Bad Peppers by George Parsons Lathrop

I.

"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 Peppers."

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 Philadelphia."

"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 novel encounters.

"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 guessed."

"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 good opinion.

"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, hopefully.

"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 fate.

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.

II.

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 Louvre?"

"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 shirts in!"

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 right."

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 finish him."

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?" he asked.

"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 can."

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.

III.

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 about him."

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 know—Steavens."

"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 sentimental one.)

"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 about him.

"'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 comprehend.

"'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 must be—'

"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 her?"

"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 on me."

"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 Peppers'!"