. For if he had had a vestige, would it not have prevented his launching into an irreverent conversation with a lady who was not only a stranger, but the wife of a prelate of the Church of England?'
'He couldn't know that, mother,' said Brosy; 'and from what you told me it wasn't a conversation he launched into but a monologue. And I must beg your pardon,' he added, turning to me with a smile, 'for the absurd mistake we made. It was the guide's fault.'
'Oh yes, my dear Frau X., you must forgive me—it was really too silly of me—I might have known—I was completely taken aback, I assure you, but the guide was so very positive——' And there followed such a number of apologies that again I was bewildered, only retaining the one clear impression that the bishop's wife desired exceedingly to be agreeable.
Well, a woman bent on being agreeable is better than a woman bent on being disagreeable, though, being the soul of caution in my statements, I must add, Not always; for I suppose few of us have walked any distance along the path of life without having had to go at least some part of the way in the company of persons who, filled with the praiseworthy wish to be very pleasant, succeeded only in drenching our spirits with the depressing torrents of effusion. And effusiveness applied to myself has precisely the effect of a finger applied to the horns of a snail who shall be innocently airing himself in the sun: he gets back without more ado into his shell, and so do I.
That is what happened on this occasion. For some reason, which I could only faintly guess, the bishop's wife after disapproving of me in the morning was petting me in the afternoon. She had been lunching, she told me, with Charlotte, and they had had a nice talk, she said, about me. About me? Instantly I scrambled back into my shell. There is surely nothing in the world so tiresome as being questioned, as I now was, on one's household arrangements and personal habits. I will talk about anything but that. I will talk with the courage of ignorance about all high matters, of which I know nothing. I am ready to discourse on all or any of the great Abstractions with the glibness of the shallow mind. I will listen sympathetically to descriptions of diseases suffered and operations survived, of the brilliance of sons and the beauty of daughters. I will lend an attentive ear to an enumeration of social successes and family difficulties, of woes and triumphs of every sort, including those connected with kitchens; but I will not answer questions about myself. And indeed, what is there to talk about? No one is interested in my soul, and as for my body I long ago got tired of that.
One cannot, however, eat a person's rusks without assuming a certain amount of subsequent blandness; so I did my best to behave nicely. Brosy smoked cigarettes. Whatever it was that had sent me up in his mother's estimation had apparently sent me down in his. He no longer, it seemed, looked upon me as a good specimen of the intelligent German female. I might be as eloquently silent as I liked, and it did not impress him in the least. The few remarks he made showed me that. This was grievous, for Brosy was, in person, a very charming young man, and the good opinion of charming young men is quite a nice thing to possess. Now I began to regret, now that he was merely interjectional, those earnest paragraphs in which he had talked the night before at supper and during the sunset walk on the island of Vilm. Observing him sideways and cautiously I saw that the pretty speeches his mother was making me apropos of everything and nothing were objectionable to him; and I silently agreed with him that pretty speeches are unpleasant things, especially when made by one woman to another. You can forgive a man perhaps, because in your heart in spite of all experience lurks the comfortable belief that he means what he says; but how shall you forgive a woman for mistaking you for a fool?
They persuaded me to drive with them to the place in the woods they were bound for called Kieköwer, where the view over the bay was said to be very beautiful; and when I got on to my feet I found I was so stiff that driving seemed the only thing possible. Ambrose was very kind and careful of my bodily comfort, but did not bother about me spiritually. Whenever there was a hill, and there kept on being hills, he got out and walked, leaving me wholly to his mother. But it did not matter any more, for the forest was so exquisite that way, the afternoon so serene, so mellow with lovely light, that I could not look round me without being happy. Oh blessed state, when mere quiet weather, trees and grass, sea and clouds, can make you forget that life has anything in it but rapture, can make you drink in heaven with every breath! How long will it last, this joy of living, this splendid ecstasy of the soul? I am more afraid of losing this, of losing even a little of this, of having so much as the edge of its radiance dimmed, than of parting with any other earthly possession. And I think of Wordsworth, its divine singer, who yet lost it so soon and could no longer see the splendour in the grass, the glory in the flower, and I ask myself with a sinking heart if it faded so quickly for him who saw it and sang it by God's grace to such perfection, how long, oh how long does the common soul, half blind, half dead, half dumb, keep its little, precious share?
My intention when I began this book was to write a useful Guide to Rügen, one that should point out its best parts and least uncomfortable inns to any English or American traveller whose energy lands him on its shores. With every page I write it grows more plain that I shall not fulfil that intention. What, for instance, have Charlotte and the bishop's wife of illuminating for the tourist who wants to be shown the way? As I cannot conscientiously praise the inns I will not give their names, and what is the use of that to a tourist who wishes to know where to sleep and dine? I meant to describe the Jagdschloss, and find I only repeated a ghost story. It is true I said the rolls at the inn there were hard, but the information was so deeply embedded in superfluities that no tourist will discover it in time to save him from ordering one. Still anxious to be of use, I will now tell the traveller that he must on no account miss going from Binz to Kieköwer, but that he must go there on his feet, and not allow himself to be driven over the roots and stones by the wives of bishops; and that shortly before he reaches Kieköwer (Low German for look, or peep over), he will come to four cross-roads with a sign-post in the middle, and he is to follow the one to the right, which will lead him to the Schwarze See or Black Lake, and having got there let him sit down quietly, and take out the volume of poetry he ought to have in his pocket, and bless God who made this little lovely hollow on the top of the hills, and drew it round with a girdle of forest, and filled its reedy curves with white water-lilies, and set it about with silence, and gave him eyes to see its beauty.
I am afraid I could not have heard Mrs. Harvey-Browne's questions for quite a long time, for presently I found she had sauntered round this enchanted spot to the side where Brosy was taking photographs, and I was sitting alone on the moss looking down through the trees at the lilies, and listening only to frogs. I looked down between the slender stems of some silver birches that hung over the water; every now and then a tiny gust of wind came along and rippled their clear reflections, ruffling up half of each water-lily leaf, and losing itself somewhere among the reeds. Then when it had gone, the lily leaves dropped back one after the other on to the calm water, each with a little thud. On the west side the lake ends in a reedy marsh, very froggy that afternoon, and starred with the snowy cotton flower. A peculiarly fragrant smell like exceedingly delicate Russian leather hangs round the place, or did that afternoon. It was, I suppose, the hot sun bringing out the scent of some hidden herb, and it would not always be there; but I like to think of the beautiful little lake as for ever fragrant, all the year round lying alone and sweet-smelling and enchanted, tucked away in the bosom of the solitary hills.
When the traveller has spent some time lying on the moss with his poet—and he should lie there long enough for his soul to grow as quiet and clear as the water, and the poet, I think, should be Milton—he can go back to the cross-roads, five minutes' walk over beech leaves, and so to Kieköwer, about half a mile farther on. The contrast between the Schwarze See and Kieköwer is striking. Coming from that sheltered place of suspended breath you climb up a steep hill and find yourself suddenly on the edge of high cliffs where the air is always moving and the wind blows freshly on to you across the bay. Far down below, the blue water heaves and glitters. In the distance lies the headland beyond Sassnitz, hazy in the afternoon light. The beech trees, motionless round the lake, here keep up a ceaseless rustle. You who have been so hot all day find you are growing almost too cool.
'Sie ist schön, unsere Ostsee, was?' said a hearty male voice behind us.
We were all three leaning against the wooden rail put up for our protection on the edge of the cliff. A few yards off is a shed where a waiter, battered by the sea breezes he is forced daily to endure, supplies the thirsty with beer and coffee. The hearty owner of the voice, brown with the sun, damp and jolly with exercise and beer-drinking, stood looking over Mrs. Harvey-Browne's shoulder at the view with an air of proud proprietorship, his hands in his pockets, his legs wide apart, his cap pushed well off an extremely heated brow.
He addressed this remark to Mrs. Harvey-Browne, to whom, I suppose, she being a matron of years and patent sobriety, he thought cheery remarks might safely be addressed. But if there was a thing the bishop's wife disliked it was a cheery stranger. The pedagogue that morning, so artlessly interested in her conversation with me as to forget he had not met her before, had manifestly revolted her. I myself the previous evening, though not cheery still a stranger, had been objectionable to her. How much more offensive, then, was a warm man speaking to her with a familiarity so sudden and jolly as to resemble nothing so much as a slap on the back. She, of course, took no notice of him after the first slight start and glance round, but stared out to sea with eyes grown stony.
'In England you do not see such blue water, what?' shouted the jolly man, who was plainly in the happy mood the French call déboutonné.
His wife and daughters, ladies clothed in dust-cloaks sitting at a rough wooden table with empty beer-glasses before them, laughed hilariously. The mere fact of the Harvey-Brownes being so obviously English appeared to amuse them enormously. They too were in the mood déboutonné.
Ambrose, as ready to talk as his mother to turn her back, answered for her, and assured the jolly man that he had indeed never seen such blue water in England.
This seemed to give the whole family intense delight. 'Ja, ja,' shouted the father, 'Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles!' And he trolled out that famous song in the sort of voice known as rich.
'Quite so,' said Ambrose politely, when he had done.
'Oh come, we must drink together,' cried the jolly man, 'drink in the best beer in the world to the health of Old England, what?' And he called the waiter, and in another moment he and Ambrose stood clinking glasses and praising each other's countries, while the hilarious family laughed and applauded in the background.
The bishop's wife had not moved. She stood staring out to sea, and her stare grew ever stonier.
'I wish——' she began; but did not go on. Then, there being plainly no means of stopping Ambrose's cordiality, she wisely resolved to pass the time while we waited for him in exchanging luminous thoughts with me. And we did exchange them for some minutes, until my luminousness was clouded and put out by the following short conversation:—
'I must say I cannot see what there is about Germans that so fascinates Ambrose. Do you hear that empty laughter? "The loud laugh that betrays the empty mind"?'
'As Shakespeare says.'
'Dear Frau X., you are so beautifully read.'
'So nice of you.'
'I know you are a woman of a liberal mind, so you will not object to my saying that I am much disappointed in the Germans.'
'Not a bit.'
'Ambrose has always been so enthusiastic about them that I expected quite wonders. What do I find? I pass over in silence many things, including the ill-bred mirth—just listen to those people—but I cannot help lamenting their complete want of common sense.'
'How sensible English people are compared to them!'
'Do you think so?'
'Why, of course, in everything.'
'But are you not judging the whole nation by the few?'
'Oh, one can always tell. What could be more supremely senseless for instance'—and she waved a hand over the bay—'than calling the Baltic the Ostsee?'
'Well, but why shouldn't they if they want to?'
'But dear Frau X., it is so foolish. East sea? Of what is it the east? One is always the east of something, but one doesn't talk about it. The name has no meaning whatever. Now "Baltic" exactly describes it.'