A scientific enthusiasm is one of the most uncomfortable things a human bosom can harbor. It may be the source of a good deal of private satisfaction to the devotee, but it makes him, in his own estimation, superior to all the minor claims of society. This was, at least in an eminent degree, the case with Maurice Fern. He was not wilfully regardless of other people’s comfort; he seemed rather to be unconscious of their existence, except in a dim, general way, as a man who gazes intently at a strong light will gradually lose sight of all surrounding objects. And for all that, he was, by nature, a generous man; in his unscientific moments, when his mind was, as it were, off duty, he was capable of very unselfish deeds, and even of sublime self-sacrifice. It was only a few weeks since he had given his plaid to a shivering old woman in the Scottish stage-coach, and caught a severe cold in consequence; but he had bestowed his charity in a reserved, matter-of-fact way which made the act appear utterly commonplace and unheroic. He found it less troublesome to shiver than to be compelled to see some one else shivering, and his generosity thus assumed the appearance of a deliberate choice between two evils.
Phenomena of this degree of complexity are extremely rare in Norway, where human nature, as everything else, is of the large-lettered, easily legible type; and even Tharald Ormgrass, who, in spite of his good opinion of himself, was not an acute observer, had a lively sense of the foreignness of the guest whom, for pecuniary reasons, he had consented to lodge during the remainder of the summer.
A large, quaint, low-ceiled chamber on the second floor, with a superfluity of tiny greenish window-panes, was assigned to the stranger, and his African servant, Jake, was installed in a smaller adjoining apartment. The day after his arrival Maurice spent in unpacking and polishing his precious instruments, which, in the incongruous setting of rough-hewn timbers and gaily painted Norse furniture, looked almost fantastic. The maid who brought him his meals (for he could waste no time in dining with the family) walked about on tip-toe, as if she were in a sick-chamber, and occasionally stopped to gaze at him with mingled curiosity and awe.
The Ormgrass farm consisted of a long, bleak stretch of hill-side, in part overgrown with sweet-brier and juniper, and covered with large, lichen-painted bowlders. Here and there was a patch of hardy winter wheat, and at odd intervals a piece of brownish meadow. At the top of the slope you could see the huge shining ridge of the glacier, looming in threatening silence against the sky. Leaning, as it did, with a decided impulse to the westward, it was difficult to resist the impression that it had braced itself against the opposite mountain, and thrown its whole enormous weight against the Ormgrass hills for the purpose of forcing