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   Chapter 5 No.5

Paul Patoff By F. Marion Crawford Characters: 21093

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Early on the next morning Paul was on his way to Munich, Vienna, and the East again, and on the afternoon of the same day Professor Cutter and Madame Patoff, with two servants, got into a spacious carriage, in which they had determined to drive as far as Weissenstein, the last village of the Black Forest before reaching Pforzheim. Pursuing his plan of traveling by unfrequented routes, the professor had proposed to spend the night in the beautiful old place which he had formerly visited, intending to proceed the next day by rail to Carlsruhe, and thence down the Rhine.

He had not seen Madame Patoff in the evening after her interview with Paul, and when he met her in the morning it struck him that her manner was greatly changed. She was very silent, and when she spoke at all talked of indifferent subjects. She never referred in any way to the meeting with her son, and the professor observed that for the first time she allowed the day to pass without once mentioning the disappearance of Alexander. He attributed this silence to the deep emotion she had felt on seeing Paul, and to her natural desire to avoid any reference to the pain she had suffered. As usual she allowed him to make all the necessary arrangements for the journey, and she even spoke with some pleasure of the long drive through the forest. She was evidently fatigued and nervous, and her face was much paler than usual, but she was quiet and did not seem ill. All through the long afternoon they drove over the beautiful winding road, enjoying the views, discussing the scenery, and breathing in the healthy odor of the pines. The professor was an agreeable companion, for he had traveled much in Southern Germany, and amused Madame Patoff with all manner of curious information concerning the people, the legends connected with the different parts of the Black Forest, the fairy tales of the Rhine, and the history of the barons before Rudolf of Hapsburg destroyed them in his raid upon the freebooters. This he sprinkled with anecdotes, small talk about books, and comments on European society; speaking with ease and remarkable knowledge of his subjects, and so pleasantly that Madame Patoff never perceived that he wished to amuse her, and was trying to distract her thoughts from the one subject which too easily beset them. Indeed, the professor in the society of a woman of the world was a very different man from the earnest, plain-speaking person who had dined with Paul on the previous night. Even his gold-rimmed spectacles were worn with a less professional air. His well-cut traveling costume of plain tweed did not suggest the traditional scientist, and his bronzed and manly face was that of a sportsman or an Alpine Club man rather than of a student. Madame Patoff leaned back in the carriage, and fairly enjoyed the hours; saying to herself that Cutter had never been so agreeable before, and that indeed in her long life she had met few men who possessed so much charm in conversation. She was an old lady, and could judge of men, for she had spent nearly forty years in the midst of the most brilliant society in Europe, and was not to be deceived by the ring of false metal.

At last they reached the place in the road where they had to descend from the carriage and mount the ascent to Weissenstein. Madame Patoff was well pleased with the place, and said so as she slowly climbed the narrow path, leaning on the professor's arm. The inn-the old Gasthaus zum Goldenen Anker-stands upon the very edge of the precipice above the tumbling Nagold, and is indeed partly built down the face of the cliff. Rooms have been hollowed, so that their windows look down on the river from a sheer height of two hundred feet, the surface of the natural wall, broken only here and there by a projecting ledge, or by the crooked stem of a strong wild cherry tree which somehow finds enough soil and moisture there to support its hardy growth. The inn is very primitive, but comfortable in its simple way, and the scenery is surpassingly beautiful. Far below, on the other side of the torrent, the small village nestles among the dark pines, the single spire of the diminutive church standing high above the surrounding cottages. Above, the hill is crowned by the ruins of the ancient castle of Weissenstein,-the castle of Bellrem, the crusader, who fell from the lofty ramparts on a moonlight night in the twelfth century, terrified by the ghost of a woman he had loved and wronged. At least, the legend says so, and as the ruined ramparts are still there it is probably all quite true. On the back of the hill, where the narrow path descends from the inn to the road, the still, deep waters of the great mill pool lie stagnant in the hot air, and the long-legged water spiders shoot over the surface, inviting the old carp to snap at them, well knowing that they will not, but skimming away like mad when a mountain trout, who has strayed in from the river through the sluices, comes suddenly to the surface with a short, sharp splash. But there are flies for the trout, and he prefers them, so that the water spiders lead, on the whole, a quiet and unmolested life.

The travelers entered the inn, and were soon established for the night. Madame Patoff was still enchanted with the view, and insisted on sitting out upon the low balcony until late at night, though the air was very cool and the dampness rose from the river. There was something in the wild place which soothed her. She almost wished she could stay there forever, and hide her sorrow from the world in such a nest as this, overhanging the wild water, perched high in air, and surrounded on all sides by the soft black forest. For the Black Forest is indeed black, as only such impenetrable masses of evergreen can be.

In the early morning the tall old lady in black was again at her place on the balcony when Professor Cutter appeared. She sat by the low parapet, and gazed down as in a trance at the tumbling water, and at the solitary fisherman who stood bare-legged on a jutting rock, casting his rough tackle on the eddying stream. She was calmer than she had seemed for a long time, and the professor began seriously to doubt the wisdom of taking her to England, although he had already written to her brother-in-law, naming the date when they expected to arrive.

"Shall we go on this morning?" he asked, in a tone which left the answer wholly at Madame Patoff's decision.

"Where?" she asked, dreamily.

"Another stage on our way home," answered the professor.

"Yes," she said, with sudden determination. "If we stay here any longer, I shall be so much in love with the place that I shall never be able to leave it. Let us go at once. I feel as though something might happen to prevent us."

"Very well. I will make all the arrangements." Professor Cutter forthwith went to consult the landlord, leaving Madame Patoff upon the balcony. She sat there without moving, absorbed in the beauty of the scene, and happy to forget her troubles even for a moment in the sight of something altogether new. Her thoughts were indeed confused. It was but the day before yesterday that she had seen her son Paul after years of separation, and that alone was sufficient to disturb her. She had never liked him,-she could not tell why, except it were because she loved Alexander better,-and she could not help looking on Paul as on the man who had robbed her of what she loved best in the world. But the recollection of the interview was cloudy and uncertain. She had given way to a violent burst of anger, and was not quite sure of what had happened. She tried to thrust it all away from her weary brain, and she looked down again at the fisherman, far below. He had moved a little, and just then she could see him only through the branches of a projecting cherry-tree. He seemed to be baiting his hook for another cast in the river.

"Madame Patoff, are you quite ready?" asked the professor's voice from the window.

"Yes," she said, rising to her feet. "I am coming."

"One moment,-I am just paying the bill," answered Cutter from within; and Madame Patoff could hear the landlord counting out the small change upon a plate, the ringing silver marks and the dull little clatter of the nickel ten-pfennig pieces.

She was standing now, and she looked over the torrent at the dark forest beyond, endeavoring to fix the beautiful scene in her mind, and trying to forget her trouble. But it would not be forgotten, and as she stood up the whole scene with Paul came vividly to her mind. She remembered all her loathing for him, all the horror and all the furious anger she had felt at the sight of him. In the keen memory of that bitter meeting, rendered tenfold more vivid by the overwrought state of her brain, the blood rushed violently to her face, her head swam, and she put out her hand to steady herself, thinking there was a railing before her. But the parapet was low, scarcely reaching to her knees. She tottered, lost her balance, and with a wild shriek fell headlong into the abyss.

Cutter dropped his change and rushed frantically to the window, well-nigh falling over the low parapet himself. His face was ghastly, as he leaned far forward and looked down. Then he uttered an exclamation of terror, and seemed about to attempt to climb over the balcony. Not ten feet below him the wretched woman hung suspended in the thick branches of the wild cherry tree, caught by her clothes. Cutter breathed hard, for he had never seen so horrible a sight. At any moment the material of her dress might give way, the branches might break under the heavy strain. He looked wildly round for help. Between the balcony and the trees there were ten feet of smooth rock, which would not have given a foothold to a lizard.

"Catch hold, there!" cried a loud voice from above, and Cutter saw a new rope dangling before him into the abyss. He looked up as he seized the means of help, and saw at the upper window the square dark face of a strong man, who was clad in a flannel shirt and had a silver-mounted pipe in his mouth.

"Go ahead,-it's fast," said the man, letting out more rope. "Or if you're afraid, I'll come down the rope myself."

But Cutter was not afraid. It was the work of a moment to make a wide bowline knot in the pliant Manilla cord. With an agility which in so heavily built a frame surprised the dark man above, the doctor let himself down as far as the tree; then seizing the insensible lady firmly by the arm, and bracing himself on the roots o

f the cherry close to the rock, so that he could stand for a moment without support from above, he deftly slipped the rope twice round her waist with what are called technically two half hitches, close to his own loop, in which he intended to sit, clasping her body with his arms.

"Can you haul us up?" he shouted.

Slowly the rope was raised, with its heavy burden. The strong tourist had got help from the terrified landlord, who had followed Cutter to the balcony, but who was a stalwart Swabian, and not easily disconcerted. He had rushed up-stairs, and was hauling away with all his might. In less than a minute and a half Cutter was on a level with the balcony, and in a few seconds more he had disengaged himself and the rescued lady from the coils of the rope. It is not surprising that his first thought should have been for her, and not for the quiet man with the pipe, who had been the means of her escape. He bore Madame Patoff to her room, and with the assistance of her maid set about reviving her as fast as possible, though the perspiration streamed from his forehead, and he was trembling with fright in every limb and joint.

The tourist wound up his rope, and took his pipe from his mouth, which he had forgotten to do in the hurry of the moment. Then he slipped on an old jacket, and descended the stairs, to inquire whether he could be of any use, and whether the lady were alive or dead. He was a strongly built man, with an ugly but not unkindly face, small gray eyes, and black hair just beginning to grizzle at the temples. He was an extremely quiet fellow, and the people of the inn remarked that he gave very little trouble, though he had been at Weissenstein nearly a week. He had told the landlord that he was going to Switzerland, but that he liked roundabout ways, and was loitering along the road, as the season was not yet far enough advanced for a certain ascent which he meditated. He had nothing with him but a knapsack, a coil of rope, and a weather-beaten ice-axe, besides one small book, which he read whenever he read at all. He spoke German fluently, but said he was an American. Thereupon the landlady, who had a cousin who had a nephew who had gone to Brazil, asked the tourist if he did not know August Bürgin, and was very much disappointed to find that he did not.

The excitement outside of Madame Patoff's room was intense. But the Herr Doctor, as the landlord called Cutter, had admitted no one but the maid, and as yet had not given any news of the patient. The little group stood in the passage a long time before Cutter came out.

"She is not badly hurt," he said, and was about to re-enter the apartment, when his eye fell on the tall tourist, who, on hearing the news, had turned quickly away. Cutter went hastily after him, and, grasping his hand, thanked him warmly for his timely help.

"Don't mention it," said the stranger. "You did the thing beautifully when once you had got hold of the rope. Excuse me-I have an engagement-good-by-glad to hear the lady is not hurt." Wherewith the tourist quickly shook the professor's hand once more, and was gone before the latter could ask his name.

"Queer fellow," muttered Cutter, as he returned to Madame Patoff's side.

She was not injured, as he had at once announced, but it was impossible to say what effect the awful shock might produce upon her overwrought brain. She opened her eyes, indeed, but she did not seem to recognize any one; and when the professor asked her how she felt, in order to see if she could speak intelligibly, she laughed harshly, and turned her head away. She was badly bruised, but he could discover no mark of any blow upon the head which could have caused a suspension of intelligence. There was therefore nothing to be done but to take care of her, and if she recovered her normal health she must be removed to her home at once. All day he sat beside her bed, with the patience of a man accustomed to tend the sick, and to regard them as studies for his own improvement. Towards evening she slept, and Cutter went out, hoping to find the tourist again. But the landlord said he was gone, and as the little inn kept no book wherein strangers were asked to register their names, and as the landlord could only say that the gentleman had declared his name to be Paul, Cutter was obliged to suffer the pangs of unsatisfied curiosity.

"I am sick of the name of Paul!" exclaimed the professor, half angrily. "Is the fellow a Russian, too, I wonder? Paul, Paul,-everybody seems to be called Paul!" Therewith he turned away, and began to walk up and down before the house, lighting a cigar, and smoking savagely in his annoyance with things in general.

He was thinking that if it had been so easy for Madame Patoff to throw herself over the balcony, just when he was not looking, it was after all not so very improbable that Alexander might have slipped away from his brother in the dark. The coincidence of the two cases was remarkable. As for Madame Patoff, he did not doubt for a moment that she had intended to commit suicide by throwing herself down the precipice. According to his theory, all her calmness of yesterday and this morning, succeeding the great excitement of her meeting with Paul, proved that she had been quietly meditating death. She had escaped. But had her mind escaped the suicide she had attempted on her body? In its effects, her anger against Paul and her fixed idea concerning him were as nothing when compared with the terrible shock she had experienced that morning. It was absolutely impossible to predict what would occur: whether she would recover her faculties, or remain apathetic for the rest of her life. She was a nervous, sensitive, and overstrung woman at all times, and would suffer far more under a sudden and violent strain than a duller nature could. The view she took in regard to Alexander's disappearance proved that her faculties were not evenly balanced. Of course the story was a very queer one, and Russians are queer people, as the professor said to himself. It was not going beyond the bounds of possibility to suppose that Paul might have murdered his brother, but Cutter would have expected that Madame Patoff would be the last person to suspect it, and especially to say it aloud. The way she had raved against Paul on more than one occasion sufficiently showed that she seized at false conclusions, like a person of unsound mind. Alexander had resembled her, too, and had always acted like an irritable, beautiful, spoiled child. There was a distinct streak of "queerness," as Cutter expressed it, in the family. Probably Paul had inherited it in a different way. His conduct at Teinach, after leaving his mother, had been strange. He had shown no sorrow, scarcely any annoyance, indeed, and during their dinner had seemed thoroughly at his ease. Scientifically speaking, the professor regretted the accident of the morning. Madame Patoff had been a very interesting study so long as she was under the influence of a dominating idea. Her case might now degenerate into one of common apathy such as Cutter had seen hundreds of times. There would be nothing to be done but to try the usual methods, with the usual unsatisfactory results, abandoning her at last to the care of her relations and nurses as a hopeless idiot.

But Professor Cutter was not destined to such a disappointment. His patient recovered in a way which was new to him, and he realized that in losing his former case he had found one even more interesting. She was apathetic, indeed, in a certain degree, and did not appear to understand everything that was said to her, but this was the only sign of any degeneracy. She never again addressed by name either the professor or her maid, and never spoke except to express her wants, which she did in few words, and very concisely and correctly. Nothing would induce her, in conversation, to make any answer save a simple yes or no, and Cutter was struck by the fact that her color ceased to change when he spoke of Alexander. This, he thought, showed that she no longer associated any painful idea with the name of her lost son. But there were none of the signs of a softening brain,-no foolish ravings, nor any expressed desire to do anything not perfectly rational. She accomplished the journey with evident comfort, and was evidently delighted at the beautiful sights she saw on the way, though she said nothing, but only smiled and looked pleased. Her habitual expression was one of calm melancholy. Her features wore a sad but placid expression, and she appeared to thrive in health, and to be better than when the professor had first known her. She was more scrupulous than ever about her appearance, and there was an almost unnatural perfection in her dress and in her calm and graceful manner. Cutter was puzzled. With these symptoms he would have expected some apparent delusion on one point. But he could detect nothing of the kind, and he exhausted his theories in trying to find out what particular form of insanity afflicted her. He could see nothing and define nothing, save her absolute refusal to talk. She asked for what she wanted, or got it for herself, and she answered readily yes and no to direct questions. Gradually, as they traveled by short stages, drawing near to their destination, Cutter altogether lost the habit of talking to her, and almost ceased to notice her one peculiarity. She would sit for hours in the same position, apparently never wearied of her silence, her placid expression never changing save into a gentle smile when she saw anything that pleased her.

They reached England at last, and Madame Patoff was installed in her brother-in-law's house in the country. Cutter came frequently from town to see her, and always studied her case with new interest; but after a whole year he could detect no change whatever in her condition, and began to despair of ever classifying her malady in the scientific catalogue of his mind.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was at this point, my dear friend, that I became an actor in the story of Paul Patoff and his mother, and I will now for a time tell my tale in my own person,-in the prosaic person of Paul Griggs, with whom you are so well acquainted that you are good enough to call him your friend. To give you at once an idea of my own connection with this history, I will confess that it was I who dropped the rope out of the window at Weissenstein, as you may have already guessed from the description I have given of myself.

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