In the Quarter, by Robert W. Chambers


R ound about the narrow valley which is cut by the rapid Trauerbach, Bavarian mountains tower, their well timbered flanks scattered here and there with rough slides, or opening out in long green alms, and here at evening one may sometimes see a spot of yellow moving along the bed of a half dry mountain torrent.

Miss Ruth Dene stood in front of the Forester’s lodge at Trauerbach one evening at sunset, and watched such a spot on the almost perpendicular slope that rose opposite, high above her head. Some Jaegers and the Forester were looking, too.

“My glass, Federl! Ja! ‘s ist’n gams!”

“Gems?” inquired Miss Dene, excited by her first view of a chamois.

“Ja! ‘n Gams,” said the Forester, sticking to his dialect.

The sun was setting behind the Red Peak, his last rays pouring into the valley. They fell on rock and alm, on pine and beech, and turned the silver Trauerbach to molten gold.

Mr Isidor Blumenthal, sitting at a table under one of the windows, drinking beer, beheld this phenomenon, and putting down his quart measure, he glared at the waste of precious metal. Then he lighted the stump of a cigar; then he looked at his watch, and it being almost supper time, he went in to secure the best place. He liked being early at table; he liked the first cut of the meats, hot and fat; he loved plenty of gravy. While waiting to be served he could count the antlers on the walls and estimate “how much they would fetch by an antiquar,” as he said to himself. There was nothing else marketable in the large bare room, full of deal tables and furnished with benches built against the wall. But he could pick his teeth demonstratively — toothpicks were not charged in the bill — and he could lean back on two legs of his chair, with his hands in his pockets, and stare through the windows at Miss Dene.

The Herr Förster and the two Jaegers had gone away. Miss Dene stood now with her slender hands clasped easily behind her, a Tam O’Shanter shading her sweet face. She was tall, and so far as Mr Blumenthal had ever seen, extremely grave for her years. But Mr Blumenthal’s opportunities of observing Miss Dene had been limited.

The “gams” had disappeared. Miss Dene was looking down the road that leads to Schicksalsee. There was not much visible there except a whirl of dust raised by the sudden evening wind.

Sometimes it was swept away for a moment; then she saw a weather-beaten bridge and a bend in the road where it disappeared among the noble firs of a Bavarian forest.

The sun sank and left the Trauerbach a stream of molten lead. The shadows crept up to the Jaeger’s hut and then to the little chapel above that. Gusts of whistling martins swept by.

A silk-lined, Paris-made wool dress rustled close beside her, and she put out one of the slender hands without turning her head.

“Mother, dear,” said she, as a little silver-haired old lady took it and came and leaned against her tall girl’s shoulder, “haven’t we had enough of the ‘Först-haus zu Trauerbach?”’

“Not until a certain girl, who danced away her color at Cannes, begins to bloom again.”

Ruth shrugged, and then laughed. “At least it isn’t so — so indigestible as Munich.”

“Oh! Absurd! Speaking of digestion, come to your Schmarn und Reh-braten. Supper is ready.”

Mother and daughter walked into the dingy “Stube” and took their seats at the Forester’s table.

Mr Blumenthal’s efforts had not secured him a place there after all; Anna, the capable niece of the Frau Förster, having set down a large foot, clad in a thick white stocking and a carpet slipper, to the effect that there was only room for the Herr Förster’s family and the Americans.

“I also am an American!” cried Mr Blumenthal in Hebrew–German. Nevertheless, when Ruth and her mother came in he bowed affably to them from the nearest end of the next table.

“Mamma,” said Ruth, very low, “I hope I’m not going to begin being difficult, but do you know, that is really an odious man?”

“Yes, I do know,” laughed her easy-tempered mother, “but what is that to us?”

Mr Blumenthal was reveling in hot fat. After he had bowed and smiled greasily, he tucked his napkin tighter under his chin and fell once more upon the gravy. He sopped his bread in it and scooped it up with his knife. But after there was no more gravy he wished to converse. He scrubbed his lips with one end of the napkin and called across to Ruth, who shrank behind her mother: “Vell, Miss Dene, you have today a shammy seen, not?”

Ruth kept out of sight, but Mrs Dene nodded, good-naturedly.

“Ja! soh! and haf you auch dose leetle deer mit der mamma seen? I haf myself such leetle deer myself many times shoot, me and my neffe. But not here. It is not permitted.” No one answered. Ruth asked Anna for the salt.

“My neffe, he eats such lots of salt — “ began Mr Blumenthal.

“Herr Förster,” interrupted Mrs Dene — “Is the room ready for our friend who is coming this evening?”

“Your vriendt, he is from New York?”

“Ja, ja, Gnädige Frau!” said the Forester, hastily.

“I haf a broader in New York. Blumenthal and Cohen, you know dem, yes?”

Mrs Dene and her daughter rose and went quietly out into the porch, while the Frau Förster, with cold, round gray eyes and a tight mouth, was whispering to her frowning spouse that it was none of his business, and why get himself into trouble? Besides, Mrs Dene’s Herr Gemahl, meaning the absent colonel, would come back in a day or two; let him attend to Mr Blumenthal.

Outside, under the windows, were long benches set against the house with tables before them. One was crowded with students who had come from everywhere on the foot-tours dear to Germans.

Their long sticks, great bundles, tin botanizing boxes, and sketching tools lay in untidy heaps; their stone krugs were foaming with beer, and their mouths were full of black bread and cheese.

Underneath the other window was the Jaeger’s table. There they sat, gossiping as usual with the Forester’s helpers, a herdsman or two, some woodcutters on their way into or out from the forest, and a pair of smart revenue officers from the Tyrol border, close by.

Ruth said to the nearest Jaeger in passing:

“Herr Loisl, will you play for us?”

“But certainly, gracious Fraulein! Shall I bring my zither to the table under the beech tree?”

“Please do!”

Miss Dene was a great favorite with the big blond Jaegers.

“Ja freili! will I play for the gracious Fraulein!” said Loisl, and cut slices with his hunting knife from a large white radish and ate them with black bread, shining good-humor from the tip of the black-cock feather on his old green felt hat to his bare, bronzed knees and his hobnailed shoes.

At the table under the beech trees were two more great fellows in gray and green. They rose promptly and were moving away; Mrs Dene begged them to remain, and they sat down again, diffidently, but with dignity.

“Herr Sepp,” said Ruth, smiling a little mischievously, “how is this? Herr Federl shot a stag of eight this morning, and I hear that yesterday you missed a Reh-bock!”

Sepp reddened, and laughed. “Only wait, gracious Fraulein, next week it is my turn on the Red Peak.”

“Ach, ja! Sepp knows the springs where the deer drink,” said Federl.

“And you never took us there!” cried Ruth, reproachfully. “I would give anything to see the deer come and drink at sundown.”

Sepp felt his good breeding under challenge. “If the gracious Frau permits,” with a gentlemanly bow to Mrs Dene, “and the ladies care to come — but the way is hard — ”

“You couldn’t go, dearest,” murmured Ruth to her mother, “but when papa comes back — ”

“Your father will be delighted to take you wherever there is a probability of breaking both your necks, my dear,” said Mrs Dene.

“Griffin!” said Ruth, giving her hand a loving little squeeze under the table.

Loisl came up with his zither and they all made way before him. Anna placed a small lantern on the table and the light fell on the handsome bearded Jaeger’s face as he leaned lovingly above his instrument.

The incurable “Sehnsucht” of humanity found not its only expression in that great Symphony where “all the mightier strings assembling, fell a trembling.” Ruth heard it as she leaned back in the deep shade and listened to those silvery melodies and chords of wonderful purity, coaxed from the little zither by Loisl’s strong, rough hand, with its tender touch. To all the airs he played her memory supplied the words. Sometimes a Sennerin was watching from the Alm for her lover’s visit in the evening. Sometimes the hunter said farewell as he sprang down the mountainside. Once tears came into Ruth’s eyes as the simple tune recalled how a maiden who died and went to Heaven told her lover at parting:

“When you come after me I shall know you by my ring which you will wear, and me you will know by your rose that rests on my heart.”

Loisl had stopped playing and was tuning a little, idly sounding chords of penetrating sweetness. There came a noise of jolting and jingling from the road below.

Mrs Dene spoke softly to Ruth. “That is the Mail; it is time he was here.” Ruth assented absently. She cared at that moment more for hearing a new folk-song than for the coming of her old playmate.

Rapid wheels approaching from the same direction overtook and passed the “Post” and stopped below. Mrs Dene rose, drawing Ruth with her. The three tall Jaegers rose too, touching their hats. Thanking them all, with a special compliment to Loisl, the ladies went and stood by some stone steps which lead from the road to the Först-haus, just as a young fellow, proceeding up them two at a time, arrived at the top, and taking Mrs Dene’s hand began to kiss it affectionately.

“At last!” she cried, “and the very same boy! after four years! Ruth!” Ruth gave one hand and Reginald Gethryn took two, releasing one the next moment to put his arm around the little old lady, and so he led them both into the house, more at home already than they were.

“Shall we begin to talk about how we are not one bit changed, only a little older, first, or about your supper?” said Mrs Dene.

“Oh! supper, please!” said Rex, of the sun-browned face and laughing eyes. Smiling Anna, standing by, understood, aided by a hint from Ruth of “Schmarn und Reh-braten” — and clattered away to fetch the never-changing venison and fried batter, with which, and Schicksalsee beer, the Frau Förster sustained her guests the year round, from “Georgi” to “Michaeli” and from “Michaeli” to “Georgi,” reasoning that what she liked was good enough for them. The shapeless cook was ladling out dumplings, which she called “Nudel,” into some soup for a Munich opera singer, who had just arrived by the stage. Anna confided to her that this was a “feiner Herr,” and must be served accordingly. The kind Herr Förster came up to greet his guest. Mrs Dene introduced him as Mr Gethryn, of New York. At this Mr Blumenthal bounced forward from a corner where he had been spying and shook hands hilariously. “Vell! and how it goes!” he cried. Rex saw Ruth’s face as she turned away, and stepping to her side, he whispered, “Friend of yours?” The teasing tone woke a thousand memories of their boy and girl days, and Ruth’s young lady reserve had changed to the frank camaraderie of former times when she shook her head at him, laughing, as he looked back at them from the stairs, up which he was following Grethi and his portmanteau to the room prepared for him.

Half an hour later Mrs Dene and her daughter were looking with approval at Rex and his hearty enjoyment of the Frau Förster’s fare. The cook, on learning that this was a “feiner Herr,” had added trout to the regulation dishes; and although she was convinced that the only proper way to cook them was “blau gesotten” — meaning boiled to a livid bluish white — she had learned American tastes from the Denes and sent them in to Gethryn beautifully brown and crisp.

Rex turned one over critically. “Good little fish. Who is the angler?”

“Oh! angler! They were caught with bait,” said Ruth, wrinkling her nose.

Rex gave her a quick look. “I suppose you have forgotten how to cast a fly.”

“No, I think not,” she answered quietly.

Mrs Dene opened her mouth to speak, and then discreetly closed it again in silence, reflecting that whatever there was to come on that point would get itself said without any assistance from her.

“I had a look at the water as I came along,” continued Rex. “It seemed good casting.”

“I never see it but I think how nice it would be to whip,” said Ruth.

“No! really? Not outgrown the rod and fly since you grew into ball dresses?”

“Try me and see.”

“Now, my dearest child! — ”

“Yes, my dearest mother! — ”

“Yes, dearest Mrs Dene! — ”

“Oh! nonsense! listen to me, you children. Ruth danced herself ill at Cannes; and she lost her color, and she had a little cough, and she has it still, and she is very easily tired — ”

“Only of not fishing and hunting, dearest, most perfect of mothers! You won’t put up papa to forbid my going with him and Rex!”

“Your mother is incapable of such an action. How little you know her worth! She is only waiting to be assured that you are to have my greenheart, with a reel that spins fifty yards of silk. She shall have it, Mrs Dene.”

“Is it as good as the hornbeam?” asked Ruth, smiling.

“The old hornbeam! do you remember that? I say, Ruth, you spoke of shooting. Really, can you still shoot?”

“Could I ever forget after such teaching?”

“Well, now, I call that a girl!” cried Rex, enthusiastically.

“Let us hope some people won’t call it a hoyden!” said Mrs Dene, with the tender pride that made her faultfinding like a caress. “The idea of a girl carrying an absurd little breech-loading rifle all over Europe!”

“What! the one I had built for her?”

“I suppose so,” said Mrs Dene, with a shade more of reserve.

“Miss Dene, you shall kill the first chamois that I see!”

“I fear, Mr Gethryn, the Duke Alfons Adalbert Maximilian in Baiern will have something to say about that!”

“Oh — h — h! Preserved?”

“Yes, indeed, preserved!”

“But they told me I might shoot on the Sonnewendjoch.”

“Ah! But that’s in Tyrol, just across the line. You can see it from here. Austrian game laws aren’t Bavarian game laws, sir!”

“How much of this country does your duke own?”

“Just half a dozen mountains, and half a dozen lakes, and half a hundred trout streams, with all the splendid forests belonging to them.”

“Lucky duke! And is the game preserved in the whole region? Can’t one get a shot?”

“One cannot even carry a gun without a permit.”

Rex groaned. “And the trout — I suppose they are preserved, too?”

“Yes, but the Herr Förster has the right to fish and so have his guests. There are, however, conditions. The fish you take are not yours. You must buy as many of them as you want to keep, afterward. And they must be brought home alive — or as nearly alive as is consistent with being shut up in a close, round, green tin box, full of water which becomes tepid as it is carried along by a peasant boy in the heat. They usually die of suffocation. But to the German mind that is all right. It is only not right when one kills them instantly and lays them in a cool creel, on fresh wet ferns and moss.”

“Nevertheless, I think we will dispense with the boy and the green box, in favor of the ferns and moss, assisted by a five franc piece or two.”

“It isn’t francs any more; you’re not in France. It’s marks here, you know.”

“Well, I have the same faith in the corrupting power of marks as of francs, or lire, or shillings, or dollars.”

“And I think you will find your confidence justified,” said Mrs Dene, smiling.

“Mamma trying to be cynical!” said Ruth, teasingly. “Isn’t she funny, Rex!”

A thoughtful look stole over her mother’s face. “I can be terrible, too, sometimes — “ she said in her little, clear, high soprano voice; and she gazed musingly at the edge of a letter, which just appeared above the table, and then sank out of sight in her lap.

“A letter from papa! It came with the stage! What does he say?”

“He says — several things; for one, he is coming back tomorrow instead of the next day.”

“Delightful! But there is more?”

Mrs Dene’s face became a cheerful blank. “Yes, there is more,” she said. A pause.

“Mamma,” began Ruth, “do you think Griffins desirable as mothers?”

“Very, for bad children!” Mrs Dene relapsed into a pleasant reverie. Ruth looked at her mother as a kitten does in a game of tag when the old cat has retired somewhere out of reach and sits up smiling through the barrier.

“You find her sadly changed!” she said to Gethryn, in that silvery, mocking tone which she had inherited from her mother.

“On the contrary, I find her the same adorable gossip she always was. Whatever is in that letter, she is simply dying to tell us all about it.”

“Suppose we try not speaking, and see how long she can stand that?”

Rex laid his repeater on the table. Two pairs of laughing eyes watched the dear little old lady. At the end of three minutes she raised her own; blue, sweet, running over with fun and kindness.

“The colonel has a polite invitation from the duke for himself, and his party, to shoot on the Red Peak.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52