STORIES BY FOREIGN AUTHORS
POLISH, GREEK, BELGIAN, HUNGARIAN
THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER OF ASPINWALL BY HENRYK SIENKIEWICZ
THE PLAIN SISTER BY DEMETRIOS BIKELAS
THE MASSACRE OF THE INNOCENTS BY MAURICE MAETERLINCK
SAINT NICHOLAS EVE BY CAMILLE LEMONNIER
IN LOVE WITH THE CZARINA BY MAURICE JOKAI
THE LIGHT-HOUSE KEEPER OF ASPINWALL
From "Yanko the Musician and other Stories." Translated by Jeremiah Curtin. Published by Little, Brown & Co.
Copyright, 1893, by Little, Brown & Co.
On a time it happened that the light-house keeper in Aspinwall, not far from Panama, disappeared without a trace. Since he disappeared during a storm, it was supposed that the ill-fated man went to the very edge of the small, rocky island on which the light-house stood, and was swept out by a wave. This supposition seemed the more likely as his boat was not found next day in its rocky niche. The place of light-house keeper had become vacant. It was necessary to fill this place at the earliest moment possible, since the light-house had no small significance for the local movement as well as for vessels going from New York to Panama. Mosquito Bay abounds in sandbars and banks. Among these navigation, even in the daytime, is difficult; but at night, especially with the fogs which are so frequent on those waters warmed by the sun of the tropics, it is nearly impossible. The only guide at that time for the numerous vessels is the light-house.
The task of finding a new keeper fell to the United States consul living in Panama, and this task was no small one: first, because it was absolutely necessary to find the man within twelve hours; second, the man must be unusually conscientious,—it was not possible, of course, to take the first comer at random; finally, there was an utter lack of candidates. Life on a tower is uncommonly difficult, and by no means enticing to people of the South, who love idleness and the freedom of a vagrant life. That light-house keeper is almost a prisoner. He cannot leave his rocky island except on Sundays. A boat from Aspinwall brings him provisions and water once a day, and returns immediately; on the whole island, one acre in area, there is no inhabitant. The keeper lives in the light-house; he keeps it in order. During the day he gives signals by displaying flags of various colors to indicate changes of the barometer; in the evening he lights the lantern. This would be no great labor were it not that to reach the lantern at the summit of the tower he must pass over more than four hundred steep and very high steps; sometimes he must make this journey repeatedly during the day. In general, it is the life of a monk, and indeed more than that,—the life of a hermit. It was not wonderful, therefore, that Mr. Isaac Falconbridge was in no small anxiety as to where he should find a permanent successor to the recent keeper; and it is easy to understand his joy when a successor announced himself most unexpectedly on that very day. He was a man already old, seventy years or more, but fresh, erect, with the movements and bearing of a soldier. His hair was perfectly white, his face as dark as that of a Creole; but, judging from his blue eyes, he did not belong to a people of the South. His face was somewhat downcast and sad, but honest. At the first glance he pleased Falconbridge. It remained only to examine him. Therefore the following conversation began:
"Where are you from?"
"I am a Pole."
"Where have you worked up to this time?"
"In one place and another."
"A light-house keeper should like to stay in one place."
"I need rest."
"Have you served? Have you testimonials of honorable government service?"
The old man drew from his bosom a piece of faded silk resembling a strip of an old flag, unwound it, and said:
"Here are the testimonials. I received this cross in 1830. This second one is Spanish from the Carlist War; the third is the French legion; the fourth I received in Hungary. Afterward I fought in the States against the South; there they do not give crosses."
Falconbridge took the paper and began to read.
"H'm! Skavinski? Is that your name? H'm! Two flags captured in a bayonet attack. You were a gallant soldier."
"I am able to be a conscientious light-house keeper."
"It is necessary to ascend the tower a number of times daily. Have you sound legs?"
"I crossed the plains on foot." (The immense steppes between the East and California are called "the plains.")
"Do you know sea service?"
"I served three years on a whaler."
"You have tried various occupations."
"The only one I have not known is quiet."
"Why is that?"
The old man shrugged his shoulders. "Such is my fate."
"Still you seem to me too old for a light-house keeper."
"Sir," exclaimed the candidate suddenly in a voice of emotion, "I am greatly wearied, knocked about. I have passed through much as you see. This place is one of those which I have wished for most ardently. I am old, I need rest. I need to say to myself, 'Here you will remain; this is your port.' Ah, sir, this depends now on you alone. Another time perhaps such a place will not offer itself. What luck that I was in Panama! I entreat you—as God is dear to me, I am like a ship which if it misses the harbor will be lost. If you wish to make an old man happy- -I swear to you that I am honest, but—I have enough of wandering."
The blue eyes of the old man expressed such earnest entreaty that Falconbridge, who had a good, simple heart, was touched.
"Well," said he, "I take you. You are light-house keeper."
The old man's face gleamed with inexpressible joy.
"I thank you."
"Can you go to the tower to-day?"
"Then good-bye. Another word,—for any failure in service you will be dismissed."
That same evening, when the sun had descended on the other side of the isthmus, and a day of sunshine was followed by a night without twilight, the new keeper was in his place evidently, for the light-house was casting its bright rays on the water as usual. The night was perfectly calm, silent, genuinely tropical, filled with a transparent haze, forming around the moon a great colored rainbow with soft, unbroken edges; the sea was moving only because the tide raised it. Skavinski on the balcony seemed from below like a small black point. He tried to collect his thoughts and take in his new position; but his mind was too much under pressure to move with regularity. He felt somewhat as a hunted beast feels when at last it has found refuge from pursuit on some inaccessible rock or in a cave. There had come to him, finally, an hour of quiet; the feeling of safety filled his soul with a certain unspeakable bliss. Now on that rock he can simply laugh at his previous wanderings, his misfortunes and failures. He was in truth like a ship whose masts, ropes, and sails had been broken and rent by a tempest, and cast from the clouds to the bottom of the sea,—a ship on which the tempest had hurled waves and spat foam, but which still wound its way to the harbor. The pictures of that storm passed quickly through his mind as he compared it with the calm future now beginning. A part of his wonderful adventures he had related to Falconbridge; he had not mentioned, however, thousands of other incidents. It had been his misfortune that as often as he pitched his tent and fixed his fireplace to settle down permanently, some wind tore out the stakes of his tent, whirled away the fire, and bore him on toward destruction. Looking now from the balcony of the tower at the illuminated waves, he remembered everything through which he had passed. He had campaigned in the four parts of the world, and in wandering had tried almost every occupation. Labor-loving and honest, more than once had he earned money, and had always lost it in spite of every prevision and the utmost caution. He had been a gold-miner in Australia, a diamond-digger in Africa, a rifleman in public service in the East Indies. He established a ranch in California,—the drought ruined him; he tried trading with wild tribes in the interior of Brazil,—his raft was wrecked on the Amazon; he himself alone, weaponless, and nearly naked, wandered in the forest for many weeks living on wild fruits, exposed every moment to death from the jaws of wild beasts. He established a forge in Helena, Arkansas, and that was burned in a great fire which consumed the whole town. Next he fell into the hands of Indians in the Rocky Mountains, and only through a miracle was he saved by Canadian trappers. Then he served as a sailor on a vessel running between Bahia and Bordeaux, and as harpooner on a whaling-ship; both vessels were wrecked. He had a cigar factory in Havana, and was robbed by his partner while he himself was lying sick with the vomito. At last he came to Aspinwall, and there was to be the end of his failures,—for what could reach him on that rocky island? Neither water nor fire nor men. But from men Skavinski had not suffered much; he had met good men oftener than bad ones.
But it seemed to him that all the four elements were persecuting him. Those who knew him said that he had no luck, and with that they explained everything. He himself became somewhat of a monomaniac. He believed that some mighty and vengeful hand was pursuing him everywhere, on all lands and waters. He did not like, however, to speak of this; only at times, when some one asked him whose hand that could be, he pointed mysteriously to the Polar Star, and said, "It comes from that place." In reality his failures were so continuous that they were wonderful, and might easily drive a nail into the head, especially of the man who had experienced them. But Skavinski had the patience of an Indian, and that great calm power of resistance which comes from truth of heart. In his time he had received in Hungary a number of bayonet- thrusts because he would not grasp at a stirrup which was shown as means of salvation to him, and cry for quarter. In like manner he did not bend to misfortune. He crept up against the mountain as industriously as an ant. Pushed down a hundred times, he began his journey calmly for the hundred and first time. He was in his way a most peculiar original. This old soldier, tempered, God knows in how many fires, hardened in suffering, hammered and forged, had the heart of a child. In the time of the epidemic in Cuba, the vomito attacked him because he had given to the sick all his quinine, of which he had a considerable supply, and left not a grain to himself.
There had been in him also this wonderful quality,—that after so many disappointments he was ever full of confidence, and did not lose hope that all would be well yet. In winter he grew lively, and predicted great events. He waited for these events with impatience, and lived with the thought of them whole summers. But the winters passed one after another, and Skavinski lived only to this,—that they whitened his head. At last he grew old, began to lose energy; his endurance was becoming more and more like resignation, his former calmness was tending toward supersensitiveness, and that tempered soldier was degenerating into a man ready to shed tears for any cause. Besides this, from time to time he was weighed down by a terrible homesickness which was roused by any circumstance,—the sight of swallows, gray birds like sparrows, snow on the mountains, or melancholy music like that heard on a time. Finally, there was one idea which mastered him,—the idea of rest. It mastered the old man thoroughly, and swallowed all other desires and hopes. This ceaseless wanderer could not imagine anything more to be longed for, anything more precious, than a quiet corner in which to rest, and wait in silence for the end. Perhaps specially because some whim of fate had so hurried him over all seas and lands that he could hardly catch his breath, did he imagine that the highest human happiness was simply not to wander. It is true that such modest happiness was his due; but he was so accustomed to disappointments that he thought of rest as people in general think of something which is beyond reach. He did not dare to hope for it. Meanwhile, unexpectedly, in the course of twelve hours he had gained a position which was as if chosen for him out of all the world. We are not to wonder, then, that when he lighted his lantern in the evening he became as it were dazed,—that he asked himself if that was reality, and he did not dare to answer that it was. But at the same time reality convinced him with incontrovertible proofs; hence hours one after another passed while he was on the balcony. He gazed, and convinced himself. It might seem that he was looking at the sea for the first time in his life. The lens of the lantern cast into the darkness an enormous triangle of light, beyond which the eye of the old man was lost in the black distance completely, in the distance mysterious and awful. But that distance seemed to run toward the light. The long waves following one another rolled out from the darkness, and went bellowing toward the base of the island; and then their foaming backs were visible, shining rose-colored in the light of the lantern. The incoming tide swelled more and more, and covered the sandy bars. The mysterious speech of the ocean came with a fulness more powerful and louder, at one time like the thunder of cannon, at another like the roar of great forests, at another like the distant dull sound of the voices of people. At moments it was quiet; then to the ears of the old man came some great sigh, then a kind of sobbing, and again threatening outbursts. At last the wind bore away the haze, but brought black, broken clouds, which hid the moon. From the west it began to blow more and more; the waves sprang with rage against the rock of the light-house, licking with foam the foundation walls. In the distance a storm was beginning to bellow. On the dark, disturbed expanse certain green lanterns gleamed from the masts of ships. These green points rose high and then sank; now they swayed to the right, and now to the left. Skavinski descended to his room. The storm began to howl. Outside, people on those ships were struggling with night, with darkness, with waves; but inside the tower it was calm and still. Even the sounds of the storm hardly came through the thick walls, and only the measured tick-tack of the clock lulled the wearied old man to his slumber.
Hours, days, and weeks began to pass. Sailors assert that sometimes when the sea is greatly roused, something from out the midst of night and darkness calls them by name. If the infinity of the sea may call out thus, perhaps when a man is growing old, calls come to him, too, from another infinity still darker and more deeply mysterious; and the more he is wearied by life the dearer are those calls to him. But to hear them quiet is needed. Besides old age loves to put itself aside as if with a foreboding of the grave. The light-house had become for Skavinski such a half grave. Nothing is more monotonous than life on a beacon- tower. If young people consent to take up this service they leave it after a time. Light-house keepers are generally men not young, gloomy, and confined to themselves. If by chance one of them leaves his light- house and goes among men, he walks in the midst of them like a person roused from deep slumber. On the tower there is a lack of minute impressions which in ordinary life teach men to adapt themselves to everything. All that a light-house keeper comes in contact with is gigantic, and devoid of definitely outlined forms. The sky is one whole, the water another; and between those two infinities the soul of man is in loneliness. That is a life in which thought is continual meditation, and out of that meditation nothing rouses the keeper, not even his work. Day is like day as two beads in a rosary, unless changes of weather form the only variety. But Skavinski felt more happiness than ever in life before. He rose with the dawn, took his breakfast, polished the lens, and then sitting on the balcony gazed into the distance of the water; and his eyes were never sated with the pictures which he saw before him. On the enormous turquoise ground of the ocean were to be seen generally flocks of swollen sails gleaming in the rays of the sun so brightly that the eyes were blinking before the excess of light. Sometimes the ships, favored by the so-called trade winds, went in an extended line one after another, like a chain of sea-mews or albatrosses. The red casks indicating the channel swayed on the light wave with gentle movement. Among the sails appeared every afternoon gigantic grayish feather-like plumes of smoke. That was a steamer from New York which brought passengers and goods to Aspinwall, drawing behind it a frothy path of foam. On the other side of the balcony Skavinski saw, as if on his palm, Aspinwall and its busy harbor, and in it a forest of masts, boats, and craft; a little farther, white houses and the towers of the town. From the height of his tower the small houses were like the nests of sea- mews, the boats were like beetles, and the people moved around like small points on the white stone boulevard. From early morning a light eastern breeze brought a confused hum of human life, above which predominated the whistle of steamers. In the afternoon six o'clock came; the movement in the harbor began to cease; the mews hid themselves in the rents of the cliffs; the waves grew feeble and became in some sort lazy; and then on the land, on the sea, and on the tower came a time of stillness unbroken by anything. The yellow sands from which the waves had fallen back glittered like golden stripes on the width of the waters; the body of the tower was outlined definitely in blue. Floods of sunbeams were poured from the sky on the water and the sands and the cliff. At that time a certain lassitude full of sweetness seized the old man. He felt that the rest which he was enjoying was excellent; and when he thought that it would be continuous nothing was lacking to him.
Skavinski was intoxicated with his own happiness; and since a man adapts himself easily to improved conditions, he gained faith and confidence by degrees; for he thought that if men built houses for invalids, why should not God gather up at last His own invalids? Time passed, and confirmed him in this conviction. The old man grew accustomed to his tower, to the lantern, to the rock, to the sand-bars, to solitude. He grew accustomed also to the sea-mews which hatched in the crevices of the rock, and in the evening held meetings on the roof of the light- house. Skavinski threw to them generally the remnants of his food; and soon they grew tame, and afterward, when he fed them, a real storm of white wings encircled him, and the old man went among the birds like a shepherd among sheep. When the tide ebbed he went to the low sand-banks, on which he collected savory periwinkles and beautiful pearl shells of the nautilus, which receding waves had left on the sand. In the night by the moonlight and the tower he went to catch fish, which frequented the windings of the cliff in myriads. At last he was in love with his rocks and his treeless little island, grown over only with small thick plants exuding sticky resin. The distant views repaid him for the poverty of the island, however. During afternoon hours, when the air became very clear he could see the whole isthmus covered with the richest vegetation. It seemed to Skavinski at such times that he saw one gigantic garden,—bunches of cocoa, and enormous musa, combined as it were in luxurious tufted bouquets, right there behind the houses of Aspinwall. Farther on, between Aspinwall and Panama, was a great forest over which every morning and evening hung a reddish haze of exhalations,—a real tropical forest with its feet in stagnant water, interlaced with lianas and filled with the sound of one sea of gigantic orchids, palms, milk-trees, iron-trees, gum-trees.
Through his field-glass the old man could see not only trees and the broad leaves of bananas, but even legions of monkeys and great marabous and flocks of parrots, rising at times like a rainbow cloud over the forest. Skavinski knew such forests well, for after being wrecked on the Amazon he had wandered whole weeks among similar arches and thickets. He had seen how many dangers and deaths lie concealed under those wonderful and smiling exteriors. During the nights which he had spent in them he heard close at hand the sepulchral voices of howling monkeys and the roaring of the jaguars; he saw gigantic serpents coiled like lianas on trees; he knew those slumbering forest lakes full of torpedo-fish and swarming with crocodiles; he knew under what a yoke man lives in those unexplored wildernesses in which are single leaves that exceed a man's size ten times,—wildernesses swarming with blood-drinking mosquitoes, tree-leeches, and gigantic poisonous spiders. He had experienced that forest life himself, had witnessed it, had passed through it; therefore it gave him the greater enjoyment to look from his height and gaze on those matos, admire their beauty, and be guarded from their treacherousness. His tower preserved him from every evil. He left it only for a few hours on Sunday. He put on then his blue keeper's coat with silver buttons, and hung his crosses on his breast. His milk-white head was raised with a certain pride when he heard at the door, while entering the church, the Creoles say among themselves, "We have an honorable light-house keeper and not a heretic, though he is a Yankee." But he returned straightway after Mass to his island, and returned happy, for he had still no faith in the mainland. On Sunday also he read the Spanish newspaper which he brought in the town, or the New York Herald, which he borrowed from Falconbridge; and he sought in it European news eagerly. The poor old heart on that light-house tower, and in another hemisphere, was beating yet for its birthplace. At times too, when the boat brought his daily supplies and water to the island, he went down from the tower to talk with Johnson, the guard. But after a while he seemed to grow shy. He ceased to go to the town to read the papers and to go down to talk politics with Johnson. Whole weeks passed in this way, so that no one saw him and he saw no one. The only signs that the old man was living were the disappearance of the provisions left on shore, and the light of the lantern kindled every evening with the same regularity with which the sun rose in the morning from the waters of those regions. Evidently, the old man had become indifferent to the world. Homesickness was not the cause, but just this,—that even homesickness had passed into resignation. The whole world began now and ended for Skavinski on his island. He had grown accustomed to the thought that he would not leave the tower till his death, and he simply forgot that there was anything else besides it. Moreover, he had become a mystic; his mild blue eyes began to stare like the eyes of a child, and were as if fixed on something at a distance. In presence of a surrounding uncommonly simple and great, the old man was losing the feeling of personality; he was ceasing to exist as an individual, was becoming merged more and more in that which inclosed him. He did not understand anything beyond his environment; he felt only unconsciously. At last it seems to him that the heavens, the water, his rock, the tower, the golden sand-banks, and the swollen sails, the sea-mews, the ebb and flow of the tide,—all form a mighty unity, one enormous mysterious soul; that he is sinking in that mystery, and feels that soul which lives and lulls itself. He sinks and is rocked, forgets himself; and in that narrowing of his own individual existence, in that half- waking, half-sleeping, he has discovered a rest so great that it nearly resembles half-death.
But the awakening came.
On a certain day, when the boat brought water and a supply of provisions, Skavinski came down an hour later from the tower, and saw that besides the usual cargo there was an additional package. On the outside of this package were postage stamps of the United States, and the address: "Skavinski, Esq.," written on coarse canvas.
The old man, with aroused curiosity, cut the canvas, and saw books; he took one in his hand, looked at it, and put it back; thereupon his hands began to tremble greatly. He covered his eyes as if he did not believe them; it seemed to him as if he were dreaming. The book was Polish,— what did that mean? Who could have sent the book? Clearly, it did not occur to him at the first moment that in the beginning of his light- house career he had read in the Herald, borrowed from the consul, of the formation of a Polish society in New York, and had sent at once to that society half his month's salary, for which he had, moreover, no use on the tower. The society had sent him the books with thanks. The books came in the natural way; but at the first moment the old man could not seize those thoughts. Polish books in Aspinwall, on his tower, amid his solitude,—that was for him something uncommon, a certain breath from past times, a kind of miracle. Now it seemed to him, as to those sailors in the night, that something was calling him by name with a voice greatly beloved and nearly forgotten. He sat for a while with closed eyes, and was almost certain that, when he opened them, the dream would be gone.
The package, cut open, lay before him, shone upon clearly by the afternoon sun, and on it was an open book. When the old man stretched his hand toward it again, he heard in the stillness the beating of his own heart. He looked; it was poetry. On the outside stood printed in great letters the title, underneath the name of the author. The name was not strange to Skavinski; he saw that it belonged to the great poet, [Footnote: Mickiewicz (pronounced Mitskyevich), the greatest poet of Poland.] whose productions he had read in 1830 in Paris. Afterward, when campaigning in Algiers and Spain, he had heard from his countrymen of the growing fame of the great seer; but he was so accustomed to the musket at that time that he took no book in hand. In 1849 he went to America, and in the adventurous life which he led he hardly ever met a Pole, and never a Polish book. With the greater eagerness, therefore, and with a livelier beating of the heart, did he turn to the title-page. It seemed to him then that on his lonely rock some solemnity is about to take place. Indeed it was a moment of great calm and silence. The clocks of Aspinwall were striking five in the afternoon. Not a cloud darkened the clear sky; only a few sea-mews were sailing through the air. The ocean was as if cradled to sleep. The waves on the shore stammered quietly, spreading softly on the sand. In the distance the white houses of Aspinwall, and the wonderful groups of palm, were smiling. In truth, there was something there solemn, calm, and full of dignity. Suddenly, in the midst of that calm of Nature, was heard the trembling voice of the old man, who read aloud as if to understand himself better:
"Thou art like health, O my birth-land Litva! [Footnote: Lithuania.] How much we should prize thee he only can know who has lost thee. Thy beauty in perfect adornment this day I see and describe, because I am yearning for thee."
His voice failed Skavinski. The letters began to dance before his eyes; something broke in his breast, and went like a wave from his heart higher and higher, choking his voice and pressing his throat. A moment more he controlled himself, and read further:
"O Holy Lady, who guardest bright Chenstohova, Who shinest in Ostrobrama and preservest The castle town Novgrodek with its trusty people, As Thou didst give me back to health in childhood, When by my weeping mother placed beneath Thy care I raised my lifeless eyelids upward, And straightway walked unto Thy holy threshold, To thank God for the life restored me,— So by a wonder now restore us to the bosom of our birthplace."
The swollen wave broke through the restraint of his will. The old man sobbed, and threw himself on the ground; his milk-white hair was mingled with the sand of the sea. Forty years had passed since he had seen his country, and God knows how many since he heard his native speech; and now that speech had come to him itself,—it had sailed to him over the ocean, and found him in solitude on another hemisphere,—it so loved, so dear, so beautiful! In the sobbing which shook him there was no pain,— only a suddenly aroused immense love, in the presence of which other things are as nothing. With that great weeping he had simply implored forgiveness of that beloved one, set aside because he had grown so old, had become so accustomed to his solitary rock, and had so forgotten it that in him even longing had begun to disappear. But now it returned as if by a miracle; therefore the heart leaped in him.
Moments vanished one after another; he lay there continually. The mews flew over the light-house, crying as if alarmed for their old friend. The hour in which he fed them with the remnants of his food had come; therefore, some of them flew down from the light-house to him; then more and more came, and began to pick and to shake their wings over his head. The sound of the wings roused him. He had wept his fill, and had now a certain calm and brightness; but his eyes were as if inspired. He gave unwittingly all his provisions to the birds, which rushed at him with an uproar, and he himself took the book again. The sun had gone already behind the gardens and the forest of Panama, and was going slowly beyond the isthmus to the other ocean; but the Atlantic was full of light yet; in the open air there was still perfect vision; therefore, he read further:
"Now bear my longing soul to those forest slopes, to those green meadows."
At last the dusk obliterates the letters on the white paper,—the dusk short as a twinkle. The old man rested his head on the rock, and closed his eyes. Then "She who defends bright Chenstohova" took his soul, and transported it to "those fields colored by various grain." On the sky were burning yet those long stripes, red and golden, and on those brightnesses he was flying to beloved regions. The pine-woods were sounding in his ears; the streams of his native place were murmuring. He saw everything as it was; everything asked him, "Dost remember?" He remembers! he sees broad fields; between the fields, woods and villages. It is night now. At this hour his lantern usually illuminates the darkness of the sea; but now he is in his native village. His old head has dropped on his breast, and he is dreaming. Pictures are passing before his eyes quickly, and a little disorderly. He does not see the house in which he was born, for war had destroyed it; he does not see his father and mother, for they died when he was a child; but still the village is as if he had left it yesterday,—the line of cottages with lights in the windows, the mound, the mill, the two ponds opposite each other, and thundering all night with a chorus of frogs. Once he had been on guard in that village all night; now that past stood before him at once in a series of views. He is an Ulan again, and he stands there on guard; at a distance is the public-house; he looks with swimming eyes. There is thundering and singing and shouting amid the silence of the night with voices of fiddles and bass-viols "U-ha! U-ha!" Then the Ulans knock out fire with their horseshoes, and it is wearisome for him there on his horse. The hours drag on slowly; at last the lights are quenched; now as far as the eye reaches there is mist, and mist impenetrable; now the fog rises, evidently from the fields, and embraces the whole world with a whitish cloud. You would say, a complete ocean. But that is fields; soon the land-rail will be heard in the darkness, and the bitterns will call from the reeds. The night is calm and cool,—in truth, a Polish night! In the distance the pine-wood is sounding without wind, like the roll of the sea. Soon dawn will whiten the East. In fact, the cocks are beginning to crow behind the hedges. One answers to another from cottage to cottage; the storks are screaming somewhere on high. The Ulan feels well and bright. Some one had spoken of a battle to-morrow. Hei! that will go on, like all the others, with shouting, with fluttering of flaglets. The young blood is playing like a trumpet, though the night cools it. But it is dawning. Already night is growing pale; out of the shadows come forests, the thicket, a row of cottages, the mill, the poplars. The well is squeaking like a metal banner on a tower. What a beloved land, beautiful in the rosy gleams of the morning! Oh, the one land, the one land!
Quiet! the watchful picket hears that some one is approaching. Of course, they are coming to relieve the guard.
Suddenly some voice is heard above Skavinski,—
"Here, old man! Get up! What's the matter?"
The old man opens his eyes, and looks with wonder at the person standing before him. The remnants of the dream-visions struggle in his head with reality. At last the visions pale and vanish. Before him stands Johnson, the harbor guide.
"What's this?" asked Johnson; "are you sick?"
"You didn't light the lantern. You must leave your place. A vessel from St. Geromo was wrecked on the bar. It is lucky that no one was drowned, or you would go to trial. Get into the boat with me; you'll hear the rest at the Consulate."
The old man grew pale; in fact he had not lighted the lantern that night.
A few days later, Skavinski was seen on the deck of a steamer, which was going from Aspinwall to New York. The poor man had lost his place. There opened before him new roads of wandering; the wind had torn that leaf away again to whirl it over lands and seas, to sport with it till satisfied. The old man had failed greatly during those few days, and was bent over; only his eyes were gleaming. On his new road of life he held at his breast his book, which from time to time he pressed with his hand as if in fear that that too might go from him.
THE PLAIN SISTER
From "Tales from the AEgean." Translated by L.E. Opdycke. Published by A.C. McClurg & Co.
Copyright, 1894, by A.C. McClurg & Co.
Mr. Plateas, professor of Greek in the Gymnasium of Syra, was returning from his regular afternoon walk.
He used to take this walk along the Vaporia, but since they had begun to build a carriage road to Chroussa—at the other end of the island—he bent his steps in that direction, instead of pacing four times up and down the only promenade in Syra. He followed the road-building with great interest, and went farther and farther from week to week. His learned colleagues said he would finally get to Chroussa,—when the road was finished; but at this time—that is, in 1850—the Conservative party in the town regarded the expense as useless and too heavy for the resources of the commune, and so the work had been stopped for some months.
The road was completed as far as the stony valley of Mana, and here the professor's daily walk ended. To look at him nobody would have suspected that he had to care for his health; but his growing stoutness gave him no little anxiety, and led him to take this exercise. Perhaps his short stature made him look stouter than he really was; yet it could not be denied that his neck emerged with difficulty from the folds of his neck- cloth, or that his close-shaven, brick-red cheeks stood out rather too conspicuously on each side of his thick moustache. The professor had passed his fortieth year. True, he still preserved his elasticity, and his short legs carried their burden easily; but it was noticed that when he had a companion on his walks, he always contrived to have his interlocutor do the talking going up hill, and took his own turn coming down or on the level ground.
If he had thus far failed to lessen his rotundity, he had at least stopped its growth,—a fact of which he made sure once a month by weighing himself on the scales of the Custom House, where a friend of his held the post of weigher. His physician had also recommended sea- bathing. Most of his friends—both doctors and laymen—protested against this advice; but the professor was immovable when once he had made up his mind or bestowed his confidence; he stood firm against the remonstrance and banter of those who regarded sea-bathing as a tonic, and consequently fattening. He continued his baths for two seasons, and would have kept on for the rest of his life, if a dreadful accident had not given him such a fear of the sea, that he would have risked doubling his circumference rather than expose himself again to the danger from which he had been saved only through the strength and courage of Mr. Liakos, a judge of the civil court. But for him, Mr. Plateas would have been drowned, and this history unwritten.
It happened in this wise.
The professor was not an expert swimmer, but he could keep above water, and was particularly fond of floating. One summer day as he lay on the surface of the tepid sea quite unconcernedly, the sense of comfort led to a slight somnolence. All at once he felt the water heaving under him as if suddenly parted by some heavy body, and then seething against his person. In an instant he thought of a shark, and turned quickly to swim away from the monster; but whether from hurry, fright, or his own weight, he lost his balance and sank heavily. While all this happened quick as a flash, the moments seemed like centuries to him, and his imagination, excited by the sudden rush of blood to the head, worked so swiftly, that, as the professor said afterwards, if he should try to set down everything that came into his mind then, it would make a good-sized book. Scenes of his childhood, incidents of his youth, the faces of his favorite pupils since the beginning of his career as a teacher, the death of his mother, the breakfast he had eaten that morning,—all passed before him in quick succession, and mingled together without becoming confused; while as a musical accompaniment, there kept sounding in his ears the verse of Valaoritis in "The Bell":
"Ding-dong! The bell!"
The night before poor Mr. Plateas had been reading "The Bell" of the poet of Leucadia,—that pathetic picture of the enamored young sailor, who, on returning to his village, throws himself into the sea to reach more speedily the shore, where he hears the tolling knell and sees the funeral procession of his beloved, and as he buffets the waves is devoured by the monster of the deep. The poetical description of this catastrophe had so affected him that he afterwards attributed his misadventure to the influence of the poet's verses. If he had not read "The Bell" that night, he would not have mistaken for a shark the urchin that swam under him, for it was not the first time that mischievous boys had amused themselves by plunging under the professor's broad shoulders; but he had never been frightened before, while to-day this poetic recollection nearly cost him his life.
Fortunately Mr. Liakos was taking his bath near by, and when he saw the professor disappear in that extraordinary fashion, and the circles widening on the surface, he at once understood what had happened. Swimming rapidly to the spot, he dived down, managed to grasp the drowning man, dragged him to the surface, and brought him ashore unconscious. Thanks to these prompt measures, Mr. Plateas came to himself,—with great difficulty, it is true, but he finally did come to himself; and there on the shore of the sea he made a double vow: never again to go into the water, and never to forget that he owed his life to Mr. Liakos.
This vow he kept faithfully. Indeed, so far as his preserver was concerned, it was kept with such exaggeration, that while the judge did not repent saving the professor's life, he often found himself regretting that some one else had not been at hand to earn all this embarrassing gratitude. Everywhere Mr. Plateas boasted of the merits of his preserver; the whole island resounded with his praise; each time they met,—and they met several times a day,—he rushed toward the judge enthusiastically and lost no chance to proclaim that henceforth his only desire was to prove his words by his deeds. "My life belongs to you," he would say; "I have consecrated it to you."
In vain the judge protested, and urged that the matter was not so serious,—that any one else would have done the same in his place. Mr. Plateas would not be convinced, and persisted in declaring his gratitude. While it often rather bored him, the judge was touched by this devotion, and came to accept the professor as a part of his daily life; in this way the two men gradually became fast friends, although they were unlike in almost everything.
So Mr. Plateas was returning from his constitutional. It was one of those beautiful February days, true forerunners of spring, when the sun kisses the first leaves of the early almonds, the blue sea sparkles, and the cloudless sky of Greece smiles. But it was nearly sunset, and the prudent professor hardly dared expose himself to the cool evening air, for at this season winter reasserts itself as soon as the sun goes down. He had almost reached the dockyard, which then marked the outskirts of Syra, and was still walking along the shore, when he saw his well- beloved Liakos in the distance coming from the town. A smile of satisfaction lighted his round face; he threw up both hands, in one of which was a stout cane, and raising his voice so as to be heard by his friend from afar, declaimed this line from the "Iliad":
[Greek text] Who mayest thou be, of mortal men most brave?
The professor had a habit of quoting Homer on all occasions, and was reputed to know the whole "Iliad" and "Odyssey" by heart. He modestly disavowed this tribute to his learning, but without giving up the quotations that seemed to justify it. It is true ill-natured people said his verses were not always quite applicable; but the Hellenists of Syra did not confirm this slander, possibly because they were not competent to judge. Still, everybody used to smile when he raised his voice in the midst of a trivial conversation to roll forth majestically some sonorous hexameter from Homer.
When the two friends were near enough, Mr. Plateas stopped and effusively shook hands with his preserver.
"My dear friend, why didn't you tell me you were going to walk to-day? We could have come out together,—it's time to go in now. Why did you start so late?"
"Yes, I am late; I expected to meet you farther on." And Mr. Liakos added with a show of indifference, "Are there many people out to-day?"
"Very few. You know our Syrans; they're content to saunter up and down their crowded square; it is only people of taste who enjoy themselves—
[Greek Text] ... on the shore of the resounding sea."
"And who were these men of taste to-day?" asked the judge, with a smile.
"If I had spoken of MEN of taste, I should have had to confine myself to the dual number!" Mr. Plateas began to laugh at his own joke. His friend smiled too, but wishing a more exact answer, continued:
"At least we two have imitators; how many did you meet and who were they?"
"Always the same; Mr. A., Mr. B.—" And the professor began to count off on his fingers the peripatetic philosophers, as he used to call the frequenters of this promenade, that he had met,—all of them old, or at least of ripe age, except one romantic youth who thought himself a poet.
"And no ladies?" asked the judge.
"Oh, yes, Mrs. X. with her flock of children, and the merchant,—what is his name,—Mr. Mitrophanis, with his two daughters."
The judge had learned all he wanted to know without letting his friend perceive the drift of his questions. This was not very difficult, for the professor was by no means a modern Lynceus, and did not see any great distance beyond his nose. No doubt this resulted from the innate simplicity and integrity of his character; having never been able to conceal or feign anything himself, he was easily led to believe whatever he was told. The readiness with which he became the victim of his friends each first of April was notorious. He was always on the watch from the night before; but his precautions were in vain. He was a man of first impressions. Sometimes, but not often, he fathomed the questions afterward, and discovered that he had not acted or spoken as he would have liked. As a rule, however, these after-thoughts came too late to be of any use, and he had to console himself with the reflection that what's done is done.
"What do you say, will you stroll on with me?" asked the judge.
"What, at this hour, my dear friend!"
"Only to the turn of the road."
"You had better come home with me, and I'll treat you to some perfumed wine that I received yesterday from Siphnos. I can recommend it."
"Well, since you are so kind, I shall be very glad to taste your native wine; but first let us sit here awhile and breathe the fresh sea-air." And he pointed to a modest cafe, "On the Sands," which a bold speculator had improvized only a few weeks before, by making a small inclosure of planks and setting up a few tables.
The professor turned toward the cafe, then looked at the setting sun, took out his watch, glanced at the hour, and heaved a gentle sigh.
"You do whatever you please with me," he said, as he followed Mr. Liakos.
The two friends bent their steps toward the empty cafe, to the great delight of the proprietor, who ran forward zealously to offer his services. The judge contrived to place the seats so that he could see the road that led to Mana. The professor sat down opposite, facing the town, with his back to the country; but he seemed rather nervous about the evening air, for he shivered every now and then, and took care to button up his overcoat to the very neck.
They began by talking about their daily affairs; Mr. Liakos suggested the topics, while the professor held forth to his heart's content, and fairly revelled in Homeric quotation. He noticed, however, that his companion, instead of heeding what he said, kept looking toward the highway, and leaning forward to see still further around the bend in the road. Following his friend's gaze, Mr. Plateas also turned now and then; he even turned squarely around and peered through his glasses to find out what the judge was looking at; but seeing nothing he sat down again erect upon his stool, and went on with the conversation.
At last Mr. Liakos espied what he was looking for. His eyes shone; the expression of his whole face changed, and he made no further pretence of listening to his friend's story about a recent controversy between two learned professors in the University of Athens. Seeing the judge's eyes fixed upon some object behind, Mr. Plateas stopped short, leaned his fat hand on the table to aid the gyration that he was about to make upon his stool, and was preparing for another effort to discover what could thus fascinate Mr. Liakos, when the judge, divining his companion's purpose, suddenly laid his hand on the professor's, and pressing it firmly, said in a low voice, but with a tone of authority:
"Don't turn around!"
Mr. Plateas sat motionless, with mouth open and eyes fastened on those of his friend, who was still staring at the road. The judge's look showed that the object of his interest was coming nearer, but the professor did not dare to stir or utter a word.
"Talk," whispered Mr. Liakos. "Continue the conversation."
"But, my dear friend, what shall I say? You've driven every idea out of my head."
"What shall I recite?"
"Anything you like,—something out of the 'Iliad.'"
"But I can't think of a single line!"
"Say the Creed, then,—anything you please, only don't sit there dumb."
The poor professor began to stammer out mechanically the first words of the Creed; but either from a sense of impiety or from mere confusion of mind, he passed abruptly to the first book of the "Iliad." His memory played him false. How his pupils would have suffered if they had thus maltreated the immortal bard!
He was still reciting when the judge released his hand and got up to make an elaborate bow. Mr. Plateas looked in the same direction, and saw the back of an elderly gentleman between two attractive young girls. He had no difficulty in recognizing the trio, even from the rear.
Mr. Liakos sat down again, blushing furiously while the professor in utter stupefaction made the sign of the cross.
"Kyrie Eleison!" said he. "Then all this ado was for Mr. Mitrophanis and his daughters?"
"I beg your pardon," replied the judge, in a voice that betrayed his agitation. "I did not want them to think that we were talking about them."
"Bless my soul! You don't mean to say you're in love?"
"Ah, yes. I love her with all my heart!" Mr. Liakos turned once more, and his eyes followed one of the two girls.
The professor had listened with some uneasiness. While touched by the judge's emotion, he was at the same time perhaps a little jealous of its cause; he was surprised that his friend had never spoken of this love, and vexed with himself that he had not divined it. But all these ideas were so hazy that he could hardly have expressed them.
After a few moments' silence, and while the judge's passionate avowal still lingered in his ears, he asked naively, and without stopping to think:
Mr. Liakos looked at the professor in astonishment, and although he did not speak, the expression of his face said plainly, "Can you ask?"
Mr. Plateas clapped his hand to his forehead.
"Where were my wits!" he cried. "Excuse me, my dear friend; but seeing only their backs, as I did a moment ago, I couldn't tell one from the other; and I had forgotten that the elder sister's face would scarcely inspire love. But the younger—SHE is charming!"
The judge listened without reply.
"Do you know," the professor went on, at last unburdening his mind, "I don't understand how you could be in love, and not tell me about it; how you could hide your feelings from your friend! If it had been I, you wouldn't have been spared a single sigh!" And his chest gave forth an "Ah" which he tried to render amorous. This sigh, or perhaps the mere idea of the professor in love, brought a smile to the judge's clouded face.
"Why haven't you ever spoken to me about it?" continued Mr. Plateas.
"Because I did not wish to bore you," replied Mr. Liakos. Then, touched by his friend's reproachful look, he made haste to add, "But now I will tell you everything, since you desire it."
Still he was silent, as if he hardly knew how to begin. The professor shivered again, and seeing that the sun had gone down behind the mountains, said:
"Hadn't we better talk about this on the way home, or at my house? It's time to go in."
The two men rose, and started toward the city.
What desponding lover has not yearned to pour out his heart to some friend? Even reverence for the purity of his feeling will not restrain him. He tries to guard the mystery of his love as in a holy sanctuary; he would not expose it to unrevering eyes; he hesitates, he delays,— but sooner or later his heart will overflow, and he must have a confidant.
The judge had already chosen his confidant, and so was in no hurry to take advantage of the opportunity that now offered; he was still silent, and began to regret his thoughtless promise to tell his friend everything. While he had an esteem and even a warm affection for Mr. Plateas, he could not regard the professor as a fitting recipient for a love-confidence, or quite able to appreciate the delicacy of his feeling; and, besides, it seemed to him almost treason to reveal again the secret he had already confided to another.
Mr. Plateas noticed his friend's hesitancy, but ascribed it to agitation. After a pause he saw that the confession was not coming of itself, and tried to draw it out by asking questions. Although frank, the answers he received were brief; still, he was able to gather that the judge had been in love ever since coming to Syra,—three years before,—and had then vowed either to marry Mr. Mitrophanis's younger daughter, or never to marry at all. It was only within the last few months, however, that Mr. Liakos had met the young girl for the first time, at a friend's house, and had discovered that his love was returned.
"Where did this happen?"
"At my cousin's."
"Does she know the two girls?"
"Oh, yes; she was a friend of their mother's."
"Ah! Now I understand," cried the professor. "Your cousin received your sighs. She has been your confidante! That's why you never said anything to me."
The judge smiled, but his poor friend felt a little jealous of this cousin.
"Why didn't you propose for her hand just as soon as you knew she liked you?" the professor continued.
"I did, a week ago; I requested my cousin to call on Mr. Mitrophanis, but—"
"But what? Where could he find a better son-in-law? He didn't refuse you, surely?"
"No, he did not refuse, but he made a condition that can be fulfilled— Heaven knows when! In the meanwhile he does not wish us to meet. I had not seen her for ten days, even at a distance, and you can understand with what emotion just now I—"
"What is this condition?" asked the professor.
"To wait until the elder sister is married. He won't allow the younger to marry, or even to be betrothed, before the elder."
"Ah, my friend, that's a pity! I fear you'll have to wait a long, long time. It won't be so easy to marry off the sister. Still, all things are possible,—you mustn't despair."
The judge was silent, evidently a prey to melancholy. After a little he said:
"And yet that sister is a perfect treasure, in spite of her lack of beauty. There isn't a sweeter soul on earth; she has entreated her father to change his decision; she assures him that she has no wish to marry, and that her only desire is to remain with him to care for his old age, and to help rear her sister's children. But the old man is inflexible; when once he takes a stand, that's the end of it!"
The judge's tongue was untied, and he was as eloquent in praise of the elder sister as he had been reserved in telling of his love. Perhaps this eased his mind, for to speak of her seemed almost like speaking of his sweetheart; to commend the one was to exalt the other.
"She is an angel of goodness," he continued, "and loves her sister with all a mother's tenderness; indeed, she has filled a mother's place ever since the two girls were left orphans. She has the whole care of the house, and manages it admirably; my cousin never tires of telling me that she has nowhere seen such good order, or a house so well kept. But you must not imagine that she neglects other things for the sake of her housekeeping. Few of our women are so well read or so widely informed. In that respect, at least, Mr. Mitrophanis is worthy of all praise; his daughters have been carefully educated. It is hardly his fault if the two are not equally fair to look upon; in beauty of character they are equal. The elder also is a treasure, and happy the man that wins her."
At first the professor listened in some astonishment to his friend's sudden enthusiasm; then, little by little, his surprise changed to uneasiness. He began to suspect that—But he was not the man to conceal anything that came into his mind, and stopping abruptly in the middle of the road, he interrupted the judge's eulogy.
"But why do you tell me all this?" he asked. "Why do you sing her praises to me? What do you mean—are you trying to inveigle me into marrying her?"
Mr. Liakos was astounded. The idea had never occurred to him; he had never thought of the professor as a marrying man. And yet, why not? In what was he lacking? Wasn't his friend the very man to become the brother-in-law he so ardently desired? All this passed vaguely through his mind while he stood staring at Mr. Plateas, unable to find an answer to this unexpected question. The professor continued with energy:
"Listen, Liakos. I owe you my life; it belongs to you. But if you ask me to get married as a proof of my gratitude, I'd far rather go this moment back to the sea, where you saved me from death, and drown myself before your very eyes!"
The sudden heat of the professor's speech showed that he was hurt, but whether at what the judge had just been saying about the elder sister, or at the secrecy he had shown in the matter and his studied reserve in speaking of the younger sister, was doubtful. Probably the good man himself did not know; what he did know was that he felt hurt. This was clear enough from what he said and the way he said it.
Mr. Liakos was offended.
"Mr. Plateas," he replied dryly, "I have often told you—and I repeat it now for the last time, I hope—I have not, and I do not wish to have, any claim upon your gratitude. As for your marrying, I assure you that I never dreamed of presenting you as a suitor, or of seeking a wife for you. I had not the least thought of it when I spoke to you of my affairs, and I now regret having troubled you with them."
The two friends walked on in silence side by side, but were impatient to part as soon as they could decorously. When they had nearly reached the place where their homeward paths would separate, the professor repeated his invitation.
"Won't you come and taste my muscat?"
"No, thank you; it is late, and I have an engagement."
"With your cousin, perhaps?"
"Perhaps!" and the judge tried to smile.
"I hope you're not vexed with me," said his friend, in a conciliatory tone.
"Why should I be?"
"Perhaps what I said was uncalled for,—particularly as you never meant to interfere with my liberty." The good man began to laugh, and then added: "But it's much better to have such things cleared up."
"Certainly, quite so."
The judge shook the fat hand that was cordially offered him, and hurried on, while his companion went slowly home.
The professor's house was on the hillside in the quarter where the Orphan Asylum now stands. At that time there were very few dwellings in the neighborhood, which was rather far from the centre of the town, and the outlook was wide and varied. It was not the view, however, that had attracted the professor, but the cheapness of the land. He had built the house himself, and its walls were the fruit of many years of toil. Small and modest as it was, it was his own; he was in debt to no man, and had no rent to pay. This sweet feeling of independence quite made up for the tiring climb that the corpulent little owner had to take twice a day up the steep "River," as the street was called. The road bore this name (as everybody knows who has visited Syra), because it had been the bed of a stream that used to carry the winter rains from the mountain to the sea. In fact, the water runs down the street to this day, and in the wet season it becomes a raging torrent. Although the rocks and stones that once lined its sides have given place to houses, with their doors raised high above the flood, the origin of the street and the reason for its name are obvious enough even now.
Fortunately, rains are rare in Syra, but when they do fall, the "River" is often impassable; at such times the professor could reach his house only by zigzags through the side streets, and there were days when all communication was cut off, and he had to stay shut up at home.
The greatest pleasure that the house had brought him was that it had enabled him to give his old mother the happiness of passing her last days in comfort under her own roof, after the long privations and trials through which she had reared her son and had seen him overcome the difficulties of his professorial career. She had died peacefully in this house, and although a year had passed, her room remained as she had left it. The professor really needed it for his library, which grew from day to day, but he preferred to leave the room unused, as sacred to his mother's memory.
The only heritage that she left him was her old servant, the taciturn Florou, whose senile caprices he endured patiently, bearing with her uncertain service and poor cooking. Florou's rule, however, rose no higher than the ground-floor. Her master found peace and quiet in his own room upstairs. Here he worked; at his table before the window he prepared his lessons, and read his favorite authors. Here, with pen in hand and his books spread out before him, he liked to look dreamily over the roofs of the other houses at the sea and the hazy outline of the neighboring islands, or to lean back with closed eyelids and look—at nothing, for he was asleep.
The professor was very fond of his house. Since he had owned it, he went out but little except to attend to his classes or take his regular walk, and it was always with a new pleasure that he looked upon his walls and opened his door again.
This evening he came home with even greater contentment than usual, as to a haven of refuge from the fancied dangers that lurked in his friend's eulogy of the plain sister.
"That would be the finishing stroke!" he said aloud, as he carefully folded his coat, put on an old dressing-gown, and tied a silk handkerchief around his head in the shape of a cap, as was his custom every evening.
"That would be the finishing stroke indeed! To bring a wife here to turn everything upside down; to take me out when I want to stay in, or keep me in when I want to go out; to talk to me when I want quiet; to open the window when I am chilly, because she is too warm; or to close it when I am warm, because she is too cold!" and with that he shut the window.
"Marriage may be all very well for the young; but when a man has reached years of discretion, such folly is not to be thought of. I have escaped the fetters so far, and I am not going to throw away my liberty at this late day!
[Greek text] Craftily they contrived against my freedom,"
He remembered the woman who had been chosen for him in his youth, as he had seen her the year before while on a visit to his native island,— with her gray hair and premature wrinkles,—surrounded by a troop of children, playing, quarrelling, and crying.
"Thank Heaven," he said aloud, "I haven't that load to carry! I wish the man joy that fills my place!"
Florou interrupted him by opening the door. She looked about the room in astonishment, but seeing that her master was only talking to himself, she shook her head and said curtly:
"Very well, I'm coming;" and he went down to the parlor, which was next to the kitchen and served as dining-room also. The professor sat down with a good appetite, and when his hunger was appeased, he began to think over the incidents of his walk. At first his mind dwelt upon the advantages of bachelorhood; then he thought of Mr. Liakos, and felt a sincere pity for his friend.
"Poor fellow!" he said to himself. "He has been hit by Cupid's arrow, and is no longer his own master. He thinks he's on the right road to happiness; I hope he may find it, and never discover his mistake! Well, we never get just what we want in this world, and a man's happiness depends after all on his own way of feeling and thinking."
Mr. Plateas fancied this was philosophy, but, in fact, it was only a blind attempt to get rid of disagreeable thoughts. He could not forget the judge's evident dejection and vain effort to hide it. What if Mr. Liakos did want him to marry the plain sister! Perhaps his friend had felt a delicacy about speaking to him on the subject, and had denied ever having thought of such a thing only when stung by his ungrateful words.
Who had a better right to claim such a sacrifice? Did he not owe his very life to the judge? And how had he repaid this debt? He had tried to escape it! He had ignored his friend's delicacy, and basely threatened to drown himself rather than lift a hand to secure his preserver's happiness. The more he thought of it, the blacker seemed his ingratitude. He had actually insulted the man who had saved his life! The blood rushed to his cheeks; his remorse grew keener and keener, and his philosophy was of little comfort. Having eaten his last bunch of raisins, be pushed away his plate angrily, threw his napkin on the table, and went up to his room in a very discontented frame of mind.
"I've behaved abominably," he said to himself. "Why should I have offended him? There was no need of saying what I did. Reflection always comes too late with me!"
And striking his head with his hand, he paced up and down his room in the growing darkness until Florou came in and put his lamp on the table.
She came and went without a word.
The professor stopped a moment, and his eyes rested on the light. The light reminded him of his duty and invited him to work; he must prepare his lesson for the morrow. For the first time in his life he found that he could not fix his mind upon his books. He hesitated, and then began to walk up and down again, thinking of Mr. Liakos, of his pupils, of the merchant's two daughters, and of the gymnasiarch, [Footnote: Superintendent of a gymnasium or secondary school.] all at the same time. Finally, in this jumble of ideas, professional instinct got the upper hand. He sat down at the table, put the three heavy volumes of Gazis's Dictionary, the Syntax of Asopios, and his other handbooks of study in their usual order, then set out his ink and paper, and found in his "Iliad" the page marked for the next day. He began his work by noting the etymology of each word, the syntax of every phrase, and the peculiarities of each hexameter. His class had reached the sixth book of the "Iliad."
Soon, however, he forgot syntax, etymology, and metre; he forgot his pupils and the dry analysis he was making for their benefit, and he read through the passage before him without stopping. It was the parting of Hector and Andromache. He discovered new beauty and meaning in the story; the exquisite picture of conjugal and paternal love, the happiness of mutual affection, the grief of parting, had never made such an impression upon him before. Never before had he read or recited the "Iliad" in this way, for as he read, Mr. Liakos gradually took Hector's place. He kept thinking of his friend; it was his friend who felt the bitterness of separation, and that too without ever having tasted, like Hector, the joys of conjugal happiness!
Mr. Plateas shut his book and started up again. A thousand conflicting thoughts filled his mind as he paced from his table to his bed, and from his bed back to his table.
"Pshaw!" he cried. "Why shouldn't I believe that Liakos never had any thought of marrying me off? I was a fool to imagine such a thing! Do I look like a marrying man?"
He stopped before his glass, which was lighted by the lamp only at one side, and saw one half of his face reflected with the silk handkerchief wound around his head, while the other half was in shadow, and the two ends of the knot stuck up over his forehead.
"Truly," he laughed, "between us we should have a beautiful Astyanax!"
He sat down again, calmer; but once more there began to throng before his eyes scenes and images that had nothing to do with the next day's lesson. He saw that he could not work in earnest, and decided to go to bed, thinking that rest would quiet his nerves, and that he could get up early in the morning and prepare his task with a fresher mind. So he went to bed and put out his lamp. But sleep would not come; he tossed about restlessly, and in the silence and darkness the very tension of his nerves made him more and more remorseful.
The long hours of the night passed slowly. At last, toward morning, he fell asleep; but his waking thoughts were distorted into a frightful nightmare, and he started up in terror. He had dreamt that his bed was the sea, while his pillow was a shark, and his head was in the jaws of the monster. Then the shark began to wear the face and shape of the merchant's elder daughter, and a voice—the voice of Liakos—sounded in his ear, repeating over and over:
"Ding, Dong! Ungrateful wretch! Ding, Dong! Ungrateful wretch!"
He sat up in bed, and as he wiped his dripping forehead with the silk handkerchief, which had come untied in the agony of his dream, he made an heroic resolution.
"I will marry her!" he cried. "I owe so much to my preserver. I must do my duty and ease my conscience."
He covered himself up again, with a lighter heart; his mind was now tranquil, and free from all suspicion, hesitation, or remorse.
The morning sunlight flooded his room and woke him a full hour later than usual. It was the first time this had ever happened to the punctual professor, and Florou was positively dazed. With heavy head and aching eyes, he dressed hastily, swallowed his cup of black coffee, and sat down to the unfinished task of the night before. But his thoughts still wandered.
Nevertheless, he was at the gymnasium in time, and began the daily lesson. But what a lesson! At first the scholars wondered what had become of their teacher's wonted severity; they soon perceived that this remarkable forbearance was not due to any merit on their part, but to complete heedlessness on his. Wonder of wonders! Mr. Plateas was inattentive! Emboldened by this discovery, they took malicious delight in heaping blunder upon blunder, and played dire havoc with that sixth book of the "Iliad," never sparing etymology, syntax, nor prosody. The good man sat through it all undisturbed until the regular closing hour had struck. His pupils went out, commenting not on Homer, but on the unheard-of lenity of their master, while as he walked away he resumed the burden of his thoughts,—how to set about putting his resolve into execution.
The affair was not so simple as it had seemed to him in the night. His decision to marry the elder daughter of Mr. Mitrophanis was not enough; there were certain steps to take, but what were they? Should he apply to his friend? After what had passed between them the day before, he hardly liked to go to the judge and say—what? "I am ready for the sacrifice!" Certainly he couldn't do that. Should he ask the aid of Mr. Liakos's cousin? There were objections to this course, too; to be sure, he knew the lady, and her husband as well; he was in the habit of bowing to them on the street, but he had never had any conversation with the cousin, and felt that he had neither the right nor the courage to ask her to serve as intermediary.
He thought it all over without reaching any conclusion, and was crossing the square on his way home,—for it was nearly time for his noon-day dinner,—when suddenly he saw Mr. Mitrophanis coming toward him. This meeting put an end to all his doubts, and with a flash of inspiration he decided to speak directly to the young lady's father. What could be simpler? Having no time to weigh the matter carefully, he was only too glad to find this happy way out of his perplexity. He bowed, and stopped before the old gentleman.
"Mr. Mitrophanis, I am delighted to meet you, for I have a few words to say."
"Mr. Plateas, I believe?" said the other, politely returning the bow.
"And what can I do for you, Mr. Plateas?"
The professor began to feel a little embarrassed; but it was too late to turn back, so he took courage and went on:
"To come to the point at once, Mr. Mitrophanis, I desire to become your son-in-law!"
This abrupt proposal was a surprise to the old gentleman, and hardly an agreeable one. The offer itself was not so astonishing, for the beauty of his younger daughter had often obliged the father to refuse proposals of this kind; but he had never been addressed quite so brusquely before. Moreover, of all the suitors who had thus far presented themselves, Mr. Plateas seemed the least eligible in point of age and other respects. But it was not this so much that the old gentleman had in mind, as he said to himself, "What, he too!"
"I am greatly honored by your proposal," he said to Mr. Plateas; "but my little girl is too young, and I have not thought of marriage for her yet."
"What little girl? My suit is not for the younger sister; I ask you for the hand of Miss—" He meant to call her by her name, but found he did not know it. "I ask you for the hand of—your elder daughter."
Mr. Mitrophanis could not conceal his astonishment at these words; such a thing had never happened before. He said nothing, but looked sharply at Mr. Plateas, who felt his patience giving way.
"I must admit, Mr. Plateas," said the old gentleman at last, "that your proposition is wholly unexpected, and comes in rather an unusual form. Don't you think that our traditional custom in such cases is very sensible, and that these questions are managed better by intermediaries?"
The professor was not prepared for this. He had even imagined that the young lady's father would fall on his neck in the open street, with delight at having at last found the wished-for son-in-law.
"I—I thought," he stammered, "that you knew me well enough, and that the simplest way was to speak to you myself."
"Certainly, without doubt. But if you would send one of your friends to speak to me, and—give me time for reflection, you would oblige me greatly."
"With pleasure! I'll send Mr. Liakos."
At this name the old man frowned.
"Ah!" said he, "Mr. Liakos is in your confidence."
Poor Mr. Plateas saw that he had made a mistake in bringing up his friend's name in the affair. He was about to say something,—he didn't know exactly what,—when Mr. Mitrophanis forestalled him, and ended his embarrassment.
"It is well. I will await Mr. Liakos." Then the old gentleman bowed and walked on.
Never in his life had the professor been in such a state of mental distress as that to which he had been a prey ever since the evening before. His sufferings at the time he came so near drowning were not to be compared with his present anguish. Then the danger had come suddenly, and he had realized it to the full only when it was over. Now, the uncertainty of the future added to his misery. At the very moment when he thought he had reached port, he found himself completely at sea again. He stood there in the middle of the square, his arms hanging helplessly, and stared at the back of the retreating merchant.
"Well, I must see Liakos." he said to himself. "But where shall I find him at this time of day?"
Just then the clock on the Church of the Transfiguration struck twelve. Mr. Plateas remembered, first that his dinner was waiting for him at home, and next that his friend was in the habit of dining at a certain restaurant behind the square; and wending his way there, he met the judge at the door.
"Oh, my dear friend!" he exclaimed. "My dear friend!"
"What's the matter? What has happened to you?" asked Mr. Liakos, anxiously.
"What has happened to me? Something I never dreamed of! I've just asked Mr. Mitrophanis for the hand of his elder daughter, and instead of—-"
"You asked him for his daughter's hand?"
"Yes. Is there anything so very astonishing in that?"
"Why, didn't you tell me yesterday that—-"
"Well, what if I did? During the night I thought it over, and became convinced that I ought to get married, and that I never shall find a better wife."
"Listen, Plateas," said Mr. Liakos, obviously much moved. "I understand your sudden conversion, because I understand you; but I can't let you make such a sacrifice."
"What sacrifice? Who said anything about sacrifice? I have made up my mind to get married, because I want to get married; and I WILL get married, and if her father refuses his consent I'll run away with her!" And he gave a lively account of his meeting with Mr. Mitrophanis.
The judge smiled as he listened, for he, too, had been thinking of this match ever since the night before, and the more he thought of it the more eminently fit and proper it seemed. After rigid self-examination, he persuaded himself that he was quite disinterested in the matter, and that his sweetheart's sister and his friend could never be happy apart. As for the father's consent, he had little fear on that score. He rather dreaded, it is true, the mission that was thrust upon him, especially when he thought of the manner in which the old man had received his name; but he felt that he could not refuse this service to his friend, and finally promised to see Mr. Mitrophanis that very day, and to come in the evening to report the happy result of his interview.
When the professor had gone, the judge began to think with misgiving of the difficulties that beset his mission. He had so much at stake in its success that his mediation might not be accepted as impartial, or his praise of the suitor as quite unbiased. His friend's cause ought to have been entrusted to some one less deeply interested in the event. If the professor had not been in such haste to name him as an intermediary, they could have consulted his cousin, and even placed the matter in her hands; his own appearance on the scene would only give Mr. Mitrophanis fresh offence.
But why not ask her advice in confidence? She was a woman of sense and experience, and could probably find some way out of their quandary. Mr. Liakos was on the point of going to his cousin, but he reflected that it would be a grave indiscretion to impart the secret to a third person without his friend's consent, and he felt too that it would be very weak in him not to perform loyally the duty that he had undertaken. Forward, then! Courage!
So Mr. Liakos started for the office of his sweetheart's father, although not without inward trepidation.
It so happened that Mr. Mitrophanis was just receiving a consignment of coffee from the Custom House; carts were coming up one after another, porters were carrying the sacks into the warehouse, and the judge had difficulty in making his way to the door.
It was a huge square building, with a room on the street partitioned off at one corner. This room was the office, and had a grated window; but the light from it and from the street door was too dim for Mr. Liakos to see what was going on inside the warehouse. As he stood there on the threshold, he saw that his arrival was ill-timed; for there was a dispute in progress. Although he did not understand, or even try to understand what it was all about, he heard hot words bandied back and forth, and above them he could distinguish the merchant's voice, loud and masterful.
The judge stopped in surprise. He had heard of the old gentleman's temper, but had not imagined that anger could raise to such a pitch a voice usually so calm and dignified. He was alarmed and was trying to slip away unseen, when Mr. Mitrophanis interrupted the discussion and called out to him from the depths of the warehouse:
"What do you wish, Mr. Liakos?"
"I came to say a few words; but I see you're engaged, and will come again some other time."
"Pass into my office, and I will be with you in a moment."
The judge stumbled over some coffee bags, and, making his way into the office, sat down by the merchant's table in the only chair that was vacant. The air was heavy with the odor of colonial merchandise. The dispute began anew inside the warehouse, and the words, "weight," "bags," "Custom House," were repeated over and over again. Mr. Liakos sat listening to the noise, and tried to picture to himself the quiet old gentleman who had been out walking with his two daughters the night before. At last the commotion quieted down, and Mr. Mitrophanis came in with a frown on his face.
"I have happened on an unlucky time for my call," thought the judge.
"I suppose you come from Mr. Plateas," began the old man, with a touch of irony in his tone.
"Yes; the fact is he has communicated to me the conversation he had with you this morning."
"I must say, Mr. Liakos, that your anxiety to find a husband for my elder daughter seems to me rather marked."
"I assure you, sir, that my friend's proposal was wholly voluntary, and was in no wise prompted by me."
The old gentleman smiled incredulously.
"My only regret is," continued the judge, "that I allowed Mr. Plateas to discover my secret yesterday. I protest I never had the least thought of urging him to this step; he has taken it of his own accord, and you do me wrong in supposing that I have acted from self-interest."
"I believe it, since you say so, and will not stop to inquire how it happens that he should ask me for the hand of my daughter, whom he does not know, the very day after receiving your confidence.
"But however that may be," he went on, without letting Mr. Liakos speak, "I cannot give you an immediate reply; I must have time to consider the question. Pray do not trouble yourself to call; I will make my decision known to you." The last words were spoken dryly.
The judge went away much disconcerted. It was not a refusal that he had received, nor yet was it a consent; his most serious disquiet was caused by the old man's tone and manner. Although they might have arisen partly from the dispute in the warehouse, it was only too clear that his deep interest in the success of his mission had been as detrimental in awakening the merchant's suspicions as in checking his own eloquence.
How many things he could have said to Mr. Mitrophanis if he had only dared! He felt that his mediation had simply made matters worse, and might prove fatal. A more skilful diplomatist than he would be needed to conduct the affair to a happy ending; why had he not acted on his first impulse and consulted his cousin? Why not go to her even now? Surely his friend could not be offended, especially if the result was successful; the poor judge was in trouble, and longed for encouragement and support; but while he reasoned with himself, his feet were carrying him to his cousin's house, and by the time he reached her door, all his doubt had vanished.
Mr. Liakos found his kinswoman at work converting a jacket of her elder son, which had become too small for its owner, into a garment still too ample for the younger brother. The boys were at school, while their three sisters—who came between them in age—were studying their lessons under their mother's eye, and at the same time learning domestic economy from her example.
Being a woman of tact, she saw at once from the judge's manner that he wished to speak with her alone, and sent the girls out to play.
"Well, what is it?" she asked as soon as they had left the room. "What's the news?"
"Why should you think there is any news?"
"Ah, indeed! As if I didn't know you! I could see at a glance that you had something on your mind."
In truth, her feminine insight was seldom at fault in reading Mr. Liakos, for she had seen him grow up from a child, and knew him thoroughly. On his side, the judge flattered himself that he knew her quite as well, but then he ought to have foreseen that her help would not be easily enlisted in an affair that she had not been allowed to manage from the beginning. She enjoyed busying herself with marriages in general and with those of her friends in particular; but she felt that she was peculiarly qualified to assume the chief part in planning and carrying out arrangements of this kind, and unless her claims were recognized, she rarely gave her approval, and even did not hesitate to oppose occasionally. But for his discomfiture at the result of his visit to the old merchant, Mr. Liakos would doubtless have devised some way of conciliating his cousin; it had not occurred to him to take that precaution, and he soon perceived the blunder he had made.
When he announced abruptly that he had found a husband for his sweetheart's sister, his cousin, instead of showing pleasure, or at least some curiosity, quietly continued her sewing with affected indifference, saying merely, "Ah!" This "Ah" was half-way between a question and an exclamation; the judge could not tell whether it expressed irony or simple astonishment; but it was enough to chill him.
"Everything is against me!" he thought.
"And who is your candidate?" she asked after a pause, but without stopping her work.
His cousin dropped her needle, and looked at Mr. Liakos with eyes full of mocking surprise.
"Mr. Plateas!" she cried, and began to laugh heartily. The judge had never seen her so merry.
"I don't see what you find to laugh at," he said, with dignity.
"You must forgive me," she replied, trying to stifle her merriment. "Pray forgive me if I have hurt you through your friend, but I can't imagine Mr. Plateas in love." And she began to laugh again; then seeing the judge's expression, she asked, "What put this marriage into your head?"
"No," he began, without answering her question, "please to tell me what you find so reprehensible in him."
"Reprehensible!" she repeated, imitating her cousin's tone. "I don't find him reprehensible, simply ridiculous."
"I admit that his person is not awe-inspiring."
"Awe-inspiring! What long words you use! You'll be giving me one of your friend's quotations from Homer next."
"Listen," he said, changing his manner. "At first I looked at it just as you do; but the more I thought it over, the more clearly I saw that I was wrong. Mr. Plateas has all the qualities that go to make a good husband. He will be ridiculous as a lover, I must admit. He will look absurd on his wedding day, with the wreath of flowers on his head [Footnote: The Greek bride and bridegroom both wear a wreath of flowers.]—-"
At this his cousin broke into a fresh peal of laughter, in which the judge was forced to join in spite of himself. Their sudden gayety having subsided, the conversation became more serious. Mr. Liakos related all the details of the affair, and as his story went on he was delighted to see his cousin's prejudices gradually disappear, although she still made objections when they came to dissect the suitor's character.
"He is a hypochondriac!" she said.
"He takes care of his health," replied the judge, "simply because he has nothing else to occupy him. When once he is married, he'll care for his wife, just as he cared for his mother while she lived and his hypochondria, as you call it, will vanish fast enough."
"That is hardly a grave fault in a professor."
Now that the question had narrowed down to his friend's moral qualities, Mr. Liakos began to feel certain of victory so far as his cousin was concerned. His only remaining doubt was as to the young lady's consent.
"Her consent!" cried his cousin. "She'll accept Mr. Plateas gladly. Since she can't persuade her father to let her remain single, she will take the first husband that offers, rather than stand in the way of her sister's happiness. She has the soul of an angel," the cousin went on, with enthusiasm. "She doesn't know her own worth; she sees that she is not pretty, and in her humility she even exaggerates her plainness; but her sweet unselfishness is no reason why she should be sacrificed."
"Do you think, then, that it would be a sacrifice to marry Mr. Plateas?"
"How can we tell?"
His cousin's reserve was more propitious than her merriment of a few minutes ago, and Mr. Liakos felt encouraged.
"If she were your sister, or even your daughter, would you not give her to him?"
This question struck deeper than he knew, for one of her daughters was not well-favored, and the girl's future was beginning to give the maternal heart much uneasiness. The mother laughed no longer; her eyes filled, and she made no reply. Without searching into the cause of his cousin's emotion, the judge was only too glad to take her silence for consent.
"Very well," he went on. "Now you must help me to arrange this marriage."
In order to humor her innocent vanity, he pictured the obstacles that she would find in the character of Mr. Mitrophanis, and urged his own inability to overcome them; he frankly declared that his mediation had compromised his friend's suit, and that the affair was far more difficult than if it had been in her hands from the beginning; he insisted that she alone could retrieve the mistakes committed, and bring about a happy ending.
His cousin's objections gradually grew weaker and at last, after three hours of argument, the judge succeeded so well that she left her work (to the temporary disadvantage of her younger son), and put on her bonnet. The two went out together, she to call on Mr. Mitrophanis, and he to find the professor.
Poor Mr. Plateas was waiting for his friend impatiently.
On reaching home he had found his dinner growing cold, and Florou worrying over her master's unusual tardiness; it was full twenty minutes after noon! Although the professor was hungry and ate with relish, his mind was ill at ease. He yearned to talk to some one, but there was no one to talk to. He would have been glad to tell his story even to Florou, but she cared neither to talk nor to listen; conversation was not her strong point.
Besides, her master rather shrank from telling her that be had made up his mind to get married, and that her reign was over. Since his mother's death, Florou had had absolute control over the household; why make her unhappy before it was necessary? On the other hand, he could contain himself no longer; if he had not spoken, there is no telling what would have happened.
Not daring to face the question boldly, he beat about the bush, and tried to pass adroitly from the subject of dinner to that of marriage.
"Florou," he said, "your meat is overdone."
The old woman made no reply, but looked up at the sun as if to suggest that the fault lay not with her, but with her master's tardiness.
He paid no attention to her mute reproach.
"In fact," he went on, "the dinner isn't fit to eat to-day."
"You've eaten it, though."
Florou was in the habit of resorting to this argument as unanswerable. Usually her master laughed and said that he had eaten his dinner because he was hungry, and not because it was good. To-day, however, her phrase irritated him, less on account of the words themselves, than from an inward consciousness that this day of all others he had no right to complain of her culinary art.
In his vexation he forgot how he had planned to lead up to the subject of his marriage, and had to finish his dinner in silence; but while Florou was carrying the dishes away, he thought of a new pretext for coming back to the absorbing topic. He noticed for the first time a hole in the tablecloth that had been there a long time.
"See there!" said he, putting his finger through it. "My house needs a mistress,—there's no other remedy for such a state of things. I must have a wife!"
Florou shrugged her shoulders as though she thought her master had lost his wits.
"Do you understand me? I must get married."
The old woman smiled.
"What are you laughing at? I have quite made up my mind to marry."
"I'm going to get married, I tell you!"
"And who'll have you?"
"Who will have me!" he cried, fairly choking with rage.
Almost beside himself at the old woman's effrontery, he wanted to crush her with angry eloquence; but her stolidity baffled him, and he went up to his room without a word. When he was alone, his anger soon cooled; but he found himself repeating those cruel words, and as he said them over, he began to fear that Florou was not so far wrong.
He recalled his friend's first disavowal of any thought of him as a suitor, and the father's strange hesitation. And then, why didn't Liakos come; what was keeping him so long? If his mission was successful, he would have brought the news at once. The question was very simple, the answer "yes" or "no"; it surely must be "no," and the judge was keeping back the evil tidings.
How silly he had been to expose himself to a rebuff on the impulse of the moment—what perfect folly! What business had he to get into such a scrape? But no, he had only done his duty; he had proved to his preserver the sincerity of his friendship and the depth of his gratitude. But why didn't Liakos come? Why didn't he hurry back and end this suspense?
The unhappy man looked at his watch again and again, and was astonished each time at the slowness of the hands; they seemed hardly to move at all. He sat down, then jumped up again and looked out of the window,—no Liakos! He tried to read, but could not keep his thoughts from straying, and shut the book petulantly. He was in a perfect fever.
Meanwhile the time came for his daily constitutional, and Mr. Plateas was on thorns. He could not stay indoors waiting for his friend any longer; but in order to be near at hand, he resolved to take his old walk and go no farther than the Vaporia. So he called Florou and told her that he would not be gone long, but that if Mr. Liakos should come, she must send him to the Vaporia. He explained with great care the route he would take in going and in coming back, so that Florou might tell his friend exactly. All this was quite unnecessary, for the road to the Vaporia was so direct that the two friends could hardly help meeting unless they went out of their way to avoid each other; but he insisted upon his topographical directions, and repeated them so often that Florou at last lost her patience, and exclaimed:
"Very well, very well!"
It was most unusual for the old woman to say the same word twice.
Not a living soul was to be seen on the Vaporia, and Mr. Plateas was able to follow the course of his thoughts undisturbed. To tell the truth, his ideas rather lacked sequence, and were much the same thing over and over; but they were so engrossing that he had not quoted a line of Homer all day. If this worry had lasted much longer, it would have effected what all his exercise and sea-bathing had failed to accomplish; the poor man would certainly have been reduced to a shadow.
And still Liakos did not come! For a moment the professor thought of going to look for his friend; bat where should he go? The judge had promised to come, and Florou had been told to get supper for both; Liakos MUST come.
But why didn't he come now? Mr. Plateas paced up and down the Vaporia twenty times at least, and although he kept looking toward his house, there was no sign of the judge. At last! At last he saw his friend coming in the distance.
"Well, is it 'yes' or 'no'?" he cried, as soon as he was near enough to be heard.
"Do let me get my breath first."
From the expression of the poor man's face Mr. Liakos feared that "no" would be more welcome than "yes."
"Can he have repented?" thought the judge; then, taking Mr. Plateas affectionately by the arm, he turned back to prolong the walk, and tried to soothe his friend's amour propre.
"Don't be troubled; she's not a silly girl, but has good sense and good judgment. She will treat your offer as an honor, and will be happy to have a man like you for a husband."
"Never mind about that," said the professor, in a calmer tone. "Tell me how the matter really stands. What have you been doing all this time?"