Very early the next morning Battista came to see Herr Ritter. In his hand the boy carried a large clay flowerpot, wherein, carefully planted in damp mould, and supported by long sticks set crosswise against each other, I beheld my own twining branches and pendulous tendrils; all of myself, indeed, that had been left the day before outside the cottage window. Battista bore the pot triumphantly across the room, and deposited it in the balcony under the green verandah."Ecco! Herr Ritter!" cried he, with vast delight. "You see I don't forget what you say! You told me yesterday you liked the belladonna, so when you were gone I went and dug up its root and planted it in this pot for you, that you may always keep it in your balcony, and always have a bunch to wear in your coat. Though, indeed, I can't think how you can like it; it smells so nasty! But you are a strange old darling, aren't you, Herr Ritter?"Battista had set down his pot now, and was looking into the old German's face with glistening eyes. "Child," answered the Herr, smiling very gravely and tenderly, as one may fancy that perhaps a Socrates or a Plato may have smiled sometimes; "your gift is very welcome, and I am glad to know you thought of me. These are the first flowers I have ever had in my little dark room; and as for the scent of them, you know, 'Tista, that is a matter of taste, isn't it, just like color.""Yes," quoth 'Tista, emphatically, "I like roses!"But Herr Ritter interposed hurriedly."Tista, how is your mother today?""That is one of the things I came to talk about. She is ill; too ill to rise this morning, and she wants to see you. Will you come back with me, for I think she has something particular to say to you?""Yes, 'Tista, I will come."He took down his old velvet cap from its peg behind the door, and stooping over the little glass dish in which he had placed the spray of my blossoms the preceding day, lifted me carefully out of the water, wiped the dripping stem, and fastened me in his coat again. I believe he did this to show the boy a pleasure.But a little while after this, and Herr Ritter sat again in the old wooden chair by the widow's couch. Early that morning she had written to her sister a long letter, which she now put into the old German's hands, begging him to carry it for her to the Casa d'Oro, and bring her in return whatever message or note Carlotta Nero should give him. "For," said the poor woman, with anxious eyes, and pallid lips that quivered under the burden of the words they uttered, "I do not know for how long my sister may be staying here, and perhaps I shall never meet her again. And since I am not able to go myself into the town today, and I fear to miss her, I thought, dear friend, you would not mind taking this for me; and, perhaps, if my sister should ask you anything, saying you know me, and--and--'Tista?"She faltered a little there, and the old man took her hand in his with the tender, pitying gesture we use to little children."Be at ease, dear 'Lora," he murmured, "I will bring you good news. But the hour is early yet, and if I start so soon, your sister may not be able to receive me. So I'll go back and take my cup of coffee at home before I set out."He was rising, but she laid her hand on his arm gently."Dear friend, why should you leave us? 'Tista is getting my breakfast ready now, let him get yours also."So Herr Ritter stayed, and the three had their morning meal together. There was a little loaf of coarse black bread, a tin jug filled with coffee, and some milk in a broken mug. Only that, and yet they enjoyed it, for they finished all the loaf, and they drank all the coffee and the milk, and seemed wonderfully better for their frugal symposium when 'Tista rose to clear the table. Only black bread and coffee; and yet that sorry repast was dignified with such discourse as those who sit at the tables of Dives are not often privileged to hear.For Herr Ritter was a scholar and a philosopher. He had studied from his youth the strange and growing discoveries of geology, astronomy, and chemistry; he had wrested from the bosom of Nature her most subtle secrets, and the earth and the heavens were written in a language which he understood and loved to read. I learned that he had been a student in earlier days at a German university, and had there first begun to think. From the time he was twenty, until this very hour in which he sat by the side of 'Lora Delcor, he had been thinking; and now that he had become an ancient man, with a beard of snow, and a face full of the deep furrows of a solitary old age, he was thinking still. He had given up the world in order to think, and yet, he told us, he was as far from the truth as ever, and was content to know nothing, and to be as a little child in the presence of Life and of God.And when 'Lora asked him why he had never cared to enter into the lists of argument and controversy with other learned philosophers and doctors of his time, and to make himself a name that should have been reverenced among men, he answered mildly, that he had no ambition, or if he had once had any, he had always felt the mysteries of existence too profoundly to make them stepping-stones to worldly honor. "It is impossible," he said, "that any man should be able, in this sphere of life, and under these conditions of being, to penetrate into the meaning of things,--or to touch their inmost source with fingers of flesh. All that we can attain to know is this, that we can know nothing; and the fairest answer we can give when we are questioned, is that we do not know. If, then, we know so little about life, much less can we ever hope to discern the meaning of death. And as for the lesser considerations of our daily being, what are they? Long ago I ceased to desire; ambition and love are things of the past to me."I thought the shadows of the hanging vine outside the lattice darkened over the old man's face as he spoke, and there seemed to come into his clear keen eyes a sudden mist as of tears that would not flow. Whether or not the gentle woman beside him also saw these things, I cannot tell, but when he paused she asked him softly, if his life had not been a sorrowful one? She feared he must have suffered deeply."To all of us," he answered, "life is a sorrowful thing, because to all of us it is a mystery past finding out. Have you found it sweet, Frau 'Lora? no? nor have I. But what I have lost, if indeed I lost anything, I lost not wilfully. Well,--I have realised my destiny; the meanest can do no less, the greatest can do no more.""But you withdrew yourself of your own accord from the world, dear Herr; you buried yourself in your own solitude, and kept yourself apart from the honor you might have earned by your learning in the world? You chose to be silent?""Yes," he echoed, mournfully, "I chose to be silent. Why should I have wasted my breath in idle disputation, or to what end should I have laboured to get a string of empty letters tacked to my name, like the flypapers of a boy's kite? I do not seek to be dragged back to the ground, I prefer to mount without a string. Everything we attempt to do falls short of its conception in its fulfilment. All glory is disappointment,--all success is failure; how acutely bitter, only the hero himself can know!""You lave no regrets, then, Herr Ritter?" said 'Lora, with her clear earnest gaze full upon his face."None," he answered, simply."And will you always keep silence?""Always, so far as I can see," said the old German. "There are quarrels enough in the world without my intervention, there are dogmas enough in the world without my enunciations. I do not think I should do any good by speaking to men. Could I make them any wiser, purer, gentler, truer than they are? Could I teach them to be honest in their dealings with each other, compassionate, considerate, liberal? If they have not heard the prophets, nor even the divine teacher of Nazareth, shall I be able to do them any good? Are not their very creeds pretexts for slaughter and persecution and fraud? Do they not support even their holiest truths, their sincerest beliefs, by organised systems of deceit and chicanery? Chut! I tell you that the very vesture which men compel Truth to wear, is lined and stiffened with lies! The mysteries of life are so terrible, and its sadness so profound, that blatant tongues do not become philosophers. Words only serve to rend and vex and divide us. Therefore I think it best to hide my thoughts in my heart, believing that in matters which we cannot fathom, silence is noblest; and knowing that when I say, `I am nothing, but God is all,--I am ignorant, but God is wise,'--all I am able to say is said. By-and-by, in the brighter light of a more perfect day beyond the sun, I shall see the King in His beauty, face to face; I shall know, even as I am known!""This, then," asked 'Lora, gently, "is why you gave up the world, that you might be alone?""I gave up the world, dear Frau, because I found in it all manner of oppression done in the names of justice and of Virtue. My heart turned against the Wrong, and I had no power to set it Right. The mystery of life overcame me; I refused the gold and the honours which might have been mine, if I could have been content in being dishonest. But God gave me grace to be strong, and the world cast me out of its gilded nursery. I became a man, and put away childish things."Then he rose slowly from his seat, and as he laid his hand on the door-latch, and lifted it to go out, a welcome little puff of outside air darted into the chamber, and stirred the nightshade blossoms in the breast of the old rusty coat. And I raised my dark purple head, and perceived that the mournful shadow rested again upon the face of Herr Ritter, like a cloud at sunset time, when the day that has passed away has been a day of storm.We went to the Casa d'Oro.Carlotta Nero was in her sitting-room, and would see the Herr there, said the dark-haired smiling contadina, who admitted the old German into the house. She was a native of the place, and evidently remembered him with gratitude and pleasure. So we presently found ourselves in a small well-appointed chamber, on the first floor of the Casa.On a tapestry-covered dormeuse, by the open window, and carefully protected with gauze curtains from the glare of the coming noon, reclined a handsome woman of middle age, so like, and yet so strangely unlike 'Lora Delcor, that my dusky blooms quivered and fretted with emotion, as the contadina closed the door behind us.The same delicate features, the same luxuriance of hair, but--the eyes of 'Lora! ah,--a soul, a divinity looked out of them; but in these one saw only the metallic glitter of the innkeeper's gold! They turned coldly upon Herr Ritter as he stood in the doorway, and a hard ringing utterance--again how unlike 'Lora ! for this was the dry tintinnabulation of coin--inquired his errand."Herr Ritter, I am told. You wish to speak to me?"I observed that she allowed the old man to stand while she spoke. "Yes; Signora," he answered, mildly, "I bring you this letter; may I beg you will read it now, before I go? for the writer charged me to carry back to her your answer."He drew 'Lora's note from his vest with a gesture of reverent tenderness, as though he loved the very paper his friend had touched, and were something loath to part with it to such indifferent hands and eyes as these. Carlotta Nero took it coldly, and glanced through the close-written pages with the languid air of a supercilious fine lady. Once I fancied I saw her cheek flush and her lip quiver as she read, but when she looked up again and spoke, I thought I must have been mistaken in that fancy, or else her emotion had been due to another cause than that I had imagined. For there was no change in the ungentle glittering eyes; no softening in the dry tinkle of the voice that delivered the Signora's answer."I am sorry I can do nothing for your friend. You will tell her I have read her letter, and that I leave this place tomorrow morning."She inclined her head as she said this, I suppose by way of indication that the Herr might accept his dismissal; and laid the letter on an ebony console beside her sofa. But the old German kept his ground."Signora," he said, tremulously, and my blossoms thrilled through all their delicate fibres with the indignant beating of his heart; "do you know that letter comes from your sister? That she is poor, in want, widowed, and almost dying?"Carlotta Nero lifted her pencilled eyebrows."Indeed?" she said. "I am pained to hear it. Still I cannot do anything for her. You may tell her so." "Signora, I beg you to consider. Will you suffer the--the fault of ten years ago to bear weight upon your sisterly kindness,--your human compassion and sympathy, now?""Excuse me, Herr Ritter, I think you are talking romance. I have no sisterly kindness, no compassion, no sympathy, for any one of--of this description."She motioned impatiently towards the letter on the console; and I thought she spoke the truth.Her Ritter was speechless."Dolores chose her own path," said the innkeeper's wife, seeing that her visitor still waited for something more, "and she has no right to appeal to me now. She disgraced herself deliberately, and she must take the consequences of her own act. I will not move a finger to help her out of a condition into which she wilfully degraded herself, in spite of my most stringent remonstrances. All imprudence brings its own punishment,--and she must bear hers as other foolish people have to do. She is not the only widow in the world, and she might be worse off than she is; a great deal.""I am to tell her this"--asked Herr Ritter, recovering himself with a prodigious effort "from you?""As you please," returned the great lady, still in the same indifferent tone. "It will be useless for her to call here, I cannot see her; and besides, I leave tomorrow with my husband."Again she bowed her head, and this time Herr Ritter obeyed the signal. I felt his great liberal heart heaving,--thump, thump, under the lapel of the old rusty coat; but I breathed my spirit into his face, and he said no more as he turned away than just a formal "Buon giorno, Signora.""Silence is best," I whispered.