“My gnome has been playing a trick on me,” I thought. “This is certainly not to see things as they are. If I only had his tarn-cap once more, he should not recover it so cheaply.”
“Well, my boy,” began the professor, as he wheeled round in his chair, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe on the polished andirons which adorned the empty fire-place. “How is the world using you? Getting over your German whims, eh?”
Surely the spectacles must in some mysterious way have affected my ears too. The professor’s voice certainly did sound very curious—very much like the croak of some bird that had learned human language, but had no notion of what he was saying. The case was really getting serious. I threw the paper away, stared my teacher full in the face, but was so covered with confusion that I could hardly utter two coherent words.
“Yes, yes,—certainly,—professor,” I stammered. “German whims?—I mean things as they are—and—and not as they seem—das Ding an sich—beg your pardon—I am not sure, I—I comprehended your meaning—beg your pardon?”
“My dear boy,” croaked the professor, opening his beak in great bewilderment, and showing a little thick red tongue, which curved upward like that of a parrot, “you are certainly not well. Mabel! Mabel! Come down! James is ill! Yes, you certainly look wretchedly. Let me feel your pulse.”
I suppose my face must have been very much flushed, for the blood had mounted to my head and throbbed feverishly in my temples. As I heard the patter of Mabel’s feet in the hall, a great dread came over me. What if she too should turn out to be somebody else—a strange bird or beast? No, not for all the world would I see Mabel—the dear, blessed Mabel—any differently from what she had always seemed to me. So I tore the spectacles from my nose, and crammed them into the case, which again I thrust into my pocket. In the same instant Mabel’s sweet face appeared in the door.
“Did you call me, papa?” she said; then, as she saw me reclining on the sofa, where her father (now no longer a parrot) had forced me to lie down, there came a sudden fright into her beautiful eyes, and she sprang to my side and seized my hand in hers.
“Are you ill, Jamie?” she asked, in a voice of unfeigned anxiety, which went straight to my heart. “Has anything happened to you?”
“Hush, hush!” said the professor. “Don’t make him speak. It might have proved a serious attack. Too much studying, my dear—too much studying. To be sure, the ambition of young men nowadays is past belief. It was different in my youth. Then, every young man was satisfied if he could only make a living—found a home for himself, and bring up his family in the fear of God. But now, dear me, such things are mere nursery ambitions.”
I felt wretched and guilty in my heart! To be thus imposing upon two good people, who loved me and were willing to make every sacrifice for my comfort! Mabel had brought a pillow, and put it under my head; and now she took out some sort of crochet-work, and seated herself on a chair close by me. The professor stood looking at his watch and counting my pulse-beats.