Lucas Tilmann did everything he could for his patients. He made use of the latest research, including Dr. Freud’s work on dreams. But he couldn’t help the most difficult cases — until a mysterious visitor arrived . . .

Dr. Tilmann’s Consultant:
A Scientific Romance

by Cherry Wilder

A Strange Occurrence in Austria
Photo illustration by Robert K. J. Killheffer. Images: zych / 123RF Stock Photo (church) and Vadim Sadovski forplayday / 123RF Stock Photo (meteor).

Above the grove of pines there was one lone chalet where Dr. Tilmann sometimes lodged a special patient. During the summer of 1913, when Rosalind accompanied the Ostrov family to Bavaria for the second time, there was a young woman in the annex. An Englishwoman, declared Marie-Louise Ostrova excitedly; exquisitely beautiful and mad as a bird. She could sometimes be heard in the night, playing the harmonium. Rosalind expressed mild disapproval of this gossip, as a governess should. Marie-Louise had made friends with a little nurse who spoke French. Rosalind did not believe that this was at all the place for a lively child of thirteen but the trials of the Ostrov family were such that there seemed to be no help for it.

St. Verena’s Hospital specialized in nervous complaints of the European aristocracy; Dr. Lucas Tilmann had recently taken over from his father, Professor Dr. Wilhelm Tilmann. The old man still wore a frock coat, a cravat, and the kind of high stiff collar called in German a vatermörder, a father-murderer. Many of the gentlemen about at the time did so, too, but the Junior Chief, Dr. Lucas, was a dress reformer who went about in a soft collar and a lightweight jacket of beige linen.

The Ostrov family came ostensibly for the Countess Valeria’s nerves but really it was for poor Leonid, the only son, who was losing his reason. Besides being unfortunate, charming, cultivated, and in decline, the family were so astonishingly rich that they had retained an important French specialist at the estate on the Black Sea for the winter. On Christmas Eve, the anniversary of the general’s death, Leonid made another attempt, this time from his balcony, and poor Dr. Patin restrained him at the cost of a broken arm. Rosalind dared not reveal much of what she experienced during these years to her widowed mother in Cheltenham.

One evening, after a long day with the countess during her hydrotherapy, Rosalind followed a path up into the pines to her own favorite retreat. It was a clearing in the wood with a rustic bench and a wayside shrine which contained not a carved wooden saint but an icon of St. George, painted on metal. Many Russian families patronized St. Verena’s; they valued its discretion as well as its natural beauty. Rosalind could sit on the bench and look out to the ranks of the mountains or down to the village. Overhead the annex was visible among the trees and an even higher mountain meadow, bathed in bright sunlight.

There was a rustling in the bushes: she thought of a pair of marmots or even a deer. In fact it was a young woman, of about Rosalind’s own age, dressed in a gray silk dress of “reformed” cut. Her poor stockinged feet were stained and hurt, her golden hair stood out round her pale face in a cloud and hung in long, ragged elf-locks down past her hips; leaves and pine needles had caught in it.

Rosalind understood the situation at once. She rose up, took the patient’s arm, and said: “Let me help you!”

“You are English!” whispered the girl. “Oh please . . .

“Sit here with me,” said Rosalind. “Let me brush your poor hair.”

She had a large bag of toilet articles which she had carried with her from the bathhouse: the girl turned her head obediently and Rosalind went to work with professional skill.

“You have an English touch,” said the girl. “My body is covered from head to foot with the imprint of his fingers.”

“Hush,” said Rosalind gently.

“He comes to me at night,” continued the girl. “All the poor Doctor’s beastly medicines can’t make me sleep. I wake up, very hot and wet under the horrid German feather bed and there is Teddy, my darling Teddy . . .

Rosalind began to plait the magnificent fall of golden hair into a loose braid. She turned her head and saw Dr. Lucas Tilmann emerge from the bushes warily, as if stalking a butterfly. The mad girl had not seen him but her mood had altered; she began to weep, pouring out a stream of confused regrets and sorrows. She would never be well, she was imprisoned, the wretched little harmonium was out of tune, her mother was cruel, the swans had all flown away from the lake . . . Teddy knew what she should do and she had tried, more than once, but it was too difficult, the guns hurt her fingers.

“Oh no,” said Rosalind softly, “you must never do that. Never try to hurt yourself.”

She fastened the enormous Rapunzel braid of hair with a pink ribbon from her bag. Dr. Tilmann drew closer and said cautiously: “Miss Courtney . . . Maud?”

The patient screamed aloud; before she could spring up Rosalind put her arms around her firmly.

“No,” she said. “Please, Maud dear. Please be good! Dr. Tilmann will give you a nice cup of tea . . . see, he has brought your slippers. How kind . . .

A nurse appeared now on the path from the annex and a young intern, Dr. Daniel, alerted by telephone, came running up from the hospital. Maud Courtney was docile again; her slippers were put on, she was led away down the hill to the main building. Lucas Tilmann accompanied the party a little way then rejoined Rosalind in the clearing.

“Miss — Lane? I am deeply indebted . . .

“Poor thing,” said Rosalind. “I hope that she . . .

He sat down beside her on the bench and covered his face with his hands.

“The prognosis,” he said, after a few seconds, “is not good.”

“She spoke of someone called Teddy . . . ,” prompted Rosalind.

“Her brother died in the Punjab,” sighed Dr. Tilmann. “She has never been told.”

“Dr. Tilmann,” said Rosalind, “what is the matter with the poor girl? What would you call her — disorder?”

“A retreat from the world,” he said. “Bleuler has characterized it as schizophrenie. I swear to you, Miss Lane, I would give my life, I would make any Faustian bargain if I might effect an improvement, a cure, in some of these patients. . . .

The season was nearly at an end; Leonid Ivanovitch agreed to remain in St. Verena’s for the winter months. Rosalind was the last member of the Ostrov family party to speak to the young man; they walked in the orangerie, speaking in a mixture of English and French.

“I know it is my nose,” said Leonid. “It still bothers me a good deal. Chère Rosaline, take care of my mother, see to the butterfly collection, I have left a box of swaps for the Nabokov boys. . . . The voices will keep me informed. I am quite happy here. Dr. Lucas loves you, did you know that?”

“You are exaggerating, I think,” said Rosalind, with a smile.

She had dined twice with Lucas Tilmann and driven as far as Berchtesgarten in his new Daimler Landaulet. Leonid was very upset by her mild deprecation and fell into a brooding silence, picking at the spots on his face. An attendant lurked behind the orange trees in their tubs. Leonid was twenty-eight years old and unfit for military service.

The winter passed quietly on the estate: before she was too deeply involved in the amateur theatricals and the ball season word came that her mother was very ill. The Countess managed to obtain a passage for Rosalind on a steam yacht, the Nereid, owned by a consortium of Greek-Americans, which sailed from the port of Odessa. She arrived home at the quiet, dark house near the Thirlestaine Road, and took over the nursing of her mother shortly after Christmas.

She sat by the bed in the darkened room and told endless tales of the wonders that she had seen. Clothes and jewels; the opera and the ballet; the country estates; priests, monks, holy icons. Father Fyodor, the Ostrov chaplain, sent a small one which Mrs. Lane held between her thin fingers on top of the eiderdown. She became upset when Rosalind touched on mutiny, civil commotion, the Ostrov cousin Kyril, who had joined a revolutionary cell at university and been exiled to the district of Irkutsk.

Rosalind knew what her mother wished to hear, though reason had told them both when she took the post as governess to the Ostrovs that she would not meet eligible men. Now, to please the dying woman, she went so far as to claim that she had an understanding, with a doctor, Lucas Tilmann, at the alpine clinic. He had indeed sent her a card, with a charming letter and a lace-edged handkerchief, which arrived with the Ostrovs’ Christmas box, in January.

Mrs. Lane lingered until the summer, passed away in her sleep at the end of May; Rosalind went about in the dark house setting everything in order. She had cheated, sold the family silver, so that she was able to pay off the remaining maidservant and keep a nest-egg for herself. The house went, lock, stock, and barrel, to her nephew, Richard. She waited for the expected summons and set out in June, traveling across Europe to meet the Ostrov family party at St. Verena’s hospital on the Altalm, the old alpine meadow, near Mariensee.

She arrived at four o’clock when all the guests who were able to enjoyed pastries and English tea — as opposed to the Russian tea, which was swilled all day long — on the terraces. Rosalind hesitated in the shadowy entrancehall, putting off the first encounter with the Ostrov family, who would be sure to weep, even if she did not. She had her luggage sent up to the suite and strolled through to the terrace unbuttoning her gloves. A sweet English voice spoke her name as she stepped out into the sunshine: “Miss Lane?”

It was a stranger, or at least someone half-known, a young blonde woman with her hair in a pompadour. She took Rosalind’s hand and gazed into her face, smiling.

“I have a message from the Countess Ostrova.”

The family were out driving, would not return until later. The young woman still did not say her name but they sat down together at her table.

“I have to thank you,” she said, with that very steady gaze. “I remember how you helped me once.”

Rosalind was on the verge of recognition but she simply could not believe what she saw.

“My name is Maud Courtney,” said the young woman.

Rosalind felt her first astonishment turning at once to relief and pleasure.

“But you are . . .

“Yes! I have recovered. It is a miracle. . . .

She spoke quietly, with a glance at the surrounding tables where English was not being spoken.

“A new treatment from Dr. Tilmann,” said Maud.

It was all she said; they moved on to ordinary conversation, which was pleasant for Rosalind after her long journey. She did not have to explain her black clothes: the Ostrovs had already mentioned her bereavement to Miss Courtney, who offered her sympathy. Another sign of her normality: one shielded patients from harsh reality, from death, sickness, financial disasters.

“My brother, Edward,” said Maud, “was killed two years ago in India.”

Rosalind expressed sympathy in her turn.

The Ostrov family had taken a new suite of rooms in the west wing of the sanitarium. There was only one new Russian servant, a mere boy, with silky whiskers, playing cards with the little French nurse, Sister Clotilde, the friend of Marie-Louise. It was all so different from the musky headachy atmosphere of other years that she wondered if there had been some change in the family fortunes. Had terrible old Great-Uncle Paul given up the palace in Moscow at last? Had the Countess, at last, taken a lover?

There was plenty of time before the family returned, young Vasily informed her, dealing another hand, so she went out of doors again. She found herself climbing up through the pines to her precious clearing and admitted, with a smile, that she was eager to meet Lucas Tilmann, hear from his own lips the news of his miracle cure.

It was a perfect summer evening; the highest peaks of the mountains were caught in bright rays of sunlight, not yet tinged with pink or red. The whisper and fragrance of the friendly pines sank into her soul; she was free from care, freed from the bonds of her dark English house at last. She sank on to the rustic bench. Across the glade in a patch of sunlight was a circus wagon, brightly painted in green and gold. A stocky yellowish horse, with fringed hooves like a Clydesdale, grazed nearby and a cauldron simmered over a fire. As she watched, a bearded man in a fur hat came out to smoke his pipe on the steps of the wagon. Gypsies of course, Russian or Russianized gypsies of the kind who turned up in the stable yard at the feast of the Epiphany with a hurdy-gurdy and a dancing bear.

Rosalind did not rest long, but set out again up a pathway to the annex. She looked back and saw that the gypsy now stood by the campfire facing up the hill, one hand raised above his head. A feeling of exquisite well-being grew upon her as she came up to the large chalet . . . the air of the mountains, the spring bubbling beneath the ferns, the flowers that cascaded from the window boxes, oh, these were all miraculous. If the doctor had appeared at that moment she might have flung herself into his arms.

An older nurse, Sister Luise, came bustling out on to the porch and Rosalind could see that she was somehow — transformed. She looked like a nun who had seen a vision. . . . She was sharing the extraordinary euphoria that Rosalind felt growing upon her as she came up the path.

“Oh, Fräulein!” said Sister Luise. “Oh you have come back! The doctor will be so pleased!”

“Is he . . . ?”

“No, he is not here!” said Sister Luise quickly.

She turned her head and looked back into the dark doorway of the annex. Rosalind had the absurd notion that this euphoria came from the chalet; it was streaming out like a golden mist from someone — from a presence inhabiting the simple, spotless rooms. She felt a deep twang of anxiety.

“He is coming up the hill!” said Sister Luise. “If you take the path by the larch trees . . .

She pointed, smiling; Rosalind smiled, too, and went obediently down that path. It seemed that at a certain point, under the first of the larches, she escaped some happy influence and was completely herself again. She stood still and presently Lucas Tilmann came hurrying up toward her. At the sight of him she was overwhelmed by a tumult of feelings: pleasure, anxiety, irritation, loving care. She went forward and grasped his hands and could only say: “What is it? What is it?”

“Oh Rosalind!” he said, ignoring her question. “Oh my dear girl! I have missed you so much!”

She allowed him to kiss her and then kissed him back with more enthusiasm than she had expected in herself. They held each other close under the larch trees and she found herself wondering if the needles clung to fabric when one lay down. Lucas drew back, smiling, and led her on down the path back to the clearing; they sat on another bench and she patted her hair. The Russian gypsy had disappeared into his caravan. The tops of the mountains had turned to gold.

“Lucas,” she said, “there is something . . .

There was something about Lucas himself; he was full of contained excitement.

“You spoke to Maud Courtney!” he brought out.

“Yes, it is remarkable,” she said. “It is a miracle. What is the new treatment?”

“I can’t tell you just yet,” he said. “It is a completely new technique for dealing with certain cases. It is still in the experimental stage and must be kept absolutely secret.”

She was already trying to rationalize her feelings of euphoria up at the chalet: the rare mountain air, love, the aftermath of her long journey. But some core of strangeness remained.

“Lucas,” she asked. “Is there a patient up in the annex?”

“Yes,” he said. “And I cannot say another word. I rely on your absolute discretion.”

“Of course.”

“Rosalind,” he said, “I want you to help me.”

“Anything . . .

“I want you to observe Leonid Ostrov, tonight when they come back from Bad Reichenhall.”

“They took him for an outing?”

“To a concert in the park. A program of operatic airs.”

“Leonid must be doing very well!”

At last she put two and two together.

“Does this mean that he has been given the new treatment?”

The doctor put his finger to his lips and looked round warily at the twilit glade.

“There has been a dramatic improvement,” he said in a low voice, “but I am wary of a relapse, of unexpected side effects. In particular I wonder how much he remembers or purports to remember of the treatment sessions at the annex.”

“Should I ask him?” she said.

“No,” said Lucas. “I know that he regards you as a trusted member of his family entourage. See what he comes out with.”

Hospital routine reclaimed the doctor; he looked at his silver watch.

“I shall be late, like the White Rabbit,” he said. “Come . . .

They walked hand in hand down a shady path and kissed under several chosen trees. They arranged to meet in the grove after luncheon next day and parted in a back corridor of the main building that smelled of carbolic.

Rosalind set out for the west wing again and found it ringing with music and song. A clear tenor voice was singing together with a rich contralto, the countess herself: the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore. Besides the piano accompaniment the sounds of balalaika and mandolin could be distinguished.

When she entered the salon she received a rapturous welcome from the Ostrov family: the countess embraced her, weeping and laughing; Marie-Louise sprang up from the piano bench. They led her up to Leonid, who was changed, as remarkably as Maud Courtney: he was clear-skinned, vigorous, with a direct gaze. He had been singing with his mother. Now Rosalind was pressed to join in and sing of the happy life of the roving gypsy with Marie-Louise thumping the keys, the countess playing her mandolin, and young Vasily the balalaika. Even the coachman had been pressed into service, striking the fender with the poker for the clang of the anvils.

She registered, dispassionately, that the Ostrovs were the nicest, most lovable human beings that she was ever likely to meet; if she could never completely approve of them the fault lay in her own prejudices, her own upbringing. Dinner was sent up and afterward they played cards. Rosalind gave everyone the presents she had brought and began to persuade Marie-Louise to think about bedtime. Leonid called her out onto the balcony to watch the stars; she found him staring raptly at the sky above the mountains.

“Look!” he said. “There is the Great Bear!”

He turned to her eagerly and came to the point.

“You can see I’m better,” he said. “A new treatment . . .

“I’m so happy for you, Leonid, and for your mother!”

“I’m so much better we thought of sending for Irina Fedorona,” he brought out. “But the news from Serbia is unsettling.”

Leonid had been betrothed for five years to a beautiful cousin; they had almost given up hope. Rosalind had heard of the assassination in Sarajevo but rumors of war were mixed up in her mind with riot and civil strife in Odessa, with embarrassing defeats in the Sea of Japan. She could not think of a war that interfered with Irina Fedorona’s travel plans.

“I was right about one thing!” exclaimed Leonid. “The doctor does love you, chère Rosaline.”

She felt herself blushing but could not put him off.

“Perhaps he does.”

“Has he spoken of the new treatment at all?”

“Only to say it must be kept secret,” she said. “I am sure only the patients concerned and their immediate families . . .

“Did Dr. Tilmann say that a new and special kind of hypnosis is used?”

“No,” said Rosalind. “Really we have not discussed —”

He still could not let her finish; he was carried away.

“One side effect of the treatment can be vivid dreams and visions that — that purport to explain the patient’s situation.”

“But surely the dream theory comes from Vienna,” she said. “Lucas — the doctor has already made some use of it.”

“I was healed by a holy man, a starets, or even a shaman,” said Leonid Ostrov, bluntly. “He came from the woods and forests of my native land.”

“But you know it is a dream,” she said. “A metaphor . . .

“The holy man bore the features of a bear,” said Leonid, raising his head again to the constellations overhead in the clear night sky. “He spoke to me in the language of bears. He entered my mind, filled my whole being, filled me with pure joy, pure love.”

Rosalind was momentarily filled with unreason: she felt again the sensation of euphoria that had seized her as she approached the chalet; she thought of the secret “patient” who lived there and of Sister Luise’s shining look. One of her best qualifications for work as a governess or companion was an ability to keep a straight face.

“That is a beautiful healing dream,” she said to Leonid. “Why, you could write a poem or folktale — like your cousin, Prince Azlov.”

Leonid burst out laughing at the very idea.

“Poor old Kyril Mihailovitch is using his folklore to keep himself from revolutionary thoughts over there in Irkutsk or wherever he is.”

They were called to join in the game of whist: nothing indicated more clearly that Leonid was healed than his ability to play cards again. The countess herself was no match for her son. The doors onto the balcony were still open and the scent of the woods and the summer fields drifted in upon them. The scene imprinted itself upon Rosalind’s memory, a palimpsest of this last innocent summer.

She had reached St. Verena’s on the 30th of June, 1914. Every day following her return brought Europe and the assorted Europeans gathered in the hospital closer to war. She noted carefully in her journal the affecting scenes in which patients had to be removed from care and made ready for travel. The first Russians fled before the Austrian ultimatum to Serbia and some were forced to return. Travel through the Balkan states had become too disturbed; the way back into the mother country led over Berlin.

Rosalind was filled with unrest: she had seldom felt a strong personal preference about where she spent her life with the Ostrovs but now she wanted very badly to remain at St. Verena’s, to remain close to Lucas Tilmann. She perceived a conflict approaching: between love, yes, love at last, and duty. It was against this darkening background and in this state of internal tension that she became one of the initiates. After the fifth of July she made no more notes, no more entries at all in her journal — the equivalent of a stunned silence and a ban of absolute secrecy.

It began with a long talk in their enchanted glade; Lucas was speaking of natural history, cosmology, the place of the earth in the universe. Rosalind believed that he was leading up to a confession of his religious belief, or rather his lack of it, his rationalism. He was dismayed that she had not really got on to an English writer, Wells, and she was not game enough to confide that it was one of those ridiculous class things. He was surely an awfully common little man, a counter-jumper, as her mother would have said, and she did not trust his fantastic stories.

They sat there talking until the stars came out and lamps were lit in the hospital down below. The gypsies were at the cooking place outside their caravan and the man’s wife crossed the glade with two tiny cups of warm spirit, which they obediently tossed off. Lucas began to question Rosalind about poor Prince Azlov, spending his Siberian exile in the neighborhood of Irkutsk.

“Does he write of — cosmic events?” he asked. “Falling stars?”

“You mean meteorites?” said Rosalind. “Yes of course. And there was an especially large one a few years ago, before I came to Russia. Kyril Mihailovitch believed there should have been a scientific expedition — but there it is. The district where it fell, the taiga, is unbearably remote. . . . ”

“Six years ago,” said Lucas. “Come, let us go up to the annex. My patient will be awake now.”

He took her by the hand and they walked briskly up the path to the annex. At some point, more than halfway there, the extraordinary sensation began again; she had not imagined it. Rosalind found that she experienced it a little differently this second time because she knew that it was somehow outside herself, streaming out of the chalet like golden mist.

“You feel the influence, then,” said Lucas.

He turned her toward him, unsmiling, and took her pulse. She might have burst out again, questioning, but he put his finger to his lips. They went up the steps and Lucas Tilmann said loudly in Russian: “I am here and I have brought my sweetheart, the English girl.”

From the largest bedroom, at the back of the house, there came a curious sound. Rosalind trembled; only the grip Lucas had upon her arm and the reassuring waves of serenity and well-being kept her from crying out. She thought of Leonid’s tale: “a starets, a holy man . . .

The back bedroom was very dark and filled with a distinctive odor, the natural smell of a warm body, as a stable smelled of horses or a railway carriage of human sweat. She fixed her eyes upon the dark shape in the large carved bedstead among the tumbled featherbeds. A voice, hoarse and resonant, dropping words like stones into a mountain pool, said in Russian, “Do not be afraid.”

Her eyes were becoming accustomed to the gloom and she was accustomed, certainly, to men who grew luxuriant hair and beards, but the large head propped on the pillows was — unusual. Then Lucas Tilmann drew back a corner of the window curtains, a ray of light penetrated the dark chamber, and Rosalind found that she had been addressed by a bear.

No,” continued the voice. “Everyone thinks that, chère Rosaline. Come closer. Do not be afraid.”

She could not speak but a profound curiosity, stronger than her fear, led her closer to the bed. She was, after all, the child of a medical officer and the grandchild of an explorer. Rosalind saw what could not be believed, she saw a large furred head, bearlike indeed, but without a bear’s snout. The fur — black, brown, and gold — grew very flat and soft around the large yellow eyes, thicker on the wide dewlaps; the small roundish ears twitched, all alert. She saw dark lips working under a drooping fringe of hair.

Give me your hand. . . .

She saw that the hand which took hers was four-fingered, covered with finest tawny fur, the long digits closing in pairs like pincers. She heard her own voice whispering urgently: “What? Where?”

“We have evolved a formula together,” said Lucas Tilmann, at her side. “Our honored guest is the inhabitant of another world, one of the planets revolving around a distant sun.”

In fact the whole question of provenance had been reduced to a series of simple formulae, which she heard in turn from Lucas and from the guest.

“A civilization which has progressed in mechanical sciences . . .

A cosmic vessel on a first circumnavigation of the Earth, experiencing engine failure . . .

“An escape mechanism meant to propel survivors to safety in small rescue craft . . .

I am alone,” said the guest, filling Rosalind with an aching loneliness. “My poor comrades have slid into the depths of Lake Baikal, in our little nutshell.”

At last the significance of the meteorites, of Lake Baikal, near Irkutsk, all came to her — the traveler had come down in Siberia, whose cold wastes were separated from this place, the Altalm, by thousands of miles.

“How did — our friend — get here?”

She asked this clutching Lucas’s arm for support but never taking her eyes from the stranger’s face.

“The power of the mind,” said Lucas Tilmann. “Isn’t that so, Medvekhin?”

She was glad that the guest had been given a name, even an Earthly one; Medvekhin was one of the Russian surnames related to the word for bear. Yet she could not make much sense of the answer Lucas had given to her question, and Medvekhin understood this.

“I persuaded the inhabitants to understand my situation and to help me.”

There was a trace of understatement in all of Medvekhin’s explanations. Rosalind was able to picture the scenes of the journey afterward, when she was no longer in the presence of the guest. But she understood at once that the “persuasion” was inescapable: the lake fisherman and his family, the peddler-woman, the bee-keeper, the exiled students, the telegraph operator — they had no choice. The sweet influence, the power of this mind, was compelling: Rosalind experienced a moral revulsion and this aroused a protest.

“I chose self-preservation,” said Medvekhin humbly. “No other way but this ‘persuasion’ was open to me. None of these chosen helpers came to the least harm, only brought this Lost One a certain distance upon its way.”

“Right here! To your haven!” said Lucas heartily.

“What sort of place or person were you looking for?” asked Rosalind.

“A healer. A doctor who might understand my plight,” replied Medvekhin. “A mountain, where the air is not so rich . . .

The odyssey had included a few minor officials, many humble folk; after three years in Siberia and almost three more in the Urals, near a telegraph station, Medvekhin came upon Kaspar, the gypsy, and his wife Marja. At one time they had traveled with a real bear, whom they loved and mourned when it died, long after its dancing days were over. More than once Medvekhin had worn poor Prince’s muzzle and cowered in the shadows of the wagon while some official glanced at him. Kaspar taught his new companion to make bearlike noises.

Already they knew their goal: the estate personnel of a rich mill-owner in the region of Tyumen brought forth the name of the Doctors Tilmann, senior and junior, and the alpine clinic of St. Verena. It seemed the ideal place for Medvekhin who had by now a good command of Russian and a smattering of German and English. . . .

As the story was told Rosalind found another most important question and asked it at once rather than have the stranger pluck it from her mind. Lucas chuckled when she was so direct.

“We are accustomed to distinguish between the two sexes,” she said. “The males and the females. How is this arranged among your race?”

“A little differently,” came the reply. “It is not an out and out dichotomy. More choice is involved.”

“And you, yourself?” she pursued.

“I could be described as a neuter-worker, like a honeybee,” replied Medvekhin, “adapted for travel among the star systems. I have accepted the use of the masculine or the neuter pronoun. I have done this because of certain problems of status and dominance which I discovered adhering to the feminine pronoun.”

Rosalind tried to keep separate in her mind all that she learned directly from this being, from Medvekhin, and things that were reported by Lucas, by Sister Luise, and by Kaspar. What remained wonderfully clear was the buoyant atmosphere of those numbered days and nights. When Lucas described the chance encounter with Maud Courtney, the marvelous consequences, she had questions: Was the effect intentional? Had Medvekhin meant to heal the young woman?

“From a certain point in our encounter yes, of course,” replied Medvekhin. “There are close analogies between certain aspects of the human brain and the brain of the Akuine.”

Words, concepts, pictures from the other world were not very numerous and mostly dealt with things that were like, not unlike. There was, for example, a relationship between Lucas Tilmann’s profession and the work of Medvekhin aboard the large vessel that had been lost. The Akuine race, endowed with such intense, richly orchestrated mind-powers, became untuned under the stress of star voyaging. Medvekhin could have been described, like Lucas Tilmann, as an alienist.

Rosalind was disturbed by the way the patients were made to forget their healing encounter. But this was no more than a demonstration of the way in which Medvekhin had survived — leaving behind a swathe of forgetfulness from Lake Baikal to the Alps. Now Lucas had been brought into cahoots with his guest, when he put forward the story of “a new treatment involving hypnosis.”

“I had to try it,” said Lucas. “When I saw the improvement in Maud Courtney . . . She had been slipping away, approaching catatonia. Now she became well before my eyes and she remembered nothing.”

He had brought only six patients into the presence of Medvekhin; all had been diagnosed as suffering from the constellation of disorders that was beginning to be called schizophrenie. All were healed after application of Akuine “mind power”; a couple of the patients retained some memory of the treatment. A German woman believed that in her hypnotic trance she walked through the woods and talked to the animals. Leonid Ivanovitch Ostrov had a dream encounter with a starets, a holy man, who came to him in the guise of a bear. Rosalind never knew the name of the German woman or of the other patients besides Miss Courtney and Count Ostrov who had received this unique treatment.

Medvekhin had no impulse to write down or dictate notes; he enquired for methods of recording information that existed, perhaps, in the distant laboratories of the Edison Company but were by no means in common use. Lucas recorded dialogues with their guest and his own conclusions in a thick black notebook, illustrated with his own sketches, which he wrote up privately, out of Medvekhin’s presence.

He understood Rosalind’s reservations about the treatment and the silence that hedged it. But the mere existence of this being could overwhelm all human judgment. What was to be done? Men of science, civil authorities . . . surely they must be informed?

They sat whispering madly in the room of the chalet furthest from the large bedroom where Medvekhin was sleeping.

“Whatever our friend believes,” she said, reassuring Lucas, “traces of the large vessel must be found, eventually, even in the remote forests of the taiga. The matter will be out of our hands. . . .

The survivor had been scarcely able to find words to describe the nature of the explosion that marked the disintegration of his “Life Ship.” Now Lucas took Rosalind’s cold hands and confided the saddest fact of all. Medvekhin, who had been in his care for six months, might not live long. Internal injury was suspected; even mountain air did not suit the patient in the long run.

Dr. Tilmann could not neglect his duties, these consisting more and more of seeing patients off, closing down the facilities of St. Verena’s Hospital, on the eve of what came to be called the Great War. Rosalind was busy packing for the Ostrov family. Yet every day they snatched certain hours in the annex, high up among the pines. In these evening hours Medvekhin preferred to sleep. Lucas and Rosalind moved to that distant room, intended as a servant’s bedroom, and there made love. This was that last golden summer of which poets were to speak. These were the last days, a time of wonders. . . .

On July 29th, after the Austrians had attacked Serbia and the Tsar had ordered mobilization, the Ostrov family set off for Berlin. The train was packed with Russians intent on outrunning the German declaration of war. Rosalind sat dry-eyed, handing the countess her smelling salts; Leonid Ivanovitch was cheerful and inspired, eager to return to his betrothed and to his regiment. Everyone on the train — the Russians, the English students, the French maid, the German officers clanking past — insisted that “it would be over by Christmas.”

Rosalind shut her eyes and fell into a dreamlike recollection of her last interview with Medvekhin. She saw the extraordinary, wise face, the yellow eyes, the billowing “Russian blouse” of yellow silk which covered the muscular, furred, upper body. They sat alone; Sister Luise was in the kitchen preparing the vegetable soup on which the patient subsisted; Lucas had not yet come to the evening rendezvous. The wooden shutters were flung wide and the back window open, showing the sunlit mountainside.

They spoke of the impending war. Medvekhin turned from gazing at the path winding up to the high meadow and made a curious pronouncement: “Where millions die for insufficient reasons perhaps this is in itself a reason not to live.”

Rosalind was shocked but she managed to hide it. She had become better and better at hiding her thoughts and feelings from the patient. She wondered if it had to do with poor Medvekhin’s failing health.

“I accept one sufficient reason to die,” she said, “namely that one has grown very old and come to the end of a life span. Is that so with the Akuine?”

“No,” said Medvekhin. “Once again the parallels are inexact. There is the possibility of mind-conservation and rebirth. Let us talk of something less embarrassing.”

“I will be returning to Russia with the Ostrov family,” she said.

“Your last visit, chère Rosaline?”

A twitch of the fine drooping hair about the mouth.

“No, not quite,” she smiled and lied with perfect composure. “I will be here tomorrow morning.”

Soon afterward Lucas arrived and the sister came in with the patient’s food. Lucas sat down at the harmonium and they entertained Medvekhin with dinner music. Rosalind sang “Auld Lang Syne”; she was aware that none of the listeners felt the powerful associations of the song as she did. Later that evening she walked back to the hospital with Lucas for the last time and they went over their brave plans for letters, for their next meeting, when everything was over. She expressed her hopes for Medvekhin and for Europe, for mankind. Yet she carried in her sewing bag Dr. Lucas Tilmann’s black notebook, which she had stolen from the tangle of books at his bedside, and she made sure never to come within range of their cosmic guest next day. Her memory, at least, would survive the encounter with Medvekhin . . .

When she opened her eyes again the countess was gazing at her with sad concern. The family was well aware that she was being parted from her sweetheart by the approaching conflict, but Rosalind was able to reassure the countess, later on. No, she was not expecting a child. The idea of being pregnant and unwed among the Ostrovs was not as frightful as that of being in the same situation, for instance, in Cheltenham. She began to see it as an alternative life, something that might have happened. Lucas had given her a beautiful ring with an emerald, the gift of a grateful patient, but she wore it on a chain around her neck, under her blouse. It was evening of the first day; Munich, Nuremberg lay behind them; they were approaching Leipzig.

Cities of Old Europe were left behind: Berlin, Stettin, Danzig, Konigsberg . . . and at last Minsk, after the railway gauge broadened and the travelers lost a number of days by returning to the Julian calendar.

“We are traveling back into the past,” said Leonid wearily.

“Believe me, dear child,” said his mother, “horse-drawn carriages were much worse.”

“Perhaps one day,” said Rosalind, “we will fly from place to place.”

“As angels?” teased Marie-Louise.

“No of course not!” said Rosalind, laughing. “In flying-machines!”

“Futuristic thinking,” said Leonid, “is subversive. Kyril, our revolutionary, hopes that none of the empires will survive this war.”

At last they reached their destination: Rosalind helped the countess up the steps of the palace in Moscow, where they took refuge with Great-Uncle Paul, pleading the fortunes of war.

The season was late spring but the weather in the Alps was chill and changeable. Rosalind drove up from the station wrapped in a treasured Russian coat that reached to her ankles. She was exhausted from journeying, drained of hope. The familiar trees on the avenue filled her with a painful expectation — Oh Lucas, oh my love! — but she could not help noticing that the driveway was neglected. A few patients were on the terrace and she saw at once that they were veterans: “wounded soldiers.”

In the hall she found a village girl mopping the marble floor. A gruff old orderly did not remember her but he became excited when she asked for Dr. Lucas Tilmann.

“The English girl!” he cried. “Are you . . . ?”

Rosalind did not like “making herself known” but felt it necessary.

“I am Miss Lane, Dr. Tilmann’s verlobte, his betrothed!” she announced.

Old Fritz was already hurrying her off to the oberin, the matron. He flung open the double doors to the matron’s parlor and cried out: “She has come! Fraulein Lane, his English girl!”

Dr. Daniel, the intern, came toward her with outstretched hands and the new oberin, rustling from behind her desk, was Sister Luise. Rosalind, trembling, could not hold back any longer: “Oh tell me!” she cried. “What has happened to Lucas Tilmann? Is he here?”

“Yes, he is here!” soothed Dr. Daniel, smiling.

“We were to be married! I sent telegrams, letters . . .

“Hush! He will be all right!” said the Frau Oberin. “Now that you are here.”

“I have heard nothing for five years — since 1915!”

They sat her down with a reviving little glass of herbal schnapps and began to explain. Lucas Tilmann was a convalescent, one of the “wounded soldiers,” discharged seven months ago from an orthopedic ward in Munich; he had lost his left leg at the knee when a field lazaret caught a shell on the Somme.

That was really not all of it, she could see. Dr. Daniel spoke of trauma, from the battlefield; she first heard from him the English word shell shock. The former director sat alone in a darkened room. . . .

“Please! I must go to him at once!”

Dr. Daniel hurried off to prepare Lucas for a visitor. Rosalind knew that there was still more to tell, concerning the hospital itself; but now that she was alone with the frau oberin she blurted out a quite different question and was able to observe the result.

“Sister Luise, what has become of the patient in the annex; what has become of Medvekhin?”

The frau oberin gave a puzzled smile. “Well, there is no one up in the chalet now,” she said. “And I don’t recall any Russian patient with that name. . . .

Rosalind felt a warning chill: she knew better than to protest. Sister Luise had been made to forget.

“Who was the last patient up there?” she asked. “Was it Miss Courtney?”

“Yes, of course!” said the frau oberin. “Such a remarkable recovery! Poor Dr. Tilmann’s sleep cure!”

“Surely there were two gypsies, up in the clearing, living in their caravan?”

“Yes indeed! Kaspar is still here, working as an orderly, and Marja is in the kitchen. If anyone asks we say they are Hungarians. . . .

Then the frau oberin directed Rosalind up the stairs — the lifts were not working. So she came to the rooms in the East Wing that Lucas Tilmann had inherited when his father retired to Switzerland. Dr. Daniel stood at the door of the sitting room motioning her inside with an encouraging smile.

She looked into the large room, dark now because of the bright day outside. She saw a figure hunched at a small desk, outlined against the French windows on to the balcony. Rosalind saw her life, her future, her dear love whom she must heal; she rushed into the room and fell on her knees beside Lucas Tilmann.

“Is it you?” he whispered. “Is it you?”

“Oh yes!” she said “Oh yes, my dear, my soul . . .

Dr. Daniel closed the door, satisfied, as they embraced. Rosalind asked a question or two and knew that she could not pursue certain subjects. Lucas Tilmann had no memory of Medvekhin; she could not tell if this amnesia was part of an alien command to forget or if it was deepened by his war trauma.

Lucas counted his long recovery from the moment of her arrival, but Rosalind knew that it was made possible by his insight into his own case. In no time he was managing the clumsy prosthesis well enough to walk up and down the sitting room. Then, mastering the confines of the room he set out, battling his agoraphobia, to explore the suite, to stand on the balcony, to plan a descent to the garden, to the village — in particular, an official visit to the picturesque baroque Rathaus: The burgermeister was in his debt.

Lucas no longer owned any part of St. Verena’s Hospital. His family’s long association with the Russians was regarded as disloyal to the kaiser while the two empires were at war. He had been more or less forced to sell his shares to the town council of Mariensee. The shares of his Russian partners (who could now be described as White Russians) had simply been confiscated.

The Burgermeister’s plans to develop St. Verena’s as a luftkurort, a health resort featuring mountain air, were delayed by lack of funds and personnel. The presence of Lucas Tilmann was an embarrassment to the town council and the staff of St. Verena’s. He was a reminder of past glories, and at the same time a physician who could not heal himself. The burgermeister, in these circumstances, was able to arrange for a civil marriage, with an English bride, pending a journey to some other country.

The two lovers planned their future with a blend of realism and romance which Rosalind thought of as “postwar.” After the ceremony in the town hall they would drive into Switzerland in the sturdy old Daimler and take their way down into Italy, to Venice, where they would take ship for England. Lucas had money in a Swiss bank account; she had her nest egg in the Bank of England plus a few pieces of jewelry that the countess had pressed upon her in lieu of salary.

The Ostrov family had lost a large part of their fortunes but they were not completely ruined. After the large estates had gone, there remained the small places — the hunting grounds, the horse farm — which could be sold sometimes, before they came into the power of the state.

And as for their lives they owed these to Kyril Mihailovitch Azlov, who was in the forefront of the revolution. When the palace in Moscow was requisitioned he made sure that the family retained comfortable living quarters. Rosalind spoke to him with keen interest about the great meteorite of 1908, believed to have fallen in the region of the Stony Tunguska River.

Kyril Mihailovitch had not only rejected his title and made over all his personal fortune to the Cause, he had changed his name. He called himself Erlik, the name he had used to sign his folktales; this name, he told Rosalind, was a Siberian name for the Firegod. When the great meteorite fell down, simple folk said it was the Firegod Erlik, who came to Earth in the guise of a bear.

Comrade Erlik was a Party member of the second wave, due to be purged about 1936, not long after Dr. Jacob Daniel, the director of St. Verena’s Sanitarium, lost his civil rights and went into exile.

Two days before her marriage, before she left St. Verena’s forever, Rosalind visited the chalet. The weather was cool but clear with scarves of mist on the upper slopes of the mountains. She set off up the path to the clearing, which was overgrown: the benches were wet, covered with leaves. The horse and the caravan had gone and the icon of St. George had been taken from the wayside shrine. Yet as she climbed the right-hand path toward the chalet she remembered, she had preserved the memory of that joy, that well-being that had streamed out to her.

The chalet itself was clean and well-kept; Rosalind went from room to room flinging open the shutters and the windows. She began to weep. Tears slid down her cheeks for the lovers who had shared the narrow bed, for millions dead, for Leonid Ostrov, dead near Vilna. The large back bedroom was quiet and still, with no hint of its former occupant; when she stood at the open window she saw that the path to the higher meadow had been picked out with white stones.

Rosalind dried her eyes. She went out of the back door and began to climb up through the pines and the larches, coming into new leaf. When she passed the spring, bubbling in its ancient stone basin, she wrung out a handkerchief in the icy water and wiped her face. She came out into brighter sunshine and turned left, pacing slowly through the long grass at the edge of the round meadow.

She found the grave just within the shade of the trees; a network of green had spread over the black earth; some larger stones at the head of the grave formed the letter M. Nearby there was a block of wood, cut from a tree trunk, as if someone else came to sit in this place, as she did now, contemplating the grave.

It seemed to Rosalind that nothing had taken place; the story would never be told; no researchers would ever find their way into the subarctic wastes — and that Medvekhin had willed it this way. This impossibly lonely death was an essential act, the contribution of the Akuine race of star-travelers to the history of the world.

Presently she heard a voice and saw the gypsy, Kaspar, striding up the path. He was just as he had been, a muscular, jolly man with a piercing glance; she stood up and they shook hands. His smile was melancholy.

“We know who lies here . . . ,” she said. “But what did you tell the others?”

“The woods are full of graves, miss,” he said. “If the grave is marked then Christians will not disturb it.”

He made the sign of the cross with two fingers like an Old Believer. She had to ask the questions — yes, the master had passed on in 1915; both Dr. Tilmann and Sister Luise had assisted at this burial on the meadow.

“They have been made to forget. . . .

Kaspar laughed aloud.

“Oh we’ve seen it happen many times, Marja and I. He could make any human forget his own mother, just like that, in a breath!”

He snapped his fingers. Rosalind hardly questioned the fact that Kaspar and Marja still remembered. She believed it was another odd class thing. Medvekhin knew his true servants: at the last he protected his story, in what was almost a reflex action, from his doctor and his nurse.

“And would this loss of memory last — forever?” she asked.

“I asked that question myself,” replied Kaspar, frowning. “And our dear master said that memories might return.”

This was all the reassurance that she received and it had to be enough. She bade farewell to Medvekhin and to the human being who had been pressed into alien service. She walked down the mountainside through the trees, passing through light and shadow. She thought of England, projected her thoughts into that future time, that future moment in the English woodland when she would bring out the black notebook and present it to her husband.

This story copyright © 1997 by Cherry Wilder. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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