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that lay nearest my heart. What a delight it would be to creep into it unobserved, and revisit all the corners I so well remembered, and slip out again and get away safely without any need of explanations, assurances, protestations, displays of affection; without any need, in a word, of that exhausting form of conversation, so dear to relations, known as Redensarten!
The mist tempted me. I think if it had been a fine day I would have gone soberly to the Gasthof and written the conciliatory letter; but the temptation was too great, it was altogether irresistible, and in ten minutes I had found the gate, opened it with some difficulty, and was standing with a beating heart in the garden of my childhood.
Now I wonder whether I shall ever again feel thrills of the same potency as those that ran through me at that moment. First of all I was trespassing, which is in itself thrilling; but how much more thrilling when you are trespassing on what might just as well have been your own ground, on what actually was for years your own ground, and when you are in deadly peril of seeing the rightful owners, whom you have never met, but with whom you have quarrelled, appear round corner, and of hearing them remark with an enquiring and awful politeness "I do not think I have the pleasure-?" Then the place was unchanged. I was standing in the same mysterious tangle of damp litle paths that had always been just there; they curled away on either side among the shrubs, with the brown tracks of recent footsteps in the centre of their green stains, just as they did in my day. The overgrown lilac bushes still met above my head. The moisture dripped from the same ledge in the wall on to the sodden leaves beneath, as it had done all through the afternoons of all those past Novembers. This was the place, this damp and gloomy tangle, that had spe
cially belonged to me. Nobody ever came to it, for in winter it was too dreary, and in summer so full of mosquitoes that only a Backfisch indifferent to spots could have borne it. But it was a place where I could play unobserved, and where I could walk up and down uninterrupted for hours, building castles in the air. There was an unwholesome little arbor in one dark corner, much frequented by the larger black slug, where I used to pass glorious afternoons making plans. I was forever making plans, and if nothing came of them, what did it matter? The mere making had been a joy. To me this out-of-the-way corner was always a wonderful and a mysterious place, where my castles in the air stood close together in radiant rows, and where the strangest and most splendid adventures befell me; for the hours I passed in it and the people I met in it were all enchanted.
Standing there and looking round with happy eyes, I forgot the existence of the cousins. I could have cried for joy at being there again. It was the home of my fathers, the home that would have been mine if I had been a boy, the home that was mine now by a thousand tender and happy and miserable associations, of which the people in possession could not dream. They were tenants, but it was my home. I threw my arms round the trunk of a very wet fir tree, every branch of which I remembered, for had I not climbed it, and fallen from it, and torn and bruised myself on it unaccountable numbers of times? and I gave it such a hearty kiss that my nose and chin were smudged into one green stain, and still I did not care. Far from caring, it filled me with a reckless, Backfisch pleasure in being dirty, a delicious feeling that I had not had for years. Alice in Wonderland, after she had drunk the contents of the magic bottle, could not have grown
smaller more suddenly than I grew younger the moment I passed through that magic door. Bad habits cling to us, however, with such persistency that I did mechanically pull out my handkerchief and begin to rub off the welcoming smudge, a thing I never would have dreamed of doing in the glorious old days; but an artful scent of violets clinging to the handkerchief brought me to my senses, and with a sudden impulse of scorn, the fine scorn for scent of every honest Backfisch,. I rolled it up into a ball and flung it away into the bushes, where I dare say it is to this day. "Away with you," I cried, “away with you, symbol of conventionality, of slavery, of pandering to a desire to please-away with you, miserable little lace-edged rag!" And so young had I grown within the last few minutes that I did not even feel silly.
As a Backfisch I had never used handkerchiefs-the child of nature scorns to blow its nose-though for decency's sake my governess insisted on giving me a clean one of vast size and stubborn texture on Sundays. It was stowed away unfolded in the remotest corner of my pocket, where it was gradually pressed into a beautiful compactness by the other contents, which were knives. After a while, I remem. ber the handkerchief being brought to light on Sundays to make room for a successor, and, being manifestly perfectly clean, we came to an agreement that it should only be changed on the first and third Sundays in the month, on condition that I promised to turn it on the other Sundays. My governess said that the outer folds became soiled from the mere contact with the other things in my pocket, and that visitors might catch sight of the soiled side, if it was never turned, when I wished to blow my nose in their presence, and that one had no right to give one's visitors shocks. "But I never do wish-" I began with very great earn
estness. "Unsinn," said my governess, cutting me short.
After the first thrills of joy at being there again had gone, the profound stillness of the dripping little shrubbery frightened me. It was so still that I was afraid to move; so still, that I could count each drop of moisture falling from the oozing wall; so still, that when I held my breath to listen I was deafened by my own heart-beats. made a step forward in the direction where the arbor ought to be, and the rustling and jingling of my clothes terrified me into immobility. The house was only two hundred yards off, and if any one had been about, the noise I had already made opening the creaking door and so foolishly apostrophizing my handkerchief must have been noticed. Suppose an enquiring gardener or a restless cousin should presently loom through the fog, bearing down upon me? Suppose Fräulein Wundermacher should pounce upon me suddenly from behind, coming up noiselessly in her galoshes, and shatter my castles with her customary triumphant "Jetzt halte ich dich aber fest?" Why, what was I thinking of? Fräulein Wundermacher, so big and masterful, such an enemy of day-dreams, such a friend of das Praktische, such a lover of creature comforts, had died long ago, had been succeeded long ago by others, German sometimes, and sometimes English, and sometimes at intervals French; and they, too, had all in their turn vanished, and I was here a solitary ghost. "Come, Elizabeth," said I to myself impatiently, "are you actually growing sentimental over your governesses? If you think you are a ghost, be glad at least that you are a solitary one. Would you like the ghosts of all those poor women you tormented to rise up now in this gloomy place against you? And do you intend to stand here till you are caught?" And thus exhorting myself to action, and
recognizing how great was the risk I ran in lingering, I started down the little path leading to the arbor and the principal part of the garden, going, it is true, on tiptoe, and very much frightened by the rustling of my petticoats, but determined to see what I had come to see, and not to be scared away by phantoms.
How regretfully did I think at that moment of the petticoats of my youth, so short, so silent and so woollen! And how convenient the canvas shoes were with the indiarubber soles, for creeping about without making a sound! Thanks to them, I could always run swiftly and unheard into my hiding-places, and stay there listening to the garden resounding with cries of "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Come in at once to your lessons!" Or, at a different period, "Où êtes-vous donc, petite sotte?" Or, at yet another period, "Warte nur, wenn ich dich erst habe!" As the voices came round one corner, I whisked in my noiseless clothes round the next, and it was only Fräulein Wundermacher, a person of resource, who discovered that all she needed for my successful circumvention was galoshes. She purchased a pair, wasted no breath calling me, and would come up silently, as I stood lapped in a false security, lost in the contemplation of a squirrel or a robin, and seize me by the shoulders from behind, to the grievous unhinging of my nerves. Stealing along in the fog, I looked back uneasily once or twice, so vivid was this disquieting memory, and could hardly be reassured by putting up my hand to the elaborate twists and curls that compose what my maid calls my Frisur, and that mark the gulf lying between the present and the past; for it had happened once or twice, awful to relate and to remember, that Fräulein Wundermacher, sooner than let me slip through her fingers, had actually caught me by the long plait of hair to whose other end
I was attached, and whose English name I had been told was pigtail, just at the instant when I was springing away from her into the bushes; and so had led me home triumphant, holding on tight to the rope of hair, and muttering with a broad smile of special satisfaction, "Diesmal wirst du mir aber nicht entschülpfen!" Fräulein Wundermacher, now I came to think of it, must have been a humorist. She was certainly a clever and a capable woman. But I wished at that moment that she would not haunt me so persistently, and that I could get rid of the feeling that she was just behind in her galoshes, with her hand stretched out to seize me.
Passing the arbor, and peering into its damp recesses, I started back with my heart in my mouth. I thought I saw my grandfather's stern eyes shining in the darkness. It was evident that my anxiety lest the cousins should catch me had quite upset my nerves, for I am not by nature inclined to see eyes where eyes are not. "Don't be foolish, Elizabeth," murmured my soul in rather a faint voice, “go in and make sure." "But I don't like going in and making sure," I replied. I did go in, however, with a sufficient show of courage, and fortunately the eyes vanished. What I should have done if they had not I am altogether unable to imagine. Ghosts are things that I laugh at in the daytime and fear at night, but I think if I were to meet one I should die. The arbor had fallen into great decay, and was in the last stage of mouldiness. My grandfather had had it made, and, like other buildings it enjoyed a period of prosperity before being left to the ravages of slugs and children, when he came down every afternoon in summer and drank his coffee there and read his Kreuzzeitung and dozed, while the rest of us went about on tiptoe, and only the birds dared sing. Even the mosquitoes
that infested the place were in too much awe of him to sting him; they certainly never did sting him, and I naturally concluded it must be because he had forbidden such familiarities. Although I had played there for so many years since his death, my memory skipped them all, and went back to the days when it was exclusively his. Standing on the spot where his armchair used to be, I felt how well I knew him now from the impressions he made then on my child's mind, though I was not conscious of them for more than twenty years. Nobody told me about him, and he died when I was six, and yet within the last year or two, that strange Indian summer of remembrance that comes to us in the leisured times when the children have been born and we have time to think, has made me know him perfectly well. It is rather an uncomfortable thought for the grown-up, and especially for the parent, but of a salutary and restraining nature, that though children may not understand what is said and done before them, and have no interest in it at the time, and though they may forget it at once and for years, yet these things that they have seen and heard and not noticed have after all impressed themselves for ever on their minds, and when they are men and women come crowding back with surprising and often painful distinctness, and away frisk all the cherished little illusions in flocks.
the dignity of privacy and potentialities. This, at least, as time passed and he still did nothing, was the belief of the simple people around. People must believe in somebody, and having pinned their faith on my grandfather in the promising years that lie round thirty, it was more convenient to let it remain there. He pervaded our family life till my sixth year, and saw to it that we all behaved ourselves, and then he died, and we were all glad that he should be in heaven. He was a good German (and when Germans are good they are very good) who kept the Commandments, voted for the Government, grew prize potatoes and bred innumerable sheep, drove to Berlin once a year with the wool in a procession of wagons behind him and sold it at the annual Wollmarkt, rioted soberly for a few days there, and then carried most of the proceeds home, hunted as often as possible, helped his friends, punished his children, read his Bible, said his prayers, and was genuinely astonished when his wife had the affectation to die of a broken heart. I cannot pretend to explain this conduct. She. ought, of course, to have been happy in the possession of so good a man; but good men are sometimes oppressive, and to have one in the house with you and to live in the daily glare of his goodness must be a tremendous business. After bearing him seven sons and three daughters, therefore, my grandmother died in the way described, and afforded, said my grandfather, another and a very curious proof of the impossibility of ever being sure of your ground with women. The incident faded more quickly from his mind than it might otherwise have done from its having occurred simultaneously with the production of a new kind of potato, of which he was justly proud. He called it Trost in Trauer, and quoted the text of Scripture Auge um Auge, Zahn um Zahn, after which he did not again al
lude to his wife's decease.
In his last years, when my father managed the estate, and he only lived with us and criticised, he came to have the reputation of an oracle. The neighbors sent him their sons at the beginning of any important phase in their lives, and he received them in this very arbor, administering eloquent and minute advice in the deep voice that rolled round the shrubbery and filled me with a vague sense of guilt as I played. Sitting among the bushes playing muffled games for fear of disturbing him, I supposed he must be reading aloud, so unbroken was the monotony of that majestic roll. The young men used to come out again bathed in perspiration, much stung by mosquitoes, and looking bewildered; and when they had got over the impression made by my grandfather's speech and presence, no doubt forgot all he had said with wholesome quickness, and set themselves to the interesting and necessary work of gaining their own experience. Once, indeed, a dreadful thing happened, whose immediate consequence was the abrupt end to the long and close friendship between us and our nearest neighbor. His son was brought to the arbor and left there in the usual way, and either he must have happened on the critical half hour after the coffee and before the Kreuzzeitung, when my grandfather was accustomed to sleep, or he was more courageous than the others and tried to talk, for very short ly, playing as usual near at hand, I heard my grandfather's voice, raised to an extent that made me stop in my game and quake, saying with deliberate anger, "Hebe dich weg won mir, Sohn des Satans!" Which was all the advice this particular young man got, and which he hastened to take, for out he came through the bushes, and though his face was very pale, there was an odd twist about the corners of his mouth that reassured me.
This must have happened quite at the end of my grandfather's life, for almost immediately afterwards, as it now seems to me, he died before he need have done because he would eat crab, a dish that never agreed with him, in the face of his doctor's warning that if he did he would surely die. "What! Am I to be conquered by crabs?" he demanded indignantly of the doctor; for, apart from loving them with all his heart, he had never yet been conquered by anything. "Nay, sir, the combat is too unequal-do not, I pray you, try it again," replied the doctor. But my grandfather ordered crabs that very night for supper, and went in to table with the shining eyes of one who is determined to conquer or die, and the crabs conquered, and he died. "He was a just man," said the neighbors, except that nearest neighbor, formerly his best friend, "and might have been a great one had he so chosen." And they buried him with profound respect and the sunshine came into our home life with a burst, and the birds were not the only creatures that sang, and the arbor, from having been a temple of Delphic utterances, sank into a home for slugs.
Musing on the strangeness of life, and on the invariable ultimate triumph of the insignificant and small over the important and vast, illustrated in this instance by the easy substitution in the arbor of slugs for grandfathers, I went slowly round the next bend of the path, and came to the broad walk along the south side of the high wall dividing the flower garden from the kitchen garden, in which sheltered position my father had had his choicest flowers. Here the cousins had been at work, and all the climbing roses that clothed the wall with beauty were gone, and some very neat fruit trees, tidily nailed up at proper intervals, reigned in their stead. Evidently the cousins knew the value