When Reason lecturing us on certain actions explains that they are best avoided, and Experience with her sledge-hammers drives the lesson home, why do we, convinced and battered, repeat the actions every time we get the chance? I have known from my youth the opinion of Solomon that he that passeth by and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears; and I have a wise relative—not a blood-relation, but still very wise—who at suitable intervals addresses me in the following manner:—'Don't meddle.' Yet now I have to relate how, on the eighth day of my journey round Rügen, in defiance of Reason, Experience, Solomon, and the wise relative, I began to meddle.
The first desire came upon me in the night, when I could not sleep because of the mosquitoes and the constant coming into the pavilion of late and jovial tourists. The tourists came in in jolly batches till well on towards morning, singing about things like the Rhine and the Fatherland's frontiers, glorious songs and very gory, as they passed my hastily-shut window on their way round to the door. After each batch had gone I got out and cautiously opened the window again, and then waited for the next ones, slaying mosquitoes while I waited; and it was while I lay there sleepless and tormented that the longing to help reunite Charlotte and her husband first entered my head.
It is true that I was bothered for some time trying to arrive at a clear comprehension of what constitutes selfishness, but I gave that up for it only made my head ache. Surely Charlotte, for instance, was intensely selfish to leave her home and, heedless of her husband's unhappiness, live the life she preferred? But was not he equally selfish in wanting to have her back again? For whose happiness would that be? He could not suppose for hers. If she, determined to be unselfish, went home, she would only be pandering to his selfishness. The more she destroyed her individuality and laid its broken remains at his feet, the more she would be developing evil qualities in the acceptor of such a gift. We are taught that our duty is to make each other good and happy, not bad and happy; Charlotte, therefore, would be doing wrong if, making the Professor happy, she also made him bad. Because he had a sweet way with him and she had not, he got all the sympathy, including mine; and of course the whole of that windy mass of biassed superficiality called Public Opinion was on his side. But how can one, if one truly loves a woman, wish her to live a life that must make her wretched? Such love can only be selfish; accordingly the Professor was selfish. They were both selfish; and if one were not so the other would be more so. And if to be unselfish meant making those about you the opposite, then it must be wrong; and were it conceivable that a whole family should determine to be unselfish and actually carry out the dreadful plan, life in that doomed house would become a perpetual combat de générosité, not in any way to be borne. Here it was that my head began to ache. 'What stuff is this?' I thought, veering round suddenly to the easeful simplicity of the old conventions. 'Just to think of it gives me a headache. The only thing I know of that does not give a woman a headache is to live the life for which she was intended—the comfortable life with a brain at rest and a body wholly occupied with benevolences; and if her meekness makes her husband bad, what does that matter in the end to any one but him? Charlotte ought to be very happy with that kind old man. Any woman would be. Her leaving him must have been owing to some trifling misunderstanding. I am sure it would be for her happiness to go back to him. She would grow quite round and mellow. Could I not do something, say something, to get her to give him another trial? I wish—oh, I wish I could!'
Now from time to time the wise relative quoted above amplifies his advice in the following manner:—'Of all forms of meddling that which deals with man and wife is, to the meddler, the most immediately fatal.'
But where are the persons who take advice? I never yet met them. When the first shaft of sunshine slanted through my window it fell on me in my dressing-gown feverishly writing to Charlotte. The eloquence of that letter! I really think it had all the words in it I know, except those about growing round and mellow. Something told me that they would not appeal to her. I put it in an envelope and locked it in my dressing-case till, unconscious of what was in store for her, she should send me her address; and then, full of the glow that warms the doer of good actions equally with the officious, I put on my bathing things, a decent skirt and cloak over them, got out of the window, and went down the cliff to the beach to bathe.
The water was icily cold in the shadow of the cliffs, but it was a wonderful feeling getting all the closeness of the night dashed off me in that vast and splendid morning solitude. Dripping I hurried up again, my skirt and cloak over the soaked bathing dress, my wet feet thrust into shoes I could never afterwards wear, a trickle of salt water marking the way I took. It was just five o'clock as I got in at the window. In another quarter of an hour I was dry and dressed and out of the window a second time—getting in and out of that window had a singular fascination for me—and on my way for an early exploring of the woods.
But those Stubbenkammer woods were destined never to be explored by me; for I had hardly walked ten minutes along their beechen ways listening to the birds and stopping every few steps to look up at the blue of the sky between the branches, before I came to the Hertha See, a mysterious silent pond of black water with reeds round it and solemn forest paths, and on the moss by the shore of the Hertha See, his eyes fixed on its sullen waters, deep in thought, sat the Professor.
'Don't tell me you have forgotten me again,' I exclaimed anxiously; for his eyes turned from the lake to me as I came over the moss to him in an unchanged abstraction. What was he doing there? He looked exceedingly untidy, and his boots were white with dust.
'Good morning,' I said cheerfully, as he continued to gaze straight through me.
'I have no doubt whatever that this was the place,' he remarked, 'and Klüver was correct in his conjecture.'
'Now what is the use,' I said, sitting down on the moss beside him, 'of talking to me like that when I don't know the beginning? Who is Klüver? And what did he conjecture?'
His eyes suddenly flashed out of their dream, and he smiled and patted my hand. 'Why, it is the little cousin,' he said, looking pleased.
'It is. May I ask what you are doing here?'
'Doing? Agreeing with Klüver that this is undoubtedly the spot.'
'Tacitus describes it so accurately that there can be no reasonable doubt.'
'Oh—Tacitus. I thought Klüver had something to do with Charlotte. Where is Charlotte?'
'Conceive the procession of the goddess Nerthus, or Hertha, mother of the earth, passing through these sacred groves on the way to bless her children. Her car is covered, so that no eye shall behold her. The priest alone, walking by the side, is permitted to touch it. Wherever she passes holyday is kept. Arms are laid aside. Peace reigns absolute. No man may seek to slay his brother while she who blesses all alike is passing among her children. Then, when she has once more been carried to her temple, in this water thou here seest, in this very lake, her car and its draperies are cleansed by slaves, who, after performing their office, are themselves thrown into the water and left to perish; for they had laid hands on that which was holy, and even to-day, when we are half-hearted in the defence of our adorations and rarely set up altars in our souls, that is a dangerous thing to do.'
'Dear Professor,' I said, 'it is perfectly sweet of you to tell me about the goddess Nerthus, but would you mind, before you go any further, telling me where Charlotte is? When I last saw you you were whirling after her in a waggonette. Did you ever catch her?'
He looked at me a moment, then gave the bulging pocket of his waterproof a sounding slap. 'Little cousin,' he said, 'in me thou beholdest a dreamer of dreams, an unpractical greybeard, a venerable sheep's-head. Never, I suppose, shall I learn to remember, unaided, those occurrences that I fain would not forget. Therefore I assist myself by making notes of them to which I can refer. Unfortunately it seldom happens that I remember to refer. Thou, however, hast reminded me of them. I will now seek them out.' And he dragged different articles from the bulging pocket, laying them carefully on the moss beside him in tidy rows. But the fact of only one of the two handkerchiefs being there nearly put him off the track, so much and so long did he marvel where its fellow could be; also the sight of his extra pair of socks reminded him of the urgent need they were in of mending, and he broke off his search for the note-book to hold each up in turn to me and eloquently lament. 'Nein, nein, was fur Socken!' he moaned, with a final shake of the head as he spread them out too on the moss.
'Yes, they are very bad,' I agreed for the tenth time.
'Bad! They are emblematic.'
'Will you let me mend them? Or rather,' I hastily added, 'cause them to be mended?' For my aversion to needles is at least as great as Charlotte's.
'No, no—what is the use? There are cupboards full of socks like them in Bonn, skeletons of that which once was socks, mere outlines filled in with holes.'
'And all are emblematic?'
'Every single one.' But this time he looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.
'I don't think,' I said, 'that I'd let my soul be ruffled by a sock. If it offended me I'd throw it away and buy some more.'
'Behold wisdom,' cried the Professor gaily, 'proceeding from the mouth of an intellectual suckling!' And without more ado he flung both the socks into the Hertha See. There they lay, like strange flowers of yellow wool, motionless on the face of the mystic waters.
'And now the note-book?' I asked; for he had relapsed into immobility, and was watching the socks with abstracted eyes.
'Ach yes—the note-book.'
Being heavy, it was at the very bottom of what was more like a sack in size than a pocket; but once he had run his glance over the latest entries he began very volubly to tell me what he had been doing all night. It had been an even busier night than mine. Charlotte, he explained, had left Sassnitz by the Berlin train, and had taken a ticket for Berlin, as he ascertained at the booking-office, a few minutes before he took his. He arrived at the very last moment, yet as he jumped into the just departing train he caught sight of her sitting in a ladies' compartment. She also caught sight of him. 'I therefore gave a sigh of satisfaction,' he continued, 'lit my pipe, and, contemplating the evening heavens from the window, happy in the thought of being so near my little wife, I fell into an abstraction.'
I shook my head. 'These abstractions. Professor,' I observed, 'are inconvenient things to fall into. What had happened by the time you fell out again?'
'I found that I had emerged from my compartment and was standing on the ferry that takes the train across the water to Stralsund. The ancient city rose in venerable majesty——'
'Never mind the ancient city, dearest Professor. Look at your notes again—what was Charlotte doing?'
'Charlotte? She had entirely escaped my memory, so great was the pleasure excited in my breast by the contemplation of the starlit scene before me. But glancing away from the massive towers of Stralsund, my eye fell on the word "Frauen" on the window of the ladies' carriage. Instantly remembering Charlotte, I clambered up eager to speak to her. The compartment was empty.'
'She too was contemplating the starlit scene from the deck of the ferry?'
'She was not.'
'Were there no bags in the carriage?'
'Not a bag.'
'What had become of her?'
'She had left the train; and I'll tell thee how. At Bergen, our only stopping-place, we crossed a train returning to Sassnitz. Plentiful applications of drink-money to officials revealed the fact that she had changed into this train.'
'Not very clever,' I thought.
'No, no,' said the Professor, as if he had heard me thinking. 'The little Lot's cleverness invariably falls just short of the demands made upon it. At critical moments, when the choice lies between the substance and the shadow, I have observed she unfailingly chooses the shadow. This comical life she leads, what is it but a pursuit of shadows? However——' And he stopped short, not caring, I suppose, to discuss his wife.
'Where do you think she is now?'
'I conjecture not far from here. I arrived at Sassnitz at one o'clock this morning by the Swedish boat-train. I was told that a lady answering her description had got out there at eleven, taken a fly, and driven into the town. I walked out here to speak with thee, and was only waiting for the breakfast-hour to seek thee out, for she will not, being so near thee, omit to join thee.'
'You must be perfectly exhausted.'
'What I most wish for is breakfast.'
'Then let us go and see if we can't get some. Gertrud will be up by now, and can produce coffee at the shortest notice.'
'Who is Gertrud? Another dear little cousin? If it be so, lead me, I pray thee, at once to Gertrud.'
I laughed, and explaining Gertrud to him helped him pack his pocket again. Then we started for the hotel full of hope, each thinking that if Charlotte were not already there she would very soon turn up.
But Charlotte was not there, nor did she, though we loitered over our coffee till we ended by being as late as the latest tourist, turn up. 'She is certain to come during the day,' said the Professor.
I told him I had arranged to go to Glowe that day, a little place farther along the coast; and he said he would, in that case, engage my vacant pavilion-bedroom for himself and stay that night at Stubbenkammer. 'She is certain to come here,' he repeated; 'and I will not lose her a second time.'
'You won't like the pavilion,' I remarked.
About eleven, there being still no signs of Charlotte, I set out on foot on the first stage of my journey to Glowe, sending the carriage round by road to meet me at Lohme, the place where I meant to stop for lunch, and going myself along the footpath down on the shore. The Professor, who was a great walker and extraordinarily active for his years, came with me part of the way. He intended, he said, to go into Sassnitz that afternoon if Charlotte did not appear before then and make inquiries, and meanwhile he would walk a little with me; so we started very gaily down the same zigzag path up which I had crawled dripping a few hours before. At the bottom of the ravine the shore-path from Stubbenkammer to Lohme begins. It is a continuation of the lovely path from Sassnitz, but, less steep, it keeps closer to the beach. It is a white chalk path running along the foot of cliffs clothed with moss and every kind of wild-flower and fern. Masses of the leaves of lilies of the valley show what it must look like in May, and on the day we walked there the space between the twisted beech trunks—twisted into the strangest contortions under the lash of winter storms—was blue with wild campanula.
What a walk that was. The sea lay close to our feet in great green and blue streaks; the leaves of the beeches on our left seemed carved in gold, they shone so motionless against the sky; and the Professor was so gay, so certain that he was going to find Charlotte, that he almost danced instead of walking. He talked to me, there is no doubt, as he might have talked to quite a little child—of erudition there was not a sign, of wisdom in Brosy's sense not a word; but what of that? The happy result was that I understood him, and I know we were very merry. If I were Charlotte nothing would induce me to stir from the side of a good-natured man who could make me laugh. Why, what a quality in a husband, how precious and how rare. Think of living with a person who looks at the world with the kindliest amused eyes. Imagine having a perpetual spring of pleasant mirth in one's own house, babbling coolly of refreshing things on days when life is dusty. Must not wholesomeness pervade the very cellars and lumber-rooms of such a home? Well, I meant to do all in my power to persuade Charlotte to go into the home again. How delightful to be the means of doing the dear old man beside me a good turn! Meanwhile he walked along happily, all unconscious that I was meditating good turns, perhaps happy for that very reason, and full of confidence in his ability to catch and to keep Charlotte. 'Where she goes I go with her,' he said. 'I now have my summer leisure and can devote myself entirely to her.'
'Do not fall into abstractions then, dear Professor, at important moments,' I said; and inwardly rehearsed the eloquent pleadings with which I meant to shake Charlotte's soul when next I saw her.
We said good-bye where the wood ends and the white path goes out into the sun. 'Be sure you let me know when you meet Charlotte,' I said. 'I want particularly to speak to her. Something really important. Tell her so. And I have a letter for her if I can't see her. Don't forget I sleep at Glowe to-night. I'll telegraph where I stay to-morrow. Don't forget. Won't you be very nice and make notes of it?'
He promised, wished me Godspeed, kissed my hand, and turned back into the wood swinging his stick and humming gay little tunes; and I went on in the sun to Lohme.
There I bathed again, a delicious solitary bathe just as the woman was locking up for the day; and afterwards, when she had gone away up the cliff to her dinner, I sat on the empty beach in the sun and thought of all I was going to say to Charlotte. It interested me so much that I forgot I had meant to lunch at Lohme, and when I remembered it it was already time to go up and meet the carriage. It did not matter, as the midday meal is the best one to leave out, and Lohme is not the kind of place I would ever want to lunch in. The beach at the foot of the cliffs is quiet and pleasant, and from it you can see the misty headland of Arkona with its lighthouse, the northernmost point of the island, far away on the left. Lohme itself is a small group of hotels and lodging-houses on the top of low cliffs, very small and modest compared even to Binz and Sassnitz, which are not very big themselves, and much more difficult to get at. There is no railway nearer than Sassnitz, and the few steamers that stop there disgorge the tourist who wants to get out into a small boat and steam away leaving him to his fate, which is only a nice one on quite calm days. Safely on land he climbs up a shadeless zigzag path which must be beautiful in June, for the cliffs are thickly covered with wild-rose bushes, and at the top finds himself among the lodging-houses of Lohme. The only thing I saw when I got to the top that made me linger was a row of tubs filled with nasturtiums along the little terrace in front of the first hotel I passed. The way those nasturtiums blazed against the vast blue curtain of sea and sky that hung behind them, with no tree or bush anywhere near to shadow their fierce splendour, was a sight well worth coming to Lohme for. There is no shade anywhere at Lohme. It stands entirely exposed out in the open beyond the Stubbenkammer forest, and on a dull day must be dreary. It is, I imagine, a convenient place for quiet persons who do not wish to spend much, and the air is beautiful. In spite of the heat I felt as if it were the most bracing air I had yet come across on my journey.
The carriage was waiting just outside the empty, sunny little place, in a road that winds chalkily between undulating fields in the direction of Glowe. Gertrud's face wore a look of satisfaction as she got into her old seat beside me and took out her knitting. She had not been able to knit during those few dreadful days in which her place had been usurped, and she had bumped after us ignominiously in a cart; and how pleasant it was not to have the ceaseless rattle just behind. Yes; it became more and more clear that Charlotte ought to be in her own home with her husband. Her being there would undoubtedly promote the general peace. And why should she go about stirring people up and forcing them to be dogged by luggage carts?
The road wound higher through the cornfields, dwindling at last into a stony track. The country heaved away in ample undulations on either side. There were no trees, but so many flowers that even the ruts were blue with chickory. On the right, over the cornfields, lay the Baltic. I could still see Arkona in front of me on the dim edge of the world. Down at our feet stretched the calm silver of the Jasmunder Bodden, the biggest of those inland seas that hollow out the island into a mere frame; and a tongue of pine-forest, black and narrow, curved northwards between its pale waters and the vigorous blue of the sea. I stopped the carriage as I love to do in lonely places, and there was no sound but a faint whispering in the corn.
We drove down over stones between grassy banks to a tiny village with a very ancient church and the pleasing name of Bobbin. I looked wistfully up at the church on its mound as we passed below it. It was very old—six centuries the guide-book said—and fain would I have gone into it; but I knew it would be locked, and did not like to disturb the parson for the key. The parson himself came along the road at that moment, and he looked so kind, and his eye was so mild that I got out and inquired of him with what I hope was an engaging modesty whether the guide-book were correct about the six centuries. He was amiability itself. Not only, he said, was the church ancient, but interesting. Would I like to see it? 'Oh please.' Then would I come to the parsonage while he got the key? 'Oh thank you.'
The Bobbin parsonage is a delightful little house of the kind that I dream of for my declining years, with latticed windows and a vine. It stands in a garden so pretty, so full of narrow paths disappearing round corners, that I longed far more to be shown where they led to than to be shown the inside of the church. Several times I said things that ought to have resulted in my being taken along them, but the parson heeded not; his talk was and remained wholly church. A friendly dog lay among croquet hoops on the lawn, a pleasant, silent dog, who wagged his tail when I came round the corner and saw no reason why he should bark and sniff. No one else was to be seen. The house was so quiet it seemed asleep while I waited in the parlour. The parson took me down a little path to the church, talking amiably on the way. He was proud, he said, of his church, very proud on week-days; on Sundays so few people came to the services that his pride was quenched by the aspect of the empty seats. A bell began to toll as we reached the door. In answer to my inquiring look he said it was the Gebetglocke, the prayer-bell, and was rung three times a day, at eight, and twelve, and four, so that the scattered inhabitants of the lonely country-side, the sower in the field, the housewife among her pots, the fisherman on the Bodden, or over there, in quiet weather, on the sea, might hear it and join together spiritually at those hours in a common prayer. 'And do they?' I asked. He shrugged his shoulders and murmured of hopes.
It is the quaintest church. The vaulted chancel is the oldest part, and there is an altarpiece put there by the Swedish Field-Marshal Wrangel, who in the seventeenth century lived in a turreted Schloss near by that I had seen from the hills. A closed-in seat high up on the side of the chancel was where he sat; it has latticed windows and curiously-painted panels, with his arms in the middle panel and those of Prince Putbus, to whom the Schloss now belongs, on either side. The parson took me up into the gallery and showed me a picture of John the Baptist's head, just off, with Herodias trying to pull out its tongue. I said I thought it nasty, and he told me it had been moved up there because the lady downstairs over whose head it used to hang was made ill by it every Sunday. Had the parishioners up in the gallery thicker skins, I asked? But there was no question of skins, because the congregation never overflowed into the galleries. There is another picture up there, the Supper at Emmaus, with the Scripture account written underneath in Latin. The parson read this aloud, and his eyes, otherwise so mild, woke into gleams of enthusiasm. It sounded very dignified and compressed to ears accustomed to Luther's lengthy rendering of the same thing. I remarked how beautiful it was, and with a pleased smile he at once read it again, and then translated it into Greek, lingering lovingly over each of the beautiful words. I sat listening in the cool of the dusty little gallery, gazing out at the summer fields and the glistening water of the Bodden through the open door. His gentle voice made a soft droning in the emptiness. A swallow came in and skimmed about anxiously, trying to get out again.
'The painted pulpit was also given by Wrangel,' said the parson, as we went downstairs.
'He seems to have given a great deal.'
'He needed to, to make good all his sins,' he replied with a smile. 'Many were the sins he committed.'
I smiled too. Posterity in the shape of the parishioners of Bobbin have been direct gainers by Wrangel's sins.
'Good, you see, comes out of evil,' I observed.
He shook his head.
'Well, painted pulpits do then,' I amended; for who that is in his senses would contradict a parson?
I gave a last glance at the quaint pulpit across which a shaft of coloured sunlight lay, inquired if I might make an offering for the poor of Bobbin, made it, thanked my amiable guide, and was accompanied by him out into the heat that danced among the tombstones down to the carriage. To the last he was mild and kind, tucking the Holland cover round me with the same solicitude that he might have shown in a January snowstorm.
Glowe, my destination, is not far from Bobbin. On the way we passed the Schloss with the four towers where the wicked Wrangel committed all those sins that presently crystallised into a painted pulpit. The Schloss, called the Spyker Schloss, is let to a farmer. We met him riding home, to his coffee, I suppose, it being now nearly five, and I caught a glimpse of a beautiful old garden with ancient pyramids of box, many flowers, broad alleys, and an aggressively new baby in a perambulator beneath the trees, rending the holy quiet of the afternoon with its shrieks. They pursued us quite a long way along the bald high road that brought us after another mile to Glowe.
Glowe is a handful of houses built between the high road and the sea. There is nothing on the other side of the road but a great green plain stretching to the Bodden. We stopped at the first inn we came to—it was almost the first house—a meek, ugly little place, with the following severe advice to tourists hanging up in the entrance:—
Sag was Du willst kurz und bestimmt.
Lass alle schöne Phrasen fehlen;
Wer nutzlos unsere Zeit uns nimmt
Bestiehlt uns—und Du sollst nicht stehlen.
Accordingly I was very short with the landlord when he appeared, left out most of my articles, all of my adjectives, clipped my remarks of weaknesses such as please and thank you, and became at last ferociously monosyllabic in my effort to give satisfaction. My room was quite nice, with two windows looking across the plain. Cows were tethered on it almost to where the Bodden glittered in the sun, and it was scattered over with great pale patches of clover. On the left was the Spyker Schloss, with the spire of Bobbin church behind it. Far away in front, blue with distance but still there, rose as usual the round tower of the ubiquitous Jagdschloss. I leaned out into the sunshine, and the air was full of the freshness of the pines I had seen from the heights, and the freshness of the invisible sea. Some one downstairs was playing sadly on a cello, tunes that reeked of Weltschmerz, and overhead the larks shrilled an exquisite derision.
I thought I would combine luncheon, tea, and dinner in one meal, and so have done with food for the day, so I said to the landlord, still careful to be kurz und bestimmt: 'Bring food.' I left it to him to decide what food, and he brought me fried eels and asparagus first, sausages with cranberries second, and coffee with gooseberry jam last. It was odd and indigestible, but quite clean. Afterwards I went down to the shore through an ear-wiggy, stuffy little garden at the back, where mosquitoes hummed round the heads of silent bath-guests sitting statuesquely in tiny arbours, and flies buzzed about me in a cloud. On the shore the fishermen's children were wading about and playing in the parental smacks. The sea looked so clear that I thought it would be lovely to have yet another bathe; so I sent a boy to call Gertrud, and set out along the beach to the very distant and solitary bathing-house. It was clean and convenient, but there were more local children playing in it, darting in and out of the dusky cells like bats. No one was in charge, and rows of towels and clothes hung up on hooks only asking to be used. Gertrud brought my things and I got in. The water seemed desperately cold and stinging, colder far than the water at Stubbenkammer that morning, almost intolerably cold; but perhaps it only seemed so because of the eels and cranberries that had come too. The children were deeply interested, and presently undressed and followed me in, one girl bathing only in her pinafore. They were very kind to me, showed me the least stony places, encouraged me when I shivered, and made a tremendous noise,—I concluded for my benefit, because after every outburst they paused and looked at me with modest pride. When I got out they got out too and insisted on helping Gertrud wring out my things. I distributed pfennings among them when I was dressed, and they clung to me closer than ever after that, escorting me in a body back to the inn, and hardly were they to be persuaded to leave me at the door.
That evening was one of profound peace. I sat at my bedroom window, my body and soul in a perfect harmony of content. My body had been so much bathed and walked about all day that it was incapable of intruding its shadow on the light of the soul, and remained entirely quiescent, pleased to be left quiet and forgotten in an easy-chair. The light of my soul, feeble as it had been since Thiessow, burned that night clear and steady, for once more I was alone and could breathe and think and rejoice over the serenity of the next few days that lay before me like a fair landscape in the sun. And when I had come to the end of the island and my drive I would go home and devote ardent weeks to bringing Charlotte and the Professor together again. If necessary I would even ask her to come and stay with me, so much stirred was I by the desire to do good. Match-making is not a work I have cared about since one that I made with infinite enthusiasm resulted a few months later in reproaches of a bitter nature being heaped on my head by the persons matched; but surely to help reunite two noble souls, one of which is eager to be reunited and the other only does not know what it really wants, is a blessed work? Anyhow the contemplation of it made me glow.
After the sun had dropped behind the black line of pines on the right the plain seemed to wrap itself in peace. The road beneath my window was quite quiet except for the occasional clatter past of a child in wooden shoes. Of all the places I had stayed at in Rügen this place was the most countrified and innocent. Idly I sat there, enjoying the soft dampness of the clover-laden air, counting how many stars I could see in the pale sky, watching the women who had been milking the cows far away across the plain come out of the dusk towards me carrying their frothing pails. It must have been quite late, for the plain had risen up in front of my window like a great black wall, when I heard a rattle of wheels on the high road in the direction of Bobbin. At first very faint it grew rapidly louder. 'What a time to come along this lonely road,' I thought; and wondered how it would be farther along where the blackness of the pines began. But the cart pulled up immediately beneath my window, and leaning out I saw the light from the inn door stream on to a green hat that I knew, and familiar shoulders draped in waterproof clothing.
'Why, what in the world——' I exclaimed.
The Professor looked up quickly. 'Lot left Sassnitz by steamer this morning,' he cried in English and in great jubilation. 'She took a ticket for Arkona. I received full information in Sassnitz, and started at once. This horned cattle of a coachman, however, will drive me no farther. I therefore appeal to thee to take me on in thy carriage.'
'What, never to-night?'
'To-night? Certainly to-night. Who knows where she will go to-morrow?'
'But Arkona is miles away—we should never get there—it would kill the horses'——
'Tut, tut, tut,' was all the answer I got, ejected with a terrific impatience; and much accompanying clinking of money made it evident that the person described as horned cattle was being paid.
I turned and stared at Gertrud, who had been arrested by this conversation in the act of arranging my bed, with a stare of horror. Then in a flash I saw which was the one safe place, and I flung myself all dressed into the bed. 'Go down, Gertrud,' I said, pulling the bedclothes up to my chin, 'and say what you like to the Professor. Tell him I am in bed and nothing will get me out of it. Tell him I'll drive him to-morrow to any place on earth. Yes—tell him that. Tell him I promise, I promise faithfully, to see him through. Go on, and lock me in.' For I heard a great clamour on the stairs, and who knows what an agitated wise man may not do, and afterwards pretend he was in an abstraction?
But I had definitely pledged myself to a course of active meddling.