‘Cheerfully, if I had my work and my—my friend.’
’No; but well I know a man’s field of labour is his country. You have your ambition.’
‘Yes, now I have.’
She struck a fir-branch with her riding-whip, scattering flakes on my head. ‘Would that extinguish it?’
‘In the form of an avalanche perhaps it would.’
‘Then you make your aims a part of your life?’
’Then you win! or it is written of you that you never knew failure! So with me. I set my life upon my aim when I feel that the object is of true worth. I win, or death hides from me my missing it.
This I look to; this obtains my Professor’s nod, and the approval of my conscience. Worthiness, however!—the mind must be trained to discern it. We can err very easily in youth; and to find ourselves shooting at a false mark uncontrollably must be a cruel thing. I cannot say it is undeserving the scourge of derision. Do you know yourself? I do not; and I am told by my Professor that it is the sole subject to which you should not give a close attention. I can believe him. For who beguiles so much as Self? Tell her to play, she plays her sweetest. Lurk to surprise her, and what a serpent she becomes! She is not to be aware that you are watching her. You have to review her acts, observe her methods. Always be above her; then by-and-by you catch her hesitating at cross-roads; then she is bare: you catch her bewailing or exulting; then she can no longer pretend she is other than she seems. I make self the feminine, for she is the weaker, and the soul has to purify and raise her. On that point my Professor and I disagree. Dr. Julius, unlike our modern Germans, esteems women over men, or it is a further stroke of his irony. He does not think your English ladies have heads: of us he is proud as a laurelled poet. Have I talked you dumb?’
‘Princess, you have given me matter to think upon.’
She shook her head, smiling with closed eyelids.
I, now that speech had been summoned to my lips, could not restrain it, and proceeded, scarcely governing the words, quite without ideas; ’For you to be indifferent to rank—yes, you may well be; you have intellect; you are high above me in both—’ So on, against good taste and common sense.
She cried: ’Oh! no compliments from you to me. I will receive them, if you please, by deputy. Let my Professor hear your immense admiration for his pupil’s accomplishments. Hear him then in return! He will beat at me like the rainy West wind on a lily. “See,” he will say, when I am broken and bespattered, “she is fair, she is stately, is she not!” And really I feel, at the sound of praise, though I like it, that the opposite, satire, condemnation, has its good right to pelt me. Look; there is the tower, there ’s the statue, and under that line of pine-trees the path we ran up;—“dear English boys!” as I remember saying to myself; and what did you say of me?’