Chapter IX

  ‘Fairacre, 1st March.

‘I HAVE just returned from Mrs. Stein's, laden with roses and early white China asters and double balsams of the most celestial pink. You know of old what a delightful event a visit to Rosenthal is. But you do not know what it is to listen for hours to Professor Kellwitz, the Primitive

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Dwelling man, talking for hours on the præ-Deuteronomic Pentateuch and “Die assyrisch-babylonisch Keilinschriften,” and the early twilight of man's history on the earth. Nay, he one day went back still further, even to the time when our world was without form and void—when what is above was not called heaven, and that which is the earth beneath had not a name—ere a sprout had yet sprung forth and “the generative processes at work were all hidden in chaotic vapour.” The two old friends spoke, of course, to each other in German, and sometimes I lost the thread of what they were saying, and I would not ask a question for the world. I love too well to listen to men talking when they are oblivious of a woman's presence. The second day I was there is especially memorable to me. Mrs. Stein was busy preserving Duke cherries in brandy. The sparrows are so bad this year that the cherries have been gathered off some trees before ripening. Don't you think the sparrow in Australia is an awful example of a bird with a conscience seared as with a hot iron? In his native countries he is, it seems, undainty to a discreditable degree, seldom tasting fruit and never red nectar. But with us he not only becomes an epicure beyond the wildest dreams of the pagan world, but a reckless destroyer—a small Attila with a pair of brown wings. Not merely does he disdain to eat the skin of a freestone peach and the transparent rind of sweetwater grapes, but for each one he eats he spoils twenty by pecking at them. Here at Rosenthal, where he lives mealfree and at ease, the ungrateful little varlet nibbles two score of cherries to each one he eats.

‘Ah, true! I have not told you about the second day of my visit. There was rather a horrid gully wind blowing. So early in the afternoon the Doctor and the Professor established themselves in the western veranda with the curtains drawn, with their pipes lit, and between them a table that groaned under its array of Lager-bier bottles. I was sitting, with a book and a small Rupert garment half made, by the French window of the drawing-room, when the two took up their quarters close beside me, with only the window-curtains between us. There were peals of Homeric laughter as they recalled incidents of their student days; and there was talk of a Lischen, who seems to have been celebrated for the length of her golden hair, “long since

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turned to dust.” Then they talked of their work. The Doctor told tales of the early days of the colony, and how, twenty-four years ago, he and Courtland became intimate friends. When he spoke of father's learning and rare goodness of nature, it was all I could do to keep myself from stepping out and kissing him on the mouth. Then the Professor spoke of his early struggles. For many years he held a subordinate post in a small university, where he had three-quarters of the day to himself. He seems from the first to have been devoted to that kind of literature which no reference library should be without. One of the incidents he told was of a far journey he made during one vacation to a little town, to which some Grand-Duke had bequeathed a singular collection of books. It was a long journey, and cost more than he anticipated; so that before he returned he was forced to leave his watch in pawn, though he trudged the greater part of the way. And the object of all this was to authenticate one date. On hearing this, I shifted my chair, so that I could see the Professor's face better. A spare keen face it is, with many lines and furrows, and yet distinctly human, as though in all his researches and wanderings he had never lost sight of the fact that man himself is a more insoluble interesting problem than any facts to be gleaned regarding him.

There was a sound of cork-drawing, and discovering that I was thirsty, I went into the dining-room for a glass of seltzer. When I returned the talk had veered to Australia—its inhabitants and resources, and future prospects. The Professor found a grave drawback in the thought that as most colonists originally came to the country for material reasons, true patriotism must be of tardy growth: “Your young people do not love it as their native land in the same way that ours do.”

‘ “Yes, Herr Professor, they do!” I cried, obeying an irresistible impulse to bear witness to the love I have for my own country. And then a long animated talk followed, during which I was obliged to turn to my own tongue—for the Professor talks English much better than I talk German. I drew up the veranda curtain, and bade the good Pundit mark the loveliness of my birthplace—the city with its white buildings and scores of spires encircled by shady parks, the sea beyond stretching to the western horizon,

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the fertile plain to the north sprinkled with wide fields that yield bountiful harvests from year to year; the hills close at hand, with their tree-crowned heights, and graceful curves, and shadowy gullies—all thickly studded with prosperous homes, with orchards, and vineyards, and flowery gardens, and olivets—and over all the overflowing sunshine, which encompasses the land year in, year out. Who could be born in such a place and not love it for its beauty and fertility? If our fathers were crowded out of the old world—or left it because they feared their children might sink into poverty—was not that an added reason to love the new one, which had offered them comfort and prosperity, and a fair field for the energies of their sons? We have great wastes and atrocious hot winds—but shall we receive good and not evil also?

‘ “Yes, after all, each one must remain in his own skin,” said Dr. Stein, taking up the parable. “If I were in bitter poverty in the Fatherland, as many men are who are more gifted than I am, I might be a dangerous Socialist hatching plots against the safety of the State. There is a point beyond which history and the traditions of the past touch the heart but little. The great kings and nobles who figure so largely in our history were mostly men who commanded the lives and wages of others, while they themselves were hedged round with privileges and wanton luxury. I want my own share of the pleasant things of life, and the country which gives me this, and in which my children were born, has as strong a claim on their love and gratitude as the oldest country of them all. Practically you owe your life to the country in which you were born. Stella, here, who is the granddaughter of a man that fell fighting for Old England, do you think she would not make as much sacrifice for her native land as any German maiden of old times?” “Hear, hear,” said I, clapping my hands in honour of myself in true democratic fashion.

‘Enter Mrs. Stein, followed by Hetty with a trayful of slender pink glasses, and a flagon of Rosenthal cup. The pure juice of the Australian grape mellowed by ten years' repose in the Doctor's cellar. It was a lovely amber colour, with an excellent bouquet, and though I always like wine best when I do not drink it, I felt bound to honour the Professor's toast, which was “The Old Fatherland and the

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New.” We became great friends, and, in fact, I have promised that when you and I go on our travels we shall pay him a visit in Berlin.’