Part 1 out of 3
SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT.
I. A NEW-COMER
II. WHICH CONTAINS A FEW DETAILS
III. MRS. REFFOLD LEARNS HER LESSON
IV. CONCERNING WARLI AND MARIE
V. THE DISAGREEABLE MAN
VI. THE TRAVELLER AND THE TEMPLE OF KNOWLEDGE
VIII. THE STORY MOVES ON AT LAST
IX. BERNARDINE PREACHES
X. THE DISAGREEABLE MAN IS SEEN IN A NEW LIGHT
XI. "IF ONE HAS MADE THE ONE GREAT SACRIFICE"
XII. THE DISAGREEABLE MAN MAKES A LOAN
XIII. A DOMESTIC SCENE
XIV. CONCERNING THE CARETAKERS
XV. WHICH CONTAINS NOTHING
XVI. WHEN THE SOUL KNOWS ITS OWN REMORSE
XVII. A RETURN TO OLD PASTURES
XVIII. A BETROTHAL
XIX. SHIPS THAT SPEAK EACH OTHER IN PASSING
XX. A LOVE-LETTER
I. THE DUSTING OF THE BOOKS
II. BERNARDINE BEGINS HER BOOK
III. FAILURE AND SUCCESS: A PROLOGUE
IV. THE DISAGREEABLE MAN GIVES UP HIS FREEDOM
V. THE BUILDING OF THE BRIDGE
SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT.
"YES, indeed," remarked one of the guests at the English table, "yes,
indeed, we start life thinking that we shall build a great cathedral,
a crowning glory to architecture, and we end by contriving a mud hut!"
"I am glad you think so well of human nature," said the Disagreeable Man,
suddenly looking up from the newspaper which he always read during meal-
time. "I should be more inclined to say that we end by being content to
dig a hole, and get into it, like the earth men."
A silence followed these words; the English community at that end of the
table was struck with astonishment at hearing the Disagreeable Man speak.
The few sentences he had spoken during the last four years at Petershof
were on record; this was decidedly the longest of them all.
"He is going to speak again," whispered beautiful Mrs. Reffold to her
The Disagreeable Man once more looked up from his newspaper.
"Please, pass me the Yorkshire relish," he said in his rough way to a
sitting next to him.
The spell was broken, and the conversation started afresh. But the girl
who had passed the Yorkshire relish sat silent and listless, her food
untouched, and her wine untasted. She was small and thin; her face
looked haggard. She was a new-comer, and had, indeed, arrived at
Petershof only two hours before the _table-d'hote_ bell rang. But there
did not seem to be any nervous shrinking in her manner, nor any shyness
at having to face the two hundred and fifty guests of the Kurhaus. She
seemed rather to be unaware of their presence; or, if aware of,
certainly indifferent to the scrutiny under which she was being placed.
She was recalled to reality by the voice of the Disagreeable Man. She
did not hear what he said, but she mechanically stretched out her hand
and passed him the mustard-pot.
"Is that what you asked for?" she said half dreamily; "or was it the
"You are rather deaf, I should think," said the Disagreeable Man
placidly. "I only remarked that it was a pity you were not eating your
dinner. Perhaps the scrutiny of the two hundred and fifty guests in
this civilized place is a vexation to you."
"I did not know they were scrutinizing," she answered; "and even if
they are, what does it matter to me? I am sure I am quite too tired to
"Why have you come here?" asked the Disagreeable Man suddenly.
"Probably for the same reason as yourself," she said; "to get better
"You won't get better," he answered cruelly; "I know your type well;
you burn yourselves out quickly. And--my God--how I envy you!"
"So you have pronounced my doom," she said, looking at him intently.
Then she laughed but there was no merriment in the laughter.
"Listen," she said, as she bent nearer to him; "because you are
hopeless, it does not follow that you should try to make others
hopeless too. You have drunk deep of the cup of poison; I can see that.
To hand the cup on to others is the part of a coward."
She walked past the English table, and the Polish table, and so out of
the Kurhaus dining-hall.
CONTAINS A FEW DETAILS.
IN an old second-hand bookshop in London, an old man sat reading
Gibbon's History of Rome. He did not put down his book when the postman
brought him a letter. He just glanced indifferently at the letter, and
impatiently at the postman. Zerviah Holme did not like to be interrupted
when he was reading Gibbon; and as he was always reading Gibbon, an
interruption was always regarded by him as an insult.
About two hours afterwards, he opened the letter, and learnt that his
niece, Bernardine, had arrived safely in Petershof, and that she
intended to get better and come home strong. He tore up the letter,
and instinctively turned to the photograph on the mantelpiece. It was
the picture of a face young and yet old, sad and yet with possibilities
of merriment, thin and drawn and almost wrinkled, and with piercing eyes
which, even in the dull lifelessness of the photograph, seemed to be
burning themselves away. Not a pleasing nor a good face; yet intensely
pathetic because of its undisguised harassment.
Zerviah looked at it for a moment.
"She has never been much to either of us," he said to himself. "And yet,
when Malvina was alive, I used to think that she was hard on Bernardine.
I believe I said so once or twice. But Malvina had her own way of
looking at things. Well, that is over now."
He then, with characteristic speed, dismissed all thoughts which did not
relate to Roman History; and the remembrance of Malvina, his wife, and
Bernardine, his niece, took up an accustomed position in the background
of his mind.
Bernardine had suffered a cheerless childhood in which dolls and toys
took no leading part. She had no affection to bestow on any doll, nor
any woolly lamb, nor apparently on any human person; unless, perhaps,
there was the possibility of a friendly inclination towards Uncle
Zerviah, who would not have understood the value of any deeper feeling,
and did not therefore call the child cold-hearted and unresponsive, as
he might well have done.
This she certainly was, judged by the standard of other children; but
then no softening influences had been at work during her tenderest
years. Aunt Malvina knew as much about sympathy as she did about the
properties of an ellipse; and even the fairies had failed to win little
Bernardine. At first they tried with loving patience what they might do
for her; they came out of their books, and danced and sang to her, and
whispered sweet stories to her, at twilight, the fairies' own time. But
she would have none of them, for all their gentle persuasion. So they
gave up trying to please her, and left her as they had found her,
loveless. What can be said of a childhood which even the fairies have
failed to touch with the warm glow of affection?
Such a little restless spirit, striving to express itself now in this
direction, now in that; yet always actuated by the same constant force,
_the desire for work_. Bernardine seemed to have no special wish to be
useful to others; she seemed just to have a natural tendency to work,
even as others have a natural tendency to play. She was always in
earnest; life for little Bernardine meant something serious.
Then the years went by. She grew up and filled her life with many
interests and ambitions. She was at least a worker, if nothing else;
she had always been a diligent scholar, and now she took her place as an
able teacher. She was self-reliant, and, perhaps, somewhat conceited.
But, at least, Bernardine the young woman had learnt something which
Bernardine the young child had not been able to learn: she learnt how
to smile. It took her, about six and twenty years to learn; still,
some people take longer than that; in fact, many never learn. This is
a brief summary of Bernardine Holme's past.
Then, one day, when she was in the full swing of her many engrossing
occupations: teaching, writing articles for newspapers, attending
socialistic meetings, and taking part in political discussions--she was
essentially a modern product, this Bernardine--one day she fell ill.
She lingered in London for some time, and then she went to Petershof.
MRS. REFFOLD LEARNS A LESSON.
PETERSHOF was a winter resort for consumptive patients, though, indeed,
many people simply needed the change of a bracing climate went there to
spend a few months; and came, away wonderfully better for the mountain
air. This was what Bernardine Holme hoped to do; she was broken down in
every way, but it was thought that a prolonged stay in Petershof might
help her back to a reasonable amount of health, or, at least, prevent
her from slipping into further decline. She had come alone, because she
had no relations except that old uncle, and no money to pay any friend
who might have been willing to come with her. But she probably cared
very little, and the morning after her arrival, she strolled out by
herself, investigating the place where she was about to spend six months.
She was dragging herself along, when she met the Disagreeable Man. She
stopped him. He was not accustomed to be stopped by any one, and he
looked rather astonished.
"You were not very cheering last night," she said to him.
"I believe I am not generally considered to be lively," he answered, as
he knocked the snow of his boot.
"Still, I am sorry I spoke to you as I did," she went on frankly. "It
was foolish of me to mind what you said."
He made no reference to his own remark, and passing on his way again,
when he turned back and walked with her.
"I have been here nearly seven years," he said and there was a ring of
sadness in his voice as he spoke, which he immediately corrected. "If
you want to know anything about the place, I can tell you. If you are
able to walk, I can show you some lovely spots, where you will not be
bothered with people. I can take you to a snow fairy-land. If you are
sad and disappointed, you will find shining comfort there. It is not
all sadness in Petershof. In the silent snow forests, if you dig the
snow away, you will find the tiny buds nestling in their white nursery.
If the sun does not dazzle your eyes, you may always see the great
mountains piercing the sky. These wonders have been a happiness to me.
You are not too ill but that they may be a happiness to you also."
"Nothing can be much of a happiness to me," she said, half to herself,
and her lips quivered. "I have had to give up so much: all my work,
all my ambitions."
"You are not the only one who has had to do that," he said sharply.
"Why make a fuss? Things arrange themselves, and eventually we adjust
ourselves to the new arrangement. A great deal of caring and grieving,
phase one; still more caring and grieving, phase two; less caring and
grieving, phase three; no further feeling whatsoever, phase four.
Mercifully I am at phase four. You are at phase one. Make a quick
journey over the stages."
He turned and left her, and she strolled along, thinking of his words,
wondering how long it would take her to arrive at his indifference.
She had always looked upon indifference as paralysis of the soul, and
paralysis meant death, nay, was worse than death. And here was this man,
who had obviously suffered both mentally and physically, telling her
that the only sensible course was to learn not to care. How could she
learn not to care? All her life long she had studied and worked and
cultivated herself in every direction in the hope of being able to take
a high place in literature, or, in any case, to do something in life
distinctly better than what other people did. When everything was coming
near to her grasp, when there seemed a fair chance of realizing her
ambitions, she had suddenly fallen ill, broken up so entirely in every
way, that those who knew her when she was well, could scarcely recognize
her now that she was ill. The doctors spoke of an overstrained nervous
system: the pestilence of these modern days; they spoke of rest, change
of work and scene, bracing air. She might regain her vitality; she might
not. Those who had played themselves out must pay the penalty. She was
thinking of her whole history, pitying herself profoundly, coming to
the conclusion, after true human fashion, that she was the worst-used
person on earth, and that no one but herself knew what disappointed
ambitions were; she was thinking of all this, and looking profoundly
miserable and martyr-like, when some one called her by her name. She
looked round and saw one of the English ladies belonging to the Kurhaus;
Bernardine had noticed her the previous night. She seemed in capital
spirits, and had three or four admirers waiting on her very words.
She was a tall, handsome woman, dressed in a superb fur-trimmed cloak,
a woman of splendid bearing and address. Bernardine looked a
contemptible little piece of humanity beside her. Some such impression
conveyed itself to the two men who were walking with Mrs. Reffold.
They looked at the one woman, and then at the other, and smiled at each
other, as men do smile on such occasions.
"I am going to speak to this little thing," Mrs. Reffold had said to
her two companions before they came near Bernardine. "I must find out
who she is, and where she comes from. And, fancy, she has come quite
alone. I have inquired. How hopelessly out of fashion she dresses.
And what a hat!"
"I should not take the trouble to speak to her," said one of the men.
"She may fasten herself on to you. You know what a bore that is."
"Oh, I can easily snub any one if I wish," replied Mrs. Reffold,
So she hastened up to Bernardine, and held out her well-gloved hand.
"I had not a chance of speaking to you last night, Miss Holme," she
said. "You retired so early. I hope you have rested after your journey.
You seemed quite worn out."
"Thank you," said Bernardine, looking admiringly at the beautiful woman,
and envying her, just as all plain women envy their handsome sisters.
"You are not alone, I suppose?" continued Mrs. Reffold.
"Yes, quite alone," answered Bernardine.
"But you are evidently acquainted with Mr. Allitsen, your neighbour at
table," said Mrs. Reffold; "so you will not feel quite lonely here.
It is a great advantage to have a friend at a place like this."
"I never saw him before last night," said Bernardine.
"Is it possible?" said Mrs. Reffold, in her pleasantest voice. "Then
you _have_ made a triumph of the Disagreeable Man. He very rarely deigns
to talk with any of us. He does not even appear to see us. He sits
quietly and reads. It would be interesting to hear what his conversation
is like. I should be quite amused to know what you did talk about."
"I dare say you would," said Bernardine quietly.
Then Mrs. Behold, wishing to screen her inquisitiveness, plunged into a
description of Petershof life, speaking enthusiastically about
everything, except the scenery, which she did not mention. After a time
she ventured to begin once more taking soundings. But some how or other,
those bright eyes of Bernardine, which looked at her so searchingly,
made her a little nervous, and, perhaps, a little indiscreet.
"Your father will miss you," she said tentatively.
"I should think probably not," answered Bernardine. "One is not easily
missed, you know." There was a twinkle in Bernardine's eye as she added,
"He is probably occupied with other things!"
"What is your father?" asked Mrs. Reffold, in her most coaxing tones.
"I don't know what he is now," answered Bernardine placidly. "But he
was a genius. He is dead."
Mrs. Reffold gave a slight start, for she began to feel that this
insignificant little person was making fun of her. This would never do,
and before witnesses too. So she gathered together her best resources
"Dear me, how very unfortunate: a genius too. Death is indeed cruel.
And here one sees so much of it, that unless one learns to steel one's
heart, one becomes melancholy. Ah, it is indeed sad to see all this
suffering!" (Mrs Reffold herself had quite succeeded in steeling her
heart against her own invalid husband.) She then gave an account of
several bad cases of consumption, not forgetting to mention two
instances of suicide which had lately taken place in Petershof.
"One gentleman was a Russian," she said. "Fancy coming all the way,
from Russia to this little out-of-the-world place! But people come from
the uttermost ends of the earth, though of course there are many
Londoners here. I suppose you are from London?"
"I am not living in London now," said Bernardine cautiously.
"But you know it, without doubt," continued Mrs. Reffold. "There are
several Kensington people here. You may meet some friends: indeed in
our hotel there are two or three families from Lexham Gardens."
Bernardine smiled a little viciously; looked first at Mrs. Reffold's
two companions with an amused sort of indulgence, and then at the lady
herself She paused a moment, and then said:
"Have you asked all the questions you wish to ask? And, if so, may I
ask one of you. Where does one get the best tea?"
Mrs. Reffold gave an inward gasp, but pointed gracefully to a small
confectionery shop on the other side of the road. Mrs. Reffold did
Bernardine thanked her, crossed the road, and passed into the shop.
"Now I have taught her a lesson not to interfere with me," said
Bernardine to herself. "How beautiful she is."
Mrs. Reffold and her two companions went silently on their way.
At last the silence was broken.
"Well, I'm blessed!" said the taller of the two, lighting a cigar.
"So am I," said the other, lighting his cigar too.
"Those are precisely my own feelings," remarked Mrs. Reffold.
But she had learnt her lesson.
CONCERNING WAeRLI AND MARIE.
WAeRLI, the little hunchback postman, a cheery soul, came whistling up
the Kurhaus stairs, carrying with him that precious parcel of registered
letters, which gave him the position of being the most important person
in Petershof. He was a linguist, too, was Waerli, and could speak broken
English in a most fascinating way, agreeable to every one, but
intelligible only to himself. Well, he came whistling up the stairs
when he heard Marie's blithe voice humming her favourite spinning-song.
"Ei, Ei!" he said to himself; "Marie is in a good temper to-day. I will
give her a call as I pass."
He arranged his neckerchief and smoothed his curls; and when he reached
the end of the landing, he paused outside a little glass-door, and, all
unobserved, watched Marie in her pantry cleaning the candlesticks and
Marie heard a knock, and, looking up from her work, saw Waerli.
"Good day, Waerli," she said, glancing hurriedly at a tiny broken mirror
suspended on the wall. "I suppose you have a letter for me. How
"Never mind about the letter just now," he said, waving his hand as
though wishing to dismiss the subject. "How nice to hear you singing
so sweetly, Marie! Dear me, in the old days at Gruesch, how often I have
heard that song of the spinning-wheels. You have forgotten the old days,
Marie, though you remember the song."
"Give me my letter, Waerli, and go about your work," said Marie,
pretending to be impatient. But all the same her eyes looked extremely
friendly. There was something very winning about the hunchback's face.
"Ah, ah! Marie," he said, shaking his curly head; "I know how it is
with you: you only like people in fine binding. They have not always
"What nonsense you talk Waerli!" said Marie "There, just hand me the
oil-can. You can fill this lamp for me. Not too full, you goose! And
this one also, ah, you're letting the oil trickle down! Why, you're
not fit for anything except carrying letters! Here, give me my letter."
"What pretty flowers," said Waerli. "Now if there is one thing I do like,
it is a flower. Can you spare me one, Marie? Put one in my button-hole,
"You are a nuisance this afternoon," said Marie, smiling and pinning a
flower on Waerli's blue coat. Just then a bell rang violently.
"Those Portuguese ladies will drive me quite mad," said Marie. "They
always ring just when I am enjoying myself?"
"When you, an enjoying yourself!" said Waerli triumphantly.
"Of course," returned Marie; "I always do enjoy cleaning the oil-lamps;
I always did!"
"Ah, I'd forgotten the oil-lamps!" said Waerli.
"And so had I!" laughed Marie. "Na, na, there goes that bell again!
Won't they be angry! Won't they scold at me! Here, Waerli, give me my
letter, and I'll be off."
"I never told you I had any letter for you," remarked Waerli. "It was
entirely your own idea. Good afternoon, Fraeulein Marie."
The Portuguese ladies' bell rang again, still more passionately this
time; but Marie did not seem to hear nor care. She wished to be
revenged on that impudent postman. She went to the top of the stairs
and called after Waerli in her most coaxing tones:
"Do step down one moment; I want to show you something!"
"I must deliver the registered letters," said Waerli, with official
haughtiness. "I have already wasted too much of my time."
"Won't you waste a few more minutes on me?" pleaded Marie pathetically.
"It is not often I see you now."
Waerli came down again, looking very happy.
"I want to show you such a beautiful photograph I've had taken," said
Marie. "Ach, it is beautiful!"
"You must give one to me," said Waerli eagerly.
"Oh, I can't do that," replied Marie, as she opened the drawer and took
out a small packet. "It was a present to me from the Polish gentleman
himself. He saw me the other day here in the pantry. I was so tired,
and I had fallen asleep with my broom, just as you see me here. So he
made a photograph of me. He admires me very much. Isn't it nice? and
isn't the Polish gentleman clever? and isn't it nice to have so much
attention paid to one? Oh, there's that horrid bell again! Good
afternoon, Herr Waerli. That is all I have to say to you, thank you."
Waerli's feelings towards the Polish gentleman were not of the
friendliest that day.
THE DISAGREEABLE MAN.
ROBERT ALLITSEN told Bernardine that she was not likely to be on
friendly terms with the English people in the Kurhaus.
"They will not care about you, and you will not care about the
foreigners. So you will thus be thrown on your own resources,
just as I was when I came."
"I cannot say that I have any resources," Bernardine answered. "I don't
feel well enough to try to do any writing, or else it would be
delightful to have the uninterrupted leisure."
So she had probably told him a little about her life and occupation;
although it was not likely that she would have given him any serious
confidences. Still, people are often surprisingly frank about
themselves, even those who pride themselves upon being the most
reticent mortals in the world.
"But now, having the leisure," she continued, "I have not the brains!"
"I never knew any writer who had," said the Disagreeable Man grimly.
"Perhaps your experience has been limited," she suggested.
"Why don't you read?" he said. "There is a good library here. It
contains all the books we don't want to read."
"I am tired of reading," Bernardine said. "I seem to have been reading
all my life. My uncle, with whom I live, keeps, a second-hand book-shop,
and ever since I can remember, I have been surrounded by books. They
have not done me much good, nor any one else either."
"No, probably not," he said. "But now that you have left off reading,
you will have a chance of learning something, if you live long enough.
It is wonderful how much one does learn when one does not read. It is
almost awful. If you don't care about reading now, why do you not
occupy yourself with cheese-mites?"
"I do not feel drawn towards cheese-mites."
"Perhaps not, at first; but all the same they form a subject which is
very engaging. Or any branch of bacteriology."
"Well, if you were to lend me your microscope, perhaps I might begin."
"I could not do that," he answered quickly. "I never lend my things."
"No, I did not suppose you would," she said. "I knew I was safe in
making the suggestion."
"You are rather quick of perception in spite of all your book reading,"
he said. "Yes, you are quite right. I am selfish. I dislike lending my
things, and I dislike spending my money except on myself. If you have
the misfortune to linger on as I do you will know that it is perfectly
legitimate to be selfish in small things, _if one has made the one
"And what may that be?"
She asked so eagerly that he looked at her, and then saw how worn and
tired, her face was; and the words which he was intending to speak,
died on his lips.
"Look at those asses of people on toboggans," he said brusquely. "Could
you manage to enjoy yourself in that way? That might do you good."
"Yes," she said; "but it would not be any pleasure to me."
She stopped to watch the toboggans flying down the road. And the
Disagreeable Man went his own solitary way, a forlorn figure, with a
face almost expressionless, and a manner wholly impenetrable.
He had lived nearly seven years at Petershof, and, like many others was
obliged to continue staying there if he wished to continue staying in
this planet. It was not probable that he had any wish to prolong his
frail existence, but he did his duty to his mother by conserving his
life; and this feeble flame of duty and affection was the only lingering
bit of warmth in a heart frozen almost by ill health and disappointed
ambitions. The moralists tell us that suffering ennobles, and that a
right acceptation of hindrances goes towards forming a beautiful
character. But this result must largely depend on the original
character: certainly, in the case of Robert Allitsen, suffering had not
ennobled his mind, nor disappointment sweetened his disposition. His
title of "Disagreeable Man" had been fairly earned, and he hugged it to
himself with a triumphant secret satisfaction.
There were some people in Petershof who were inclined to believe certain
absurd rumours about his alleged kindness. It was said that on more than
one occasion he had nursed the suffering and the dying in sad Petershof,
and, with all the sorrowful tenderness worthy of a loving mother, had
helped them to take their leave of life. But these were only rumours,
and there was nothing in Robert Allitsen's ordinary bearing to justify
such talk. So the foolish people who, for the sake of making themselves
peculiar, revived these unlikely fictions, were speedily ridiculed and
reduced to silence. And the Disagreeable Man remained the Disagreeable
Man, with a clean record for unamiability.
He lived a life apart from others. Most of his time was occupied in
photography, or in the use and study of the microscope, or in chemistry.
His photographs were considered to be most beautiful. Not that he showed
them specially to any one; but he generally sent a specimen of his work
to the Monthly Photograph Portfolio, and hence it was that people
learned to know of his skill. He might be seen any fine day trudging
along in company with his photographic apparatus, and a desolate dog,
who looked almost as cheerless as his chosen comrade. Neither the one
took any notice of the other; Allitsen was no more genial to the dog
than he was to the Kurhaus guests; the dog was no more demonstrative
to Robert Allitsen than he was to any one in Petershof.
Still, they were "something" to each other, that unexplainable
"something" which has to explain almost every kind of attachment.
He had no friends in Petershof, and apparently had no friends anywhere.
No one wrote to him, except his old mother; the papers which were sent
to him came from a stationer's.
He read all during meal-time. But now and again he spoke a few words
with Bernardine Holme, whose place was next to him. It never occurred
to him to say good morning, nor to give a greeting of any kind, nor to
show a courtesy. One day during lunch, however, he did take the trouble
to stoop and pick up Bernardine Holme's shawl, which had fallen for the
third time to the ground.
"I never saw a female wear a shawl more carelessly than you," he said.
"You don't seem to know anything about it."
His manner was always gruff. Every one complained of him. Every one
always had complained of him. He had never been heard to laugh. Once
or twice he had been seen to smile on occasions when people talked
confidently of recovering their health. It was a beautiful smile worthy
of a better cause. It was a smile which made one pause to wonder what
could have been the original disposition of the Disagreeable Man before
ill-health had cut him off from the affairs of active life. Was he happy
or unhappy? It was not known. He gave no sign of either the one state or
the other. He always looked very ill, but he did not seem to get worse.
He had never been known to make the faintest allusion to his own health.
He never "smoked" his thermometer in public; and this was the more
remarkable in an hotel where people would even leave off a conversation
and say: "Excuse me, Sir or Madam, I must now take my temperature. We
will resume the topic in a few minutes."
He never lent any papers or books, and he never borrowed any.
He had a room at the top of the hotel, and he lived his life, amongst
his chemistry bottles, his scientific books, his microscope, and his
camera. He never sat in any of the hotel drawing-rooms. There was
nothing striking nor eccentric about his appearance. He was neither
ugly nor good-looking, neither tall nor short, neither fair nor dark.
He was thin and frail, and rather bent. But that might be the
description of any one in Petershof. There was nothing pathetic about
him, no suggestion even of poetry, which gives a reverence to suffering,
whether mental or physical. As there was no expression on his face,
so also there was no expression in his eyes: no distant longing, no
far-off fixedness; nothing, indeed, to awaken sad sympathy.
The only positive thing about him was his rudeness. Was it natural or
cultivated? No one in Petershof could say. He had always been as he was;
and there was no reason to suppose that he would ever be different.
He was, in fact, like the glacier of which he had such a fine view from
his room; like the glacier, an unchanging feature of the neighbourhood.
No one loved it better than the Disagreeable Man did; he watched the
sunlight on it, now pale golden, now fiery red. He loved the sky, the
dull grey, or the bright blue. He loved the snow forests, and the
snow-girt streams, and the ice cathedrals, and the great firs patient
beneath their snow-burden. He loved the frozen waterfalls, and the
costly diamonds in the snow. He knew, too, where the flowers nestled
in their white nursery. He was, indeed, an authority on Alpine botany.
The same tender hands which plucked the flowers in the spring-time,
dissected them and laid them bare beneath the microscope. But he did
not love them the less for that.
Were these pursuits a comfort to him? Did they help him to forget that
there was a time when he, too, was burning with ambition to distinguish
himself, and be one of the marked men of the age?
Who could say?
THE TRAVELLER AND THE TEMPLE OF KNOWLEDGE.
COUNTLESS ages ago a Traveller, much worn with journeying, climbed up
the last bit of rough road which led to the summit of a high mountain.
There was a temple on that mountain. And the Traveller had vowed that
he would reach it before death prevented him. He knew the journey was
long, and the road rough. He knew that the mountain was the most
difficult of ascent of that mountain chain, called "The Ideals." But
he had a strongly-hoping heart and a sure foot. He lost all sense of
time, but he never lost the feeling of hope.
"Even if I faint by the way-side," he said to himself, "and am not
able to reach the summit, still it is something to be on the road
which leads to the High Ideals."
That was how he comforted himself when he was weary. He never lost
more hope than that; and surely that was little enough.
And now he had reached the temple.
He rang the bell, and an old white-haired man opened the gate. He
smiled sadly when he saw the Traveller.
"_And yet another one_," he murmured. "What does it all mean?"
The Traveller did not hear what he murmured.
"Old white-haired man," he said, "tell me; and so I have come at last
to the wonderful Temple of Knowledge. I have been journeying hither all
my life. Ah, but it is hard work climbing up to the Ideals."
The old man touched the Traveller on the arm. "Listen," he said gently.
"This is not the Temple of Knowledge. And the Ideals are not a chain of
mountains; they are a stretch of plains, and the Temple of Knowledge is
in their centre. You have come the wrong road. Alas, poor Traveller!"
The light in the Traveller's eyes had faded. The hope in his heart died.
And he became old and withered. He leaned heavily on his staff.
"Can one rest here?" he asked wearily.
"Is there a way down the other side of these mountains?"
"What are these mountains called?"
"They have no name."
"And the temple--how do you call the temple?"
"It has no name!"
"Then I call it the Temple of Broken Hearts," said the Traveller.
And he turned and went. But the old white-haired man followed him.
"Brother," he said, "you are not the first to come here, but you may be
the last. Go back to the plains, and tell the dwellers in the plains
that the Temple of True Knowledge is in their very midst; any one may
enter it who chooses, the gate is not even closed. The Temple has
always been in the plains, in the very heart of life, and work, and
daily effort. The philosopher may enter, the stone-breaker may enter.
You must have passed it every day of your life; a plain, venerable
building, unlike your glorious cathedrals."
"I have seen the children playing near it," said the Traveller. "When
I was a, child I used to play there. Ah, if I had only known! Well,
the past is the past."
He would have rested against a huge stone, but that the old white-haired
man prevented him.
"Do not rest," he said. "If you once rest there, you will not rise again.
When you once rest, you will know how weary you are."
"I have no wish to go farther," said the Traveller. "My journey is done;
it may have been in the wrong direction, but still it is done."
"Nay, do not linger here," urged the old man. "Retrace your steps.
Though you are broken-hearted yourself, you may save others from
breaking their hearts. Those whom you meet on this road, you can turn
back. Those who are but starting in this direction you can bid pause
and consider how mad it is to suppose that the Temple of True Knowledge
should have been built on an isolated and dangerous mountain. Tell them
that although God seems hard, He is not as hard as all that. Tell them
that the Ideals are not a mountain range, but their own plains, where
their great cities are built, and where the corn grows, and where men
and women are toiling, sometimes in sorrow and sometimes in joy."
"I will go," said the Traveller.
And he started.
But he had grown old and weary. And the journey was long; and the
retracing of one's steps is more toilsome than the tracing of them.
The ascent, with all the vigour and hope of life to help him, had been
difficult enough; the descent, with no vigour and no hope to help him,
was almost impossible.
So that it was not probable that the Traveller lived to reach the plains.
But whether he reached them or not, still he had started And not many
Travellers do that.
THE crisp mountain air and the warm sunshine began slowly to have their
effect on Bernardine, in spite of the Disagreeable Man's verdict. She
still looked singularly lifeless, and appeared to drag herself about
with painful effort; but the place suited her, and she enjoyed sitting
in the sun listening to the music which was played by a scratchy string
band. Some of the Kurhaus guests, seeing that she was alone and ailing,
made some attempts to be kindly to her. She always seemed astonished
that people should concern themselves about her; whatever her faults
were, it never struck her that she might be of any importance to others,
however important she might be to herself. She was grateful for any
little kindness which was shewn her; but at first she kept very much to
herself, talking chiefly with the Disagreeable Man, who, by the way,
had surprised every one--but no one more than himself--by his unwonted
behaviour in bestowing even a fraction of his companionship on a
Petershof human being.
There was a great deal of curiosity about her, but no one ventured to
question her since Mrs. Reffold's defeat. Mrs. Reffold herself rather
avoided her, having always a vague suspicion that Bernardine tried to
make fun of her. But whether out of perversity or not, Bernardine never
would be avoided by her, never let her pass by without a: few words of
conversation, and always went to her for information, much to the
amusement of Mrs. Reffold's faithful attendants. There was always a
twinkle in Bernardine's eye when she spoke with Mrs. Reffold. She never
fastened herself on to any one; no one could say she intruded. As time
went, on there was a vague sort of feeling that she did not intrude
enough. She was ready to speak if any one cared to speak with her, but
she never began a conversation except with Mrs. Reffold. When people
did talk to her, they found her genial. Then the sad face would smile
kindly, and the sad eyes speak kind sympathy. Or some bit of fun would
flash forth, and a peal of young laughter ring out. It seemed strange
that such fun could come from her.
Those who noticed her, said she appeared always to be thinking.
She was thinking and learning.
Some few remarks roughly made by the Disagreeable Man had impressed her
"You have come to a new world," he said, "the world of suffering. You
are in a fury because your career has been checked, and because you have
been put on the shelf; you, of all people. Now you will learn how many
quite as able as yourself, and abler, have been put on the shelf too,
and have to stay there. You are only a pupil in suffering. What about
the professors? If your wonderful wisdom has left you with any sense at
all, look about you and learn."
So she was looking, and thinking, and learning. And as the days went by,
perhaps a softer light came into her eyes.
All her life long, her standard of judging people had been an
intellectual standard, or an artistic standard: what people had done
with outward and visible signs; how far they had contributed to thought;
how far they had influenced any great movement, or originated it; how
much of a benefit they had been to their century or their country; how
much social or political activity, how much educational energy they had
devoted to the pressing need of the times.
She was undoubtedly a clever, cultured young woman; the great work of
her life had been self-culture. To know and understand, she had spared
neither herself nor any one else. To know, and to use her acquired
knowledge intellectually as teacher and, perhaps, too, as writer, had
been the great aim of her life. Everything that furthered this aim won
her instant attention. It never struck her that she was selfish. One
does not think of that until the great check comes. One goes on, and
would go on. But a barrier rises up. Then, finding one can advance no
further, one turns round; and what does one see?
Bernardine saw that she had come a long journey. She saw what the
Traveller saw. That was all she saw at first. Then she remembered that
she had done the journey entirely for her own sake. Perhaps it might
not have looked so dreary if it had been undertaken for some one else.
She had claimed nothing of any one; she had given nothing to any one.
She had simply taken her life in her own hands and made what she could
of it. What had she made of it?
Many women asked for riches, for position, for influence and authority
and admiration. She had only asked to be able to work. It seemed little
enough to ask. That she asked so little placed her, so she thought,
apart from the common herd of eager askers. To be cut off from active
life and earnest work was a possibility which never occurred to her.
It never crossed her mind that in asking for the one thing for which
she longed, she was really asking for the greatest thing. Now, in the
hour of her enfeeblement, and in the hour of the bitterness of her
heart, she still prided herself upon wanting so little.
"It seems so little to ask," she cried to herself time after time.
"I only want to be able to do a few strokes of work. I would be content
now to do so little, if only I might do some. The laziest day-labourer
on the road would laugh at the small amount of work which would content
She told the Disagreeable Man that one day.
"So you think you are moderate in your demands," he said to her. "You
are a most amusing young woman. You are so perfectly unconscious how
exacting you really are. For, after all, what is it you want? You want
to have that wonderful brain of yours restored, so that you may begin
to teach, and, perhaps, write a book. Well, to repeat my former words:
you are still at phase one, and you are longing to be strong enough to
fulfil your ambitions and write a book. When you arrive at I phase four,
you will be quite content to dust one of your uncle's books instead:
far more useful work and far more worthy of encouragement. If every one
who wrote books now would be satisfied to dust books already written,
what a regenerated world it would become!"
She laughed good-temperedly. His remarks did not vex her; or, at least,
she showed no vexation. He seemed to have constituted himself as her
critic, and she made no objections. She had given him little bits of
stray confidence about herself, and she received everything he had to
say with that kind of forbearance which chivalry bids us show to the
weak and ailing. She made allowances for him; but she did more than that
for him: she did not let him see that she made allowances. Moreover,
she recognized amidst all his roughness a certain kind of sympathy which
she could not resent, because it was not aggressive. For to some natures
the expression of sympathy is an irritation; to be sympathized with
means to be pitied, and to be pitied means to be looked down upon. She
was sorry for him, but she would not have told him so for worlds; he
would have shrunk from pity as much as she did. And yet the sympathy
which she thought she did not want for herself, she was silently giving
to those around her, like herself, thwarted, each in a different way
perhaps, still thwarted all the same.
She found more than once that she was learning to measure people by a
standard different from her former one; not by what they had _done_ or
_been_, but by what they had _suffered_. But such a change as this does
not come suddenly, though, in a place like Petershof, it comes quickly,
She became immensely interested in some of the guests; and there were
curious types in the Kurhaus. The foreigners attracted her chiefly; a
little Parisian danseuse, none too quiet in her manner, won Bernardine's
"I so want to get better, _cherie_," she said to Bernardine. "Life is so
bright. Death: ah, how the very thought makes one shiver! That horrid
doctor says I must not skate; it is not wise. When was I wise? Wise
people don't enjoy themselves. And I have enjoyed myself, and will
"How can you go about with that little danseuse?" the Disagreeable Man
said to Bernardine one day. "Do you know who she is?"
"Yes," said Bernardine; "she is the lady who thinks you must be a very
ill-bred person because you stalk into meals, with your hands in your
pockets. She wondered how I could bring myself to speak to you."
"I dare say many people wonder at that," said Robert Allitsen rather
"Oh no," replied Bernardine; "they wonder that you talk to me. They
think I must either be very clever or else very disagreeable."
"I should not call you clever," said Robert Allitsen grimly.
"No," answered Bernardine pensively. "But I always did think myself
clever until I came here. Now I am beginning to know better. But it
is rather a shock, isn't it?"
"I have never experienced the shock," he said.
"Then you still think you are clever?" she asked.
"There is only one man my intellectual equal in Petershof, and he is
not here any more," he said gravely. "Now I come to remember, he died.
That is the worst of making friendships here; people die."
"Still, it is something to be left king of the intellectual world,"
said Bernardine. "I never thought of you in that light."
There was a sly smile about, her lips as she spoke, and there was the
ghost of a smile on the Disagreeable Man's face.
"Why do you talk with that horrid Swede?" he said suddenly. "He is a
wretched low foreigner. Have you heard some of his views?"
"Some of them," answered Bernardine cheerfully. "One of his views is
really amusing: that it is very rude of you to read the newspaper during
meal-time; and he asks if it is an English custom. I tell him it depends
entirely on the Englishman, and the Englishman's neighbour!"
So she too had her raps at him, but always in the kindest way.
He had a curious effect on her. His very bitterness seemed to check in
its growth her own bitterness. The cup of poison of which he himself had
drunk deep, he passed on to her. She drank of it, and it did not poison
her. She was morbid, and she needed cheerful companionship. His dismal
companionship and his hard way of looking at life ought by rights to
have oppressed her. Instead of which she became less sorrowful.
Was the Disagreeable Man, perhaps, a reader of character? Did he know
how to help her in his own grim gruff way? He himself had suffered so
much; perhaps he did know.
THE STORY MOVES ON AT LAST.
BERNARDINE was playing chess one day with the Swedish Professor. On the
Kurhaus terrace the guests were sunning themselves, warmly wrapped up to
protect themselves from the cold, and well-provided with parasols to
protect themselves from the glare. Some were reading, some were playing
cards or Russian dominoes, and others were doing nothing. There was a
good deal of fun, and a great deal of screaming amongst the Portuguese
colony. The little danseuse and three gentlemen acquaintances were
drinking coffee, and not behaving too quietly. Pretty Fraulein Muller was
leaning over her balcony carrying on a conversation with a picturesque
Spanish youth below. Most of the English party had gone sledging and
tobogganing. Mrs. Reffold had asked Bernardine to join them, but she had
refused. Mrs. Reffold's friends were anything but attractive to
Bernardine, although she liked Mrs. Reffold herself immensely. There was
no special reason why she should like her; she certainly had no cause to
admire her every-day behaviour, nor her neglect of her invalid husband,
who was passing away, uncared for in the present, and not likely to be
mourned for in the future. Mrs. Reffold was gay, careless, and beautiful.
She understood nothing about nursing, and cared less. So a trained nurse
looked after Mr. Reffold, and Mrs. Reffold went sledging.
"Dear Wilfrid is so unselfish," she said. "He will not have me stay at
home. But I feel very selfish." That was her stock remark. Most people
answered her by saying: "Oh no, Mrs. Reffold, don't say that." But when
she made the remark to Bernardine, and expected the usual reply,
Bernardine said instead: "Mr. Reffold seems lonely."
"Oh, he has a trained nurse, and she can read to him," said Mrs. Reffold
hurriedly. She seemed ruffled.
"I had a trained nurse once," replied Bernardine; "and she could read;
but she would not. She said it hurt her throat."
"Dear me, how very unfortunate for you," said Mrs. Reffold. "Ah, there
is Captain Graham calling. I must not keep the sledges waiting."
That was a few days ago, but to-day, when Bernardine was playing chess
with the Swedish Professor, Mrs. Reffold came to her. There was a
curious mixture of shyness and abandon in Mrs. Reffold's manner.
"Miss Holme," she said, "I have thought of such a splendid idea. Will
you go and see Mr. Reffold this afternoon? That would be a nice little
change for him."
"If you wish it," she answered.
Mrs. Reffold nodded and hastened away, and Bernardine continued her
game, and, having finished it, rose to go.
The Reffolds were rich, and lived in a suite of apartments in the more
luxurious part of the Kurhaus.
Bernardine knocked at the door, and the nurse came to open it.
"Mrs. Reffold asks me to visit Mr. Reffold," Bernardine said; and the
nurse showed her into the pleasant sitting-room.
Mr. Reffold was lying on the sofa. He looked up as Bernardine came in,
and a smile of pleasure spread over his wan face.
"I don't know whether I intrude," said Bernardine; "but Mrs. Reffold
said I might come to see you."
Mr. Reffold signed to the nurse to withdraw.
She had never before spoken to him. She had often seen him lying by
himself in the sunshine.
"Are you paid for coming to me he?" asked eagerly.
The words seemed rude enough, but there was no rudeness in the manner.
"No, I am not paid," she said gently; and then she took a chair and sat
"Ah, that's well!" he said, with a sigh of relief "I'm so tired of paid
service. To know that things are done for me because a certain amount of
francs are given so that those things may be done--well, one gets weary
of it; that's all!"
There was bitterness in every word he spoke. "I lie here," he said,
"and the loneliness of it--the loneliness of it!"
"Shall I read to you?" she asked kindly. She did not know what to say
"I want to talk first," he replied. "I want to talk first to some one
who is not paid for talking to me. I have often watched you, and
wondered who you were. Why do you look so sad? No one is waiting for
you to die?"
"Don't talk like that!" she said; and she bent over him and arranged
the cushions for him more comfortably. He looked just like a great lank
"Are you one of my wife's friends?" he asked.
"I don't suppose I am," she answered gently; "but I like her, all the
same. Indeed, I like her very much. And I think her beautiful!"
"Ah, she is beautiful!" he said eagerly. "Doesn't she look splendid in
her furs? By Jove, you are right! She is a beautiful woman. I am proud
Then the smile faded from his face.
"Beautiful," he said half to himself, "but hard."
"Come now," said Bernardine; "you are surrounded with books and
newspapers. What shall I read to you?"
"No one reads what I want," he answered peevishly. "My tastes are not
their tastes. I don't suppose you would care to read what I want to
"Well," she said cheerily, "try me. Make your choice."
"Very well, the _Sporting and Dramatic_," he said. "Read every word of
that. And about that theatrical divorce case. And every word of that
too. Don't you skip, and cheat me."
She laughed and settled herself down to amuse him. And he listened
"That is something like literature," he said once or twice. "I can
understand papers of that sort going like wild-fire."
When he was tired of being read to, she talked to him in a manner that
would have astonished the Disagreeable Man: not of books, nor learning,
but of people she had met and of Places she had seen; and there was fun
in everything she said. She knew London well, and she could tell him
about the Jewish and the Chinese quarters, and about her adventures in
company with a man who took her here, there, and everywhere.
She made him some tea, and she cheered the poor fellow as he had not
been cheered for months.
"You're just a little brick," he said, when she was leaving. Then once
more he added eagerly:
"And you're not to be paid, are you?"
"Not a single _sou_!" she laughed. "What a strange idea of yours!"
"You are not offended?" he said anxiously. "But you can't think what a
difference it makes to me. You are not offended?"
"Not in the least!" she answered. "I know quite well how you mean it.
You want a little kindness with nothing at the back of it. Now,
He called her when she was outside the door.
"I say, will you come again soon?"
"Yes, I will come to-morrow."
"Do you know you've been a little brick. I hope I haven't tired you.
You are only a bit of a thing yourself. But, by Jove, you know how to
put a fellow in a good temper!"
When Mrs. Reffold went down to _table-d'hote_ that night, she met
Bernardine on the stairs, and stopped to speak with her.
"We've had a splendid afternoon," she said; "and we've arranged to go
again to-morrow at the same time. Such a pity you don't come! Oh, by
the way, thank you for going to see my husband. I hope he did not tire
you. He is a little querulous, I think. He so enjoyed your visit. Poor
fellow! it is sad to see him so ill, isn't it?"
AFTER this, scarcely a day passed but Bernardine went to see Mr. Reffold.
The most inexperienced eye could have known that he was becoming rapidly
worse. Marie, the chambermaid, knew it, and spoke of it frequently to
"The poor lonely fellow!" she said, time after time.
Every one, except Mrs. Reffold, seemed to recognize that Mr. Reffold's
days were numbered. Either she did not or would not understand. She made
no alteration in the disposal of her time: sledging parties and skating
picnics were the order of the day; she was thoroughly pleased with
herself, and received the attentions of her admirers as a matter of
course. The Petershof climate had got into her head; and it is a
well-known fact that this glorious air has the effect on some people of
banishing from their minds all inconvenient notions of duty and devotion,
and all memory of the special object of their sojourn in Petershof. The
coolness and calmness with which such people ignore their
responsibilities, or allow strangers to assume them, would be an
occasion for humour, if it were not an opportunity for indignation:
though indeed it would take a very exceptionally sober-minded spectator
not to get some fun out of the blissful self-satisfaction and
unconsciousness which characterize the most negligent of 'caretakers.'
Mrs. Reffold was not the only sinner in this respect. It would have been
interesting to get together a tea-party of invalids alone, and set the
ball rolling about the respective behaviours of their respective friends.
Not a pleasing chronicle: no very choice pages to add to the book of real
life; still, valuable items in their way, representative of the actual as
opposed to the ideal. In most instances there would have been ample
testimony to that cruel monster, known as Neglect.
Bernardine spoke once to the Disagreeable Man on this subject. She spoke
with indignation, and he answered with indifference, shrugging his
"These things occur," he said "It is not that they are worse here than
everywhere else; it is simply that they are together in an accumulated
mass, and, as such, strike us with tremendous force. I myself am
accustomed to these exhibitions of selfishness and neglect. I should be
astonished if they did not take place. Don't mix yourself up with
anything. If people are neglected, they _are_ neglected, and there is
the end of it. To imagine that you or I are going to do any good by
filling up the breach, is simply an insanity leading to unnecessarily
disagreeable consequences. I know you go to see Mr. Reffold. Take my
advice, and keep away."
"You speak like a Calvinist," she answered, rather ruffled, "with the
quintessence of self-protectiveness; and I don't believe you mean a
word you say."
"My dear young woman," he said, "we are not living in a poetry book
bound with gilt edges. We are living in a paper-backed volume of prose.
Be sensible. Don't ruffle yourself on account of other people. Don't
even trouble to criticize them; it is only a nuisance to yourself. All
this simply points back to my first suggestion: fill up your time with
some hobby, cheese-mites or the influenza bacillus, and then you will
be quite content to let people be neglected, lonely, and to die. You
will look upon it as an ordinary and natural process."
She waved her hand as though to stop him.
"There are days," she said, "when I can't bear to talk with you. And
this is one of them."
"I am sorry," he answered, quite gently for him. And he moved away from
her, and started for his usual lonely walk.
Bernardine turned home, intending to go to see Mr. Reffold. He had become
quite attached to her, and looked forward eagerly to her visits. He said
her voice was gentle and her manner quiet; there was no bustling vitality
about het to irritate his worn nerves. He was probably an empty-headed,
stupid fellow; but it was none the less sad to see him passing away.
He called her 'Little Brick.' He said that no other epithet suited her
so exactly. He was quite satisfied now that she was not paid for coming
to see him. As for the reading, no one could read the _Sporting and
Dramatic News_ and the _Era_ so well as Little Brick. Sometimes he
spoke with her about his wife, but only in general terms of bitterness,
and not always complainingly. She listened and said nothing.
"I'm a chap that wants very little," he said once. "Those who want
little, get nothing."
That was all he said, but Bernardine knew to whom he referred.
To-day, as Bernardine was on her way back to the Kurhaus, she was
thinking constantly of Mrs. Reffold, and wondering whether she ought to
be made to realize that her husband was becoming rapidly worse. Whilst
engrossed with this thought, a long train of sledges and toboggans
passed her. The sound of the bells and the noisy merriment made her look
up, and she saw beautiful Mrs. Reffold amongst the pleasure-seekers.
"If only I dared tell her now," said Bernardine to herself, "loudly and
before them all!"
Then a more sensible mood came over her. "After all, it is not my
affair," she said.
And the sledges passed away out of hearing.
When Bernardine sat with Mr. Reffold that afternoon she did not mention
that she had seen his wife. He coughed a great deal, and seemed to be
worse than usual, and complained of fever. But he liked to have her,
and would not hear of her going.
"Stay," he said. "It is not much of a pleasure to you, but it is a great
pleasure to me."
There was an anxious look on his face, such a look as people wear when
they wish to ask some question of great moment, but dare not begin.
At last he seemed to summon up courage.
"Little Brick," he said, in a weak low voice, "I have something on my
mind. You won't laugh, I know. You're not the sort. I know you're clever
and thoughtful, and all that; you could tell me more than all the
parsons put together. I know you're clever; my wife says so. She says
only a very clever woman would wear such boots and hats!"
"Well," she said kindly, "tell me."
"You must have thought a good deal, I suppose," he continued, "about
life and death, and that sort of thing. I've never thought at all. Does
it matter, Little Brick? It's too late now. I can't begin to think. But
speak to me; tell me what you think. Do you believe we get another
chance, and are glad to behave less like curs and brutes? Or is it all
ended in that lonely little churchyard here? I've never troubled about
these things before, but now I know I am so near that gloomy little
churchyard--well, it makes me wonder. As for the Bible, I never cared
to read it, I was never much of a reader, though I've got through two
or three firework novels and sporting stories. Does it matter, Little
"How do I know?" she said gently. "How does any one know? People say
they know; but it is all a great mystery--nothing but a mystery.
Everything that we say, can be but a guess. People have gone mad over
their guessing, or they have broken their hearts. But still the mystery
remains, and we cannot solve it."
"If you don't know anything, Little Brick," he said, "at least tell me
what you think: and don't be too learned; remember I'm only a brainless
He seemed to be waiting eagerly for her answer.
"If I were you," she said, "I should not worry. Just make up your mind
to do better when you get another chance. One can't do more than that.
That is what I shall think of: that God will give each one of us another
chance, and that each one of us will take it and do better--I and you
and every one. So there is no need to fret over failure, when one hopes
one may be allowed to redeem that failure later on. Besides which, life
is very hard. Why, we ourselves recognize that. If there be a God, some
Intelligence greater than human intelligence, he will understand better
than ourselves that life is very hard and difficult, and he will be
astonished not _because we are not better, but because we are not
worse_. At least, that would be my notion of a God. I should not worry,
if I were you. Just make up your mind to do better if you get the
chance, and be content with that."
"If that is what you think, Little Brick," he answered, "it is quite
good enough for me. And it does not matter about prayers and the Bible,
and all that sort of thing?"
"I don't think it matters," she said. "I never have thought such things
mattered. What does matter, is to judge gently, and not to come down
like a sledge-hammer on other people's failings. Who are we, any of us,
that we should be hard on others?"
"And not come down like a sledge-hammer on other people's failings," he
repeated slowly. "I wonder if I have ever judged gently."
"I believe you have," she answered.
He shook his head.
"No," he said; "I have been a paltry fellow. I have been lying here,
and elsewhere too, eating my heart away with bitterness, until you came.
Since then I have sometimes forgotten to feel bitter. A little kindness
does away with a great deal of bitterness."
He turned wearily on his side.
"I think I could sleep, Little Brick," he said, almost in a whisper.
"I want to dream about your sermon. And I'm not to worry, am I?"
"No," she answered, as she stepped noiselessly across the room; "you
are not to worry."
THE DISAGREEABLE MAN IS SEEN IN A NEW LIGHT.
ONE specially fine morning a knock came at Bernardine's door. She
opened it, and found Robert Allitsen standing there, trying to recover
"I am going to Loschwitz, a village about twelve miles off," he said.
"And I have ordered a sledge. Do you care to come too?"
"If I may pay my share," she said.
"Of course," he answered; "I did not suppose you would like to be paid
for any better than I should like to pay for you."
"When do we start?" she asked.
"Now," he answered. "Bring a rug, and also that shawl of yours which is
always falling down, and come at once without any fuss. We shall be out
for the whole day. What about Mrs. Grundy? We could manage to take her
if you wished, but she would not be comfortable sitting amongst the
photographic apparatus, and I certainly should not give up my seat to
"Then leave her at home," said Bernardine cheerily.
And so they settled it.
In less than a quarter of an hour they had started; and Bernardine
leaned luxuriously back to enjoy to the full her first sledge-drive.
It was all new to her: the swift passing through the crisp air without
any sensation of motion; the sleepy tinkling of the bells on the horses'
heads; the noiseless cutting through of the snow-path.
All these weeks she had known nothing of the country, and now she found
herself in the snow fairy-land of which the Disagreeable Man had often
spoken to her. Around, vast plains of untouched snow, whiter than any
dream of whiteness, jewelled by the sunshine with priceless diamonds,
numberless as the sands of the sea. The great pines bearing their burden
of snow patiently; others, less patient, having shaken themselves free
from what the heavens had sent them to bear. And now the streams,
flowing on reluctantly over ice-coated rocks, and the ice cathedrals
formed by the icicles between the rocks.
And always the same silence, save for the tinkling of the horses' bells.
On the heights the quaint chalets, some merely huts for storing wood; on
others, farms, or the homes of peasants; some dark brown, almost black,
betraying their age; others of a paler hue, showing that the sun had not
yet mellowed them into a deep rich colour. And on all alike, the fringe
of icicles. A wonderful white world.
It was a long time before Bernardine even wished to speak. This
beautiful whiteness may become monotonous after a time, but there is
something very awe-inspiring about it, something which catches the soul
and holds it.
The Disagreeable Man sat quietly by her side. Once or twice he bent
forward to protect the camera when the sledge gave a lurch.
After some time they met a procession of sledges laden with timber;
and August, the driver, and Robert Allitsen exchanged some fun and
merriment with the drivers in their quaint blue smocks. The noise of
the conversation, and the excitement of getting past the sledges,
brought Bernardine back to speech again.
"I have never before enjoyed anything so much," she said.
"So you have found your tongue," he said. "Do you mind talking a little
now? I feel rather lonely."
This was said in such a pathetic, aggrieved tone, that Bernardine
laughed and looked at her companion. His face wore an unusually bright
expression. He was evidently out to enjoy himself.
"_You_ talk," she said; "and tell me all about the country."
And he told her what he knew, and, amongst other things, about the
avalanches. He was able to point out where some had fallen the previous
year. He stopped in the middle of his conversation to tell her to put up
"I can't trouble to hold it for you," he said; "but I don't mind opening
it. The sun is blazing to-day, and you will get your eyes bad if you are
not careful. That would be a pity, for you seem to me rather better
"What a confession for you to make of any one!" said she.
"Oh, I don't mean to say that you will ever get well," he added grimly.
"You seem to have pulled yourself in too many directions for that. You
have tried to be too alive; and, now you are obliged to join the genus
"I am certainly less ill than I was when I first came," she said; "and I
feel in a better frame of mind altogether. I am learning a good deal in
"That is more than I have done," he answered.
"Well, perhaps you teach instead," she said. "You have taught me several
things. Now, go on telling me about the country people. You like them?"
"I love them," he said simply. "I know them well, and they know me. You
see I have been in this district so long now, and have walked about so
much, that the very wood cutters know me; and the drivers give me lifts
on their piles of timber."
"You are not surly with the poor people, then?" said Bernardine; "though
I must say I cannot imagine you being genial. Were you ever genial, I
"I don't think that has ever been laid to my charge," he answered.
The time passed away pleasantly. The Disagreeable Man was scarcely
himself to-day; or was it that he was more like himself? He seemed in a
boyish mood; he made fun out of nothing, and laughed with such young
fresh laughter, that even August, the grave blue-spectacled driver, was
moved to mirth. As for Bernardine, she had to look at Robert Allitsen
several times to be sure that he was the same Robert Allitsen she had
known two hours ago in Petershof. But she made no remark, and showed no
surprise, but met his merriness half way. No one could be a cheerier
companion than herself when she chose.
At last they arrived at Loschwitz. The sledge wound its way through the
sloshy streets of the queer little village, and finally drew up in front
of the Gasthaus. It was a black sunburnt chalet, with green shutters,
and steps leading up to a green balcony. A fringe of sausages hung from
the roof; red bedding was scorching in the sunshine; three cats were
sunning themselves on the steps; a young woman sat in the green balcony
knitting. There were some curious inscriptions on the walls of the
chalet, and the date was distinctly marked, "1670."
An old woman over the way sat in her doorway spinning. She looked up as
the sledge stopped before the Gasthaus; but the young woman in the green
balcony went on knitting, and saw nothing.
A buxom elderly Hausfrau, came out to greet the guests. She wore a
naturally kind expression on her old face, but when she saw who the
gentleman was, the kindness positive increased to kindness superlative.
She first retired and called out:
"Liza, Fritz, Liza, Truedchen, come quickly!"
Then she came back, and cried:
"Herr Allitsen, what a surprise!"
She shook his hand times without number, greeted Bernardine with
motherly tenderness, and interspersed all her remarks with frantic
cries of "Liza, Fritz, Truedchen, make haste!"
She became very hot and excited, and gesticulated violently.
All this time the young woman sat knitting, but not looking up. She
had been beautiful, but her face was worn now, and her eyes had that
vacant stare which betokened the vacant mind.
The mother whispered to Robert Allitsen:
"She notices no one now; she sits there always waiting."
Tears came into the kind old eyes.
Robert Allitsen went and bent down to the young woman, and held out
"Catharina," he said gently.
She looked up then, and saw him, and recognized him.
Then the sad face smiled a welcome.
He sat near her, and took her knitting in his hand, pretending to
examine what she had done, chatting to her quietly all the time. He
asked her what she had been doing with herself since he had last seen
her, and she said:
"Waiting. I am always waiting."
He knew that she referred to her lover, who had been lost in an
avalanche the eve before their wedding morning. That was four years ago,
but Catharina was still waiting. Allitsen remembered her as a bright
young girl, singing in the Gasthaus, waiting cheerfully on the guests:
a bright gracious presence. No one could cook trout as she could; many a
dish of trout had she served up for him. And now she sat in the sunshine,
knitting and waiting, scarcely ever looking up. That was her life.
"Catharina," he said, as he gave her back her knitting, "do you remember
how you used to cook me the trout?"
Another smile passed over her face. Yes, she remembered.
"Will you cook me some to-day?"
She shook her head, and returned to her knitting.
Bernardine watched the Disagreeable Man with amazement. She could not
have believed that his manner could be so tender and kindly. The old
mother standing near her whispered:
"He was always so good to us all; we love him, every one of us. When
poor Catharina was betrothed five years ago, it was to Herr Allitsen we
first told the good news. He has a wonderful way about him--just look at
him with Catharina now. She has not noticed any one for months, but she
knows him, you see."
At that moment the other members of the household came: Liza, Fritz, and
Truedchen; Liza, a maiden of nineteen, of the homely Swiss type; Fritz, a
handsome lad of fourteen; and Truedchen, just free from school, with her
school-satchel swung on her back. There was no shyness in their greeting;
the Disagreeable Man was evidently an old and much-loved friend, and
inspired confidence, not awe. Truedchen fumbled in his coat pocket, and
found what she expected to find there, some sweets, which she immediately
began to eat, perfectly contented and self-satisfied. She smiled and
nodded at Robert Allitsen, as though to reassure him that the sweets
were not bad, and that she was enjoying them.
"Liza will see to lunch," said the old mother. "You shall have some
mutton cutlets and some _forellen_. But before she goes, she has
something to tell you."
"I am betrothed to Hans," Liza said, blushing.
"I always knew you were fond of Hans," said the Disagreeable Man.
"He is a good fellow, Liza, and I'm glad you love him. But haven't you
just teased him!"
"That was good for him," Liza said brightly.
"Is he here to-day?" Robert Allitsen asked.
"Then I shall take your photographs," he said.
While they had been speaking, Catharina rose from her seat, and passed
into the house.
Her mother followed her, and watched her go into the kitchen.
"I should like to cook the _forellen_," she said very quietly.
It was months since she had done anything in the house. The old mother's
heart beat with pleasure.
"Catharina, my best loved child!" she whispered; and she gathered the
poor suffering soul near to her.
In about half an hour the Disagreeable Man and Bernardine sat down to
their meal. Robert Allitsen had ordered a bottle of Sassella, and he was
just pouring it out when Catharina brought in the _forellen_.
"Why, Catharina," he said, "you don't mean you've cooked them? Then they
will be good!" She smiled, and seemed pleased, and then went out of the
Then he told Bernardine her history, and spoke with such kindness and
sympathy that Bernardine was again amazed at him. But she made no remark.
"Catharina was always sorry that I was ill," he said. "When I stayed
here, as I have done, for weeks together, she used to take every care
of me. And it was a kindly sympathy which I could not resent. In those
days I was suffering more than I have done for a long time now, and she
was very pitiful. She could not bear to hear me cough. I used to tell
her that she must learn not to feel. But you see she did not learn her
lesson, for when this trouble came on her, she felt too much. And you
see what she is."
They had a cheery meal together, and then Bernardine talked with the
old mother, whilst the Disagreeable Man busied himself with his camera.
Liza was for putting on her best dress, and doing her hair in some
wonderful way. But he would not hear of such a thing. But seeing that
she looked disappointed, he gave in, and said she should be photographed
just as she wished; and off she ran to change her attire. She went up to
her room a picturesque, homely working girl, and she came down a tidy,
awkward-looking young woman, with all her finery on, and all her charm
The Disagreeable Man grunted, but said nothing.
Then Hans arrived, and then came the posing, which caused much
amusement. They both stood perfectly straight, just as a soldier stands
before presenting arms. Both faces were perfectly expressionless. The
Disagreeable Man was in despair.
"Look happy!" he entreated.
They tried to smile, but the anxiety to do so produced an expression of
melancholy which was too much for the gravity of the photographer. He
"Look as though you weren't going to be photographed," he suggested.
"Liza, for goodness' sake look as though you were baking the bread;
and Hans, try and believe that you are doing some of your beautiful
The patience of the photographer was something wonderful. At last he
succeeded in making them appear at their ease. And then he told Liza
that she must go and change her dress, and be photographed now in the
way he wished. She came down again, looking fifty times prettier in her
Now he was in his element. He arranged Liza and Hans on the sledge of
timber, which had then driven up, and made a picturesque group of them
all: Hans and Liza sitting side by side on the timber, the horses
standing there so patiently after their long journey through the forests,
the driver leaning against his sledge smoking his long china pipe.
"That will be something like a picture," he said to Bernardine, when the
performance was over. "Now I am going for about a mile's walk. Will you
come with me and see what I am going to photograph, or will you rest
here till I come back?"
She chose the latter, and during his absence was shown the treasures
and possessions of a Swiss peasant's home.
She was taken to see the cows in the stalls, and had a lecture given her
on the respective merits of Schneewitchen, a white cow, Kartoffelkuehen,
a dark brown one, and Roeslein, the beauty of them all. Then she looked
at the spinning-wheel, and watched the old Hausfrau turn the treadle.
And so the time passed, Bernardine making, good friends of them all.
Catharina had returned to her knitting, and began working, and, as
before, not noticing any one. But Bernardine sat by her side, playing
with the cat, and after a time Catharina looked up at Bernardine's
little thin face, and, after some hesitation, stroked it gently with
"Fraeulein is not strong," she said tenderly. "If Fraeulein lived here,
I should take care of her."
That was a remnant of Catharina's past. She had always loved everything
that was ailing and weakly.
Her hand rested on Bernardine's hand. Bernardine pressed it in kindly
sympathy, thinking the while of the girl's past happiness and resent
"Liza is betrothed," she said, as though to herself. "They don't tell
me; but I know. I was betrothed once."
She went on knitting. And that was all she said of herself.
Then after a pause she said:
"Fraeulein is betrothed?"
Bernardine smiled, and shook her head, and Catharina made no further
inquiries. But she looked up from her work from time to time, and seemed
pleased that Bernardine still stayed with her. At last the old mother
came to say that the coffee was ready, and Bernardine followed her into
She watched Bernardine drinking the coffee, and finally poured herself
out a cup too.
"This is the first time Herr Allitsen has ever brought a friend," she
said. "He has always been alone. Fraeulein is betrothed to Herr Allitsen--
is that so? Ah, I am glad. He is so good and, so kind."
Bernardine stopped drinking her coffee.
"No, I am not betrothed," she said cheerily. "We are just friends; and
not always that either. We quarrel."
"All lovers do that," persisted Frau Steinhart triumphantly.
"Well, you ask him yourself," said Bernardine, much amused. She had
never looked upon Robert Allitsen in that light before. "See, there
Bernardine was not present at the court martial, but this was what
occurred. Whilst the Disagreeable Man was paying the reckoning, Frau
Steinhart said in her most motherly tones:
"Fraeulein is a very dear young lady: Herr Allitsen has made a wise
choice. He is betrothed at last!"
The Disagreeable Man stopped counting out the money.
"Stupid old Frau Steinhart!" he said good-naturedly. "People like myself
don't get betrothed. We get buried instead!"
"Na, na!" she answered. "What a thing to say--and so unlike you too!
No, but tell me!"
"Well, I am telling you the truth," he replied. "If you won't believe
me, ask Fraeulein herself."
"I have asked her," said Frau Steinhart, "and she told me to ask you."
The Disagreeable Man was much amused. He had never thought of Bernardine
in that way.
He paid the bill, and then did something which rather astonished Frau
Steinhart, and half convinced her.
He took the bill to Bernardine, told her the amount of her share, and
she repaid him then and there.
There was a twinkle in her eye as she looked up at him. Then the
composure of her features relaxed, and she laughed.
He laughed too, but no comment was made upon the episode. Then began
the goodbyes, and the preparations for the return journey.
Bernardine bent over Catharina, and kissed her sad face.
"Fraeulein will come again?" she whispered eagerly.
And Bernardine promised. There was something in Bernardine's manner
which had won the poor girl's fancy: some unspoken sympathy, some quiet
Just as they were starting, Frau Steinhart whispered to Robert Allitsen:
"It is a little disappointing to me, Herr Allitsen. I did so hope you
August, the blue-spectacled driver, cracked his whip, and of the horses
For some time there was no conversation between the two occupants of the
sledge. Bernardine, was busy thinking about the experiences of the day,
and the Disagreeable Man seemed in a brown study. At last he broke the
silence by asking her how she liked his friends, and what she thought
of Swiss home life; and so the time passed pleasantly.
He looked at her once, and said she seemed cold.
"You are not warmly clothed," he said. "I have an extra coat. Put it on;
don't make a fuss but do so at once. I know the climate and you don't."
She obeyed, and said she was all the cosier for it. As they were nearing
Petershof, he said half-nervously:
"So my friends took you for my betrothed. I hope you are not offended."
"Why should I be?" she said frankly. "I was only amused, because there
never were two people less lover-like than you and I are."
"No, that's quite true," he replied, in a tone of voice which betokened
"So that I really don't see that we need concern ourselves further in
the matter," she added wishing to put him quite at his ease. "I'm not
offended, and you are not offended, and there's an end of it."
"You seem to me to be a very sensible young woman in some respects," the
Disagreeable Man remarked after a pause. He was now quite cheerful again,
and felt he could really praise his companion. "Although you have read
so much, you seem to me sometimes to take a sensible view of things.
Now, I don't want to be betrothed to you, any more than I suppose you
want to be betrothed to me. And yet we can talk quietly about the matter
without a scene. That would be impossible with most women."
Bernardine laughed. "Well, I only know," she said cheerily, "that I have
enjoyed my day very much, and I'm much obliged to you for your
companionship. The fresh air, and the change of surroundings, will have
done me good."
His reply was characteristic of him.
"It is the least disagreeable day I have spent for many months," he said
"Let me settle with you for the sledge now," she said, drawing out her
purse, just as they came in sight of the Kurhaus.
They settled money matters, and were quits.
Then he helped her out of the sledge, and he stooped to pick up the
shawl she dropped.
"Here is the shawl you are always dropping," he said. "You're rather
cold, aren't you? Here, come to the restaurant and have some brandy.
Don't make a fuss. I know what's the right thing for you!"
She followed him to the restaurant, touched by his rough kindness. He
himself took nothing, but he paid for her brandy.
That evening after _table-d'hote_, or rather after he had finished his
dinner, he rose to go to his room as usual. He generally went off
without a remark. But to-night he said:
"Good-night, and thank you for your companionship. It has been my
birthday to-day, and I've quite enjoyed it."
"IF ONE HAS MADE THE ONE GREAT SACRIFICE."
THERE was a suicide in the Kurhaus one afternoon. A Dutchman, Vandervelt,
had received rather a bad account of himself from the doctor a few days
previously, and in a fit of depression, so it was thought, he had put a
bullet through his head. It had occurred through Marie's unconscious
agency. She found him lying on his sofa when she went as usual to take
him his afternoon glass of milk. He asked her to give him a packet which
was on the top shelf of his cupboard.
"Willingly," she said, and she jumped nimbly on the chair, and gave him
"Anything more?" she asked kindly, as she watched him draw himself up
from the sofa. She thought at the time that he looked wild and strange;
but then, as she pathetically said afterwards, who did not look wild
and strange in the Kurhaus?
"Yes," he said. "Here are five francs for you."
She thought that rather unusual too; but five francs, especially coming
unexpectedly like that, were not to be despised, and Marie determined to
send them off to that Mutterli at home in the nut-brown chalet at Gruesch.
So she thanked Mynheer van Vandervelt, and went off to her pantry to
drink some cold tea which the English people had left, and to clean the
lamps. Having done that, and knowing that the matron was busily engaged
carrying on a flirtation with a young Frenchman, Marie took out her
writing materials, and began a letter to her old mother. These peasants
know how to love each other, and some of them know how to tell each
other too. Marie knew. And she told her mother of the gifts she was
bringing home, the little nothings given her by the guests.
She was very happy writing this letter: the little nut-brown home rose
"Ach!" she said, "how I long to be home!"
And then she put down her pen, and sighed.
"Ach!" she said, "and when I'm there, I shall long to be here. _Da wo
ich nicht bin, da ist das Gluck_."
Marie was something of a philosopher.
Suddenly she heard the report of a pistol, followed by a second report.
She dashed out of her little pantry, and ran in the direction of the
sound. She saw Waerli in the passage. He was looking scared, and his
letters had fallen to the ground. He pointed to No. 54.
It was the Dutchman's room.
Help arrived. The door was forced open, and Vandervelt was found dead.
The case from which he had taken the pistol was lying on the sofa. When
Marie saw that, she knew that she had been an unconscious accomplice.
Her tender heart overflowed with grief.
Whilst others were lifting him up, she leaned her head against the wall,
"It was my fault, it was my fault!" she cried. "I gave him the case.
But how was I to know?"
They took her away, and tried to comfort her, but it was all in vain.
"And he gave me five francs," she sobbed. "I shudder to think of them."
It was all in vain that Waerli gave her a letter for which she had been
longing for many days.
"It is from your _Mutterli_," he said, as he put it into her hands. "I
give it willingly. I don't like the look of one or two of the letters
I have to give you, Mariechen. That Hans writes to you. Confound him!"
But nothing could cheer her. Waerli went away shaking his curly head
sadly, shocked at the death of the Dutchman, and shocked at Marie's
sorrow. And the cheery little postman did not do much whistling that
Bernardine heard of Marie's trouble, and rang for her to come. Marie
answered the bell, looking the picture of misery. Her kind face was
tear-stained, and her only voice was a sob.
Bernardine drew the girl to her.
"Poor old Marie," she whispered. "Come and cry your kind heart out, and
then you will feel better. Sit by me here, and don't try to speak. And
I will make you some tea in true English fashion, and you must take it
hot, and it will do you good."
The simple sisterly kindness and silent sympathy soothed Marie after a
time. The sobs ceased, and the tears also. And Marie put her hand in her
pocket and gave Bernardine the five francs.
"Fraeulein Holme, I hate them." she said. "I could never keep them. How
could I send them now to my old mother? They would bring her ill luck--
indeed they would."
The matter was solved by Bernardine in a masterly fashion. She suggested
that Marie should buy flowers with the money, and put them on the
Dutchman's coffin. This idea comforted Marie beyond Bernardine's most
"A beautiful tin wreath," she said several times. "I know the exact kind.
When my father died, we put one on his grave."
That same evening, during _table-d'hote_, Bernardine told the Disagreeable
Man the history of the afternoon. He had been developing photographs,
and had heard nothing. He seemed very little interested in her relation
of the suicide, and merely remarked:
"Well, there's one person less in the world."
"I think you make these remarks from habit," Bernardine said quietly,
and she went on with her dinner, attempting no further conversation with
him. She herself had been much moved by the sad occurrence; every one
in the Kurhaus was more or less upset; and there was a thoughtful,
anxious expression on more than one ordinarily thoughtless face. The
little French danseuse was quiet: the Portuguese ladies were decidedly
tearful, the vulgar German Baroness was quite depressed: the comedian at
the Belgian table ate his dinner in silence. In fact, there was a weight
pressing down on all. Was it really possible, thought Bernardine, that
Robert Allitsen was the only one there unconcerned and unmoved? She had
seen him in a different light amongst his friends, the country folk,
but it was just a glimpse which had not lasted long. The young-
heartedness, the geniality, the sympathy which had so astonished her
during their day's outing, astonished her still more by their total