The, path to the castle slanted upward across the shoulder of the hill, to a certain point, and there some rude stone steps mounted more directly. Wilding lilac-bushes, as if from some forgotten garden, bordered the ascent; the chickory opened its blue flower; the clean bitter odor of vermouth rose from the trodden turf; but Nature spreads no such lavish feast in wood or field in the Old World as she spoils us with in the New; a few kinds, repeated again and again, seem to be all her store, and man must make the most of them. Miss Triscoe seemed to find flowers enough in the simple bouquet which Burnamy put together for her. She took it, and then gave it back to him, that she might have both hands for her skirt, and so did him two favors.
A superannuated forester of the nobleman who owns the ruin opened a gate for the party at the top, and levied a tax of thirty kreutzers each upon them, for its maintenance. The castle, by his story, had descended from robber sire to robber son, till Gustavus knocked it to pieces in the sixteenth century; three hundred years later, the present owner restored it; and now its broken walls and arches, built of rubble mixed with brick, and neatly pointed up with cement, form a ruin satisfyingly permanent. The walls were not of great extent, but such as they were they enclosed several dungeons and a chapel, all underground, and a cistern which once enabled the barons and their retainers to water their wine in time of siege.
From that height they could overlook the neighboring highways in every direction, and could bring a merchant train to, with a shaft from a crossbow, or a shot from an arquebuse, at pleasure. With General Triscoe’s leave, March praised the strategic strength of the unique position, which he found expressive of the past, and yet suggestive of the present. It was more a difference in method than anything else that distinguished the levy of customs by the authorities then and now. What was the essential difference, between taking tribute of travellers passing on horseback, and collecting dues from travellers arriving by steamer? They did not pay voluntarily in either case; but it might be proof of progress that they no longer fought the customs officials.
“Then you believe in free trade,” said Stoller, severely.
“No. I am just inquiring which is the best way of enforcing the tariff laws.”
“I saw in the Paris Chronicle, last night,” said Miss Triscoe, “that people are kept on the docks now for hours, and ladies cry at the way their things are tumbled over by the inspectors.”
“It’s shocking,” said Mrs. March, magisterially.
“It seems to be a return to the scenes of feudal times,” her husband resumed. “But I’m glad the travellers make no resistance. I’m opposed to private war as much as I am to free trade.”
“It all comes round to the same thing at last,” said General Triscoe. “Your precious humanity—”