We left Binz at ten o'clock the next morning for Sassnitz and Stubbenkammer. Sassnitz is the principal bathing-place on the island, and I had meant to stay there a night; but as neither of us liked the glare of chalk roads and white houses we went on that day to Stubbenkammer, where everything is in the shade.
Charlotte had not gone away as she said she would, and when I got back to our lodgings the evening before, penitent and apologetic after my wanderings in the forest, besides being rather frightened, for I was afraid I was going to be scolded and was not sure that I did not deserve it, I found her sitting on the pillared verandah indulgently watching the sunset sky, with The Prelude lying open on her lap. She did not ask me where I had been all day; she only pointed to The Prelude and said, 'This is great rubbish; 'to which I only answered 'Oh?'
Later in the evening I discovered that the reason of her want of interest in my movements and absence of reproachfulness was that she herself had had a busy and a successful day. Judgment, hurried on by Charlotte, had overtaken the erring Hedwig; and the widow, expressing horror and disgust, had turned her out. Charlotte praised the widow. 'She is an intelligent and a right-minded woman,' she said. 'She assured me she would rather do all the work herself and be left without a servant altogether than keep a wicked girl like that. I was prepared to leave at once if she had not dismissed her then and there.'
Still later in the evening I gathered from certain remarks Charlotte made that she had lent the most lurid of her works, a pamphlet called The Beast of Prey, to the widow, who to judge from Charlotte's satisfaction was quite carried away by it. Its nature was certainly sufficiently startling to carry any ordinary widow away.
We left the next morning, pursued by the widow's blessings,—blessings of great potency, I suppose, of the same degree of potency exactly as the curses of orphans, and we all know the peculiar efficaciousness of those. 'Good creature,' said Charlotte, touched by the number of them as we drove away; 'I am so glad I was able to help her a little by opening her eyes.'
'The operation,' I observed, 'is not always pleasant.'
'But invariably necessary,' said Charlotte with decision.
What then was my astonishment on looking back, as we were turning the corner by the red-brick hotel, to take a last farewell of the pretty white house on the shore, to see Hedwig hanging out of an upper window waving a duster to Gertrud who was following us in the luggage cart, and chatting and laughing while she did it with the widow standing at the gate below. 'That house is certainly haunted,' I exclaimed. 'There's a fresh ghost looking out of the window at this very moment.'
Charlotte turned her head with an incredulous face. Having seen the apparition she turned it back again.
'It can't be Hedwig,' I hastened to assure her, 'because you told me she had been sent to her mother in the country. It can only, then, be Hedwig's ghost. She is very young to have one, isn't she?'
But Charlotte said nothing at all; and so we left Binz in silence, and got into the sandy road and pine forest that takes you the first part of your way towards the north and Sassnitz.
The road I had meant to take goes straight from Binz along the narrow tongue of land, marked Schmale Heide on the map, separating the Baltic Sea from the inland sea called Jasmunder Bodden; but outside the village I saw a sheet of calm water shining through pine trunks on the left, and I got out to go and look at it, and August, always nervous when I got out, drove off the beaten track after me, and so we missed our way.
The water was the Schmachter See, a real lake in size, not a pond like the exquisite little Schwarze See, and I stood on the edge admiring its morning loveliness as it lay without a ripple in the sun, the noise of the sea on the other side of the belt of pines sounding unreal as the waves of a dream on that still shore. And while I was standing among its reeds August was busy thinking out a short cut that would strike the road we had left higher up. The result was that we very soon went astray, and emerging from the woods at the farm of Dollahn found ourselves heading straight for the Jasmunder Bodden. But it did not matter where we went so long as we were pleased, and when everything is fresh and new how can you help being pleased? So we drove on looking for a road to the right that should bring us back again to the Schmale Heide, and enjoyed the open fields and the bright morning, and pretended to ourselves that it was not dusty. At least that is what I pretended to myself. Charlotte pretended nothing of the sort; on the contrary, she declared at intervals that grew shorter that she was being suffocated.
And that is one of the many points on which the walker has the advantage of him who drives—he can walk on the grass at the side of the road, or over moss or whortleberries, and need not endure the dust kicked up by eight hoofs. But where has he not the advantage? The only one of driving is that you can take a great many clean clothes with you; for the rest, there is no comparing the two pleasures. And, after all, what does it matter if for one fortnight out of all the fortnights there are in a year you are not so clean as usual? Indeed, I think there must be a quite peculiar charm for the habitually well-washed in being for a short time deliberately dirty.
At Lubkow, a small village on the Jasmunder Bodden, we got on to the high road to Bergen, and turning up it to the right faced northwards once more. Soon after passing a forestry in the woods we reached the Schmale Heide again, and then for four miles drove along a white road between young pines, the bluest of skies overhead, and on our right, level with the road, the violet sea. This was the first time I saw the Baltic really violet. On other days it had been a deep blue or a brilliant green, but here it was a wonderful, dazzling violet.
At Neu Mucran—all these places are on the map—we left the high road to go on by itself up to the inland town of Sagard, and plunged into sandy, shadeless country roads, trying to keep as near the shore as possible. The rest of the way to Sassnitz was too unmitigatedly glaring and dusty to be pleasant. There were no trees at all; and as it was uphill nearly the whole way we had time to be thoroughly scorched and blinded. Nor could we keep near the sea. The road took us farther and farther away from it as we toiled slowly up between cornfields, crammed on that poor soil with poppies and marguerites and chickory. Earth and sky were one blaze of brightness. Our eyes, filled with dust, were smarting long before we got to the yet fiercer blaze of Sassnitz; and it was when we found that the place is all chalk and white houses, built in the open with the forest pushed well back behind, that with one accord we decided not to stay in it.
I would advise the intending tourist to use Sassnitz only as a place to make excursions to from Binz on one side or Stubbenkammer on the other; though, aware of my peculiarities, I advise it with diffidence. For out of every thousand Germans nine hundred and ninety-nine would give, with emphasis, a contrary advice, and the remaining one would not agree with me. But I have nothing to do with the enthusiasms of other people, and can only repeat that it is a dusty, glaring place—quaint enough on a fine day, with its steep streets leading down to the water, and on wet days dreary beyond words, for its houses all look as though they were built of cardboard and were only meant, as indeed is the case, to be used during a few weeks in summer.
August, Gertrud, and the horses were sent to an inn for a three hours' rest, and we walked down the little street, lined with stalls covered with amber ornaments and photographs, to the sea. As it was dinner-time the place was empty, and from the different hotels came such a hum and clatter of voices and dishes that, remembering Sellin, we decided not to go in. Down on the beach we found a confectioner's shop directly overlooking the sea, with sun-blinds and open windows, and no one in it. It looked cool, so we went in and sat at a marble table in a draught, and the sea splashed refreshingly on the shingle just outside, and we ate a great many cakes and sardines and vanilla ices, and then began to feel wretched.
'What shall we do till four o'clock?' I inquired disconsolately, leaning my elbows on the window-sill and watching the heat dancing outside over the shingle.
'Do?' said somebody, stopping beneath the window; 'why, walk with us to Stubbenkammer, of course.'
It was Ambrose, clad from head to foot in white linen, a cool and beautiful vision.
'You here? I thought you were going to stay in Binz?'
'We came across for the day in a steamer. My mother is waiting for me in the shade. She sent me to get some biscuits, and then we are going to Stubbenkammer. Come too.'
'Oh but the heat!'
'Wait a minute. I'm coming in there to get the biscuits.'
He disappeared round the corner of the house, the door being behind.
'He is good-looking, isn't he?' I said to Charlotte.
'I dislike that type of healthy, successful, self-satisfied young animal.'
'That's because you have eaten so many cakes and sardines,' I said soothingly.
'Are you never serious?'
'Frankly, I find nothing more tiring than talking to a person who is persistently playful.'
'That's only those three vanilla ices,' I assured her encouragingly.
'You here, too, Frau Nieberlein?' exclaimed Ambrose, coming in. 'Oh good. You will come with us, won't you? It's a beautiful walk—shade the whole way. And I have just got that work of the Professor's about the Phrygians, and want to talk about it frightfully badly. I've been reading it all night. It's the most marvellous book. No wonder it revolutionised European thought. Absolutely epoch-making.' He bought his biscuits as one in a dream, so greatly did he glow with rapture.
'Come on Charlotte,' I said; 'a walk will do us both good. I'll send word to August to meet us at Stubbenkammer.'
But Charlotte would not come on. She would sit there quietly, she said; bathe perhaps, later, and then drive to Stubbenkammer.
'I tell you what, Frau Nieberlein,' cried Ambrose from the counter, 'I never envied a woman before, but I must say I envy you. What a marvellously glorious fate to be the wife of such an extraordinary thinker!'
'Very well then,' I said quickly, not knowing what Charlotte's reply might be, 'you'll come on with August and meet us there. Auf Wiedersehen, Lottchen.' And I hurried Ambrose and his biscuits out.
Looking up as we passed beneath the window, we saw Charlotte still sitting at the marble table gazing into space.
'Your cousin is wonderful about the Professor,' said Ambrose as we crossed a scorching bit of chalky promenade to the trees where Mrs. Harvey-Browne was waiting.
'In what way wonderful?' I asked uneasily, for I had no wish to discuss the Nieberlein conjugalities with him.
'Oh, so self-controlled, so quiet, so modest; never trots him out, never puts on airs because she's his wife—oh, quite wonderful.'
'Ah, yes. About those Phrygians——'
And so I got his thoughts away from Charlotte, and by the time we had found his mother I knew far more about Phrygians than I should have thought possible.
The walk along the coast from Sassnitz to Stubbenkammer is alone worth a journey to Rügen. I suppose there are few walks in the world more wholly beautiful from beginning to end. On no account, therefore, should the traveller, all unsuspecting of so much beauty so near at hand, be persuaded to go to Stubbenkammer by road. The road will give him merely a pretty country drive, taking him the shortest way, quite out of sight of the sea; the path keeps close to the edge of the cliffs, and is a series of exquisite surprises. But only the lusty and the spare must undertake it, for it is not to be done under three hours, and is an almost continual going down countless steps into deep ravines, and up countless steps out of them again. You are, however, in the shade of beeches the whole time; and who shall describe, as you climb higher and higher, the lovely sparkle and colour of the sea as it curls, far below you, in and out among the folds of the cliffs?
Mrs. Harvey-Browne was sufficiently spare to enjoy the walk. Ambrose was perfectly content telling us about Nieberlein's new work. I was perfectly content too, because only one ear was wanted for Nieberlein, and I still had one over for the larks and the lapping of the water, besides both my happy eyes. We did not hurry, but lingered over each beauty, resting on little sunny plateaus high up on the very edge of the cliffs, where, sitting on the hot sweet grass, we saw the colour of the sea shine through the colour of the fringing scabious—a divine meeting of colours often to be seen along the Rügen coast in July; or, in the deep shade at the bottom of a ravine, we rested on the moss by water trickling down over slimy green stones to the sea which looked, from those dark places, like a great wall of light.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne listened with a placid pride to her son's explanations of the scope and nature of Nieberlein's book. His enthusiasm made him talk so much that she, perforce, was silent; and her love for him written so plainly on her face showed what she must have been like in her best days, the younger days before her husband got his gaiters and began to grieve. Besides, during the last and steepest part of the walk we were beyond the range of other tourists, for they had all dropped off at the Waldhalle, a place half-way where you drink, so that there was nothing at all to offend her. We arrived, therefore, at Stubbenkammer about six o'clock in a state of perfect concord, pleasantly tired, and hot enough to be glad we had got there. On the plateau in front of the restaurant—there is, of course, a restaurant at the climax of the walk—there were tables under the trees and people eating and drinking. One table, at a little distance from the others, with the best view over the cliff, had a white cloth on it, and was spread for what looked like tea. There were nice thin cups, and strawberries, and a teapot, and a jug in the middle with roses in it; and while I was wondering who were the privileged persons for whom it had been laid Gertrud came out of the restaurant, followed by a waiter carrying thin bread and butter, and then I knew that the privileged persons were ourselves.
'I had tea with you yesterday,' I said to Mrs. Harvey-Browne. 'Now it is your turn to have tea with me.'
'How charming,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne with a sigh of satisfaction, sinking into a chair and smelling the roses. 'Your maid seems to be one of those rare treasures who like doing extra things for their mistresses.'
Well, Gertrud is a rare treasure, and it did look clean and dainty next to the beer-stained tables at which coffee was being drunk and spilt by tourists who had left their Gertruds at home. Then the place was so wonderful, the white cliffs cutting out sheer and sharp into the sea, their huge folds filled with every sort of greenery—masses of shrubby trees, masses of ferns, masses of wild-flowers. Down at the bottom there was a steamer anchored, the one by which the Harvey-Brownes were going back later to Binz, quite a big, two-funnelled steamer, and it looked from where we were like a tiny white toy.
'I fear the gracious one will not enjoy sleeping here,' whispered Gertrud as she put a pot of milk on the table. 'I made inquiries on arrival, and the hotel is entirely full, and only one small bedroom in a pavilion, detached, among trees, can be placed at the gracious one's disposal.'
'And my cousin?'
'The room has two beds, and the cousin of the gracious one is sitting on one of them. We have been here already an hour. August is installed. The horses are well accommodated here. I have an attic of sufficient comfort. Only the ladies will suffer.'
'I will go to my cousin. Show me, I pray thee, the way.'
Excusing myself to Mrs. Harvey-Browne I followed Gertrud. At the back of the restaurant there is an open space where a great many feather-beds in red covers were being aired on the grass, while fowls and the waiting drivers of the Sassnitz waggonettes wandered about among them. In the middle of this space is a big, bare, yellow house, the only hotel in Stubbenkammer, the only house in fact that I saw at all, and some distance to the left of this in the shade of the forest, one-storied, dank, dark, and mosquito-y, the pavilion.
'Gertrud,' I said, scanning it with a sinking heart, 'never yet did I sleep in a pavilion.'
'I know it, gracious one.'
'With shutterless windows on a level with the elbows of the passers-by.'
'What the gracious one says is but too true.'
'I will enter and speak with my cousin Charlotte.'
Charlotte was, as Gertrud had said, sitting on one of the two beds that nearly filled the room. She was feverishly writing something in pencil on the margin of The Beast of Prey, and looked up with an eager, worried expression when I opened the door. 'Is it not terrible,' she said, 'that one should not be able to do more than one's best, and that one's best is never enough?'
'Why, what's the matter?'
'Oh everything's the matter! You are all dull, indifferent, deadened to everything that is vital. You don't care—you let things slide—and if any one tries to wake you up and tell you the truth you never, never listen.'
'Who—me?' I asked, confused into this sad grammar by her outburst.
She threw the pamphlet down and jumped up, 'Oh, I am sick of all your sins and stupidities!' she cried, pulling her hat straight and sticking violent pins into it.
'Whose—mine?' I asked in great perplexity.
'It would almost seem,' said Charlotte, fixing me with angry eyes,—'it would really almost seem that there is no use whatever in devoting one's life to one's fellow-creatures.'
'Well, one naturally likes to be left alone,' I murmured.
'What I try to do is to pull them out of the mud when they are in it, to warn them when they are going in it, and to help them when they have been in it.'
'Well, that sounds very noble. Being full of noble intentions, why on earth, my dear Charlotte, can't you be placid? You are never placid. Come and have some tea.'
'Tea! What, with those wretched people? Those leathern souls? Those Harvey-Brownes?'
'Come along—it isn't only tea—it's strawberries and roses, and looks lovely.'
'Oh, those people half kill me! They are so pleased with themselves, so satisfied with life, such prigs, such toadies. What have I in common with them?'
'Nonsense. Ambrose is not a toady at all—he's nothing but a dear. And his mother has her points. Why not try to do them good? You'd be interested in them at once if you'd look upon them as patients.'
I put my arm through hers and drew her out of the room. 'This stuffy room is enough to depress anybody,' I said. 'And I know what's worrying you—it's that widow.'
'I know what's an irritating trick of yours,' exclaimed Charlotte, turning on me, 'it's always explaining the reason why I say or feel what I do say or feel.'
'What, and isn't there any reason?'
'That widow has no power to worry me. Her hypocrisy will bear its own fruit, and she will have to eat it. Then, when the catastrophe comes, the sure consequence of folly and weakness, she'll do what you all do in face of the inevitable—sit and lament and say it was somebody else's fault. And of course every single thing that happens to you is never anybody's fault but your own miserable self's.'
'I wish you would teach me to dodge what you call the inevitable,' I said.
'As though it wanted any teaching,' said Charlotte stopping short in the middle of the open space before our table to look into my eyes. 'You've only not got to be silly.'
'But what am I to do if I am silly—naturally silly—born it?'
'The tea is getting very cold,' called out Mrs. Harvey-Browne plaintively. She had been watching us with impatience, and seemed perturbed. The moment we got near enough she informed us that the tourists were such that no decent woman could stand it. 'Ambrose has gone off with one of them,' she said,—'a most terrible old man—to look at some view over there. Would you believe it, while we were quietly sitting here not harming anybody, this person came up the hill and immediately began to talk to us as if we knew each other? He actually had the audacity to ask if he might sit with us at this table, as there was no room elsewhere. He was most objectionable. Of course I refused. The most pushing person I have met at all.'
'But there is ample room,' said Charlotte, to whom everything the bishop's wife said and did appeared bad.
'But, my dear Frau Nieberlein, a complete stranger! And such an unpleasantly jocular old man. And I think it so very ill-bred to be jocular in the wrong places.'
'I always think it a pity to cold-shoulder people,' said Charlotte sternly. She was not, it seemed, going to stand any nonsense from the bishop's wife.
'You must be dying for some tea,' I interposed, pouring it out as one who should pour oil on troubled waters.
'And you should consider,' continued Charlotte, 'that in fifty years we shall all be dead, and our opportunities for being kind will be over.'
'My dear Frau Nieberlein!' ejaculated the astonished bishop's wife.
'Why, it isn't certain,' I said. 'You'll only be eighty then, Charlotte, and what is eighty? When I am eighty I hope to be a gay granddame skilled in gestic lore, frisking beneath the burthen of fourscore.'
But the bishop's wife did not like being told she would be dead in fifty years, and no artless quotations of mine could make her like it; so she drank her tea with an offended face. 'Perhaps, then,' she remarked, 'you will tell me I ought to have accepted the proposal one of the other tourists, a woman, made me a moment ago. She suggested that I should drive back to Sassnitz with her and her party, and halve the expense of the fly.'
'Well, and why should you not?' said Charlotte.
'Why should I not? There were two excellent reasons why I should not. First, because it was an impertinence; and secondly, because I am going back in the boat.'
'The second reason is good, but you must pardon my seeing no excellence whatever in the first.'
'Your son's tea will be undrinkable,' I said, feebly interrupting. I can never see two people contradicting each other without feeling wretched. Why contradict? Why argue at all? Only one's Best-Beloved, one's Closest and Most Understanding should be contradicted and argued with. How simple to keep quiet with all the rest and agree to everything they say. Charlotte up to this had kept very quiet in the presence of Mrs. Harvey-Browne, had said yes in the right places, and had only been listless and bored. Now, after reading her own explosive pamphlet for an hour, stirred besides by the widow's base behaviour and by the failure of her effort to induce penitence in Hedwig by means of punishment, she was in the strenuous mood again, and inclined to see all manner of horrid truths and fates hovering round the harmless tea-table, where denser eyes like mine, and no doubt Mrs. Harvey-Browne's, only saw a pleasant flicker of beech leaves over cups and saucers, and bland strawberries in a nest of green.
'If women did not regard each other's advances with so much suspicion,' Charlotte proceeded emphatically, 'if they did not look upon every one of a slightly different class as an impossible person to be avoided, they would make a much better show in the fight for independent existence. The value of co-operation is so gigantic——'
'Ah yes, I fancy I remember your saying something like this at that lecture in Oxford last winter,' interrupted Mrs. Harvey-Browne with an immense plaintiveness.
'It cannot be said too often.'
'Oh yes dear Frau Nieberlein, believe me it can. What, for instance, has it to do with my being asked to drive back to Sassnitz with a strange family in a fly?'
'Why, with that it has very much to do,' I interposed, smiling pleasantly on them both. 'You would have paid half. And what is co-operation if it is not paying half? Indeed, I've been told by people who have done it that it sometimes even means paying all. In which case you don't see its point.'
'What I mean, of course,' said Charlotte, 'is moral co-operation. A ceaseless working together of its members for the welfare of the sex. No opportunity should ever be lost. One should always be ready to talk to, to get to know, to encourage. One must cultivate a large love for humanity to whatever class it belongs, and however individually objectionable it is. You, no doubt,' she continued, waving her teaspoon at the staring bishop's wife, 'curtly refused the very innocent invitation of your fellow-creature because she was badly dressed and had manners of a type with which you are not acquainted. You considered it an impertinence—nay, more than an impertinence, an insult, to be approached in such a manner. Now, how can you tell'—(here she leaned across the table, and in her earnestness pointed the teaspoon straight at Mrs. Harvey-Browne, who stared harder than ever)—'how will you ever know that the woman did not happen to be full, full to the brim, of that good soil in which the seed of a few encouraging words dropped during your drive would have produced a splendid harvest of energy and freedom?'
'But my dear Frau Nieberlein,' said the bishop's wife, much taken aback by this striking image, 'I do not think she was full of anything of the kind. She did not look so, anyhow. And I myself, to pursue your metaphor, am hardly fitted for the office of an agricultural implement. I believe all these things are done nowadays by machinery, are they not?' she asked, turning to me in a well-meant effort to get away from the subject. 'The old-fashioned and picturesque sower has been quite superseded, has he not?'
'Why are you talking about farming?' asked Ambrose, who came up at this moment.
'We are talking of the farming of souls,' replied Charlotte.
'Oh,' said Ambrose, in his turn taken aback. He pretended to be so busy sitting down that he couldn't say more than just Oh. We watched him in silence fussing into his chair. 'How pleasant it is here,' he went on when he was settled. 'No, I don't mind cold tea a bit, really. Mother, why wouldn't you let the old man sit with us? He's a frightfully good sort.'
'Because there are certain limits beyond which I decline to go,' replied his mother, visibly annoyed that he should thus unconsciously side with Charlotte.
'Oh but it was rough on him—don't you think so, Frau Nieberlein? We have the biggest table and only half-fill it, and there isn't another place to be had. It is so characteristically British for us to sit here and keep other people out. He'll have to wait heaven knows how long for his coffee, and he has walked miles.'
'I think,' said Charlotte slowly, loudly, and weightily, 'that he might very well have joined us.'
'But you did not see him,' protested Mrs. Harvey-Browne. 'I assure you he really was impossible. Much worse than the woman we were talking about.'
'I can only say,' said Charlotte, even slower, louder, and more weightily, 'that one should, before all things, be human, and that one has no right whatever to turn one's back on the smallest request of a fellow-creature.'
Hardly had she said it, hardly had the bishop's wife had time to open her mouth and stare in stoniest astonishment, hardly had I had time to follow her petrified gaze, than an old man in a long waterproof garment with a green felt hat set askew on his venerable head, came nimbly up behind Charlotte, and bending down to her unsuspecting ear shouted into it the amazing monosyllable 'Bo!'
I believe I have somewhere remarked that Charlotte was not the kind of person one could ever tickle. She was also the last person in the world to whom most people would want to say Bo. The effect on her of this Bo was alarming. She started up as though she had been struck, and then stood as one turned to stone.
Brosy jumped up as if to protect her.
Mrs. Harvey-Browne looked really frightened, and gasped 'It is the old man again—an escaped lunatic—how very unpleasant!'
'No, no,' I hurriedly explained, 'it is the Professor.'
'The Professor? What, never the Professor? What, the Professor? Brosy—Brosy'—she leaned over and seized his coat in an agony of haste—'never breathe it's the old man I've been talking about—never breathe it—it's Professor Nieberlein himself!'
'What?' exclaimed Brosy, flushing all over his face.
But the Professor took no notice of any of us, for he was diligently kissing Charlotte. He kissed her first on one cheek, then he kissed her on the other cheek, then he pulled her ears, then he tickled her under the chin, and he beamed upon her all the while with such an uninterrupted radiance that the coldest heart must have glowed only to see it.
'So here I meet thee, little treasure?' he cried. 'Here once more thy twitter falls upon my ears? I knew at once thy little chirp. I heard it above all the drinking noises. "Come, come," I said to myself, "if that is not the little Lot!" And chirping the self-same tune I know of old, in the beautiful English tongue: Turn not your back on a creature, turn not your back. Only on the old husband one turns the pretty back—what? Fie, fie, the naughty little Lot!'
I protest I never saw a stranger sight than this of Charlotte being toyed with. And the rigidity of her!
'How charming the simple German ways are,' cried Mrs. Harvey-Browne in a great flutter to me while the toying was going on. She was so torn by horror at what she had said and by rapture at meeting the Professor, that she hardly knew what she was doing. 'It really does one good to be given a peep at genuine family emotions. Delightful Professor. You heard what he said to the Duke after he had gone all the way to Bonn on purpose to see him? And my dear Frau X., such a Duke!' And she whispered the name in my ear as though it were altogether too great to be said aloud.
I conceded by a nod that he was a very superior duke; but what the Professor said to him I never heard, for at that moment Charlotte dropped back into her chair and the Professor immediately scrambled (I fear there is no other word, he did scramble) into the next one to her, which was Brosy's.
'Will you kindly present me?' said Brosy to Charlotte, standing reverential and bare-headed before the great man.
'Ah, I know you, my young friend, already,' said the Professor genially. 'We have just been admiring Nature together.'
At this the bishop's wife blushed, deeply, thoroughly, a thing I suppose she had not done for years, and cast a supplicating look at Charlotte, who sat rigid with her eyes on her plate. Brosy blushed too and bowed profoundly. 'I cannot tell you, sir, how greatly honoured I feel at being allowed to make your acquaintance,' he said.
'Tut, tut,' said the Professor. 'Lottchen, present me to these ladies.'
What, he did not remember me? What, after the memorable evening in Berlin? I know of few things more wholly grievous than to have a celebrated connection who forgets he has ever seen you.
'I must apologise to you, madam,' he said to the bishop's wife, for taking a seat at your table after all.'
'Oh, Professor——' murmured Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'But you will perhaps forgive my joining a party of which my wife is a member.'
'Oh, Professor, do pray believe——'
'I know a Brown,' he continued; 'in England there is a Brown I know. He is of a great skill in card-tricks. Hold—I know another Brown—nay, I know several. Relations, no doubt, of yours, madam?'
'No, sir, our name is Harvey-Browne.'
'Ach so. I understood Brown. So it is Harvey. Yes, yes; Harvey made the excellent sauce. I eat it daily with my fish. Madam, a public benefactor.'
'Sir, we are not related. We are the Harvey-Brownes.'
'What, you are both Harveys and Browns, and yet not related to either Browns or Harveys? Nay, but that is a problem to split the head.'
'My husband is the Bishop of Babbacombe. Perhaps you have heard of him. Professor. He too is literary. He annotates.'
'In any case, madam, his wife speaks admirable German,' said the Professor, with a little bow. 'And this lady?' he asked, turning to me.
'Why, I am Charlotte's cousin,' I said, no longer able to hide my affliction at the rapid way in which he had forgotten me, 'and accordingly yours. Do you not remember I met you last winter in Berlin at a party at the Hofmeyers?'
'Of course—of course. That is to say, I fear, of course not. I have no memory at all for things of importance. But one can never have too many little cousins, can one, young man? Sit thee down next to me—then shall I be indeed a happy man, with my little wife on one side and my little cousin on the other. So—now we are comfortable; and when my coffee comes I shall ask for nothing more. Young man, when you marry, see to it that your wife has many nice little cousins. It is very important. As for my not remembering thee,' he went on, putting one arm round the back of my chair, while the other was round the back of Charlotte's, 'be not offended, for I tell thee that the day after I married my Lot here, I fell into so great an abstraction that I started for a walking tour in the Alps with some friends I met, and for an entire week she passed from my mind. It was at Lucerne. So completely did she pass from it that I omitted to tell her I was going or bid her farewell. I went. Dost thou remember, Lottchen? I came to myself on the top of Pilatus a week after our wedding day. "What ails thee, man?" said my comrades, for I was disturbed. "I must go down at once," I cried; "I have forgotten something." "Bah! you do not need your umbrella up here," they said, for they knew I forget it much. "It is not my umbrella that I have left behind," I cried, "it is my wife." They were surprised, for I had forgotten to tell them I had a wife. And when I got down to Lucerne, there was the poor Lot quite offended.' And he pulled her nearest ear and laughed till his spectacles grew dim.
'Delightful,' whispered Mrs. Harvey-Browne to her son. 'So natural.'
Her son never took his eyes off the Professor, ready to pounce on the first word of wisdom and assimilate it, as a hungry cat might sit ready for the mouse that unaccountably delays.
'Ah yes,' sighed the Professor, stretching out his legs under the table and stirring the coffee the waiter had set before him, 'never forget, young man, that the only truly important thing in life is women. Little round, soft women. Little purring pussy-cats. Eh, Lot? Some of them will not always purr, will they, little Lot? Some of them mew much, some of them scratch, some of them have days when they will only wave their naughty little tails in anger. But all are soft and pleasant, and add much grace to the fireside.'
'How true,' murmured Mrs. Harvey-Browne in a rapture, 'how very, very true. So, so different from Nietzsche.'
'What, thou art silent, little treasure?' he continued, pinching Charlotte's cheek.' Thou lovest not the image of the little cats?'
'No,' said Charlotte; and the word was jerked up red-hot from an interior manifestly molten.
'Well, then, pass me those strawberries that blink so pleasantly from their bed of green, and while I eat pour out of thy dear heart all that it contains concerning pussies, which interest thee greatly as I well know, and all else that it contains and has contained since last I saw thee. For it is long since I heard thy voice, and I have missed thee much. Art thou not my dearest wife?'
Clearly it was time for me to get up and remove the Harvey-Brownes out of earshot. I prepared to do so, but at the first movement the arm along the back of the chair slid down and gripped hold of me.
'Not so restless, not so restless, little cousin,' said the Professor, smiling rosily. 'Did I not tell thee I am happy so? And wilt thou mar the happiness of a good old man?'
'But you have Charlotte, and you must wish to talk to her——'
'Certainly do I wish it. But talking to Charlotte excludeth not the encircling of Elizabeth. And have I not two arms?'
'I want to go and show Mrs. Harvey-Browne the view from the cliff,' I said, appalled at the thought of what Charlotte, when she did begin to speak, would probably say.
'Tut, tut,' said the Professor, gripping me tighter, 'we are very well so. The contemplation of virtuous happiness is at least as edifying for this lady as the contemplation of water from a cliff.'
'Delightful originality,' murmured Mrs. Harvey-Browne.
'Madam, you flatter me,' said the Professor, whose ears were quick.
'Oh no. Professor, indeed, it is not flattery.'
'Madam, I am the more obliged.'
'We have so long wished we could meet you. My son spent the whole of last summer in Bonn trying to do so——'
'Waste of time, waste of time, madam.'
'—and all in vain. And this year we were both there before coming up here and did all we could, but also unfortunately in vain. It really seems as if Providence had expressly led us to this place to-day.'
'Providence, madam, is continually leading people to places, and then leading them away again. I, for instance, am to be led away again from this one with great rapidity, for I am on foot and must reach a bed by nightfall. Here there is nothing to be had.'
'Oh you must come back to Binz with us,' cried Mrs. Harvey-Browne. 'The steamer leaves in an hour, and I am sure room could be found for you in our hotel. My son would gladly give you his, if necessary; he would feel only too proud if you would take it, would you not, Brosy?'
'Madam, I am overwhelmed by your amiability. You will, however, understand that I cannot leave my wife. Where I go she comes too—is it not so, little treasure? I am only waiting to hear her plans to arrange mine accordingly. I have no luggage. I am very movable. My night attire is on my person, beneath the attire appropriate to the day. In one pocket of my mantle I carry an extra pair of socks. In another my handkerchiefs, of which there are two. And my sponge, damp and cool, is embedded in the crown of my hat. Thus, madam, I am of a remarkable independence. Its one restriction is the necessity of finding a shelter daily before dark. Tell me, little Lot, is there no room for the old husband here with thee?' And there was something so sweet in his smile as he turned to her that I think if she had seen it she must have followed him wherever he went.
But she did not raise her eyes. 'I go to Berlin this evening,' she said. 'I have important engagements, and must leave at once.'
'My dear Frau Nieberlein,' exclaimed the bishop's wife, 'is not this very sudden?'
Brosy, who had been looking uncomfortable for some minutes quite apart from not having got his mouse, pulled out his watch and stood up. 'If we are to catch that steamer, mother, I think it would be wise to start,' he said.
'Nonsense, Brosy, it doesn't go for an hour,' said Mrs. Harvey-Browne, revolted at the notion of being torn from her celebrity in the very moment of finding him.
'I am afraid we must,' insisted Brosy. 'It takes much longer to get down the cliff than one would suppose. And it is slippery—I want to take you down an easier and rather longer way.'
And he carried her off, ruthlessly cutting short her parting entreaties that the Professor would come too, come to-morrow, then, come without fail the next day, then, to Binz; and he took her, as I observed, straight in the direction of the Hertha See as a beginning of the easy descent, and the Hertha See, as everybody knows, is in the exactly contrary direction to the one he ought to have gone; but no doubt he filled up the hour instructively with stories of the ancient heathen rites performed on those mystic shores, and so left Charlotte free to behave to her husband as she chose.
How she did behave I can easily guess, for hurrying off into the pavilion, desirous of nothing except to get out of the way, I had hardly had time to marvel that she should be able to dislike such an old dear, when she burst in. 'Quick, quick—help me to get my things!' she cried, flying up and down the slit of a room and pouncing on the bags stowed away by Gertrud in corners. 'I can just catch the night train at Sassnitz—I'm off to Berlin—I'll write to you from there. Why, if that fool Gertrud hasn't emptied everything out! What a terrible fate yours is, always at the mercy of an overfed underling—a person who empties bags without being asked. Give me those brushes—and the papers. Well, you've seen me dragged down into the depths to-day, haven't you?' And she straightened herself from bending over the bag, a brush in each hand, and looking at me with a most bitter and defiant smile incontinently began to cry.
'Don't cry, Charlotte,' I said, who had been dumbly staring, 'don't cry, my dear. I didn't see any depths. I only saw nice things. Don't go to Berlin—stay here and let us be happy together.'
'Stay here? Never!' And she feverishly crammed things into her bag, and the bag must have been at least as full of tears as of other things, for she cried bitterly the whole time.
Well, women have always been a source of wonderment to me, myself included, who am for ever hurled in the direction of foolishness, for ever unable to stop; and never are they so mysterious, so wholly unaccountable, as in their relations to their husbands. But who shall judge them? The paths of fate are all so narrow that two people bound together, forced to walk abreast, cannot, except they keep perfect step, but push each other against the rocks on either side. So that it behoves the weaker and the lighter, if he would remain unbruised, to be very attentive, very adaptable, very deft.
I saw Charlotte off in one of the waiting waggonettes that was to take her to Sassnitz where the railway begins. 'I'll let you know where I am,' she called out as she was rattled away down the hill; and with a wave of the hand she turned the corner and vanished from my sight, gone once more into those frozen regions where noble and forlorn persons pursue ideals.
Walking back slowly through the trees towards the cliffs I met the Professor looking everywhere for his wife. 'What time does Lot leave?' he cried when he saw me. 'Must she really go?'
'She is gone.'
'No! How long since?'
'About ten minutes.'
'Then I too take that train.'
And he hurried off, clambering with the nimbleness that was all his own into a second waggonette, and disappeared in his turn down the hill. 'Dearest little cousin,' he shouted just before being whisked round the corner, 'permit me to bid thee farewell and wish thee good luck. I shall seriously endeavour to remember thee this time.'
'Do,' I called back, smiling; but he could not have heard.
Once again I slowly walked through the trees to the cliffs. The highest of these cliffs, the Königsstuhl, jutting out into the sea forms a plateau where a few trees that have weathered the winter storms of many years stand in little groups. For a long while I sat on the knotted roots of one of them, listening to the slow wash of the waves on the shingle far below. I saw the ribbon of smoke left by the Harvey-Browne's steamer get thinner and disappear. I watched the sunset-red fade out of the sky and sea, and all the world grow grey and full of secrets. Once, after I had sat there a very long time, I thought I heard the faint departing whistle of a far-distant train, and my heart leapt up with exultation. Oh the gloriousness of freedom and silence, of being alone with my own soul once more! I drew a long, long breath, and stood up and stretched myself in the supreme comfort of complete relaxation.
'You look very happy,' said a rather grudging voice close to me.
It belonged to a Fräulein of uncertain age, come up to the plateau in galoshes to commune in her turn with night and Nature; and I suppose I must have been smiling foolishly all over my face, after the manner of those whose thoughts are pleasant.
A Harvey-Browne impulse seized me to stare at her and turn my back, but I strangled it. 'Do you know why I look happy?' I inquired instead; and my voice was as the voice of turtle-doves.
'No—why?' was the eagerly inquisitive answer.
'Because I am.'
And nodding sweetly I walked away.