Bad Peppers by George Parsons Lathrop
"You see, I want to strike down to Bad Peppers."
These words were pronounced by the third person at my right on the
bench. The bench, it must be explained, was covered with red velvet, and
situated in the cabin of a steamer. And the steamer was the Weser,
bound for Bremen.
I could not imagine at the moment what "Bad Peppers" meant; and the
remark—uttered at our first dinner on board—came out with such
ludicrous distinctness, in the midst of the clatter at table, that I
made haste to observe the individual from whom it proceeded. I beheld a
rough but impressive head, with cheeks of a settled red, and beetling
grizzly hair, looking out over the board in a dogged, half-perplexed,
but good-humored way, though the owner of the head was evidently
unconscious that he had said anything open to comment. He was a man, I
should say, of forty-six; but as I looked at him now in the glare of the
skylight above, the simplicity and frankness in his face were so marked,
that I could not help imagining the short gray curls turned to golden
brown, and feeling the momentary pity that comes over one in looking at
an elderly person who reminds one of childhood, yet is hopelessly far
removed from it. I felt a little sorry for a man with this kind of a
face attempting so large a task as crossing the ocean to Europe, and I
was a little amused at the idea, too.
He was talking earnestly to my handsome friend Fearloe, who sat on this
side of him; but I observed that he was watched with a certain
patronizing scrutiny by a young German opposite.
"Yes, you see I couldn't get rid of this rheumatism anywhere," he
continued, "and so I took a friend's advice and started for Europe. They
say that Bad Peppers will fix up the worst case you ever saw better than
any amount of medicine. Anyway, I'm going to try it."
Peppers as a cure for rheumatism! What could he mean? And if this was to
be the remedy, why go to Europe to try it? But he proceeded:
"And that's the reason, you see, why I want to strike right down to Bad
The mystery began to grow less opaque. Possibly he might mean by "strike
down" that he wished to reduce his diet to the article in question; but
I thought it more likely that Bad Peppers was a place which he had made
his objective point. I determined to ask Fearloe at the earliest
opportunity, and therefore drew him away as soon as dinner was over.
"Who is your new acquaintance?" I inquired.
"He reports himself as Steven Steavens, a wholesale grocer from
"And he's going to Europe to cure his rheumatism? Europe ought to be
flattered, certainly," said I; and I am afraid we both laughed rather
scornfully at our unsuspecting fellow-traveller, who was pacing another
part of the deck with a fierce meerschaum pipe in his mouth. "But tell
me what he means by this Bad Peppers. Is it a place? I'm sure I never
heard of one by that name."
"Of course," said Fearloe, "it's a place, but that isn't the right name.
He means a resort of some note for invalids in the canton of St. Gall,
Switzerland—Bad Pfeiffers, or Pfeiffers's Baths—south of the Lake of
Constance, and near the Rhine: a very picturesque spot, too."
"You've been there, then?"
"Yes," answered Fearloe, who, I may remark by the way, had been nearly
everywhere—out of America. He was one of those Yankees of the later
generations who are born with a genius for belying their own
nationality. When he was in England, the English would actually claim
him for one of themselves, in the face of positive denial from his own
countrymen; though I must do him the justice to say that he made no
merit of this, and never allowed newspaper paragraphs to be written
about it. In France he was frequently taken for a Frenchman; and in
Italy his fine statuesque features and rich dark beard, with the aid of
a good Roman accent, might easily cause him to pass for a descendant of
one of the old patrician families. In consequence he was very apt to be
looked upon as a foreigner during his occasional flights through his
native land, and possessed accordingly a remarkable power over the
hearts of sundry republican young women; for women love to pay homage to
a judicious male superiority, and this is the reason the daughters of
our nation delight in foreign manners, which assume that grandeur of the
male that most Americans are too polite and timid to assert. These
things being so, I do not wonder that Fearloe was a little conceited on
one point—his success in impressing the female heart.
"You speak so well of the place," I continued, after a pause, "that I've
a great mind to 'strike down' there myself. Do you advise it?"
"By all means, Middleby, after you've seen the Exposition. Paris will be
hot, and you will need a change of some sort."
"I hope it won't be a change to rheumatism," I replied, with another
laugh. I had not noticed that Steavens had come nearer to us as I spoke;
but the word "rheumatism" seemed to attract him, and roused the only
association with the Old World which he as yet enjoyed.
"You gentlemen have been to Europe before?" he said, advancing, and
taking me in with a half-inquiring nod, as if my acquaintance with so
foreign-looking a person as Fearloe was sufficient guarantee of my
experience in travelling. "Now I would consider it a favor, gentlemen,
if you would come down with me to the smoking-room. We can have a little
something to drink, and then we can talk this thing over."
Fearloe smiled condescendingly.
"This thing?" inquired I (perhaps not with the utmost respect, since his
sentence struck me as rather too informal for the very beginning of a
chance acquaintance). "You mean the Bad—"
"The whole of it," broke in Mr. Steavens. "The European continent—Bad
Peppers, Paris, and all the rest of it. You've been there, and know just
what a fellow ought to see and do, and now I'm away from my store, I've
got a little time to sit down and think over what I'll do. So, if you
don't object, gentlemen—"
"Not at all," Fearloe hastened to assure him, being always ready for
"I can't tell you anything about Pfeiffers's Baths," said I, trying to
be companionable too, "for I never heard of them before; but whatever I
do know is at your service."
As we moved toward the gangway the grocer turned to Fearloe, and asked,
in an undertone, "What does he call it? Feiffers? That ain't right, is
it? My friend that set me on going there, he said Peppers. I thought,
first off, he meant they put red peppers in the water when you bathe;
but he said no, it was the name of the man that started the place, he
"You can pronounce it either way," said Fearloe, magnanimously.
"Well, I prefer Peppers," declared Steavens, with an air of relief. "But
it's kind of queer, now, that your friend, Mr. What's-his-name—"
"Middleby," I suggested, claiming my place in the colloquy.
"—Middleby," he continued, without embarrassment, transferring the
remark to me. "Ain't it queer, Mr. Middleby, that you never heard of the
place? I thought everybody knew about Bad Peppers."
I was foolish enough to be irritated at this presumption on the part of
the child-like grocer, and had a great mind to hint that he preferred a
wrong pronunciation of the name because peppers were in the line of his
business; but I contented myself with saying that I thought there were
places in Europe a good deal better known than the baths.
In the smoking-room we found the young German who had cast his critical
eye upon Steavens at dinner. He introduced himself as Herr Scharlach,
and in order to make matters clear, he drew from his pocket a printed
list of the passengers, which had been distributed just before we
sailed, on which he put a cross against each of our names and his own,
as he had already done with several others in the catalogue. He was a
young man somewhere in the thirties, with a clear blue eye that gleamed
like a sword, a high forehead, and a soft complexion deepened by
tropical sunburn. He could have been identified as a German anywhere,
from the air he had of holding a balance of power in all earthly
affairs; and when he checked off our names, I couldn't help thinking
that he was collecting data for use in some future military campaign, or
else for a biographical dictionary of the whole human race.
"Ain't from Philadelphia, are you?" queried Steavens, in a friendly
tone, implying that the other probably was from that city. "We have a
good many Germans there."
"No," said Scharlach, "Brazil." After which he lit a cigarette he had
been rolling in his thin fingers, and puffed smoke from his nostrils in
such a way as to suggest that any aperture for confidential conversation
was permanently closed.
"Now here," said our confiding acquaintance, after we had pledged one
another in several mild beverages suited to a first day out on the briny
deep—"here's a list of places my friend made out that I want to kind of
take in on my way to the springs and back." And he produced from his
pocketbook a narrow crumpled white paper, on which were pencilled the
weighty names of Paris, Rome, Madrid, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Dresden,
Antwerp, Heidelberg, and Munich. I give them in the order in which they
occurred. "I suppose that's all right, ain't it?" he concluded, glancing
at each of us in turn, as if the success of his tour depended on our
"Why, yes," said Fearloe, "the places are all right, but you'll have to
travel a good deal to include them all. I don't see how you're to get at
them on the way to the baths."
"Oh, of course I shall have to branch off a little; but then the
distances over there don't compare with ours," returned Mr. Steavens,
"I'm not so sure of that," rejoined my friend, with a malicious air of
there being some slight room for doubt. "Your first jaunt, from Paris to
Rome, will be five hundred miles—five times as far as from Philadelphia
to New York. After that you must count at least a thousand to Madrid, a
thousand more from there to Vienna, and then twelve hundred, or over, to
St. Petersburg." Steavens almost turned pale. He hastily set down the
glass which he was carrying to his lips. "Besides," continued Fearloe,
"you can't go to Rome at all before winter."
"Hold on!" cried the other, looking as if the sense of solid reality
were slipping away from him. "Has anybody got a map here? Let's settle
one thing at a time. You know what I want to do first is to strike down
to Bad Peppers. I'd like to settle just how that stands."
Scharlach immediately went to his state-room, and returned promptly with
a large and perfect map of the Continent, showing all the railroads and
post-roads. Seeing this, I was tempted to make some sarcastic remark
about his thorough German equipment; but I remembered Sedan, and
shuddered. He was soon busily engaged in tracing out certain lines of
travel with his long pink finger, the nail of which was whitish, and
edged with black—according strangely with the Prussian national colors.
I thought Scharlach took a peculiar interest in Pfeiffers, and seemed
oddly familiar with it. He furnished our fellow-passenger with full
details about the place; how it was situated on the Tamina River—which
Steavens, with a friendly reminiscence of New York politics, instantly
transformed into "Tammany" River; how the mountains were piled around
its wild gorge seven or eight thousand feet high; how the healing waters
flow only in summer, and are brought to the hotel by an aqueduct; and so
on. All this seemed to reassure the rheumatic grocer very much; and
having got "Peppers" definitely fixed in his mind again, and becoming
familiar with the map, he once more grew self-confident about his list
of cities, and nothing could avail to dissuade him from adhering to the
exact order in which his unknown adviser had jotted them down. So, for
the time, we abandoned the attempt.
There is hardly a circle more merciless in its criticisms than a body of
first-cabin passengers on one of the European steamers; and Steavens
soon became an object of amusement to most of us. His simplicity,
openness, and perfectly good-humored, almost joyous, ignorance, made him
an easy prey. But he proved to be a "good sailor," and was very gallant
toward the ladies. The strangest part of it was that they rather liked
him, and took his side against our covert ridicule. I suppose I must
admit that this, instead of altering our opinions concerning him, only
added a slight bitterness to a spirit of fun which would otherwise have
been quite innocent; and we got into a way of looking at him with
sarcastic hostility. When I say "we" I refer more particularly to
Fearloe, the German, Scharlach, and myself, who, having been thrown with
him more than the others on the first day of the voyage, regarded him as
a sort of comic exhibition under our special supervision.
This rather absurd bond of union between us led to some degree of
intimacy with Scharlach, who disclosed—greatly to the enhancement of
our interest in Steavens's journey—that he, likewise, was going to
Pfeiffers. His errand, moreover, was a romantic one. Five years before
he had fallen in love with the orphaned niece of a rich merchant in
Berlin; but feeling his cause to be hopeless, at least as regarded the
girl's uncle, so long as he had nothing but his personal appearance and
a very elaborate education to support his suit, Scharlach had preferred
to retain the hold of friendship while starting out to better his
condition; and accordingly he had never made a positive declaration of
his passion, but had gone to Brazil, where he succeeded in gaining a
moderately handsome fortune. His friends had kept him informed of
Fräulein Raslaff's movements. As yet she had not married, from which he
augured hopefully for his future; but her uncle had become an invalid,
and they were now about resorting to Pfeiffers for his health, whither
Scharlach, of course, purposed following them, in order to learn his
He requested us urgently to say nothing about this to any of our
fellow-voyagers, and we even kept the secret of his destination from
Steavens. But that could not prevent Fearloe and myself from privately
talking over Scharlach's prospects a little. My own opinion was that
such cool self-possession as his course showed might not impress a woman
so favorably as it did us, and I said I was by no means sure that
Scharlach would win, after all. Fearloe did not agree with me here, and
stroked his beard with an air of restrained certainty as he replied: "I
see, Middleby, you fancy that women want something more startling
romantic than that. But they are very practical, too; and I think you'll
find Miss Raslaff will appreciate such sensible devotion as this of our
Brazilian emigrant." As I have said, Fearloe knew the effect he could
produce on women, and was proud of it; and when he uttered this remark
it was plain that he thought he had settled the question.
As I left the steamer at Southampton, and went up to London for a few
days, I parted with Steavens before the voyage was completed. It was
nearly a week later that I met Fearloe again, in Paris. We went together
to dine at a neat little two-franc place in the Rue St. Honoré, which we
had formerly haunted, and during dinner he suddenly asked, with a
roguish look, "Who do you think I saw yesterday?—Steavens!" And Fearloe
here bent his head, bathing his beard in laughter. "Do you know, he has
been in Paris three days and hasn't gone near the Exposition?"
"Well, that shows a healthy independence," said I. "Is he studying the
"No," was the answer; "he has discovered something far more important
than the Louvre or the Exposition—something which seems to reward him
for the whole trip."
"What can that be?" I queried, rather blankly.
"He has discovered," said Fearloe, "that Paris is the place to buy
This, it appeared, was the topic which had engrossed Steavens's mind
when Fearloe met him. The erratic man, after reaching Bremen, had
abruptly decided to come over to the French capital, which he might have
done much more easily and cheaply from Southampton; and the result of
this expensive détour had been a kind of shirt-intoxication. "You've no
idea," added Fearloe, "how neatly he has gotten himself up. He really is
making progress. And the magnificence of the fellow! Why, he says he
shall merely take a single run through the Exposition, and leave all the
rest of Paris till after he has been to Pfeiffers."
"Fearloe," I said, with a measure of solemnity, "don't scoff at a man
like that. I never before have met an American with quite so much
originality in his treatment of Europe. He must be a genius."
Nevertheless, we continued to laugh at him, with that superiority of
being less naïf and independent than he which so oddly seems to us a
desirable thing nowadays. And if any one at that time had hinted that
Steven Steavens, with his want of reserve and complete indifference to
what is known as culture, possessed qualities of character more to be
admired than our own, we should not have taken the trouble even to smile
at the critic.
I did not happen to meet Steavens while in Paris; but in August I
finally acted on Fearloe's chance hint aboard ship, and went to
Pfeiffers myself, where I found not only our enthusiast in shirts, but
also Scharlach and Miss Raslaff, together with that young lady's uncle,
a shrivelled little old man, who had the air of being put away to keep
in his thick white hair and whiskers, like a dried beetle in
cotton-wool. To the rest of us indeed, the old gentleman was of no more
account than a beetle, and appeared to have as little influence on the
lives around him as an insect might. But, as a matter of fact, though he
was so nearly dead, and scarcely stirred a limb, he clutched three lives
in his faded fingers, and held them fast there—his niece's life,
Scharlach's life, and Steavens's life. For I was not long in discovering
that my rheumatic pilgrim had fallen in love with Fräulein Raslaff
almost at first sight. He himself took good care that I should not
remain blind to the fact. He drew me aside, and poured his tale into my
ear, though with somewhat more reserve than he had shown on the steamer
in discussing his plans of travel.
"How long has this been going on?" I inquired, as we walked together up
and down the hotel terrace overlooking the wild and picturesque valley.
"Three weeks and a half," he answered. "It's a short time, and it
seems like a short time. I've read in the story papers that when a
man's in love, a few days seem to him like years, and so forth. But I
don't believe it. I know exactly how long I've been here, and yet
there's no doubt about it, I'm in love with that young lady, and am
going to make her my wife if I can. The story papers are wrong, and I'm
I couldn't help reflecting that this was the same independence I had
praised to Fearloe. "The man has the faculty of knowing exactly what
he's about," thought I, "and that goes a good way toward securing
success." Yet it seemed preposterous that he should have the least
chance with a woman so far removed from him by tastes and traditions as
Fräulein Raslaff. I said to him merely, "Have you spoken to her?"
"I've tried to feel my way," was his reply. "But that uncle of
hers—he's an old potato-bug, sir. He's worse than a potato-bug. I
don't know what to call him. He won't let any one come near her, and yet
he don't seem to take any pleasure in her himself. He looks just about
dead, but I tell you it's only shamming; the minute another man talks to
Miss Raslaff, he wakes up; it puts life into him, and he flies around
sharp. This is a good country to operate in, though; he can't take the
walks we do with parties sometimes—up to Solitude, and the Belvedere,
and around. I'd just like to see him in the gorge once; that would
The gorge was a very peculiar and rather perilous cavern, higher up in
the valley through which the Tamina runs.
"Then it's only the uncle that troubles you?" I queried. "You don't feel
afraid of Scharlach?"
Steavens paused, looking anxious for an instant. Then the child-like
expression which I had marked on my first glimpse of him came out
strongly again. "Do you think he'd be mean enough to stand in my way?"
"But suppose you are standing in his?" I returned.
Steavens apparently considered this an unnatural view to take.
"Scharlach can get along by himself all right," he asserted. "He might
be disappointed, and it wouldn't ruin him. But me—why, take me, and
what am I without her?" I must admit that this humbleness touched me
with its pathos, and I began to range myself on Steavens's side. Then he
concluded, without any pathos at all, "Well, I've got as good a right to
try as he has, any way, and I'm bound to win in the end."
At length, wishing to soften a possible disappointment, I thought I
ought to toll him how long Scharlach had been hoping to gain Miss
Raslaff's heart. The information startled him considerably; but after a
few moments' silence he struck me on the shoulder, and exclaimed, "Well,
here we are! He's rich and I'm rich; let her choose between us for
something else. If he hadn't made any money out there, I'd say to him,
'Here, my man, I've got the best of you, so I'll stand by, and you can
just walk in and try your chances first.' But seeing we're neck and neck
on that, I don't know that there's anything to do but go ahead."
And go ahead he assuredly did from that hour. He astounded the old uncle
by remonstrating with him directly against his supervision of Miss
Raslaff. "It ain't fair," he said. "You don't know how to manage things
in this country. I don't say a woman ought to vote; but anyway she ought
to have a right to listen to a man when he wants to tell her what he
thinks of her. Do you suppose I could tell you?" (With a glance by no
means politic in its contempt at the desiccated little figure before
him.) "And how am I to talk to her about it when you are around?"
The result of this attack, which he made in my presence, was a violent
outbreak from the old man; and the next day Steavens was asked to meet
Miss Raslaff and her uncle in their salon, to receive from the young
woman herself a confirmation of her uncle's objection to receiving any
attentions from him. The girl was pale, but composed and very beautiful.
I could not make out whether or not she had taken any fancy to my
brusque compatriot, but she acted her part firmly. When at last she
said, in pure English, "My uncle is right; you must not seek my
acquaintance any more—more ardently; let us be quite as we were
before," I declare so sweet a suspicion of a blush came over her checks,
and her voice died away so delicately, like a soft echo heard among the
very hills around us, that I almost fell in love with her myself. A
great change instantly came over Steavens. All his jauntiness, his
unreserve, his child-like confidence, were extinguished at a blow. After
a moment he collected his voice, and said, with great gentleness, "Miss
Raslaff, I will never do anything you ask me not to, so far as speaking
is concerned; but that won't prevent my thinking about you just as much
as ever, and I shall keep just as near the place where you stay as I
This was the end of the interview, and I thought my countryman had the
best of it. He was very melancholy, though, while I remained at the
baths; and the savage beauty of the place—the rough stream roaring out
of the cavern against whose walls of black calcareous rock, glittering
here and there with feldspar, the faint Alpine rose bloomed pensively,
the shaggy heights above the hotel, and the glimpses of snowy peaks in
the distance—was not suited to restore his cheer. One day we went into
the gorge, with its rocky walls rising two or three hundred feet, and
gradually closing together above, where a bridge of planks cornered into
the solid stone runs for a distance of six thousand paces to the
springs, slippery all the way from the flying river-foam. It was gloomy
and depressing as a scene from the Inferno, and bad for a rheumatic
patient, as I reminded Steavens; but he shook his head mournfully, and
said he didn't care. What was worse was the danger of missing a foothold
on the wet and mossy planks, and so being precipitated into the wild
stream beneath; and I breathed more easily when we came out safely
again. But it struck me that this would be a fearful place for two angry
rivals, such as Steavens and Scharlach now were, to meet in.
It so happened that Scharlach that very day came to me with his tale
of despair. Thinking the field was his own, after Steavens's
discomfiture, he had formally proposed for Miss Raslaff's hand, and had
been rejected. He could not understand it. He had addressed the young
lady with her uncle's permission, and she had refused him. I gathered
from what he said that he had pressed his claim as a matter of right,
that he considered himself to have bought her love by long patience and
the accumulation of a competence, and had put forward this theory with
undue bluntness; for he confessed that she had dismissed him with a cold
anger and disdain that left no hope. We were sitting on the great stone
steps hewn in the height above the hotel as he told me this. "No," he
cried, springing to his feet, at the end, in a sort of fury. "If she had
shown heat of temper, I might have kept up hope. But she petrified me
with her contempt. I am no better than these rocks." He ground his teeth
as he spoke, looking down at the hostelry, sunk at a fearful depth below
us. Then he seized a heavy stone from the earth, and flung it down the
steep, madly crying, "Yes, I am stone now, and there goes my heart
rolling down to crush you!" It stopped before it had gone far; but the
frenzied action was enough to show that the man had lost his balance.
The pent-up force of years, so well controlled till now, had broken
forth at a bound, and was carrying him away. "And it was that fool from
America, that friend of yours," he added, fiercely, turning upon me all
at once, as if I were an enemy—"it was he that did this. It is because
he is a novelty, and because her uncle opposes it, that she has taken a
fancy to him, and thrown aside the man who was a slave to her for eight
years. That's it, I am sure. Take him away! Take your American away!"
I need not say that I did not obey this command; but I did take myself
away. The truth is, the situation was getting altogether too serious for
my liking. Yet, after I had gone, I felt an incessant curiosity to know
how the affair had resulted. I heard nothing more for some time, until I
came across an acquaintance during the winter, who had met Steavens in
Paris again. This gentleman was telling me how Steavens had been to Rome
early in the winter, and now went about complaining that it was a very
dirty, one-horse town, which couldn't compare with Philadelphia. He also
reported Steavens as gaining some notoriety for his romantic attachment
to a young German lady, whom I had no difficulty in recognizing as
Fräulein Raslaff. It appeared, therefore, that he had as yet made no
headway; but I indulged in a sense of approval when I learned that he
was studying hard, to enlarge his education and his knowledge of
European things. Still, my acquaintance described him as a man who could
never become anything but an American. He had taken the baths under the
necessity of improving his health; he was trying to take European
manners, in the same way, for the sake of improving his chances with
Fräulein Raslaff. Yet he remained immutably hostile to everything
foreign, and to prolong his stay abroad was, therefore, the strongest
sort of devotion he could have shown.
Fearloe knew nothing of these events, having gone to Egypt for the
winter. But more than a year afterward, when I had been at home for some
time, I was one day telling a lady at a dinner party something about
Steavens's eccentricities and absurdities, when she exclaimed: "Oh, I
have heard of that man before! Your friend Mr. Fearloe was telling me
I was decidedly annoyed by this, because I had frequently made an
anecdote of Steavens with great effect, and now here was Fearloe
spoiling my fun by telling it in advance. Of course I had confined
myself to narrating the rheumatic pilgrim's strange plan of travel, his
excitement about Parisian shirts, and his unique view of Rome—things
which invariably proved highly amusing—and said nothing of his romance.
I now questioned my companion at dinner, to see if I could learn
anything more about that part of his history, but I could get no
information on that subject. My irritation continued all the evening,
for it is no slight matter when a man who painfully hoards materials for
small conversation, and uses them frequently, finds an insidious friend
depriving him of them. But I had an ample revenge upon Fearloe
afterward, as you shall see. When I next saw him, which was some months
later, he had an experience to recount which certainly put him at my
mercy. I will tell it in his own words.
"I was staying at North Conway for a few days, late in July, and there
was a most beautiful woman there. I hardly know whether to call her girl
or woman, Middleby, there was such an immortal freshness about her face
and figure, combined with a reflective sadness that showed she had had
more than a girl's experiences. She dressed in black; it was a cool thin
black, that looked—perhaps on account of the calm, sweet face above
it—more airy and summer-like than the most studied of the country
costumes worn by other ladies at the hotel; and she wore bracelets and a
pin of Irish bog-stone set in ebony, that harmonized deliciously with
her personality. You know how that sort of stone sparkles, like a
clouded diamond. Well, there was something about its dim, shrouded flash
that was just like the mystery in her pale face with its surroundings of
black. It struck into me very deep, and excited a desire to pierce the
mystery, to find out what her face meant, and what was at her heart—and
perhaps to place myself in the heart, too. I'll own it frankly. You know
I'm not susceptible, though I've generally made my way pretty well with
the ladies." (Here a flash of Fearloe's old self-complacence on this
point came to light, but quickly died out again.) "I have always cared
more for foreign women, though, than for our own; and this girl or woman
was a German, so I was doubly taken with her. Her name was set down on
the register as—Well, I won't tell you what the name was, just at
present, but it was registered in such a way that I couldn't tell
whether she was maid, wife, or widow. I fixed on the last, in my own
mind, from her wearing black. There was no one with her; none of the
people in the hotel, with whom I talked, knew anything about her. There
could be no question that she was rich; but that was all I could find
out concerning her.
"It was a delicate business, as you can imagine, to make her
acquaintance in the face of such a state of things; but I managed it,
fortunately, through doing her a little service on the 'piazza,' and
from that I went on to press my society upon her cautiously. In a few
days we were on very good terms, and took a few of the customary walks
and drives in the neighborhood, with other persons at first, and then
alone. I was puzzled to find her so easy as to this, being a foreigner;
but I believe I convinced her of my trustworthiness, and she must have
found out easily, from my acquaintances in the place, just who I was.
Then she seemed to have outgrown foreign prejudices in some way; and I
confess, besides, that I accounted for it at the time by fancying that I
had begun to make some impression upon her.
"I determined there shouldn't be any doubt about it. Yes, it was a
serious matter, Middleby; I had come to a point when I meant to offer
myself to her the very next day. I got her consent to go to Artists'
Falls, where I meant to lay my passion before her. Hideous name, by the
way—Artists' Falls!" broke off Fearloe, testily. "No affair could have
prospered in a spot with such a shoppy name."
He relapsed into gloomy reflections, from which I roused him, insisting
that the story should be finished.
"It was the evening before our intended excursion," he then went on.
"She and I were sitting on a retired part of the piazza, just about
sunset. Everything about us was rarely beautiful; the flush of the
evening just dying away from old Rattlesnake, and the line of the great
peaks at the distant head of the valley, with Washington's dome in the
midst, looking, to the fancy—as you have probably seen them—like giant
ghosts of the great men they commemorate. Then, across the intervale,
with its hundreds of little brooks and its soft elms, we looked at
White-horse Cliff, and that waterfall that seems to flutter from the
distant hill-side like a white banner. You remember? A single star was
poised above it. I shall never forget that scene. It came upon me with a
kind of surprise, after all, that we could have anything so lovely here,
and I began contrasting it with Europe. I wanted to hint something about
going back there, you know—lead up in a sort of way to my intended
declaration in the morning. So it was natural that, in talking of the
other side, and the voyage, and all that, I should begin to tell her
about that odd fellow on the Weser when we went over, you
"Miserable man!" I exclaimed, at this point, remembering my discomfiture
at that dinner. "You told her, and then you found she was some one I had
already met and told before?"
Fearloe glared at me in amazement, then slowly smiled in a melancholy
manner, and shook his head. "Don't be childish, Middleby," said he; "and
please don't interrupt me. I fancy I know something more about Steavens
than you've ever told. This particular time I'm describing to you I
was surprised to find that my listener didn't seem to enter into the fun
of the thing. I didn't mention his name, yet I almost suspected she knew
something about the man. But as she didn't relish the absurd side of
him, I thought I'd give her a proper dose of the serious. I went on to
impart what I had learned about a desperate love affair of his at Bad
Pfeiffers; and this, by the by, is news to you, Middleby."
"Not quite," I said, with a vain smile. (It must be kept in mind that
Fearloe and I had claimed a joint ownership in Steavens as a comic
spectacle, and I was jealous of any other kind of property in him as a
"No?" rejoined Fearloe, rather surprised, but cool. "Well, then, you can
judge how flat I felt on finding that the beginning of his romantic
episode didn't seem to strike her much more than the rest I had said
"'You seem rather to despise your compatriot,' she said, when I had got
as far as telling her what I had heard about his rivalry with Scharlach
for the favor of a young lady whom they met at the baths. 'But why
shouldn't he feel the same love and devotion that another might, even if
he were not the most accomplished of his nation?'
"I answered, 'Ah, that is like you, to defend a man for holding a
generous sentiment. It is to be hoped you would be equally kind in
judging a less out-and-out American who dared to love one of your race.'
(I imagined she blushed just there.) 'But if you had seen this man
Steavens, you would understand just how I look at him. You don't know
much yet about such raw specimens of my kind.'
"The fact is, Middleby, I put something of a sneer into my words. I was
angry at her liking the man even in fancy. However, I finished my story.
"'He certainly was very devoted;' I admitted that. 'He was quite as
brave as the other man.'"
"'No braver, you think?' asked she, quietly, with a tone I did not
"'You shall decide,' said I. 'The sequel was this: My German gentleman,
Scharlach, got perfectly raving mad, I'm told. He looked upon the lady
as his absolute right, and couldn't be quieted; while Steavens behaved
so calmly that he began to get on terms with the lady and her uncle
again, even after his rebuff. If you have ever been at Pfeiffers,' I
said to her, 'you know the gorge of the Tamina; but you can't guess
what's coming. It happened, one day, that Steavens went in there, when
Scharlach had already gone to the spring, and was coming back along the
foot-bridge.' I can tell you, Middleby, she looked interested when I
came to this—just as you do now. She was startled, too. 'Now, by the
strangest coincidence, the obdurate uncle and his niece also went down
there shortly afterward, not knowing that either of the rivals was in
the cave. They had gone some little way along the dangerous path, when
they heard a terrible shout, like the cry of a wild man. They tried to
make haste forward to see what it meant, after the first moment of
terror, and came in sight of the two men just in time. Scharlach was
making a rush upon Steavens, who stood perfectly still, with a pale
face, but resolute and terribly stern.
"'He braced himself as well as he could. The shock came. There was a
stout, short struggle, and suddenly Scharlach went over, plunging toward
the rough torrent full of rocks, and was lost.'
"Then, Middleby, you should have seen that woman's eyes as she sat there
in the twilight. How they flashed, as she rose in her chair! Yet there
was an intense pain in her expression. 'This is too terrible,' she said.
'But no; I must speak now. Mr. Fearloe, did the person who told you this
story also tell you how, when Scharlach fell, Steven tried to hold
him—tried to save the man who had just been seeking his life? Ah, there
his true and great nobility were seen!'
"'Good heavens, madam,' cried I, 'who are you? You saw them? Then you
"Just then, Middleby, the coach from the station had come up, and the
passengers were getting out. Madame was exclaiming, without heed to my
questions, 'Oh, I cannot bear this! That scene all comes back to me.
Steven! Steven! why are you not here?' And, as if in answer to her
words, the man came up behind her with his travelling-bag in his hand. I
felt as if lightning had struck me! But to her, calmness returned in
an instant. She rose, and with her arm in his she said, coldly, 'Steven,
do you remember Mr. Fearloe?' He recalled me at once, and started to
take my hand. But she checked him, and said to him, while looking at me
like ice, 'Ah, it's a pity you remember him, for you must learn now to
forget him!' And with that she wheeled away, carrying him with her."
"It was Miss Raslaff," I cried. "And how did it happen you didn't know
"I had forgotten the name. Ah, my boy, I have been fearfully punished. I
had a conceited contempt for that man, and see how it has been visited
"Then she has married him?"
"By this time, yes. She clung to her savage old uncle till he died, then
came over to marry Steavens, though by condition of the will she must
forfeit all her uncle's money in doing so."
"Fearloe," I remarked, after a pause, "I think we will neither of us
relate our funny encounter with Steavens any more. What did we, with all
our fancied supremacy, gain by going to Europe, compared with this man?
After all, it was a real inspiration of his to 'strike right down to Bad