POPULAR LITERATURE AND SCIENCE.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1878, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO., in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
If it were not for the people, the journey by steamer from Belgrade to Pesth would be rather unromantic. When the Servian capital is reached in ascending the great stream from Galatz and Rustchuk, the picturesque cliffs, the mighty forests, the moss-grown ruins overhanging the rushing waters, are all left behind. Belgrade is not very imposing. It lies along a low line of hills bordering the Sava and the Danube, and contains only a few edifices which are worthy even of the epithet creditable. The white pinnacle from which it takes its name—for the city grouped around the fort was once called Beograd ("white city")—now looks grimy and gloomy. The Servians have placed the cannon which they took from the Turks in the recent war on the ramparts, and have become so extravagantly vain in view of their exploits that their conceit is quite painful to contemplate. Yet it is impossible to avoid sympathizing to some extent with this little people, whose lot has been so hard and whose final emancipation has been so long in arriving. The intense affection which the Servian manifests for his native land is doubtless the result of the struggles and the sacrifices which he has been compelled to make in order to remain in possession of it. One day he has been threatened by the Austrian or the jealous and unreasonable Hungarian: another he has received news that the Turks were marching across his borders, burning, plundering and devastating. There is something peculiarly pathetic in the lot of these small Danubian states. Nearly every one of them has been the cause of combats in which its inhabitants have shed rivers of blood before they could obtain even a fragment of such liberty and peace as have long been the possessions of Switzerland and Belgium. It is not surprising that the small countries which once formed part of Turkey-in-Europe are anxious to grow larger and stronger by annexation of territory and consolidation of populations. They are tired of being feeble: it is not amusing. Servia once expected that she would be allowed to gain a considerable portion of Bosnia, her neighbor province, but the Austrians are there, and would speedily send forces to Belgrade if it were for a moment imagined that Prince Milan and his counsellors were still greedy for Serapevo and other fat towns of the beautiful Bosnian lands. Now and then, when a Servian burgher has had an extra flask of Negotin, he vapors about meeting the Austrians face to face and driving them into the Sava; but he never mentions it when he is in a normal condition.
The country which Servia has won from the Turks in the neighborhood of Nisch, and the quaint old city of Nisch itself, were no meagre prizes, and ought to content the ambition of the young prince for some time. It was righteous that the Servians should possess Nisch, and that the Turks should be driven out by violence. The cruel and vindictive barbarian had done everything that he could to make himself feared and loathed by the Servians. To this day, not far from one of the principal gates of the city, on the Pirot road, stands the "Skull Tower," in the existence of which, I suppose, an English Tory would refuse to believe, just as he denied his credence to the story of the atrocities at Batak. The four sides of this tower are completely covered, as with a barbarous mosaic, with the skulls of Servians slain by their oppressors in the great combat of 1809. The Turks placed here but a few of their trophies, for they slaughtered thousands, while the tower's sides could accommodate only nine hundred and fifty-two skulls. It is much to the credit of the Servians that when they took Nisch in 1877 they wreaked no vengeance on the Mussulman population, but simply compelled them to give up their arms, and informed them that they could return to their labors. The presence of the Servians at Nisch has already been productive of good: decent roads from that point to Sophia are already in process of construction, and the innumerable brigands who swarmed along the country-side have been banished or killed. Sophia still lies basking in the mellow sunlight, lazily refusing to be cleansed or improved. Nowhere else on the border-line of the Orient is there a town which so admirably illustrates the reckless and stupid negligence of the Turk. Sophia looks enchanting from a distance, but when one enters its narrow streets, choked with rubbish and filled with fetid smells, one is only too glad to retire hastily. It would take a quarter of a century to make Sophia clean. All round the city are scattered ancient tumuli filled with the remains of the former lords of the soil, and they are almost as attractive as the hovels in which live the people of to-day. What a desolate waste the Turk has been allowed to make of one of the finest countries in Europe! He must be thrust out before improvement can come in. Lamartine, who was one of the keenest observers that ever set foot in Turkey, truly said "that civilization, which is so fine in its proper place, would prove a mortal poison to Islamism. Civilization cannot live where the Turks are: it will wither away and perish more quickly whenever it is brought near them. With it, if you could acclimate it in Turkey, you could not make Europeans, you could not make Christians: you would simply unmake Turks."
The enemies of progress and of the "Christian dogs" are receding, and railways and sanitary improvements will come when they are gone. Belgrade was a wretched town when the Turks had it: now it is civilized. Its history is romantic and picturesque, although its buildings are not. Servia's legends and the actual recitals of the adventurous wars which have occurred within her limits would fill volumes. The White City has been famous ever since the Ottoman conquest. Its dominant position at the junction of two great rivers, at the frontier of Christian Europe, at a time when turbans were now and then seen in front of the walls of Vienna, gave it a supreme importance. The Turks exultingly named it "the Gate of the Holy War." Thence it was that they sallied forth on incursions through the fertile plains where now the Hungarian shepherd leads his flock and plays upon his wooden pipe, undisturbed by the bearded infidel. The citadel was fought over until its walls cracked beneath the successive blows of Christian and Mussulman. Suleiman the Lawgiver, the elector of Bavaria, Eugene of Savoy, have trod the ramparts which frown on the Danube's broad current. The Austrians have many memories of the old fortress: they received it in 1718 by the treaty of Passarowitz, but gave it up in 1749, to take it back again in 1789. The treaty of Sistova—an infamy which postponed the liberation of the suffering peoples in Turkey-in-Europe for nearly a hundred years—compelled the Austrians once more to yield it, this time to the Turks. In this century how often has it been fought over—from the time of the heroic Kara George, the Servian liberator, to the bloody riots in our days which resulted in driving Mussulmans definitely from the territory!
Everywhere along the upper Servian banks of the Danube traces of the old epoch are disappearing. The national costume, which was graceful, and often very rich, is yielding before the prosaic—the ugly garments imported from Jewish tailoring establishments in Vienna and Pesth. The horseman with his sack-coat, baggy velvet trousers and slouch hat looks not unlike a rough rider along the shores of the Mississippi River. In the interior patriarchal costumes and customs are still preserved. On the Sava river-steamers the people from towns in the shadows of the primeval forests which still cover a large portion of the country are to be found, and they are good studies for an artist. The women, with golden ducats braided in their hair; the priests, with tall brimless hats and long yellow robes; the men, with round skull-caps, leathern girdles with knives in them, and waistcoats ornamented with hundreds of glittering buttons,—are all unconscious of the change which is creeping in by the Danube, and to which they will presently find themselves submitting. The railway will take away the lingering bits of romance from Servia; the lovely and lonely monasteries high among the grand peaks in the mountain-ranges will be visited by tourists from Paris, who will scrawl their names upon the very altars; and Belgrade will be rich in second-class caravanserais kept by Moses and Abraham. After the Austrians who have gone over into Bosnia will naturally follow a crowd of adventurers from Croatia and from the neighborhood of Pesth, and it would not be surprising should many of them find it for their interest to settle in Servia, although the government would probably endeavor to keep them out. Should the movement which Lord Beaconsfield is pleased to call the "Panslavic conspiracy" assume alarming proportions within a short time, the Servians would be in great danger of losing, for years at least, their autonomy.
The arrival by night at Belgrade, coming from below, is interesting, and one has a vivid recollection ever afterward of swarms of barefooted coal-heavers, clad in coarse sacking, rushing tumultuously up and down a gang-plank, as negroes do when wooding up on a Southern river; of shouting and swaggering Austrian customs officials, clad in gorgeous raiment, but smoking cheap cigars; of Servian gendarmes emulating the bluster and surpassing the rudeness of the Austrians; of Turks in transit from the Constantinople boat to the craft plying to Bosnian river-ports; of Hungarian peasants in white felt jackets embroidered with scarlet thread, or mayhap even with yellow; and of various Bohemian beggars, whose swart faces remind one that he is still in the neighborhood of the East. I had on one occasion, while a steamer was lying at Belgrade, time to observe the manners of the humbler sort of folk in a species of cabaret near the river-side and hard by the erratic structure known as the custom-house. There was a serious air upon the faces of the men which spoke well for their characters. Each one seemed independent, and to a certain extent careless, of his neighbor's opinion. It would have been impossible, without some knowledge of the history of the country, to have supposed that these people, or even their ancestors, had ever been oppressed. Gayety did not prevail, nor is there anywhere among the Danubian Slavs a tendency to the innocent and spontaneous jollity so common in some sections of Europe. The Servian takes life seriously. I was amused to see that each one of this numerous company of swineherds or farmers, who had evidently come in to Belgrade to market, drank his wine as if it were a duty, and on leaving saluted as seriously as if he were greeting a distinguished company gathered to do him honor. That such men are cowards, as the English would have us believe, is impossible; and in 1877 they showed that the slander was destitute of even the slightest foundation in fact.
Morals in Belgrade among certain classes perhaps leave something to desire in the way of strictness; but the Danubian provinces are not supposed to be the abodes of all the virtues and graces. The Hungarians could not afford to throw stones at the Servians on the score of morality, and the Roumanians certainly would not venture to try the experiment. In the interior of Servia the population is pure, and the patriarchal manner in which the people live tends to preserve them so. There is as much difference between the sentiment in Belgrade and that in the provinces as would be found between Paris and a French rural district.
But let us drop details concerning Servia, for the brave little country demands more serious attention than can be given to it in one or two brief articles. The boat which bears me away from the Servian capital has come hither from Semlin, the Austrian town on the other side of the Sava River. It is a jaunty and comfortable craft, as befits such vessels as afford Servians their only means of communication with the outer world. If any but Turks had been squatted in Bosnia there would have been many a smart little steamer running down the Sava and around up the Danube; but the baleful Mussulman has checked all enterprise wherever he has had any foothold. We go slowly, cleaving the dull-colored tide, gazing, as we sit enthroned in easy-chairs on the upper deck, out upon the few public institutions of Belgrade—the military college and the handsome road leading to the garden of Topschidere, where the Lilliputian court has its tiny summer residence. Sombre memories overhang this "Cannoneer's Valley," this Topschidere, where Michael, the son and successor of good Milosch as sovereign prince of the nation, perished by assassination in 1868. In a few minutes we are whisked round a corner, and a high wooded bluff conceals the White City from our view.
The Servian women—and more especially those belonging to the lower classes—have a majesty and dignity which are very imposing. One is inclined at first to believe these are partially due to assumption, but he speedily discovers that such is not the case. Blanqui, the French revolutionist, who made a tour through Servia in 1840, has given the world a curious and interesting account of the conversations which he held with Servian women on the subject of the oppression from which the nation was suffering. Everywhere among the common people he found virile sentiments expressed by the women, and the princess Lionbitza, he said, was "the prey of a kind of holy fever." M. Blanqui described her as a woman fifty years old, with a martial, austere yet dreamy physiognomy, with strongly-marked features, a proud and sombre gaze, and her head crowned with superb gray hair braided and tied with red ribbon. "Ah!" said this woman to him, with an accent in her voice which startled him, "if all these men round about us here were not women, or if they were women like me, we should soon be free from our tormentors!" It was the fiery words of such women as this which awoke the Servian men from the lethargy into which they were falling after Kara George had exhausted himself in heroic efforts, and which sent them forth anew to fight for their liberties.
At night, when the moon is good enough to shine, the voyage up the river has charms, and tempts one to remain on deck all night, in spite of the sharp breezes which sweep across the stream. The harmonious accents of the gentle Servian tongue echo all round you: the song of the peasants grouped together, lying in a heap like cattle to keep warm, comes occasionally to your ears; and if there be anything disagreeable, it is the loud voices and brawling manners of some Austrian troopers on transfer. From time to time the boat slows her speed as she passes through lines or streets of floating mills anchored securely in the river. Each mill—a small house with sloping roof, and with so few windows that one wonders how the millers ever manage to see their grist—is built upon two boats. The musical hum of its great wheel is heard for a long distance, and warns one of the approach toward these pacific industries. The miller is usually on the lookout, and sometimes, when a large steamer is coming up, and he anticipates trouble from the "swell" which she may create, he may be seen madly gesticulating and dancing upon his narrow platform in a frenzy of anxiety for the fruits of his toil. A little village on a neck of land or beneath a grove shows where the wives and children of these millers live. The mills are a source of prosperity for thousands of humble folk, and of provocation to hurricanes of profanity on the part of the Austrian, Italian and Dalmatian captains who are compelled to pass them. Stealing through an aquatic town of this kind at midnight, with the millers all holding out their lanterns, with the steamer's bell ringing violently, and with rough voices crying out words of caution in at least four languages, produces a curious if not a comical effect on him who has the experience for the first time.
Peaceable as the upper Danube shores look, Arcadian as seems the simplicity of their populations, the people are torn by contending passions, and are watched by the lynx-eyed authorities of two or three governments. The agents of the Omladina, the mysterious society which interests itself in the propagation of Pan-slavism, have numerous powerful stations in the Austrian towns, and do much to discontent the Slavic subjects of Francis Joseph with the rule of the Hapsburgs. There have also been instances of conspiracy against the Obrenovich dynasty, now in power in Servia, and these have frequently resulted in armed incursions from the Hungarian side of the stream to the other bank, where a warm reception was not long awaited. In the humblest hamlet there are brains hot with ambitious dreams daringly planning some scheme which is too audacious to be realized.
The traveller can scarcely believe this when, as the boat stops at some little pier which is half buried under vines and blossoms, he sees the population indulging in an innocent festival with the aid of red and white wine, a few glasses of beer, and bread and cheese. Families mounted in huge yellow chariots drawn by horses ornamented with gayly-decorated harnesses, come rattling into town and get down before a weatherbeaten inn, the signboard above which testifies to respect and love for some emperor of long ago. Youths and maidens wander arm in arm by the foaming tide or sit in the little arbors crooning songs and clinking glasses. Officers strut about, calling each other loudly by their titles or responding to the sallies of those of their comrades who fill the after-deck of the steamer. The village mayor in a braided jacket, the wharfmaster in semi-military uniform, and the agent of the steamboat company, who appears to have a remarkable penchant for gold lace and buttons, render the throng still more motley. There is also, in nine cases out of ten, a band of tooting musicians, and as the boat moves away national Hungarian and Austrian airs are played. He would be indeed a surly fellow who should not lift his cap on these occasions, and he would be repaid for his obstinacy by the very blackest of looks.
Carlowitz and Slankamen are two historic spots which an Hungarian, if he feels kindly disposed toward a stranger, will point out to him. The former is known to Americans by name only, as a rule, and that because they have seen it upon bottle-labels announcing excellent wine; but the town, with its ancient cathedral, its convents, and its "chapel of peace" built on the site of the structure in which was signed the noted peace of 1699, deserves a visit. Rumor says that the head-quarters of the Omladina are very near this town, so that the foreign visitor must not be astonished if the local police seem uncommonly solicitous for his welfare while he remains. At Slankamen in 1691 the illustrious margrave of Baden administered such a thrashing to the Turks that they fled in the greatest consternation, and it was long before they rallied again.
Thus, threading in and out among the floating mills, pushing through reedy channels in the midst of which she narrowly escapes crushing the boats of fishers, and carefully avoiding the moving banks of sand which render navigation as difficult as on the Mississippi, the boat reaches Peterwardein, high on a mighty mass of rock, and Neusatz opposite, connected with its neighbor fortress-town by a bridge of boats. Although within the limits of the Austria-Hungarian empire, Neusatz is almost entirely Servian in aspect and population, and Peterwardein, which marks the military confines of Slavonia, has a large number of Servian inhabitants. It was the proximity and the earnestness in their cause of these people which induced the Hungarians to agree to the military occupation of Bosnia and the Herzegovina. At one time the obstinate Magyars would have liked to refuse their adhesion to the decisions of the Berlin Congress, but they soon thought better of that. Peterwardein is the last really imposing object on the Danube before reaching Pesth. It is majestic and solemn, with its gloomy castle, its garrison which contains several thousand soldiers, and its prison of state. The remembrance that Peter the Hermit there put himself at the head of the army with which the Crusades were begun adds to the mysterious and powerful fascination of the place. I fancied that I could see the lean and fanatical priest preaching before the assembled thousands, hurling his words down upon them from some lofty pinnacle. No one can blame the worthy Peter for undertaking his mission if the infidels treated Christians in the Orient as badly then as they do to-day. Centuries after Peter slept in consecrated dust the Turks sat down before Peterwardein to besiege it, but they had only their labor for their pains, for Prince Eugene drove them away. This was in 1716. It seems hard to believe that a hostile force of Turks was powerful enough to wander about Christendom a little more than a century and a half ago.
After passing Peterwardein and Neusatz the boat's course lies through the vast Hungarian plain, which reminds the American of some of the rich lands in the Mississippi bottom. Here is life, lusty, crude, seemingly not of Europe, but rather of the extreme West or East. As far as the eye can reach on either hand stretch the level acres, dotted with herds of inquisitive swine, with horses wild and beautiful snorting and gambolling as they hear the boat's whistle, and peasants in white linen jackets and trousers and immense black woollen hats. Fishers by hundreds balance in their little skiffs on the small whirlpool of waves made by the steamer, and sing gayly. For a stretch of twenty miles the course may lie near an immense forest, where millions of stout trees stand in regular rows, where thousands of oaks drop acorns every year to fatten thousands upon thousands of pigs. Cattle stray in these woods, and sometimes the peasant-farmer has a veritable hunt before he can find his own. Afar in the wooded recesses of Slavonia many convents of the Greek religion are hidden. Their inmates lead lives which have little or no relation to anything in the nineteenth century. For them wars and rumors of wars, Russian aggression, Austrian annexation, conspiracies by Kara Georgewitch, Hungarian domination in the Cabinet at Vienna, and all such trivial matters, do not exist. The members of these religious communities are not like the more active members of the clergy of their Church, who unquestionably have much to do with promoting war and supporting it when it is in aid of their nationality and their religion.
One of the most remarkable sights in this region is a herd of the noble "cattle of the steppes," the beasts in which every Hungarian takes so much pride. These cattle are superb creatures, and as they stand eying the passers-by one regrets that he has not more time in which to admire their exquisite white skins, their long symmetrical horns and their shapely limbs. They appear to be good-tempered, but it would not be wise to risk one's self on foot in their immediate neighborhood.
As for the fishermen, some of them seem to prefer living on the water rather than on dry land. Indeed, the marshy borders of the Danube are not very healthy, and it is not astonishing that men do not care to make their homes on these low lands. There are several aquatic towns between Pesth and the point at which the Drava (or Drau), a noble river, empties its waters into the Danube. Apatin is an assemblage of huts which appear to spring from the bosom of the current, but as the steamer approaches one sees that these huts are built upon piles driven firmly into the river-bed, and between these singular habitations are other piles upon which nets are stretched. So the fisherman, without going a hundred yards from his own door, traps the wily denizens of the Danube, prepares them for market, and at night goes peacefully to sleep in his rough bed, lulled by the rushing of the strong current beneath him. I am bound to confess that the fishermen of Apatin impressed me as being rather rheumatic, but perhaps this was only a fancy.
Besdan, with its low hills garnished with windmills and its shores lined with silvery willows, is the only other point of interest, save Mohacz, before reaching Pesth. Hour after hour the traveller sees the same panorama of steppes covered with swine, cattle and horses, with occasional farms—their outbuildings protected against brigands and future wars by stout walls—and with pools made by inundations of the impetuous Danube. Mohacz is celebrated for two tremendous battles in the past, and for a fine cathedral, a railway and a coaling-station at present. Louis II., king of Hungary, was there undone by Suleiman in 1526; and there, a hundred and fifty years later, did the Turks come to sorrow by the efforts of the forces under Charles IV. of Lorraine.
Just as I was beginning to believe that the slow-going steamer on which I had embarked my fortunes was held back by enchantment—for we were half a day ascending the stream from Mohacz—we came in sight of a huge cliff almost inaccessible from one side, and a few minutes later could discern the towers of Buda and the mansions of Pesth. While nearing the landing-place and hastening hither and yon to look after various small bundles and boxes, I had occasion to address an Hungarian gentleman. In the course of some conversation which followed I remarked that Pesth seemed a thriving place, and that one would hardly have expected to find two such flourishing towns as Vienna and Pesth so near each other.
"Oh," said he with a little sneer which his slight foreign accent (he was speaking French) rendered almost ludicrous, "Vienna is a smart town, but it is nothing to this!" And he pointed with pride to his native city.
Although I could not exactly agree with this extravagant estimate of the extent of Pesth, I could not deny that it was vastly superior to my idea of it. When one arrives there from the south-east, after many wanderings among semi-barbaric villages and little cities on the outskirts of civilization, he finds Pesth very impressive. The Hungarian shepherds and the boatmen who ply between the capital and tiny forts below fancy that it is the end of the world. They have vaguely heard of Vienna, but their patriotism is so intense and their round of life so circumscribed that they never succeed in forming a definite idea of its proportions or its location. Communication between the two chief towns of the Austria-Hungarian empire is also much less frequent than one would imagine. The Hungarians go but little to Vienna, even the members of the nobility preferring to consecrate their resources to the support of the splendors of their own city rather than to contribute them to the Austrian metropolis. Seven hours' ride in what the Austrians are bold enough to term an express-train covers the distance between Vienna and Pesth, yet there seems to be an abyss somewhere on the route which the inhabitants are afraid of. Pride, a haughty determination not to submit to centralization, and content with their surroundings make the Hungarians sparing of intercourse with their Austrian neighbors. "We send them prime ministers, and now and then we allow them a glimpse of some of our beauties in one of their palaces, but the latter does not happen very often," once said an Hungarian friend to me.
An American who should arrive in Pesth fancying that he was about to see a specimen of the dilapidated towns of "effete and decaying Europe" would find himself vastly mistaken. The beautiful and costly modern buildings on every principal street, the noble bridges across the vast river, the fine railway-stations, the handsome theatres, the palatial hotels, would explain to him why it is that the citizens of Pesth speak of their town as the "Chicago of the East." There was a time when it really seemed as if Pesth would rival, if not exceed, Chicago in the extent of her commerce, the vivacity and boldness of her enterprises and the rapid increase of her population. Austria and Hungary were alike the prey of a feverish agitation which pervaded all classes. In a single day at Vienna as many as thirty gigantic stock companies were formed; hundreds of superb structures sprang up monthly; people who had been beggars but a few months before rode in carriages and bestowed gold by handfuls on whoever came first. The wind or some mysterious agency which no one could explain brought this financial pestilence to Pesth, where it raged until the Krach—the Crash, as the Germans very properly call it—came. After the extraordinary activity which had prevailed there came gloom and stagnation; but at last, as in America, business in Pesth and in Hungary generally is gradually assuming solidity and contains itself within proper bounds. The exciting period had one beneficial feature: it made Pesth a handsome city. There are no quays in Europe more substantial and elegant than those along the Danube in the Hungarian capital, and no hotels, churches and mansions more splendid than those fronting on these same quays. At eventide, when the whole population comes out for an airing and loiters by the parapets which overlook the broad rushing river, when innumerable lights gleam from the boats anchored on either bank, and when the sound of music and song is heard from half a hundred windows, no city can boast a spectacle more animated. At ten o'clock the streets are deserted. Pesth is exceedingly proper and decorous as soon as the darkness has fallen, although I do remember to have seen a torchlight procession there during the Russo-Turkish war. The inhabitants were so enthusiastic over the arrival of a delegation of Mussulman students from Constantinople that they put ten thousand torches in line and marched until a late hour, thinking, perhaps, that the lurid light on the horizon might be seen as far as Vienna, and might serve as a warning to the Austrian government not to go too far in its sympathy with Russia.
Buda-Pesth is the name by which the Hungarians know their capital, and Buda is by no means the least important portion of the city. It occupies the majestic and rugged hill directly opposite Pesth—a hill so steep that a tunnel containing cars propelled upward and downward by machinery has been arranged to render Buda easy of access. Where the hill slopes away southward there are various large villages crowded with Servians, Croatians and Low Hungarians, who huddle together in a rather uncivilized manner. A fortress where there were many famous fights and sieges in the times of the Turks occupies a summit a little higher than Buda, so that in case of insurrection a few hot shot could be dropped among the inhabitants. Curiously enough, however, there are thousands of loyal Austrians, German by birth, living in Buda—or Ofen, as the Teutons call it—whereas in Pesth, out of the two hundred thousand inhabitants, scarcely three thousand are of Austrian birth. As long as troops devoted to Francis Joseph hold Buda there is little chance for the citizens of Pesth to succeed in revolt. Standing on the terrace of the rare old palace on Buda's height, I looked down on Pesth with the same range of vision that I should have had in a balloon. Every quarter of the city would be fully exposed to an artillery fire from these gigantic hills.
Buda is not rich in the modern improvements which render Pesth so noticeable. I found no difficulty in some of the nooks and corners of this quaint town in imagining myself back in the Middle Ages. Tottering churches, immensely tall houses overhanging yawning and precipitous alleys, markets set on little shelves in the mountain, hovels protesting against sliding down into the valley, whither they seemed inevitably doomed to go, succeeded one another in rapid panorama. Here were costume, theatrical effect, artistic grouping: it was like Ragusa, Spalatro and Sebenico. Old and young women sat on the ground in the markets, as our negroes do in Lynchburg in Virginia: they held up fruit and vegetables and shrieked out the prices in a dialect which seemed a compound of Hungarian and German. Austrian soldiers and Hungarian recruits, the former clad in brown jackets and blue hose, the latter in buff doublets and red trousers, and wearing feathers in their caps, marched and countermarched, apparently going nowhere in particular, but merely keeping up discipline by means of exercise.
The emperor comes often to the fine palace on Buda hill, and sallies forth from it to hunt with some of the nobles on their immense estates. The empress is passionately fond of Hungary, and spends no small portion of her time there. The Hungarians receive this consideration from their sovereign lady as very natural, and speak of her as a person of great good sense. The German and Slavic citizens of Austria say that there are but two failings of which Her Imperial Majesty can be accused—she loves the Hungarians and she is too fond of horses. Nothing delights the citizens of Pesth so much as to find that the Slavs are annoyed, for there is no love lost between Slav and Magyar. A natural antipathy has been terribly increased by the fear on the part of Hungary that she may lose her influence in the composite empire one day, owing to the Slavic regeneration.
At Pesth they do not speak of the "beautiful blue Danube," because there the river ceases to be of that color, which Johann Strauss has so enthusiastically celebrated. But between Vienna and Pesth the blue is clearly perceptible, and the current is lovely even a few miles from the islands in the stream near the Hungarian capital. The Margarethen-Insel, which is but a short distance above Pesth, is a little paradise. It has been transformed by private munificence into a rich garden full of charming shaded nooks and rare plants and flowers. In the middle of this pleasure-ground are extensive bath-houses and mineral springs. Morning, noon and night gypsy bands make seductive music, and the notes of their melodies recall the strange lands far away down the stream—Roumania, the hills and valleys of the Banat and the savage Servian mountains. Along the river-side there are other resorts in which, in these days, when business has not yet entirely recovered from the Krach, there are multitudes of loungers. In midsummer no Hungarian need go farther than these baths of Pesth to secure rest and restore health. The Romans were so pleased with the baths in the neighborhood that they founded a colony on the site of Buda-Pesth, although they had no particular strategic reasons for doing so. As you sit in the pleasant shade you will probably hear the inspiring notes of the Rakoczy, the march of which the Hungarians are so passionately fond, which recalls the souvenirs of their revolutions and awakens a kind of holy exaltation in their hearts. The Rakoczy has been often enough fantastically described: some hear in it the gallop of horsemen, the clashing of arms, the songs of women and the cries of wounded men. A clever Frenchman has even written two columns of analysis of the march, and he found in it nearly as much as there is in Goethe's Faust. These harmless fancies are of little use in aiding to a veritable understanding of the wonderful march. It suffices to say that one cannot hear it played, even by a strolling band of gypsies, without a strange fluttering of the heart, an excitement and an enthusiasm which are beyond one's control. A nation with such a Marseillaise as the Rakoczy certainly ought to go far in time of war.
The Hungarians are a martial people, and are fond of reciting their exploits. Every old guide in Pesth will tell you, in a variegated English which will provoke your smiles, all the incidents of the Hungarian revolution, the events of 1848 and 1849—how the Austrians were driven across the great bridge over the Danube, etc.—with infinite gusto. The humblest wharf-laborer takes a vital interest in the welfare of his country, even if he is not intelligent enough to know from what quarter hostilities might be expected. There is a flash in an Hungarian's eye when he speaks of the events of 1848 which is equalled only by the lightnings evoked from his glance by the magic echoes of the Rakoczy.
The peasantry round about Pesth, and the poor wretches, Slavic and Hungarian, who work on the streets, seem in sad plight. A friend one day called my attention to a number of old women, most miserably clad, barefooted and bent with age and infirmities, carrying stones and bricks to a new building. The spectacle was enough to make one's heart bleed, but my friend assured me that the old women were happy, and that they lived on bread and an occasional onion, with a little water for drink or sometimes a glass of adulterated white wine. The men working with them looked even worse fed and more degraded than the women. In the poor quarters of Pesth, and more especially those inhabited by the Jews, the tenements are exceedingly filthy, and the aroma is so uninviting that one hastens away from the streets where these rookeries abound. The utmost civility, not to say servility, may always be expected of the lower classes: some of them seize one's hand and kiss it as the Austrian servants do. Toward strangers Hungarians of all ranks are unfailingly civil and courteous. A simple letter of introduction will procure one a host of attentions which he would not have the right to expect in England or America.
The mound of earth on the bank of the Danube near the quays of Pesth represents the soil of every Hungarian province; and from that mound the emperor of Austria, when he was crowned king of Hungary, was forced to shake his sword against the four quarters of the globe, thus signifying his intention of defending the country from any attack whatsoever. Thus far he has succeeded in doing it, and in keeping on good terms with the legislative bodies of the country, without whose co-operation he cannot exercise his supreme authority. These bodies are a chamber of peers, recruited from the prelates, counts and such aristocrats as sit there by right of birth, and a second chamber, which is composed of four hundred and thirteen deputies elected from as many districts for the term of three years, and thirty-four delegates from the autonomous province of Croatia-Slavonia. The entrance to the diet is guarded by a frosty-looking servitor in an extravagant Hungarian uniform, jacket and hose profusely covered with brilliant braids, and varnished jack-boots. The deputies when in session are quiet, orderly and dignified, save when the word "Russian" is pronounced. It is a word which arouses all their hatred.
Buda-Pesth is about to undergo a formidable series of improvements notwithstanding the illusions which were dispersed by the Krach. One of the most conspicuous and charming municipal displays in the Paris Exposition is the group of charts and plans sent from Pesth. The patriot Deak is to have a colossal monument; the quays are to be rendered more substantial against inundations than they are at present; and many massive public edifices are to be erected. The Danube is often unruly, and once nearly destroyed the city of Pesth, also doing much damage along the slopes of Buda. If an inundation should come within the next two or three years millions of florins' worth of property might be swept away in a single night. The opera, the principal halls of assembly and the hotels of Pesth will challenge comparison with those of any town of two hundred thousand population in the world; and the Grand Hotel Hungaria has few equals in cities of the largest size.
The Hungarians are a handsome race, and the people of Pesth and vicinity have especial claims to attention for their beauty. The men of the middle and upper classes are tall, slender, graceful, and their features are exceedingly regular and pleasing. The women are so renowned that a description of their charms is scarcely necessary. Beautiful as are the Viennese ladies in their early youth, they cannot rival their fellow-subjects of Hungary. The Austrian woman grows fat, matronly and rather coarse as she matures: the Hungarian lady of forty is still as willowy, graceful and capricious as she was at twenty. The peasant-women, poor things! are ugly, because they work from morning till night in the vineyards, toiling until their backs are broken. The wine which the beauties drink costs their humbler sisters their life-blood, their grace, their happiness. The sunshine of a thousand existences is imprisoned in the vintages of Pressburg and Carlowitz. Poor, homely toilers in the fields! Poor human creatures transformed into beasts of burden! The Hungarian nation owes it to itself to emancipate these struggling women and show them the way to better things.
CHAPTER XLVIII ENGAGEMENTS—HOSTILE AND OTHERWISE.
The fairest season of the year, the debatable ground between spring and summer, had come round once more. There were leaves on the trees and flowers in the grass. The sunshine was golden and full, not like the bleak brightness of March. The winds were warm, the showers soft. Percival, always keenly affected by such influences, felt as if a new life had come to him with the spring. Now that the evenings had grown long and light, he could escape into the country, breathe a purer air and wander in fields and lanes. And as he wandered, musing, it seemed to him that he had awakened from a dream.
He looked back upon the past year, and he was more than half inclined to call himself a fool. He had taken up work for which he was not fit. He could see that now. He knew very well that his life was almost intolerable, and that it would never be more tolerable unless help came from without. He could never grow accustomed to his drudgery. He could work honestly, but he could never put his heart into it. And even if he could have displayed ten times as much energy, if his aptitude for business had been ten times as great, if Mr. Ferguson had estimated him so highly as to take him as articled clerk, if he had passed all his examinations and been duly admitted, if the brightest possibilities in such a life as his had become realities and he had attained at last to a small share in the business,—what would be the end of this most improbable success? Merely that he would have to spend his whole life in Brenthill absorbed in law. Now, the law was a weariness to him, and he loathed Brenthill. Yet he had voluntarily accepted a life which could offer him no higher prize than such a fate as this, when Godfrey Hammond or Mrs. Middleton, or even old Hardwicke, would no doubt have helped him to something better.
Certainly he had been a fool; and yet, while he realized this truth, he sincerely respected—I might almost say he admired—his own folly. He had been sick of dependence, and he had gone down at once to the bottom of everything, taken his stand on firm ground and conquered independence for himself. He had gained the precious knowledge that he could earn his own living by the labor of his hands. He might have been a fool to reject the help that would have opened some higher and less distasteful career to him, yet if he had accepted it he would never have known the extent of his own powers. He would have been a hermit-crab still, fitted with another shell by the kindness of his friends. Had he clearly understood what he was doing when he went to Brenthill, it was very likely that he might never have gone. He was almost glad that he had not understood.
And now, having conquered in the race, could he go back and ask for the help which he had once refused? Hardly. The life in which we first gain independence may be stern and ugly, the independence itself—when we gather in our harvest—may have a rough and bitter taste, yet it will spoil the palate for all other flavors. They will seem sickly sweet after its wholesome austerity. Neither did Percival feel any greater desire for a career of any kind than he had felt a year earlier when he talked over his future life with Godfrey Hammond. If he were asked what was his day-dream, his castle in the air, the utmost limit of his earthly wishes, he would answer now as he would have answered then, "Brackenhill," dismissing the impossible idea with a smile even as he uttered it. Asked what would content him—since we can hardly hope to draw the highest prize in our life's lottery—he would answer now as then—to have an assured income sufficient to allow him to wander on the Continent, to see pictures, old towns, Alps, rivers, blue sky; wandering, to remain a foreigner all his life, so that there might always be something a little novel and curious about his food and his manner of living (things which are apt to grow so hideously commonplace in the land where one is born), to drink the wine of the country, to read many poems in verse, in prose, in the scenery around; and through it all, from first to last, to "dream deliciously."
And yet, even while he felt that his desire was unchanged, he knew that there was a fresh obstacle between him and its fulfilment. Heaven help him! had there not been enough before? Was it needful that it should become clear to him that nowhere on earth could he find the warmth and the sunlight for which he pined while a certain pair of sad eyes grew ever sadder and sadder looking out on the murky sky, the smoke, the dust, the busy industry of Brenthill? How could he go away? Even these quiet walks of his had pain mixed with their pleasure when he thought that there was no such liberty for Judith Lisle. Not for her the cowslips in the upland pastures, the hawthorn in the hedges, the elm-boughs high against the breezy sky, the first dog-roses pink upon the briers. Percival turned from them to look at the cloud which hung ever like a dingy smear above Brenthill, and the more he felt their loveliness the more he felt her loss.
He had no walk on Sunday mornings. A few months earlier Mr. Clifton of St. Sylvester's would have claimed him as a convert. Now he was equally devout, but it was the evangelical minister, Mr. Bradbury of Christ Church, who saw him week after week a regular attendant, undaunted and sleepless though the sermon should be divided into seven heads. Mr. Bradbury preached terribly, in a voice which sometimes died mournfully away or hissed in a melodramatic whisper, and then rose suddenly in a threatening cry. Miss Macgregor sat in front of a gallery and looked down on the top of her pastor's head. The double row of little boys who were marshalled at her side grew drowsy in the hot weather, blinked feebly as the discourse progressed, and nodded at the congregation. Now and then Mr. Bradbury, who was only, as it were, at arm's length, turned a little, looked up and flung a red-hot denunciation into the front seats of the gallery. The little boys woke up, heard what was most likely in store for them on the last day, and sat with eyes wide open dismally surveying the prospect. But presently the next boy fidgeted, or a spider let himself down from the roof, or a bird flew past the window, or a slanting ray of sunlight revealed a multitude of dusty dancing motes, and the little lads forgot Mr. Bradbury, who had forgotten them and was busy with somebody else. It might be with the pope: Mr. Bradbury was fond of providing for the pope. Or perhaps he was wasting his energy on Percival Thorne, who sat with his head thrown back and his upward glance just missing the preacher, and was quite undisturbed by his appeals.
Judith Lisle had accepted the offer of a situation at Miss Macgregor's with the expectation of being worked to death, only hoping, as she told Mrs. Barton, that the process would be slow. The hope would not have been at all an unreasonable one if she had undertaken her task in the days when she had Bertie to work for. She could have lived through much when she lived for Bertie. But, losing her brother, the mainspring of her life seemed broken. One would have said that she had leaned on him, not he on her, she drooped so pitifully now he was gone. Even Miss Macgregor noticed that Miss Lisle was delicate, and expressed her strong disapprobation of such a state of affairs. Mrs. Barton thought Judith looking very far from well, suggested tonics, and began to consider whether she might ask her to go to them for her summer holidays. But to Percival's eyes there was a change from week to week, and he watched her with terror in his heart. Judith had grown curiously younger during the last few months. There had been something of a mother's tenderness in her love for Bertie, which made her appear more than her real age and gave decision and stateliness to her manner. Now that she was alone, she was only a girl, silent and shrinking, needing all her strength to suffer and hide her sorrow. Percival knew that each Sunday, as soon as she had taken her place, she would look downward to the pew where he always sat to ascertain if he were there. For a moment he would meet that quiet gaze, lucid, uncomplaining, but very sad. Then her eyes would be turned to her book or to the little boys who sat near her, or it might even be to Mr. Bradbury. The long service would begin, go on, come to an end. But before she left her place her glance would meet his once more, as if in gentle farewell until another Sunday should come round. Percival would not for worlds have failed at that trysting-place, but he cursed his helplessness. Could he do nothing for Judith but cheer her through Mr. Bradbury's sermons?
About this time he used deliberately to indulge in an impossible fancy. His imagination dwelt on their two lives, cramped, dwarfed and fettered. He had lost his freedom, but it seemed to him that Judith, burdened once with riches, and later with poverty, never had been free. He looked forward, and saw nothing in the future but a struggle for existence which might be prolonged through years of labor and sordid care. Why were they bound to endure this? Why could they not give up all for just a few days of happiness? Percival longed intensely for a glimpse of beauty, for a little space of warmth and love, of wealth and liberty. Let their life thus blossom together into joy, and he would be content that it should be, like the flowering of the aloe, followed by swift and inevitable death. Only let the death be shared like the life! It would be bitter and terrible to be struck down in their gladness, but if they had truly lived they might be satisfied to die. Percival used to fancy what they might do in one glorious, golden, sunlit week, brilliant against a black background of death. How free they would be to spend all they possessed without a thought for the future! Nothing could pall upon them, and he pictured to himself how every sense would be quickened, how passion would gather strength and tenderness, during those brief days, and rise to its noblest height to meet the end. His imagination revelled in the minute details of the picture, adding one by one a thousand touches of beauty and joy till the dream was lifelike in its loveliness. He could pass in a moment from his commonplace world to this enchanted life with Judith. Living alone, and half starving himself in the attempt to pay his debts, he was in a fit state to see visions and dream dreams. But they only made his present life more distasteful to him, and the more he dreamed of Judith the more he felt that he had nothing to offer her.
He was summoned abruptly from his fairyland one night by the arrival of Mrs. Bryant. She made her appearance rather suddenly, and sat down on a chair by the door to have a little chat with her lodger. "I came back this afternoon," she said. "I didn't tell Lydia: where was the use of bothering about writing to her? Besides, I could just have a look round, and see how Emma'd done the work while I was away, and how things had gone on altogether." She nodded her rusty black cap confidentially at Percival. It was sprinkled with bugles, which caught the light of his solitary candle.
"I hope you found all right," he said.
"Pretty well," Mrs. Bryant allowed. "It's a mercy when there's no illness nor anything of that kind, though, if you'll excuse my saying it, Mr. Thorne, you ain't looking as well yourself as I should have liked to see you."
"Oh, I am all right, thank you," said Percival.
Mrs. Bryant shook her head. The different movement brought out quite a different effect of glancing bugles. "Young people should be careful of their health," was her profound remark.
"I assure you there's nothing the matter with me."
"Well, well! we'll hope not," she answered, "though you certainly do look altered, Mr. Thorne, through being thinner in the face and darker under the eyes."
Percival smiled impatiently.
"What was I saying?" Mrs. Bryant continued. "Oh yes—that there was a many mercies to be thankful for. To find the house all right, and the times and times I've dreamed of fire and the engines not to be had, and woke up shaking so as you'd hardly believe it! And I don't really think that I've gone to bed hardly one night without wondering whether Lydia had fastened the door and the little window into the yard, which is not safe if left open. As regular as clockwork, when the time came round, I'd mention it to my sister."
Percival sighed briefly, probably pitying the sister. "I think Miss Bryant has been very careful in fastening everything," he said.
"Well, it does seem so, and very thankful I am. And as I always say when I go out, 'Waste I must expect, and waste I do expect,' but it's a mercy when there's no thieving."
"Things will hardly go on quite the same when you are not here to look after them, Mrs. Bryant."
"No: how should they?" the landlady acquiesced. "Young heads ain't like old ones, as I said one evening to my sister when Smith was by. 'Young heads ain't like old ones,' said I. 'Why, no,' said Smith: 'they're a deal prettier.' I told him he ought to have done thinking of such things. And so he ought—a man of his age! But that's what the young men mostly think of, ain't it, Mr. Thorne? Though it's the old heads make the best housekeepers, I think, when there's a lot of lodgers to look after."
"Very likely," said Percival.
"I dare say you think there'd be fine times for the young men lodgers if it wasn't for the old heads. And I don't blame you, Mr. Thorne: it's only natural, and what we must expect in growing old. And if anything could make one grow old before one's time, and live two years in one, so to speak, I do think it's letting lodgings."
Percival expressed himself as not surprised to hear it, though very sorry that lodgers were so injurious to her health.
"There's my drawing-room empty now, and two bedrooms," Mrs. Bryant continued. "Not but what I've had an offer for it this very afternoon, since coming back. But it doesn't do to be too hasty. Respectable parties who pay regular," she nodded a little at Percival as if to point the compliment, "are the parties for me."
"Of course," he said.
"A queer business that of young Mr. Lisle's, wasn't it?" she went on. "I should say it was about time that Miss Crawford did shut up, if she couldn't manage her young ladies better. I sent my Lydia to a boarding-school once, but it was one of a different kind to that. Pretty goings on there were at Standon Square, I'll be bound, if we only knew the truth. But as far as this goes there ain't no great harm done, that I can see. He hasn't done badly for himself, and I dare say they'll be very comfortable. She might have picked a worse—I will say that—for he was always a pleasant-spoken young gentleman, and good-looking too, though that's not a thing to set much store by. And they do say he had seen better times."
She paused. Percival murmured something which was quite unintelligible, but it served to start her off again, apparently under the impression that she had heard a remark of some kind.
"Yes, I suppose so. And as I was saying to Lydia—The coolness of them both! banns and all regular! But there now! I'm talking and talking, forgetting that you were in the thick of it. You knew all about it, I've no doubt, and finely you and he must have laughed in your sleeves—"
"I knew nothing about it, Mrs. Bryant—nothing."
Mrs. Bryant smiled cunningly and nodded at him again. But it was an oblique nod this time, and there was a sidelong look to match it. Percival felt as if he were suffering from an aggravated form of nightmare.
"No, no: I dare say you didn't. At any rate, you won't let out if you did: why should you? It's a great thing to hold one's tongue, Mr. Thorne; and I ought to know, for I've found the advantage of being naturally a silent woman. And I don't say but what you are wise."
"I knew nothing," he repeated doggedly.
"Well, I don't suppose it was any the worse for anybody who did know," said Mrs. Bryant. "And though, of course, Miss Lisle lost her situation through it, I dare say she finds it quite made up to her."
"Not at all," said Percival shortly. The conversation was becoming intolerable.
"Oh, you may depend upon it she does," said Mrs. Bryant. "How should a gentleman like you know all the ins and outs, Mr. Thorne? It makes all the difference to a young woman having a brother well-to-do in the world. And very fond of her he always seemed to be, as I was remarking to Lydia."
Percival felt as if his blood were on fire. He dared not profess too intimate a knowledge of Judith's feelings and position, and he could not listen in silence. "I think you are mistaken, Mrs. Bryant," he said, in a tone which would have betrayed his angry disgust to any more sensitive ear. Even his landlady perceived that the subject was not a welcome one.
"Well, well!" she said. "It doesn't matter, and I'll only wish you as good luck as Mr. Lisle; for I'm sure you deserve a young lady with a little bit of money as well as he did; and no reason why you shouldn't look to find one, one of these fine days."
"No, Mrs. Bryant, I sha'n't copy Mr. Lisle."
"Ah, you've something else in your eye, I can see, and perhaps one might make a guess as to a name. Well, people must manage those things their own way, and interfering mostly does harm, I take it. And I'll wish you luck, anyhow."
"I don't think there's any occasion for your good wishes," said Percival. "Thank you all the same."
"Not but what I'm sorry to lose Mr. and Miss Lisle," Mrs. Bryant continued, as if that were the natural end of her previous sentence, "for they paid for everything most regular."
"I hope these people who want to come may do the same," said Percival. Though he knew that he ran the risk of hearing all that Mrs. Bryant could tell him about their condition and prospects, he felt he could endure anything that would turn the conversation from the Lisles and himself.
But there was a different train of ideas in Mrs. Bryant's mind. "And, by the way," she said, "I think we've some little accounts to settle together, Mr. Thorne." Then Percival perceived, for the first time, that she held a folded bit of paper in her hand. The moment that he feared had come. He rose without a word, went to his desk and unlocked it. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that Mrs. Bryant had approached the table, had opened the paper and was flattening it out with her hand. He stooped over his hoard—a meagre little hoard this time—counting what he had to give her.
Mrs. Bryant began to hunt in her purse for a receipt stamp. "It's a pleasure to have to do with a gentleman who is always so regular," she said with an approving smile.
Percival, who was steadying a little pile of coin on the sloping desk, felt a strong desire to tell her the state of affairs while he stooped in the shadow with his face turned away. Precisely because he felt this desire he drew himself up to his full height, walked to the table, looked straight into her eyes and said, "Not so very regular this time, Mrs. Bryant."
She stepped back with a perplexed and questioning expression, but she understood that something was wrong, and the worn face fell suddenly, deepening a multitude of melancholy wrinkles. He laid the money before her: "That's just half of what I owe you: I think you'll find I have counted it all right."
"Half? But where's the other half, Mr. Thorne?"
"Well, I must earn the other half, Mrs. Bryant. You shall have it as soon as I get it."
She looked up at him. "You've got to earn it?" she repeated. Her tone would have been more appropriate if Percival had said he must steal it. There was a pause: Mrs. Bryant's lean hand closed over the money. "I don't understand this, Mr. Thorne—I don't understand it at all."
"It is very simple," he replied. "According to your wishes, I kept the rent for you, but during your absence there was a sudden call upon me for money, and I could not refuse to advance it. I regret it exceedingly if it puts you to inconvenience. I had hoped to have made it all right before you returned, but I have not had time. I can only promise you that you shall be paid all that I can put by each week till I have cleared off my debt."
"Oh, that's all very fine," said Mrs. Bryant. "But I don't think much of promises."
"I'm sorry to hear it," he answered gravely.
She looked hard at him, and said: "I did think you were quite the gentleman, Mr. Thorne. I didn't think you'd have served me so."
"No," said Percival. "I assure you I'm very sorry. If I could explain the whole affair to you, you would see that I am not to blame. But, unluckily, I can't."
"Oh, I don't want any explanations: I wouldn't give a thank-you for a cartload of 'em. Nobody ever is to blame who has the explaining of a thing, if it's ever so rascally a job."
"I am very sorry," he repeated. "But I can only say that you shall be paid."
"Oh, I dare say! Look here, Mr. Thorne: I've heard that sort of thing scores of times. There's always been a sudden call for money; it's always something that never happened before, and it isn't ever to happen again; and it's always going to be paid back at once, but there's not one in a hundred who does pay it. Once you begin that sort of thing—"
"You'll find me that hundredth one," said Percival.
"Oh yes. To hear them talk you'd say each one was one in a thousand, at least. But I'd like you to know that though I'm a widow woman I'm not to be robbed and put upon."
"Mrs. Bryant"—Percival's strong voice silenced her querulous tones—"no one wants to rob you. Please to remember that it was entirely of your own free-will that you trusted me with the money."
"More fool I!" Mrs. Bryant ejaculated.
"It was to oblige you that I took charge of it."
"And a pretty mess I've made of it! It had better have gone so as to be some pleasure to my own flesh and blood, instead of your spending it in some way you're ashamed to own."
"If you had been here to receive it, it would have been ready for you," Percival went on, ignoring her last speech. "As it is, it has waited all these weeks for you. It isn't unreasonable that it should wait a little longer for me."
She muttered something to the effect that there was justice to be had, though he didn't seem to think it.
"Oh yes," he said, resting his arm on the chimney-piece, "there's the county court or something of that kind. By all means go to the county court if you like. But I see no occasion for discussing the matter any more beforehand."
His calmness had its effect upon her. She didn't want any unpleasantness, she said.
"Neither do I," he replied: "I do not see why there need be any. If I live you will be paid, and that before very long. If I should happen to die first, I have a friend who will settle my affairs for me, and you will be no loser."
Mrs. Bryant suggested that it might be pleasanter for all parties if Mr. Thorne were to apply to his friend at once. She thought very likely there were little bills about in the town—gentlemen very often had little bills—and if there were any difficulties—gentlemen so often got into difficulties—it was so much better to have things settled and make a fresh start. She had no doubt that Mr. Lisle would be very willing.
"Mr. Lisle!" Percival exclaimed. "Do you suppose for one moment I should ask Mr. Lisle?"
Startled at his vehemence, Mrs. Bryant begged pardon, and substituted "the gentleman" for "Mr. Lisle."
"Thank you, no," said Percival. "I prefer to manage my own affairs in my own way. If I live I will not apply to any one. But if I must go to my grave owing five or six weeks' rent to one or other of you, I assure you most solemnly, Mrs. Bryant, that I will owe it to my friend."
The storm had subsided into subdued grumblings. Their purport was, apparently, that Mrs. Bryant liked lodgers who paid regular, and as for those who didn't, they would have to leave, and she wished them to know it.
"Does that mean that you wish me to go?" the young man demanded with the readiness which was too much for his landlady. "I'll go to-night if you like. Do you wish it?" There was an air of such promptitude about him as he spoke that Mrs. Bryant half expected to see him vanish then and there. She had by no means made up her mind that she did wish to lose a lodger who had been so entirely satisfactory up to that time. And she preferred to keep her debtor within reach; so she drew back a little and qualified what she had said.
"Very well," said Percival, "just as you please."
Mrs. Bryant only hoped it wouldn't occur again. The tempest of her wrath showed fearful symptoms of dissolving in a shower of tears. "You don't know what work I have to make both ends meet, Mr. Thorne," she said, "nor how hard it is to get one's own, let alone keeping it. I do assure you, Mr. Thorne, me and Lydia might go in silks every day of our lives, and needn't so much as soil our fingers with the work of the house, if we had all we rightly should have. But there are folks who call themselves honest who don't think any harm of taking a widow woman's rooms and getting behindhand with the rent, running up an account for milk and vegetables and the like by the week together; and there's the bell ringing all day, as you may say, with the bills coming in, and one's almost driven out of one's wits with the worry of it all, let alone the loss, which is hard to bear. Oh, I do hope, Mr. Thorne, that it won't occur again!"
"It isn't very likely," said Percival, privately thinking that suicide would be preferable to an existence in which such interviews with his landlady should be of frequent occurrence. Pity, irritation, disgust, pride and humiliation made up a state of feeling which was overshadowed by a horrible fear that Mrs. Bryant would begin to weep before he could get rid of her. He watched her with ever-increasing uneasiness while she attempted to give him a receipt for the money he had paid. She began by wiping her spectacles, but her hand trembled so much that she let them fall, and she, Percival and the candle were all on the floor together, assisting one another in the search for them. The rusty cap was perilously near the flame more than once, which was a cause of fresh anxiety on his part. And when she was once more established at the table, writing a word or two and then wiping her eyes, it was distracting to discover that the receipt-stamp, which Mrs. Bryant had brought with her, and which she was certain she had laid on the table, had mysteriously disappeared. It seemed to Percival that he spent at least a quarter of an hour hunting for that stamp. In reality about two minutes elapsed before it was found sticking to Mrs. Bryant's damp pocket handkerchief. It was removed thence with great care, clinging to her fingers by the way, after which it showed a not unnatural disinclination to adhere to the paper. But even that difficulty was at last overcome: a shaky signature and a date were laboriously penned, and Percival's heart beat high as he received the completed document.
And then—Mrs. Bryant laid down the pen, took off her spectacles, shook her pocket handkerchief and deliberately burst into tears.
Percival was in despair. Of course he knew perfectly well that he was not a heartless brute, but equally of course he felt that he must be a heartless brute as he stood by while Mrs. Bryant wept copiously. Of course he begged her to calm herself, and of course a long-drawn sob was her only answer. All at once there was a knock at the door. "Come in," said Percival, feeling that matters could not possibly be worse. It opened, and Lydia stood on the threshold, staring at the pair in much surprise.
"Well, I never!" she said; and turning toward Percival she eyed him suspiciously, as if she thought he might have been knocking the old lady about. "And pray what may be the meaning of this?"
"Mrs. Bryant isn't quite herself this evening, I am afraid," said Percival, feeling that his reply was very feeble. "And we have had a little business to settle which was not quite satisfactory."
At the word "business" Lydia stepped forward, and her surprise gave place to an expression of half incredulous amusement—Percival would almost have said of delight.
"What! ain't the money all right?" she said. "You don't say so! Well, ma, you have been clever this time, haven't you? Oh I suppose you thought I didn't know what you were after when you were so careful about not bothering me with the accounts? Lor! I knew fast enough. Don't you feel proud of yourself for having managed it so well?"
Mrs. Bryant wept. Percival, not having a word to say, preserved a dignified silence.
"Come along, ma: I dare say Mr. Thorne has had about enough of this," Lydia went on, coolly examining the paper which lay on the table. She arrived at the total. "Oh that's it, is it? Well, I like that, I do! Some people are so clever, ain't they? So wonderfully sharp they can't trust their own belongings! I do like that! Come along, ma." And Lydia seconded her summons with such energetic action that it seemed to Percival that she absolutely swept the old lady out of the room, and that the wet handkerchief, the rusty black gown and the bugle-sprinkled head-dress vanished in a whirlwind, with a sound of shrill laughter on the stairs.
For a moment his heart leapt with a sudden sense of relief and freedom, but only for a moment. Then he flung himself into his arm-chair, utterly dejected and sickened.
Should he be subject to this kind of thing all his life long? If he should chance to be ill and unable to work, how could he live for any length of time on his paltry savings? And debt would mean this! He need not even be ill. He remembered how he broke his arm once when he was a lad. Suppose he broke his arm now—a bit of orange-peel in the street might do it—or suppose he hurt the hand with which he wrote?
And this was the life which he might ask Judith to share with him! She might endure Mrs. Bryant's scolding and Lydia's laughter, and pinch and save as he was forced to do, and grow weary and careworn and sick at heart. No, God forbid! And yet—and yet—was she not enduring as bad or worse in that hateful school?
Oh for his dream! One week of life and love, and then swift exit from a hideous world, where Mrs. Bryant and Miss Macgregor and Lydia and all his other nightmares might do their worst and fight their hardest in their ugly struggle for existence!
Percival had achieved something of a victory in his encounter with his landlady. His manner had been calm and fairly easy, and from first to last she had been more conscious of his calmness than Percival was himself. She had been silenced, not coaxed and flattered as she often was by unfortunate lodgers whose ready money ran short. Indeed, she had been defied, and when she recovered herself a little she declared that she had never seen any one so stuck up as Mr. Thorne. This was unkind, after he had gone down on his knees to look for her spectacles.
But if Percival had conquered, his was but a barren victory. He fancied that an unwonted tone of deference crept into his voice when he gave his orders. He was afraid of Mrs. Bryant. He faced Lydia bravely, but he winced in secret at the recollection of her laughter. He very nearly starved himself lest mother or daughter should be able to say, "Mr. Thorne might have remembered his debts before he ordered this or that." He had paid Lisle's bill at Mr. Robinson's, but he could not forget his own, and he walked past the house daily with his head high, feeling himself a miserable coward.
There was a draper's shop close to it, and as he went by one day he saw a little pony chaise at the door. A girl of twelve or thirteen sat in it listlessly holding the reins and looking up and down the street. It was a great field-day for the Brenthill volunteers, and their band came round a corner not a dozen yards away and suddenly struck up a triumphant march. The pony, although as quiet a little creature as you could easily find, was startled. If it had been a wooden rocking-horse it might not have minded, but any greater sensibility must have received a shock. The girl uttered a cry of alarm, but there was no cause for it. Percival, who was close at hand, stepped to the pony's head, a lady rushed out of the shop, the band went by in a tempest of martial music, a crowd of boys and girls filled the roadway and disappeared as quickly as they came. It was all over in a minute. Percival, who was coaxing the pony as he stood, was warmly thanked.
"There is nothing to thank me for," he said. "That band was enough to frighten anything, but the pony seems a gentle little thing."
"So it is," the lady replied. "But you see, the driver was very inexperienced, and we really are very much obliged to you, Mr. Thorne."
He looked at her in blank amazement. Had some one from his former life suddenly arisen to claim acquaintance with him? He glanced from her to the girl, but recognized neither. "You know me?" he said.
She smiled: "You don't know me, I dare say. I am Mrs. Barton. I saw you one day when I was just coming away after calling on Miss Lisle." She watched the hero of her romance as she spoke. His dark face lighted up suddenly.
"I have often heard Miss Lisle speak of you and of your kindness," he said. "Do you ever see her now?"
"Oh yes. She comes to give Janie her music-lesson every Wednesday afternoon.—We couldn't do without Miss Lisle, could we, Janie?" The girl was shy and did not speak, but a broad smile overspread her face.
"I had no idea she still came to you. Do you know how she gets on at Miss Macgregor's?" he asked eagerly. "Is she well? I saw her at church one day, and I thought she was pale."
"She says she is well," Mrs. Barton replied. "But I am not very fond of Miss Macgregor myself: no one ever stays there very long." A shopman came out and put a parcel into the chaise. Mrs. Barton took the reins. "I shall tell Miss Lisle you asked after her," she said as with a bow and cordial smile she drove off.
It was Monday, and Percival's mind was speedily made up. He would see Judith Lisle on Wednesday.
Tuesday was a remarkably long day, but Wednesday came at last, and he obtained permission to leave the office earlier than usual. He knew the street in which Mrs. Barton lived, and had taken some trouble to ascertain the number, so that he could stroll to and fro at a safe distance, commanding a view of the door.
He had time to study the contents of a milliner's window: it was the only shop near at hand, and even that pretended not to be a shop, but rather a private house, where some one had accidentally left a bonnet or two, a few sprays of artificial flowers and an old lady's cap in the front room. He had abundant leisure to watch No. 51 taking in a supply of coals, and No. 63 sending away a piano. He sauntered to and fro so long, with a careless assumption of unconsciousness how time was passing, that a stupid young policeman perceived that he was not an ordinary passer-by. Astonished and delighted at his own penetration, he began to saunter and watch him, trying to make out which house he intended to favor with a midnight visit. Percival saw quite a procession of babies in perambulators being wheeled home by their nurses after their afternoon airing, and he discovered that the nurse at No. 57 had a flirtation with a soldier. But at last the door of No. 69 opened, a slim figure came down the steps, and he started to meet it, leisurely, but with a sudden decision and purpose in his walk. The young policeman saw the meeting: the whole affair became clear to him—why, he had done that sort of thing himself—and he hurried off rather indignantly, feeling that he had wasted his time, and that the supposed burglar had not behaved at all handsomely.
And Percival went forward and held out his hand to Judith, but found that even the most commonplace greeting stuck in his throat somehow. She looked quickly up at him, but she too was silent, and he walked a few steps by her side before he said, "I did not know what day you were going away."
The rest of the conversation followed in a swift interchange of question and reply, as if to make up for that pause.
"No, but I thought I should be sure to have a chance of saying good-bye."
"And I was out. I was very sorry when I came home and found that you were gone. But since we have met again, it doesn't matter now, does it?" he said with a smile. "How do you get on at Miss Macgregor's?"
"Oh, very well," she answered. "It will do for the present."
"And Miss Crawford?"
"She will not see me nor hear from me. She is ill and low-spirited, and Mrs. Barton tells me that a niece has come to look after her."
"Isn't that rather a good thing?"
"No: I don't like it. I saw one or two of those nieces—there are seven of them—great vulgar, managing women. I can't bear to think of my dear little Miss Crawford being bullied and nursed by Miss Price. She couldn't endure them, I know, only she was so fond of their mother."
Percival changed the subject: "So you go to Mrs. Barton's still? I didn't know that till last Monday."
"When you rescued Janie from imminent peril. Oh, I have heard," said Judith with a smile.
"Please to describe me as risking my own life in the act. It would be a pity not to make me heroic while you are about it."
"Janie would readily believe it. She measures her danger by her terror, which was great. But she is a dear, good child, and it is such a pleasure to me to go there every week!"
"Ah! Then you are not happy at Miss Macgregor's?"
"Well, not very. But it might be much worse. And I am mercenary enough to think about the money I earn at Mrs. Barton's," said Judith. "I don't mind telling you now that Bertie left two or three little bills unpaid when he went away, and I was very anxious about them. But, luckily, they were small."
"You don't mind telling me now. Are they paid, then?"
"Yes, and I have not heard of any more."
"You paid them out of your earnings?"
"Yes. You understand me, don't you, Mr. Thorne? Bertie and I were together then, and I could not take Emmeline's money to pay our debts."
"Yes, I understand."
"And I had saved a little. It is all right now, since they are all paid. I fancied there would be some more to come in, but it seems not, so I have a pound or two to spare, and I feel quite rich."
It struck Percival that Judith had managed better than he had. "Do you ever hear from him?" he asked.
"Yes. Mr. Nash has forgiven them."
Judith nodded: "He has, though I thought he never would. Bertie understood him better."
(The truth was, that she had taken impotent rage for strength of purpose. Mr. Nash was aware that he had neglected his daughter, and was anxious to stifle the thought by laying the blame on every one else. And Bertie was quicker than Judith was in reading character when it was on his own level.)
"He has forgiven them," Percival repeated with a smile. "Well, Bertie is a lucky fellow."
"So is my father lucky, if that is luck."
"Yes. He has written to me and to my aunt Lisle—at Rookleigh, you know. He has taken another name, and it seems he is getting on and making money: he wanted to send me some too. And my aunt is angry with me because I would not go to her. She has given me two months to make up my mind in."
"And you will not go?"
"I cannot leave Brenthill," said Judith. "She is more than half inclined to forgive Bertie too. So I am alone; and yet I am right." She uttered the last words with lingering sadness.
"No doubt," Percival answered. They were walking slowly through a quiet back street, with a blank wall on one side. "Still, it is hard," he said.
There was something so simple and tender in his tone that Judith looked up and met his eyes. She might have read his words in them even if he had not spoken. "Don't pity me, Mr. Thorne," she said.
"Oh, because—I hardly know why. I can't stand it when any one is kind to me, or sorry for me, sometimes at Mrs. Barton's. I don't know how to bear it. But it does not matter much, for I get braver and braver when people are hard and cold. I really don't mind that half as much as you would think, so you see you needn't pity me. In fact, you mustn't."
"Indeed, I think I must," said Percival. "More than before."
"No, no," she answered, hurriedly. "Don't say it, don't look it, don't even let me think you do it in your heart. Tell me about yourself. You listen to me, you ask about me, but you say nothing of what you are doing."
"Working." There was a moment's hesitation. "And dreaming," he added.
"But you have been ill?"
"You have not been ill? Then you are ill. What makes you so pale?"
He laughed: "Am I pale?"
"And you look tired."
"My work is wearisome sometimes."
"More so than it was?" she questioned anxiously. "You used not to look so tired."
"Don't you think that a wearisome thing must grow more wearisome merely by going on?"
"But is that all? Isn't there anything else the matter?"
"Perhaps there is," he allowed. "There are little worries of course, but shall I tell you what is the great thing that is the matter with me?"
"If you will."
"I miss you, Judith."
The color spread over her face like a rosy dawn. Her eyes were fixed on the pavement, and yet they looked as if they caught a glimpse of Eden. But Percival could not see that. "You miss me?" she said.
"Yes." He had forgotten his hesitation and despair. He had outstripped them, had left them far behind, and his words sprang to his lips with a glad sense of victory and freedom. "Must I miss you always?" he said. "Will you not come back to me, Judith? My work could never be wearisome then when I should feel that I was working for you. There would be long to wait, no doubt, and then a hard life, a poor home. What have I to offer you? But will you come?"
She looked up at him: "Do you really want me, or is it that you are sorry for me and want to help me? Are you sure it isn't that? We Lisles have done you harm enough: I won't do you a worse wrong still."
"You will do me the worst wrong of all if you let such fears and fancies stand between you and me," said Percival. "Do you not know that I love you? You must decide as your own heart tells you. But don't doubt me."
She laid her hand lightly on his arm: "Forgive me, Percival."
And so those two passed together into the Eden which she had seen.
HOW THE SUN ROSE IN GLADNESS, AND SET IN THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.
The Wednesday which was so white a day for Judith and Percival had dawned brightly at Fordborough. Sissy, opening her eyes on the radiant beauty of the morning, sprang up with an exclamation of delight. The preceding day had been gray and uncertain, but this was golden and cloudless. A light breeze tossed the acacia-boughs and showed flashes of blue between the quivering sprays. The dew was still hanging on the clustered white roses which climbed to her open window, and the birds were singing among the leaves as if they were running races in a headlong rapture of delight. Sissy did not sing, but she said to herself, "Oh, how glad the Latimers must be!"
She was right, for at a still earlier hour the Latimer girls had been flying in and out of their respective rooms in a perfectly aimless, joyous, childishly happy fashion, like a flock of white pigeons. And the sum of their conversation was simply this: "Oh, what a day! what a glorious day!" Yet it sufficed for a Babel of bird-like voices. At last one more energetic than the rest, in her white dressing-gown and with her hair hanging loose, flew down the long oak-panelled corridor and knocked with might and main at her brother's door: "Walter! Walter! wake up! do! You said it would rain, and it doesn't rain! It is a lovely morning! Oh, Walter!"
Walter responded briefly to the effect that he had been awake since half after three, and was aware of the fact.
Henry Hardwicke, who had been to the river for an early swim, stopped to discuss the weather with a laborer who was plodding across the fields. The old man looked at the blue sky with an air of unutterable wisdom, made some profound remarks about the quarter in which the wind was, added a local saying or two bearing on the case, and summed up to the effect that it was a fine day.
Captain Fothergill had no particular view from his window, but he inquired at an early hour what the weather was like.
Ashendale Priory was a fine old ruin belonging to the Latimers, and about six miles from Latimer's Court. Sissy Langton had said one day that she often passed it in her rides, but had never been into it. Walter Latimer was astonished, horrified and delighted all at once, and vowed that she must see it, and should see it without delay. This Wednesday had been fixed for an excursion there, but the project was nearly given up on account of the weather. As late as the previous afternoon the question was seriously debated at the Court by a council composed of Walter and three of his sisters. One of the members was sent to look at the barometer. She reported that it had gone up in the most extraordinary manner since luncheon.
The announcement was greeted with delight, but it was discovered late that evening that Miss Latimer had had a happy thought. Fearing that the barometer would be utterly ruined by the shaking and tapping which it underwent, she had screwed it up to a height at which her younger brothers and sisters could not wish to disturb it, had gone into the village, and had forgotten all about it. There was general dismay and much laughter.
"It will rain," said Walter: "it will certainly rain. I thought it was very queer. Well, it is too late to do anything now. We must just wait and see what happens."
And behold the morrow had come, the clouds were gone, and it was a day in a thousand, a very queen of days.
The party started for Ashendale, some riding, some driving, waking the quiet green lanes with a happy tumult of wheels and horse-hoofs and laughing voices. Captain Fothergill contrived to be near Miss Langton, and to talk in a fashion which made her look down once or twice when she had encountered the eagerness of his dark eyes. The words he said might have been published by the town-crier. But that functionary could not have reproduced the tone and manner which rendered them significant, though Sissy hardly knew the precise amount of meaning they were intended to convey. She was glad when the tower of the priory rose above the trees. So was Walter Latimer, who had been eying the back of Fothergill's head or the sharply-cut profile which was turned so frequently toward Miss Langton, and who was firmly persuaded that the captain ought to be shot.
Ashendale Priory was built nearly at the bottom of a hill. Part of it, close by the gateway, was a farmhouse occupied by a tenant of the Latimers. His wife, a pleasant middle-aged woman, came out to meet them as they dismounted, and a rosy daughter of sixteen or seventeen lingered shyly in the little garden, which was full to overflowing of old-fashioned flowers and humming with multitudes of bees. The hot sweet fragrance of the crowded borders made Sissy say that it was like the very heart of summer-time.
"A place to recollect and dream of on a November day," said Fothergill.
"Oh, don't talk of November now! I hate it."
"I don't want November, I assure you," he replied. "Why cannot this last for ever?"
"Much more than the weather. Do you suppose I should only remember that it was a fine day?"
"What, the place too?" said Sissy. "It is beautiful, but I think you would soon get tired of Ashendale, Captain Fothergill."
"Do you?" he said in a low voice, looking at her with the eyes which seemed to draw hers to meet them. "Try me and see which will be tired first." And, without giving her time to answer, he went on: "Couldn't you be content with Ashendale?"
"For always? I don't think I could—not for all my life."
"Well, then, the perfect place is yet to find," said Fothergill. "And how charming it must be!"
"If one should ever find it!" said Sissy.
"One?" Fothergill looked at her again. "Not one! Won't you hope we may both find it?"
"Like the people who hunted for the Earthly Paradise," said Sissy hurriedly. "Look! they are going to the ruins." And she hastened to join the others.
Latimer noticed that she evidently, and very properly, would not permit Fothergill to monopolize her, but seemed rather to avoid the fellow. To his surprise, however, he found that there was no better fortune for himself. Fothergill had brought a sailor cousin, a boy of nineteen, curly-haired, sunburnt and merry, with a sailor's delight in flirtation and fun, and Archibald Carroll fixed his violent though temporary affections on Sissy the moment he was introduced to her at the priory. To Latimer's great disgust, Sissy distinctly encouraged him, and the two went off together during the progress round the ruins. There were some old fish-ponds to be seen, with swans and reeds and water-lilies, and when they were tired of scrambling about the gray walls there was a little copse hard by, the perfection of sylvan scenery on a small scale. The party speedily dispersed, rambling where their fancy led them, and were seen no more till the hour which had been fixed for dinner. Mrs. Latimer meanwhile chose a space of level turf, superintended the unpacking of hampers, and when the wanderers came dropping in by twos and threes from all points of the compass, professing unbounded readiness to help in the preparations, there was nothing left for them to do. Among the latest were Sissy and her squire, a radiant pair. She was charmed with her saucy sailor-boy, who had no serious intentions or hopes, who would most likely be gone on the morrow, and who asked nothing more than to be happy with her through that happy summer day. People and things were apt to grow perplexing and sad when they came into her every-day life, but here was a holiday companion, arrived as unexpectedly as if he were created for her holiday, with no such thing as an afterthought about the whole affair.