‘No, no,’ said Temple, as if curdling; ’let’s call this place the mouth of Hades. Greek things don’t make you feel funny.’
I laughed louder than was necessary, and remarked that I never had cared so much for Greek as on board Captain Welsh’s vessel.
‘It’s because he was all on the opposite tack I went on quoting,’ said Temple. ’I used to read with my father in the holidays, and your Rev. Simon has kept you up to the mark; so it was all fair. It ’s not on our consciences that we crammed the captain about our knowledge.’
‘No. I’m glad of it,’ said I.
Temple pursued, ’Whatever happens to a fellow, he can meet anything so long as he can say—I ’ve behaved like a man of honour. And those German tales—they only upset you. You don’t see the reason of the thing. Why is a man to be haunted half his life? Well, suppose he did commit a murder. But if he didn’t, can’t he walk through an old castle without meeting ghosts? or a forest?’
The dusky scenery of a strange land was influencing Temple. It affected me so, I made the worst of it for a cure.
’Fancy those pines saying, “There go two more,” Temple. Well; and fancy this—a little earth-dwarf as broad as I’m long and high as my shoulder. One day he met the loveliest girl in the whole country, and she promised to marry him in twenty years’ time, in return for a sack of jewels worth all Germany and half England. You should have seen her dragging it home. People thought it full of charcoal. She married the man she loved, and the twenty years passed over, and at the stroke of the hour when she first met the dwarf, thousands of bells began ringing through the forest, and her husband cries out, “What is the meaning of it?” and they rode up to a garland of fresh flowers that dropped on her head, and right into a gold ring that closed on her finger, and—look, Temple, look!’
‘Where?’ asked the dear little fellow, looking in all earnest, from which the gloom of the place may be imagined, for, by suddenly mixing it with my absurd story, I discomposed his air of sovereign indifference as much as one does the surface of a lake by casting a stone in it.
We rounded the rocky corner of the gorge at a slightly accelerated pace in dead silence. It opened out to restorative daylight, and we breathed better and chaffed one another, and, beholding a house with pendent gold grapes, applauded the diligence conductor’s expressive pantomime. The opportunity was offered for a draught of wine, but we held water preferable, so we toasted the Priscilla out of the palms of our hands in draughts of water from a rill that had the sound of aspen-leaves, such as I used to listen to in the Riversley meadows, pleasantly familiar.