“A Month at the Achensee”

[Originally published in the Dark Blue (October 1872): 227–38.]

[NOTE: “A Month at the Achensee,” the last of Blind’s five contributions to the periodical Dark Blue, is the first manifestation of a narrative impulse that would find its fullest expression in her 1885 novel Tarantella. Like her last published work of fiction, “At Cross Purposes,” it is narrated in the first person by a free-spirited, cosmopolitan woman, wary of men and marriage. Its appearance was greeted enthusiastically; Richard Garnett, then assistant librarian at the British Museum library, wrote Blind  on 17 October 1872 to report that “everybody seems to like your story extremely.” His comment was prompted in part by a review in the 13 October 1872 Illustrated London News: “The most remarkable contribution to the Dark Blue is Miss M. Blind’s ‘Month at the Achensee,’ a beautiful story, half tragedy, half idyll, interspersed with charming descriptions of the scenery of the Tyrol.”

The Dark Blue was the brainchild of Oxford undergraduate John Christian Freund, who attracted a remarkable group of contributors the the short-lived journal: William Morris, W.S. Gilbert, Andrew Lang, Thomas Hughes, A.C. Swinburne, Edward Dowden, Ford Madox Brown, Dante Gabriel and William Michael Rossetti, Simeon Solomon, and Sydney Colvin. Although the Dark Blue ceased publication with the March 1873  issue, Blind’s publications in the journal launched her career in London. They brought her to the attention of other editors and afforded her new publishing opportunities, including regular reviewing (for the Athenaeum and the Examiner), editing (A Selection from the Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1872), and translating (The Old Faith and the New: A Confession, by David Friedrich Strauss, 1873). In this sense Blind’s brief association with the journal was formative. It established her reputation as a pioneering female aesthete firmly allied with the politically radical wing of the aesthetic movement; it showcased a unique cosmopolitan sensibility that characterized her writing for the next quarter century; and it led to her subsequent importance to and leadership role among the New Woman writers who emerged in the 1880s and early 1890s.]

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On a rainy afternoon towards the end of September 186–, I arrived at last, after a long, tedious journey, at Yenbach, a small country town in the Tyrol, and the nearest railway station to the Achensee, whither I was bound.  Dripping, I stood in the dripping station, surrounded by dripping Tyrolese men, while the roads, flooded with weeks of incessant rain, presented as forbidding an aspect as could well be conceived.  To get a carriage at such a  time was a matter of difficulty, and when one came at last , and the driver heard that I desired to go to the ‘Scholastica,’ he at first sulkily and peremptorily refused. Still I was determined not to beat an ignominious retreat having come so far.  With prayers which availed little, and golden promises that availed much, I at last succeeded in getting the heavy conveyance under way.  Painfully we jolted upwards along a steep narrow valley jammed in like a wedge between two ragged mountain sides, torn asunder as it seemed by nature in a fit of passion, and henceforth bearing for ever the ineradicable signs of their violent disruption.   Thus much even could rather be guessed at than seen, for a thick darkness not of dusk or night clung round us, and enveloped the earth like a grave-cloth.  The only thing that throbbed with fierce life in this deathly atmosphere was a sheer alpine torrent, which tore up the gloom like a flash of lightning  But for that passion pulse of precipitate waters I think my heart would have failed me to go on.  Hours on hours we drove, issuing out on wide level pasture-lands, thence on to a narrow road, beetled over by mountains on the one side, on the other skirted by the waters of a sullen lake.  Twice the driver halted, and each time pointed out, with evident complacency, a small shrine, sacred to the Virgin Mary, and erected over a spot whence a vehicle with its human cargo had rolled into the lake beneath.  It was late when at last we stopped before a solitary inn.  The reception was most ungracious.  A [228] buxom  woman of about fifty, whose portly figure engrossed the entire doorway, insisted that she had  shut up her place for the season, and that she could not alter her arrangements for the sake of one person.  She eyed me all the while suspiciously as if possibly some hidden danger for her were lurking behind my inoffensive person.   While this debate was going on another person joined us and spoke with the hostess in the dialect of the country, which I could not understand.  This was a superb woman, strong of build, as mountain maid should be, and of surpassing fairness.  Plaits of an arm’s thickness were wound and coiled round her broad head and the coarse black jacket she had huddled on just showed glimpses of a towering milk-white bust; this was at least pleasant to look upon while I was obliged to stand there shivering in the cold.   In the end I was admitted, but not with a good grace.  However, the exceeding freshness of the room I was ushered into, the white sanded floor, the high-piled bed, and the bracing smell of herbs pervading the air made up for any lack in that direction, and after some hastily swallowed supper, I crept into bed and soon was sound asleep.

I woke early, and dressing hastily, walked out to ascertain what manner of place it really was in which I found myself.  As long as I live I shall never forget that morning.  It had rained continuously, as I stated, for weeks past, and there had been a heavy fall of snow on the mountains.  Now as I looked around, I could realise the biblical expression, ‘And the earth was without form, and void;’ so formless and shapeless was the vapour blotting out heaven and earth.  Suddenly this wan void thrilled as with an electric shock.  A curtain seemed to be rent asunder on high, mountain-peaks  on mountain-peaks innumerable sprang into light, and crowded and pressed with white bare tops against the pink breasts of the morning.  Then the glow of their joy was something awful to behold.  They shone out over mist-drenched wood and valley like a band of colossal cherubim, who, reaching upwards into the intolerable effluence of Deity, stretch out and hand down to the shadowy haunts of man a muffled and mitigated flame.  

The forests thrill to the burning touch, a thick white smoke, as of incense, steams up from their sombre depths, curls, and eddies above their green broad masses, then soaring aloft, quivers like thrice-sifted silver on the highest summit, whence it is sucked up like a prayer into the heart of heaven.  By this time the lake had become pure as crystal, and a tittering brook danced out of its arms into a green curving valley beyond.  All was light, life, sunshine,–infinite joy.  Man, too, began to bestir himself. You heard the cadenced fall of the flail from neighbouring farms.  Shepherds leisurely led for their flocks, and the tinkle of their tiny bells sounded silvery in the [229] morning hush.  Two girls, with heavy pitchers, poised on their heads, stepped out lustily and their innocent laughter chimed in well with the bleating of the sheep.  I was drunk with delight at seeing the landscape thus suddenly unveiling its matchless beauty, and not feeling half as much life in me as that mad-cap of a rivulet that was rushing away in such haste, I somehow forgot that we did not speak the same language, and expostulated with it on the folly of its overhaste to get away, when lo! to my no small confusion, I suddenly found that Marie, the blonde beautiful woman I had caught a glimpse of last night, stood beside me.  A suppressed sneer curved her lips; she evidently thought I had a bee in my bonnet, and that not a small, ordinary bee, but one of your big drumming fellows, about which there is no mistake.  I now remarked that she had chill blue eyes.   ‘Ah, what a paradise you live in,’ I exclaimed. ‘Surely one must be happy living in so beautiful a spot.’ ‘Beautiful!’ she answered. ‘’Tis ugly, ugly; nothing but woods, and water, and mountains.  But I came to see if the lady would breakfast out on the terrace.’  ‘By all means,’ I cried, delighted not to have to tear myself away.  And I sat under a wooden porch all crimsoned over with the leaf of a kind of wild vine, the rich ruby of which was set off by the profound blue of the lake beneath. There I leisurely  partook my coffee and milk-roll, till at last the water became so intolerably bright that I was obliged to take refuge in the pinewoods.

Well, as it turned out, I proved to be the swallow of an Indian summer. The sun and moon alternately ruled a stark blue sky, with never a speck to mar its absolute purity.  I secretly in my heart yearned again for storm.  But, meanwhile, guests swarmed like bees in and out of the ‘Scholastica.’ Amongst them was an old man, upwards of sixty, with whom I became close friends.  He was chaplain of a lunatic asylum, Sebastian, by name. A man, such as in London, you would pronounce an impossibility; probably as pure a type of the medieval monk as in some respects it would be possible to meet in the present day.  In one respect, he gave me the impression of an aged boy–that is, he seemed to have passed by the stormy and passionate years of manhood in an utter unconsciousness.  He was the son of a poor peasant, educated for the Church, and had passed the greater part of his life in performing religious service for a few cow-tending men and women in the most remote of remote hamlets.  This he told me took him barely a few hours of the day; after that his real life began.  With Descartes, Spinoza, or Kant in his pocket, he plunged into the deepest recesses of the woods, ascended the least accessible of mountains, and ever strove to penetrate into the mysteries of thoughts and being.  Through long [230] years, shut out from all other communication with life, he existed thus.  Administering religious service to a few peasants on the one hand–a service of which he became more and more convinced that it tended to dull thought as far as thought might exist in such communities; on the other hand striving with his whole soul after the attainment of intellectual insight. At last, however, the duality of this life became intolerable to him.  To thicken human ignorance, if only by a hair’s breadth, appeared to him criminal; at the same time to secede from the Church at his time of life, when there was nothing else he could turn to, would have been sheer ruin.  At last he saw a way out of this dilemma; he determined to become a chaplain in a lunatic asylum.  His preaching there he assured me could do no harm; besides that, it would afford him a capital opportunity for studying human nature.  He was thoroughly satisfied with the successes of his plan, and gave me to understand, in confidence, that he thought his present abode the fittest sanctuary of the Holy Catholic Church.  His conscience and he, therefore, dwelt at peace together.  So much for this Tyrolese specimen of thinking humanity.  What was often startling to one English nurtured, was to see a man, who discoursed on the loftiest subjects of human speculations, help himself the while to stewed prunes out of the general dish with his fingers.

Once, on a marvellous moonlight night I was sitting on a bench outside the house with the chaplain; we were discussing the different degrees of madness.  Going over that heart-rending list of poets who had drifted into the shadow-haunted land, our talk was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a deep, rich, mellow voice literally poured, like a stream of incense into the air.  There was instantly a deep hush of all the people who had been buzzing about.  It was one of those old popular airs that have the savour of tears in their plaintive minors.


‘Thou dost beat and bruise my breast
With the sighs of thy unrest;
Thou dost break and blight my sleep
With the tears that thou dost weep.
Tears! oh , tears may not renew
Love’s young May with briny dew;
Sighs! oh sighs with wail and pian,
Bring no kiss to life again!
Weeper, wilt thou weep in vain
Salt tear rain?
All in vain–in vain!
‘From the mountains runs the river,
Leaps in laughter to the plain,
Toward the mountain rolling never
Flow blithe waters back again.
No, not ever, ever, ever
Turns the wandering wave again.
Weeper, wilt thou weep in vain
Salt tear rain?
All in vain–in vain!

The last notes had scarcely died away, when I was startled by a deep sigh breathed close behind me.  Turning round abruptly, I saw two glowing eyes distended as it were through tears, and at the same instant the chaplain’s hand was seized, warmly wrung, while he exclaimed in evident delight, ‘What, Hugo, is it you come back from the war?  Safe and sound I see, and, Doctor,’ he added eagerly,  ‘have you been successful in your–’ before he had time to finish his sentence, the young man in tremulous excitement, strangely contrasting with the inherent gentleness expressed in his features, whispered eagerly, ‘See, they gave me this. (Here he pulled out a small cross of honour, which he explained had been given to him in token of his indefatigable labors as army surgeon. ) Do you think Marie will care for it? I may now get a practice in Vienna–I may now be able to make an income.  Do you think Marie will believe it? (Here he started, as Marie’s voice, for she had been the singer, still sounded from afar.) I was calm when the bullets were whizzing around me. Oh! my God!  I was calm amid the dying and the dead; and now–oh! how this air suffocates me.’ A gleam of golden hair on the moonlit path, and he was gone.

I questioned the chaplain with eager curiosity as to this strange apparition.  He said to-morrow we would walk along the banks of the Aach to the further end of the valley and he would tell me all he knew, but not to-night; it was his time for going to bed, and nothing could make him break through his habits. So I was fain to be content.

The next day it was not till the afternoon that we two got started on our little tour; and so much was there to see, and so beautiful and captivating was nature, that we did not at first talk at all.  I had never been so far down the valley, whose undulating meadows[,] spread out on both sides of the shimmery stream, were smooth and delicately moulded as though they were earth-breasts, girdled about by a zone of blue-green woodland. The broad afternoon light, mellowed by furtively growing shadows, gave to all things a profound sense of satisfied peace. At last,  when he had reached a spot where the stream dashed itself headlong down a steep declivity, its delicious pale-green flood shattering down in silver, the chaplain pointed out to me two wooden huts, with an air of twins about them, on the fringe of the far-stretching wood.  ‘In one of these huts Marie was born,’ he said; ‘in the other, Hugo the Doctor. They are both poor foresters’ children, looked down upon [232] in these parts by rich peasants who posses their herds and flocks and acres of land.  These two huts are a good deal apart from the cluster of homesteads higher up, you see.  So were these children.  They played about together on these meadows–they went further in the bitter winter mornings together to gather in the dry sticks in the forest–they went forth in the early spring together to help tend the flocks of their richer neighbors, and ever Hugo took all the burden of the work on his shoulders, and left his little playmate to run about and amuse herself as she listed.  When they ceased to be playmates they became lovers.  Marie, when a blue-eyed lassie of sixteen, returned Hugo’s passion.  But ambitious even then, she spurred him on to go to the city and study and become a doctor.  For a doctor’s wife she would be, not a peasant’s or a forester’s.  Her slightest wish wish was a law to this love-enthusiast.  A love whose roots struck into the earliest memories branched out, as it were, into his all of futurity. He went forth to study, though the parting was a heartrending one.  He studied hard–starved himself almost in order to study; but with an iron industry and fair talents, what could a poor, unknown young man without connections or even the least talent for making them  hope to do in a city like Vienna?  At any rate it would take years. Meanwhile, Marie had become the famous beauty of the country round.  Songs were made on her hair.  Austrian and Bavarian students chaunted the lake-blue eyes of Marie the Blonde.  When the Doctor came back once a year to report of his progress in the town he found her always surrounded by voluble admirers.  Still she never let him give up hope entirely: no, that was not in her plan.

She knew well that none of these men loved her as this man of pure, intense heart did.  It was not wise to let such love go, if by any management she might keep it.  So she fed him with hopes of the future.  When this next step had been taken, then she might perchance bethink herself to marry; but they could both wait, they were young.  Hugo went back and toiled wearily for another twelve months to come, and when returning received the same answer.  Years had passed thus.  When the war had broken out, and there was a real opening for a young man like him to work and distinction, Hugo had eagerly gone forward, cheered on by Marie, who said that now if he succeeded in winning some sort of notice which should open out a career in the future, she would no longer tarry with her consent.  He had gone forth full of eager, new hope, when hope had been half burnt-out.  He had borne himself bravely, and been well spoken of by those of his company who might be supposed to have some influence.  The chaplain  said he believed that things must now come to some sort of final settlement; ‘but,’ he continued, and here he stopped before a large, [233] comfortable Tyrolese farmstead, which we had reached on our homeward way,

‘Look well at this house, my dear young friend.’
I was rather taken aback by this queer conclusion, and stared at him first, and at the house afterwards.
‘Tell me what you see,’ he said.

‘What I see,’ rejoined I, laughing, ‘why I see a most substantial place, half inn, half farm-house, and overlooking the sheep-dotted fields and the streams with a proud look of ownership.  I see a gorgeously painted front, with the sun itself painted in the middle as yellow as yellow gold.  I see a text of Scripture in huge gilt letters, blazoned on the wall, perhaps, to make up for want of religion within.  I see deeply protruding, age-browned lintels, where the swallows’ nests show that swallows love to build in spring.  I see three quaintly carved balconies of solid wood, one for each story, running right round the house, and each of them more or less full of innumerable wooden utensils for work of all kinds and food for winter drying in the autumnal sunshine.  I see, heaped against one side of the house, piles on piles of big logs of wood, symmetrically arranged, for future blazing fires when the hard winter tide shall set in.  I see further on many stables, ready to receive the sleek kine when they shall come down from the Alps, where they are now cropping their last meals.  Ah! I see–I see–have I not told you enough, Chaplain, why do you listen lost in so very dark-brown a study?

‘And you see tuning the angle of the house yonder?’

‘That I suppose is the proprietor of house, herds, meadows, for no one else, I suppose, would dare scold a poor old woman, who seems to have done something amiss in the way of rooting out turnips, in so very lordly and terrible a manner.  My God! What a frown.  It might make one’s blood run cold, even when sitting beside one of the man’s biggest fires, lit by his biggest faggots.   Yes, now he comes nearer, I see he has a heavy gold chain conspicuous against his waistcoat pocket.  Come, let us move away, that old man’s “God greet you”* smacks not of Heaven. But now go on, you broke off in the middle, lost in admiration of the splendour of the house–go on.’

‘It will go on, spite of me,’ murmured the Chaplain between his teeth, and nothing more could be got out of him just then.

The sun was now setting, and deep, cool shadows were thrown by the woods far across the sunny green.  The air was of crystal purity and innumerable gossamers floated like fairy webs in shining silence; azure butterflies fluttered up and down; water wagtails flirted with the [234] foam-sparkling brook; a heavy smell of hay, from the last mown fields, made the air sleepy.

Hark to that silver sound! A rough grey-headed shepherd right before us goes down on his knees.  His dog seems used to it, and awaits quietly his master’s devotions, casting a wary eye on the sheep the while.  For this is the Angelus, the greeting of the Angels. From yonder tiny chapel whose pure white spire points like a finger to heaven, the tender, mellow chimes ring out and harmonise exquisitely with the deep soft tones of colour that lie like rose-bloom over the whole western sky. Prayer at sunset; it is a holy custom.  Maybe that for the peasant, with his look bent always down to earth and earthly things, there is borne in at that moment the faint breath of an unspeakable emotion linking his existence to higher existences, even as his rough head is illuminated by the sweet glory of the western sun.  True, alas! It may but too often turn into mere ossified formalism, but the path is cleared as it were for thoughts to be lifted up.  The shepherd rose from his knees, the chaplin put on his hat, two children that had been hushed and remained unperceived chased each other, flaxen headed, along the long slope of shadow.  We still walked on in silence, not daring to disturb the holy calm that fell with the falling darkness, and the rising moon.  Just then we heard an eager voice pleading with the intensity of overmastering passion.  A moon-washed head shone out planet-like against a dark background of underwood.  You dimly descried two forms, ‘Hugo pleading his cause for the last time,’ said the chaplain.  ‘Now or never, and he thinks it is now.’ We heard the rich tones of Marie soothing, persuasive evidently, then the two separated, the doctor pressing her wildly to him, then precipitately dashing into the dewy underwood while Marie calmly took the path along which we had just come.  Her figure showed grandly outlined in the moonlight.  A bat unquietly glanced and vanished and glanced again above her coroneted head.  Her shadow fell strangely long from east to west of the valley. The chaplain did not speak again, but bade me a brief good night when we reached our inn.

Some glorious weeks elapsed, during which I went rambling about the country, seeing little of Marie, nothing of Hugo.  Indeed, the latter, I believe, had been sent to Innsbruck on some law errand by Marie.  One day I was struck by the thoroughly unusual bustle of the place, and the Sunday-look of the maids and men loitering about the inn, which roused my curiosity, and me ask whether there was a ‘Kermess.’  ‘No,’ drawled out a thickset, usually slatternly girl, but now shining with soap in clean linen, ‘no, don’t you know Marie is going to be married to-day.’

‘Married today,’ I exclaimed, ‘why I am indeed glad to hear this, for poor Hugo I am sure has waited long enough.’

‘Hugo,’ rudely tittered the girl, ‘she is a wise one, she is; she marry Hugo!’ the notion seemed altogether too much for her, and she scratched her ears and bumped off, evidently thinking me not worth the pains of a further waste of words.  

Just then, when I was still fairly bewildered, a procession of people was gradually forming itself outside the inn.  Many of the peasants seemed to have come from adjoining villages and far mountain sides.  Some looked wayworn and dusty.   Cans of wine were handed round in profusion and quaffed at one draught by the hale stalwart-looking men.  Some of the girls were remarkably fresh and spruce in their best gowns.  At last Marie appeared, looking glorious.  She had on a gown of the finest dark blue stuff, falling in stiff folds from her hips to her ankles.  Over her bodice, laced with silver in front, she wore a milk-coloured kerchief, folded across her bosom, yet leaving the full neck bare, where five thick silver chains were coiled above another.  Her hair, however, was covered by a peaky hat, on this occasion crowned with flowers.  Impatient to learn the real state of affairs, I hurried off in search of the chaplain, whom I found at last in a meadow behind the house.  ‘Why Chaplain,’ I cried, ‘how is this? here is Marie going to be married I hear; where is Hugo?’

‘Oh,’ he said impatiently, ‘she has taken good care that he should be safe out of the way while she marries the big house I bade you to look at the other day, of course.’

‘That such a fine form should have such a pin’s head of a heart,’ I sighed; but surely this is too disgraceful, that she should have kept this man on all these years to cheat him thus in the end.’

‘I hope he may never come back to find out,’ said the Chaplain shaking his head; ‘you see he has built his whole life’s hope on her  and now it breaks down–I fear for him, I fear for him.’

‘Still, Chaplain,’ I said, ‘let us go and see how this pitiable sale goes off; let us hear the person knocked down to the highest bidder.’

He came at last, and we two marched slowly behind the long procession, thinking our own thoughts.  The sky was still cloudless serene.  When we had gone half way we saw a bareheaded gipsy woman, carrying a baby on her back, come striding along.  She was ragged and dirty, nor especially good looking, still I was struck by some sunny heartiness of expression that played about her broad mouth, and a great free light in her bright black eye.  Holding on to her skirt toddled a boy of about two, a dusky child, gloriously beautiful and strong.  Somewhat in the rear came a man carrying a musician’s instrument and a boy ditto.  They begged most good humouredly, and as it were for fun, and I gave the little boy some of the scrimpy silver farthings they deal with in those parts.  ‘I wonder Chaplain,’ I said, ‘whether these now are really children of nature, or whether it is only  [236] a delusion and a snare, as it would be, did  one supposed the men and women who inhabit this valley to be such?’

We soon reached the white chapel on the hill, whence the marriage-bells were pealing out gladdening chimes over the sunny land.  The bridegroom, at the head of his procession of friends, arrived there at the same time as the bride with her cortège.  The ceremony began and proceeded peacefully to the moment when the ‘Yes’ of the bride was listened to by the congregation.  I remember the scene as it were yesterday. The smell of field-flowers with which the place was redolent from the great bumpkin-like posies  worn on the occasion by men and maids; the drowsy hum of a bee, that went circling round and round, accompanying the priest’s voice  with a monotonous undertone; the broad ladder-like sunbeam, slanting right across the chapel, and through the very place where Marie knelt uttering her ‘Yes,’ a ‘Yes’ instantaneously accompanied by a shrill, strident, and horrible laugh.  In that laugh there was heart-wreck.   It was as if you saw a human soul cloven in twain and toppling, sheer and sudden, into the dull black gulf of despair.  Ugh! It made you feel cold at mid-day and methought that all the little carved demons on the chancel grinned twice as broadly as before.  A commotion went through the place, there was a scuffle at the door, and I saw a figure dashing wildly past it, and across the sunlit fields beyond.  The Chaplain started up, and before I had time to ask him a question had also disappeared.  Even the stolid peasant faces, all turned in one direction, expressed some slight shade of surprise.  Marie, who had now risen and stood beside her bridegroom looked hardly a shade paler than usual, and was smiling into his face.  People began to move away.  I sat still a moment, unable to go amongst that gay crowd; then I tried to trace the Chaplain, but could not hear anything of him all that day, nor did he make his appearance in eh evening.

Next morning I eagerly inquired, but nothing had been heard of him.  The weather broke up that day, the wind changing from south to north, and we suddenly were in mid-winter.  Mass on mass of inky cloud seemed brewed and boiling up from some cauldron sunken amongst the shaggy mountains, and they gradually strangled and stamped out the breadth and height of the azure sky.  The air of the forest was rotted and rank with livid fumes.  The stream, like some deadly arrow, hissed across the valley, hurling destruction at all it met with on its passage.  The summer-guests like a flight of birds were suddenly scattered to all the winds.  The place was utterly deserted and lonely, I alone remaining behind.  Another day passed and I heard nothing of the Chaplain. At last, on the evening of the third day, when I was sitting in the large, hot peasant’s room, (Bauern-Stube), where the maids had now began their winter’s spinning, and the men [236] were carving out wooden utensils, there was a loud knocking at the outer door.  I sprang up, and followed one of the men into the passage.  As the door was opened a keen-edged wind drove handfuls of snow into the passage.  Two men stood there, bearing a stretcher and the Chaplain was beside them.  They were all white, as if covered with shrouds, and silently moved into the large warm room, where men and women gathered round, gaping and staring.  Scarcely, however, had the men deposited their load, than the form strapped down to the stretched began violently to agitate itself and screamed till the house rang again.

‘The devil! the devil! He stands on the White Mountain! He has got me by the throat! His hairs are ropes, flames, chains! They eat me up!–help! help! Ah! little Marie, are your hands cold?  Are you hungry? And we have wandered a long way from home! There are a few sticks here to make bundles of, and the birds have eaten up all the berries! Give here your little hands, mine are hot! Fire! fire! The wood is on fire! It will burn her! Marie! Marie is dead!’ I rushed out of the room; I could not bear it; I tried to stop my ears.

The voice rose and fell from agony to agony, till it died away in a wail that resumed the anguish of all broken hearts since the world began.

The Chaplain sought me out; he looked deeply affected and worn.  

‘He is fast asleep, at last,’ he whispered; ‘thank God for that.  Would he might never wake again!’

I looked a question; I could not speak just then.  He said slowly after a while–

‘He must have come back unexpectedly, full of hope; for he still believed, or clung to the belief, that Marie loved him.  He must have seen a wedding going on, and walked in and seen– and seen his whole life’s love go down at one blow, fell, crushing, implacable.’  He stopped a moment, and then resumed: ‘I have known Hugo from a child.  He was almost as dear to me as a son.  He had a heart of gold.  Gold! no, let me not compare that heart, full of all self-devotion, to the miserable metal for which that woman has sacrificed it. What a fool she must be after all; the clod of white flesh who can pass by the pricelessness of such love for the wooden walls of a big house.  Ah! She has been very sly about it; though I suspected, I could never ascertain.  She has stolen years of love from that man,  when an honest word long ago might have been like wholesome medicine, painful for the time, but blessed in its effects.  She is a prisoner in the eyes of–ah! in whose eyes?’–he broke off, and sighed.  ‘There is no court of justice where to arraign such criminals.  Steal my money, and I can have the law down upon you, and make you pay dearly for it; cheat me of love, trust of peace, of hope on earth below [238] and of heaven hereafter, and what redress is there–none, none, none!’

‘Will he recover from this illness, do you think?’ I said.

‘Illness,’ he replied, fixing me: ‘his body was too young and sound for illness.  There is no illness there; he is a maniac: Incurable!  I know the signs well.  The world has become a shrieking discord, and no skill of science will never make that brain to harmonise again till the greater hand of death dissolve it.  That, alsas! May be years hence.  I would give him a dull narcotic to drowse him into unawakening sleep if I dared follow the pity of my nature.  How do you think I found him? He must have run on with inconceivable swiftness  for an incredible time; for, although I followed close upon his heels at first, he soon vanished out of sight, and I did not find him till late last night.  I went slower on horseback than he had gone on foot.  I crossed the woods and the mountain range.  You don’t know the great deep woods on the other side, where they fell the firs and float them down to the sea.  There was perhaps a dim longing to crouch down in their gloomy depths, and never again emerge into daylight.  Who can tell what passes at such moments through a soul?  Well, as this night was drawing on, I saw a red flicker through the thick trunks of the trees, and soon came upon a small gipsy encampment.  A kettle was boiling over the fire; a baby screaming and kicking on the grounded unheeded, for they seemed all to have been drawn to one spot by some unusual event.  As I came up to them, I saw they had gathered round a prostrate bleeding form.  I recognised Hugo at once; his clothes were all in rags and tatters, his hair drenched with blood, his eyes wide open but vacant.  A gipsy woman was bathing his temples with cold spring water, and a little boy, with a big hunk of brown bread grasped tight in one fist, trying to force some crumbs through his shut teeth.  He did not know me; he will never know me again.  Hark! He is awake.  I remove him early to-morrow morning, to where all possible care can be taken of him, and one friend at least will always be near him.’

The good chaplain pressed my hand and was gone.  I sat long absorbed in sad speculation why sweet love should be so wasted, why fate should play with some at such cross purposes; but answer found I none.  In the chill grey of morning I heard a heavy coach in the courtyard.  The driver’s whip and voice sounded still from afar; but the roll of wheels could not be heard, because of the heavy fall of snow during the night.  ‘Marie,’ came like a wail of wind around the house, and then all was still.

* * * * *

*God greet you is the salutation every stranger addresses to you as he passes. [appears as footnote at bottom of p. 233]