We were sitting, at the time when this conversation took place, up in the gorge not half a mile from the house where Mabel’s father lived. I was a tutor in the college, about twenty-three years old, and I was very fond of German philosophy. And now, since I have told who I was, I suppose I ought to tell you something about Mabel. Mabel was,—but really it is impossible to say what she was, except that she was very, very charming. As for the rest, she was the daughter of Professor Markham, and I had known her since my college days when she was quite a little girl. And now she wore long dresses; and, what was more, she had her hair done up in a sort of Egyptian pyramid on the top of her head. The dress she had on to-day I was particularly fond of; it was of a fine light texture, and the pattern was an endless repetition of a small, sweet-brier bud, with two delicate green leaves attached to it.
I had spread a shawl out on the ground where Mabel was sitting, for fear she should soil her fine dress. A large weeping-willow spread its branches all around us, and drooped until it almost touched the ground, so that it made a sort of green, sunlit summer-house, for Mabel and me to live in. Between the rocks at our feet a clear brook came rushing down, throwing before it little showers of spray, which fell like crystal pearls on the water, sailed down the swift eddies and then vanished in the next whirlpool. A couple of orioles in brand-new yellow uniforms, with black epaulets on their shoulders, were busy in the tree over our heads, but stopped now and then in their work to refresh themselves with a little impromptu duet.
“Work and play
Make glad the day,”—
that seemed to be their philosophy, and Mabel and I were quite ready to agree with them, although we had been idling since the early dawn. But then it was so long since we had seen each other, that we thought we could afford it.
“Somehow,” said Mabel at last (for she never could pout long at a time), “I don’t like you so well since you came back from Germany. You are not as nice as you used to be. What did you go there for, anyway?”
“Why,” I responded, quite seriously, “I went there to study; and I did learn a good deal there, although naturally I was not as industrious as I might have been.”
“I can readily believe that. But, tell me, what did you learn that you mightn’t just as well have learned at home?”
I thought it was no use in being serious any longer; so I tossed a pebble into the water, glanced up into Mabel’s face and answered gayly:
“Well, I learned something about gnomes and pigmies and elves and fairies and salamanders, and—”
“And what?” interrupted Mabel, impatiently.
“And salamanders,” repeated I. “You know the forests and rivers and mountains of Germany are full of all sorts of strange sprites, and you know the people believe in them, and that is one of the things which make life in the Old World so fascinating. But here we are too prosy and practical and business-like, and we don’t believe in anything except what we can touch with our hands, and see with our eyes, and sell for money.”