PRESBYTERY AND PRESBYTER
The Presbytery at Grindelwald was shining rosy red in the reflected rays of the rising but still unrisen sun when Marcus and Keith stood before it. Already there came a noise of young labour from the yard behind, where in the shade some one was getting through morning duties to an accompaniment of cheerful song. Presently a stripling lad came round the gable with an axe upon his shoulder. A pretty country maiden, short-kirtled, barefooted, was singing over her milking-pails, scouring them with white sand, her elbows showing pink against the green gloom of the pines. At sight of her the youth dropped his axe, and finding the girl's fresh round cheek, as an Irishman would say, "convanient," he helped himself to an almost pardonable kiss. But to this the girl did not tamely submit. The sound of a hearty palm smitten fair upon resounding flesh rang instantly out. Then the young man, divided between the pleasure of achievement and the pain of punishment, snatched up his axe and ran off rapidly down the path, laughing triumphantly back over his shoulder as he went.
The girl stood up, eloquent of tongue — so long, that is, as the aggressor was in sight. Then she also smiled, then grew thoughtful, lifted her apron as if to wipe her cheek, but picked at it instead, and did not for a long minute resume the scouring of her milking-pails. Marcus was delighted with the whole scene. He considered himself something of a connoisseur in these matters.
“Did you notice," he said softly to Harford, "that she was only angry after it was all over? Even then she scolded just so long as she could be heard. You believe me — the next time she will forget to scold at all."
Thus the wise and much-experienced Marcus, who at an early age prided himself on his knowledge of women, and so was laying up wrath against the day of wrath.
But Keith Harford did not smile. His thoughts were, as usual, alike dreamily distant from bold wooers and from maidens, willing or inaccessible, at play among their milking-pails.
Marcus and Harford sat down on a fallen tree and smoked steadily till the door of the Presbytery opened, and the burly, rosy Presbyter himself, clad in an old ecclesiastical garment which was seeing out its last days as a dressing-gown, stumped down the wooden stairs with a towel over his arm. He was going to the little spout of water at the end of the garden to make his morning ablutions —a foreign habit which, in his capacity of mountaineer, he had contracted from the English.
He stopped a moment, aghast at the sight which greeted his eyes, and then came hurrying forward with both hands outstretched to welcome Keith Harford.
"My dear friend," he said, "this is truly unexpected; but then, all accidents are good that bring you to my door. Go in, and I will get you some breakfast after the English mode — the beefsteck, the cole-meat, the ham-negg. I will be with you and dressed in a quick time!"
Marcus and Harford made their way into the Presbytery and sat them down in the little room with shelves of unpainted wood, filled mostly with tattered paper-bound theological books printed in crabbed, eye-destroying German characters. Wide-spaced fiction, of origin obviously Gallic, their lemon-yellow covers carefully torn off, elbowed the theology. Standard English books in stout binding were not wanting; and, indeed, everywhere there was evidence of wide reading and liberal culture. In the corner reclined several ice-axes of the full-shafted, workmanlike Grindelwald type. These stood slanted at various angles, amid a pile of ropes, woven leg-gear of coarse grey wool, wire goggles, and much-enduring straw hats. It was the sanctuary of the mountaineering pastor of Grindelwald, chief of the Swiss Alpine Section, and president of the local commission to which had been given all power in the matter of guides.
Back through the roses and ant-heaps came the pastor to breakfast, loudly exclaiming upon them for not arriving the night before, when he could have given them beds more comfortable than the fallen tree-trunk upon which he had found them. Moreover, he laughed heartily at Marcus Hardy's candles.
"You are a wonderful folk, you English. If in the heaven there is no moon, you invent one, and carry her before you in a cleft stick. If there is no bed, you find a fallen tree, and make yourselves comfortable among the branches. No wonder that you conquer the world and make all the money in it. But what brings you here into my house so early?"
They were sitting in the bare dining-room of the Presbytery, and the maid of the woodman's morning salutation, now demure as any Calvinistic acolyte, had just retired with a lingering glance at Keith.
Briefly and clearly Harford told his tale, the story of the morning at the hostel of Johann Jossi on the Wengern Alp, and of what the shining yellow tube of the telescope had revealed. The pastor, who, upon finding the two young men in trouble, had expected to hear something very different, listened at first with wonderment, and then with a certain grave approbation.
"And why should you care for two poor men of our people?" he said; "it is not expected of your countrymen to show such anxiety as to cause them to undertake a night march to get a couple of village guides out of trouble."
"Well," Harford replied, "it was just because they are two poor men, whose chances of justice seemed somewhat scant, that we did come."
The pastor considered awhile, humming a German hymn, which, even when delivered through the nose, held in it the tramp of armies. After a while he spoke.
"I will call in due order a meeting of the court. I will preside over it myself. We will have this Herr Judd before us to tell his story — how he broke his contract, and why he dismissed his men. Meanwhile, of course, you will not say a word — keeping what you call 'mum.' Then there will a grand mine explode under his very feet, and your so rich man will learn what it is in Switzerland to take away the characters of honest men."
Whereupon the three clasped hands, drinking "scald" to each other in good Vienna beer, and parted — the two Englishmen once more taking the path through the wood, along which, led by Marcus with his moon waning on its stick, they had descended upon Grindelwald in the rosy dawn.
The pastor stood and watched them out of sight. Perhaps I have misjudged the English," he said; “oftentimes they appear stiff and sullen of temper only because they cannot speak a language well, and are too proud to speak it badly. But if they would consent to learn a little kindly folk-speech, take their meals at reasonable hours, and do deeds like this — perhaps one day the rest of the world might even begin to like them."
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First serialised in 'Woman at Home' as 'The Woman of Fortune' in 1899.