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Title: A Good-For-Nothing - 1876
Author: Boyesen, Hjalmar Hjorth
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Good-For-Nothing - 1876" ***

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A GOOD-FOR-NOTHING

By Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen

By permission of Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Copyright, 1876, by James R. Osgood & Co



I

Ralph Grimm was born a gentleman, He had the misfortune of coming into
the world some ten years later than might reasonably have been expected.
Colonel Grim and his lady had celebrated twelve anniversaries of their
wedding-day, and had given up all hopes of ever having a son and heir,
when this late comer startled them by his unexpected appearance. The
only previous addition to the family had been a daughter, and she was
then ten summers old.

Ralph was a very feeble child, and could only with great difficulty be
persuaded to retain his hold of the slender thread which bound him to
existence. He was rubbed with whiskey, and wrapped in cotton, and given
mare’s milk to drink, and God knows what not, and the Colonel swore a
round oath of paternal delight when at last the infant stopped gasping
in that distressing way and began to breathe like other human beings.
The mother, who, in spite of her anxiety for the child’s life, had found
time to plot for him a career of future magnificence, now suddenly set
him apart for literature, because that was the easiest road to fame, and
disposed of him in marriage to one of the most distinguished families of
the land. She cautiously suggested this to her husband when he came to
take his seat at her bedside; but to her utter astonishment she found
that he had been indulging a similar train of thought, and had already
destined the infant prodigy for the army. She, however, could not give
up her predilection for literature, and the Colonel, who could not bear
to be contradicted in his own house, as he used to say, was getting
every minute louder and more flushed, when, happily, the doctor’s
arrival interrupted the dispute.

As Ralph grew up from infancy to childhood, he began to give decided
promise of future distinction. He was fond of sitting down in a corner
and sucking his thumb, which his mother interpreted as the sign of that
brooding disposition peculiar to poets and men of lofty genius. At the
age of five, he had become sole master in the house. He slapped his
sister Hilda in the face, or pulled her hair, when she hesitated to
obey him, tyrannized over his nurse, and sternly refused to go to bed in
spite of his mother’s entreaties. On such occasions, the Colonel would
hide his face behind his newspaper, and chuckle with delight; it was
evident that nature had intended his son for a great military commander.

As soon as Ralph himself was old enough to have any thoughts about his
future destiny, he made up his mind that he would like to be a pirate.
A few months later, having contracted an immoderate taste for candy, he
contented himself with the comparatively humble position of a baker; but
when he had read “Robinson Crusoe” he manifested a strong desire to go
to sea in the hope of being wrecked on some desolate island. The parents
spent long evenings gravely discussing these indications of uncommon
genius, and each interpreted them in his or her own way.

“He is not like any other child I ever knew,” said the mother.

“To be sure,” responded the father, earnestly. “He is a most
extraordinary child. I was a very remarkable child too, even if I do say
it myself; but, as far as I remember, I never aspired to being wrecked
on an uninhabited island.”

The Colonel probably spoke the truth; but he forgot to take into account
that he had never read “Robinson Crusoe.”

Of Ralph’s school-days there is but little to report, for, to tell the
truth, he did not fancy going to school, as the discipline annoyed him.
The day after his having entered the gymnasium, which was to prepare
him for the Military Academy, the principal saw him waiting at the gate
after his class had been dismissed. He approached him, and asked why he
did not go home with the rest.

“I am waiting for the servant to carry my books,” was the boy’s answer.

“Give me your books,” said the teacher.

Ralph reluctantly obeyed. That day the Colonel was not a little
surprised to see his son marching up the street, and every now and then
glancing behind him with a look of discomfort at the principal, who
was following quietly in his train, carrying a parcel of school-books.
Colonel Grim and his wife, divining the teacher’s intention, agreed that
it was a great outrage, but they did not mention the matter to Ralph.
Henceforth, however, the boy refused to be accompanied by his servant. A
week later he was impudent to the teacher of gymnastics, who whipped him
in return. The Colonel’s rage knew no bounds; he rode in great haste to
the gymnasium, reviled the teacher for presuming to chastise _his_ son,
and committed the boy to the care of a private tutor.

At the age of sixteen, Ralph went to the capital with the intention of
entering the Military Academy. He was a tall, handsome youth, slender of
stature, and carried himself as erect as a candle. He had a light, clear
complexion of almost feminine delicacy; blond, curly hair, which he
always kept carefully brushed; a low forehead, and a straight, finely
modeled nose. There was an expression of extreme sensitiveness about
the nostrils, and a look of indolence in the dark-blue eyes. But the
_ensemble_ of his features was pleasing, his dress irreproachable, and
his manners bore no trace of the awkward self-consciousness peculiar to
his age. Immediately on his arrival in the capital he hired a suite of
rooms in the aristocratic part of the city, and furnished them rather
expensively, but in excellent taste. From a bosom friend, whom he met
by accident in the restaurant’s pavilion in the park, he learned that
a pair of antlers, a stuffed eagle, or falcon, and a couple of swords,
were indispensable to a well-appointed apartment. He accordingly bought
these articles at a curiosity shop. During the first weeks of his
residence in the city he made some feeble efforts to perfect himself in
mathematics, in which he suspected he was somewhat deficient. But when
the same officious friend laughed at him, and called him “green,” he
determined to trust to fortune, and henceforth devoted himself the
more assiduously to the French ballet, where he had already made some
interesting acquaintances.

The time for the examination came; the French ballet did not prove a
good preparation; Ralph failed. It quite shook him for the time, and
he felt humiliated. He had not the courage to tell his father; so he
lingered on from day to day, sat vacantly gazing out of his window, and
tried vainly to interest himself in the busy bustle down on the street.
It provoked him that everybody else should be so light-hearted, when
he was, or at least fancied himself, in trouble. The parlor grew
intolerable; he sought refuge in his bedroom. There he sat one evening
(it was the third day after the examination), and stared out upon the
gray stone walls which on all sides inclosed the narrow courtyard.
The round stupid face of the moon stood tranquilly dozing like a great
Limburger cheese suspended under the sky.

Ralph, at least, could think of a no more fitting simile. But the
bright-eyed young girl in the window hard by sent a longing look up to
the same moon, and thought of her distant home on the fjords, where the
glaciers stood like hoary giants, and caught the yellow moonbeams on
their glittering shields of snow. She had been reading “Ivanhoe” all the
afternoon, until the twilight had overtaken her quite unaware, and
now she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to write her German
exercise. She lifted her face and saw a pair of sad, vacant eyes gazing
at her from the next window in the angle of the court She was a little
startled at first, but in the next moment she thought of her German
exercise and took heart.

“Do you know German?” she said; then immediately repented that she had
said it.

“I do,” was the answer.

She took up her apron and began to twist it with an air of
embarrassment.

“I didn’t mean anything,” she whispered, at last. “I only wanted to
know.”

“You are very kind.”

That answer roused her; he was evidently making sport of her.

“Well, then, if you do, you may write my exercise for me. I have marked
the place in the book.”

And she flung her book over to the window, and he caught it on the edge
of the sill, just as it was falling.

“You are a very strange girl,” he remarked, turning over the leaves of
the book, although it was too dark to read. “How old are you?”

“I shall be fourteen six weeks before Christmas,” answered she, frankly.

“Then I excuse you.”

“No, indeed,” cried she, vehemently. “You needn’t excuse me at all. If
you don’t want to write my exercise, you may send the book back again. I
am very sorry I spoke to you, and I shall never do it again.”

“But you will not get the book back again without the exercise,” replied
he, quietly. “Good-night.”

The girl stood long looking after him, hoping that he would return.
Then, with a great burst of repentance, she hid her face in her lap, and
began to cry.

“Oh, dear, I didn’t mean to be rude,” she sobbed. “But it was Ivanhoe
and Rebecca who upset me.”

The next morning she was up before daylight, and waited for two long
hours in great suspense before the curtain of his window was raised. He
greeted her politely; threw a hasty glance around the court to see if he
was observed, and then tossed her book dexterously over into her hands.

“I have pinned the written exercise to the flyleaf,” he said. “You will
probably have time to copy it before breakfast.”

“I am ever so much obliged to you,” she managed to stammer.

He looked so tall and handsome, and grown-up, and her remorse stuck in
her throat, and threatened to choke her. She had taken him for a boy as
he sat there in his window the evening before.

“By the way, what is your name?” he asked, carelessly, as he turned to
go.

“Bertha.”

“Well, my dear Bertha, I am happy to have made your acquaintance.”

And he again made her a polite bow, and entered his parlor.

“How provokingly familiar he is,” thought she; “but no one can deny that
he is handsome.”

The bright roguish face of the young girl haunted Ralph during the whole
next week. He had been in love at least ten times before, of course;
but, like most boys, with young ladies far older than himself. He found
himself frequently glancing over to her window in the hope of catching
another glimpse of her face; but the curtain was always drawn down,
and Bertha remained invisible. During the second week, however, she
relented, and they had many a pleasant chat together. He now volunteered
to write all her exercises, and she made no objections. He learned that
she was the daughter of a well-to-do peasant in the sea-districts of
Norway (and it gave him quite a shock to hear it), and that she was
going to school in the city, and boarded with an old lady who kept a
_pension_ in the house adjoining the one in which he lived.

One day in the autumn Ralph was surprised by the sudden arrival of his
father, and the fact of his failure in the examination could no longer
be kept a secret. The old Colonel flared up at once when Ralph made
his confession; the large veins upon his forehead swelled; he grew
coppery-red in his face, and stormed up and down the floor, until his
son became seriously alarmed; but, to his great relief, he was soon made
aware that his father’s wrath was not turned against him personally, but
against the officials of the Military Academy who had rejected him.
The Colonel took it as insult to his own good name and irreproachable
standing as an officer; he promptly refused any other explanation, and
vainly racked his brain to remember if any youthful folly of his could
possibly have made him enemies among the teachers of the Academy. He
at last felt satisfied that it was envy of his own greatness and rapid
advancement which had induced the rascals to take vengeance on his son.
Ralph reluctantly followed his father back to the country town where
the latter was stationed, and the fair-haired Bertha vanished from his
horizon. His mother’s wish now prevailed, and he began, in his own easy
way, to prepare himself for the University. He had little taste for
Cicero, and still less for Virgil, but with the use of a “pony” he soon
gained sufficient knowledge of these authors to be able to talk in a
sort of patronizing way about them, to the great delight of his fond
parents. He took quite a fancy, however, to the ode in Horace ending
with the lines:

     Dolce ridentem,
     Dulce loqucntem,
     Lalagen amabo.

And in his thought he substituted for Lalage the fair-haired Bertha,
quite regardless of the requirements of the metre.

To make a long story short, three years later Ralph returned to the
capital, and, after having worn out several tutors, actually succeeded
in entering the University.

The first year of college life is a happy time to every young man, and
Ralph enjoyed its processions, its parliamentary gatherings, and
its leisure, as well as the rest. He was certainly not the man to be
sentimental over the loss of a young girl whom, moreover, he had only
known for a few weeks. Nevertheless, he thought of her at odd times, but
not enough to disturb his pleasure. The standing of his family, his own
handsome appearance, and his immaculate linen opened to him the best
houses of the city, and he became a great favorite in society. At
lectures he was seldom seen, but more frequently in the theatres, where
he used to come in during the middle of the first act, take his station
in front of the orchestra box, and eye, through his lorgnette, by turns,
the actresses and the ladies of the parquet.



II

Two months passed, and then came the great annual ball which the
students give at the opening of the second semester. Ralph was a man of
importance that evening; first, because he belonged to a great family;
secondly, because he was the handsomest man of his year. He wore a large
golden star on his breast (for his fellow-students had made him a Knight
of the Golden Boar) and a badge of colored ribbons in his buttonhole.

The ball was a brilliant affair, and everybody was in excellent spirits,
especially the ladies. Ralph danced incessantly, twirled his soft
mustache, and uttered amiable platitudes. It was toward midnight, just
as the company was moving out to supper, that he caught the glance of a
pair of dark-blue eyes, which suddenly drove the blood to his cheeks
and hastened the beating of his heart. But when he looked once more the
dark-blue eyes were gone, and his unruly heart went on hammering against
his side. He laid his hand on his breast and glanced furtively at his
fair neighbor, but she looked happy and unconcerned, for the flavor of
the ice cream was delicious. It seemed an endless meal, but, when it
was done, Ralph rose, led his partner back to the ballroom, and hastily
excused himself. His glance wandered round the wide hall, seeking the
well-remembered eyes once more, and, at length, finding them in a remote
corner, half hid behind a moving wall of promenaders. In another moment
he was at Bertha’s side.

“You must have been purposely hiding yourself, Miss Bertha,” said he,
when the usual greetings were exchanged. “I have not caught a glimpse of
you all this evening, until a few moments ago.”

“But I have seen you all the while,” answered the girl, frankly. “I knew
you at once as I entered the hall.”

“If I had but known that you were here,” resumed Ralph, as it were
invisibly expanding with an agreeable sense of dignity, “I assure you
you would have been the very first one I should have sought.”

She raised her large grave eyes to his, as if questioning his sincerity;
but she made no answer.

“Good gracious!” thought Ralph. “She takes things terribly in earnest.”

“You look so serious, Miss Bertha,” said he, after a moment’s pause. “I
remember you as a bright-eyed, flaxen-haired little girl, who threw her
German exercise-book to me across the yard, and whose merry laughter
still rings pleasantly in my memory, I confess I don’t find it quite
easy to identify this grave young lady with my merry friend of three
years ago.”

“In other words, you are disappointed at not finding me the same as I
used to be.”

“No, not exactly that; but--”

Ralph paused and looked puzzled. There was something in the earnestness
of her manner which made a facetious compliment seem grossly
inappropriate, and in the moment no other escape suggested itself.

“But what?” demanded Bertha, mercilessly.

“Have you ever lost an old friend?” asked he, abruptly.

“Yes; how so?”

“Then,” answered he, while his features lighted up with a happy
inspiration--“then you will appreciate my situation. I fondly cherished
my old picture of you in my memory. Now I have lost it, and I can not
help regretting the loss. I do not mean, however, to imply that this new
acquaintance--this second edition of yourself, so to speak--will prove
less interesting.”

She again sent him a grave, questioning look, and began to gaze intently
upon the stone in her bracelet.

“I suppose you will laugh at me,” began she, while a sudden blush
flitted over her countenance. “But this is my first ball, and I feel
as if I had rushed into a whirlpool, from which I have, since the first
rash plunge was made, been vainly trying to escape. I feel so dreadfully
forlorn. I hardly know anybody here except my cousin, who invited me,
and I hardly think I know him either.”

“Well, since you are irredeemably committed,” replied Ralph, as the
music, after some prefatory flourishes, broke into the delicious rhythm
of a Strauss waltz, “then it is no use struggling against fate. Come,
let us make the plunge together. Misery loves company.”

He offered her his arm, and she rose, somewhat hesitatingly, and
followed.

“I am afraid,” she whispered, as they fell into line with the procession
that was moving down the long hall, “that you have asked me to dance
merely because I said I felt forlorn. If that is the case, I should
prefer to be led back to my seat.”

“What a base imputation!” cried Ralph.

There was something so charmingly _naive_ in this
self-depreciation--something so altogether novel in his experience, and,
he could not help adding, just a little bit countrified. His spirits
rose; he began to relish keenly his position as an experienced man
of the world, and, in the agreeable glow of patronage and conscious
superiority, chatted with hearty _abandon_ with his little rustic
beauty.

“If your dancing is as perfect as your German exercises were,” said she,
laughing, as they swung out upon the floor, “then I promise myself a
good deal of pleasure from our meeting.”

“Never fear,” answered he, quickly reversing his step, and whirling with
many a capricious turn away among the thronging couples.

When Ralph drove home in his carriage toward morning he briefly summed
up his impressions of Bertha in the following adjectives: intelligent,
delightfully unsophisticated, a little bit verdant, but devilish pretty.

Some weeks later Colonel Grim received an appointment at the fortress of
Aggershuus, and immediately took up his residence in the capital. He saw
that his son cut a fine figure in the highest circles of society, and
expressed his gratification in the most emphatic terms. If he had
known, however, that Ralph was in the habit of visiting, with alarming
regularity, at the house of a plebeian merchant in a somewhat obscure
street, he would, no doubt, have been more chary of his praise. But the
Colonel suspected nothing, and it was well for the peace of the family
that he did not. It may have been cowardice in Ralph that he
never mentioned Bertha’s name to his family or to his aristocratic
acquaintances; for, to be candid, he himself felt ashamed of the power
she exerted over him, and by turns pitied and ridiculed himself for
pursuing so inglorious a conquest. Nevertheless it wounded his egotism
that she never showed any surprise at seeing him, that she received him
with with a certain frank unceremoniousness, which, however, was very
becoming to her; that she invariably went on with her work heedless
of his presence, and in everything treated him as if she had been his
equal. She persisted in talking with him in a half sisterly fashion
about his studies and his future career, warned him with great
solicitude against some of his reprobate friends, of whose merry
adventures he had told her; and if he ventured to compliment her on
her beauty or her accomplishments, she would look up gravely from
her sewing, or answer him in a way which seemed to banish the idea of
love-making into the land of the impossible. He was constantly tormented
by the suspicion that she secretly disapproved of him, and that from a
mere moral interest in his welfare she was conscientiously laboring
to make him a better man. Day after day he parted from her feeling
humiliated, faint-hearted, and secretly indignant both at himself and
her, and day after day he returned only to renew the same experience.
At last it became too intolerable, he could endure it no longer. Let it
make or break, certainty, at all risks, was at least preferable to this
sickening suspense. That he loved her, he could no longer doubt; let his
parents foam and fret as much as they pleased; for once he was going to
stand on his own legs. And in the end, he thought, they would have to
yield, for they had no son but him.

Bertha was going to return to her home on the sea-coast in a week.
Ralph stood in the little low-ceiled parlor, as she imagined, to bid
her good-by. They had been speaking of her father, her brothers, and the
farm, and she had expressed the wish that if he ever should come to that
part of the country he might pay them a visit. Her words had kindled
a vague hope in his breast, but in their very frankness and friendly
regard there was something which slew the hope they had begotten. He
held her hand in his, and her large confiding eyes shone with an emotion
which was beautiful, but was yet not love.

“If you were but a peasant born like myself,” said she, in a voice which
sounded almost tender, “then I should like to talk to you as I would to
my own brother; but--”

“No, not brother, Bertha,” cried he, with sudden vehemence; “I love you
better than I ever loved any earthly being, and if you knew how firmly
this love has clutched at the roots of my heart, you would perhaps--you
would at least not look so reproachfully at me.”

She dropped his hand, and stood for a moment silent.

“I am sorry that it should have come to this, Mr. Grim,” said she,
visibly struggling for calmness. “And I am perhaps more to blame than
you.”

“Blame,” muttered he, “why are you to blame?”

“Because I do not love you; although I sometimes feared that this might
come. But then again I persuaded myself that it could not be so.”

He took a step toward the door, laid his hand on the knob, and gazed
down before him.

“Bertha,” began he, slowly, raising his head, “you have always
disapproved of me, you have despised me in your heart, but you thought
you would be doing a good work if you succeeded in making a man of me.”

“You use strong language,” answered she, hesitatingly; “but there is
truth in what you say.”

Again there was a long pause, in which the ticking of the old parlor
clock grew louder and louder.

“Then,” he broke out at last, “tell me before we part if I can do
nothing to gain--I will not say your love--but only your regard? What
would you do if you were in my place?”

“My advice you will hardly heed, and I do not even know that it would
be well if you did. But if I were a man in your position, I should break
with my whole past, start out into the world where nobody knew me, and
where I should be dependent only upon my own strength, and there I would
conquer a place for myself, if it were only for the satisfaction of
knowing that I was really a man. Here cushions are sewed under your
arms, a hundred invisible threads bind you to a life of idleness and
vanity, everybody is ready to carry you on his hands, the road is
smoothed for you, every stone carefully moved out of your path, and you
will probably go to your grave without having ever harbored one earnest
thought, without having done one manly deed.”

Ralph stood transfixed, gazing at her with open mouth; he felt a kind of
stupid fright, as if some one had suddenly seized him by the shoulders
and shaken him violently. He tried vainly to remove his eyes from
Bertha. She held him as by a powerful spell. He saw that her face was
lighted with an altogether new beauty; he noticed the deep glow upon her
cheek, the brilliancy of her eye, the slight quiver of her lip. But he
saw all this as one sees things in a half-trance, without attempting to
account for them; the door between his soul and his senses was closed.

“I know that I have been bold in speaking to you in this way,” she said
at last, seating herself in a chair at the window. “But it was yourself
who asked me. And I have felt all the time that I should have to tell
you this before we parted.”

“And,” answered he, making a strong effort to appear calm, “if I follow
your advice, will you allow me to see you once more before you go?”

“I shall remain here another week, and shall, during that time, always
be ready to receive you.”

“Thank you. Good-by.”

“Good-by.”

Ralph carefully avoided all the fashionable thoroughfares; he felt
degraded before himself, and he had an idea that every man could read
his humiliation in his countenance. Now he walked on quickly, striking
the sidewalk with his heels; now, again, he fell into an uneasy,
reckless saunter, according as the changing moods in’ spired defiance
of his sentence, or a qualified surrender. And, as he walked on, the
bitterness grew within him, and he piteously reviled himself for having
allowed himself to be made a fool of by “that little country goose,”
 when he was well aware that there were hundreds of women of the best
families of the land who would feel honored at receiving his attentions.
But this sort of reasoning he knew to be both weak and contemptible, and
his better self soon rose in loud rebellion.

“After all,” he muttered, “in the main thing she was right. I am a
miserable good-for-nothing, a hothouse plant, a poor stick, and if I
were a woman myself, I don’t think I should waste my affections on a man
of that calibre.”

Then he unconsciously fell to analyzing Bertha’s character, wondering
vaguely that a person who moved so timidly in social life, appearing
so diffident, from an ever-present fear of blundering against the
established forms of etiquette, could judge so quickly, and with such a
merciless certainty, whenever a moral question, a question of right
and wrong, was at issue. And, pursuing the same train of thought, he
contrasted her with himself, who moved in the highest spheres of society
as in his native element, heedless of moral scruples, and conscious of
no loftier motive for his actions than the immediate pleasure of the
moment.

As Ralph turned the corner of a street, he heard himself hailed from the
other sidewalk by a chorus of merry voices.

“Ah, my dear Baroness,” cried a young man, springing across the street
and grasping Ralph’s hand (all his student friends called him the
Baroness), “in the name of this illustrious company, allow me to salute
you. But why the deuce--what is the matter with you? If you have the
_Katzenjammer_* soda-water is the thing. Come along--it’s my treat!”

     * _Katzenjammer_ is the sensation a man has the morning
     after a carousal.

The students instantly thronged around Ralph, who stood distractedly
swinging his cane and smiling idiotically.

“I am not quite well,” said he; “leave me alone.”

“No, to be sure, you don’t look well,” cried a jolly youth, against
whom Bertha had frequently warned him; “but a glass of sherry will soon
restore you. It would be highly immoral to leave you in this condition
without taking care of you.”

Ralph again vainly tried to remonstrate; but the end was, that he
reluctantly followed.

He had always been a conspicuous figure in the student world; but that
night he astonished his friends by his eloquence, his reckless humor,
and his capacity for drinking. He made a speech for “Woman,” which
bristled with wit, cynicism, and sarcastic epigrams. One young man,
named Vinter, who was engaged, undertook to protest against his sweeping
condemnation, and declared that Ralph, who was a universal favorite
among the ladies, ought to be the last to revile them.

“If,” he went on, “the Baroness should propose to six well-known
ladies here in this city whom I could mention, I would wager six
Johannisbergers, and an equal amount of champagne, that every one of
them would accept him.”

The others loudly applauded this proposal, and Ralph accepted the wager.
The letters were written on the spot, and immediately despatched. Toward
morning, the merry carousal broke up, and Ralph was conducted in triumph
to his home.



III

Two days later, Ralph again knocked on Bertha’s door. He looked paler
than usual, almost haggard; his immaculate linen was a little crumpled,
and he carried no cane; his lips were tightly compressed, and his face
wore an air of desperate resolution.

“It is done,” he said, as he seated himself opposite her. “I am going.”

“Going!” cried she, startled at his unusual appearance. “How, where?”

“To America. I sail to-night. I have followed your advice, you see. I
have cut off the last bridge behind me.”

“But, Ralph,” she exclaimed, in a voice of alarm. “Something dreadful
must have happened. Tell me quick; I must know it.”

“No; nothing dreadful,” muttered he, smiling bitterly. “I have made
a little scandal, that is all. My father told me to-day to go to the
devil, if I chose, and my mother gave me five hundred dollars to help me
along on the way. If you wish to know, here is the explanation.”

And he pulled from his pocket six perfumed and carefully folded notes,
and threw them into her lap.

“Do you wish me to read them?” she asked, with growing surprise.

“Certainly. Why not?”

She hastily opened one note after the other, and read.

“But, Ralph,” she cried, springing up from her seat, while her eyes
flamed with indignation, “what does this mean? What have you done?”

“I didn’t think it needed any explanation,” replied he, with feigned
indifference. “I proposed to them all, and, you see, they all accepted
me. I received all these letters to-day. I only wished to know whether
the whole world regarded me as such a worthless scamp as you told me I
was.”

She did not answer, but sat mutely staring at him, fiercely crumpling a
rose-colored note in her hand. He began to feel uncomfortable under her
gaze, and threw himself about uneasily in his chair.

“Well,” said he, at length, rising, “I suppose there is nothing more.
Good-by.”

“One moment, Mr. Grim,” demanded she, sternly. “Since I have already
said so much, and you have obligingly revealed to me a new side of your
character, I claim the right to correct the opinion I expressed of you
at our last meeting.”

“I am all attention.”

“I did think, Mr. Grim,” began she, breathing hard, and steadying
herself against the table at which she stood, “that you were a very
selfish man--an embodiment of selfishness, absolute and supreme, but I
did not believe that you were wicked.”

“And what convinced you that I was selfish, if I may ask?”

“What convinced me?” repeated she, in a tone of inexpressible contempt.
“When did you ever act from any generous regard for others? What good
did you ever do to anybody?”

“You might ask, with equal justice, what good I ever did to myself.”

“In a certain sense, yes; because to gratify a mere momentary wish is
hardly doing one’s self good.”

“Then I have, at all events, followed the Biblical precept, and treated
my neighbor very much as I treat myself.”

“I did think,” continued Bertha, without heeding the remark, “that you
were at bottom kind-hearted, but too hopelessly well-bred ever to commit
an act of any decided complexion, either good or bad. Now I see that
I have misjudged you, and that you are capable of outraging the most
sacred feelings of a woman’s heart in mere wantonness, or for the sake
of satisfying a base curiosity, which never could have entered the mind
of an upright and generous man.”

The hard, benumbed look in Ralph’s face thawed in the warmth of her
presence, and her words, though stern, touched a secret spring in his
heart. He made two or three vain attempts to speak, then suddenly broke
down, and cried:

“Bertha, Bertha, even if you scorn me, have patience with me, and
listen.”

And he told her, in rapid, broken sentences, how his love for her had
grown from day to day, until he could no longer master it; and how, in
an unguarded moment, when his pride rose in fierce conflict against
his love, he had done this reckless deed of which he was now heartily
ashamed. The fervor of his words touched her, for she felt that they
were sincere. Large mute tears trembled in her eyelashes as she sat
gazing tenderly at him, and in the depth of her soul the wish awoke that
she might have been able to return this great and strong love of his;
for she felt that in this love lay the germ of a new, of a stronger and
better man. She noticed, with a half-regretful pleasure, his handsome
figure, his delicately shaped hands, and the noble cast of his features;
an overwhelming pity for him rose within her, and she began to reproach
herself for having spoken so harshly, and, as she now thought, so
unjustly. Perhaps he read in her eyes the unspoken wish. He seized her
hand, and his words fell with a warm and alluring cadence upon her ear.

“I shall not see you for a long time to come, Bertha,” said he, “but if
at the end of five or six years your hand is still free, and I
return another man--a man to whom you could safely intrust your
happiness--would you then listen to what I may have to say to you? For I
promise, by all that we both hold sacred--”

“No, no,” interrupted she, hastily. “Promise nothing. It would be unjust
to yourself, and perhaps also to me; for a sacred promise is a terrible
thing, Ralph. Let us both remain free; and, if you return and still love
me, then come, and I shall receive you and listen to you. And even if
you have outgrown your love, which is, indeed, more probable, come still
to visit me wherever I may be, and we shall meet as friends and rejoice
in the meeting.”

“You know best,” he murmured. “Let it be as you have said.”

He arose, took her face between his hands, gazed long and tenderly into
her eyes, pressed a kiss upon her forehead, and hastened away.

That night Ralph boarded the steamer for Hull, and three weeks later
landed in New York.



IV

The first three months of Ralph’s sojourn in America were spent in vain
attempts to obtain a situation. Day after day he walked down Broadway,
calling at various places of business, and night after night he returned
to his cheerless room with a faint heart and declining spirits. It was,
after all, a more serious thing than he had imagined, to cut the cable
which binds one to the land of one’s birth. There a hundred subtile
influences, the existence of which no one suspects until the moment they
are withdrawn, unite to keep one in the straight path of rectitude, or
at least of external respectability; and Ralph’s life had been all in
society; the opinion of his fellow-men had been the one force to which
he implicitly deferred, and the conscience by which he had been wont
to test his actions had been nothing but the aggregate judgment of his
friends. To such a man the isolation and the utter irresponsibility of a
life among strangers was tenfold more dangerous; and Ralph found, to his
horror, that his character contained innumerable latent possibilities
which the easy-going life in his home probably never would have revealed
to him. It often cut him to the quick, when, on entering an office in
his daily search for employment, he was met by hostile or suspicious
glances, or when, as it occasionally happened, the door was slammed in
his face, as if he were a vagabond or an impostor. Then the wolf was
often roused within him, and he felt a momentary wild desire to become
what the people here evidently believed him to be. Many a night he
sauntered irresolutely about the gambling places in obscure streets,
and the glare of light, the rude shouts and clamors in the same moment
repelled and attracted him. If he went to the devil, who would care? His
father had himself pointed out the way to him; and nobody could blame
him if he followed the advice. But then again a memory emerged from that
chamber of his soul which still he held sacred; and Bertha’s deep-blue
eyes gazed upon him with their earnest look of tender warning and
regret.

When the summer was half gone, Ralph had gained many a hard victory over
himself, and learned many a useful lesson; and at length he swallowed
his pride, divested himself of his fine clothes, and accepted a
position as assistant gardener at a villa on the Hudson. And as he stood
perspiring with a spade in his hand, and a cheap broad-brimmed straw hat
on his head, he often took a grim pleasure in picturing to himself
how his aristocratic friends at home would receive him if he should
introduce himself to them in this new costume.

“After all, it was only my position they cared for,” he reflected,
bitterly; “without my father’s name what would I be to them?”

Then, again, there was a certain satisfaction in knowing that, for
his present situation, humble as it was, he was indebted to nobody but
himself; and the thought that Bertha’s eyes, if they could have seen him
now, would have dwelt upon him with pleasure and approbation, went far
to console him for his aching back, his sunburned face, and his swollen
and blistered hands.

One day, as Ralph was raking the gravel-walks in the garden, his
employer’s daughter, a young lady of seventeen, came out and spoke to
him. His culture and refinement of manner struck her with wonder, and
she asked him to tell her his history; but then he suddenly grew very
grave, and she forbore pressing him. From that time she attached a kind
of romantic interest to him, and finally induced her father to obtain
him a situation that would be more to his taste. And, before winter
came, Ralph saw the dawn of a new future glimmering before him. He had
wrestled bravely with fate, and had once more gained a victory. He began
the career in which success and distinction awaited him as proofreader
on a newspaper in the city. He had fortunately been familiar with the
English language before he left home, and by the strength of his will he
conquered all difficulties. At the end of two years he became attached
to the editorial staff; new ambitious hopes, hitherto foreign to his
mind, awoke within him; and with joyous tumult of heart he saw life
opening its wide vistas before him, and he labored on manfully to repair
the losses of the past, and to prepare himself for greater usefulness in
times to come. He felt in himself a stronger and fuller manhood, as if
the great arteries of the vast universal world-life pulsed in his own
being. The drowsy, indolent existence at home appeared like a dull
remote dream from which he had awaked, and he blessed the destiny which,
by its very sternness, had mercifully saved him; he blessed her, too,
who, from the very want of love for him, had, perhaps, made him worthier
of love.

The years flew rapidly. Society had flung its doors open to him, and
what was more, he had found some warm friends, in whose houses he
could come and go at pleasure. He enjoyed keenly the privilege of daily
association with high-minded and refined women; their eager activity
of intellect stimulated him, their exquisite ethereal grace and their
delicately chiseled beauty satisfied his æsthetic cravings, and the
responsive vivacity of their nature prepared him ever new surprises.
He felt a strange fascination in the presence of these women, and the
conviction grew upon him that their type of womanhood was superior to
any he had hitherto known. And by way of refuting his own argument, he
would draw from his pocketbook the photograph of Bertha, which had a
secret compartment there all to itself, and, gazing tenderly at it,
would eagerly defend her against the disparaging reflections which the
involuntary comparison had provoked. And still, how could he help seeing
that her features, though well molded, lacked animation; that her eye,
with its deep, trustful glance, was not brilliant, and that the calm
earnestness of her face, when compared with the bright, intellectual
beauty of his present friends, appeared pale and simple, like a violet
in a bouquet of vividly colored roses? It gave him a quick pang, when,
at times, he was forced to admit this; nevertheless, it was the truth.

After six years of residence in America, Ralph had gained a very high
reputation as a journalist of rare culture and ability, and in 1867 he
was sent to the World’s Exhibition in Paris, as correspondent of the
paper on which he had during all these years been employed. What wonder,
then, that he started for Europe a few weeks before his presence was
needed in the imperial city, and that he steered his course directly
toward the fjord valley where Bertha had her home? It was she who had
bidden him Godspeed when he fled from the land of his birth, and she,
too, should receive his first greeting on his return.



V

The sun had fortified itself behind a citadel of flaming clouds, and the
upper forest region shone with a strange ethereal glow, while the
lower plains were wrapped in shadow; but the shadow itself had a
strong suffusion of color. The mountain peaks rose cold and blue in the
distance.

Ralph, having inquired his way of the boatman who had landed him at the
pier, walked rapidly along the beach, with a small valise in his hand,
and a light summer overcoat flung over his shoulder. Many half-thoughts
grazed his mind, and ere the first had taken shape, the second and the
third came and chased it away. And still they all in some fashion had
reference to Bertha; for in a misty, abstract way, she filled his whole
mind; but for some indefinable reason, he was afraid to give free rein
to the sentiment which lurked in the remoter corners of his soul.

Onward he hastened, while his heart throbbed with the quickening tempo
of mingled expectation and fear. Now and then one of those chill gusts
of air, which seem to be careering about aimlessly in the atmosphere
during early summer, would strike into his face, and recal! him to a
keener self-consciousness.

Ralph concluded, from his increasing agitation, that he must be very
near Bertha’s home. He stopped and looked around him. He saw a large
maple at the roadside, some thirty steps from where he was standing,
and the girl who was sitting under it, resting her head in her hand and
gazing out over the sea, he recognized in an instant to be Bertha. He
sprang up on the road, not crossing, however, her line of vision, and
approached her noiselessly from behind.

“Bertha,” he whispered.

She gave a little joyous cry, sprang up, and made a gesture as if
to throw herself in his arms; then suddenly checked herself, blushed
crimson, and moved a step backward.

“You came so suddenly,” she murmured.

“But, Bertha,” cried he (and the full bass of his voice rang through her
very soul), “have I gone into exile and waited these many years for so
cold a welcome?”

“You have changed so much, Ralph,” she answered, with that old grave
smile which he knew so well, and stretched out both her hands toward
him. “And I have thought of you so much since you went away, and blamed
myself because I had judged you so harshly, and wondered that you could
listen to me so patiently, and never bear me any malice for what I
said.”

“If you had said a word less,” declared Ralph, seating himself at
her side on the greensward, “or if you had varnished it over with
politeness, then you would probably have failed to produce any effect
and I should not have been burdened with that heavy debt of gratitude
which I now owe you. I was a pretty thick-skinned animal in those days,
Bertha. You said the right word at the right moment; you gave me a bold
and a good piece of advice, which my own ingenuity would never have
suggested to me. I will not thank you, because, in so grave a case as
this, spoken thanks sound like a mere mockery. Whatever I am, Bertha,
and whatever I may hope to be, I owe it all to that hour.”

She listened with rapture to the manly assurance of his voice; her eyes
dwelt with unspeakable joy upon his strong, bronzed features, his full
thick blond beard, and the vigorous proportions of his frame. Many and
many a time during his absence had she wondered how he would look if
he ever came back, and with that minute conscientiousness which, as it
were, pervaded her whole character, she had held herself responsible
before God for his fate, prayed for him, and trembled lest evil powers
should gain the ascendency over his soul.

On their way to the house they talked together of many things, but in
a guarded, cautious fashion, and without the cheerful abandonment of
former years. They both, as it were, groped their way carefully in each
other’s minds, and each vaguely felt that there was something in the
other’s thought which it was not well to touch unbidden. Bertha saw
that all her fears for him had been groundless, and his very appearance
lifted the whole weight of responsibility from her breast; and still,
did she rejoice at her deliverance from her burden? Ah, no; in this
moment she knew that that which she had foolishly cherished as the
best and noblest part of herself had been but a selfish need of her own
heart. She feared that she had only taken that interest in him which one
feels in a thing of one’s own making, and now, when she saw that he had
risen quite above her; that he was free and strong, and could have no
more need of her, she had, instead of generous pleasure at his success,
but a painful sense of emptiness, as if something very dear had been
taken from her.

Ralph, too, was loth to analyze the impression his old love made upon
him. His feelings were of so complex a nature, he was anxious to keep
his more magnanimous impulses active, and he strove hard to convince
himself that she was still the same to him as she had been before they
had ever parted. But, alas! though the heart be warm and generous, the
eye is a merciless critic. And the man who had moved on the wide arena
of the world, whose mind had housed the large thoughts of this century,
and expanded with its invigorating breath--was he to blame because he
had unconsciously outgrown his old provincial self, and could no more
judge by its standards?

Bertha’s father was a peasant, but he had, by his lumber trade, acquired
what in Norway was called a very handsome fortune. He received his guest
with dignified reserve, and Ralph thought he detected in his eyes a
lurking look of distrust. “I know your errand,” that look seemed to say,
“but you had better give it up at once. It will be of no use for you to
try.”

And after supper, as Ralph and Bertha sat talking confidingly with each
other at the window, he sent his daughter a quick, sharp glance, and
then, without ceremony, commanded her to go to bed. Ralph’s heart gave
a great thump within him; not because he feared the old man, but because
his words, as well as his glances, revealed to him the sad history of
these long, patient years. He doubted no longer that the love which he
had once so ardently desired was his at last; and he made a silent vow
that, come what might, he would remain faithful.

As he came down to breakfast the next morning, he found Bertha sitting
at the window, engaged in hemming what appeared to be a rough kitchen
towel. She bent eagerly over her work, and only a vivid flush upon her
cheek told him that she had noticed his coming. He took a chair, seated
himself opposite her, and bade her “good-morning.” She raised her head,
and showed him a sweet, troubled countenance, which the early sunlight
illumined with a high spiritual beauty. It reminded him forcibly of
those pale, sweet-faced saints of Fra Angelico, with whom the frail
flesh seems ever on the point of yielding to the ardent aspirations of
the spirit. And still even in this moment he could not prevent his eyes
from observing that one side of her forefinger was rough from sewing,
and that the whiteness of her arm, which the loose sleeves displayed,
contrasted strongly with the browned and sunburned complexion of her
hands.

After breakfast they again walked together on the beach, and Ralph,
having once formed his resolution, now talked freely of the New
World--of his sphere of activity there; of his friends and of his plans
for the future; and she listened to him with a mild, perplexed look in
her eyes, as if trying vainly to follow the flight of his thoughts. And
he wondered, with secret dismay, whether she was still the same strong,
brave-hearted girl whom he had once accounted almost bold; whether the
life in this narrow valley, amid a hundred petty and depressing cares,
had not cramped her spiritual growth, and narrowed the sphere of her
thought. Or was she still the same, and was it only he who had changed?
At last he gave utterance to his wonder, and she answered him in those
grave, earnest tones which seemed in themselves to be half a refutation
of his doubts.

“It was easy for me to give you daring advice then, Ralph,” she said.
“Like most school-girls, I thought that life was a great and glorious
thing, and that happiness was a fruit which hung within reach of every
hand. Now I have lived for six years trying single-handed to relieve the
want and suffering of the needy people with whom I come in contact,
and their squalor and wretchedness have sickened me, and, what is still
worse, I feel that all I can do is as a drop in the ocean, and, after
all, amounts to nothing. I know I am no longer the same reckless girl
who, with the very best intention, sent you wandering through the wide
world; and I thank God that it proved to be for your good, although the
whole now appears quite incredible to me. My thoughts have moved so long
within the narrow circle of these mountains that they have lost their
youthful elasticity, and can no more rise above them.”

Ralph detected, in the midst of her despondency, a spark of her former
fire, and grew eloquent in his endeavors to persuade her that she was
unjust to herself, and that there was but a wider sphere of life needed
to develop all the latent powers of her rich nature.

At the dinner-table, her father again sat eying his guest with that same
cold look of distrust and suspicion. And when the meal was at an end, he
rose abruptly and called his daughter into another room. Presently Ralph
heard his angry voice resounding through the house, interrupted now and
then by a woman’s sobs, and a subdued, passionate pleading. When Bertha
again entered the room, her eyes were very red, and he saw that she had
been weeping. She threw a shawl over her shoulders, beckoned to him with
her hand, and he arose and followed her. She led the way silently until
they reached a thick copse of birch and alder near the strand. She
dropped down upon a bench between two trees, and he took his seat at her
side.

“Ralph,” began she, with a visible effort, “I hardly know what to say to
you; but there is something which I must tell you--my father wishes you
to leave us at once.”

“And _you_, Bertha?”

“Well--yes--I wish it too.”

She saw the painful shock which her words gave him, and she strove hard
to speak. Her lips trembled, her eyes became suffused with tears, which
grew and grew, but never fell; she could not utter a word.

“Well, Bertha,” answered he, with a little quiver in his voice, “if you,
too, wish me to go, I shall not tarry. Good-by.”

He rose quickly, and, with averted face, held out his hand to her; but
as she made no motion to grasp the hand, he began distractedly to button
his coat, and moved slowly away.

“Ralph.”

He turned sharply, and, before he knew it, she lay sobbing upon his
breast.

“Ralph,” she murmured, while the tears almost choked her words, “I could
not have you leave me thus. It is hard enough--it is hard enough--”

“What is hard, beloved?”

She raised her head abruptly, and turned upon him a gaze full of hope
and doubt, and sweet perplexity.

“Ah, no, you do not love me,” she whispered, sadly.

“Why should I come to seek you, after these many years, dearest, if I
did not wish to make you my wife before God and men? Why should I--I.”

“Ah, yes, I know,” she interrupted him with a fresh fit of weeping, “you
are too good and honest to wish to throw me away, now when you have seen
how my soul has hungered for the sight of you these many years, how even
now I cling to you with a despairing clutch. But you can not disguise
yourself, Ralph, and I saw from the first moment that you loved me no
more.”

“Do not be such an unreasonable child,” he remonstrated, feebly. “I do
not love you with the wild, irrational passion of former years; but I
have the tenderest regard for you, and my heart warms at the sight of
your sweet face, and I shall do all in my power to make you as happy as
any man can make you who--”

“Who does not love me,” she finished.

A sudden shudder seemed to shake her whole frame, and she drew herself
more tightly up to him.

“Ah, no,” she continued, after a while, sinking back upon her seat.
“It is a hopeless thing to compel a reluctant heart. I will accept no
sacrifice from you. You owe me nothing, for you have acted toward me
honestly and uprightly, and I shall be a stronger or--at least--a better
woman for what you gave me--and--for what you could not give me, even
though you would.”

“But, Bertha,” exclaimed he, looking mournfully at her, “it is not true
when you say that I owe you nothing. Six years ago, when first I wooed
you, you could not return my love, and you sent me out into the world,
and even refused to accept any pledge or promise for the future.”

“And you returned,” she responded, “a man, such as my hope had pictured
you; but, while I had almost been standing still, you had outgrown me
and outgrown your old self, and, with your old self, outgrown its love
for me, for your love was not of your new self, but of the old. Alas! it
is a sad tale, but it is true.”

She spoke gravely now, and with a steadier voice, but her eyes hung upon
his face with an eager look of expectation, as if yearning to detect
there some gleam of hope, some contradiction of the dismal truth. He
read that look aright and it pierced him like a sharp sword. He made a
brave effort to respond to its appeal, but his features seemed hard as
stone, and he could only cry out against his destiny, and bewail his
misfortune and hers.

Toward evening, Ralph was sitting in an open boat, listening to the
measured oar-strokes of the boatmen who were rowing him out to the
nearest stopping-place of the steamer. The mountains lifted their great
placid heads up among the sun-bathed clouds, and the fjord opened its
cool depths as if to make room for their vast reflections. Ralph felt as
if he were floating in the midst of the blue infinite space, and, with
the strength which this feeling inspired, he tried to face boldly the
thought from which he had but a moment ago shrunk as from something
hopelessly sad and perplexing.

And in that hour he looked fearlessly into the gulf which separates the
New World from the Old. He had hoped to bridge it; but, alas! it can not
be bridged.





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