Part 3 out of 5
more the dark-blue eyes were gone, and his
unruly heart went on hammering against his side.
He laid his hand on his breast and glanced
furtively at his fair neighbor, but she looked happy
and unconcerned, for the flavor of the ice-cream
was delicious. It seemed an endless meal, but,
when it was done, Ralph rose, led his partner
back to the ball-room, and hastily excused
himself. His glance wandered round the wide hall,
seeking the well-remembered eyes once more,
and, at length, finding them in a remote corner,
half hid behind a moving wall of promenaders.
In another moment he was at Bertha's side.
"You must have been purposely hiding yourself,
Miss Bertha," said he, when the usual
greetings were exchanged. "I have not caught
a glimpse of you all this evening, until a few
"But I have seen you all the while," answered
the girl, frankly. "I knew you at once as I
entered the hall."
"If I had but known that you were here,"
resumed Ralph, as it were, invisibly expanding
with an agreeable sense of dignity, "I assure
you, you would have been the very first one I
should have sought."
She raised her large grave eyes to his, as if
questioning his sincerity; but she made no
"Good gracious!" thought Ralph. "She
takes things terribly in earnest."
"You look so serious, Miss Bertha," said he,
after a moment's pause. "I remember you as a
bright-eyed, flaxen-haired little girl, who threw
her German exercise-book to me across the yard,
and whose merry laughter still rings pleasantly
in my memory. I confess I don't find it quite
easy to identify this grave young lady with my
merry friend of three years ago."
"In other words, you are disappointed at not
finding me the same as I used to be."
"No, not exactly that; but--"
Ralph paused and looked puzzled. There
was something in the earnestness of her manner
which made a facetious compliment seem grossly
inappropriate, and in the moment no other
escape suggested itself.
"But what?" demanded Bertha, mercilessly.
"Have you ever lost an old friend?"
asked he, abruptly.
"Yes; how so?"
"Then," answered he, while his features
lighted up with a happy inspiration--"then you
will appreciate my situation. I fondly cherished
my old picture of you in my memory. Now I
have lost it, and I cannot help regretting the
loss. I do not mean, however, to imply that
this new acquaintance--this second edition of
yourself, so to speak--will prove less interesting."
She again sent him a grave, questioning look,
and began to gaze intently upon the stone in her bracelet.
"I suppose you will laugh at me," began she,
while a sudden blush flitted over her countenance.
"But this is my first ball, and I feel as
if I had rushed into a whirlpool, from which I
have, since the first rash plunge was made, been
vainly trying to escape. I feel so dreadfully
forlorn. I hardly know anybody here except
my cousin, who invited me, and I hardly think
I know him either."
"Well, since you are irredeemably committed,"
replied Ralph, as the music, after some
prefatory flourishes, broke into the delicious
rhythm of a Strauss waltz, "then it is no use
struggling against fate. Come, let us make the
plunge together. Misery loves company."
He offered her his arm, and she arose,
somewhat hesitatingly, and followed.
"I am afraid," she whispered, as they fell
into line with the procession that was moving
down the long hall, "that you have asked me to
dance merely because I said I felt forlorn. If
that is the case, I should prefer to be led back
to my seat."
"What a base imputation!" cried Ralph.
There was something so charmingly na
this self-depreciation--something so altogether
novel in his experience, and, he could not help
adding, just a little bit countrified. His spirits
rose; he began to relish keenly his position as an
experienced man of the world, and, in the
agreeable glow of patronage and conscious
superiority, chatted with hearty ABANDON with his
little rustic beauty.
"If your dancing is as perfect as your German
exercises were," said she, laughing, as they
swung out upon the floor, "then I promise myself
a good deal of pleasure from our meeting."
"Never fear," answered he, quickly reversing
his step, and whirling with many a capricious
turn away among the thronging couples.
When Ralph drove home in his carriage
toward morning he briefly summed up his
impressions of Bertha in the following adjectives:
intelligent, delightfully unsophisticated, a little
bit verdant, but devilish pretty.
Some weeks later Colonel Grim received an
appointment at the fortress of Aggershuus, and
immediately took up his residence in the capital.
He saw that his son cut a fine figure in the
highest circles of society, and expressed his
gratification in the most emphatic terms. If he
had known, however, that Ralph was in the
habit of visiting, with alarming regularity, at
the house of a plebeian merchant in a somewhat
obscure street, he would, no doubt, have been
more chary of his praise. But the Colonel
suspected nothing, and it was well for the peace of
the family that he did not. It may have been
cowardice in Ralph that he never mentioned
Bertha's name to his family or to his aristocratic
acquaintances; for, to be candid, he himself felt
ashamed of the power she exerted over him, and
by turns pitied and ridiculed himself for pursuing
so inglorious a conquest. Nevertheless
it wounded his egotism that she never showed
any surprise at seeing him, that she received
him with a certain frank unceremoniousness,
which, however, was very becoming to her;
that she invariably went on with her work heedless
of his presence, and in everything treated
him as if she had been his equal. She persisted
in talking with him in a half sisterly fashion
about his studies and his future career, warned
him with great solicitude against some of his
reprobate friends, of whose merry adventures
he had told her; and if he ventured to compliment
her on her beauty or her accomplishments,
she would look up gravely from her sewing, or
answer him in a way which seemed to banish
the idea of love-making into the land of the
impossible. He was constantly tormented by the
suspicion that she secretly disapproved of him,
and that from a mere moral interest in his welfare
she was conscientiously laboring to make
him a better man. Day after day he parted
from her feeling humiliated, faint-hearted, and
secretly indignant both at himself and her, and
day after day he returned only to renew the
same experience. At last it became too intolerable,
he could endure it no longer. Let it make
or break, certainty, at all risks, was at least
preferable to this sickening suspense. That he
loved her, he could no longer doubt; let his
parents foam and fret as much as they pleased;
for once he was going to stand on his own legs.
And in the end, he thought, they would have to
yield, for they had no son but him.
Bertha was going to return to her home on
the sea-coast in a week. Ralph stood in the
little low-ceiled parlor, as she imagined, to bid
her good-bye. They had been speaking of her
father, her brothers, and the farm, and she had
expressed the wish that if he ever should come
to that part of the country he might pay them
a visit. Her words had kindled a vague hope
in his breast, but in their very frankness and
friendly regard there was something which
slew the hope they had begotten. He held her
hand in his, and her large confiding eyes shone
with an emotion which was beautiful, but was
yet not love.
"If you were but a peasant born like myself,"
said she, in a voice which sounded almost tender,
"then I should like to talk to you as I would to
my own brother; but--"
"No, not brother, Bertha," cried he, with
sudden vehemence; "I love you better than I ever
loved any earthly being, and if you knew how
firmly this love has clutched at the roots of my
heart, you would perhaps--you would at least
not look so reproachfully at me."
She dropped his hand, and stood for a moment silent.
"I am sorry that it should have come to this,
Mr. Grim," said she, visibly struggling for
calmness. "And I am perhaps more to blame
"Blame," muttered he, "why are you to blame?"
"Because I do not love you; although I sometimes
feared that this might come. But then again
I persuaded myself that it could not be so."
He took a step toward the door, laid his hand
on the knob, and gazed down before him.
"Bertha," began he, slowly, raising his head,
"you have always disapproved of me, you have
despised me in your heart, but you thought you
would be doing a good work if you succeeded
in making a man of me."
"You use strong language," answered she,
hesitatingly; "but there is truth in what you
Again there was a long pause, in which the
ticking of the old parlor clock grew louder and
"Then," he broke out at last, "tell me before
we part if I can do nothing to gain--I will not
say your love--but only your regard? What
would you do if you were in my place?"
"My advice you will hardly heed, and I do
not even know that it would be well if you did.
But if I were a man in your position, I should
break with my whole past, start out into the
world where nobody knew me, and where I
should be dependent only upon my own strength,
and there I would conquer a place for myself,
if it were only for the satisfaction of knowing
that I was really a man. Here cushions are
sewed under your arms, a hundred invisible
threads bind you to a life of idleness and
vanity, everybody is ready to carry you on his
hands, the road is smoothed for you, every stone
carefully moved out of your path, and you will
probably go to your grave without having ever
harbored one earnest thought, without having
done one manly deed."
Ralph stood transfixed, gazing at her with
open mouth; he felt a kind of stupid fright, as
if some one had suddenly seized him by the
shoulders and shaken him violently. He tried
vainly to remove his eyes from Bertha. She
held him as by a powerful spell. He saw that
her face was lighted with an altogether new
beauty; he noticed the deep glow upon her
cheek, the brilliancy of her eye, the slight
quiver of her lip. But he saw all this as one
sees things in a half-trance, without attempting
to account for them; the door between his soul
and his senses was closed.
"I know that I have been bold in speaking to
you in this way," she said at last, seating
herself in a chair at the window. "But it was
yourself who asked me. And I have felt all the
time that I should have to tell you this before
"And," answered he, making a strong effort
to appear calm, "if I follow your advice, will
you allow me to see you once more before you
"I shall remain here another week, and shall,
during that time, always be ready to receive you."
"Thank you. Good-bye."
Ralph carefully avoided all the fashionable
thoroughfares; he felt degraded before himself,
and he had an idea that every man could read
his humiliation in his countenance. Now he
walked on quickly, striking the sidewalk with
his heels; now, again, he fell into an uneasy,
reckless saunter, according as the changing
moods inspired defiance of his sentence, or a
qualified surrender. And, as he walked on, the
bitterness grew within him, and he pitilessly
reviled himself for having allowed himself to be
made a fool of by "that little country goose,"
when he was well aware that there were hundreds
of women of the best families of the land
who would feel honored at receiving his attentions.
But this sort of reasoning he knew to he
both weak and contemptible, and his better
self soon rose in loud rebellion.
"After all," he muttered, "in the main thing
she was right. I am a miserable good-for-
nothing, a hot-house plant, a poor stick, and if I
were a woman myself, I don't think I should
waste my affections on a man of that calibre."
Then he unconsciously fell to analyzing
Bertha's character, wondering vaguely that a
person who moved so timidly in social life,
appearing so diffident, from an ever-present fear
of blundering against the established forms of
etiquette, could judge so quickly, and with such
a merciless certainty, whenever a moral question,
a question of right and wrong, was at issue.
And, pursuing the same train of thought, he
contrasted her with himself, who moved in the
highest spheres of society as in his native
element, heedless of moral scruples, and conscious
of no loftier motive for his actions than the
immediate pleasure of the moment.
As Ralph turned the corner of a street, he
heard himself hailed from the other sidewalk by
a chorus of merry voices.
"Ah, my dear Baroness," cried a young man,
springing across the street and grasping Ralph's
hand (all his student friends called him the
Baroness), "in the name of this illustrious
company, allow me to salute you. But why the
deuce--what is the matter with you? If you
have the Katzenjammer, soda-water is the
thing. Come along,--it's my treat!"
 Katzenjammer is the sensation a man has
the morning after a carousal.
The students instantly thronged around
Ralph, who stood distractedly swinging his cane
and smiling idiotically.
"I am not quite well," said he; "leave me
"No, to be sure, you don't look well," cried a
jolly youth, against whom Bertha had
frequently warned him; "but a glass of sherry
will soon restore you. It would be highly
immoral to leave you in this condition without
taking care of you."
Ralph again vainly tried to remonstrate; but
the end was, that he reluctantly followed.
He had always been a conspicuous figure in
the student world; but that night he astonished
his friends by his eloquence, his reckless humor,
and his capacity for drinking. He made a
speech for "Woman," which bristled with wit,
cynicism, and sarcastic epigrams. One young
man, named Vinter, who was engaged, undertook
to protest against his sweeping condemnation,
and declared that Ralph, who was a Universal
favorite among the ladies, ought to be
the last to revile them.
"If," he went on, "the Baroness should propose
to six well-known ladies here in this city
whom I could mention, I would wager six
Johannisbergers, and an equal amount of
champagne, that every one of them would accept
The others loudly applauded this proposal,
and Ralph accepted the wager. The letters were
written on the spot, and immediately dispatched.
Toward morning, the merry carousal broke up,
and Ralph was conducted in triumph to his
Two days later, Ralph again knocked on
Bertha's door. He looked paler than usual,
almost haggard; his immaculate linen was a little
crumpled, and he carried no cane; his lips were
tightly compressed, and his face wore an air of
"It is done," he said, as he seated himself
opposite her. "I am going."
"Going!" cried she, startled at his unusual
appearance. "How, where?"
"To America. I sail to-night. I have followed
your advice, you see. I have cut off the
last bridge behind me."
"But, Ralph," she exclaimed, in a voice of
alarm. "Something dreadful must have happened.
Tell me quick; I must know it."
"No; nothing dreadful," muttered he, smiling
bitterly. "I have made a little scandal, that is
all. My father told me to-day to go to the
devil, if I chose, and my mother gave me five
hundred dollars to help me along on the way.
If you wish to know, here is the explanation."
And he pulled from his pocket six perfumed
and carefully folded notes, and threw them into
"Do you wish me to read them?" she asked,
with growing surprise.
"Certainly. Why not?"
She hastily opened one note after the other,
"But, Ralph," she cried, springing up from
her seat, while her eyes flamed with indignation,
"what does this mean? What have you
"I didn't think it needed any explanation,"
replied he, with feigned indifference. "I
proposed to them all, and, you see, they all
accepted me. I received all these letters to-day.
I only wished to know whether the whole world
regarded me as such a worthless scamp as you
told me I was."
She did not answer, but sat mutely staring at
him, fiercely crumpling a rose-colored note in
her hand. He began to feel uncomfortable under
her gaze, and threw himself about uneasily
in his chair.
"Well," said he, at length, rising, "I suppose
there is nothing more. Good-bye."
"One moment, Mr. Grim," demanded she,
sternly. "Since I have already said so much,
and you have obligingly revealed to me a new
side of your character, I claim the right to
correct the opinion I expressed of you at our last
"I am all attention."
"I did think, Mr. Grim," began she, breathing
hard, and steadying herself against the
table at which she stood, "that you were a
very selfish man--an embodiment of selfishness,
absolute and supreme, but I did not believe that
you were wicked."
"And what convinced you that I was selfish,
if I may ask?"
"What convinced me?" repeated she, in a
tone of inexpressible contempt. "When did
you ever act from any generous regard for
others? What good did you ever do to anybody?"
"You might ask, with equal justice,
what good I ever did to myself."
"In a certain sense, yes; because to gratify
a mere momentary wish is hardly doing one's
"Then I have, at all events, followed the
Biblical precept, and treated my neighbor very
much as I treat myself."
"I did think," continued Bertha, without
heeding the remark, "that you were at bottom
kind-hearted, but too hopelessly well-bred ever
to commit an act of any decided complexion,
either good or bad. Now I see that I have
misjudged you, and that you are capable of
outraging the most sacred feelings of a woman's
heart in mere wantonness, or for the sake of
satisfying a base curiosity, which never could
have entered the mind of an upright and generous man."
The hard, benumbed look in Ralph's face
thawed in the warmth of her presence, and her
words, though stern, touched a secret spring in
his heart. He made two or three vain attempts
to speak, then suddenly broke down, and cried:
"Bertha, Bertha, even if you scorn me, have
patience with me, and listen."
And he told her, in rapid, broken sentences,
how his love for her had grown from day to
day, until he could no longer master it; and
how, in an unguarded moment, when his pride
rose in fierce conflict against his love, he had
done this reckless deed of which he was now
heartily ashamed. The fervor of his words
touched her, for she felt that they were sincere.
Large mute tears trembled in her eyelashes as
she sat gazing tenderly at him, and in the depth
of her soul the wish awoke that she might have
been able to return this great and strong love
of his; for she felt that in this love lay the germ
of a new, of a stronger and better man. She
noticed, with a half-regretful pleasure, his
handsome figure, his delicately shaped hands, and the
noble cast of his features; an overwhelming
pity for him rose within her, and she began to
reproach herself for having spoken so harshly,
and, as she now thought, so unjustly. Perhaps
he read in her eyes the unspoken wish. He
seized her hand, and his words fell with a warm
and alluring cadence upon her ear.
"I shall not see you for a long time to come,
Bertha," said he, "but if, at the end of five or
six years your hand is still free, and I return
another man--a man to whom you could safely
intrust your happiness--would you then listen
to what I may have to say to you? For I promise,
by all that we both hold sacred--"
"No, no," interrupted she, hastily. "Promise
nothing. It would be unjust to--yourself, and
perhaps also to me; for a sacred promise is a
terrible thing, Ralph. Let us both remain free;
and, if you return and still love me, then come,
and I shall receive you and listen to you. And
even if you have outgrown your love, which is,
indeed, more probable, come still to visit me
wherever I may be, and we shall meet as friends
and rejoice in the meeting."
"You know best," he murmured. "Let it be
as you have said."
He arose, took her face between his hands,
gazed long and tenderly into her eyes, pressed
a kiss upon her forehead, and hastened away.
That night Ralph boarded the steamer for Hull,
and three weeks later landed in New York.
The first three months of Ralph's sojourn in
America were spent in vain attempts to obtain a
situation. Day after day he walked down
Broadway, calling at various places of business
and night after night he returned to his cheer-
less room with a faint heart and declining spirits.
It was, after all, a more serious thing than he
had imagined, to cut the cable which binds one
to the land of one's birth. There a hundred
subtile influences, the existence of which no one
suspects until the moment they are withdrawn,
unite to keep one in the straight path of rectitude,
or at least of external respectability; and
Ralph's life had been all in society; the opinion
of his fellow-men had been the one force to
which he implicitly deferred, and the conscience
by which he had been wont to test his actions
had been nothing but the aggregate judgment
of his friends. To such a man the isolation and
the utter irresponsibility of a life among
strangers was tenfold more dangerous; and Ralph
found, to his horror, that his character contained
innumerable latent possibilities which the easy-
going life in his home probably never would
have revealed to him. It often cut him to the
quick, when, on entering an office in his daily
search for employment, he was met by hostile
or suspicious glances, or when, as it occasionally
happened, the door was slammed in his face, as
if he were a vagabond or an impostor. Then
the wolf was often roused within him, and he
felt a momentary wild desire to become what
the people here evidently believed him to be.
Many a night he sauntered irresolutely about
the gambling places in obscure streets, and the
glare of light, the rude shouts and clamors in
the same moment repelled and attracted him.
If he went to the devil, who would care? His
father had himself pointed out the way to him;
and nobody could blame him if he followed the
advice. But then again a memory emerged from
that chamber of his soul which still he held
sacred; and Bertha's deep-blue eyes gazed upon
him with their earnest look of tender warning
When the summer was half gone, Ralph had
gained many a hard victory over himself, and
learned many a useful lesson; and at length he
swallowed his pride, divested himself of his
fine clothes, and accepted a position as assistant
gardener at a villa on the Hudson. And as he
stood perspiring with a spade in his hand, and
a cheap broad-brimmed straw hat on his head,
he often took a grim pleasure in picturing to
himself how his aristocratic friends at home
would receive him, if he should introduce himself
to them in this new costume.
"After all, it was only my position they
cared for," he reflected, bitterly; "without my
father's name what would I be to them?"
Then, again, there was a certain satisfaction
in knowing that, for his present situation, humble
as it was, he was indebted to nobody but
himself; and the thought that Bertha's eyes, if
they could have seen him now would have dwelt
upon him with pleasure and approbation, went
far to console him for his aching back, his
sunburned face, and his swollen and blistered hands.
One day, as Ralph was raking the gravel-
walks in the garden, his employer's daughter, a
young lady of seventeen, came out and spoke
to him. His culture and refinement of manner
struck her with wonder, and she asked him to
tell her his history; but then he suddenly grew
very grave, and she forbore pressing him. From
that time she attached a kind of romantic interest
to him, and finally induced her father to obtain
him a situation that would be more to his
taste. And, before winter came, Ralph saw the
dawn of a new future glimmering before him.
He had wrestled bravely with fate, and had
once more gained a victory. He began the
career in which success and distinction awaited
him, as proof-reader on a newspaper in the city.
He had fortunately been familiar with the English
language before he left home, and by the
strength of his will he conquered all difficulties.
At the end of two years he became attached to
the editorial staff; new ambitious hopes, hitherto
foreign to his mind, awoke within him;
and with joyous tumult of heart he saw life
opening its wide vistas before him, and he
labored on manfully to repair the losses of the
past, and to prepare himself for greater usefulness
in times to come. He felt in himself a
stronger and fuller manhood, as if the great
arteries of the vast universal world-life pulsed in
his own being. The drowsy, indolent existence
at home appeared like a dull remote dream from
which he had awaked, and he blessed the destiny
which, by its very sternness, had mercifully
saved him; he blessed her, too, who, from the
very want of love for him, had, perhaps, made
him worthier of love.
The years flew rapidly. Society had flung its
doors open to him, and what was more, he had
found some warm friends, in whose houses he
could come and go at pleasure. He enjoyed
keenly the privilege of daily association with
high-minded and refined women; their eager
activity of intellect stimulated him, their
exquisite ethereal grace and their delicately chiseled
beauty satisfied his aesthetic cravings, and the
responsive vivacity of their nature prepared him
ever new surprises. He felt a strange fascination
in the presence of these women, and the
conviction grew upon him that their type of
womanhood was superior to any he had hitherto
known. And by way of refuting his own
argument, he would draw from his pocket-book
the photograph of Bertha, which had a secret
compartment there all to itself, and, gazing
tenderly at it, would eagerly defend her against the
disparaging reflections which the involuntary
comparison had provoked. And still, how could
he help seeing that her features, though well
molded, lacked animation; that her eye, with
its deep, trustful glance, was not brilliant, and
that the calm earnestness of her face, when
compared with the bright, intellectual beauty of his
present friends, appeared pale and simple, like
a violet in a bouquet of vividly colored roses?
It gave him a quick pang, when, at times,
he was forced to admit this; nevertheless,
it was the truth.
After six years of residence in America,
Ralph had gained a very high reputation as a
journalist of rare culture and ability, and, in
1867 he was sent to the World's Exhibition in
Paris, as correspondent of the paper on which
he had during all these years been employed.
What wonder, then, that he started for Europe
a few weeks before his presence was needed in
the imperial city, and that he steered his course
directly toward the fjord valley where Bertha
had her home? It was she who had bidden him
Godspeed when he fled from the land of his
birth, and she, too, should receive his first
greeting on his return.
The sun had fortified itself behind a citadel
of flaming clouds, and the upper forest region
shone with a strange ethereal glow, while the
lower plains were wrapped in shadow; but the
shadow itself had a strong suffusion of color.
The mountain peaks rose cold and blue in the distance.
Ralph, having inquired his way of the
boatman who had landed him at the pier, walked
rapidly along the beach, with a small valise in
his hand, and a light summer overcoat flung
over his shoulder. Many half-thoughts grazed
his mind, and ere the first had taken shape, the
second, and the third came and chased it away.
And still they all in some fashion had reference
to Bertha; for in a misty, abstract way, she
filled his whole mind; but for some indefinable
reason, he was afraid to give free rein to the
sentiment which lurked in the remoter corners
of his soul.
Onward he hastened, while his heart throbbed
with the quickening tempo of mingled expectation
and fear. Now and then one of those chill
gusts of air which seem to be careering about
aimlessly in the atmosphere during early summer,
would strike into his face, and recall him
to a keener self-consciousness.
Ralph concluded, from his increasing agitation,
that he must be very near Bertha's home.
He stopped and looked around him. He saw a
large maple at the roadside, some thirty steps
from where he was standing, and the girl who
was sitting under it, resting her head in her
hand and gazing out over the sea, he recognized
in an instant to be Bertha. He sprang up on the
road, not crossing, however, her line of vision,
and approached her noiselessly from behind.
"Bertha," he whispered.
She gave a little joyous cry, sprang up, and
made a gesture as if to throw herself in his arms;
then suddenly checked herself, blushed crimson,
and moved a step backward.
"You came so suddenly," she murmured.
"But, Bertha," cried he (and the full bass of
his voice rang through her very soul), "have I
gone into exile and waited these many years for
so cold a welcome?"
"You have changed so much, Ralph," she
answered, with that old grave smile which he
knew so well, and stretched out both her hands
toward him. "And I have thought of you so
much since you went away, and blamed myself
because I had judged you so harshly, and wondered
that you could listen to me so patiently,
and never bear me any malice for what I said."
"If you had said a word less," declared Ralph,
seating himself at her side on the greensward,
"or if you had varnished it over with politeness,
then you would probably have failed to produce
any effect and I should not have been burdened
with that heavy debt of gratitude which
I now owe you. I was a pretty thick-skinned
animal in those days, Bertha. You said the
right word at the right moment; you gave me
a hold and a good piece of advice, which my
own ingenuity would never have suggested to
me. I will not thank you, because, in so grave
a case as this, spoken thanks sound like a mere
mockery. Whatever I am, Bertha, and whatever
I may hope to be, I owe it all to that hour."
She listened with rapture to the manly assurance
of his voice; her eyes dwelt with unspeakable
joy upon his strong, bronzed features, his
full thick blonde beard, and the vigorous
proportions of his frame. Many and many a time
during his absence had she wondered how he
would look if he ever came back, and with that
minute conscientiousness which, as it were,
pervaded her whole character, she had held herself
responsible before God for his fate, prayed for
him, and trembled lest evil powers should gain
the ascendency over his soul.
On their way to the house they talked together
of many things, but in a guarded, cautious fashion,
and without the cheerful abandonment of
former years. They both, as it were, groped their
way carefully in each other's minds, and each
vaguely felt that there was something in the
other's thought which it was not well to touch
unbidden. Bertha saw that all her fears for
him had been groundless, and his very appearance
lifted the whole weight of responsibility
from her breast; and still, did she rejoice at her
deliverance from her burden? Ah, no, in this
moment she knew that that which she had foolishly
cherished as the best and noblest part of
herself, had been but a selfish need of her own
heart. She feared that she had only taken that
interest in him which one feels in a thing of
one's own making; and now, when she saw that
he had risen quite above her; that he was free
and strong, and could have no more need of her,
she had, instead of generous pleasure at his
success, but a painful sense of emptiness, as if
something very dear had been taken from her.
Ralph, too, was loath to analyze the impression
his old love made upon him. His feelings
were of so complex a nature, he was anxious to
keep his more magnanimous impulses active, and
he strove hard to convince himself that she was
still the same to him as she had been before they
had ever parted. But, alas! though the heart
be warm and generous, the eye is a merciless
critic. And the man who had moved on the
wide arena of the world, whose mind had housed
the large thoughts of this century, and expanded
with its invigorating breath,--was he to blame
because he had unconsciously outgrown his old
provincial self, and could no more judge by its
Bertha's father was a peasant, but he had,
by his lumber trade, acquired what in Norway
was called a very handsome fortune. He received
his guest with dignified reserve, and
Ralph thought he detected in his eyes a lurking
look of distrust. "I know your errand," that
look seemed to say, "but you had better give it
up at once. It will be of no use for you to try."
And after supper, as Ralph and Bertha sat
talking confidingly with each other at the window,
he sent his daughter a quick, sharp glance,
and then, without ceremony, commanded her to
go to bed. Ralph's heart gave a great thump
within him; not because he feared the old man,
but because his words, as well as his glances,
revealed to him the sad history of these long,
patient years. He doubted no longer that the
love which he had once so ardently desired was
his at last; and he made a silent vow that,
come what might, he would remain faithful.
As he came down to breakfast the next
morning, he found Bertha sitting at the window,
engaged in hemming what appeared to be a
rough kitchen towel. She bent eagerly over
her work, and only a vivid flush upon her cheek
told him that she had noticed his coming. He
took a chair, seated himself opposite her, and
bade her "good-morning." She raised her head,
and showed him a sweet, troubled countenance,
which the early sunlight illumined with a high
spiritual beauty. It reminded him forcibly of
those pale, sweet-faced saints of Fra Angelico,
with whom the frail flesh seems ever on the
point of yielding to the ardent aspirations of
the spirit. And still, even in this moment he
could not prevent his eyes from observing that
one side of her forefinger was rough from sewing,
and that the whiteness of her arm, which
the loose sleeves displayed, contrasted strongly
with the browned and sun-burned complexion of
After breakfast they again walked together
on the beach, and Ralph, having once formed
his resolution, now talked freely of the New
World--of his sphere of activity there; of his
friends and of his plans for the future; and she
listened to him with a mild, perplexed look in
her eyes, as if trying vainly to follow the flight
of his thoughts. And he wondered, with secret
dismay, whether she was still the same strong,
brave-hearted girl whom he had once accounted
almost bold; whether the life in this narrow
valley, amid a hundred petty and depressing
cares, had not cramped her spiritual growth,
and narrowed the sphere of her thought. Or
was she still the same, and was it only he who
had changed? At last he gave utterance to his
wonder, and she answered him in those grave,
earnest tones which seemed in themselves to be
half a refutation of his doubts.
"It was easy for me to give you daring
advice, then, Ralph," she said. "Like most school-
girls, I thought that life was a great and glorious
thing, and that happiness was a fruit which
hung within reach of every hand. Now I have
lived for six years trying single-handed to
relieve the want and suffering of the needy people
with whom I come in contact, and their squalor
and wretchedness have sickened me, and, what
is still worse, I feel that all I can do is as a drop
in the ocean, and after all, amounts to nothing.
I know I am no longer the same reckless girl,
who, with the very best intention, sent you
wandering through the wide world; and I thank
God that it proved to be for your good,
although the whole now appears quite incredible
to me. My thoughts have moved so long within
the narrow circle of these mountains that they
have lost their youthful elasticity, and can no
more rise above them."
Ralph detected, in the midst of her despondency,
a spark of her former fire, and grew eloquent
in his endeavors to persuade her that she
was unjust to herself, and that there was but a
wider sphere of life needed to develop all the
latent powers of her rich nature.
At the dinner-table, her father again sat eyeing
his guest with that same cold look of distrust
and suspicion. And when the meal was
at an end, he rose abruptly and called his
daughter into another room. Presently Ralph
heard his angry voice resounding through the
house, interrupted now and then by a woman's
sobs, and a subdued, passionate pleading. When
Bertha again entered the room, her eyes were
very red, and he saw that she had been weeping.
She threw a shawl over her shoulders,
beckoned to him with her hand, and he arose
and followed her. She led the way silently
until they reached a thick copse of birch and
alder near the strand. She dropped down upon
a bench between two trees, and he took his seat
at her side.
"Ralph," began she, with a visible effort, "I
hardly know what to say to you; but there is
something which I must tell you--my father
wishes you to leave us at once."
"And YOU, Bertha?"
"Well--yes--I wish it too."
She saw the painful shock which her words
gave him, and she strove hard to speak. Her
lips trembled, her eyes became suffused with
tears, which grew and grew, but never fell; she
could not utter a word.
"Well, Bertha," answered he, with a little
quiver in his voice, "if you, too, wish me to go,
I shall not tarry. Good-bye."
He rose quickly, and, with averted face, held
out his hand to her; but as she made no motion
to grasp the hand, he began distractedly to
button his coat, and moved slowly away.
He turned sharply, and, before he knew it,
she lay sobbing upon his breast.
"Ralph," she murmured, while the tears
almost choked her words, "I could not have you
leave me thus. It is hard enough--it is hard
"What is hard, beloved?"
She raised her head abruptly, and turned
upon him a gaze full of hope and doubt, and
"Ah, no, you do not love me," she whispered,
"Why should I come to seek you, after these
many years, dearest, if I did not wish to make
you my wife before God and men? Why
"Ah, yes, I know," she interrupted him with
a fresh fit of weeping, "you are too good and
honest to wish to throw me away, now when
you have seen how my soul has hungered for
the sight of you these many years, how even
now I cling to you with a despairing clutch.
But you cannot disguise yourself, Ralph, and I
saw from the first moment that you loved me
"Do not be such an unreasonable child," he
remonstrated, feebly. "I do not love you with
the wild, irrational passion of former years;
but I have the tenderest regard for you, and
my heart warms at the sight of your sweet
face, and I shall do all in my power to make
you as happy as any man can make you who--"
"Who does not love me," she finished.
A sudden shudder seemed to shake her whole frame,
and she drew herself more tightly up to him.
"Ah, no," she continued, after a while,
sinking back upon her seat. "It is a hopeless thing
to compel a reluctant heart. I will accept no
sacrifice from you. You owe me nothing, for
you have acted toward me honestly and uprightly,
and I shall be a stronger, or--at least--
a better woman for what you gave me--and--
for what you could not give me, even though
"But, Bertha," exclaimed he, looking mournfully
at her, "it is not true when you say that I
owe you nothing. Six years ago, when first I
wooed you, you could not return my love, and
you sent me out into the world, and even refused
to accept any pledge or promise for the future."
"And you returned," she responded, "a man,
such as my hope had pictured you; but, while I
had almost been standing still, you had outgrown
me, and outgrown your old self, and,
with your old self, outgrown its love for me,
for your love was not of your new self, but of
the old. Alas! it is a sad tale, but it is true."
She spoke gravely now, and with a steadier
voice, but her eyes hung upon his face with an
eager look of expectation, as if yearning to detect
there some gleam of hope, some contradiction
of the dismal truth. He read that look
aright, and it pierced him like a sharp sword.
He made a brave effort to respond to its appeal,
but his features seemed hard as stone, and he
could only cry out against his destiny, and
bewail his misfortune and hers.
Toward evening, Ralph was sitting in an
open boat, listening to the measured oar-strokes
of the boatmen who were rowing him out to the
nearest stopping-place of the steamer. The
mountains lifted their great placid heads up
among the sun-bathed clouds, and the fjord
opened its cool depths as if to make room for
their vast reflections. Ralph felt as if he were
floating in the midst of the blue infinite space,
and, with the strength which this feeling
inspired, he tried to face boldly the thought from
which he had but a moment ago shrunk as from
something hopelessly sad and perplexing.
And in that hour he looked fearlessly into the
gulf which separates the New World from the
Old. He had hoped to bridge it; but, alas! it
cannot be bridged.
A SCIENTIFIC VAGABOND.
THE steamer which as far back as 1860
passed every week on its northward
way up along the coast of Norway,
was of a very sociable turn of mind. It
ran with much shrieking and needless bluster in
and out the calm, winding fjords, paid unceremonious
little visits in every out-of-the-way nook
and bay, dropped now and then a black heap of
coal into the shining water, and sent thick volleys
of smoke and shrill little echoes careering
aimlessly among the mountains. It seemed, on
the whole, from an aesthetic point of view, an
objectionable phenomenon--a blot upon the perfect
summer day. By the inhabitants, however,
of these remote regions (with the exception
of a few obstinate individuals, who had at
first looked upon it as the sure herald of dooms-
day, and still were vaguely wondering what the
world was coming to,) it was regarded in a
very different light. This choleric little monster
was to them a friendly and welcome visitor,
which established their connection with the outside
world, and gave them a proud consciousness
of living in the very heart of civilization.
Therefore, on steamboat days they flocked en
masse down on the piers, and, with an ever-fresh
sense of novelty, greeted the approaching boat
with lively cheers, with firing of muskets and
waving of handkerchiefs. The men of condition,
as the judge, the sheriff, and the parson,
whose dignity forbade them to receive the
steamer in person, contented themselves with
watching it through an opera-glass from their
balconies; and if a high official was known to be
on board, they perhaps displayed the national
banner from their flag-poles, as a delicate
compliment to their superior.
But the Rev. Mr. Oddson, the parson of whom
I have to speak, had this day yielded to the
gentle urgings of his daughters (as, indeed, he
always did), and had with them boarded the
steamer to receive his nephew, Arnfinn Vording,
who was returning from the university for his
summer vacation. And now they had him
between them in their pretty white-painted par-
sonage boat, with the blue line along the
gunwale, beleaguering him with eager questions
about friends and relatives in the capital, chums,
university sports, and a medley of other things
interesting to young ladies who have a collegian
for a cousin. His uncle was charitable enough
to check his own curiosity about the nephew's
progress in the arts and sciences, and the result
of his recent examinations, till he should have
become fairly settled under his roof; and Arnfinn,
who, in spite of his natural brightness and
ready humor, was anything but a "dig," was
grateful for the respite.
The parsonage lay snugly nestled at the end
of the bay, shining contentedly through the
green foliage from a multitude of small sun-
smitten windows. Its pinkish whitewash, which
was peeling off from long exposure to the
weather, was in cheerful contrast to the broad
black surface of the roof, with its glazed tiles,
and the starlings' nests under the chimney-tops.
The thick-leaved maples and walnut-trees which
grew in random clusters about the walls seemed
loftily conscious of standing there for purposes
of protection; for, wherever their long-fingered
branches happened to graze the roof, it was
always with a touch, light, graceful, and airily
caressing. The irregularly paved yard was
inclosed on two sides by the main building, and on
the third by a species of log cabin, which, in
Norway, is called a brew-house; but toward the
west the view was but slightly obscured by an
elevated pigeon cot and a clump of birches,
through whose sparse leaves the fjord beneath
sent its rapid jets and gleams of light, and its
strange suggestions of distance, peace and
Arnfinn Vording's career had presented that
subtle combination of farce and tragedy which
most human lives are apt to be; and if the tragic
element had during his early years been preponderating,
he was hardly himself aware of it; for
he had been too young at the death of his
parents to feel that keenness of grief which the
same privation would have given him at a later
period of his life. It might have been humiliating
to confess it, but it was nevertheless true
that the terror he had once sustained on being
pursued by a furious bull was much more vivid
in his memory than the vague wonder and
depression which had filled his mind at seeing his
mother so suddenly stricken with age, as she lay
motionless in her white robes in the front parlor.
Since then his uncle, who was his guardian and
nearest relative, had taken him into his family,
had instructed him with his own daughters, and
finally sent him to the University, leaving the little
fortune which he had inherited to accumulate
for future use. Arnfinn had a painfully distinct
recollection of his early hardships in trying to
acquire that soft pronunciation of the r which is
peculiar to the western fjord districts of Norway,
and which he admired so much in his
cousins; for the merry-eyed Inga, who was less
scrupulous by a good deal than her older sister,
Augusta, had from the beginning persisted in
interpreting their relation of cousinship as an
unbounded privilege on her part to ridicule him
for his personal peculiarities, and especially for
his harsh r and his broad eastern accent. Her
ridicule was always very good-natured, to be
sure, but therefore no less annoying.
But--such is the perverseness of human nature--
in spite of a series of apparent rebuffs,
interrupted now and then by fits of violent
attachment, Arnfinn had early selected this dimpled
and yellow-haired young girl, with her piquant
little nose, for his favorite cousin. It was the
prospect of seeing her which, above all else,
had lent, in anticipation, an altogether new
radiance to the day when he should present him-
self in his home with the long-tasseled student
cap on his head, the unnecessary "pinchers" on
his nose, and with the other traditional
paraphernalia of the Norwegian student. That
great day had now come; Arnfinn sat at Inga's
side playing with her white fingers, which lay
resting on his knee, and covering the depth of
his feeling with harmless banter about her
"amusingly unclassical little nose." He had
once detected her, when a child, standing before
a mirror, and pinching this unhappy feature in
the middle, in the hope of making it "like
Augusta's;" and since then he had no longer felt
so utterly defenseless whenever his own foibles
"But what of your friend, Arnfinn?" exclaimed
Inga, as she ran up the stairs of the
pier. "He of whom you have written so much.
I have been busy all the morning making the
blue guest-chamber ready for him."
"Please, cousin," answered the student, in a
tone of mock entreaty, "only an hour's respite!
If we are to talk about Strand we must make a
day of it, you know. And just now it seems so
grand to be at home, and with you, that I
would rather not admit even so genial a subject
as Strand to share my selfish happiness."
"Ah, yes, you are right. Happiness is too
often selfish. But tell me only why he didn't
come and I'll release you."
"He IS coming."
"Ah! And when?"
"That I don't know. He preferred to take
the journey on foot, and he may be here at
almost any time. But, as I have told you, he is
very uncertain. If he should happen to make
the acquaintance of some interesting snipe, or
crane, or plover, he may prefer its company to
ours, and then there is no counting on him any
longer. He may be as likely to turn up at the
North Pole as at the Gran Parsonage."
"How very singular. You don't know how
curious I am to see him."
And Inga walked on in silence under the
sunny birches which grew along the road, trying
vainly to picture to herself this strange
phenomenon of a man.
"I brought his book," remarked Arnfinn,
making a gigantic effort to be generous, for he
felt dim stirrings of jealousy within him. "If
you care to read it, I think it will explain him
to you better than anything I could say."
The Oddsons were certainly a happy family
though not by any means a harmonious one.
The excellent pastor, who was himself neutrally
good, orthodox, and kind-hearted, had often, in
the privacy of his own thought, wondered what
hidden ancestral influences there might have
been at work in giving a man so peaceable and
inoffensive as himself two daughters of such
strongly defined individuality. There was
Augusta, the elder, who was what Arnfinn called
"indiscriminately reformatory," and had a
universal desire to improve everything, from the
Government down to agricultural implements
and preserve jars. As long as she was content
to expend the surplus energy, which seemed to
accumulate within her through the long eventless
winters, upon the Zulu Mission, and other
legitimate objects, the pastor thought it all
harmless enough; although, to be sure, her
enthusiasm for those naked and howling savages
did at times strike him as being somewhat
extravagant. But when occasionally, in her own
innocent way, she put both his patience and his
orthodoxy to the test by her exceedingly puzzling
questions, then he could not, in the depth
of his heart, restrain the wish that she might
have been more like other young girls, and less
ardently solicitous about the fate of her kind.
Affectionate and indulgent, however, as the pastor
was, he would often, in the next moment, do
penance for his unregenerate thought, and thank
God for having made her so fair to behold, so
pure, and so noble-hearted.
Toward Arnfinn, Augusta had, although of
his own age, early assumed a kind of elder-sisterly
relation; she had been his comforter during
all the trials of his boyhood; had yielded
him her sympathy with that eager impulse which
lay so deep in her nature, and had felt forlorn
when life had called him away to where her
words of comfort could not reach him. But
when once she had hinted this to her father, he
had pedantically convinced her that her feeling
was unchristian, and Inga had playfully remarked
that the hope that some one might soon
find the open Polar Sea would go far toward
consoling her for her loss; for Augusta had
glorious visions at that time of the open Polar Sea.
Now, the Polar Sea, and many other things, far
nearer and dearer, had been forced into uneasy
forgetfulness; and Arnfinn was once more with
her, no longer a child, and no longer appealing
to her for aid and sympathy; man enough, ap-
parently, to have outgrown his boyish needs
and still boy enough to be ashamed of having
ever had them.
It was the third Sunday after Arnfinn's
return. He and Augusta were climbing the hillside
to the "Giant's Hood," from whence they
had a wide view of the fjord, and could see the
sun trailing its long bridge of flame upon the
water. It was Inga's week in the kitchen,
therefore her sister was Arnfinn's companion.
As they reached the crest of the "Hood,"
Augusta seated herself on a flat bowlder, and the
young student flung himself on a patch of
greensward at her feet. The intense light of
the late sun fell upon the girl's unconscious face,
and Arnfinn lay, gazing up into it, and wondering
at its rare beauty; but he saw only the clean
cut of its features and the purity of its form,
being too shallow to recognize the strong and
heroic soul which had struggled so long for
utterance in the life of which he had been a blind
and unmindful witness.
"Gracious, how beautiful you are, cousin!"
he broke forth, heedlessly, striking his leg with
his slender cane; "pity you were not born a
queen; you would be equal to almost anything,
even if it were to discover the Polar Sea."
"I thought you were looking at the sun,
Arnfinn," answered she, smiling reluctantly.
"And so I am, cousin," laughed he, with an
other-emphatic slap of his boot.
"That compliment is rather stale."
"But the opportunity was too tempting."
"Never mind, I will excuse you from further
efforts. Turn around and notice that wonderful
purple halo which is hovering over the forests
below. Isn't it glorious?"
"No, don't let us be solemn, pray. The sun I
have seen a thousand times before, but you I
have seen very seldom of late. Somehow, since
I returned this time, you seem to keep me at a
distance. You no longer confide to me your
great plans for the abolishment of war, and the
improvement of mankind generally. Why don't
you tell me whether you have as yet succeeded
in convincing the peasants that cleanliness is a
cardinal virtue, that hawthorn hedges are more
picturesque than rail fences, and that salt meat
is a very indigestible article?"
"You know the fate of my reforms, from long
experience," she answered, with the same sad,
sweet smile. "I am afraid there must be some
thing radically wrong about my methods; and,
moreover, I know that your aspirations and
mine are no longer the same, if they ever have
been, and I am not ungenerous enough to force
you to feign an interest which you do not feel."
"Yes, I know you think me flippant and
boyish," retorted he, with sudden energy, and
tossing a stone down into the gulf below.
"But, by the way, my friend Strand, if he ever
comes, would be just the man for you. He has
quite as many hobbies as you have, and, what is
more, he has a profound respect for hobbies in
general, and is universally charitable toward
those of others."
"Your friend is a great man," said the girl,
earnestly. "I have read his book on `The
Wading Birds of the Norwegian Highlands,'
and none but a great man could have written it."
"He is an odd stick, but, for all that, a capital
fellow; and I have no doubt you would get on
admirably with him."
At this moment the conversation was interrupted
by the appearance of the pastor's man,
Hans, who came to tell the "young miss" that
there was a big tramp hovering about the barns
in the "out-fields," where he had been sleeping
during the last three nights. He was a dangerous
character, Hans thought, at least judging
from his looks, and it was hardly safe for the
young miss to be roaming about the fields at
night as long as he was in the neighborhood.
"Why don't you speak to the pastor, and
have him arrested?" said Arnfinn, impatient of
Hans's long-winded recital.
"No, no, say nothing to father," demanded
Augusta, eagerly. "Why should you arrest
a poor man as long as he does nothing worse
than sleep in the barns in the out-fields?"
"As you say, miss," retorted Hans, and departed.
The moon came up pale and mist-like over
the eastern mountain ridges, struggled for a few
brief moments feebly with the sunlight, and
"It is strange," said Arnfinn, "how
everything reminds me of Strand to-night. What
gloriously absurd apostrophes to the moon he
could make! I have not told you, cousin, of a
very singular gift which he possesses. He can
attract all kinds of birds and wild animals to
himself; he can imitate their voices, and they
flock around him, as if he were one of them,
without fear of harm."
"How delightful," cried Augusta, with sudden
animation. "What a glorious man your friend
"Because the snipes and the wild ducks like him?
You seem to have greater confidence in their judgment
than in mine."
"Of course I have--at least as long as you
persist in joking. But, jesting aside, what a
wondrously beautiful life he must lead whom
Nature takes thus into her confidence; who has,
as it were, an inner and subtler sense, corresponding
to each grosser and external one; who is
keen-sighted enough to read the character of
every individual beast, and has ears sensitive to
the full pathos of joy or sorrow in the song of
the birds that inhabit our woodlands."
"Whether he has any such second set of
senses as you speak of, I don't know; but there
can be no doubt that his familiarity, not to say
intimacy, with birds and beasts gives him a
great advantage as a naturalist. I suppose you
know that his little book has been translated
into French, and rewarded with the gold medal
of the Academy."
"Hush! What is that?" Augusta sprang
up, and held her hand to her ear.
"Some love-lorn mountain-cock playing yonder
in the pine copse," suggested Arnfinn,
amused at his cousin's eagerness.
"You silly boy! Don't you know the mountain-
cock never plays except at sunrise?"
"He would have a sorry time of it now, then,
when there IS no sunrise."
"And so he has; he does not play except in
The noise, at first faint, now grew louder. It
began with a series of mellow, plaintive clucks
that followed thickly one upon another, like
smooth pearls of sound that rolled through the
throat in a continuous current; then came a few
sharp notes as of a large bird that snaps his
bill; then a long, half-melodious rumbling,
intermingled with cacklings and snaps, and at last,
a sort of diminuendo movement of the same
round, pearly clucks. There was a whizzing of
wing-beats in the air; two large birds swept
over their heads and struck down into the copse
whence the sound had issued.
"This is indeed a most singular thing," said
Augusta, under her breath, and with wide-eyed wonder.
"Let us go nearer, and see what it can be."
"I am sure I can go if you can," responded
Arnfinn, not any too eagerly. "Give me your
hand, and we can climb the better."
As they approached the pine copse, which
projected like a promontory from the line of
the denser forest, the noise ceased, and only the
plaintive whistling of a mountain-hen, calling
her scattered young together, and now and then
the shrill response of a snipe to the cry of its
lonely mate, fell upon the summer night, not as
an interruption, but as an outgrowth of the very
silence. Augusta stole with soundless tread
through the transparent gloom which lingered
under those huge black crowns, and Arnfinn
followed impatiently after. Suddenly she motioned
to him to stand still, and herself bent forward
in an attitude of surprise and eager observation.
On the ground, some fifty steps from
where she was stationed, she saw a man
stretched out full length, with a knapsack under
his head, and surrounded by a flock of downy,
half-grown birds, which responded with a low,
anxious piping to his alluring cluck, then scattered
with sudden alarm, only to return again
in the same curious, cautious fashion as before.
Now and then there was a great flapping of
wings in the trees overhead, and a heavy brown
and black speckled mountain-hen alighted close
to the man's head, stretched out her neck toward
him, cocked her head, called her scattered brood
together, and departed with slow and deliberate
Again there was a frightened flutter over-
head, a shrill anxious whistle rose in the air,
and all was silence. Augusta had stepped on a
dry branch--it had broken under her weight--
hence the sudden confusion and flight. The
unknown man had sprung up, and his eye, after a
moment's search, had found the dark, beautiful
face peering forth behind the red fir-trunk.
He did not speak or salute her; he greeted her
with silent joy, as one greets a wondrous vision
which is too frail and bright for consciousness
to grasp, which is lost the very instant one is
conscious of seeing. But, while to the girl the
sight, as it were, hung trembling in the range
of mere physical perception, while its suddenness
held it aloof from moral reflection, there
came a great shout from behind, and Arnfinn,
whom in her surprise she had quite forgotten,
came bounding forward, grasping the stranger
by the hand with much vigor, laughing heartily,
and pouring forth a confused stream of
delighted interjections, borrowed from all manner
of classical and unclassical tongues.
"Strand! Strand!" he cried, when the first
tumult of excitement had subsided; "you most
marvelous and incomprehensible Strand! From
what region of heaven or earth did you jump
down into our prosaic neighborhood? And
what in the world possessed you to choose our
barns as the centre of your operations, and
nearly put me to the necessity of having you
arrested for vagrancy? How I do regret that
Cousin Augusta's entreaties mollified my heart
toward you. Pardon me, I have not introduced
you. This is my cousin, Miss Oddson, and this
is my miraculous friend, the world-renowned
author, vagrant, and naturalist, Mr. Marcus Strand."
Strand stepped forward, made a deep but
somewhat awkward bow, and was dimly aware
that a small soft hand was extended to him,
and, in the next moment, was enclosed in his
own broad and voluminous palm. He grasped
it firmly, and, in one of those profound abstractions
into which he was apt to fall when under
the sway of a strong impression, pressed it with
increasing cordiality, while he endeavored to
find fitting answers to Arnfinn's multifarious
"To tell the truth, Vording," he said, in a
deep, full-ringing bass, "I didn't know that
these were your cousin's barns--I mean that
your uncle"--giving the unhappy hand an emphatic
shake--"inhabited these barns."
"No, thank heaven, we are not quite reduced
to that," cried Arnfinn, gayly; "we still boast a
parsonage, as you will presently discover, and a
very bright and cozy one, to boot. But, whatever
you do, have the goodness to release
Augusta's hand. Don't you see how desperately
she is struggling, poor thing?"
Strand dropped the hand as if it had been a
hot coal, blushed to the edge of his hair, and
made another profound reverence. He was a
tall, huge-limbed youth, with a frame of
gigantic mold, and a large, blonde, shaggy head,
like that of some good-natured antediluvian
animal, which might feel the disadvantages of
its size amid the puny beings of this later stage
of creation. There was a frank directness in
his gaze, and an unconsciousness of self, which
made him very winning, and which could not
fail of its effect upon a girl who, like Augusta,
was fond of the uncommon, and hated smooth,
facile and well-tailored young men, with the
labels of society and fashion upon their coats,
their mustaches, and their speech. And Strand,
with his large sun-burned face, his wild-growing
beard, blue woolen shirt, top boots, and unkempt
appearance generally, was a sufficiently
startling phenomenon to satisfy even so exacting
a fancy as hers; for, after reading his book
about the Wading Birds, she had made up her
mind that he must have few points of resemblance
to the men who had hitherto formed part
of her own small world, although she had not
until now decided just in what way he was to
"Suppose I help you carry your knapsack,"
said Arnfinn, who was flitting about like a small
nimble spaniel trying to make friends with some
large, good-natured Newfoundland. "You must
be very tired, having roamed about in this
"No, I thank you," responded Strand, with
an incredulous laugh, glancing alternately from
Arnfinn to the knapsack, as if estimating their
proportionate weight. "I am afraid you would
rue your bargain if I accepted it."
"I suppose you have a great many stuffed
birds at home," remarked the girl, looking
with self-forgetful admiration at the large
"No, I have hardly any," answered he,
seating himself on the ground, and pulling a thick
note-book from his pocket. "I prefer live
creatures. Their anatomical and physiological
peculiarities have been studied by others, and
volumes have been written about them. It is
their psychological traits, ii you will allow the
expression, which interest me, and those I can
only get at while they are alive."
Some minutes later they were all on their way
to the Parsonage. The sun, in spite of its mid-
summer wakefulness, was getting red-eyed and
drowsy, and the purple mists which hung in
scattered fragments upon the forest below had
lost something of their deep-tinged brilliancy.
But Augusta, quite blind to the weakened light
effects, looked out upon the broad landscape in
ecstasy, and, appealing to her more apathetic
companions, invited them to share her joy at the
beauty of the faint-flushed summer night.
"You are getting quite dithyrambic, my
dear," remarked Arnfinn, with an air of cousinly
superiority, which he felt was eminently
becoming to him; and Augusta looked up with
quick surprise, then smiled in an absent way,
and forgot what she had been saying. She had
no suspicion but that her enthusiasm had been
all for the sunset.
In a life so outwardly barren and monotonous
as Augusta's--a life in which the small external
events were so firmly interwoven with the
subtler threads of yearnings, wants, and desires
--the introduction of so large and novel a fact
as Marcus Strand would naturally produce some
perceptible result. It was that deplorable
inward restlessness of hers, she reasoned, which
had hitherto made her existence seem so empty
and unsatisfactory; but now his presence filled
the hours, and the newness of his words, his
manner, and his whole person afforded
inexhaustible material for thought. It was now a
week since his arrival, and while Arnfinn and
Inga chatted at leisure, drew caricatures, or
read aloud to each other in some shady nook of
the garden, she and Strand would roam along
the beach, filling the vast unclouded horizon
with large glowing images of the future of the
human race. He always listened in sympathetic
silence while she unfolded to him her
often childishly daring schemes for the
amelioration of suffering and the righting of social
wrongs; and when she had finished, and he met
the earnest appeal of her dark eye, there would
often be a pause, during which each, with a
half unconscious lapse from the impersonal,
would feel more keenly the joy of this new
and delicious mental companionship. And
when at length he answered, sometimes gently
refuting and sometimes assenting to her
proposition, it was always with a slow, deliberate
earnestness, as if he felt but her deep sincerity,
and forgot for the moment her sex, her
youth, and her inexperience. It was just this
kind of fellowship for which she had hungered
so long, and her heart went out with a
great gratitude toward this strong and
generous man, who was willing to recognize her
humanity, and to respond with an ever-ready
frankness, unmixed with petty suspicions and
second thoughts, to the eager needs of her half-
starved nature. It is quite characteristic, too,
of the type of womanhood which Augusta
represents (and with which this broad continent
of ours abounds), that, with her habitual disregard
of appearances, she would have scorned
the notion that their intercourse had any ultimate
end beyond that of mutual pleasure and instruction.
It was early in the morning in the third week
of Strand's stay at the Parsonage. A heavy
dew had fallen during the night, and each tiny
grass-blade glistened in the sun, bending under
the weight of its liquid diamond. The birds
were improvising a miniature symphony in the
birches at the end of the garden; the song-
thrush warbled with a sweet melancholy his
long-drawn contralto notes; the lark, like a
prima donna, hovering conspicuously in mid
air, poured forth her joyous soprano solo; and
the robin, quite unmindful of the tempo, filled
out the pauses with his thoughtless staccato
chirp. Augusta, who was herself the early bird
of the pastor's family, had paid a visit to the
little bath-house down at the brook, and was
now hurrying homeward, her heavy black hair
confined in a delicate muslin hood, and her lithe
form hastily wrapped in a loose morning gown.
She had paused for a moment under the birches
to listen to the song of the lark, when suddenly
a low, half articulate sound, very unlike the
voice of a bird, arrested her attention; she
raised her eyes, and saw Strand sitting in the
top of a tree, apparently conversing with himself,
or with some tiny thing which he held in
"Ah, yes, you poor little sickly thing!" she
heard him mutter. "Don't you make such an
ado now. You shall soon be quite well, if you
will only mind what I tell you. Stop, stop!
Take it easy. It is all for your own good, you
know. If you had only been prudent, and not
stepped on your lame leg, you might have been
spared this affliction. But, after all, it was not
your fault--it was that foolish little mother of
yours. She will remember now that a skein of
hemp thread is not the thing to line her nest
with. If she doesn't, you may tell her that it
was I who said so."
Augusta stood gazing on in mute astonishment;
then, suddenly remembering her hasty
toilet, she started to run; but, as chance would
have it, a dry branch, which hung rather low,
caught at her hood, and her hair fell in a black
wavy stream down over her shoulders. She
gave a little cry, the tree shook violently, and
Strand was at her side. She blushed crimson
over neck and face, and, in her utter bewilderment,
stood like a culprit before him, unable to
move, unable to speak, and only returning with
a silent bow his cordial greeting. It seemed to
her that she had ungenerously intruded upon
his privacy, watching him, while he thought
himself unobserved. And Augusta was quite
unskilled in those social accomplishments which
enable young ladies to hide their inward emotions
under a show of polite indifference, for,
however hard she strove, she could not suppress
a slight quivering of her lips, and her intense
self-reproach made Strand's words fall dimly on
her ears, and prevented her from gathering the
meaning of what he was saying. He held in
his hands a young bird with a yellow line along
the edge of its bill (and there was something
beautifully soft and tender in the way those
large palms of his handled any living thing),
and he looked pityingly at it while he spoke.
"The mother of this little linnet," he said,
smiling, "did what many foolish young mothers
are apt to do. She took upon her the responsibility
of raising offspring without having acquired
the necessary knowledge of housekeeping.
So she lined her nest with hemp, and the
consequence was, that her first-born got his legs
entangled, and was obliged to remain in the
nest long after his wings had reached their full
development. I saw her feeding him about a
week ago, and, as my curiosity prompted me to
look into the case, I released the little cripple,
cleansed the deep wound which the threads had
cut in his flesh, and have since been watching
him during his convalescence. Now he is quite
in a fair way, but I had to apply some salve,
and to cut off the feathers about the wound, and
the little fool squirmed under the pain, and grew
rebellious. Only notice this scar, if you please,
Miss Oddson, and you may imagine what the
poor thing must have suffered."
Augusta gave a start; she timidly raised her
eyes, and saw Strand's grave gaze fixed upon
her. She felt as if some intolerable spell had
come over her, and, as her agitation increased,
her power of speech seemed utterly to desert
"Ah, you have not been listening to me?"
said Strand, in a tone of wondering inquiry.
"Pardon me for presuming to believe that my
little invalid could be as interesting to you as
he is to me."
"Mr. Strand," stammered the girl, while the
invisible tears came near choking her voice.
"Mr. Strand--I didn't mean--really--"
She knew that if she said another word she
should burst into tears. With a violent effort,
she gathered up her wrapper, which somehow
had got unbuttoned at the neck, and, with
heedlessly hurrying steps, darted away toward the
Strand stood looking after her, quite unmindful
of his feathered patient, which flew chirping
about him in the grass. Two hours later Arnfinn
found him sitting under the birches with
his hands clasped over the top of his head, and
his surgical instruments scattered on the ground
"Corpo di Baccho," exclaimed the student,
stooping to pick up the precious tools; "have
you been amputating your own head, or is it I
who am dreaming?"
"Ah," murmured Strand, lifting a large,
strange gaze upon his friend, "is it you?"
"Who else should it be? I come to call you
"I wonder what is up between Strand and
Augusta?" said Arnfinn to his cousin Inga. The
questioner was lying in the grass at her feet,
resting his chin on his palms, and gazing with
roguishly tender eyes up into her fresh, blooming
face; but Inga, who was reading aloud from
"David Copperfield," and was deep in the
matrimonial tribulations of that noble hero, only
said "hush," and continued reading. Arnfinn,
after a minute's silence, repeated his remark,
whereupon his fair cousin wrenched his cane
out of his hand, and held it threateningly over
"Will you be a good boy and listen?" she
exclaimed, playfully emphasizing each word
with a light rap on his curly pate.
"Ouch! that hurts," cried Arnfinn, and
"It was meant to hurt," replied Inga, with
mock severity, and returned to "Copperfield."
Presently the seed of a corn-flower struck the
tip of her nose, and again the cane was lifted;
but Dora's housekeeping experiences were too
absorbingly interesting, and the blue eyes could
not resist their fascination.
"Cousin Inga," said Arnfinn, and this time
with as near an approach to earnestness as he
was capable of at that moment, "I do believe
that Strand is in love with Augusta."
Inga dropped the book, and sent him what
was meant to be a glance of severe rebuke, and
then said, in her own amusingly emphatic way:
"I do wish you wouldn't joke with such
"Joke! Indeed I am not joking. I wish to
heaven that I were. What a pity it is that she
has taken such a dislike to him!"
"Dislike! Oh, you are a profound philosopher,
you are! You think that because she
Here Inga abruptly clapped her hand over
her mouth, and, with sudden change of voice
and expression, said:
"I am as silent as the grave."
"Yes, you are wonderfully discreet," cried
Arnfinn, laughing, while the girl bit her under
lip with an air of penitence and mortification
which, in any other bosom than a cousin's would
have aroused compassion.
"Aha! So steht's!" he broke forth, with
another burst of merriment; then, softened by the
sight of a tear that was slowly gathering beneath
her eyelashes, he checked his laughter,
crept up to her side, and in a half childishly
coaxing, half caressing tone, he whispered:
"Dear little cousin, indeed I didn't mean to
hurt your feelings. You are not angry with
me, are you? And if you will only promise me
not to tell, I have something here which I should
like to show you."
He well knew that there was nothing which
would sooner soothe Inga's wrath than confiding
a secret to her; and while he was a boy, he had,
in cases of sore need, invented secrets lest his
life should be made miserable by the sense that