It was at Homburg, several years ago, before the gaming had been
suppressed. The evening was very warm, and all the world was
gathered on the terrace of the Kursaal and the esplanade below it to
listen to the excellent orchestra; or half the world, rather, for the
crowd was equally dense in the gaming-rooms around the tables.
Everywhere the crowd was great. The night was perfect, the season
was at its height, the open windows of the Kursaal sent long shafts
of unnatural light into the dusky woods, and now and then, in the
intervals of the music, one might almost hear the clink of the
napoleons and the metallic call of the croupiers rise above the
watching silence of the saloons. I had been strolling with a friend,
and we at last prepared to sit down. Chairs, however, were scarce.
I had captured one, but it seemed no easy matter to find a mate for
it. I was on the point of giving up in despair, and proposing an
adjournment to the silken ottomans of the Kursaal, when I observed a
young man lounging back on one of the objects of my quest, with his
feet supported on the rounds of another. This was more than his
share of luxury, and I promptly approached him. He evidently
belonged to the race which has the credit of knowing best, at home
and abroad, how to make itself comfortable; but something in his
appearance suggested that his present attitude was the result of
inadvertence rather than of egotism. He was staring at the conductor
of the orchestra and listening intently to the music. His hands were
locked round his long legs, and his mouth was half open, with rather
a foolish air. "There are so few chairs," I said, "that I must beg
you to surrender this second one." He started, stared, blushed,
pushed the chair away with awkward alacrity, and murmured something
about not having noticed that he had it.
"What an odd-looking youth!" said my companion, who had watched me,
as I seated myself beside her.
"Yes, he is odd-looking; but what is odder still is that I have seen
him before, that his face is familiar to me, and yet that I can't
place him." The orchestra was playing the Prayer from Der
Freischutz, but Weber's lovely music only deepened the blank of
memory. Who the deuce was he? where, when, how, had I known him? It
seemed extraordinary that a face should be at once so familiar and so
strange. We had our backs turned to him, so that I could not look at
him again. When the music ceased we left our places, and I went to
consign my friend to her mamma on the terrace. In passing, I saw
that my young man had departed; I concluded that he only strikingly
resembled some one I knew. But who in the world was it he resembled?
The ladies went off to their lodgings, which were near by, and I
turned into the gaming-rooms and hovered about the circle at
roulette. Gradually I filtered through to the inner edge, near the
table, and, looking round, saw my puzzling friend stationed opposite
to me. He was watching the game, with his hands in his pockets; but
singularly enough, now that I observed him at my leisure, the look of
familiarity quite faded from his face. What had made us call his
appearance odd was his great length and leanness of limb, his long,
white neck, his blue, prominent eyes, and his ingenuous, unconscious
absorption in the scene before him. He was not handsome, certainly,
but he looked peculiarly amiable and if his overt wonderment savoured
a trifle of rurality, it was an agreeable contrast to the hard,
inexpressive masks about him. He was the verdant offshoot, I said to
myself, of some ancient, rigid stem; he had been brought up in the
quietest of homes, and he was having his first glimpse of life. I
was curious to see whether he would put anything on the table; he
evidently felt the temptation, but he seemed paralysed by chronic
embarrassment. He stood gazing at the chinking complexity of losses
and gains, shaking his loose gold in his pocket, and every now and
then passing his hand nervously over his eyes.
Most of the spectators were too attentive to the play to have many
thoughts for each other; but before long I noticed a lady who
evidently had an eye for her neighbours as well as for the table.
She was seated about half-way between my friend and me, and I
presently observed that she was trying to catch his eye. Though at
Homburg, as people said, "one could never be sure," I yet doubted
whether this lady were one of those whose especial vocation it was to
catch a gentleman's eye. She was youthful rather than elderly, and
pretty rather than plain; indeed, a few minutes later, when I saw her
smile, I thought her wonderfully pretty. She had a charming gray eye
and a good deal of yellow hair disposed in picturesque disorder; and
though her features were meagre and her complexion faded, she gave
one a sense of sentimental, artificial gracefulness. She was dressed
in white muslin very much puffed and filled, but a trifle the worse
for wear, relieved here and there by a pale blue ribbon. I used to
flatter myself on guessing at people's nationality by their faces,
and, as a rule, I guessed aright. This faded, crumpled, vaporous
beauty, I conceived, was a German--such a German, somehow, as I had
seen imagined in literature. Was she not a friend of poets, a
correspondent of philosophers, a muse, a priestess of aesthetics--
something in the way of a Bettina, a Rahel? My conjectures, however,
were speedily merged in wonderment as to what my diffident friend was
making of her. She caught his eye at last, and raising an ungloved
hand, covered altogether with blue-gemmed rings--turquoises,
sapphires, and lapis--she beckoned him to come to her. The gesture
was executed with a sort of practised coolness, and accompanied with
an appealing smile. He stared a moment, rather blankly, unable to
suppose that the invitation was addressed to him; then, as it was
immediately repeated with a good deal of intensity, he blushed to the
roots of his hair, wavered awkwardly, and at last made his way to the
lady's chair. By the time he reached it he was crimson, and wiping
his forehead with his pocket-handkerchief. She tilted back, looked
up at him with the same smile, laid two fingers on his sleeve, and
said something, interrogatively, to which he replied by a shake of
the head. She was asking him, evidently, if he had ever played, and
he was saying no. Old players have a fancy that when luck has turned
her back on them they can put her into good-humour again by having
their stakes placed by a novice. Our young man's physiognomy had
seemed to his new acquaintance to express the perfection of
inexperience, and, like a practical woman, she had determined to make
him serve her turn. Unlike most of her neighbours, she had no little
pile of gold before her, but she drew from her pocket a double
napoleon, put it into his hand, and bade him place it on a number of
his own choosing. He was evidently filled with a sort of delightful
trouble; he enjoyed the adventure, but he shrank from the hazard. I
would have staked the coin on its being his companion's last; for
although she still smiled intently as she watched his hesitation,
there was anything but indifference in her pale, pretty face.
Suddenly, in desperation, he reached over and laid the piece on the
table. My attention was diverted at this moment by my having to make
way for a lady with a great many flounces, before me, to give up her
chair to a rustling friend to whom she had promised it; when I again
looked across at the lady in white muslin, she was drawing in a very
goodly pile of gold with her little blue-gemmed claw. Good luck and
bad, at the Homburg tables, were equally undemonstrative, and this
happy adventuress rewarded her young friend for the sacrifice of his
innocence with a single, rapid, upward smile. He had innocence
enough left, however, to look round the table with a gleeful,
conscious laugh, in the midst of which his eyes encountered my own.
Then suddenly the familiar look which had vanished from his face
flickered up unmistakably; it was the boyish laugh of a boyhood's
friend. Stupid fellow that I was, I had been looking at Eugene
Though I lingered on for some time longer he failed to recognise me.
Recognition, I think, had kindled a smile in my own face; but, less
fortunate than he, I suppose my smile had ceased to be boyish. Now
that luck had faced about again, his companion played for herself--
played and won, hand over hand. At last she seemed disposed to rest
on her gains, and proceeded to bury them in the folds of her muslin.
Pickering had staked nothing for himself, but as he saw her prepare
to withdraw he offered her a double napoleon and begged her to place
it. She shook her head with great decision, and seemed to bid him
put it up again; but he, still blushing a good deal, pressed her with
awkward ardour, and she at last took it from him, looked at him a
moment fixedly, and laid it on a number. A moment later the croupier
was raking it in. She gave the young man a little nod which seemed
to say, "I told you so;" he glanced round the table again and
laughed; she left her chair, and he made a way for her through the
crowd. Before going home I took a turn on the terrace and looked
down on the esplanade. The lamps were out, but the warm starlight
vaguely illumined a dozen figures scattered in couples. One of these
figures, I thought, was a lady in a white dress.
I had no intention of letting Pickering go without reminding him of
our old acquaintance. He had been a very singular boy, and I was
curious to see what had become of his singularity. I looked for him
the next morning at two or three of the hotels, and at last I
discovered his whereabouts. But he was out, the waiter said; he had
gone to walk an hour before. I went my way, confident that I should
meet him in the evening. It was the rule with the Homburg world to
spend its evenings at the Kursaal, and Pickering, apparently, had
already discovered a good reason for not being an exception. One of
the charms of Homburg is the fact that of a hot day you may walk
about for a whole afternoon in unbroken shade. The umbrageous
gardens of the Kursaal mingle with the charming Hardtwald, which in
turn melts away into the wooded slopes of the Taunus Mountains. To
the Hardtwald I bent my steps, and strolled for an hour through mossy
glades and the still, perpendicular gloom of the fir-woods.
Suddenly, on the grassy margin of a by-path, I came upon a young man
stretched at his length in the sun-checkered shade, and kicking his
heels towards a patch of blue sky. My step was so noiseless on the
turf that, before he saw me, I had time to recognise Pickering again.
He looked as if he had been lounging there for some time; his hair
was tossed about as if he had been sleeping; on the grass near him,
beside his hat and stick, lay a sealed letter. When he perceived me
he jerked himself forward, and I stood looking at him without
introducing myself--purposely, to give him a chance to recognise me.
He put on his glasses, being awkwardly near-sighted, and stared up at
me with an air of general trustfulness, but without a sign of knowing
me. So at last I introduced myself. Then he jumped up and grasped
my hands, and stared and blushed and laughed, and began a dozen
random questions, ending with a demand as to how in the world I had
"Why, you are not changed so utterly," I said; "and after all, it's
but fifteen years since you used to do my Latin exercises for me."
"Not changed, eh?" he answered, still smiling, and yet speaking with
a sort of ingenuous dismay.
Then I remembered that poor Pickering had been, in those Latin days,
a victim of juvenile irony. He used to bring a bottle of medicine to
school and take a dose in a glass of water before lunch; and every
day at two o'clock, half an hour before the rest of us were
liberated, an old nurse with bushy eyebrows came and fetched him away
in a carriage. His extremely fair complexion, his nurse, and his
bottle of medicine, which suggested a vague analogy with the
sleeping-potion in the tragedy, caused him to be called Juliet.
Certainly Romeo's sweetheart hardly suffered more; she was not, at
least, a standing joke in Verona. Remembering these things, I
hastened to say to Pickering that I hoped he was still the same good
fellow who used to do my Latin for me. "We were capital friends, you
know," I went on, "then and afterwards."
"Yes, we were very good friends," he said, "and that makes it the
stranger I shouldn't have known you. For you know, as a boy, I never
had many friends, nor as a man either. You see," he added, passing
his hand over his eyes, "I am rather dazed, rather bewildered at
finding myself for the first time--alone." And he jerked back his
shoulders nervously, and threw up his head, as if to settle himself
in an unwonted position. I wondered whether the old nurse with the
bushy eyebrows had remained attached to his person up to a recent
period, and discovered presently that, virtually at least, she had.
We had the whole summer day before us, and we sat down on the grass
together and overhauled our old memories. It was as if we had
stumbled upon an ancient cupboard in some dusky corner, and rummaged
out a heap of childish playthings--tin soldiers and torn story-books,
jack-knives and Chinese puzzles. This is what we remembered between
He had made but a short stay at school--not because he was tormented,
for he thought it so fine to be at school at all that he held his
tongue at home about the sufferings incurred through the medicine-
bottle, but because his father thought he was learning bad manners.
This he imparted to me in confidence at the time, and I remember how
it increased my oppressive awe of Mr. Pickering, who had appeared to
me in glimpses as a sort of high priest of the proprieties. Mr.
Pickering was a widower--a fact which seemed to produce in him a sort
of preternatural concentration of parental dignity. He was a
majestic man, with a hooked nose, a keen dark eye, very large
whiskers, and notions of his own as to how a boy--or his boy, at any
rate--should be brought up. First and foremost, he was to be a
"gentleman"; which seemed to mean, chiefly, that he was always to
wear a muffler and gloves, and be sent to bed, after a supper of
bread and milk, at eight o'clock. School-life, on experiment, seemed
hostile to these observances, and Eugene was taken home again, to be
moulded into urbanity beneath the parental eye. A tutor was provided
for him, and a single select companion was prescribed. The choice,
mysteriously, fell on me, born as I was under quite another star; my
parents were appealed to, and I was allowed for a few months to have
my lessons with Eugene. The tutor, I think, must have been rather a
snob, for Eugene was treated like a prince, while I got all the
questions and the raps with the ruler. And yet I remember never
being jealous of my happier comrade, and striking up, for the time,
one of those friendships of childhood. He had a watch and a pony and
a great store of picture-books, but my envy of these luxuries was
tempered by a vague compassion which left me free to be generous. I
could go out to play alone, I could button my jacket myself, and sit
up till I was sleepy. Poor Pickering could never take a step without
asking leave, or spend half an hour in the garden without a formal
report of it when he came in. My parents, who had no desire to see
me inoculated with importunate virtues, sent me back to school at the
end of six months. After that I never saw Eugene. His father went
to live in the country, to protect the lad's morals, and Eugene
faded, in reminiscence, into a pale image of the depressing effects
of education. I think I vaguely supposed that he would melt into
thin air, and indeed began gradually to doubt of his existence, and
to regard him as one of the foolish things one ceased to believe in
as one grew older. It seemed natural that I should have no more news
of him. Our present meeting was my first assurance that he had
really survived all that muffling and coddling.
I observed him now with a good deal of interest, for he was a rare
phenomenon--the fruit of a system persistently and uninterruptedly
applied. He struck me, in a fashion, as certain young monks I had
seen in Italy; he had the same candid, unsophisticated cloister face.
His education had been really almost monastic. It had found him
evidently a very compliant, yielding subject; his gentle affectionate
spirit was not one of those that need to be broken. It had
bequeathed him, now that he stood on the threshold of the great
world, an extraordinary freshness of impression and alertness of
desire, and I confess that, as I looked at him and met his
transparent blue eye, I trembled for the unwarned innocence of such a
soul. I became aware, gradually, that the world had already wrought
a certain work upon him and roused him to a restless, troubled self-
consciousness. Everything about him pointed to an experience from
which he had been debarred; his whole organism trembled with a
dawning sense of unsuspected possibilities of feeling. This
appealing tremor was indeed outwardly visible. He kept shifting
himself about on the grass, thrusting his hands through his hair,
wiping a light perspiration from his forehead, breaking out to say
something and rushing off to something else. Our sudden meeting had
greatly excited him, and I saw that I was likely to profit by a
certain overflow of sentimental fermentation. I could do so with a
good conscience, for all this trepidation filled me with a great
"It's nearly fifteen years, as you say," he began, "since you used to
call me 'butter-fingers' for always missing the ball. That's a long
time to give an account of, and yet they have been, for me, such
eventless, monotonous years, that I could almost tell their history
in ten words. You, I suppose, have had all kinds of adventures and
travelled over half the world. I remember you had a turn for deeds
of daring; I used to think you a little Captain Cook in roundabouts,
for climbing the garden fence to get the ball when I had let it fly
over. I climbed no fences then or since. You remember my father, I
suppose, and the great care he took of me? I lost him some five
months ago. From those boyish days up to his death we were always
together. I don't think that in fifteen years we spent half a dozen
hours apart. We lived in the country, winter and summer, seeing but
three or four people. I had a succession of tutors, and a library to
browse about in; I assure you I am a tremendous scholar. It was a
dull life for a growing boy, and a duller life for a young man grown,
but I never knew it. I was perfectly happy." He spoke of his father
at some length, and with a respect which I privately declined to
emulate. Mr. Pickering had been, to my sense, a frigid egotist,
unable to conceive of any larger vocation for his son than to strive
to reproduce so irreproachable a model. "I know I have been
strangely brought up," said my friend, "and that the result is
something grotesque; but my education, piece by piece, in detail,
became one of my father's personal habits, as it were. He took a
fancy to it at first through his intense affection for my mother and
the sort of worship he paid her memory. She died at my birth, and as
I grew up, it seems that I bore an extraordinary likeness to her.
Besides, my father had a great many theories; he prided himself on
his conservative opinions; he thought the usual American laisser-
aller in education was a very vulgar practice, and that children were
not to grow up like dusty thorns by the wayside. "So you see,"
Pickering went on, smiling and blushing, and yet with something of
the irony of vain regret, "I am a regular garden plant. I have been
watched and watered and pruned, and if there is any virtue in tending
I ought to take the prize at a flower show. Some three years ago my
father's health broke down, and he was kept very much within doors.
So, although I was a man grown, I lived altogether at home. If I was
out of his sight for a quarter of an hour he sent some one after me.
He had severe attacks of neuralgia, and he used to sit at his window,
basking in the sun. He kept an opera-glass at hand, and when I was
out in the garden he used to watch me with it. A few days before his
death I was twenty-seven years old, and the most innocent youth, I
suppose, on the continent. After he died I missed him greatly,"
Pickering continued, evidently with no intention of making an
epigram. "I stayed at home, in a sort of dull stupor. It seemed as
if life offered itself to me for the first time, and yet as if I
didn't know how to take hold of it."
He uttered all this with a frank eagerness which increased as he
talked, and there was a singular contrast between the meagre
experience he described and a certain radiant intelligence which I
seemed to perceive in his glance and tone. Evidently he was a clever
fellow, and his natural faculties were excellent. I imagined he had
read a great deal, and recovered, in some degree, in restless
intellectual conjecture, the freedom he was condemned to ignore in
practice. Opportunity was now offering a meaning to the empty forms
with which his imagination was stored, but it appeared to him dimly,
through the veil of his personal diffidence.
"I have not sailed round the world, as you suppose," I said, "but I
confess I envy you the novelties you are going to behold. Coming to
Homburg you have plunged in medias res."
He glanced at me to see if my remark contained an allusion, and
hesitated a moment. "Yes, I know it. I came to Bremen in the
steamer with a very friendly German, who undertook to initiate me
into the glories and mysteries of the Fatherland. At this season, he
said, I must begin with Homburg. I landed but a fortnight ago, and
here I am." Again he hesitated, as if he were going to add something
about the scene at the Kursaal but suddenly, nervously, he took up
the letter which was lying beside him, looked hard at the seal with a
troubled frown, and then flung it back on the grass with a sigh.
"How long do you expect to be in Europe?" I asked.
"Six months I supposed when I came. But not so long--now!" And he
let his eyes wander to the letter again.
"And where shall you go--what shall you do?"
"Everywhere, everything, I should have said yesterday. But now it is
I glanced at the letter--interrogatively, and he gravely picked it up
and put it into his pocket. We talked for a while longer, but I saw
that he had suddenly become preoccupied; that he was apparently
weighing an impulse to break some last barrier of reserve. At last
he suddenly laid his hand on my arm, looked at me a moment
appealingly, and cried, "Upon my word, I should like to tell you
"Tell me everything, by all means," I answered, smiling. "I desire
nothing better than to lie here in the shade and hear everything."
"Ah, but the question is, will you understand it? No matter; you
think me a queer fellow already. It's not easy, either, to tell you
what I feel--not easy for so queer a fellow as I to tell you in how
many ways he is queer!" He got up and walked away a moment, passing
his hand over his eyes, then came back rapidly and flung himself on
the grass again. "I said just now I always supposed I was happy;
it's true; but now that my eyes are open, I see I was only
stultified. I was like a poodle-dog that is led about by a blue
ribbon, and scoured and combed and fed on slops. It was not life;
life is learning to know one's self, and in that sense I have lived
more in the past six weeks than in all the years that preceded them.
I am filled with this feverish sense of liberation; it keeps rising
to my head like the fumes of strong wine. I find I am an active,
sentient, intelligent creature, with desires, with passions, with
possible convictions--even with what I never dreamed of, a possible
will of my own! I find there is a world to know, a life to lead, men
and women to form a thousand relations with. It all lies there like
a great surging sea, where we must plunge and dive and feel the
breeze and breast the waves. I stand shivering here on the brink,
staring, longing, wondering, charmed by the smell of the brine and
yet afraid of the water. The world beckons and smiles and calls, but
a nameless influence from the past, that I can neither wholly obey
nor wholly resist, seems to hold me back. I am full of impulses,
but, somehow, I am not full of strength. Life seems inspiring at
certain moments, but it seems terrible and unsafe; and I ask myself
why I should wantonly measure myself with merciless forces, when I
have learned so well how to stand aside and let them pass. Why
shouldn't I turn my back upon it all and go home to--what awaits me?-
-to that sightless, soundless country life, and long days spent among
old books? But if a man IS weak, he doesn't want to assent
beforehand to his weakness; he wants to taste whatever sweetness
there may be in paying for the knowledge. So it is that it comes
back--this irresistible impulse to take my plunge--to let myself
swing, to go where liberty leads me." He paused a moment, fixing me
with his excited eyes, and perhaps perceived in my own an
irrepressible smile at his perplexity. "'Swing ahead, in Heaven's
name,' you want to say, 'and much good may it do you.' I don't know
whether you are laughing at my scruples or at what possibly strikes
you as my depravity. I doubt," he went on gravely, "whether I have
an inclination toward wrong-doing; if I have, I am sure I shall not
prosper in it. I honestly believe I may safely take out a license to
amuse myself. But it isn't that I think of, any more than I dream
of, playing with suffering. Pleasure and pain are empty words to me;
what I long for is knowledge--some other knowledge than comes to us
in formal, colourless, impersonal precept. You would understand all
this better if you could breathe for an hour the musty in-door
atmosphere in which I have always lived. To break a window and let
in light and air--I feel as if at last I must ACT!"
"Act, by all means, now and always, when you have a chance," I
answered. "But don't take things too hard, now or ever. Your long
confinement makes you think the world better worth knowing than you
are likely to find it. A man with as good a head and heart as yours
has a very ample world within himself, and I am no believer in art
for art, nor in what's called 'life' for life's sake. Nevertheless,
take your plunge, and come and tell me whether you have found the
pearl of wisdom." He frowned a little, as if he thought my sympathy
a trifle meagre. I shook him by the hand and laughed. "The pearl of
wisdom," I cried, "is love; honest love in the most convenient
concentration of experience! I advise you to fall in love." He gave
me no smile in response, but drew from his pocket the letter of which
I have spoken, held it up, and shook it solemnly. "What is it?" I
"It is my sentence!"
"Not of death, I hope!"
"With a person I don't love."
This was serious. I stopped smiling, and begged him to explain.
"It is the singular part of my story," he said at last. "It will
remind you of an old-fashioned romance. Such as I sit here, talking
in this wild way, and tossing off provocations to destiny, my destiny
is settled and sealed. I am engaged, I am given in marriage. It's a
bequest of the past--the past I had no hand in! The marriage was
arranged by my father, years ago, when I was a boy. The young girl's
father was his particular friend; he was also a widower, and was
bringing up his daughter, on his side, in the same severe seclusion
in which I was spending my days. To this day I am unacquainted with
the origin of the bond of union between our respective progenitors.
Mr. Vernor was largely engaged in business, and I imagine that once
upon a time he found himself in a financial strait and was helped
through it by my father's coming forward with a heavy loan, on which,
in his situation, he could offer no security but his word. Of this
my father was quite capable. He was a man of dogmas, and he was sure
to have a rule of life--as clear as if it had been written out in his
beautiful copper-plate hand--adapted to the conduct of a gentleman
toward a friend in pecuniary embarrassment. What is more, he was
sure to adhere to it. Mr. Vernor, I believe, got on his feet, paid
his debt, and vowed my father an eternal gratitude. His little
daughter was the apple of his eye, and he pledged himself to bring
her up to be the wife of his benefactor's son. So our fate was
fixed, parentally, and we have been educated for each other. I have
not seen my betrothed since she was a very plain-faced little girl in
a sticky pinafore, hugging a one-armed doll--of the male sex, I
believe--as big as herself. Mr. Vernor is in what is called the
Eastern trade, and has been living these many years at Smyrna.
Isabel has grown up there in a white-walled garden, in an orange
grove, between her father and her governess. She is a good deal my
junior; six months ago she was seventeen; when she is eighteen we are
He related all this calmly enough, without the accent of complaint,
drily rather and doggedly, as if he were weary of thinking of it.
"It's a romance, indeed, for these dull days," I said, "and I
heartily congratulate you. It's not every young man who finds, on
reaching the marrying age, a wife kept in a box of rose-leaves for
him. A thousand to one Miss Vernor is charming; I wonder you don't
post off to Smyrna."
"You are joking," he answered, with a wounded air, "and I am terribly
serious. Let me tell you the rest. I never suspected this superior
conspiracy till something less than a year ago. My father, wishing
to provide against his death, informed me of it very solemnly. I was
neither elated nor depressed; I received it, as I remember, with a
sort of emotion which varied only in degree from that with which I
could have hailed the announcement that he had ordered me a set of
new shirts. I supposed that was the way that all marriages were
made; I had heard of their being made in heaven, and what was my
father but a divinity? Novels and poems, indeed, talked about
falling in love; but novels and poems were one thing and life was
another. A short time afterwards he introduced me to a photograph of
my predestined, who has a pretty, but an extremely inanimate, face.
After this his health failed rapidly. One night I was sitting, as I
habitually sat for hours, in his dimly-lighted room, near his bed, to
which he had been confined for a week. He had not spoken for some
time, and I supposed he was asleep; but happening to look at him I
saw his eyes wide open, and fixed on me strangely. He was smiling
benignantly, intensely, and in a moment he beckoned to me. Then, on
my going to him--'I feel that I shall not last long,' he said; 'but I
am willing to die when I think how comfortably I have arranged your
future.' He was talking of death, and anything but grief at that
moment was doubtless impious and monstrous; but there came into my
heart for the first time a throbbing sense of being over-governed. I
said nothing, and he thought my silence was all sorrow. 'I shall not
live to see you married,' he went on, 'but since the foundation is
laid, that little signifies; it would be a selfish pleasure, and I
have never thought of myself but in you. To foresee your future, in
its main outline, to know to a certainty that you will be safely
domiciled here, with a wife approved by my judgment, cultivating the
moral fruit of which I have sown the seed--this will content me.
But, my son, I wish to clear this bright vision from the shadow of a
doubt. I believe in your docility; I believe I may trust the
salutary force of your respect for my memory. But I must remember
that when I am removed you will stand here alone, face to face with a
hundred nameless temptations to perversity. The fumes of unrighteous
pride may rise into your brain and tempt you, in the interest of a
vulgar theory which it will call your independence, to shatter the
edifice I have so laboriously constructed. So I must ask you for a
promise--the solemn promise you owe my condition.' And he grasped my
hand. 'You will follow the path I have marked; you will be faithful
to the young girl whom an influence as devoted as that which has
governed your own young life has moulded into everything amiable; you
will marry Isabel Vernor.' This was pretty 'steep,' as we used to
say at school. I was frightened; I drew away my hand and asked to be
trusted without any such terrible vow. My reluctance startled my
father into a suspicion that the vulgar theory of independence had
already been whispering to me. He sat up in his bed and looked at me
with eyes which seemed to foresee a lifetime of odious ingratitude.
I felt the reproach; I feel it now. I promised! And even now I
don't regret my promise nor complain of my father's tenacity. I
feel, somehow, as if the seeds of ultimate repose had been sown in
those unsuspecting years--as if after many days I might gather the
mellow fruit. But after many days! I will keep my promise, I will
obey; but I want to LIVE first!"
"My dear fellow, you are living now. All this passionate
consciousness of your situation is a very ardent life. I wish I
could say as much for my own."
"I want to forget my situation. I want to spend three months without
thinking of the past or the future, grasping whatever the present
offers me. Yesterday I thought I was in a fair way to sail with the
tide. But this morning comes this memento!" And he held up his
"What is it?"
"A letter from Smyrna."
"I see you have not yet broken the seal."
"No; nor do I mean to, for the present. It contains bad news."
"What do you call bad news?"
"News that I am expected in Smyrna in three weeks. News that Mr.
Vernor disapproves of my roving about the world. News that his
daughter is standing expectant at the altar."
"Is not this pure conjecture?"
"Conjecture, possibly, but safe conjecture. As soon as I looked at
the letter something smote me at the heart. Look at the device on
the seal, and I am sure you will find it's TARRY NOT!" And he flung
the letter on the grass.
"Upon my word, you had better open it," I said.
"If I were to open it and read my summons, do you know what I should
do? I should march home and ask the Oberkellner how one gets to
Smyrna, pack my trunk, take my ticket, and not stop till I arrived.
I know I should; it would be the fascination of habit. The only way,
therefore, to wander to my rope's end is to leave the letter unread."
"In your place," I said, "curiosity would make me open it."
He shook his head. "I have no curiosity! For a long time now the
idea of my marriage has ceased to be a novelty, and I have
contemplated it mentally in every possible light. I fear nothing
from that side, but I do fear something from conscience. I want my
hands tied. Will you do me a favour? Pick up the letter, put it
into your pocket, and keep it till I ask you for it. When I do, you
may know that I am at my rope's end."
I took the letter, smiling. "And how long is your rope to be? The
Homburg season doesn't last for ever."
"Does it last a month? Let that be my season! A month hence you
will give it back to me."
"To-morrow if you say so. Meanwhile, let it rest in peace!" And I
consigned it to the most sacred interstice of my pocket-book. To say
that I was disposed to humour the poor fellow would seem to be saying
that I thought his request fantastic. It was his situation, by no
fault of his own, that was fantastic, and he was only trying to be
natural. He watched me put away the letter, and when it had
disappeared gave a soft sigh of relief. The sigh was natural, and
yet it set me thinking. His general recoil from an immediate
responsibility imposed by others might be wholesome enough; but if
there was an old grievance on one side, was there not possibly a new-
born delusion on the other? It would be unkind to withhold a
reflection that might serve as a warning; so I told him, abruptly,
that I had been an undiscovered spectator, the night before, of his
exploits at roulette.
He blushed deeply, but he met my eyes with the same clear good-
"Ah, then, you saw that wonderful lady?"
"Wonderful she was indeed. I saw her afterwards, too, sitting on the
terrace in the starlight. I imagine she was not alone."
"No, indeed, I was with her--for nearly an hour. Then I walked home
"Ah! And did you go in?"
"No, she said it was too late to ask me; though she remarked that in
a general way she did not stand upon ceremony."
"She did herself injustice. When it came to losing your money for
you, she made you insist."
"Ah, you noticed that too?" cried Pickering, still quite unconfused.
"I felt as if the whole table were staring at me; but her manner was
so gracious and reassuring that I supposed she was doing nothing
unusual. She confessed, however, afterwards, that she is very
eccentric. The world began to call her so, she said, before she ever
dreamed of it, and at last finding that she had the reputation, in
spite of herself, she resolved to enjoy its privileges. Now, she
does what she chooses."
"In other words, she is a lady with no reputation to lose!"
Pickering seemed puzzled; he smiled a little. "Is not that what you
say of bad women?"
"Of some--of those who are found out."
"Well," he said, still smiling, "I have not yet found out Madame
"If that's her name, I suppose she's German."
"Yes; but she speaks English so well that you wouldn't know it. She
is very clever. Her husband is dead."
I laughed involuntarily at the conjunction of these facts, and
Pickering's clear glance seemed to question my mirth. "You have been
so bluntly frank with me," I said, "that I too must be frank. Tell
me, if you can, whether this clever Madame Blumenthal, whose husband
is dead, has given a point to your desire for a suspension of
communication with Smyrna."
He seemed to ponder my question, unshrinkingly. "I think not," he
said, at last. "I have had the desire for three months; I have known
Madame Blumenthal for less than twenty-four hours."
"Very true. But when you found this letter of yours on your place at
breakfast, did you seem for a moment to see Madame Blumenthal sitting
"Opposite, my dear fellow, or anywhere in the neighbourhood. In a
word, does she interest you?"
"Very much!" he cried, joyously.
"Amen!" I answered, jumping up with a laugh. "And now, if we are to
see the world in a month, there is no time to lose. Let us begin
with the Hardtwald."
Pickering rose, and we strolled away into the forest, talking of
lighter things. At last we reached the edge of the wood, sat down on
a fallen log, and looked out across an interval of meadow at the long
wooded waves of the Taunus. What my friend was thinking of I can't
say; I was meditating on his queer biography, and letting my
wonderment wander away to Smyrna. Suddenly I remembered that he
possessed a portrait of the young girl who was waiting for him there
in a white-walled garden. I asked him if he had it with him. He
said nothing, but gravely took out his pocket-book and drew forth a
small photograph. It represented, as the poet says, a simple maiden
in her flower--a slight young girl, with a certain childish roundness
of contour. There was no ease in her posture; she was standing,
stiffly and shyly, for her likeness; she wore a short-waisted white
dress; her arms hung at her sides and her hands were clasped in
front; her head was bent downward a little, and her dark eyes fixed.
But her awkwardness was as pretty as that of some angular seraph in a
mediaeval carving, and in her timid gaze there seemed to lurk the
questioning gleam of childhood. "What is this for?" her charming
eyes appeared to ask; "why have I been dressed up for this ceremony
in a white frock and amber beads?"
"Gracious powers!" I said to myself; "what an enchanting thing is
"That portrait was taken a year and a half ago," said Pickering, as
if with an effort to be perfectly just. "By this time, I suppose,
she looks a little wiser."
"Not much, I hope," I said, as I gave it back. "She is very sweet!"
"Yes, poor girl, she is very sweet--no doubt!" And he put the thing
away without looking at it.
We were silent for some moments. At last, abruptly--"My dear
fellow," I said, "I should take some satisfaction in seeing you
immediately leave Homburg."
"To-day--as soon as you can get ready."
He looked at me, surprised, and little by little he blushed. "There
is something I have not told you," he said; "something that your
saying that Madame Blumenthal has no reputation to lose has made me
half afraid to tell you."
"I think I can guess it. Madame Blumenthal has asked you to come and
play her game for her again."
"Not at all!" cried Pickering, with a smile of triumph. "She says
that she means to play no more for the present. She has asked me to
come and take tea with her this evening."
"Ah, then," I said, very gravely, "of course you can't leave
He answered nothing, but looked askance at me, as if he were
expecting me to laugh. "Urge it strongly," he said in a moment.
"Say it's my duty--that I MUST."
I didn't quite understand him, but, feathering the shaft with a
harmless expletive, I told him that unless he followed my advice I
would never speak to him again.
He got up, stood before me, and struck the ground with his stick.
"Good!" he cried; "I wanted an occasion to break a rule--to leap a
barrier. Here it is. I stay!"
I made him a mock bow for his energy. "That's very fine," I said;
"but now, to put you in a proper mood for Madame Blumenthal's tea, we
will go and listen to the band play Schubert under the lindens." And
we walked back through the woods.
I went to see Pickering the next day, at his inn, and on knocking, as
directed, at his door, was surprised to hear the sound of a loud
voice within. My knock remained unnoticed, so I presently introduced
myself. I found no company, but I discovered my friend walking up
and down the room and apparently declaiming to himself from a little
volume bound in white vellum. He greeted me heartily, threw his book
on the table, and said that he was taking a German lesson.
"And who is your teacher?" I asked, glancing at the book.
He rather avoided meeting my eye, as he answered, after an instant's
delay, "Madame Blumenthal."
"Indeed! Has she written a grammar?"
"It's not a grammar; it's a tragedy." And he handed me the book.
I opened it, and beheld, in delicate type, with a very large margin,
an Historisches Trauerspiel in five acts, entitled "Cleopatra."
There were a great many marginal corrections and annotations,
apparently from the author's hand; the speeches were very long, and
there was an inordinate number of soliloquies by the heroine. One of
them, I remember, towards the end of the play, began in this fashion
"What, after all, is life but sensation, and sensation but
deception?--reality that pales before the light of one's dreams as
Octavia's dull beauty fades beside mine? But let me believe in some
intenser bliss, and seek it in the arms of death!"
"It seems decidedly passionate," I said. "Has the tragedy ever been
"Never in public; but Madame Blumenthal tells me that she had it
played at her own house in Berlin, and that she herself undertook the
part of the heroine."
Pickering's unworldly life had not been of a sort to sharpen his
perception of the ridiculous, but it seemed to me an unmistakable
sign of his being under the charm, that this information was very
soberly offered. He was preoccupied, he was irresponsive to my
experimental observations on vulgar topics--the hot weather, the inn,
the advent of Adelina Patti. At last, uttering his thoughts, he
announced that Madame Blumenthal had proved to be an extraordinarily
interesting woman. He seemed to have quite forgotten our long talk
in the Hartwaldt, and betrayed no sense of this being a confession
that he had taken his plunge and was floating with the current. He
only remembered that I had spoken slightingly of the lady, and he now
hinted that it behoved me to amend my opinion. I had received the
day before so strong an impression of a sort of spiritual
fastidiousness in my friend's nature, that on hearing now the
striking of a new hour, as it were, in his consciousness, and
observing how the echoes of the past were immediately quenched in its
music, I said to myself that it had certainly taken a delicate hand
to wind up that fine machine. No doubt Madame Blumenthal was a
clever woman. It is a good German custom at Homburg to spend the
hour preceding dinner in listening to the orchestra in the Kurgarten;
Mozart and Beethoven, for organisms in which the interfusion of soul
and sense is peculiarly mysterious, are a vigorous stimulus to the
appetite. Pickering and I conformed, as we had done the day before,
to the fashion, and when we were seated under the trees, he began to
expatiate on his friend's merits.
"I don't know whether she is eccentric or not," he said; "to me every
one seems eccentric, and it's not for me, yet a while, to measure
people by my narrow precedents. I never saw a gaming table in my
life before, and supposed that a gambler was of necessity some dusky
villain with an evil eye. In Germany, says Madame Blumenthal, people
play at roulette as they play at billiards, and her own venerable
mother originally taught her the rules of the game. It is a
recognised source of subsistence for decent people with small means.
But I confess Madame Blumenthal might do worse things than play at
roulette, and yet make them harmonious and beautiful. I have never
been in the habit of thinking positive beauty the most excellent
thing in a woman. I have always said to myself that if my heart were
ever to be captured it would be by a sort of general grace--a
sweetness of motion and tone--on which one could count for soothing
impressions, as one counts on a musical instrument that is perfectly
in tune. Madame Blumenthal has it--this grace that soothes and
satisfies; and it seems the more perfect that it keeps order and
harmony in a character really passionately ardent and active. With
her eager nature and her innumerable accomplishments nothing would be
easier than that she should seem restless and aggressive. You will
know her, and I leave you to judge whether she does seem so! She has
every gift, and culture has done everything for each. What goes on
in her mind I of course can't say; what reaches the observer--the
admirer--is simply a sort of fragrant emanation of intelligence and
"Madame Blumenthal," I said, smiling, "might be the loveliest woman
in the world, and you the object of her choicest favours, and yet
what I should most envy you would be, not your peerless friend, but
your beautiful imagination."
"That's a polite way of calling me a fool," said Pickering. "You are
a sceptic, a cynic, a satirist! I hope I shall be a long time coming
"You will make the journey fast if you travel by express trains. But
pray tell me, have you ventured to intimate to Madame Blumenthal your
high opinion of her?"
"I don't know what I may have said. She listens even better than she
talks, and I think it possible I may have made her listen to a great
deal of nonsense. For after the first few words I exchanged with her
I was conscious of an extraordinary evaporation of all my old
diffidence. I have, in truth, I suppose," he added in a moment,
"owing to my peculiar circumstances, a great accumulated fund of
unuttered things of all sorts to get rid of. Last evening, sitting
there before that charming woman, they came swarming to my lips.
Very likely I poured them all out. I have a sense of having
enshrouded myself in a sort of mist of talk, and of seeing her lovely
eyes shining through it opposite to me, like fog-lamps at sea." And
here, if I remember rightly, Pickering broke off into an ardent
parenthesis, and declared that Madame Blumenthal's eyes had something
in them that he had never seen in any others. "It was a jumble of
crudities and inanities," he went on; "they must have seemed to her
great rubbish; but I felt the wiser and the stronger, somehow, for
having fired off all my guns--they could hurt nobody now if they hit-
-and I imagine I might have gone far without finding another woman in
whom such an exhibition would have provoked so little of mere cold
"Madame Blumenthal, on the contrary," I surmised, "entered into your
situation with warmth."
"Exactly so--the greatest! She has felt and suffered, and now she
"She told you, I imagine, that she understood you as if she had made
you, and she offered to be your guide, philosopher, and friend."
"She spoke to me," Pickering answered, after a pause, "as I had never
been spoken to before, and she offered me, formally, all the offices
of a woman's friendship."
"Which you as formally accepted?"
"To you the scene sounds absurd, I suppose, but allow me to say I
don't care!" Pickering spoke with an air of genial defiance which
was the most inoffensive thing in the world. "I was very much moved;
I was, in fact, very much excited. I tried to say something, but I
couldn't; I had had plenty to say before, but now I stammered and
bungled, and at last I bolted out of the room."
"Meanwhile she had dropped her tragedy into your pocket!"
"Not at all. I had seen it on the table before she came in.
Afterwards she kindly offered to read German aloud with me, for the
accent, two or three times a week. 'What shall we begin with?' she
asked. 'With this!' I said, and held up the book. And she let me
take it to look it over."
I was neither a cynic nor a satirist, but even if I had been, I might
have been disarmed by Pickering's assurance, before we parted, that
Madame Blumenthal wished to know me and expected him to introduce me.
Among the foolish things which, according to his own account, he had
uttered, were some generous words in my praise, to which she had
civilly replied. I confess I was curious to see her, but I begged
that the introduction should not be immediate, for I wished to let
Pickering work out his destiny alone. For some days I saw little of
him, though we met at the Kursaal and strolled occasionally in the
park. I watched, in spite of my desire to let him alone, for the
signs and portents of the world's action upon him--of that portion of
the world, in especial, of which Madame Blumenthal had constituted
herself the agent. He seemed very happy, and gave me in a dozen ways
an impression of increased self-confidence and maturity. His mind
was admirably active, and always, after a quarter of an hour's talk
with him, I asked myself what experience could really do, that
innocence had not done, to make it bright and fine. I was struck
with his deep enjoyment of the whole spectacle of foreign life--its
novelty, its picturesqueness, its light and shade--and with the
infinite freedom with which he felt he could go and come and rove and
linger and observe it all. It was an expansion, an awakening, a
coming to moral manhood. Each time I met him he spoke a little less
of Madame Blumenthal; but he let me know generally that he saw her
often, and continued to admire her. I was forced to admit to myself,
in spite of preconceptions, that if she were really the ruling star
of this happy season, she must be a very superior woman. Pickering
had the air of an ingenuous young philosopher sitting at the feet of
an austere muse, and not of a sentimental spendthrift dangling about
some supreme incarnation of levity.
Madame Blumenthal seemed, for the time, to have abjured the Kursaal,
and I never caught a glimpse of her. Her young friend, apparently,
was an interesting study, and the studious mind prefers seclusion.
She reappeared, however, at last, one evening at the opera, where
from my chair I perceived her in a box, looking extremely pretty.
Adelina Patti was singing, and after the rising of the curtain I was
occupied with the stage; but on looking round when it fell for the
entr'acte, I saw that the authoress of "Cleopatra" had been joined by
her young admirer. He was sitting a little behind her, leaning
forward, looking over her shoulder and listening, while she, slowly
moving her fan to and fro and letting her eye wander over the house,
was apparently talking of this person and that. No doubt she was
saying sharp things; but Pickering was not laughing; his eyes were
following her covert indications; his mouth was half open, as it
always was when he was interested; he looked intensely serious. I
was glad that, having her back to him, she was unable to see how he
looked. It seemed the proper moment to present myself and make her
my bow; but just as I was about to leave my place a gentleman, whom
in a moment I perceived to be an old acquaintance, came to occupy the
next chair. Recognition and mutual greetings followed, and I was
forced to postpone my visit to Madame Blumenthal. I was not sorry,
for it very soon occurred to me that Niedermeyer would be just the
man to give me a fair prose version of Pickering's lyric tributes to
his friend. He was an Austrian by birth, and had formerly lived
about Europe a great deal in a series of small diplomatic posts.
England especially he had often visited, and he spoke the language
almost without accent. I had once spent three rainy days with him in
the house of an English friend in the country. He was a sharp
observer, and a good deal of a gossip; he knew a little something
about every one, and about some people everything. His knowledge on
social matters generally had the quality of all German science; it
was copious, minute, exhaustive.
"Do tell me," I said, as we stood looking round the house, "who and
what is the lady in white, with the young man sitting behind her."
"Who?" he answered, dropping his glass. "Madame Blumenthal! What!
It would take long to say. Be introduced; it's easily done; you will
find her charming. Then, after a week, you will tell me what she
"Perhaps I should not. My friend there has known her a week, and I
don't think he is yet able to give a coherent account of her."
He raised his glass again, and after looking a while, "I am afraid
your friend is a little--what do you call it?--a little 'soft.' Poor
fellow! he's not the first. I have never known this lady that she
has not had some eligible youth hovering about in some such attitude
as that, undergoing the softening process. She looks wonderfully
well, from here. It's extraordinary how those women last!"
"You don't mean, I take it, when you talk about 'those women,' that
Madame Blumenthal is not embalmed, for duration, in a certain
infusion of respectability?"
"Yes and no. The atmosphere that surrounds her is entirely of her
own making. There is no reason in her antecedents that people should
drop their voice when they speak of her. But some women are never at
their ease till they have given some damnable twist or other to their
position before the world. The attitude of upright virtue is
unbecoming, like sitting too straight in a fauteuil. Don't ask me
for opinions, however; content yourself with a few facts and with an
anecdote. Madame Blumenthal is Prussian, and very well born. I
remember her mother, an old Westphalian Grafin, with principles
marshalled out like Frederick the Great's grenadiers. She was poor,
however, and her principles were an insufficient dowry for Anastasia,
who was married very young to a vicious Jew, twice her own age. He
was supposed to have money, but I am afraid he had less than was
nominated in the bond, or else that his pretty young wife spent it
very fast. She has been a widow these six or eight years, and has
lived, I imagine, in rather a hand-to-mouth fashion. I suppose she
is some six or eight and thirty years of age. In winter one hears of
her in Berlin, giving little suppers to the artistic rabble there; in
summer one often sees her across the green table at Ems and
Wiesbaden. She's very clever, and her cleverness has spoiled her. A
year after her marriage she published a novel, with her views on
matrimony, in the George Sand manner--beating the drum to Madame
Sand's trumpet. No doubt she was very unhappy; Blumenthal was an old
beast. Since then she has published a lot of literature--novels and
poems and pamphlets on every conceivable theme, from the conversion
of Lola Montez to the Hegelian philosophy. Her talk is much better
than her writing. Her conjugophobia--I can't call it by any other
name--made people think lightly of her at a time when her rebellion
against marriage was probably only theoretic. She had a taste for
spinning fine phrases, she drove her shuttle, and when she came to
the end of her yarn she found that society had turned its back. She
tossed her head, declared that at last she could breathe the sacred
air of freedom, and formally announced that she had embraced an
'intellectual' life. This meant unlimited camaraderie with
scribblers and daubers, Hegelian philosophers and Hungarian pianists.
But she has been admired also by a great many really clever men;
there was a time, in fact, when she turned a head as well set on its
shoulders as this one!" And Niedermeyer tapped his forehead. "She
has a great charm, and, literally, I know no harm of her. Yet for
all that, I am not going to speak to her; I am not going near her
box. I am going to leave her to say, if she does me the honour to
observe the omission, that I too have gone over to the Philistines.
It's not that; it is that there is something sinister about the
woman. I am too old for it to frighten me, but I am good-natured
enough for it to pain me. Her quarrel with society has brought her
no happiness, and her outward charm is only the mask of a dangerous
discontent. Her imagination is lodged where her heart should be! So
long as you amuse it, well and good; she's radiant. But the moment
you let it flag, she is capable of dropping you without a pang. If
you land on your feet you are so much the wiser, simply; but there
have been two or three, I believe, who have almost broken their necks
in the fall."
"You are reversing your promise," I said, "and giving me an opinion,
but not an anecdote."
"This is my anecdote. A year ago a friend of mine made her
acquaintance in Berlin, and though he was no longer a young man, and
had never been what is called a susceptible one, he took a great
fancy to Madame Blumenthal. He's a major in the Prussian artillery--
grizzled, grave, a trifle severe, a man every way firm in the faith
of his fathers. It's a proof of Anastasia's charm that such a man
should have got into the habit of going to see her every day of his
life. But the major was in love, or next door to it! Every day that
he called he found her scribbling away at a little ormolu table on a
lot of half-sheets of note-paper. She used to bid him sit down and
hold his tongue for a quarter of an hour, till she had finished her
chapter; she was writing a novel, and it was promised to a publisher.
Clorinda, she confided to him, was the name of the injured heroine.
The major, I imagine, had never read a work of fiction in his life,
but he knew by hearsay that Madame Blumenthal's literature, when put
forth in pink covers, was subversive of several respectable
institutions. Besides, he didn't believe in women knowing how to
write at all, and it irritated him to see this inky goddess
correcting proof-sheets under his nose--irritated him the more that,
as I say, he was in love with her and that he ventured to believe she
had a kindness for his years and his honours. And yet she was not
such a woman as he could easily ask to marry him. The result of all
this was that he fell into the way of railing at her intellectual
pursuits and saying he should like to run his sword through her pile
of papers. A woman was clever enough when she could guess her
husband's wishes, and learned enough when she could read him the
newspapers. At last, one day, Madame Blumenthal flung down her pen
and announced in triumph that she had finished her novel. Clorinda
had expired in the arms of--some one else than her husband. The
major, by way of congratulating her, declared that her novel was
immoral rubbish, and that her love of vicious paradoxes was only a
peculiarly depraved form of coquetry. He added, however, that he
loved her in spite of her follies, and that if she would formally
abjure them he would as formally offer her his hand. They say that
women like to be snubbed by military men. I don't know, I'm sure; I
don't know how much pleasure, on this occasion, was mingled with
Anastasia's wrath. But her wrath was very quiet, and the major
assured me it made her look uncommonly pretty. 'I have told you
before,' she says, 'that I write from an inner need. I write to
unburden my heart, to satisfy my conscience. You call my poor
efforts coquetry, vanity, the desire to produce a sensation. I can
prove to you that it is the quiet labour itself I care for, and not
the world's more or less flattering attention to it!' And seizing
the history of Clorinda she thrust it into the fire. The major
stands staring, and the first thing he knows she is sweeping him a
great curtsey and bidding him farewell for ever. Left alone and
recovering his wits, he fishes out Clorinda from the embers, and then
proceeds to thump vigorously at the lady's door. But it never
opened, and from that day to the day three months ago when he told me
the tale, he had not beheld her again."
"By Jove, it's a striking story," I said. "But the question is, what
does it prove?"
"Several things. First (what I was careful not to tell my friend),
that Madame Blumenthal cared for him a trifle more than he supposed;
second, that he cares for her more than ever; third, that the
performance was a master-stroke, and that her allowing him to force
an interview upon her again is only a question of time."
"And last?" I asked.
"This is another anecdote. The other day, Unter den Linden, I saw on
a bookseller's counter a little pink-covered romance--'Sophronia,' by
Madame Blumenthal. Glancing through it, I observed an extraordinary
abuse of asterisks; every two or three pages the narrative was
adorned with a portentous blank, crossed with a row of stars."
"Well, but poor Clorinda?" I objected, as Niedermeyer paused.
"Sophronia, my dear fellow, is simply Clorinda renamed by the baptism
of fire. The fair author came back, of course, and found Clorinda
tumbled upon the floor, a good deal scorched, but, on the whole, more
frightened than hurt. She picks her up, brushes her off, and sends
her to the printer. Wherever the flames had burnt a hole she swings
a constellation! But if the major is prepared to drop a penitent
tear over the ashes of Clorinda, I shall not whisper to him that the
urn is empty."
Even Adelina Patti's singing, for the next half-hour, but half
availed to divert me from my quickened curiosity to behold Madame
Blumenthal face to face. As soon as the curtain had fallen again I
repaired to her box and was ushered in by Pickering with zealous
hospitality. His glowing smile seemed to say to me, "Ay, look for
yourself, and adore!" Nothing could have been more gracious than the
lady's greeting, and I found, somewhat to my surprise, that her
prettiness lost nothing on a nearer view. Her eyes indeed were the
finest I have ever seen--the softest, the deepest, the most intensely
responsive. In spite of something faded and jaded in her
physiognomy, her movements, her smile, and the tone of her voice,
especially when she laughed, had an almost girlish frankness and
spontaneity. She looked at you very hard with her radiant gray eyes,
and she indulged while she talked in a superabundance of restless,
rather affected little gestures, as if to make you take her meaning
in a certain very particular and superfine sense. I wondered whether
after a while this might not fatigue one's attention; then meeting
her charming eyes, I said, Not for a long time. She was very clever,
and, as Pickering had said, she spoke English admirably. I told her,
as I took my seat beside her, of the fine things I had heard about
her from my friend, and she listened, letting me go on some time, and
exaggerate a little, with her fine eyes fixed full upon me.
"Really?" she suddenly said, turning short round upon Pickering, who
stood behind us, and looking at him in the same way. "Is that the
way you talk about me?"
He blushed to his eyes, and I repented. She suddenly began to laugh;
it was then I observed how sweet her voice was in laughter. We
talked after this of various matters, and in a little while I
complimented her on her excellent English, and asked if she had
learnt it in England.
"Heaven forbid!" she cried. "I have never been there and wish never
to go. I should never get on with the--" I wondered what she was
going to say; the fogs, the smoke, or whist with sixpenny stakes?--"I
should never get on," she said, "with the aristocracy! I am a fierce
democrat--I am not ashamed of it. I hold opinions which would make
my ancestors turn in their graves. I was born in the lap of
feudalism. I am a daughter of the crusaders. But I am a
revolutionist! I have a passion for freedom--my idea of happiness is
to die on a great barricade! It's to your great country I should
like to go. I should like to see the wonderful spectacle of a great
people free to do everything it chooses, and yet never doing anything
I replied, modestly, that, after all, both our freedom and our good
conduct had their limits, and she turned quickly about and shook her
fan with a dramatic gesture at Pickering. "No matter, no matter!"
she cried; "I should like to see the country which produced that
wonderful young man. I think of it as a sort of Arcadia--a land of
the golden age. He's so delightfully innocent! In this stupid old
Germany, if a young man is innocent he's a fool; he has no brains;
he's not a bit interesting. But Mr. Pickering says the freshest
things, and after I have laughed five minutes at their freshness it
suddenly occurs to me that they are very wise, and I think them over
for a week. "True!" she went on, nodding at him. "I call them
inspired solecisms, and I treasure them up. Remember that when I
next laugh at you!"
Glancing at Pickering, I was prompted to believe that he was in a
state of beatific exaltation which weighed Madame Blumenthal's smiles
and frowns in an equal balance. They were equally hers; they were
links alike in the golden chain. He looked at me with eyes that
seemed to say, "Did you ever hear such wit? Did you ever see such
grace?" It seemed to me that he was but vaguely conscious of the
meaning of her words; her gestures, her voice and glance, made an
absorbing harmony. There is something painful in the spectacle of
absolute enthralment, even to an excellent cause. I gave no response
to Pickering's challenge, but made some remark upon the charm of
Adelina Patti's singing. Madame Blumenthal, as became a
"revolutionist," was obliged to confess that she could see no charm
in it; it was meagre, it was trivial, it lacked soul. "You must know
that in music, too," she said, "I think for myself!" And she began
with a great many flourishes of her fan to explain what it was she
thought. Remarkable things, doubtless; but I cannot answer for it,
for in the midst of the explanation the curtain rose again. "You
can't be a great artist without a great passion!" Madame Blumenthal
was affirming. Before I had time to assent Madame Patti's voice rose
wheeling like a skylark, and rained down its silver notes. "Ah, give
me that art," I whispered, "and I will leave you your passion!" And
I departed for my own place in the orchestra. I wondered afterwards
whether the speech had seemed rude, and inferred that it had not on
receiving a friendly nod from the lady, in the lobby, as the theatre
was emptying itself. She was on Pickering's arm, and he was taking
her to her carriage. Distances are short in Homburg, but the night
was rainy, and Madame Blumenthal exhibited a very pretty satin-shod
foot as a reason why, though but a penniless widow, she should not
walk home. Pickering left us together a moment while he went to hail
the vehicle, and my companion seized the opportunity, as she said, to
beg me to be so very kind as to come and see her. It was for a
particular reason! It was reason enough for me, of course, I
answered, that she had given me leave. She looked at me a moment
with that extraordinary gaze of hers which seemed so absolutely
audacious in its candour, and rejoined that I paid more compliments
than our young friend there, but that she was sure I was not half so
sincere. "But it's about him I want to talk," she said. "I want to
ask you many things; I want you to tell me all about him. He
interests me; but you see my sympathies are so intense, my
imagination is so lively, that I don't trust my own impressions.
They have misled me more than once!" And she gave a little tragic
I promised to come and compare notes with her, and we bade her
farewell at her carriage door. Pickering and I remained a while,
walking up and down the long glazed gallery of the Kursaal. I had
not taken many steps before I became aware that I was beside a man in
the very extremity of love. "Isn't she wonderful?" he asked, with an
implicit confidence in my sympathy which it cost me some ingenuity to
elude. If he were really in love, well and good! For although, now
that I had seen her, I stood ready to confess to large possibilities
of fascination on Madame Blumenthal's part, and even to certain
possibilities of sincerity of which my appreciation was vague, yet it
seemed to me less ominous that he should be simply smitten than that
his admiration should pique itself on being discriminating. It was
on his fundamental simplicity that I counted for a happy termination
of his experiment, and the former of these alternatives seemed to me
the simpler. I resolved to hold my tongue and let him run his
course. He had a great deal to say about his happiness, about the
days passing like hours, the hours like minutes, and about Madame
Blumenthal being a "revelation." "She was nothing to-night," he
said; "nothing to what she sometimes is in the way of brilliancy--in
the way of repartee. If you could only hear her when she tells her
"Adventures?" I inquired. "Has she had adventures?"
"Of the most wonderful sort!" cried Pickering, with rapture. "She
hasn't vegetated, like me! She has lived in the tumult of life.
When I listen to her reminiscences, it's like hearing the opening
tumult of one of Beethoven's symphonies as it loses itself in a
triumphant harmony of beauty and faith!"
I could only lift my eyebrows, but I desired to know before we
separated what he had done with that troublesome conscience of his.
"I suppose you know, my dear fellow," I said, "that you are simply in
love. That's what they happen to call your state of mind."
He replied with a brightening eye, as if he were delighted to hear
it--"So Madame Blumenthal told me only this morning!" And seeing, I
suppose, that I was slightly puzzled, " I went to drive with her," he
continued; "we drove to Konigstein, to see the old castle. We
scrambled up into the heart of the ruin and sat for an hour in one of
the crumbling old courts. Something in the solemn stillness of the
place unloosed my tongue; and while she sat on an ivied stone, on the
edge of the plunging wall, I stood there and made a speech. She
listened to me, looking at me, breaking off little bits of stone and
letting them drop down into the valley. At last she got up and
nodded at me two or three times silently, with a smile, as if she
were applauding me for a solo on the violin. 'You are in love,' she
said. 'It's a perfect case!' And for some time she said nothing
more. But before we left the place she told me that she owed me an
answer to my speech. She thanked me heartily, but she was afraid
that if she took me at my word she would be taking advantage of my
inexperience. I had known few women; I was too easily pleased; I
thought her better than she really was. She had great faults; I must
know her longer and find them out; I must compare her with other
women--women younger, simpler, more innocent, more ignorant; and then
if I still did her the honour to think well of her, she would listen
to me again. I told her that I was not afraid of preferring any
woman in the world to her, and then she repeated, 'Happy man, happy
man! you are in love, you are in love!'"
I called upon Madame Blumenthal a couple of days later, in some
agitation of thought. It has been proved that there are, here and
there, in the world, such people as sincere impostors; certain
characters who cultivate fictitious emotions in perfect good faith.
Even if this clever lady enjoyed poor Pickering's bedazzlement, it
was conceivable that, taking vanity and charity together, she should
care more for his welfare than for her own entertainment; and her
offer to abide by the result of hazardous comparison with other women
was a finer stroke than her reputation had led me to expect. She
received me in a shabby little sitting-room littered with uncut books
and newspapers, many of which I saw at a glance were French. One
side of it was occupied by an open piano, surmounted by a jar full of
white roses. They perfumed the air; they seemed to me to exhale the
pure aroma of Pickering's devotion. Buried in an arm-chair, the
object of this devotion was reading the Revue des Deux Mondes. The
purpose of my visit was not to admire Madame Blumenthal on my own
account, but to ascertain how far I might safely leave her to work
her will upon my friend. She had impugned my sincerity the evening
of the opera, and I was careful on this occasion to abstain from
compliments, and not to place her on her guard against my
penetration. It is needless to narrate our interview in detail;
indeed, to tell the perfect truth, I was punished for my rash attempt
to surprise her by a temporary eclipse of my own perspicacity. She
sat there so questioning, so perceptive, so genial, so generous, and
so pretty withal, that I was quite ready at the end of half an hour
to subscribe to the most comprehensive of Pickering's rhapsodies.
She was certainly a wonderful woman. I have never liked to linger,
in memory, on that half-hour. The result of it was to prove that
there were many more things in the composition of a woman who, as
Niedermeyer said, had lodged her imagination in the place of her
heart than were dreamt of in my philosophy. Yet, as I sat there
stroking my hat and balancing the account between nature and art in
my affable hostess, I felt like a very competent philosopher. She
had said she wished me to tell her everything about our friend, and
she questioned me as to his family, his fortune, his antecedents, and
his character. All this was natural in a woman who had received a
passionate declaration of love, and it was expressed with an air of
charmed solicitude, a radiant confidence that there was really no
mistake about his being a most distinguished young man, and that if I
chose to be explicit, I might deepen her conviction to disinterested
ecstasy, which might have almost provoked me to invent a good
opinion, if I had not had one ready made. I told her that she really
knew Pickering better than I did, and that until we met at Homburg I
had not seen him since he was a boy.
"But he talks to you freely," she answered; "I know you are his
confidant. He has told me certainly a great many things, but I
always feel as if he were keeping something back; as if he were
holding something behind him, and showing me only one hand at once.
He seems often to be hovering on the edge of a secret. I have had
several friendships in my life--thank Heaven! but I have had none
more dear to me than this one. Yet in the midst of it I have the
painful sense of my friend being half afraid of me; of his thinking
me terrible, strange, perhaps a trifle out of my wits. Poor me! If
he only knew what a plain good soul I am, and how I only want to know
him and befriend him!"
These words were full of a plaintive magnanimity which made mistrust
seem cruel. How much better I might play providence over Pickering's
experiments with life if I could engage the fine instincts of this
charming woman on the providential side! Pickering's secret was, of
course, his engagement to Miss Vernor; it was natural enough that he
should have been unable to bring himself to talk of it to Madame
Blumenthal. The simple sweetness of this young girl's face had not
faded from my memory; I could not rid myself of the suspicion that in
going further Pickering might fare much worse. Madame Blumenthal's
professions seemed a virtual promise to agree with me, and, after
some hesitation, I said that my friend had, in fact, a substantial
secret, and that perhaps I might do him a good turn by putting her in
possession of it. In as few words as possible I told her that
Pickering stood pledged by filial piety to marry a young lady at
Smyrna. She listened intently to my story; when I had finished it
there was a faint flush of excitement in each of her cheeks. She
broke out into a dozen exclamations of admiration and compassion.
"What a wonderful tale--what a romantic situation! No wonder poor
Mr. Pickering seemed restless and unsatisfied; no wonder he wished to
put off the day of submission. And the poor little girl at Smyrna,
waiting there for the young Western prince like the heroine of an
Eastern tale! She would give the world to see her photograph; did I
think Mr. Pickering would show it to her? But never fear; she would
ask nothing indiscreet! Yes, it was a marvellous story, and if she
had invented it herself, people would have said it was absurdly
improbable." She left her seat and took several turns about the
room, smiling to herself, and uttering little German cries of
wonderment. Suddenly she stopped before the piano and broke into a
little laugh; the next moment she buried her face in the great
bouquet of roses. It was time I should go, but I was indisposed to
leave her without obtaining some definite assurance that, as far as
pity was concerned, she pitied the young girl at Smyrna more than the
young man at Homburg.
"Of course you know what I wished in telling you this," I said,
rising. "She is evidently a charming creature, and the best thing he
can do is to marry her. I wished to interest you in that view of
She had taken one of the roses from the vase and was arranging it in
the front of her dress. Suddenly, looking up, "Leave it to me, leave
it to me!" she cried. "I am interested!" And with her little blue-
gemmed hand she tapped her forehead. "I am deeply interested!"
And with this I had to content myself. But more than once the next
day I repented of my zeal, and wondered whether a providence with a
white rose in her bosom might not turn out a trifle too human. In
the evening, at the Kursaal, I looked for Pickering, but he was not
visible, and I reflected that my revelation had not as yet, at any
rate, seemed to Madame Blumenthal a reason for prescribing a cooling-
term to his passion. Very late, as I was turning away, I saw him
arrive--with no small satisfaction, for I had determined to let him
know immediately in what way I had attempted to serve him. But he
straightway passed his arm through my own and led me off towards the
gardens. I saw that he was too excited to allow me to speak first.
"I have burnt my ships!" he cried, when we were out of earshot of the
crowd. "I have told her everything. I have insisted that it's
simple torture for me to wait with this idle view of loving her less.
It's well enough for her to ask it, but I feel strong enough now to
override her reluctance. I have cast off the millstone from round my
neck. I care for nothing, I know nothing, but that I love her with
every pulse of my being--and that everything else has been a hideous
dream, from which she may wake me into blissful morning with a single
I held him off at arm's-length and looked at him gravely. "You have
told her, you mean, of your engagement to Miss Vernor?"
"The whole story! I have given it up--I have thrown it to the winds.
I have broken utterly with the past. It may rise in its grave and
give me its curse, but it can't frighten me now. I have a right to
be happy, I have a right to be free, I have a right not to bury
myself alive. It was not _I_ who promised--I was not born then. I
myself, my soul, my mind, my option--all this is but a month old!
Ah," he went on, "if you knew the difference it makes--this having
chosen and broken and spoken! I am twice the man I was yesterday!
Yesterday I was afraid of her; there was a kind of mocking mystery of
knowledge and cleverness about her, which oppressed me in the midst
of my love. But now I am afraid of nothing but of being too happy!"
I stood silent, to let him spend his eloquence. But he paused a
moment, and took off his hat and fanned himself. "Let me perfectly
understand," I said at last. "You have asked Madame Blumenthal to be
"The wife of my intelligent choice!"
"And does she consent?"
"She asks three days to decide."
"Call it four! She has known your secret since this morning. I am
bound to let you know I told her."
"So much the better!" cried Pickering, without apparent resentment or
surprise. "It's not a brilliant offer for such a woman, and in spite
of what I have at stake, I feel that it would be brutal to press
"What does she say to your breaking your promise?" I asked in a
Pickering was too much in love for false shame. "She tells me that
she loves me too much to find courage to condemn me. She agrees with
me that I have a right to be happy. I ask no exemption from the
common law. What I claim is simply freedom to try to be!"
Of course I was puzzled; it was not in that fashion that I had
expected Madame Blumenthal to make use of my information. But the
matter now was quite out of my hands, and all I could do was to bid
my companion not work himself into a fever over either fortune.
The next day I had a visit from Niedermeyer, on whom, after our talk
at the opera, I had left a card. We gossiped a while, and at last he
said suddenly, "By the way, I have a sequel to the history of
Clorinda. The major is at Homburg!"
"Indeed!" said I. "Since when?"
"These three days."
"And what is he doing?"
"He seems," said Niedermeyer, with a laugh, "to be chiefly occupied
in sending flowers to Madame Blumenthal. That is, I went with him
the morning of his arrival to choose a nosegay, and nothing would
suit him but a small haystack of white roses. I hope it was
"I can assure you it was," I cried. "I saw the lady fairly nestling
her head in it. But I advise the major not to build upon that. He
has a rival."
"Do you mean the soft young man of the other night?"
"Pickering is soft, if you will, but his softness seems to have
served him. He has offered her everything, and she has not yet
refused it." I had handed my visitor a cigar, and he was puffing it
in silence. At last he abruptly asked if I had been introduced to
Madame Blumenthal, and, on my affirmative, inquired what I thought of
her. "I will not tell you," I said, "or you'll call ME soft."
He knocked away his ashes, eyeing me askance. "I have noticed your
friend about," he said, "and even if you had not told me, I should
have known he was in love. After he has left his adored, his face
wears for the rest of the day the expression with which he has risen
from her feet, and more than once I have felt like touching his
elbow, as you would that of a man who has inadvertently come into a
drawing-room in his overshoes. You say he has offered our friend
everything; but, my dear fellow, he has not everything to offer her.
He evidently is as amiable as the morning, but the lady has no taste
"I assure you Pickering is a very interesting fellow," I said.
"Ah, there it is! Has he not some story or other? Isn't he an
orphan, or a natural child, or consumptive, or contingent heir to
great estates? She will read his little story to the end, and close
the book very tenderly and smooth down the cover; and then, when he
least expects it, she will toss it into the dusty limbo of her other
romances. She will let him dangle, but she will let him drop!"
"Upon my word," I cried, with heat, "if she does, she will be a very
unprincipled little creature!"
Niedermeyer shrugged his shoulders. "I never said she was a saint!"
Shrewd as I felt Niedermeyer to be, I was not prepared to take his
simple word for this event, and in the evening I received a
communication which fortified my doubts. It was a note from
Pickering, and it ran as follows:-
"My Dear Friend--I have every hope of being happy, but I am to go to
Wiesbaden to learn my fate. Madame Blumenthal goes thither this
afternoon to spend a few days, and she allows me to accompany her.
Give me your good wishes; you shall hear of the result. E. P."
One of the diversions of Homburg for new-comers is to dine in
rotation at the different tables d'hote. It so happened that, a
couple of days later, Niedermeyer took pot-luck at my hotel, and
secured a seat beside my own. As we took our places I found a letter
on my plate, and, as it was postmarked Wiesbaden, I lost no time in
opening it. It contained but three lines--"I am happy--I am
accepted--an hour ago. I can hardly believe it's your poor friend
I placed the note before Niedermeyer; not exactly in triumph, but
with the alacrity of all felicitous confutation. He looked at it
much longer than was needful to read it, stroking down his beard
gravely, and I felt it was not so easy to confute a pupil of the
school of Metternich. At last, folding the note and handing it back,
"Has your friend mentioned Madame Blumenthal's errand at Wiesbaden?"
"You look very wise. I give it up!" said I.
"She is gone there to make the major follow her. He went by the next
"And has the major, on his side, dropped you a line?"
"He is not a letter-writer."
"Well," said I, pocketing my letter, "with this document in my hand I
am bound to reserve my judgment. We will have a bottle of
Johannisberg, and drink to the triumph of virtue."
For a whole week more I heard nothing from Pickering--somewhat to my
surprise, and, as the days went by, not a little to my discomposure.
I had expected that his bliss would continue to overflow in brief
bulletins, and his silence was possibly an indication that it had
been clouded. At last I wrote to his hotel at Wiesbaden, but
received no answer; whereupon, as my next resource, I repaired to his
former lodging at Homburg, where I thought it possible he had left
property which he would sooner or later send for. There I learned
that he had indeed just telegraphed from Cologne for his luggage. To
Cologne I immediately despatched a line of inquiry as to his
prosperity and the cause of his silence. The next day I received
three words in answer--a simple uncommented request that I would come
to him. I lost no time, and reached him in the course of a few
hours. It was dark when I arrived, and the city was sheeted in a
cold autumnal rain. Pickering had stumbled, with an indifference
which was itself a symptom of distress, on a certain musty old
Mainzerhof, and I found him sitting over a smouldering fire in a vast
dingy chamber which looked as if it had grown gray with watching the
ennui of ten generations of travellers. Looking at him, as he rose
on my entrance, I saw that he was in extreme tribulation. He was
pale and haggard; his face was five years older. Now, at least, in
all conscience, he had tasted of the cup of life! I was anxious to
know what had turned it so suddenly to bitterness; but I spared him
all importunate curiosity, and let him take his time. I accepted
tacitly his tacit confession of distress, and we made for a while a
feeble effort to discuss the picturesqueness of Cologne. At last he
rose and stood a long time looking into the fire, while I slowly
paced the length of the dusky room.
"Well!" he said, as I came back; "I wanted knowledge, and I certainly
know something I didn't a month ago." And herewith, calmly and
succinctly enough, as if dismay had worn itself out, he related the
history of the foregoing days. He touched lightly on details; he
evidently never was to gush as freely again as he had done during the
prosperity of his suit. He had been accepted one evening, as
explicitly as his imagination could desire, and had gone forth in his
rapture and roamed about till nearly morning in the gardens of the
Conversation-house, taking the stars and the perfumes of the summer
night into his confidence. "It is worth it all, almost," he said,
"to have been wound up for an hour to that celestial pitch. No man,
I am sure, can ever know it but once." The next morning he had
repaired to Madame Blumenthal's lodging and had been met, to his
amazement, by a naked refusal to see him. He had strode about for a
couple of hours--in another mood--and then had returned to the
charge. The servant handed him a three-cornered note; it contained
these words: "Leave me alone to-day; I will give you ten minutes to-
morrow evening." Of the next thirty-six hours he could give no
coherent account, but at the appointed time Madame Blumenthal had
received him. Almost before she spoke there had come to him a sense
of the depth of his folly in supposing he knew her. "One has heard
all one's days," he said, "of people removing the mask; it's one of
the stock phrases of romance. Well, there she stood with her mask in
her hand. Her face," he went on gravely, after a pause--"her face
was horrible!" . . . "I give you ten minutes," she had said, pointing
to the clock. "Make your scene, tear your hair, brandish your
dagger!" And she had sat down and folded her arms. "It's not a
joke," she cried, "it's dead earnest; let us have it over. You are
dismissed--have you nothing to say?" He had stammered some frantic
demand for an explanation; and she had risen and come near him,
looking at him from head to feet, very pale, and evidently more
excited than she wished him to see. "I have done with you!" she
said, with a smile; "you ought to have done with me! It has all been
delightful, but there are excellent reasons why it should come to an
end." "You have been playing a part, then," he had gasped out; "you
never cared for me?" "Yes; till I knew you; till I saw how far you
would go. But now the story's finished; we have reached the
denoument. We will close the book and be good friends." "To see how
far I would go?" he had repeated. "You led me on, meaning all the
while to do THIS!" "I led you on, if you will. I received your
visits, in season and out! Sometimes they were very entertaining;
sometimes they bored me fearfully. But you were such a very curious
case of--what shall I call it?--of sincerity, that I determined to
take good and bad together. I wanted to make you commit yourself
unmistakably. I should have preferred not to bring you to this
place; but that too was necessary. Of course I can't marry you; I
can do better. So can you, for that matter; thank your fate for it.
You have thought wonders of me for a month, but your good-humour
wouldn't last. I am too old and too wise; you are too young and too
foolish. It seems to me that I have been very good to you; I have
entertained you to the top of your bent, and, except perhaps that I
am a little brusque just now, you have nothing to complain of. I
would have let you down more gently if I could have taken another
month to it; but circumstances have forced my hand. Abuse me, curse
me, if you like. I will make every allowance!" Pickering listened
to all this intently enough to perceive that, as if by some sudden
natural cataclysm, the ground had broken away at his feet, and that
he must recoil. He turned away in dumb amazement. "I don't know how
I seemed to be taking it," he said, "but she seemed really to desire-
-I don't know why--something in the way of reproach and vituperation.
But I couldn't, in that way, have uttered a syllable. I was
sickened; I wanted to get away into the air--to shake her off and
come to my senses. 'Have you nothing, nothing, nothing to say?' she
cried, as if she were disappointed, while I stood with my hand on the
door. 'Haven't I treated you to talk enough?' I believed I answered.
'You will write to me then, when you get home?' 'I think not,' said
I. 'Six months hence, I fancy, you will come and see me!' 'Never!'
said I. 'That's a confession of stupidity,' she answered. 'It means
that, even on reflection, you will never understand the philosophy of
my conduct.' The word 'philosophy' seemed so strange that I verily
believe I smiled. 'I have given you all that you gave me,' she went
on. 'Your passion was an affair of the head.' 'I only wish you had
told me sooner that you considered it so!' I exclaimed. And I went
my way. The next day I came down the Rhine. I sat all day on the
boat, not knowing where I was going, where to get off. I was in a
kind of ague of terror; it seemed to me I had seen something
infernal. At last I saw the cathedral towers here looming over the
city. They seemed to say something to me, and when the boat stopped,
I came ashore. I have been here a week. I have not slept at night--
and yet it has been a week of rest!"
It seemed to me that he was in a fair way to recover, and that his
own philosophy, if left to take its time, was adequate to the
occasion. After his story was once told I referred to his grievance
but once--that evening, later, as we were about to separate for the
night. "Suffer me to say that there was some truth in HER account of
your relations," I said. "You were using her intellectually, and all
the while, without your knowing it, she was using you. It was
diamond cut diamond. Her needs were the more superficial, and she
got tired of the game first." He frowned and turned uneasily away,
but without contradicting me. I waited a few moments, to see if he
would remember, before we parted, that he had a claim to make upon
me. But he seemed to have forgotten it.
The next day we strolled about the picturesque old city, and of
course, before long, went into the cathedral. Pickering said little;
he seemed intent upon his own thoughts. He sat down beside a pillar
near a chapel, in front of a gorgeous window, and, leaving him to his
meditations, I wandered through the church. When I came back I saw
he had something to say. But before he had spoken I laid my hand on
his shoulder and looked at him with a significant smile. He slowly
bent his head and dropped his eyes, with a mixture of assent and
humility. I drew forth from where it had lain untouched for a month
the letter he had given me to keep, placed it silently on his knee,
and left him to deal with it alone.
Half an hour later I returned to the same place, but he had gone, and
one of the sacristans, hovering about and seeing me looking for
Pickering, said he thought he had left the church. I found him in
his gloomy chamber at the inn, pacing slowly up and down. I should
doubtless have been at a loss to say just what effect I expected the
letter from Smyrna to produce; but his actual aspect surprised me.
He was flushed, excited, a trifle irritated.
"Evidently," I said, "you have read your letter."
"It is proper I should tell you what is in it," he answered. "When I
gave it to you a month ago, I did my friends injustice."
"You called it a 'summons,' I remember."
"I was a great fool! It's a release!"
"From your engagement?"
"From everything! The letter, of course, is from Mr. Vernor. He
desires to let me know at the earliest moment that his daughter,
informed for the first time a week before of what had been expected
of her, positively refuses to be bound by the contract or to assent
to my being bound. She had been given a week to reflect, and had
spent it in inconsolable tears. She had resisted every form of
persuasion! from compulsion, writes Mr. Vernor, he naturally shrinks.
The young lady considers the arrangement 'horrible.' After accepting
her duties cut and dried all her life, she pretends at last to have a
taste of her own. I confess I am surprised; I had been given to
believe that she was stupidly submissive, and would remain so to the
end of the chapter. Not a bit of it. She has insisted on my being
formally dismissed, and her father intimates that in case of non-
compliance she threatens him with an attack of brain fever. Mr.
Vernor condoles with me handsomely, and lets me know that the young
lady's attitude has been a great shock to his nerves. He adds that
he will not aggravate such regret as I may do him the honour to
entertain, by any allusions to his daughter's charms and to the
magnitude of my loss, and he concludes with the hope that, for the
comfort of all concerned, I may already have amused my fancy with
other 'views.' He reminds me in a postscript that, in spite of this
painful occurrence, the son of his most valued friend will always be
a welcome visitor at his house. I am free, he observes; I have my
life before me; he recommends an extensive course of travel. Should
my wanderings lead me to the East, he hopes that no false
embarrassment will deter me from presenting myself at Smyrna. He can
promise me at least a friendly reception. It's a very polite
Polite as the letter was, Pickering seemed to find no great
exhilaration in having this famous burden so handsomely lifted from
his spirit. He began to brood over his liberation in a manner which
you might have deemed proper to a renewed sense of bondage. "Bad
news," he had called his letter originally; and yet, now that its
contents proved to be in flat contradiction to his foreboding, there
was no impulsive voice to reverse the formula and declare the news
was good. The wings of impulse in the poor fellow had of late been
terribly clipped. It was an obvious reflection, of course, that if
he had not been so stiffly certain of the matter a month before, and
had gone through the form of breaking Mr. Vernor's seal, he might
have escaped the purgatory of Madame Blumenthal's sub-acid
blandishments. But I left him to moralise in private; I had no
desire, as the phrase is, to rub it in. My thoughts, moreover, were
following another train; I was saying to myself that if to those
gentle graces of which her young visage had offered to my fancy the
blooming promise, Miss Vernor added in this striking measure the
capacity for magnanimous action, the amendment to my friend's career
had been less happy than the rough draught. Presently, turning
about, I saw him looking at the young lady's photograph. "Of course,
now," he said, "I have no right to keep it!" And before I could ask
for another glimpse of it, he had thrust it into the fire.
"I am sorry to be saying it just now," I observed after a while, "but
I shouldn't wonder if Miss Vernor were a charming creature."
"Go and find out," he answered, gloomily. "The coast is clear. My
part is to forget her," he presently added. "It ought not to be
hard. But don't you think," he went on suddenly, "that for a poor
fellow who asked nothing of fortune but leave to sit down in a quiet
corner, it has been rather a cruel pushing about?"
Cruel indeed, I declared, and he certainly had the right to demand a
clean page on the book of fate and a fresh start. Mr. Vernor's
advice was sound; he should amuse himself with a long journey. If it
would be any comfort to him, I would go with him on his way.
Pickering assented without enthusiasm; he had the embarrassed look of
a man who, having gone to some cost to make a good appearance in a
drawing-room, should find the door suddenly slammed in his face. We
started on our journey, however, and little by little his enthusiasm
returned. He was too capable of enjoying fine things to remain
permanently irresponsive, and after a fortnight spent among pictures
and monuments and antiquities, I felt that I was seeing him for the
first time in his best and healthiest mood. He had had a fever, and
then he had had a chill; the pendulum had swung right and left in a
manner rather trying to the machine; but now, at last, it was working
back to an even, natural beat. He recovered in a measure the
generous eloquence with which he had fanned his flame at Homburg, and
talked about things with something of the same passionate freshness.
One day when I was laid up at the inn at Bruges with a lame foot, he
came home and treated me to a rhapsody about a certain meek-faced
virgin of Hans Memling, which seemed to me sounder sense than his
compliments to Madame Blumenthal. He had his dull days and his
sombre moods--hours of irresistible retrospect; but I let them come
and go without remonstrance, because I fancied they always left him a
trifle more alert and resolute. One evening, however, he sat hanging
his head in so doleful a fashion that I took the bull by the horns
and told him he had by this time surely paid his debt to penitence,
and that he owed it to himself to banish that woman for ever from his
He looked up, staring; and then with a deep blush--"That woman?" he
said. "I was not thinking of Madame Blumenthal!"
After this I gave another construction to his melancholy. Taking him
with his hopes and fears, at the end of six weeks of active
observation and keen sensation, Pickering was as fine a fellow as
need be. We made our way down to Italy and spent a fortnight at
Venice. There something happened which I had been confidently
expecting; I had said to myself that it was merely a question of
time. We had passed the day at Torcello, and came floating back in
the glow of the sunset, with measured oar-strokes. "I am well on the
way," Pickering said; "I think I will go!"
We had not spoken for an hour, and I naturally asked him, Where? His
answer was delayed by our getting into the Piazzetta. I stepped
ashore first and then turned to help him. As he took my hand he met
my eyes, consciously, and it came. "To Smyrna!"
A couple of days later he started. I had risked the conjecture that
Miss Vernor was a charming creature, and six months afterwards he
wrote me that I was right.